U.S. Warns of Kidnapping Threat in Afghanistan
Wed Dec 1, 2:22 PM ET World - Reuters
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Recent intelligence shows Pakistani militants are trying to infiltrate Western companies and non-governmental groups in Afghanistan in a plot to kidnap foreigners, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said on Wednesday.
"There is information that as of late November 2004, a Pakistani militant group continued plans to send operatives to Afghanistan to infiltrate Western NGOs and Western companies in Afghanistan in advance of carrying out kidnapping operations against their Western employees," an embassy notice said.
Militants planned to seek jobs with the NGOs or present themselves as construction contractors to gain access to the organizations, the notice said.
The mission said the danger of kidnappings and other attacks aimed at U.S. citizens or interests -- including suicide bombings, rocket attacks and hijackings -- existed throughout Afghanistan.
There was no further information on the timing or location of possible attacks, the embassy statement said.
The notice comes just over a week after militants in Afghanistan released two U.N. workers held for almost a month in captivity and threatened more abductions unless a promise to release Taliban prisoners in exchange was fulfilled.
Afghan Kidnappers Apologised Says Freed UN Hostage
"PA" (The Press Association, UK) December 1, 2004
A Filipino diplomat who was held hostage with two fellow UN workers in Afghanistan said today their Taliban-linked kidnappers apologised and let them drive a car to freedom.
Angelito Nayan was freed with Annetta Flanigan, from Co Armagh, Northern Ireland, and Kosovar Shqipe Hebibi. They were seized on October 28 in the first abduction of foreigners in Kabul since the fall of the Taliban three years ago.
The UN workers had helped organise the landmark presidential election .
“They embraced each one of us and apologised profusely for what they did to us, and they even told us not to forget them,” Nayan said in Manila in the first extensive account of the kidnapping.
He said they were then taken to a car and abandoned in a deserted alley in Kabul.
“We had to drive ourselves. One of us had to drive,” he said, without giving other details.
The kidnappers, reportedly belonging to the Jaish-al Muslimeen, or Army of Muslims, claim the Afghan government agreed to release 24 jailed comrades in exchange for the three UN workers.
But Afghan officials insist no deal was made or ransom paid.
Nayan said the kidnappers generally treated the captives well, but one slapped him when he woke his guards to ask permission to go to the toilet at 4 a.m.
“Make no mistake, they were and they are still ruthless,” he said.
Nayan said the hostages were transferred four times to different houses to escape detection.
“We had to walk one time for four hours. We were chased by dogs, climbed walls, and (crouched in) ditches,” he said. “We were led to one house where you think people would be executed. Thank God, it didn’t happen.”
Nayan said he and the two women were unable to brush their teeth for eight days and got fresh underwear only two weeks after “negotiating” for them.
He said each captive had a personal guard. He called his Black Beard, whom he described as a “really big guy.”
He said the routine in captivity tested the hostages’ sanity.
“You wake up, you eat, you talk to them, you go to the bathroom, you eat, you talk to them, you read some books, you play some cards, you eat and then you sleep,” he said.
Nayan said Hebibi pretended she was just “staying in a rundown hotel with terrible food.”
“I’m really grateful to God that I was with two strong women, and we just comforted each other,” he said.
He said he considered trying to escape but decided that ”it would be incredibly selfish” to leave the two women behind.
He said he did not hate his kidnappers.
“I believe that they were just after money that unfortunately became political,” Nayan said. “I love Afghanistan. There’s something about the place despite the harrowing experience. The people are pretty warm.”
via The Scotsman (UK)
Women demand a proactive role in the new Afghan cabinet
Pajhwok Afghan News 11/30/2004 By Zainab Mohqaiq
KABUL - The Minister of Women's Affairs, Habiba Surabi was joined by nearly 50 women at a women's conference in Kabul to ask President Hamid Karzai's government to give women an active role in the new cabinet to be appointed yet.
The announcement of the new cabinet members is expected to be made after the inauguration ceremony of the elected president on the 7th of December.
In a press conference on Wednesday the presidential spokesman, Javid Ludin said progress was being made on who will join the new cabinet.
He said some new faces and old ones will be included in the group.
However the Minister of Women's Affairs said women need to appoint to deal with women's issues.
In the conference, entitled 'Women, Peace and Security', Ms Surabi said the cabinet should have experienced people with a strong trend towards equality for women than in the previous interim government.
"We've lived for decades under the rule and thumb of men making decisions for us. Let's be strong and change the society by the decisions that we make," the women's minister said.
The three-day conference, organized by the Civil Society Foundation, was set up to discuss key women's issues and their security problems. It called for equal rights for women at all levels. "The workshop gave suggestions to the rest of the community on how to stop violence against women, acquire knowledge on women's issues and improve women's position in the political arena and society, Aziz Rahman Rafi, head of the Civil Society Foundation, said
Some women who were deprived of an education under the Taleban regime have managed to re-educate themselves and regain the confidence and play a positive social role in the community after the arrival of democracy to Afghanistan.
