Afghan leader seeks US help to build commercial transport network
Tuesday June 15, 1:48 PM AFP
Afghan President Hamid Karzai asked US businesses to help build a commercial transport network for his war-torn country ahead of a scheduled meeting with US President George W. Bush.
Despite persistent security concerns, Karzai said Afghanistan's economy would grow at a double-digit pace over the next decade.
Karzai is scheduled to address the US Congress and hold wide ranging talks with Bush at the White House on Tuesday.
Reconstruction, security, narcotics and elections in Kabul in September are expected to be among key topics of discussions between the two leaders, officials said.
The Afghan leader arrived in the United States last week when he held talks with leaders of the Group of Eight industrialized nations who met on Sea Island, off the coast of Georgia.
Speaking to US business leaders Monday, Karzai said enhancing transportation infrastructure, including setting up railways, was key to developing Afghanistan's landlocked economy from the ashes of the US-led war that drove the radical Muslim Taliban regime from power over two years ago.
"Whoever invests in Afghanistan in transportation will be one of the biggest earners of money in that part of the world," Karzai told the meeting organised by the US Chamber of Commerce, the US Agency for International Development and the US Department of Commerce.
Karzai said current efforts to rebuild highways linking key parts of the country were not sufficient to cope with increasing trade with neighbouring states and prospective economic growth.
He disclosed plans to build railroads from Afghanistan to Pakistan, Iran and Uzbekistan but he did not elaborate.
Afghanistan, he said, welcomed investments in sectors such as energy, telecommunications, textiles, irrigation, mining and information technology, stressing that the climate for business was improving in his country.
To underscore his drive to attract investments, Karzai told his audience he was able during his visit to Washington to use an Afghan cellular telephone line to make a local call in the US capital.
"That is the spirit of business in Afghanistan. That is the spirit of opportunity in Afghanistan," he said.
Karzai forecast the Afghan economy would surge ahead.
Growing from a very low base, Afghanistan posted a rapid 30 percent economic expansion rate in 2002 and 25 percent last year.
Karzai said the Asian Development Bank and other financial institutions had projected annual average economic growth of at least 15 percent from this year to 2008.
"Afghanistan will continue to have, from 2008 onwards for another five years, at least 10 percent of growth. Afghanistan intends to continue that," he said.
The Afghan leader also said he was determined to improve the standard of living of his more than 26 million people, the majority of whom survive on less than one dollar a day.
"Afghanistan wants to have by seven years from today, the income per capita of the Afghan people raised to 700 dollars" from about 167 dollars, he said.
Speaking at another forum, Karzai said his country would have to continue relying on international help to ensure security and weed out narcotics cultivation -- two key concerns dogging development.
About 20 foreign aid workers have been killed in Afghanistan so far this year, by suspected Taliban Islamic militants and al-Qaeda diehards.
Karzai said the threat from "these remnants of terrorists" would "remain for a long time," stressing that global support to beef up security was essential to Afghanistan's progress.
He said international help was also key to helping impoverished Afghan farmers wean away from narcotics cultivation.
The illicit drug industry in Afghanistan has become a funding base for the al-Qaeda terror network, ex-White House drug policy spokesman Robert Weiner said, suggesting Bush and Karzai agree on a more effective plan to tackle the scourge.
Afghanistan is the world's biggest producer of opium, used to make heroin.
Afghanistan's First Venture Fund Seeks $50 Million
June 14 (Bloomberg) -- Afghanistan is attracting investors such as former McKinsey & Co. manager Pierre Van Hoeylandt, who's trying to raise $50 million for a venture capital fund as the Asian country emerges from more than two decades of conflict.
The 33-year-old's Afghanistan Renewal Fund plans to invest in fledgling construction, food, textiles and furniture manufacturing companies, according to a document for potential backers. The Asian Development Bank said it may commit $12.5 million and CDC Group Plc, a government-owned U.K. company, may put in $5 million.
``This is a frontier fund,'' said Innes Meek, a director at London-based CDC, which has plowed $1.6 billion into businesses from India to Tanzania. ``There's clearly a need for finance in Afghanistan, but it may be too early for venture capital.''
The Afghan economy grew 20 percent in the fiscal year ended in March, after expanding 30 percent in the previous 12 months as aid flowed in and a drought ended, according to the International Monetary Fund. The fund will seek to profit as Afghanistan, led by President Hamid Karzai, tries to rebuild its historical role as the crossroads of trade between the Middle East, China and India.
Karzai, who is scheduled to meet U.S. President George W. Bush tomorrow, has estimated it will take about a decade before the country can support itself. Afghanistan only opened its first ATM in January and still has 20,000 U.S. troops stationed.
After Soviet occupation in the 1980s and Taliban rule in the 1990s, about 70 percent of the country's 22 million citizens live on less than $2 a day.
``Venture capital is tough enough,'' said Tom Lamb, a managing director at Barclays Private Equity in London, which limits its investments to Western Europe. ``In Afghanistan, the things we take for granted -- a stable political system, laws and accounting -- don't exist.''
Van Hoeylandt, who helped advise the Afghan government while working at management consultant McKinsey before leaving the firm last year, declined to comment. He cited legal restrictions for the fund, which is seeking at least $30 million.
The German-born founder of the fund is betting the risks posed by a war-torn country that lacks extensive paved roads, power and water supplies can be outweighed by the Afghan reconstruction effort, supported by the U.S. and others.
About $4.4 billion of aid will roll in this year, about equal to the country's gross domestic product. Afghanistan started drawing financial support after a U.S.-led military force ousted the Taliban in 2001.
A fundamentalist Islamic movement led by Mullah Mohmmad Omar, the Taliban gave shelter to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who the U.S. alleges masterminded the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
Violence is still common. Afghan authorities arrested 10 people in connection with the killing last week of 11 Chinese construction workers, the Associated Press reported today.
A gross domestic product of $4 billion in fiscal 2003 increases to $6.5 billion after adding proceeds from opium products such as heroin and morphine, cultivated from poppies, according to the International Monetary Fund. That makes the Afghan economy about equal to the world's biggest buyout fund, a $6.45 billion pool managed by Blackstone Group LP of New York.
`Leading the Charge'
The new fund is ``leading the charge in seeking opportunities that will pave the way for more substantial investment,'' said Daniel Batchelder, founder of Morning Star Development, a Colorado Springs-based organization that supports Afghan community projects. ``Everyone stands to win if they produce.''
Van Hoeylandt is trying to recruit a ``senior partner from the Afghan diaspora,'' according to the document to investors. David Meen, a former managing director of McKinsey's Istanbul office will be one of the advisers. Actis Capital LLP, a London-based firm that buys companies in developing countries, is supporting the fund.
Venture capital firms typically profit by selling businesses to other companies or via initial public offerings. The Afghan fund will seek to sell investments mainly to the managers of the businesses as cash flows grow, the document said.
``We would be an appropriate recipient of venture-capital funding when we move into more mass-made garments and set up a larger-scale factory,'' said Sarah Takesh, founder of Tarsian & Blinkley in Eldorado Springs, Colorado, which employs 300 Afghan women to make fashionable garments for customers in the U.S.
It may be better to wait for the banking system to expand first, CDC's Meek said. While Standard Chartered Plc, a U.K.-based bank focusing on Asia, opened its first Kabul branch and cash machine in January, it doesn't yet lend money.
Van Hoeylandt started ACAP Partners Ltd. to run the fund last year after working for McKinsey and spending a year as an investment banker at the Frankfurt office of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., the world's third-biggest securities firm, in 1999. He also worked as a reporter for newspapers including Die Zeit on conflicts in Yugoslavia, Somalia and Rwanda.
``You've got to hand it to him, he's taking venture capital to a whole new level,'' said Stephen Marquardt, a former head of emerging markets investment banking at Merrill Lynch & Co. ``It's more like adventure capital.''
'UK holds indirect talks with Taliban'
By Amjad Mahmood Dawn
LAHORE, June 13: The UK has started holding indirect talks with the Taliban to seek an "honourable" exit from Afghanistan, MMA secretary-general Maulana Fazlur Rahman, who is mediating between the two, told Dawn by phone here on Sunday.
The Maulana feels that the British authorities are working on behalf of the United States and this indirect process has been chosen to avoid any ill-effects on forthcoming presidential elections. The polls are to be held on Nov 2.
UK foreign minister Jack Straw during his recent visit to Islamabad had called on Maulana Fazl, who is also opposition leader in the National Assembly, to initiate the talks process.
After contacting and getting a go-ahead signal from the Taliban, the Maulana then had suddenly left for Britain at a time when the MMA, of which he is secretary-general, had announced a long march on Wana against ongoing army operation launched for pushing out "foreign militants" taking refuge there.
During his three-day stay in London, he held several meetings with officials of foreign and interior ministries as well as of secret agencies, Maulana Fazl said. He is scheduled to call on UK high commissioner in Islamabad in early July before leaving for London later in the month to further discuss possibilities and modalities of direct talks between the two parties.
A JUI official confided to this reporter that the Taliban are so far reluctant to come forward directly as they have lost confidence in Pakistan authorities who had handed over their diplomat in Islamabad Mullah Zaeef to the US two years ago against all diplomatic norms and international laws.
If the talks proved successful and the US was provided a face- saving exit plan, it will not only bring to an end the war going on in Afghanistan rather it will also have positive impacts on the region, especially on internal situation of Pakistan, the Maulana hopes.
