Province security chiefs vow to retake Afghan town
19 Jun 2004 08:16:39 GMT By Sayed Haqiqi
HERAT, Afghanistan, June 19 (Reuters) - Security chiefs of an Afghan provincial capital overrun by a renegade commander asked Kabul for troops on Saturday to help them retake it but the local governor said he would return and more troops were not needed.
Governor Ibrahim Malikzada was forced to leave Chaghcharan, capital of the central province of Ghor, before fighting broke out on Thursday between the forces of Commander Abdul Salaam Khan and the chiefs of police and the military appointed by Kabul.
At least 18 people were killed or wounded in the violence.
Kabul has yet to comment on the situation, a fresh provincial crisis that will further hamper President Hamid Karzai's efforts to hold landmark elections in September.
Karzai was expected to chair a National Security Council meeting on Saturday and a Defence Ministry spokesman said there was a strong possibility troops would be sent to restore order.
Malikzada said Khan had staged a "people's uprising" against police chief General Zaman and the head of the military division of Ghor, General Ahmad, because they were trying to expand their power bases in the province.
Speaking in the western town of Herat, Malikzada told Reuters on Saturday he was willing to return to Chaghcharan now that the forces of Zaman and Ahmad had withdrawn.
Khan told Reuters on Saturday that Malikzada was still the legitimate governor. "The action we have taken does not mean the ouster of the local government," he said.
Malikzada and a central government delegation had spent weeks in talks with the two sides to try to prevent the fighting.
Ahmad and Zaman said they were regrouping their 1,500 fighters some 20 km (12 miles) from the northern outskirts of Chaghcharan. They said they were in contact with Karzai's government and had asked for troops to help retake the town.
"We will will attack and retake the town and we need the central government's help for that," Zaman said. "We ask it to send us troops to help us."
Malikzada said this was unnecessary. "We do not need troops to come to Ghor," he said. "The situation is calm there after what was a local uprising that with the help of Salaam Khan forced out the police chief and the head of the division."
The U.S. military said U.S. B1-B bombers flew over the area of the fighting on Thursday in a show of force to calm the situation while it evacuated U.N. staff by helicopter.
"The CFC-A (Combined Force Command - Afghanistan) supports the national government and encourages all parties to solve their differences in a peaceful manner," it said in a statement.
Tensions rose in Ghor last month after Khan, who is from Afghanistan's largest Pashtun clan, a minority in the province, refused to disarm his fighters under a nationwide plan to scatter warlord militias, unless Karzai gave him a local government role.
Karzai's disarmament plans triggered similar unrest in Herat in March and in the northern province of Faryab in April. Only last weekend, stone-throwing supporters of a regional strongman prevented a new governor taking office in Sari Pul province.
It is the fourth such crisis Karzai has faced in the north and west over his efforts to improve security for the elections.
Analysts blame the unrest on clumsy attempts by Karzai to impose his will in restive provinces by sending in appointees without the necessary local support base, or central backup.
Instability caused by local power tussles has coincided with a growing Islamic insurgency blamed on Taliban guerrillas and their allies, raising serious doubts as to whether it is practical to hold elections as soon as September.
This could have implications for U.S. President George W. Bush, whose administration has been pushing for early Afghan polls in the hope of portraying Afghanistan as a success story to balance Iraq ahead of his re-election bid in November.
Afghan Town Falls to Rebel, Foreign Troops Attacked
Fri Jun 18,11:11 AM ET By David Brunnstrom
KABUL (Reuters) - In a fresh challenge to the election plans of Afghanistan's U.S.-backed government, a rebel commander seized a remote provincial capital Friday after clashes that killed several and forced the governor to flee.
In separate attacks in the south and center of the country, an Afghan interpreter was killed and two U.S. soldiers and two New Zealand special forces troops wounded, while the U.N. refugee agency office was hit by rockets in the city of Kandahar.
Violence across the war-ravaged country has worsened markedly in recent months as Islamic insurgents from the ousted Taliban militia seek to disrupt elections due in September and renegade commanders refuse to give up territory and power without a fight.
The upheaval in Chaghcharan, capital of the central province of Ghor, presents a fresh crisis for President Hamid Karzai and his efforts to impose his authority in the provinces by disarming regional militias.
It coincided with Karzai's return from the United States, where he and President Bush gave what many analysts believed was an overly rosy assessment of Afghanistan's progress since U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban in late 2001.
Afghans believe Karzai is being pushed by the Bush administration to hold elections on time so the U.S. President can portray Afghanistan as a foreign policy success to balance against Iraq as he bids for re-election in November.
"As the world shifts its attention away from Afghanistan, the country is descending into a downward spiral of lawlessness and instability," Amnesty International said in a statement.
"Unless the spiraling lawlessness is stopped, Afghanistan risks collapsing into outright conflict."
Defense Ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimy confirmed that Chaghcharan was "completely under the control of the forces of Abdul Salaam Khan" and that government troops had withdrawn.
The provincial police chief earlier vowed that government forces would recapture the city.
Azimy said Karzai was expected to chair an emergency meeting of the National Security Council Saturday and it was a "definite possibility" that troops from the fledgling national army would be sent to restore order.
Khan told Reuter he and several other commanders opposed to the local pro-Karzai administration had joined forces to take the city. "The situation is calm. There is no trouble here," he said.