But women have a long way to go in comparison to other countries and their social privileges are still low on the agenda among the Afghan community.
Women made up 41-percent of the 10.5 million Afghans registered to vote for the first elections in the country.
The literacy rate among women remains a low 14-percent in Afghanistan.
And many Afghan women still keep a low profile and adhere to strict social norms to maintain conservative traditions among the community, in fear of being reprimanded and to
It would be decades before the social traditions that inhibit women from getting their full rights are returned, Partaw Naderi, a social analyst said.
Russian Akzamar post on Tajik-Afghan border put on alert
DUSHANBE, November 30 (Itar-Tass) - The Russian Akzamar border outpost of the Moskovsky border guard detachment has been put on alert overnight.
Spokesman for the Russian border guard department in Tajikistan Colonel Alexander Kondratyev told Itar-Tass on Tuesday that the decision to reinforce the border post was made after it was shelled from the Tajikistani bank of the Pyandzh River.
The Moskovsky detachment border guards unit came under grenade launcher and small arms fire from the Afghan territory when they were moving to enter on duty.
The border guards opened retaliatory fire on the attackers’ firing point from border artillery. However, the guards again came under machinegun fire during a following field inspection.
None of the Russian border troops was wounded, however they had to stop the reconnaissance-search operation until dawn.
Now they have resumed the operation and the border outpost has reinforced security.
Coll: U.S. lost initiative in Afghanistan
Bin Laden within U.S. reach prior to Sept. 11, Coll says
Stephen Hsia Princetonian Staff Writer
Steve Coll, managing editor of The Washington Post, discussed the developments in Central Asia that led to the 2001 terrorist attacks in Dodds Auditorium on Monday.
In a lecture titled "The Roots of September 11: America and Afghanistan," Coll dissected two decades of American involvement in the region, the roots of Islamic fundamentalism and the rise of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Coll, author of "Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001," began his talk with a description of the complications involved in covert operations in the region, particularly with bin Laden.
In February of 1999, he noted, CIA-trained tribal leaders had located bin Laden in eastern Afghanistan.
Though alerted and ready to strike, U.S. authorities decided against assassinating the terrorist leader, fearing of repercussions at home and in the Arab world, Coll said.
Internal indecision later led U.S. intelligence to miss two more opportunities to take down the terrorist leader, he added.
"Risk and reward, enemy and friend . . . this has characterized the American experience in Afghanistan," he said.
But, he added, "Having these complications, losing these opportunities is not unusual in a government ruled by law."
Coll explained his view on the situation in Afghanistan in the 1980s, when the Soviet Union had occupied the country, inflaming local nationalists.
When looked at from a purely military perspective, he said, the United States was justified in shipping arms to the Afghan resistance. However, U.S. intelligence made the mistake of relinquishing political control of the covert war to the neighboring Pakistani military, Coll said.
"We had out-contracted the politics of Jihad to the Pakistan army," he said.
The lack of American involvement in the region, Coll added, led to the rise of the Taliban regime — the Islamic fundamentalist government that harbored the Sept. 11 terrorists.
"In February 1989, when the last of [the] Soviet soldiers were leaving," he said, "we had asked ourselves, Does the U.S. have enough at stake in Afghanistan?"
With no viable interest in reconstructing the region, the U.S. withdrew, creating a power vacuum that was later filled by Islamic radicals, Coll said.
The lecture, moderated by Wilson School professor Gary Bass, was delivered to a full house in Dodds Auditorium and is the first in a series titled "Journalists Writing the World."
Dutch arrest Afghan on suspicion of war crimes
AMSTERDAM, Nov 30 (Reuters) - Dutch police have arrested a former head of Afghanistan's Khad secret police on suspicion of war crimes during the rule of a Soviet-backed government in the 1980s, the Dutch public prosecutor's office said on Tuesday.
The 56-year-old man, named only as Hesamuddin H. by the authorities, was arrested by police on Saturday near his home in the central Dutch town of Boskoop as part of an investigation into potential breaches of the laws of war and against torture.
The suspect, who sought asylum in the Netherlands in 1992, was head of Khad from 1983 until a shakeup of the service in the early 1990s. Torture of detainees was common at Khad detention centres, the Dutch public prosecutor's office said.
Afghanistan was ruled by Soviet-backed president Najibullah and his Khad secret police in the 1980s. He was ousted in 1992, when the Islamic Mujahideen guerrilla forces closed in on Kabul after 14 years of civil war against the Soviet-backed communist government.
U.S., Britain deny Afghan poppy spraying
Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 30 (UPI) -- The United States and Britain have both denied spraying herbicides on opium-producing poppy fields in two eastern Afghanistan districts, the BBC said Tuesday.
The Afghan government said villagers in Nangarhar had complained of feeling sick after the mystery spraying two weeks ago, prompting Afghan officials to query U.S. and British officials.
"It is not just serious for us because of some health problems, it is not just serious for us because it harms the other crops, it is being taken very seriously because it affects the national integrity of our country," presidential spokesman Jawed Ludin told a Kabul news conference.