Bush-Karzai Meeting Tuesday Must Stop Afghanistan Heroin Surge to World's No. 1
or Will Fail to Stop Terror Funding Says Former White House Drug Spoke
Mon Jun 14, 8:37 AM ET
To: National and International desks
Contact: Bob Weiner or Sasha Varghese, 301-283-0821 or 202-329-1700
WASHINGTON, June 14 /U.S. Newswire/ -- "President Bush and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai must agree at their meeting Tuesday to stop Afghanistan's surge to the world's number one opium and heroin supplier, or they will fail to stop the funding base for the terror of Al Qaeda," former White House Drug House Drug Policy spokesman, Robert Weiner, said today.
"Unless President Bush and President Karzai make an announcement of an enhanced plan against opium and heroin, their meeting will be a failure, because it will fail to truly stop terror and the source of terror's funding -- the whole reason we went into Afghanistan in the first place," Weiner, the Office of National Drug Policy's spokesman 1995-2001 and earlier the U.S. House Narcotics Committee's spokesman, contends.
Weiner ripped the Administration for "allowing Afghanistan on our watch to return to being the world's number one heroin producer after several years of decline." He asserts, "Fighting drugs in Afghanistan is not a priority -- we're giving it a pass with acquiescence and a token program meant not to offend."
Afghanistan, after a two-year lapse, is once again "the world's largest cultivator and producer" of opium and heroin, according to the 2004 White House National Drug Control Strategy. Afghani crops in 2003 were more than double the 2002 crop, Weiner points out.
"How could this happen with thousands of U.S. troops on the ground, especially since dirty drug money pays for terrorism? The answer is that the liaison of the current Afghani government to the opium warlords there stops them from doing it, and our fear of offending their government's economic and political base stops us too. We have effectively become silent partners of the Afghani opium warlords."
"We need a Plan Afghanistan, like Plan Colombia, to rid the heroin and make the world safer," Weiner proposes. Colombia has surprised critics by succeeding in its plan to reduce coca cultivation by half.
Weiner asserted, "Economic assistance for alternatives is not enough. That only encourages other farmers not growing opium to do so to get our money. We need a real plan -- eradication and enforcement with the help of our thousands of troops there, with planes spraying and troops burning and chopping -- to get the job done."
In an op-ed column in the Miami Herald June 11, titled "Afghanistan: Eradicate Poppy Fields, Terror Funding", Weiner and Jeffrey Buchanan of the Johns Hopkins University wrote, "Just as the administration's Iraqi mission has been damaged by the scandal of prisoner abuse and other failures," our anti-terror policy in Afghanistan "has been undercut by the rebirth of the Afghani poppy, the main ingredient in heroin."
"The future looks even worse: A U.N. report says that two out of every three Afghan farmers plan to increase their poppy crop in 2004," Weiner stated.
Afghan commission set up to investigate brutal killing of Chinese
Tuesday June 15, 2:01 AM AFP
Local authorities have established a commission to investigate the shocking killing of 11 Chinese road workers in northeastern Afghanistan, a provincial governor said.
The body would probe the murders of the workers who died, along with an Afghan police officer minding the site, when their camp was sprayed with machine gun fire in the early hours of Thursday, Kunduz governor Mohammed Omar said.
The workers were based in Kunduz province, considered one of the safest areas in Afghanistan, and were set to build a road to neighbouring Baghlan province.
So far some 10 Afghans have been arrested in Kunduz and Baghlan over the killings.
"This commission is working in Kunduz and Baghlan and consists of military, intelligence and police officials," Omar told AFP.
Meanwhile the bodies of the 11 Chinese were airlifted home Monday, an official said.
The four Chinese injured in the attack, the worst against foreigners since the fall of the Taliban, were also transported back to China on a second plane, a spokesman for the peacekeeping International Security Assistance Force told AFP.
"One plane took the injured back and a second plane took the bodies," Squadron Leader Sean McFetrich said.
The plane carrying the coffins arrived late Monday in the eastern city of Nanchang, where 10 of the victims were from, China's Xinhua news agency said.
Relatives, officials and Afghan Deputy Minister for Public Works Mohammad Yaqub met the coffins at Changbei airport, it said.
No one has claimed responsibility for the killings but officials have said some of those arrested have links to both the ousted Taliban regime and the Hezb-i-Islami party of former Afghan premier and wanted warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
The two groups are believed to cooperate and have both been blamed for attacks against Afghan and foreign troops, humanitarian workers and people working on reconstruction projects in war-torn Afghanistan.
Chinese planes collect workers killed, injured in Afghan attack
06:24 PM EDT Jun 14
KABUL (AP) - A Chinese military plane left the Afghan capital on Monday with the bodies of 11 Chinese construction workers slain in their sleep in northern Afghanistan last week. Eleven wooden coffins, each draped with a Chinese flag, were brought to Kabul airport and loaded onto the transport plane. Chinese and Afghan officials held a brief ceremony before takeoff.
Assailants stole into the camp of a Chinese road contractor in Kunduz province, 250 kilometres north of the capital, on Thursday, spraying the workers with gunfire as they slept in a row of tents.
Eleven Chinese and the camp's sole Afghan armed guard were killed in the attack, the deadliest on foreign civilians since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. The remains of the Chinese workers will be flown to Nanchang, capital of Jiangxi province, where most were born, China's official Xinhua news agency said.
A second plane also departed from Kabul Monday carrying four Chinese injured in the attack. They were bound for the eastern city of Jinan for treatment, Xinhua said. Afghan officials say they have arrested 10 people in connection with the attack, but it remains unclear whether Taliban-led insurgents battling U.S.-led forces in the south and east were responsible.
U.S. promises to make changes after Afghanistan prison deaths
By Stephen Graham The Associated Press June 15 2004
KABUL, Afghanistan · The U.S. military promised Monday to improve its prisons in Afghanistan after a top general inspected the network of 20 secretive jails, where allegations of abuse include the deaths of at least three detainees.
The military refused to say how procedures would be changed at the jails. There have been accounts from former prisoners of hoodings, beatings and sexual abuse. A spokesman promised that "comprehensive" information on the general's findings would be made public within weeks.
Nader Nadery, a spokesman for the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, urged commanders to release the findings to convince Afghans, shocked by graphic pictures from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, that abuse in Afghanistan was not widespread.
"We're not satisfied but hope all the results of the review will be made public, or at least shared with the Afghan government and the human rights commission," he said.
Lt. Gen. David Barno, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, ordered the prison review last month. He pledged rapid action if faults were found but said details of techniques used on suspects would remain classified.
Brig. Gen. Charles Jacoby, Barno's deputy operational chief, visited all the U.S. holding centers, most of them at bases in the south and east where American troops are still battling -- and detaining -- Taliban and al-Qaida holdouts.
U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Tucker Mansager said some changes were being made at the jails based on Jacoby's interim findings.
"We're taking action on those [findings] as they come forward, evaluating them, implementing some of them, deferring some of them and planning some of the rest of them out," he told a news conference in Kabul.
Mansager said the final report will be complete within days, and some findings will be made public by early July.
"It'll come out as a consolidated, cohesive and comprehensive package," Mansager said.
Of the three confirmed detainee deaths in Afghanistan, two were at the main U.S. base at Bagram, north of Kabul, in December 2002. Both were ruled homicides after autopsies found the men had died from "blunt-force injuries."
The CIA is investigating the death of another detainee in eastern Afghanistan in June 2003.
The military says it already made a raft of changes to its prison regime as a result of the two Bagram deaths, but it has not announced any results of its criminal investigations.
It is also investigating allegations of mistreatment brought by two former detainees last month. One, an Afghan police colonel, told The Associated Press he was beaten, stripped naked and sexually abused while in U.S. custody for nearly 40 days last year in Gardez, Kandahar and Bagram.
Afghanistan Registers One-Third of Eligible Voters for Polls
June 15 (Bloomberg) -- Afghanistan has registered more than 3.5 million voters, one-third of the 10.5 million Afghans eligible to take part in presidential and general elections planned for September, the United Nations said.
Women make up 35 percent of people who have registered in the country where they were stopped from taking part in society under the Taliban regime that was ousted in December 2001. The Taliban's interpretation of Islamic law including banning women from working and girls from attending school.
Registration is taking place at 400 sites across the country, the UN said on its Web site. The Afghan Ministry of Justice has approved 21 political parties from 50 seeking recognition, Edward Carwardine, a spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said on the Web site.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai in March delayed the elections to September from July, citing the lack of security and slow voter registration. Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters have stepped up attacks, mainly in the south of the country, as Afghanistan prepares for the polls.
Afghanistan won't ask the U.S. to send more troops to help security for the elections, Karzai said yesterday in Washington.
``The United States is already busy in Afghanistan helping us in reconstruction and helping us fight terrorism and secure our borders,'' Karzai said after meeting U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Karzai has asked the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which leads an 6,500-member international peacekeeping force in the capital, Kabul, to send additional forces.
``We are hoping that NATO will come to Afghanistan, especially before the elections of September,'' Karzai said.
Jean Arnault, the UN envoy in Afghanistan, told the Security Council last month that violence in Afghanistan is threatening the country's efforts to hold credible elections in September.
The UN last week suspended convoys carrying aid and electoral workers in eastern Afghanistan after an attack on vehicles traveling between Gardez and Khost in Paktia province.
Polls may have to delayed from September because constituency boundaries have still to be fixed, Agence France- Press reported at the weekend, citing Ghutai Khawrai, spokesman for the Joint Electoral Management Body.
The Afghan government has violated an election law that states the boundaries of constituencies must be certified four months before polls are held, AFP cited Khawrai as saying.
Afghan President Ready for Elections
The Associated Press 06/14/2004
WASHINGTON - Afghanistan's president says he expects to have close to half the qualified voters registered this week for September's first post-Taliban elections and sees no reason the for a second delay in the balloting.
