Afghan polls delayed for a second time
Sat Jun 12, 3:18 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Afghanistan's first post-Taliban elections, already delayed from June until September, will be delayed for a second time, the electoral commission told AFP.
"The election cannot happen in September," spokeswoman Ghutai Khawrai said, citing a failure to meet a new law that the boundaries of electoral constituencies must be certified 120 days before polls can be held.
The crucial presidential and parliamentary elections were first scheduled for June but were delayed by the Afghan government until September because of logistical problems. The earliest they can now be held is October, according to the commission.
Under the newly-passed electoral law the government must give 120 days' notice of electoral boundaries before lower house elections can be held, but a presidential decree nominating the boundaries was only signed on June 5.
"The short space of time between certifying the polling stations and the polling day should be 120 days according to electoral law and we have only three months if it takes place in September," Khawrai said.
"Since we plan to hold parliamentary and presidential elections at the same time it (the delay) is for both," she added.
The government is also desperately short of funding for the elections, which are being organised with assistance from the United Nations.
"We are short of funds... we have no money in hand for this purpose," Khawrai said.
The UN revealed last week that despite substantial pledges from the international community for the 101 million dollars required to hold the elections, no money had been received in Afghanistan.
The electoral commission plans to discuss the poll date with the registered political parties and presidential candidates on Wednesday before presenting their idea to President Hamid Karzai, Khawrai said.
"We have invited all presidential candidates and political parties to discuss the exact date of the election and then we will present the date to the president," she added.
A spokesman for Karzai, who is in the United States after attending the G8 summit and the funeral of former US president Ronald Reagan, said the government still planned to hold elections on time despite rising violence in areas previously considered safe.
"Elections must go on," Khaleeq Ahmad said from the US on Friday.
U.S. Marines Kill 80 Rebels in Afghanistan Troops Target Taliban Stronghold
By Stephen Graham and Riaz Khan Associated Press Sunday, June 13, 2004; Page A23 The Washington Post
KABUL, Afghanistan, June 12 -- U.S. Marines have killed more than 80 insurgents during a three-week assault on a Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan, the military said Saturday. The tally highlights the fighting that has engulfed parts of the country's south.
"The Marines have been aggressive, relentless and successful," Lt. Col. Tucker Mansager, a U.S. military spokesman, said. "They have demonstrated that there is no refuge for the terrorists." Only two Marines have been wounded in the latest fighting, the U.S. military said.
American commanders sent about 2,000 Marines into Afghanistan in the spring, boosting the U.S.-led force to 20,000 in an attempt to put insurgents on the defensive ahead of September elections.
Insurgents have stepped up their own operations, fueling a spiral of violence that has killed more than 450 people across the country this year.
In neighboring Pakistan, Pakistani troops backed by helicopter gunships and fighter jets searched mountains and skirmished with Islamic fighters Saturday as they closed in on a cluster of suspected al Qaeda hideouts and a training facility near the Afghan border.
The offensive focused on three compounds linked to al Qaeda -- a training facility, a safe house, and the home of an alleged terror financier -- near the town of Shakai, about 15 miles west of Wana, the largest town in South Waziristan province.
On Friday, Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan said troops launched the operation in response to "unprovoked firing" by foreign fighters. He said the army killed 35 insurgents on Wednesday and Thursday.
Pakistani forces used artillery and helicopter gunships Friday against rebels near Shakai, the security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Pakistani forces met little opposition, he said.
In Kabul, Mansager said American forces were in "very close contact" with Pakistani troops about the operation and sharing information.
"We maintain a very robust presence on that portion of the border in anticipation of any anti-coalition militants that might try to escape the Pakistani army across the border," Mansager told reporters.
In Afghanistan, U.S. troops on Friday detained a bomb maker about 40 miles south of Kabul, Mansager said.
The U.S. military and international peacekeepers based in Kabul have been warning since last year that Islamic fighters are using the kind of roadside bombs that have proved so deadly in Iraq.
Seven American troops have been killed in southern Afghanistan since early May and dozens of Afghan soldiers have died in the region this year.
The Marines, based in Uruzgan, the home province of fugitive Taliban leader Mohammad Omar, called in warplanes to pound a large group of suspected fighters in nearby mountains. At least 20 people reportedly died in a clash last week.
Most of the fighting has been near Daychopan, in neighboring Zabol province. Mansager said the Marine offensive was allowing Army troops to focus on building ties with local communities across the troubled border region. Commanders said they hope this approach, which includes offering millions of dollars in reconstruction aid, will persuade villagers and tribes to turn against the insurgents and provide intelligence.