An investigation is continuing in Nangarhar with soil samples taken from the Shinwar and Khogyani districts. This month, the United Nations said Afghanistan now supplies 87 percent of world opium. In 2003, the trade was worth $2.8 billion, representing more than 60 percent of gross domestic product.
Britain ups funding for Iraq, Afghanistan forces
Wed Dec 1,11:12 AM ET
LONDON (AFP) - The military will get an extra 520 million pounds to fund its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown said.
The additional funds, announced in parliament, brings the expenditures for Britain's role in the two countries to nearly five billion pounds, of which 4.4 billion pounds have already been spent.
Overall, Brown added, the Ministry of Defence budget would rise from 29.7 billion pounds this year to 33.4 billion pounds in the 2007-2008 fiscal year.
"I can tell the House (of Commons) today that I am setting aside in the special reserve a further 520 million pounds for this year, raising the provision overall to almost five billion pounds," he said.
Britain joined the United States in launching the March 2003 war in Iraq, and currently maintains 8,500 troops in the country.
It also has 860 soldiers participating in all its Afghanistan operations, which include the International Security Assistance Force deployed around the capital Kabul as well as provincial reconstruction teams.
Hiding In Plain Sight
Why Pakistan still isn't aggressively pursuing the ex -Taliban leaders living inside the country
By TIM MCGIRK/KABUL Time Mgazine - Nov. 29, 2004
Mullah Mujahed, a veteran Taliban commander who has taken four bullets in his career as an Islamic warrior, is in a surprisingly good mood for a guy sharing a Kabul jail cell with a hungry rat. A burly figure with black locks and a black beard, Mujahed prays in a corner, oblivious to the progress of the rat as it tunnels under a gray blanket toward a bag of dates. Rising from prayer, the devout Taliban says through the bars of the cell, "When I was on jihad, the holy Prophet Muhammad talked to me in my dreams."
Mujahed's Afghan and American interrogators are interested in other voices he heard during his time fighting U.S. forces, especially those voices that came from Pakistan. Mujahed was captured four months ago in the mountains of Afghanistan's Uruzgan province after an epic chase involving eight helicopters and dozens of troops. Afterward, Afghan intelligence found stored in his satellite telephone the numbers of several top Taliban military commanders, all hiding in Pakistan. His warden says Mujahed was caught with 60 remote-controlled bombs that he allegedly confessed to picking up in Pakistan after attending a Taliban war council in the southern city of Quetta.
In the Afghan theater of the war on terrorism, Pakistan — despite its close alliance with George W. Bush's Administration — is playing something of a double game. On the one hand, Islamabad has aggressively pursued al-Qaeda operatives since 9/11. It has arrested more than 600 suspects and handed most of them over to the U.S. Also, Pakistan has sent thousands of troops into the tribal areas to drive out al-Qaeda fighters hiding in the mountains along its Afghan border.
But President Pervez Musharraf's government has done little to capture the many Taliban commanders who have fled into hiding in the country, according to Afghan officials and Taliban fighters and sympathizers in the frontier Pakistani cities of Quetta and Peshawar. Those exiles include Mohammed Omar, the one-eyed mullah who formerly led the Taliban. Pakistan's reluctance, according to a senior Kabul official, stems from its "nostalgia" for when Afghanistan was firmly within its orbit of influence. Letting the Taliban remain free gives Pakistan a card to play if or when the U.S. decides to vacate Afghanistan. "If money and support were to stop from the Pakistani side, the Taliban would be finished," says Mullah "Rocketi," a former Taliban commander who earned his nickname for his accuracy in shooting Soviet tanks and who spent time at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Islamabad's reluctance to crack down has allowed Afghan fundamentalists to use Pakistan as a refuge from which to recruit fresh militants and launch cross-border ambushes against U.S. and Afghan troops. Some ex — Taliban fighters even allege that several colonels in Pakistan's security agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), are funding former Taliban proteges through madrasahs, or religious schools, and mosques in border villages. "The ISI knows where the Taliban live," Mujahed says. "They could arrest us all in a day. But they don't bother us."
His claims could be dismissed as an attempt to win favor with his Afghan jailers. Afghans often blame Pakistan for nearly every ill — a legacy of Islamabad's pre-9/11 support for the Taliban regime. But the prisoner's allegations are consistent with reports by Afghan and Western intelligence officials who contend that more than a dozen times in the past two years, they have alerted Pakistani authorities to the locations of specific Taliban hideouts, only to find that the extremists had slipped away before the raids started. (In response, Pakistani officials say the tip-offs were too sketchy.) "Right now," says a senior Afghan official, "we have solid evidence that Mullah Omar is hiding near Quetta." Two weeks ago, the elusive Taliban commander of the faithful issued his first message since July, renewing his call to fight Americans.