In March, President Hamid Karzai postponed the original June election date. The United Nations had warned that inadequate security arrangements and stretched logistics made the June date problematic.
Karzai, who meets Tuesday with President Bush, said Sunday that he and the Afghan people are eager to ratify the democratic system. Fewer than 10 million of the South Asian country's nearly 29 million people are qualified to register.
Karzai said on CNN's "Late Edition" that officials in the Afghan capital of Kabul told him Saturday that 3.7 million people were registered, "and by the time it's Tuesday or Wednesday, we will definitely have at least 4 million people registered."
He said the 10 million figure may be high for the number qualified to register and set the figure at perhaps 7 million to 8 million. "If we reach the 6 million mark, we will be very, very happy, in that we're a legitimate mark to go for election now," he said.
"We want it very much definitely to be held in September," Karzai said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I feel confident because the Afghan people want it very much. We are under pressure from the Afghan people to expedite registration to reach the villages, and the Afghan people want to elect their government."
He added: "Now if this trend continues for another two months, with the current registration we have, we should be very much on course for elections." Karzai, who is president by vote of a loya jirga, or grand council, under traditional Afghan practice, is running for the presidency against a number of challengers.
"If we have elections, and if in that election, I win, I'll be very happy," Karzai told CNN. "If I lose, I'll be happy again, because through that we will have taken Afghanistan through a transition to a higher state of legitimacy and democratic existence."
One of the biggest problems facing Afghanistan's first elected post-Taliban government will be the country's illicit cultivation of opium poppies, which met nearly three-fourths of the world's opium demand last year.
The trade, 20 times that during the fundamentalist Taliban's last year, brought in $2.3 billion, more than half Afghanistan's gross domestic product. Experts expect plantings to reach a record this year.
Karzai said illegal drug production is more dangerous for Afghanistan than for other countries. "This production of poppies supports terrorism. It criminalizes the economy. It undermines institution-building in Afghanistan. Afghanistan will have to destroy it, for the sake of the Afghan people and also because of the world," he said.
Karzai blamed poor Afghan government policy for a huge rise in poppy production two years ago. Farmers were paid to destroy their plants.
"This encouraged every other person to grow poppies, thinking that if they grow poppies, we would rather pay them and destroy their poppies or, if we don't, they will have the poppies," Karzai said. "Last year we recognized it and we began to destroy poppies. This year again we have gone in and destroyed poppies, but this is not a simple problem," he said.
"We will destroy the poppies, but next year they will come again. Therefore, there has to be a plan, together with the international community, to provide alternative livelihood, alternative economy and better reconstruction in Afghanistan on a sustainable manner so that we over time get rid of the problem," Karzai said.
U.S. Military Vows to Ensure Afghan Elections
Mon Jun 14, 6:25 AM ET By David Brunnstrom
KABUL (Reuters) - The U.S. military vowed on Monday to keep up operations against resurgent militants in Afghanistan to ensure landmark elections are held in September as planned.
Critics have questioned whether elections -- which have already been delayed from June -- are viable in September, given widespread militancy in the provinces that has hampered voter registration and raised fears about safety of poll workers.
"Right now we believe that the elections will be able to go in September," U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Tucker Mansager Mansager told a regular news briefing in Kabul.
"The coalition stands firmly behind the decision to hold those elections in September and we continue to take action to make sure that's possible," he said. "Right now we will continue the kind of operations that we have been doing here."
Mansager said U.S.-led military operations like those in the past three weeks across several provinces of southern and central Afghanistan showed the determination to hold the polls on time.
He said U.S.-led troops have killed more than 80 guerrillas and detained more than 90 since May 25.
Analysts say President Bush is keen to see the polls held on time, as given his problems in Iraq he would like to be able to present a foreign policy success story ahead of his own bid for re-election later in the year.
KARZAI COMMITTED TO SEPTEMBER
On Sunday, President Hamid Karzai, who is visiting the United States and is to meet Bush this week, said he remained committed to holding elections in September.
Apart from militant violence, that aim has also been threatened by the slow pace of voter registration and efforts to disarm rival factional militias.
Mansager said the latest military operation had enabled the registration of 24,000 voters in the Deh Chopan area that straddles Uruzgan and Zabul provinces, a notorious troublespot.
But he said more attacks on soft targets such as aid workers could be expected as the Taliban and its allies try to make good their threat to disrupt what are billed as Afghanistan's first ever free elections.
"This won't be easy and there will be further attacks by those who would disrupt that process," Mansager said. "We have got to be prepared for that."
"We have to be clear-eyed about the threat," he said. "There are terrorists who are absolutely desperate to derail these elections."
On Sunday, Afghanistan's U.N.-backed election management body dismissed as speculation reports that the polls would have to be delayed.
Media reports at the weekend quoted members of Afghanistan's interim Election Commission and U.N. officials as saying polls could not legally be held in September, as Karzai did not sign a decree defining constituency boundaries by June 5.
But the UN's Joint Electoral Management Body said no decision had been made on any delay and a date would be decided after consultations with political parties and the government.
Let the Afghans vote when they're ready
International Herald Tribune 06/14/2004 By Barnett R. Rubin
NEW YORK - When President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan comes to the White House on Tuesday, the most convincing show of support he could receive from President George W. Bush would be a statement lifting the pressure on Afghanistan to hold its elections before the U.S. presidential election.
The statement should be accompanied by clear commitment to the total demobilization of militias, building a national administration, extending an international security umbrella to the provinces and establishing an antidrug policy that cuts off profits to traffickers while providing livelihoods for farmers who depend on opium.
Afghanistan is currently planning to hold its first ever direct presidential election and elections to the lower house of Parliament in September. Since harsh weather makes some regions inaccessible soon after, the next possible date for elections is spring 2005. Yet none of the elements needed for free and fair elections is in place.
Security continues to deteriorate because of Taliban attacks, power struggles among warlords and banditry. The burgeoning opium trade funds all of these. Voter registration is accelerating, but may not meet the target for credible participation. In the face of resistance from warlords, the government and the United States continue to avoid dissolving the militias that threaten security.
The Afghan cabinet passed the electoral law only four months before the planned elections, leaving many potential candidates little time to register and campaign. The president and other key political figures have not even decided whether the election should be a legitimation of the status quo, a referendum on a new order, or an all-out contest among different political visions.
Many Afghans believe that the only reason for the rush to elections is to provide Washington with an exit strategy. After both the U.S. and Afghan elections, they believe, Washington wants to declare victory in Afghanistan and focus all available resources on Iraq.
Of course, it is not only the Bush administration that is pressing for quick elections: Karzai has also insisted on subjecting his presidency to popular scrutiny. Nor does Bush - or John Kerry - intend to walk away from Afghanistan after the election.
Nonetheless, the low-cost way in which the Bush administration has tried to pursue its policies in Afghanistan while focusing resources on Iraq has strengthened these suspicions, in Afghanistan and outside. So Bush should take this opportunity to signal clearly that U.S. support is not conditional on the elections being held in September.
The advantages of a credible election are obvious. The goal of the transition process has been to create successively more legitimate Afghan governments, culminating in a fully representative government chosen through free and fair elections. It is becoming increasingly obvious, however, that elections in September would not be free or fair. The experience of postconflict operations shows that elections without security and sufficient political consensus on the rules of the game lead to governments that are less legitimate and effective, not more.
For the majority of Afghans, the most disheartening aspect of the run-up to the election is the temporizing with leaders whose crimes in the early 1990s paved the way for the Taliban. Washington and the Afghan government have caved in to the resistance to dissolving the 10th Division, a militia unit based near Kabul implicated in many killings that is involved to this day in terrorizing the people of western Kabul.
Karzai's recent meetings with leaders of this and other militias have aroused suspicions that the Afghan president, with U.S. backing, is prepared to share power with the tainted militia leaders - which he denies. Afghanis perceive this as consistent with the suspected U.S. exit strategy - quick elections and an alliance of Karzai and anti-Taliban warlords.
It is up to Bush and Karzai to dispel these suspicions by clearly articulating a joint agenda of demobilizing militias, strengthening the government and affirming that elections will be held only when people can truly vote.
True, if elections are postponed, Karzai cannot simply lengthen his term by decree. The new constitution wisely sets no date for the elections, but the president will have to reconvene the loya jirga, or tribal assembly, that adopted that constitution to reschedule the vote. Bush - and Kerry - should declare that the U.S. government will remain committed to the Afghans throughout such a process, and beyond.
Barnett R. Rubin, director of studies at New York University's Center on International Cooperation, is author of "The Fragmentation of Afghanistan."
Afghan Leader Calls for NATO to Send More Troops
Mon Jun 14, 7:31 PM ET By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai called on NATO on Tuesday to get more peacekeeping forces into his country ahead of planned September elections, but said he was not seeking additional U.S. troops.
Karzai and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in an outdoor news conference at the spot where a hijacked plane slammed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, both also expressed confidence that Osama bin Laden, whose al Qaeda network was blamed for the attack, will be captured, but did not guess when.
Karzai was scheduled to meet on Tuesday with President Bush.
After a meeting with Rumsfeld, who has visited Afghanistan six times, Karzai said he did not make a "specific request" for the United States to add to the roughly 20,000 troops it currently has in Afghanistan.
"The United States is already busy in Afghanistan helping us in reconstruction, and helping us fight terrorism and helping us secure our borders," Karzai said.
But he said he expected NATO "to fulfill the promise that we have been made. We are hoping that NATO will come to Afghanistan especially before the elections of September."
NATO took charge of the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, troops last year. The alliance leads roughly 6,000 peacekeepers concentrated in the capital Kabul, and a small civilian-military team in the northern city of Kunduz.