Khan reported from Peshawar, Pakistan
Chinese group arrives in Afghanistan
KABUL, Afghanistan, Jun. 12 (UPI) -- A 14-member emergency group from China arrived Saturday in Kabul, Afghanistan, to deal with the Thursday slayings of 11 Chinese construction workers.
The group, led by officials from the China Railway Construction Corp., said the company would not bow or retreat because of terrorists, reported Xinhua, China's main government-run news agency.
CRCC Deputy President Li Guorui said the road construction work in Afghanistan would continue, but that security would be increased.
The emergency group will focus on the treatment of the injured workers and the safety of the remaining workers.
About 20 unidentified gunmen shot at 100 sleeping Chinese workers in a compound south of Kunduz early Thursday, killing 11 Chinese workers, one Afghan guard and injuring several others.
The bodies of the dead workers will be returned to China as soon as possible, according to Chinese ambassador Sun Yuxi.
China has called the killings a terrorist act. The Afghan government condemned the incident, blaming the Taliban. But a Taliban spokesman denied responsibility for the attack.
Chinese working group leaves for Afghanistan
A working group sent by the Chinese government left in Beijing Saturday afternoon for Afghanistan to help deal with the aftermath of the terrorist attack that killed 11 Chinese construction workers in northern Afghanistan.
The group, led by Cui Tiankai, Director-General of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's Department of Asian Affairs, will contact the Afghan government and the UN agencies in Afghanistan for further cooperation to ensure Chinese citizens' security, according to foreign ministry sources.
The attack happened at around 01:00 a.m. local time (2030 GMT Wednesday) on a construction site 36 km south of the city of Kunduz as some 20 gunmen opened fire at Chinese workers and security guards, leaving 11 Chinese workers dead and five others injured.
Chinese President Hu Jintao and other leaders strongly condemned the terrorist attack and instructed the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the Chinese Embassy in Afghanistan to try their utmost to ensure best treatment for the wounded and to properly handle the aftermath of the incident.
Hu also urged the Afghan government and the UN mission in the country to investigate the incident and bring the terrorists to justice, and to ensure safety and security of other Chinese citizens in Afghanistan.
The working team will convey the condolences and sympathy from the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee and the State Council.
China's Foreign Ministry and the Chinese embassy in Afghanistan have taken measures to secure all assistance to the victims, and all the injured Chinese workers have been taken to a hospital in Kunduz.
The employer of the workers, the China Railway No.14 Subsidiary Co,has dispatched teams to Afghanistan and the victims' hometowns, Jiangxi and Shandong provinces.
Pakistan condemns attack on Chinese in Afghanistan
ISLAMABAD, June 12 (Xinhuanet) -- Pakistan on Saturday strongly condemned the terrorist attack in northern Afghanistan in which 11Chinese construction workers were killed.
"We condemn the terrorist attack against Chinese nationals. This is horrendous crime," Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Masood Khan said at a weekly press briefing in Islamabad.
The spokesman said the government and the people of Pakistan convey their deepest condolences and sympathies to the government and the people of China, especially to the families of the victims,who lost precious lives as a result of this dastardly and ruthlessattack.
Pakistan calls for intensified fight against terrorism to root out this menace and to repulse the designs of those who want to undermine the process of reconstruction in Afghanistan, the spokesman said.
In the worst attack of its kind, 11 Chinese construction workers and an Afghan guard were ruthlessly gunned down in the northern province of Konduz early on Thursday.
A group of some 20 armed men rushed into an isolated construction workers' compound near the village of Jalaw Gir, 35 kilometers south of the city of Koduz, and opened fire while the workers were asleep.
The victims, along with four wounded in the attack, were part of a team working on the Konduz to Baghlan road, a reconstruction project funded by the World Bank.
This is the first attack on Chinese since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001. Attacks on Chinese expatriates are rare, but last month a car bomb exploded in southwestern Pakistan port city of Gwadar, killing three Chinese engineers who were working on a project to expand port facilities.
Stone-thowing Afghans stop governor taking office
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan, June 12 (Reuters) - Stone- Throwing supporters of an Afghan regional leader have prevented a new governor appointed by President Hamid Karzai from taking office in a northern province, residents said on Saturday.
In the latest challenge to Karzai's efforts to expand his influence in the restive provinces, dozens of people hurled rocks at the convoy of the new governor of Sari Pul, Abdul Haq Shafaq, when he arrived on Friday to take up his position.
Despite the protection of 100 armed policemen sent from Kabul, Shafaq was forced to return to Mazar-i-Sharif, the key city in northern Afghanistan, when one of his escort was wounded, witnesses and police said.