Other Taliban bosses are living openly in Pakistani cities, according to Afghan intelligence officials and several jailed jihadis. A captured seminary dropout, for example, claims he was recruited to carry bombs into Afghanistan by a senior Taliban living in Peshawar's swanky Hyatabad district. And an Afghan who works with the U.S. in Kandahar, Afghanistan, says the former Taliban Defense Minister, Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, openly celebrated his marriage to a teenage bride in Quetta several months ago. "We know the entire al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership is on the other side, and we can't do a damn thing about it," a U.S. commander complained to his officers on a recent tour of a firebase on the Afghan side of the border. He called in a mortar round that exploded only a few hundred yards short of a Pakistani border post — a warning that U.S. patience was being pushed to the limits.
America's impatience reaches all the way to the White House. At a New York City meeting in September of Bush, Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Bush turned to Musharraf and ticked off the names of several Taliban chiefs that U.S. intelligence officials had told him were hiding in Pakistan, according to a member of the Afghan delegation. Musharraf, says the source, denied any knowledge of them. "If the U.S. has specific evidence that the Taliban are hiding here," says presidential spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan, "they should tell us, and we will act." Recently, Musharraf told reporters he was "exasperated" by claims that Taliban leaders were hiding in Pakistan.
But Bush's talk with Musharraf may be paying off. Taliban followers say ties are fraying with their militant sponsors — and through them, the ISI. Money for arms, explosives and fresh recruits is drying up. As a result, says a mid-level commander, Taliban are no longer able to mount effective hit-and-run missions inside eastern Afghanistan. In addition, last month's Afghan presidential election seems to have sapped Taliban strength. Despite the extremists' attempts to sabotage voting, Karzai was the overwhelming victor among Pashtuns, the ethnic group of most Taliban. A Taliban spokesman concedes that the U.S.-led security forces around polling sites made it impossible for militants to carry out their threats.
Lately there have been signs that many Taliban and their supporters may be losing their zeal for war. From his Kabul jail cell, Mujahed says he has had enough fighting. "Let others do the jihad," he says. "Me, I'm exhausted." If Pakistan really started to do all it could to crack down on the Taliban, it might find that fatigue among those battle-weary warriors would finish off the job. — Muhib Habibi/Kandahar; Ghulam Hasnain/ Quetta; Rahimullah Yusufzai/Peshawar
RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS LEAVE KHOROG SECTOR OF TAJIK-AFGHAN BORDER
DUSHANBE, December 1 (RIA Novosti) - On Wednesday Russian border guards have officially handed over to Tajik colleagues the mission to protect the 212-km Khorog sector of the Tajik-Afghan border.
The last group of Russian border guards left Khorog (administrative center of the Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region) on Wednesday to continue their service in Dushanbe. On November 20 the 569-km high-mountain Ishkashim sector of the Tajik-Afghan state border was handed over under the patrol of the Tajik border troops.
After the Khorog sector, Tajik border guards will take control over the 100-km Kalaikhumb sector of the Tajik-Afghan border (Tajiks have guarded 73 km of this sector since 1998).
All in all, in November-December 2004 Russia's border troops will hand over 881.6 km of the Tajik-Afghan border to Tajik servicemen in compliance with the relevant Tajik-Russian agreement of October 16, 2004. Russian border guards will hand over to their Tajik colleagues 22 frontier posts, 25 frontier points and 3 checkpoints with all necessary infrastructures.
According to the agreement, Russian border guards will keep helping their Tajik colleagues. They are to give recommendations, cooperate in the interests of the CIS border protection, and take joint measures against illegal migration, smuggling of weapons, explosive and poisonous substances, radioactive materials and drugs.
Top U.S. commander holds talks in Pakistan
ISLAMABAD (AFP) -- The top U.S. military commander in the region began talks in Pakistan Wednesday as part of regular high-level contacts between the militaries of the two key allies in the war on terror, officials said.
General John Abizaid, the U.S. Central Command chief, arrived late Tuesday on a two-day visit which follows denials by Pakistan of recent reports that it had withdrawn troops from a tribal region near the Afghan border.
Pakistani military spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan said the U.S. general's visit was aimed at discussing "professional matters of mutual interest" but did not elaborate.
Pakistan is a key U.S. ally and the armed forces of the two countries maintain close coordination in the campaign to root out Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters who still remain in the region.
Middle East expert Abizaid, a Lebanese-American, replaced Tommy Franks in early July as military commander of U.S. forces in a vast area that includes Iraq and Afghanistan -- which he visited last week for Thanksgiving Day.
As the talks were under way Pakistan issued its second denial within five days of a troop withdrawal from South Waziristan, saying forces were still in the main town of Wana to hunt Al-Qaeda-linked militants in the region.
Last week the Pakistani military said check posts which had been manned by troops in two districts of Wana were being handed over to local tribesmen to allow free movement of local people.
South Waziristan is one of several isolated tribal areas along the 2,500-kilometer (1,600-mile) Pakistan-Afghanistan border where U.S. officials believe Osama bin Laden and other leaders of Al-Qaeda may be hiding.
The move fuelled reports that the troops were being withdrawn from Wana after an agreement with one of the area's two main tribes, the Wazir, who pledged not to allow use of their territory for any militant activity.