But NATO has struggled to expand its peacekeeping operation into unruly provinces because of allies' reluctance to commit costly military equipment such as helicopters and planes. Many NATO allies argue that their militaries are overstretched by operations around the globe, including Iraq and the Balkans.
Karzai, picked to serve as president by a traditional Afghan council, is seeking election as president in the elections originally planned for June but now scheduled for September.
The United States has roughly doubled its troop total in the country this year amid an intensified effort to track down al Qaeda and Taliban fugitives including bin Laden. U.S.-led forces in 2001 toppled the Taliban regime, which had harbored al Qaeda.
"All nations, yours and ours, have had fugitives in our histories. And has a fugitive run forever? No, at least not in my country," said Karzai, referring to bin Laden. "So he's a fugitive right now. He's hiding somewhere. And he's on the run. And we're after him. We'll catch him one day, sooner or later."
U.S. officials have said they believe bin Laden is hiding in the rugged Afghan-Pakistani border areas.
Karzai also emphasized his commitment against the cultivation of poppies in Afghanistan, the world's top opium-producing country, but called for "strong, consistent international support." He did not elaborate or fault any specific country's efforts.
"The fight against poppies is the fight for Afghanistan. And no matter who or how, we will not allow this to continue. Poppies criminalize the Afghan economy. Poppies prevent the institution-building in Afghanistan. Poppies go hand-in-hand with terrorism," Karzai said.
Pakistan eyes arrests after al Qaeda capture
By Tahir Ikram Monday June 14, 10:05 PM
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan expects more arrests to follow its capture of a nephew of the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks and of another high profile foreign national, Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat says.
The government announced late on Sunday the capture of an important al Qaeda member with a $1 million (550,000 pounds) bounty on his head and the arrest of eight militants suspected in the bloody ambush of Karachi's military commander last week.
The al Qaeda suspect was the nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the number three leader in Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network and the suspected chief planner of the September 11 attacks on the United States, said Information Minister Sheikh Rashid. Mohammed was arrested near Islamabad in March last year.
Hayat described the latest capture as a "major breakthrough".
"The suspects are being interrogated," he told Reuters on Monday. "The process of dismantling the network has speeded up. We expect more arrests will take place."
He said he believed the militants had attended an al Qaeda training camp in South Waziristan, 400 km (250 miles) southwest of Islamabad, where the army is mopping up after a fierce offensive last week near tribal region's main town of Wana.
"They are linked to Wana, with the training camp and the firing range of al Qaeda. It was a main centre and well established transit point," he said.
Pakistan's military spokesman said the five-day offensive near Wana had ended and security forces had killed 55 al Qaeda-linked militants, destroying their camps and hideouts.
"Most foreign militants and their local supporters have been killed or forced to disperse," Major-General Shaukat Sultan said. Counting the cost of the operation, he said 17 troopers and three civilians were killed during the fighting.
Security forces have arrested another non-Pakistani member of al Qaeda believed to have been involved in several deadly attacks on Shi'ites in the southwestern city of Quetta, Hayat said. He declined to give any details, citing security concerns.
LINKED TO TRIBAL REGION
On Monday police brought eight Pakistani militants linked to al Qaeda to an anti-terrorism court. They were arrested on Sunday and are suspected of involvement in an attack last Thursday on Karachi's army chief, Lieutenant-General Ahsan Saleem Hayat.
Hayat was unhurt but 10 people were killed in the ambush, which authorities say was the militants' response to the army offensive in South Waziristan. More than 600 foreign militants are believed to be hiding in the lawless tribal region.
Fighters jets roared over Wana on Monday, residents said. However, the jets were not heard dropping bombs and there were no reports of gunfire, they said.
In neighbouring North Waziristan, militants detonated a bomb that killed three paramilitary troops and wounded three on Monday near Miranshah, the main town in the tribal region near the Afghan border.
U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Tucker Mansager told a briefing he was unaware of any particularly "high value" al Qaeda figures captured in Pakistan.
But Mansager praised the Pakistan army's offensive in South Waziristan.
"Coalition forces in that region of Afghanistan bordering Pakistan stand ready to deal with those terrorists who manage to elude the combined arms attacks on them by the Pakistani military and attempt to flee to Afghanistan," Mansager said.
Hardline Pakistani militant groups have been enraged at their government's decision to back the United States in the war on terror after the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
Factional fighting leaves three dead in northwest Afghanistan
Monday June 14, 4:23 PM AFP
Three people have been killed, including one policeman, during two hours of factional fighting in a remote area of northwest Afghanistan, according to a provincial police chief.
Between 20 and 30 armed men attacked a government headquarters in Ghor province, about 580 kilometers (360 milles) west of the capital Kabul on Saturday night, Ghor police chief General Mohammad Zaman said.
"A group of armed men attacked the Tolak district headquarters," Zaman told AFP via telephone.
"In the two-hour exchange of fire one policeman and two attackers were killed and five of them were arrested."
The attackers are believed to be headed by Mawlawi Abdul Salam, a former mullah or muslim preacher from the same district.
"How he managed to get a group of some 20 to 30 armed men and why he attacked the district is not yet known," Zaman said.
Northwestern Afghanistan is generally considered one of the safest areas in the country but the murder of three international Medecins Sans Frontieres workers and their two Afghan colleagues in neighbouring Badghis province earlier this month has raised security concerns.
Similar attacks in south and southeast Afghanistan on national and US-led coalition posts, aid workers, UN staffers and reconstruction workers are claimed by remnants of the ousted Taliban regime and other militants.
As Afghanistan's presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for September approach, security is becoming a major concern in the war-ravaged country.
Spain may send hundreds of troops to Haiti and Afghanistan
14 Jun 2004 Deutsche Presse Agentur
Madrid (dpa) - Spain is preparing to send up to 300 troops to Haiti and to boost its troop strength in Afghanistan, press reports said Tuesday.
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialist government wants to demonstrate its commitment to multilateral humanitarian or peace missions after withdrawing Spain's 1,300 troops from the U.S.-led Iraq operation in May.
Spain has received requests from NATO and European allies to boost its presence of Afghanistan, where it now has 141 troops stationed in Kabul as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Madrid has also accepted to contribute 92 troops to the five-nation Eurocorps, which is due to replace Canada in running the ISAF in August.
It may also send other troops, with the total Spanish troop strength amounting to nearly 300 this year, the daily El Mundo said.
However, Spain is reluctant to take charge of an Afghan province and would prefer to keep its troops in less dangerous Kabul.
Spain was also expected to comply with Latin American requests to back a Latin American United Nations force in Haiti. Spain may send up to 300 troops to the Caribbean country, reports said.
Madrid was also expected to contribute equipment such as field hospitals, helicopters and transport planes to the two missions.
Defence Minister Jose Bono pledged to consult parliament before the government would take a decision by late June. dpa st sc
Iran To Reconstruct Pul-e- Khumri Power Plant In Afghanistan
Source: Mehr News Agency (Iran)
TEHRAN June 13 (MNA) -- According to an agreement made on Thursday, June 10, 2004 in Kabul between Mozaffar Mohammadi, Managing Director of Azarab Energy, and Mohammad Yunes Noandish, Afghanistan Deputy Minster of Water and Power, Pul-e- Khumri 2 Power Plant will be reconstructed.
Azarab Energy will rebuild this power plant over 20 months for 14.3 million dollars using financial aid from Iran. This power plant will provide electricity to more than 18,000 Afghani families in a country where only 9% of the population have access to electricity.
With a power capacity of 3x3MW, 90% of the plant’s parts will be procured from Iran. According to the agreement, Azarab Energy will provide the necessary replacement parts for 5 years after the completion of the project.
Afghanistan struggles with democracy
By Duncan Campbell Dawn (Pakistan)
JALALABAD: Dozens of Afghan police recruits in battledress are marching in drill outside their head-quarters in Jalalabad in Nangarhar province near the border with Pakistan, some in step, others laughing and joking, very obviously not.
Afghanistan is due to have national elections in the face of violent opposition from the Taliban and the aim is to have as many police officers and soldiers on the ground, particularly in the border areas, to ensure that voting takes place.
Violence has increased significantly in the past 10 days. In Jalalabad the province's security chief, Haji Ajab Shah, was killed in an explosion in his office last week. Inside the fortified building Mohammed Younis Noorzai, the police chief, says he is confident his officers can police the elections.
"God willing, we will have a good election process," he says. The Taliban were making incursions "but they are not very active, they are like a thief, they come in and then they go back (over the border) immediately".
In his nearby palace the governor, former mujahideen commander Haji Din Muhammad, turbanned, urbane and white-bearded, says the registration of voters is going well despite the violence.
"There have been 400,000 people registered here and there is a still a month left to register," he says. "As for the exact time of the election, whether it will take place or not, it depends on the general situation of the registration process in the whole country."
Back in Kabul the extravagantly dressed Molodine is adamant he is the best candidate. "Look at me," he says, "I am a beautiful man. I am an appropriate candidate to become the president of Afghanistan ... Hey, I know how to make everyone vote for me. If I become president, poppy cultivation is free."
His promises are greeted with laughter by his audience and although there has been some heckling, the mood among the 70 or 80 people gathered in the open air is friendly.
Molodine will not win. He is not even running. He is a character portrayed by the actor Nassar Ahmed in a play called Good Choice, which is being premiered in the capital before being toured in 16 different productions and in both the Afghan languages of Dari and Pushto with the aim of encouraging people to vote.
Each troupe will perform the show 30 times and eventually reach, they hope, an audience of about 500,000 people, including those in the rural areas who have no access to television.
For all the jokes in the play, this is a serious business. Although President Hamid Karzai and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama) are adamant the elections will go ahead, each fresh outbreak of violence raises further doubts.