The stone-throwers were mostly supporters of Abdul Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek general who is supposed to be an adviser to Karzai but has resisted efforts to bring the north under the control of the central government, they said.
The crowd was protesting against Shafaq being appointed in Place of Taj Mohammad Kohi, an ally of Dostum. Dostum denied any link with the protest, which he described as A spontaneous show of support. "What is going on is the anger of people towards Kabul," he told Reuters.
Mazar's police chief, Akram Khakreezwal, said Shafaq had been advised to stay in Mazar with his escort and wait for orders from Kabul.
The move is a setback for Karzai, who is visiting the United States and will hold talks with President George W. Bush on the worsening Taliban insurgency and faltering efforts to disarm regional militias like that loyal to Dostum before landmark elections due in September.
A surge in violence around the country has raised concern about security for the poll, which Bush would like to be able to present as a foreign policy success story before his own bid for re-election in November.
In April Dostum's forces overran neighbouring Faryab province, forcing its governor and a top military commander to flee. In a separate development, local authorities sent about 200 soldiers to drive out a local commander who overran a district headquarters in the central province of Ghor, the local police chief, General Zaman, told Reuters.
He said there had been clashes between followers of the commander, Abdul Satar, and government troops, but he had no details of any casualties.
US army to check possible terrorist infiltration into Afghanistan
KABUL, June 12 (Xinhua) -- The US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan are on high alert to check any possible terrorist infiltration from Pakistan, US military spokesman said Saturday.
"We maintain a very robust of presence of our forces on the border in the anticipation of that if any anti-coalition militia might try to escape from Pakistani army to cross the border," Tucker Mansager told newsmen here.
Media reports from Pakistan suggest that more than 40 people including suspected Taliban, al-Qaida and army personnel have been killed in the ongoing military operation launched last Wednesday in the tribal area of South Wazirustan along the border with Afghan province of Paktika.
Paktika and neighboring provinces of Khost and Paktia, once the stronghold of Taliban in southeast Afghanistan, have been the scene of Taliban-linked militancy since last summer in which dozens of people had been killed.
"We continue to maintain very close contact with the Pakistani military and sharing information on both sides of the border," the US ranking officer said.
Pakistan as a frontline nation in the US-led war on terror has been engaged in a military campaign against the remnants of Taliban and their allies in autonomous tribal area along the border with Afghanistan since early last year.
Ergezen Evaluates His Visit To Afghanistan As Positive
Saturday June 12, 2004 (1304 PST) Pakistan News Tribune
TEHRAN: Turkish Public Works and Settlement Minister Zeki Ergezen said yesterday that his visit to Afghanistan, which he paid before coming to Iran, was positive.
Speaking at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport, Ergezen said, ''our visit to Afghanistan was very positive.''
Ergezen said he met with Turkish businessmen working in this country and Afghan businessmen, and noted that they listened to the problems of Turkish businessmen.
Ergezen said there were problems in Afghanistan in the fields of urbanization, sewer system, potable water, construction plans and building.
''Efforts are underway to provide peace and tranquility. However, there are still security problems in this country,'' Ergezen noted.
Ergezen and the accompanying delegation will visit the quake-stricken Bam city.
An earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale hit Bam city of Iran on December 26, 2003, killing nearly 35 thousand people, and injuring thousands of others.
Later in the day, Ergezen will return to Tehran.
Ergezen will be received by Iranian First Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref on Saturday.
He is also scheduled to meet with Iranian Housing and Urban Development Ali Abdol-Alizadeh and Roads and Transport Minister Ahmad Khoram the same day.
Afghan Club, PAF secure semifinal berth in All Pak Tapal football tournament
Saturday June 12, 2004 (0540 PST) Pakistan News Tribune
RAWALPINDI, June 13 (Online): Afghan Club Chaman and PAF have entered into semi final stage of All Pakistan Tapal football tournament .
In the quarterfinal stage, Afghan club Chamman defeated PTV by 1 goal to nil in an absorbing match while PAF beat Islamabad to retain a berth in semi final round of All Pakistan Tapal football .
Meanwhile PAF won the match by virtue of golden goal after the completion of stipulated time .
It is pertinent to mention that last and final quarterfinal match was played between PAF and Islamabad Football Association to decide the final semi final line up.
Canadian drone aircraft crashes in Afghanistan
Afghanistan has been hard on small fleet of unpiloted spy planes
KABUL (CP) - One of Canada's unmanned spy planes crashed today, damaging the remote-controlled aircraft so badly it will likely have to be returned to its manufacturers in France for repair.
The unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, had just completed what authorities called a successful mission and deployed its parachute in the 45 C heat of an Afghan afternoon when it was flipped by a gust of shifting wind.