"The troops continue to be deployed in the Wazir area and will be prepared to undertake operations at short notice should there be any report of presence of foreign militants in the area," the military said in a statement.
Islamabad provided key logistical and intelligence support to U.S. operations in neighboring Afghanistan that led to the ousting of the hardline Taliban regime in late 2001.
Iranian conservatives tighten hold on power
By Robin Wright
TEHRAN: After eight years of a bold but bungled experiment with reform, Iran's government is in the throes of a take over by conservatives determined to restore the revolution's Islamic purity , according to Iranian politicians and analysts.
The transformation is symbolized by the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose limited scholarly credentials were questioned even by his peers when he was selected 15 years ago. His authority caused a national debate during the reform era, when he was in danger of being sidelined politically, analysts said.
Today, however, they said, Khamenei is more powerful than at any time since 1989, when he succeeded the leader of Iran's Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Critics said his control is as far-reaching as that of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi before he was overthrown in 1979.
"The pendulum has swung. Khamenei is in a better position than he's ever been," a senior Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity, because of the sensitivity of the subject. "There's a real cockiness in the stride of his camp."
Khamenei's consolidation of power, partly through a new parliament that took office in May, has given even more leverage to religious institutions, including the judiciary, the Revolutionary Guards and vigilante groups such as Ansar Hezbollah, analysts said.
As a result, fear, intimidation and harassment have become instruments of the state in ways reminiscent of the early fervour following the 1979 revolution, Iranians complain.
Women can still get away with relaxed dress, but the debates over political openings and reforming Islam have gone behind closed doors, or ended. Conservatives say they are merely putting the Islamic republic back on course and restoring limits on discourse while not undoing social change.
"Islamic values in all aspects of the system are necessary to sustain the system.... And nobody can change them according to his taste or interpretation," said Hussein Shariatmadari, a leading ideologue and editor of the Kayhan newspaper chain. But critics warn of a future with further restrictions, particularly after a presidential election next year that many Iranians expect conservatives to win. "We are going to move from something trying to be a democratic government to what will become a totalitarian regime," said Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, a reformist editor who has been jailed three times and who has worked for five newspapers that have been closed. "Conservatives think this democratization trend has to be stopped."
Beyond Khamenei, Iran's future is still far from settled. The big question in Tehran these days is about which conservatives will dominate. Their camp now offers at least four distinct philosophies about running the country and dealing with the outside world.
The ideological conservatives take the most puritanical line. They are sometimes called Kayhanis, after the newspapers that reflect their views and Shariatmadari, their editor, who is their most public voice. They take a tough stance in dealing with the outside world and on Iran's nuclear energy program.
Shariatmadari, a slight man with a neat salt-and-pepper beard who wields enormous influence, opposed a deal signed this month under pressure from Europe to suspend uranium enrichment for Iran's nuclear energy program, which critics say could be diverted for a nuclear weapons program. "I believe that we should have exited the Non-Proliferation Treaty two years ago," he said in an interview.
International treaties, he said, do not prevent nuclear proliferation. After India conducted a nuclear test, the United States imposed sanctions, only to lift them and deepen ties when US interests shifted. "Such a situation urges us to have a nuclear bomb," he said.
At the same time, he said, the production of a bomb would not be accepted under Islamic belief, in part because such a weapon does not distinguish between an enemy and innocent civilians, and also because it is not an effective deterrent. "If all countries have this technology, then the world will be in chaos," he said.
This faction generally opposes renewing ties with the United States. Despite smaller numbers, its adherents are disproportionately powerful because they are highly vocal and are backed by vigilante groups such as Ansar Hezbollah.
The new right, or neoconservatives, represent the most influential political faction. They have the largest presence in the new parliament, the judiciary and the powerful Guardian Council, a body of 12 un elected clerics that can veto new laws and political candidates.
They include leading candidates for Iran's presidency, such as Ali Akbar Velayati, a former foreign minister, and Ali Larijani, the chief of state broadcasting. Both are close to Khamenei.
The neo conservative platform mixes religious ideology with aspects of modernity. "Conservatism means conserving the letter and spirit of the constitution," said Mohammed Javad Larijani, an analyst and brother of the presidential contender.
The group emphasizes Islamic thought, competent government and the private sector. "Jobs should be created by increasing production. We shouldn't create jobs by making government fatter than it is," he added.
This faction developed a reluctant consensus on the deal with the Europeans to suspend uranium enrichment, analysts said. Its terms for re-engaging with the United States, however, are tough.
The pragmatic conservatives, once the most prominent faction, include former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and parties such as the Moderation and Development Party and the Servants of Construction. They are not bound by a rigid ideology, analysts said.
"They want to open up the economy, work within the established world order and culturally they're more relaxed," said Nasser Hadian, a political scientist at Tehran University.
The traditional conservatives are represented by the Shia clergy, many of whom live in the holy city of Qom. Many tend to be less political, and are often secluded and focused more on Islamic culture. This faction also includes many bazaar merchants. Although the largest group, it is now the least active in politics, analysts said. -Dawn/The LAT-WP News Service (c) The Washington Post.