More than 700 people have been killed in fighting in the past nine months, endangering registration. The elections are the key issue in Afghanistan, a litmus test of how secure and self-confident the country is.
Unama, which is responsible for the process, is bullishly optimistic. Its spokesman, Manoel Almeida e Silva, described the public's participation so far as "extremely encouraging".
In Kabul registration is running at 87 per cent but in many of the provinces it barely exists: 0.6 per cent in Panjshir in the north east. In Nuristan, also in the north east, and Paktika, in the south east, registration sites are only now being set up.
When five Medecins sans Frontieres workers were killed in Badghis province last week the registration sites there closed although they have since reopened. "It is going to get worse before it gets better," is a phrase on the lips of many in the international community, who say the security and investment that should have gone to Afghanistan has been diverted to Iraq.
There is also concern among aid workers about the way they are perceived in some areas as being linked with the coalition forces. A leaflet distributed in the more volatile areas shows Afghans with rocket launchers and semi-automatic rifles and carries the warning: "If you attack coalition forces, aid will stop." Such linkage - which is not true - is of enormous concern to aid workers.
There are 20,000 coalition troops in the country in addition to the 6,400-strong International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), the UN-authorized multinational force whose troops come from Nato and other countries and are concentrated in Kabul.
Tanks and armoured cars patrol the countryside. There are private armed guards everywhere, from the entrances to cafes to the front seats of the countless four-wheel drive vehicles with their radio masts and aid agency acronym logos that whiz through the streets of the capital.
But while Kabul may be relatively secure, other parts of the country are not. In the south east the Taliban carry out their incursions. In other rural areas the warlords and their militias flex their muscles, making their demands of Mr Karzai. The disarmament programme, which is tied to the election process, has been spasmodic.
"There is a lot of pressure, to be sure, on everybody with the election coming up and we are focused very much on that but we also need to focus beyond the election," says Commander Chris Henderson, the Isaf spokesman.
But despite the violence, Afghans continue to return to the country. Before 2001, according to Unama, Afghans were the world's biggest refugee diaspora with more than 6 million displaced people.
Now they have the largest number of returning refugees: 3.6 million since the end of 2001. The majority are from Pakistan and Iran, those who left for Europe, the US and Australia being less likely to make the journey back.
Many of the wealthiest exiles in the Gulf states are biding their time until they see whether the elections take place and bring with them the promised stability.
Ahmad Nabi Faqiri, a baseball-capped 30-year-old engineer who escaped on foot with his family to Pakistan in 1982 and later settled in Delaware, says he has now returned to live and work.
He is an admirer of Mr Karzai and hopeful for the future. "You know the saying 'give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and he is fed for a lifetime', that is the pillar that a society like Afghanistan needs to be built on," he says.
Many feel that Afghanistan is too reliant on international aid. While some of the programmes are working, the security issue clouds the work outside Kabul, making much of the country a no-go area. "I don't know how long I can stay here," one German aid worker says. "I don't want to be a martyr."
Part of the country is booming: rents for a house in Kabul can be up to pounds sterling 43,000 a year and property prices shoot up by the day. New business investments are proudly announced at press conferences. But the security situation is fluid.
One day a highway seems safe, the next only to be attempted with armed escort. Even Kabul, with its razor-wired buildings, frequent power failures and armoured patrols, hardly looks like a capital preparing to exercise its democratic imperative.
Mr Karzai, with an 85 per cent approval rating, is most likely to win if the election takes place. But some of his opponents accuse him of making pre-election deals with warlords - a charge he denies.
There is a concern that many of the corrupt, old power brokers, whose hands are stained with blood and whose pockets are stuffed with drug money, might return to positions of power.
The country which has been at the crossroads of east and west is now at its own crossroads. One direction points to a poor but slowly emerging society that will enjoy some stability for the first time in 25 years.
The other points down the path of Iraq: rolling violent opposition to anyone seen as a proxy of the west. Just like the chuckling recruits in Jalalabad, some people are in step with the election process, others very obviously are not. -Dawn/The Guardian News Service.
Drugs trade is wrecking Afghanistan rebuilding effort, says Nato general
Financial Times, UK - 06/14/2004 By Judy Dempsey
Nato's top commander in Afghanistan has warned of serious failings in the effort to rebuild the country, accusing western governments of being too tolerant of the warlords and their flourishing narcotics trade.
General Rick Hillier, the Canadian in charge of the 6,500-strong Nato-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, said parliamentary elections due in September might have to be postponed again. The security environment was deteriorating as local warlords and militia groups stepped up their attacks on civilian targets, including aid workers, he added.
"Perhaps some day Afghanistan will become self-sustaining. But there are speed bumps in the road. If they are not handled properly they could derail the process of creating a state," said Gen Hillier, who was speaking after a meeting with Nato ambassadors in Brussels. If the elections were postponed, diplomats said, it would be an acute embarrassment to Nato and western governments. They also said Nato countries were still refusing to deliver basic military equipment to improve security.
Nato had agreed to help increase security outside the capital, Kabul, for voter registration and the elections by creating new provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) - small military and civilian units designed to extend security outside the capital and speed up reconstruction. Gen Hillier admitted that progress had been slow. "If I had the assets to do more, we would be doing it. With the assets I have now, I can't take on more areas."
The Nato commander said that al-Qaeda, warlords, criminal gangs and militia groups, "all determined to protect their fiefdoms", wanted to disrupt the elections. "They will go after soft targets," he said, such as aid workers. These groups, he added, had weapons financed by the expanding drugs trade - made possible because a new Afghan police or army did not exist to curb it, and poppy growers had not been given an alternative livelihood.
Gen Hillier was particularly critical of the slow pace of reform inside the Afghan defence ministry, which has often turned a blind eye to the activities of the warlord and militia groups.
The reforms, supposed to include the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of all the militia groups active during the civil war, are enshrined in the 2002 Bonn Agreement. Governments pledged to back their implementation by the interim government headed by Mr Karzai. "The DDR process is coming to a spluttering end," said Gen Hillier, adding that Mohammad Qasim Fahim, the defence minister, bore chief responsibility for that.
'No worries' near Herat
The Washington Times 06/14/2004 John Jennings
HERAT - "From here on, everything is Turan Ismail's," the Afghan driver told his Western passengers as he sped past a flyblown checkpoint and entered Herat province. "No roadblocks, no robbers, no worries," he added. "Turan," meaning "captain," is an affectionate nickname for Ismail Khan, the one-time Afghan army captain who led a March 1979 uprising in Herat against communist rule.
He survived the ensuing 25 years of warfare, leading his mujahideen fighters against Soviets, Arabs and Pakistanis and their Afghan supporters. Today, he is the governor of Herat province in Afghanistan's far west.
Western diplomats and relief workers in the capital, Kabul, love to hate him. A week rarely passes without a Western press service portraying him as a tyrannical warlord involved in narcotics trafficking, human rights abuses, Islamist extremism and Taliban-like restrictions on women. But the lawlessness described in Kabul is simply not an issue here, both Afghans and foreigners say. "Most of those claims," the governor said, "can be disproved by spending an hour in the bazaar."
Commerce, indeed, is thriving. Many staple goods are cheaper than elsewhere in Afghanistan. The bazaars bustle with shoppers. Unaccompanied women stroll fearlessly at night in city parks. Religious tolerance, too, is in evidence. A Christian charity helps administer the province's main hospital, and a sidewalk poster shop on a major street features Christian iconography alongside Muslim saints.
Women's dress is marginally more conservative than in Kabul, but there is no formal dress code. Every style of "hijab," or appropriate female dress, is on display, from simple head scarves to burkas.
Afghans traditionally are suspicious of education for women, and disapprove of letting them work outside the home. Yet every morning and afternoon, Herat's streets are thronged with tens of thousands of girls on their way to grade school, high school and the province's university.
"There are more than 400,000 children in Herat schools. Of those, 158,000 are girls," said Asefa Roghani, the provincial director of women's affairs. "I don't think those numbers can be matched anywhere else in Afghanistan, including Kabul."
As Afghan leaders have for centuries, Mr. Khan regularly sets aside one day a week to hear grievances and petitions from ordinary citizens. On one such Thursday, rows of turbaned men and veiled women sat on folding chairs in a vast hall awaiting the white-bearded governor, who strode in and seated himself at a cheap metal and plywood desk. The governor listened intently to the supplicants, sometimes interjecting brief questions, occasionally donning reading glasses to peruse their requests.
A middle-aged man, both legs amputated near the hip, swung his torso across the floor using his hands as crutches, and hoisted himself into a chair to address the governor. He has had trouble getting the veteran's benefits to which he felt entitled and wanted the governor's help.
Next came a middle-aged woman in a head scarf and a pretty, younger woman draped in a black shawl. They were Iranians: The older woman just visiting, the younger a family friend married to an Afghan. For reasons not explained, the older woman had paid bail for an Afghan jailed in Iran. He had promptly vanished, and the woman wanted help tracking him down and getting restitution.
The younger woman did most of the talking. She smiled, batted her eyes and at times leaned close to the governor, repeatedly adjusting her shawl in a coquettish manner. The governor neither recoiled nor leered. He promised the women he would investigate the matter, contact Iranian authorities and arrange reimbursement.
A young woman approached with her mother. She had missed qualifying for the Herat medical school by two points on the entrance exam and implored the governor to intervene. He nodded sympathetically, but refused: "If I did, [the medical faculty] would have to make concessions to everybody."
The girl began crying, and Mr. Khan fidgeted. "Why don't you try another field? Why don't you take the exam for engineering?" he suggested gently. "But I've always wanted to be a doctor," the girl wailed softly. the governor shook his head. "I'm sorry," he replied.