The UAVs have flown more than 60 sorties since arriving last fall. They have crashed at least three times and had two so-called `hard landings'. Winds have been a factor in at least four of the incidents.
Operators believe the plane hit a low clay wall when it came down near its usual landing area, about a kilometre east of the base.
It is not clear what today's crash means for the future of Canada's UAV program in Afghanistan.
After several of the accidents and other technical hold-ups, the UAV just seemed to be hitting its stride when its launcher, a 10-metre-long, compressed-air catapult, failed May 8, halting the program for 10 days.
The launcher was borrowed from the French army in January after the first one failed and was returned to the manufacturer for study. Like virtually every other snag, the problem is the environment in which it's operating.
Kabul's high altitude, about 2,000 metres, and extreme temperatures, fast approaching 50 C, have required the launchers to be used at maximum pressure.
Meanwhile, operators have been pushing the planes to their operational limits, recently expressing satisfaction with most tests they have conducted in the summer heat.
The three-metre plane is powered by a Canadian-made Bombardier snowmobile engine.
The programmed or remote-controlled flights can last six hours, but the thin air brought on by heat and altitude has limited the weight and therefore the amount of fuel the plane can carry, restricting daytime sorties. Today's flight lasted less than an hour.
Canada started with four of the $2-million Cdn Sperwar aircraft but military officials have forbidden release of their current capabilities.
The aircraft are equipped with complex camera systems that can peer into mountain ravines or terrorist compounds, instantly relaying the images back to safely situated ground stations.
Military officials say the real-time video has allowed members of the NATO's International Security Assistance Force to respond to immediate threats as they developed during operations.
The $33.8-million contract for the plane and support system was awarded to Oerlikon-Contraves Inc., of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. The company is subcontracted by SAGEM of France, which designed the aircraft.
Canada acquired the technology in record time, five months from the initial request for tenders last May until delivery in October, just 11 weeks after the contract was awarded.
The UAVs were expected to be taken home to Canada sometime next month, several weeks before the next, smaller, contingent of Canadian troops arrives in the Afghan capital to join the NATO force.
Germany also has its own UAVs in-theatre and Eurocorps, which takes over leadership of the 23-country force from Canada in August, will have additional UAVs.
Afghan golf: brown fairways, black greens and hazards you'll never forget
Sat Jun 12, 1:07 PM ET STEPHEN THORNE Canadian Press
BANDI QARGHA, Afghanistan (CP) - The fairways are a dusty brown, the greens are oily black and the hazards . . . well, the hazards are everywhere at the Kabul Golf Club.
Nestled in hills near a favourite picnic area just outside the city, the rugged nine-hole course is officially 2,278 yards. But it plays much, much longer.
The dirt-and-scrub fairways are rippled with tank tracks, littered with shell casings, dotted with craters, bordered by the ruins of war.
And they're speckled with the ominous red-painted rocks that are the international warning sign for landmines.
But don't worry, says club pro Muhammad Afzal Abdul. The mines have all been taken away, along with the remains of three Soviet tanks and a multiple rocket launcher.
"Golf course no mines," Abdul insists in broken English, shaking his head and waving his hand.
Just a few months ago, the site that was once treed and lush-green fairways was a mine-training centre. Before that, it was a military base and a battlefield.
Now the army barracks lie in ruin, shattered by bombs and pocked with bullet holes.
An errant drive off the elevated No. 1 tee - 103 cracked and broken concrete steps above the fairway - may well land among those blasted buildings. If it does, it is best left alone, Abdul's assurances notwithstanding.
Abdul makes his summer home in the clubhouse, which is itself a ruin, smoke stains pouring from glassless windows that look west from the Qargha Dam over Kabul's only lake and east into the hills surrounding its only links.
His pro shop is a small sea container stuffed with makeshift flags attached to iron reinforcement bars, small bags of donated clubs and other equipment, including the heavy mats groundskeepers drag to hand-groom the perpetually slow, oil-soaked sand greens after each group of players passes through.
A weathered 48 years old, Abdul has played golf for more than 30 years and he loves the game so much he went to prison for it.
He's played with diplomats and businessmen, politicians and soldiers, saints and sinners, pros and rank amateurs, and the one thing he says he loves most about the game is the people he meets.
A caddy from age 10 until he was finally taught to play by an American, the father of four children survived three wars and never fought in one.
"My golf clubs are my only weapons," he says.
But they didn't prove to be enough for the ultra-conservative Taliban, who accused him of playing a trivial game and consorting with westerners.
The regime that also banned kite-flying seized hundreds of his letters, photographs and certificates of appreciation along with some of his trophies.