Pakistan's Musharraf allowed to remain army chief
ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Pakistan enacted a controversial law allowing President Pervez Musharraf to continue as chief of the army despite his earlier promise to give up the military post, officials said. The bill, which had been adopted by parliament on November 1, comes less than 12 months after Musharraf said he would relinquish his uniform by the end of 2004 and become a civilian leader.
The bill was signed by acting president Muhammad Mian Soomro, who is also senate chairman, in the absence of Musharraf, who is visiting Latin America as part of a six-nation tour.
"President Musharraf will now keep both the offices," Information Minister Sheikh Rashid told AFP by telephone from London, where Musharraf is due to meet Prime Minister Tony Blair early next week.
The new law puts no time limit on how long Musharraf, a key ally in the US war on terror, can hold both positions although his term as president is meant to end in 2007.
Speaking on the sidelines of a breakfast meeting in Sao Paulo with Brazilian and Pakistani business executives, Musharraf welcomed the law and said it represented: "Continuity and sustainability".
Tuesday was the deadline for presidential approval of the bill, falling just within the 30-day mark since the senate gave its backing. The bill was endorsed earlier this month by the government-dominated senate amid protests by the opposition, which has launched a nationwide campaign to force him to quit as chief of Pakistan's powerful army.
In December 2003 General Musharraf pledged on national television he would shed his military title. But he told AFP nearly a fortnight ago that he had "doubts" he would be able to do so.
Musharraf seized power after toppling prime minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless army coup in October 1999. He appointed himself president in June 2001 and won a heavily criticised referendum in April 2002 followed by a parliamentary vote of confidence last December.
Musharraf had pledged to step down as army chief as part of a deal with a six-party Islamic alliance, in return for their parliamentary support for constitutional amendments that validated his presidency and gave him sweeping powers, including the authority to dismiss parliament.
Musharraf has since said he needed to keep the military post in order to continue fighting terrorism and seeking a settlement with India of the long-running Kashmir dispute.
The Islamic alliance, or Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, and secular opposition parties including the Pakistan People's Party of former premier Benazir Bhutto have joined forces to launch a nationwide agitation campaign against Musharraf.
"Musharraf is legally bound to relinquish the office of army chief by the end of December," the alliance's deputy secretary general Hafiz Hussain Ahmed told AFP.
The MMA at a rally in Karachi Sunday gave Musharraf a December 19 deadline to become a civilian president or face a nationwide movement. Pakistan People's Party spokesman Farhatullah Babar also denounced the new law as undemocratic.
Benazir to end exile, win next election: Zardari
KARACHI, Nov 29: Former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto will end her exile and lead her party to victory in the next election, her husband Asif Ali Zardari said following his release from jail.
"She is surely coming and will lead the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) in the next general election," Mr Zardari told AFP in an interview on Sunday at his Bilawal House residence.
"I can't give you the date, but she will be here for the next elections," Mr Zardari said, insisting 2005 would be election year in Pakistan. "Bhutto will create history by becoming the premier for the third time."
Mr Zardari, who spent eight years in detention, was released on Monday last week after the Supreme Court granted him bail in the last of 17 cases of graft, murder and drug smuggling…
The government has said the present parliament would complete its five-year tenure until 2007. Mr Zardari rejected speculation that his release was linked to any deal with the government.
Mr Zardari, who was arrested on Nov 4, 1996 said during custody intelligence agencies wanted "to break me through physical and mental torture in order to pressure Ms Bhutto, but they failed."
On the possibility of accepting Gen Pervez Musharraf as both president and the army chief, Mr Zardari said: "Democracy and authoritarian rules can't go together." "He (Musharraf) can contest fresh presidential elections, but not as a general. It goes without saying."
Mr Zardari expressed his confidence in bringing all the political parties from liberal to secular and progressive to religious on one platform. "I can be a bridge for all the political forces to agree on minimum points of democracy and supremacy of parliament," he said…-AFP
Speculations persist about govt-PPP deal
By Arshad Sharif (Dawn)
ISLAMABAD, Nov 29: The unusually calm proceedings and unanimous passage of two resolutions in the Senate on Monday indicated that Asif Ali Zardari's release was not for nothing.
The first formal indication of a deal between the government and the People's Party Parliamentarians (PPP) was given indirectly by the acting Senate chairman, Commander (retired) Khalilur Rehman.
Addressing the leader of the Democratic Alliance in the Senate, Mr Raza Rabbani, the acting chairman said, "The deal is done, let's try to sort out the business." However, it was not clear if the deputy chairman referred to the reported deal between the government and Benazir Bhutto or he referred to an earlier meeting in his chamber to run the proceedings of the House in a smooth manner.
The opposition members, led by Senator Raza Rabbani, met their colleagues from the treasury benches to get over the bitter acrimony of the recent past in the acting chairman's room for well over half an hour resulting in delayed start of the proceedings.