Training Afghan army proves to be arduous task
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch 06/14/2004 By Jon Sawyer
KABUL, Afghanistan - On a hot and dusty plain just south of Kabul, as trucks hauling howitzers lumber into sight, Sgt. Greg Pearce ticks off some of the reasons why this is the most unusual teaching experience he's ever had.
Nearly half the Afghan army recruits he is helping train are functionally illiterate. Even more lack basic skills in math. They're training on obsolete Soviet-era equipment, with no ammunition. Most of them have no experience even driving a car.
Pearce is working alongside French Canadian and Mongolian trainers, dealing with Afghan troops from different ethnic and language groups who don't much get along.
And because U.S. and Afghan officials are determined to show progress in building an Afghan national army, Pearce and his colleagues have been told to compress the normal 12-week course into eight.
"I tell you what," says Pearce. "When I get home, I can teach anything."
A member of the 123rd Field Artillery unit of the Illinois National Guard, Pearce has been in Afghanistan since October as part of a training team that also includes three other guardsmen from Southern Illinois and Missouri.
It's a long way from Pearce's hometown of Flora, Ill., about 30 miles south of Effingham. There, his civilian job is working the factory line at a Sherwin-Williams plant. He says he jumped at the chance to come to Afghanistan after nearly a year on hold, first being told that he might be sent to Iraq instead and then being assigned to transportation and force-protection duties back home that didn't make use of his field artillery skills.
U.S. and international officials had earlier projected that as many as 30,000 Afghan soldiers would be trained by now. The actual number is barely 10,000; those involved say that reaching the goal of 70,000 would probably take five to seven years.
Maj. Gen. Andrew Leslie, a Canadian who served as deputy commander of the NATO-led international security force until earlier this year, said many of the Afghans who had passed through the army training course had done well.
"The trouble is that the numbers aren't growing quickly enough," he said, "and until recently, the attrition rate was almost as great as the recruitment rate."
At the Afghan army training base just south of Kabul, the challenges are readily apparent - but not to Capt. Abdullah Nouri, battery commander for this trainee unit, who says he's very happy with the level of instruction and believes the training has gone well.
He leaves after an hour. The instructors say Nouri's attendance has been better than several other commanders, who rarely show at all. The trainees are frequent no-shows as well, disappearing for days at a time, particularly after receiving their monthly $70 pay.
Field artillery is one of the more challenging military disciplines. It requires precise compass readings, gun settings and elaborate coordination between fire direction teams, fire support and the cannon crewmen themselves.
The training for all of that, in the Afghan context, is challenging indeed.
Sgt. David Reeves of Belleville, a member of the same National Guard unit as Pearce, is responsible back home for information technology equipment for the Mascoutah school system. Here in Afghanistan, he's scrambling to teach precision artillery-aiming techniques to Afghan trainees who lack basic arithmetic and literacy skills.
"If they see a reason for doing something, they'll stay on task, but only for a few minutes," he said. "It's like a kid with ADD (attention deficit disorder). The amazing thing is, they can do a lot with nothing. For them a pair of pliers is a full set of tools."
The trainers have also confronted the ethnic tension that afflicts Afghanistan as a whole, with Tajiks squaring off against Pashtuns and Uzbeks against Hazaris.
"We've had soldiers shoot at each other," Reeves said, recalling one night earlier this year when "two of our guys just emptied out their AK-47 assault rifles at one another." Luckily no one was hit.
On Saturday, Reeves was confronted by trainee Sayeed Nawab, unhappy because he had been replaced as gunner on his unit. The gunner's job is the most challenging of any in the field unit; the angle of fire has to be set, matched with data from the forward observers.
In his defense, Nawab said that the Mongolian trainer overseeing his work was putting too much pressure on him.
"The pressure you feel from that Mongolian is nothing compared to what you'll have when people are firing at you," Reeves tells Nawab, "and when you know that some of your guys are dying down field."
The back and forth continues. Sgt. David Myers finally breaks it off. "We're done with this discussion," he says. "He's too slow. He's being replaced."
Myers lives in Chillicothe, Mo., where he works as inventory control supervisor at a glove factory. He was deployed here as a member of the 128th Field Artillery unit of the Missouri National Guard. So was Maj. Todd Patton, a full-time member of the Guard headquarters office in Jefferson City whose family moves this summer from Maryville, Mo., to Columbia, Mo.
Patton says the trainers are doing their best to meet demands for a stepped-up training pace.
"When they told us we had eight weeks to train these guys, I said, 'No way,'" Patton recalled. "especially training on Soviet equipment and working with Mongolians."
For training purposes, Patton has access to only 10 howitzers, the Afghan army's entire supply, he said, thanks to the refusal of warlord commanders around the country to turn in what are believed to be many more, in better condition, that are kept in reserve.
Patton chuckles when told that U.S. officials tout the large number of heavy weaponry that the private militia forces have already turned in, much of it now housed in a compound outside Kabul. Patton, who has seen it, describes the armory as mostly junk.
"The system's working," he laughs. "They're turning in all their guns. Sure. I'd say it's more like they're turning in their yard art.
"Look at these beaten-up D-30s (howitzers) we've got," he adds. "People who have been out and about say they've seen D-30s at checkpoints, held by the militias, that look right out of the showroom, brand new."
Pearce says the situation is similar with ammunition. "We can't get it to train with, but it's out there."
Patton acknowledges that the inability to obtain ammunition for live-fire training is a big drawback, in preparing the trainees for battlefield conditions. So is the fact that the two units trained so far have gone into service without access to any equipment of their own.
"The training's very perishable," Patton concedes. "Those guys are going to have to come back for at least two or three weeks of training if they ever get equipment."
Patton, counting the minutes as the Afghans set six howitzers up in a line, pulls out a plug of Red Man chewing tobacco. As the truck drivers round the final bend, they race to the set-up point, ignoring instructions to arrive at precisely the same moment.
"They're very competitive; there's no doubt of that," he said. "The challenge is training them to work as a team."
Until last month, the Missourians and Illinoisans lived in an eight-man tent. Now they've got a wooden barracks on the edge of Camp Julien, base camp for the Canadians who play a lead role in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
As for entertainment, "We play a lot of spades," Pearce said. Patton has a projector that he's attached to a portable DVD player, and most nights the team gathers in the cramped space between the bunks to watch a movie on the wall..
"We've been here since Oct. 1," Pearce said, adding that current plans call for the Missouri and Illinois trainers to be home by the first of July.
"Every day's a good day," he said, "because it's one day off the calendar."
Jon Sawyer will be giving periodic reports from Afghanistan on KMOV (Channel 4) News.
Afghan district threatens to boycott polls
A district in northwestern Afghanistan, an area largely controlled by regional strongmen, has threatened to boycott elections due this year unless it is upgraded to a province.
Shindand district in western Herat province will present President Hamid Karzai with its demand for "reforming the district to a province," district representative Wakeel Dawlat Sarwari said on Monday.
The demand was included in a six-article resolution passed by some 500 representatives in the district council, he said.
The resolution also urges immediate disarmament and administrative reforms in Herat ahead of the elections, due in September, and the recognition of the rights of all ethnic groups especially Pashtuns.
"If our suggestions are not accepted - mainly the reformation of the district into a province, then the whole district will not attend the elections," Sarwari said.
Shindand, a mainly Pashtun region of some 500,000 people riven by factional fighting, lies about 120 km south of Herat city. Herat province is controlled by powerful Tajik leader Ismail Khan.
"Our district has all the necessary institutions needed for a province," Sarwari said.
"We already have a modern airport and also we are located quite far from the two neighbouring provinces. It will bring a positive change to the lives of people if the district becomes a province."
Two other districts, Panjshir and Dai Kundi in Afghanistan's mountainous centre, were recently converted into new provinces. Other areas such as eastern Khogyani and northern Pamir are also clambering for provincial status.
Poll officials have said the historic national election was likely to be delayed by a month because of uneven voter registration, funding problems and an ongoing insurgency.
Meanwhile, an American official on Monday said United States-led troops had seized 90 suspected fighters during the past three weeks in southeastern Afghanistan.
Earlier in the week, US military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Tucker Mansager said that coalition forces had killed more than 80 suspected fighters in gun battles and bombings in Deh Chopan, a troubled district in Zabul province some 300 km southwest of Kabul.
Karzai's plan to utilize Taliban draws ire
The Washington Times 06/14/2004 By John Jennings
GHAZNI — Outside the commander's guest room, soldiers crouched around a paperback-sized shortwave radio in the twilight, listening to a Western news service's Persian-language broadcast.
The report described a campaign trip by President Hamid Karzai to his hometown, Kandahar, the largest city in southern Afghanistan.
During the late April visit, the security-conscious Mr. Karzai, who narrowly escaped assassination there in 2002, inspected highway construction projects — from a helicopter.
The president, who visits Washington this week, also made a speech in which he invited former Taliban militants to join his government, suggesting that only "about 150" top-ranking leaders closest to al Qaeda would be considered unacceptable.
He elaborated in an interview with CNN yesterday:
"With regard to the former Taliban, we want to bring back those Taliban that are not criminals. They're from Afghanistan. They should come back to this country and live a normal life. They should come back away from Pakistan. They should come and stay in Afghanistan. We want normalcy to return to Afghanistan."
In response to Mr. Karzai's latest initiative, the commander — a senior provincial security official — shook his head in disgust.
"Isn't that a half-baked policy?" he said. "We fought to drive out those ignorant [people] and their Pakistani and Arab masters. Now the government is groveling and inviting them back."