Abdul managed to save some hardware by burying it in his backyard, including the cup he won at the Afghan Open in 1976.
They threw him in prison for 30 days. After that, he escaped to Pakistan, where he won tournaments in Peshawar and was feted at banquets as a champion.
Meanwhile, dozens of the students he taught honed their games on the lush fairways and greens of North America and Europe, tackling sand and water hazards that are the bane of golfers the world over.
But Abdul was confronted with hazards of a different sort.
He returned to Afghanistan two years ago to find his beloved golf course - built in the 1970s by Americans, Britons and Germans - ruined by years of drought and war.
The fairways were brown scrub, the greens barely distinguishable, the water hazards and fishing holes dried up and the clubhouse where members held dance parties on Friday nights a hollow shell.
Abdul went to work, first obtaining permission from Afghan authorities - his $10 green fees actually go to a local warlord - then beginning the laborious tasks unique to groundskeeping in a war zone.
"I started from scratch," he says through an interpreter. "When I came here, I didn't have shoes, I didn't have balls or clubs, I didn't have anything."
He brought American troops in to help clear mines and other detritus. He constructed tees on top of buildings and alongside fields where his countrymen died during a bloody civil war and, later, under American bombs.
Sand traps here would somehow seem redundant.
Finally, Abdul built greens, laying down the oil-soaked, hard-packed sand that holds fast against the mighty Afghan winds that roar across the fairways come many an afternoon.
Indeed, a round of nine holes on Wednesday began in the still heat of high noon, turned ominously dark by the 334-yard, par-4 second hole, was a full-blown dust storm by 338-yard No. 3, and pelting rain by the 147-yard fifth, one of the links' two par 3s.
The wind had died and the sun was beaming again by the 502-yard, par-5 eighth, second-longest hole on the course - unless you're bold enough to play the full 18, in which case it becomes a 528-yarder.
During a 2½-hour round of nine holes, three large explosions shook the area - roadwork, Abdul said dismissively as dark clouds of debris boiled high into the sky less than a kilometre away.
A twosome with Abdul includes a small entourage of caddies, groundskeepers and ball boys, whose job it is to run ahead and look out for every shot.
They are hawk-eyed in the light-coloured, crevassed earth.
But on No. 6, a shot settles somewhere in a small ravine that snakes down the left centre of the fairway, 100 yards from the skeleton of a derelict bus - a mine victim, no doubt. The ball boys missed it and a search begins.
Ball-searching at the Kabul Golf Club - at least for "hariji," or foreigners - is handicapped by a preoccupation with mines, a concern that is compounded with each measured step one takes off the beaten track.
No matter how many times Abdul asserts that KGC is mine-free, the hariji inevitably finds himself looking more where he is putting his feet than for his missing ball - a wise strategy, some might say, in the world's most mined country.
"Although golfers should feel relatively confident they will not lose a foot when their drive lands in the middle of the fairway, I think it is still a good idea to stay alert and keep your head down when walking the course," says Maj. Luc Gaudet of the 2,300-member Canadian army contingent in Kabul, and one of several soldiers who walked the course last weekend.
"The club is not guarded during the night and nothing prevents 'bad guys' from putting mines back into the ground there," he said. "Golf remains a strong symbol of western culture and, as such, it may become an easy target."
Even some locals are leery.
Omaid, an Afghan guard with an AK-47 slung over his shoulder, has been nervous the whole round, staying close to Abdul and repeatedly asking about mines.
But now Abdul is on the other side of the fairway and Omaid hasn't set foot in the small ravine. He's walking cautiously along its rim, looking in.
More than 100 Afghans a month are struck by mines and unexploded ordnance. No doubt Omaid knows a few; he is likely related to a mine victim or two.
Suddenly he points.
"Fanghae forkh!" he exclaims. Red stones.
The hariji stops in his tracks and looks up from his feet.
There, there, there . . . and there. One, two, three, four red stones lining both sides of the ditch. He is surrounded by them.
The foreigner doesn't take time to count any more - and this is one golf ball he'll gladly lose. He takes a long stride to the right, beyond the stones, and scrambles up the bank of the ditch and out.
There are no penalty strokes for losing a ball in a questionable area at the Kabul Golf Club - not on this day, at least.
The hariji grabs another ball, places it carefully on the ground - winter rules apply all season long here - then pulls out an 8-iron that is among the gear donated by Abdul's friends and tries to nail one to the stick.
The greens - blacks, actually - always have lots of bite and they are never, ever fast. Putting what's past behind you and playing aggressively, like a nation of non-golfing Afghans do, is the best strategy at KGC.
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