The result of the meeting, as evident from the conduct of the House, was positive as both the government and the opposition, led by a usually vocal and aggressive Raza Rabbani, cooperated to get two resolutions adopted unanimously.
It was a break from the past practice of the Democratic Alliance senators, who have been vowing publicly to oppose the government both inside and outside parliament after the passage of the uniform bill, allowing President Gen Musharraf to retain dual offices of the President and the Chief of the Army Staff.
The mood of the house also saw a drastic shift from Friday's proceedings when the opposition had accused the acting Senate chairman of violating the Constitution by running the Upper House without quorum to get the controversial ISI Bill passed through the Senate.
The opposition's allegations were contested by the treasury members on Monday who gave another concession to the senators led by Raza Rabbani to "vent their feelings" over the ISI Bill through an adjournment motion with due permission of the presiding officer.
Many in the PPP also have expectations of Raza Rabbani being appointed as a leader of the opposition. According to an influential senator of a ruling party, the same has been given a green signal by President Gen Musharraf.
According to some senators, leader of the Upper House is entitled to many perks and privileges, including official vehicle and residence in the capital. "Raza Rabbani is entitled to be the leader of the opposition in the Senate," said Senator Enver Baig of PPP when asked for comments on the issue.
With the possible appointment of Raza Rabbani as leader of the opposition in the Senate and release of Asif Ali Zardari, the PPP is having problem denying that a deal has not been struck with the government.
The new face of Afghan cinema
KABUL: Two years ago, Marina Gulbahari was a street urchin begging for scraps from the tables of Kabul restaurants. If she was lucky, she might get a few crumpled notes or kebab leftovers wrapped in nan.
If she was unlucky, the black-turbaned Taliban police would beat her. That was before she became the biggest name in Afghan cinema.
Now, after a stunning performance in last year's critically acclaimed film Osama , Marina, aged 14, has become the face of Afghanistan's resurgent film industry at foreign film festivals, hailed as a precociously talented actress with an exciting future whose natural ability is drawn from her traumatic upbringing amid war and turmoil.
Her emergence is the most extraordinary story of Kabul's film-making renaissance. From being persecuted by the Taliban, who burnt all the film stock they could, directors are again making movies. A new generation desperately short of cash and equipment but not of enthusiasm is buzzing with projects and ideas, determined to create a uniquely Afghan creative film genre.
The young directors and producers hang about in the shrapnel-damaged Afghan Film building, where Marina's awards take pride of place on display in the foyer beside awards from Soviet and North Korean film festivals and a 1968 award for a documentary on nomads. Projects include a civil war drama about a man's search for his brother through Afghanistan's hellish coal mines to tell him that the rest of the family has been died in fighting, a black comedy about opium smuggling with an anti-drugs message and Bollywood-style dance routines, and a remake of Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment set in Kabul.
Osama is about a girl's attempts to survive the fundamentalist madness of the Taliban by pretending to be a boy so she can earn money for her family. Marina's sweetly innocent face has become so well known in Kabul that she can no longer venture on the street without being mobbed.
"I like being famous," she says with a giggle. "It is much better than being a beggar. That was a very shameful time for me." For Marina, her fairy-tale came true when she begged for food at the table of Siddiq Barmak, a famous director who has for years made highly praised films on war-damaged sets with antiquated Soviet equipment.
He was trying to find a child to cast in his film and was struck by the beggar girl's charisma. With no drama training, she proved a natural, drawing on her own painful experiences. Two of her older sisters had been killed in a rocket attack, then, as her family sank into desperate poverty, she was forced to endure the humiliation of begging in the streets.
The only film she had ever seen was Titanic, an unlikely bootleg video hit which captured the imagination of Afghans. "I liked the sinking scene," Marina says. Like other Afghans, she saw the parallels with her own country's fate under the Taliban.
"Osama was a great film," she says. "I am so happy I was part of it. It told the world the truth about the Taliban. Now I want to be Afghanistan's best actress, then Afghanistan's most famous director. Anything is possible for women now."
Her film career has enabled her to buy a modest house for her parents - her father sells Bollywood music tapes on the street - and nine brothers and sisters. It has also allowed her to swap her rags for nice clothes and pay for the education she missed because the Taliban banned her from school. The downside is a fear of Taliban revenge. "I worry about them seeing me in the street and killing me. They may recognize me from the film."
Captured by the Taliban, rescued by Islam
By ALLAN KOAY Star Publications (Malaysia) Bhd
British journalist Yvonne Ridley made headlines when she was captured by the Taliban in 2001. She came out unscathed, and two years later, converted to Islam. ALLAN KOAY finds out how her life has changed since then.
Barely had the ashes of the World Trade Centre in New York settled when Sunday Express journalist Yvonne Ridley found herself captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan and held for 10 days. She was duly released unharmed, and two years later, in a remarkable twist, she converted to Islam.
Yvonne Ridley: ‘I see the shocking images of Guantanamo Bay and ... I thank Allah I was captured by the most evil and brutal regime in the world and not by the Americans.’