Mr. Karzai's effort to bring militants into the fold has not been limited to the Taliban. He also has courted officials of the Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) faction, whose 1992-95 artillery bombardments damaged much of Kabul and killed about 40,000 noncombatants.
In 2002, HIA chief Gulbuddin Hekmatyar allied himself with Taliban remnants and is now thought to be hiding in remote mountains along the Pakistani border.
A delegation of midranking HIA officials, purportedly at odds with Hekmatyar, visited Kabul in mid-May at Mr. Karzai's invitation to discuss participation in the government after elections scheduled for September. But some security officials are questioning the wisdom of cooperating with the group.
"There's no way of knowing whether they have really had a change of heart," said a senior intelligence official in Kandahar.
"It's more likely Hekmatyar is simply pursuing a dual approach, fighting alongside the Taliban in case they get the military upper hand, and meanwhile infiltrating his officials into the government to keep that [political] option open."
"Like the [Irish Republican Army's] 'hard men,' " says David Isby, author of an overview of the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan titled "War in a Distant Country," Hekmatyar's followers "will keep their guns, while trying to get representatives elected to parliament."
Police in the Afghan city of Kunduz said yesterday there were signs that Hekmatyar followers were involved in the killing of 11 Chinese construction workers as they slept last week.
Mr. Karzai, who enjoys the broad backing of Washington and the United Nations, faces no serious opposition in his bid for another term as president in September elections, assuming a credible vote can be held in all parts of the country.
But with little debate, he has assumed autocratic prerogatives such as appointing provincial governors from Kabul instead of allowing local elections.
His latest appointments have included a former HIA commander, Bashir Baghlani, in southwestern Farah province, and a former Taliban collaborator, Kheyal Mohammad, in southeastern Zabul.
The Ghazni official's remarks reflect alarm among Afghans who played the key role in defeating the Taliban and bringing Mr. Karzai to power — the leaders and grass-roots supporters of the Northern Alliance.
Most of its members spent more than two decades battling Soviet, Pakistani and Arab intruders and the Afghans who worked with them. Most still call themselves mujahideen, or holy warriors — just as they did in the 1980s when the enemy was the Red Army.
Many now hold official posts, especially in the security forces, throughout the countryside under Mr. Karzai's provincial governors.
Concern that former Taliban members and their supporters will find their way back into positions of influence is sharpest among officials from the non-Pashtun ethnic groups, who make up 60 percent of the Afghan population.
But even among Pashtuns — the southern- and eastern-based ethnic group from which the Taliban drew its members — there are similar qualms. Most Afghan officials spoke on the condition that they not be named, citing their wariness about offending Mr. Karzai's backers in Washington.
Ghazni's arid high plains are broken occasionally by lava ridges and green croplands. The outlying districts are predominantly Pashtun, but Ghazni city is dominated by Persian-speaking Hazaras and Tajiks and there are many Hazara villages in the countryside as well.
Ghazni is also a front-line province in Afghanistan's antiterror campaign, adjacent to Pakistani border areas where U.S. and Afghan troops clash regularly with militants.
"[The Taliban] have really stepped up their activities during the last few weeks," said one provincial security official, speculating that the militants are trying to disrupt voter registration for the September elections.
Backers of the Northern Alliance say they are not surprised to see Mr. Karzai reaching out to the Taliban militants, noting that the movement was born in his hometown.
Although it was principally Northern Alliance forces, backed by U.S. air support, that overthrew the militants in 2001, Cabinet members such as Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani repeatedly have branded them "war criminals" and said they are "as bad as the Taliban."
Mr. Ghani and many other members of Mr. Karzai's inner circle are sons of the feudal Pashtun aristocracy that ran Afghanistan before the communist takeover in 1978.
"Hostility to the Northern Alliance is widespread among ... returning exiles, who are finding they have limited power on the ground," said Mr. Isby, the Afghanistan specialist.
Northern Alliance members are stung by charges from the new technocrats in Kabul accusing them of "warlordism" and war crimes.
They challenge the now-accepted wisdom among Kabul-based diplomats and aid workers that they ruled irresponsibly after driving out the Soviets in 1989..
Anthony Davis, who has reported from Afghanistan for Time magazine, Jane's Defense Weekly and others since the early 1980s, has described as a "pervasive myth" that the Taliban came to power because of "lawlessness and anarchy" in the areas it conquered.
"Administration, services and schooling in these regions were far in advance of anything delivered by the Taliban, [whose] energies were focused almost exclusively on war," he wrote.
The Taliban militants, he adds, "fought their way into regions that were at peace and in many instances recognized as being relatively well-administered."
By the end of last month, news reports say, Mr. Karzai was scrambling to mollify Northern Alliance leaders upset at his overtures to the Taliban. Some reports said he had promised key ministries to Northern Alliance members in return for supporting his election bid.
This, in turn, dismayed the same U.N. election consultants and Kabul-based diplomats who had been largely silent over Mr. Karzai's overtures to the Taliban remnants.
Quoted in the Christian Science Monitor and The Washington Post, they echoed the complaints of technocrats in the government that the meetings with Northern Alliance officials involved "backroom" deals and would promote public cynicism by unjustly rewarding armed warlords.
Northern Alliance loyalists retorted that it was the technocrats who were trying to coax the worst thugs of all — former Taliban and Hekmatyar followers — to join the government.
As for the armed power of the regional warlords, they noted, the entire populace of Afghanistan is heavily armed.
The real issue, argued Mohammad Es'Haq — a confidant of late anti-Soviet and later anti-Taliban resistance leader Ahmad Shah Masood, is that Mr. Karzai is struggling to extend his authority and win re-election with no popular base of his own.
"Local leaders can't be imposed on the people. They emerge and are tested in times of crisis," said Mr. Es'Haq, who was director of state-run Kabul Radio and Television until December.
"The [Northern Alliance] mujahideen will remain leaders in their communities for a long time, because of historic, linguistic and ethnic ties, and the sense of security they project at a time when the people are not very sure about the future."
President Hamid Karzai - Interview
While the war in Iraq has dominated recent headlines, the U.S.-led effort to combat al-Qaida and Taliban elements in Afghanistan continues. Afghan President Hamid Karzai discusses efforts to hold elections this September and the need for more peacekeepers to stabilize the war-torn nation.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. President, welcome. HAMID KARZAI: Thank you.
Security in Afghanistan
GWEN IFILL: Let's start by talking about security in Afghanistan. How would you assess it now?
HAMID KARZAI: We expect this year, because of our elections, to have more of a security problem, we believe, as a result--before the elections for the Afghan Constitutional Assembly, that terrorists will try to increase attacks in Afghanistan in order to make elections difficult or in order to make a bit more trouble for us.
So we will have security incidents occurring in Afghanistan before the elections, but generally in the fight against terrorism, this war, this fight against the remnants of terrorism will go on for some time. It will not end this year. It will not end next year. We may have it for many years to come.
In the meantime we'll be building our national army, our national police, and other institutions that are necessary to fight terrorism and to bring an orderly government to Afghanistan and the rule of law.
GWEN IFILL: You know as well as anyone, because your personal security has been threatened, what that can reap on the ability to start a peaceful democratic process. Last week we saw the killings of the Chinese road workers in what we thought was a safe area of the country. Do you think that this represents a resurgence of the Taliban?
HAMID KARZAI: That incident I don't know yet. We are investigating it. We'll, we'll find out as to who committed that incident. This was a ghastly act against Afghanistan's reconstruction, and really killing people who come from a far off place to help Afghanistan.
The resurgence of the Taliban, no. The Taliban movement, the terrorism that was associated with them, they were, as I mentioned earlier, the ruling government in Afghanistan. They have been removed. They have been defeated. They are now hiding. They are seeking targets of opportunity. They are seeking soft targets, aid workers, reconstruction workers. They're not engaging militarily with us. They cannot do that.
So as far as terrorism or the Taliban, as the structure is concerned, it is gone. As far as they're concerned as elements or groups that seek targets of opportunity and hit and run things, they're still there. They will remain with us.
GWEN IFILL: Let me read to you something in this morning's Financial Times, the NATO top commander, NATO's top commander in Afghanistan, General Rick Hillier, was quoted as saying, "Perhaps some day Afghanistan will become self-sustaining, but there are speed bumps in the road. If they are not handled properly, they could derail the process of creating a state."
HAMID KARZAI: That's very true. That's very right. We have in Afghanistan achieved a lot, but we have significant difficulties as well. The difficulties are the poppies that are growing in Afghanistan. The difficulties are the continuation of, of the private militia forces in Afghanistan. These are two major obstacles that we have to remove alongside fighting terrorism. And poppies, the highest on the list because poppies are not only criminalizing the Afghan economy, destroying our agriculture, destroying lives, addicting people, but they are also going hand in hand with terrorism, with extremism and with warlords in Afghanistan.
GWEN IFILL: The second thing you mentioned was the rise or the sustained--
HAMID KARZAI: No, the militia.
GWEN IFILL: --the private militia.
HAMID KARZAI: Yes, the continuation.
GWEN IFILL: Continuation.
HAMID KARZAI: The continuation of private militia is something that the Afghan people are really [inaudible]. It slows down our movement towards building a nation that has institutional order, that has democracy, that has the rule of law, that can collect taxes, that can pay for its own bread and butter.
Therefore, in order for us in Afghanistan to have a state that is free from terrorism, from drugs, we must attack all the three menaces that are--that can, that do, enhance to make things difficult for us and for the region, for the world. So private militias have to go.
We have a problem in Afghanistan called the DDR, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. Through this program we are trying to take weapons away and those of them that want to be part of the national army, will be taken in, others to the police. Others will be taken in the civilian part of the economy.