Ridley, who had gone to Afghanistan to report for the British paper, found herself becoming the news instead. And her story could not have been more full of surprises and irony.
Ridley, who was in Kuala Lumpur last Saturday to give a talk as part of a fund-raising effort for Islamic social service organisation Al-Khaadem, was a portrait of calm and grace as she spoke about her experiences and the changes in her life. It was a picture far removed from her pre-conversion, hard-drinking, firebrand journalist image as described by the media.
On Sept 28, 2001, Ridley, then 43, was trying to cross illegally into Afghanistan from Pakistan. At a Taliban checkpoint, her donkey bolted and her camera fell out of the burqa she was wearing. She was subsequently thrown into prison, and questioned every day.
But to her surprise, the so-called “evil regime” treated her with respect and courtesy, and the men with the electrodes and torture tools never appeared. Instead she was given three meals a day, despite her hunger strike, and her captors even came to wash her hands for her at mealtimes. They referred to her as their “guest” and “sister”.
“The whole experience had taught me a very valuable lesson, and that is not to believe propaganda that powerful people in powerful places want us to believe,” says Ridley.
“When I look back at my experience now, and I see the shocking images of Guantanamo Bay, and the horrendous images and stories emerging from the Abu Ghraib prison, I thank Allah I was captured by the most evil and brutal regime in the world and not by the Americans.”
During her time in the Taliban prison, a cleric came to her one day and asked if she would like to convert to Islam. Fearing any response would be taken as adverse, she made a promise to him that she would read the Quran if she were released.
She kept her promise, and what started out as a purely academic exercise turned into a spiritual one as Ridley discovered that the Quran was not about oppression or violence but about peace, tolerance and understanding. Most of all, she was surprised to find that Muslim women were not subjugated or oppressed but were afforded equality.
In August 2003, she embraced the faith.
Today, Ridley, who admitted that she used to “work hard and play hard” and was a “prolific drinker”, finds herself healthier, happier, and more content and fulfilled.
“And my girlfriends can see this, and they ask: ‘What is this that has changed your life so much?’” she says. “And I say it’s Islam. And they say: ‘No, really, what is it?’”
Ridley has also become a fervent anti-war campaigner since her release. She has supported the Stop the War Coalition and travelled around the world addressing anti-war gatherings. She is a founding member of Women in Journalism and the patron of British organisation Stop Political Terror, which looks into the welfare of Muslims in Britain, especially those being held in the Belmarsh and Woodhill prisons.
She has written two books: In The Hands of the Taliban, about her experience as a captive; and a fictional thriller, Ticket to Paradise, which she says is banned in Israel because it features a Hamas fighter on the cover. She still writes for the Sunday Express, and also for Muslims Weekly in New York. She is currently involved with the Islam Channel, a satellite broadcast that started about a year ago in Britain.
One of the things that Ridley had to face when returning home from Afghanistan in 2001 was a media that accused her of being an irresponsible and selfish single mother (she has a daughter, Daisy, 12) and foolhardy to have entered Afghanistan at a volatile time. Others even claimed she did not enter Afghanistan at all but was picked up at the border in Pakistan.
She regarded the views that came from her colleagues and the British press as outrageous, and saw no difference between their opinions and views and those of the Taliban, with regards to a woman’s role in work.
“I was verbally ‘stoned’ by journalists who picked on me as a single parent going into a war zone,” she says. “And not one single male journalist I can think of has ever been questioned about his role as a parent. It made me realise then that we still have a long, long way to go to achieve any sort of equality. And what was most hurtful, because I am a founding member of Women in Journalism in Britain, was that most of these comments were from women columnists.
“I just thought they’ve set the women’s movement back two or three decades by questioning my integrity as a journalist ? to single me out and attack me as a mother. I thought that was a bit like shooting yourself in the foot.”
Ridley also discovered to her surprise that during her capture, someone had tried to get her killed by sending a dossier to the Taliban that made her out to be a spy, a “female equivalent of James Bond”.
She claims that with help from her contacts and fellow journalists, she found out that the dossier had been prepared by the American intelligence and Mossad. She believes it was an effort to silence the anti-war movement.
“Had I been shot or executed, this would have helped justify the bombing of Afghanistan. It would have further demonised the Taliban. I was told by one intelligence officer: ‘Don’t take this personally. It wasn’t against you,’” she laughs.
Putting all that behind her, Ridley has also made headway into the political realm. She is an active member of the RESPECT political party in Britain, a party born in January this year out of the anti-war movement that realised it had no political voice.
“I stood as a candidate in the European elections and we got a quarter of a million votes nationally,” says Ridley. “It didn’t translate into a seat but we are going to be fielding candidates in the general elections which may be held in May next year.
“What is particularly significant is if I am successful, I would become the first female Muslim politician to sit in Westminster and probably the first woman wearing a hijab to sit in the houses of parliament.
“It’s still a long way off, but there is a ground swell of support from people who feel as though they no longer have a voice in the party headed by a British prime minister who appears to prefer to take his orders from Washington rather than from the people who elected him.”
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