GWEN IFILL: So far in that disarmament program only 6,000 of the 40,000 militia have been disarmed. Is that a success?
HAMID KARZAI: I am personally not happy with the way the disarmament program has gone on, and the Afghan people are not happy, and they're pressuring us very, very hard, pressuring us very, very hard to accomplish what we have promised to them.
The arduous process of voter registration
GWEN IFILL: Let's talk about politics, Afghan style. In September you're supposed to have elections. They've been delayed before. Will they happen?
HAMID KARZAI: They-- the elections delayed or postponed from June to September was not a delay that was related to security or any other matter. It was purely a technical delay because we were not ready with the registration of voters.. We need voters to go to elections, and the voters were not registered.
Yesterday we had registered 3.7 million voters, and if this trend continues, by the time of the election we hope very much to have more than 6 million voters in Afghanistan. That should be good enough for us, a basis for, to go to elections.
Yes, I'm very much looking forward to the elections. The Afghan people are looking forward to the elections, and we will have it.
GWEN IFILL: Is it possible to have fair, free elections without security stability?
HAMID KARZAI: No, no. That's a very good question because it also reminds me of something that I forgot to tell you earlier.
GWEN IFILL: Okay.
HAMID KARZAI: The, the question of the removal of private militias is also very important for free, fair and just elections in Afghanistan so that the Afghan people can have the right to vote the way they want without coercion, without intimidation.
GWEN IFILL: So can that happen in time for September, I guess?
HAMID KARZAI: Well, for that there are two other ways as well. One is the deployment of NATO forces, which we hope will occur before, before the elections. The other is the deployment of the national army and the national police of Afghanistan to the extent possible in areas where we fear there is private militias or warlordism, to go and address it. But we will try both, and we will try other means as well to enable Afghanistan to vote freely.
Whether to talk with warlords
GWEN IFILL: One of the most severe criticisms that have been lodged against you is your, your willingness to--I don't know if the word is negotiate or coalesce or meet with, at the very least, the warlords or representatives of many of the people who people felt brought Afghanistan down, even pre-Taliban.
HAMID KARZAI: Yes, yes, that is the feeling in the people in Afghanistan. But a lot of the people that I speak to are part of that country, part of that establishment, and they were part of the whole process which was initiated by the international community.
And quite a few of them are, on the other hand, very respectable Afghans that were part of the Afghan resistance against the Soviets. They are part of the establishment. They are recognized persons in Afghanistan.
And after all, I'm the president of Afghanistan. I'm supposed to be talking to all Afghans. It is my job to take Afghanistan peacefully towards a better day. It is my job to take Afghanistan towards stability by enhancing it, by talking to people. What should I do? Not talk to them? Shun them away? Fight them? Is that my job, or is my job to create an environment whereby the Afghan people begin to talk to each other, whereby the Afghan people go to voting, go to elections by reaching compromises, by reaching agreements. Aren't we beginning a democracy? Isn't democracy about talking?
GWEN IFILL: Is there any danger, however, that you will endanger your own credibility in these negotiations or these conversations?
HAMID KARZAI: You see, these gentlemen or these groups are the reality of Afghanistan, and our organization is as good as the people in it. You can't do without, without that. I have to talk to them.
But whether I will deviate from the path that we have taken, the path of reform, the path of the building of Afghanistan, the path of institution building, the path of ending corruption and warlordism, and drugs, and fight against terrorism, never.
I have a platform. That platform is for a secure, stable, prosperous, democratic Afghanistan. Now, whoever joins me in that platform for the future of the country the Afghan people will like. And those who do not join me will not be part of that platform regardless of who they are.
GWEN IFILL: You have been quoted as saying that corruption is a mirage, something you can't quite nail down. Is it a mirage or is it a roadblock to democracy?
HAMID KARZAI: The ability of Afghanistan to attack corruption is--has many sides. One is the weakness of the administrative system, which by itself causes corruption. Second is the weakness of the judicial system which was also weakened by years of war. Third is the weakness to really grab someone, to find a fact.
I'm told sometimes that so-and-so is corrupt. And I say, "All right. How is he corrupt? Can I have an evidence? Can I--if I call him to my office and tell him, Mr. so-and-so, you are corrupt, can I tell him this is what you have done and this is what you've--what I have on you that you are corrupt, so get lost and I am going to dismiss you?"
Then we find out that we have no evidence. So when I say that it's a mirage it's because I cannot catch the person that's corrupt and tell him, "You are corrupt and you are fired." Now we have began a number of institutional structures to address corruption. I've asked the intelligence, I've asked the attorney general, I've asked others to bring me even the slightest evidence against people that are corrupt, and I will not ask for more, and I will act on it.
Has the U.S. forgotten Afghanistan?
GWEN IFILL: Final question for you. You're here in Washington to meet with President Bush and to speak to a joint meeting of Congress. Do you bring to this task any concern that Afghanistan has become the forgotten war in the United States?
HAMID KARZAI: The United States has not forgotten Afghanistan, fortunately. There was a feeling as the war in Iraq was beginning that perhaps Afghanistan would be forgotten and we expected that we'd be forgotten. But after the operations in Iraq began we found out that, no, the United States remained focused on Afghanistan. Assistance to Afghanistan has actually increased in the past two years. In the past year since Operation Iraq, Afghanistan's receiving close to $2.2 billion this year from the United States, and last year it received the same. And the United States has made commitments for the future as well. It has not reduced its attention to Afghanistan.
Whether we in Afghanistan require, need more attention, of course, we do. But the attention that we are receiving today is alright and Iraq has not affected it at all.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. President, thank you very much.
HAMID KARZAI: Thank you very much, ma'am. It's good to talk to you.
Afghan President to Address US Congress
VOA 06/14/2004 By Dan Robinson
Afghanistan's President, Hamid Karzai, addresses a joint meeting of Congress later Tuesday. He is expected to repeat his government's determination to hold elections in September as scheduled, while thanking American lawmakers for the support they have provided since the Taleban were overthrown in 2002.
Mr. Karzai will become the latest foreign leader to be given the opportunity to address both houses of Congress.
Since the U.S. war to oust Saddam Hussein began in March of last year, two others, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and then Spanish President Jose Maria Aznar, have been similarly honored.
During his latest visit to the United States, Mr. Karzai has been saying the people of Afghanistan are eagerly anticipating elections scheduled for September, as their endorsement of the restoration democracy.
In testimony to Congress in recent months, Bush administration officials have emphasized successes. These include progress toward building the Afghan National Army, a police force, and continuing efforts to hunt down former Taleban members and al-Qaida terrorists.
However, they have also faced skeptical lawmakers who believe the enormous focus on Iraq since last year has diverted attention and resources from the task in Afghanistan.
One of those is Democratic Congressman Ike Skelton, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. "Starting now, over the long term, we need to ensure that a terrorist-harboring regime never gains a foothold there again," he says. "I think if we poured half as many people and resources into Afghanistan as we have into Iraq, I think we would be well on the way to recovering that country from some 20 plus years of warfare."
While many in Congress believe the United States should be getting more help from key allies in NATO, they say the Bush administration needs to devote more money to stabilizing Afghanistan.
"It would be nice if some of our allies were doing more on the ground with resources and with troops," says Democratic Congressman Earl Blumenauer. "But I have been struck by the disparity between what we are doing in Iraq and what we are not doing in Afghanistan."
Administration officials acknowledge security in Afghanistan continues to be a problem, saying this will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future.
They also recently told lawmakers that although progress is being made in training a new Afghan army, it may take until the year 2008 to complete a total planned force of about 70,000.
Many members of Congress also want the Bush administration, as well as President Karzai and his government, to act more decisively against opium cultivation and drug trafficking, profits from which U.S. officials and others believe are propping up regional leaders resisting central government control, as well as supporting Taleban and al-Qaida fighters.
Afghan refugees start leaving embattled South Waziristan
Source: Deutsche Presse Agentur June 13, 2004
Islamabad (dpa) - Scores of Afghan refugees were leaving Pakistans embattled South Waziristan tribal region Sunday after the government gave them 72 hours to depart, local residents told Deutsche Presse-Agentur, dpa Sunday.
Some of the refugees had already left for refugee camps in settled areas while others were still packing their belongings, tribesman Allah Noor said.
However, the Afghan refugees opposed the government's order and planned an assembly on Monday to discuss events in South Waziristan where recent clashes between Pakistani troops and local and foreign al-Qaeda militants have left at least 50 dead, among them 15 government soldiers.
"We have been living here for 25 years. We neither provided shelter to al-Qaeda men nor supported them,'' the head of the Afghan refugees, Pir Agha, told dpa.
On Sunday, the situation in the embattled Shakai area remained calm following gun-battles between troops and militants in recent days. However, troops cordoned off all roads leading to the area and journalists were not allowed to visit there.
Local sources also said at least 11 commandos and two militiamen had been missing since the latest clashes.
An army chief spokesman, however, dismissed the reports as "baseless'' and added claims that government troops were surrounded in the Shakai area were also wrong.
Some 300-400 soldiers fighting al-Qaeda and Taliban militants had been reportedly surrounded in the Shakai area.
General Shaukat Sultan said all suspected al-Qaeda hideouts had been destroyed in Shakai area in the government's latest four-day operation.
There was no word on attempts by the military to locate Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, who is believed to have helped finance Osama bin Laden's terrorist network and is suspected of hiding in the area.
On Saturday, two Pakistani fighter aircraft bombed suspected terrorists hideouts in response to rocket attacks on paramilitary checkpoints near the border with Afghanistan.
The latest clashes in South Waziristan had begun Wednesday with similar rockets attacks on army and paramilitary check-posts in the area.
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