Ghor Governor Ibrahim Malikzada said Thursday he had taken refuge in Herat, the main city to the west of his remote and rugged province.
THIRD GOVERNOR TO FLEE
It was the third time a provincial governor has been forced to flee to safety in recent months by local commanders opposed to Karzai's appointments to the provinces.
Instability caused by local power tussles coincides with a growing Islamic insurgency mainly in the south and east blamed on Taliban guerrillas and their allies including members of the al Qaeda network.
The rebels have declared a "jihad," or holy war against foreign and government forces and consider local and international aid workers to be legitimate targets of attacks.
More than 800 people have died in violence since August, mainly in the volatile south and east but increasingly in areas previously deemed to be relatively secure.
This month, three foreigners and two Afghans working for Medecins Sans Frontieres were shot dead in the northwestern province of Badghis and 11 Chinese construction workers were killed in an attack near the northern town of Kunduz.
Rising violence and instability is putting pressure on NATO to expand its 6,400-strong peacekeeping force, which is almost entirely restricted to the capital.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop said Friday that the alliance's international credibility was at stake as member states failed to produce troops needed to fulfil its promises.
He said he hoped a NATO summit in Istanbul at the end of the month, due to be attended by Karzai, would resolve the troop shortfalls.
About 20,000 U.S.-led troops are also in Afghanistan hunting militants from the Taliban and al Qaeda, including the network's mastermind Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri.
10 Die As Warlords Overrun Afghan Town
Fri Jun 18,12:16 PM ET By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - Warlords overran a provincial capital in central Afghanistan, officials said Friday, forcing the governor to flee in the latest burst of infighting in this war-fractured nation.
The attack, in which 10 people were reportedly killed, highlights the challenges U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai faces in trying to extend his writ to the countryside. It also was further evidence of slipping security ahead of key elections scheduled for September.
Fighters armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades seized Chagcharan, the main town in remote Ghor province 350 miles west of Kabul, on Thursday, a leader of the offensive and a government official said.
Gov. Mohammed Ibrahim fled to the western city of Herat, leaving his deputy and a group of nominally loyal militiamen and police to regroup in a nearby village.
Din Mohammed Azimi, the governor's deputy, said at least 10 of his men were killed and that the remainder were preparing a counterattack.
But Ghulam Yahya, a former Ghor police chief who claimed Friday he was back in his old job, said he knew of only one fatality.
The fighting followed weeks of tension between allies of provincial military commander Ahmad Murghabi, who also was driven out, and rival tribes over positions in the local administration.
Azimi said a group led by a commander called Rais Salam launched the attack after rejecting an offer of control of four government departments, including police and intelligence.
He said a delegation from Kabul had left Chagcharan on Wednesday.
But it was unclear whose side the central government was on.
Karzai, who returned Friday from a trip to the United States, has vowed to disarm the warlords who still control most of the country more than two years after the fall of the Taliban.
But stalling by powerful regional leaders like Herat Gov. Ismail Khan and Uzbek strongman Abdul Rashid Dostum means only a few thousand of some 100,000 irregular fighters have given up their weapons so far.
Azimi said he had appealed to Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim and other officials in Kabul.
"They promised to help but nothing came. The central government is very weak, it's useless," he said, also calling for NATO and the U.S. military to send troops.
A Defense Ministry spokesman said he knew of the incident only from media reports. Other government officials could not be reached for comment.
Yahya described the battle as a "popular uprising," and said a council of tribal leaders would decide how to organize the province's affairs.
"I'm chief of police and Rais Salam has taken over the military headquarters," Yahya said.
"We're respecting and listening for the comment of the central government," he said. "The governor is a very good person."
Karzai diverted hundreds of troops from the new U.S.-trained Afghan National Army to western Herat and the northern province of Faryab earlier this year to calm fighting between warlord factions.
The United Nations said it had pulled election workers out of Chagcharan during Thursday's fighting in another setback to its attempts to register voters.
Farther south, U.N. registration teams have yet to venture into many remote areas for fear of Taliban attacks.
On Friday, gunmen attacked a United Nations refugee office in Kandahar city, sparking a shootout but causing no casualties, an official said.
The attackers fired at least two rockets at the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, causing some damage to its walls, said Khalid Pashtun, a spokesman for the governor.
Foreign reconstruction and aid agency workers have been a favorite target of insurgents.
Eleven Chinese road contractors were shot and killed in their beds in Kunduz province last week, while five aid workers, including three Europeans, were gunned down June 2 in the remote northwest.
Also Friday, two elite New Zealand troops were injured in central Afghanistan when they were fired on by militants armed with small arms and rockets.
The two soldiers were evacuated by helicopter to a U.S. base in the southern city of Kandahar for treatment, American military spokeswoman Master Sgt. Cindy Beam said. Both were in stable condition.
Toll rises to eight in deadly Pakistan attack on rebel leader
Saturday June 19, 4:25 PM AFP
The death toll in the Pakistani military attack that killed renegade tribal militant and former Taliban commander Nek Mohammad has risen to eight, military officials said.
In addition to Mohammad and four tribesmen, three foreign suspects also died in Thursday night's attack near Wana, the main town in the frontier region of South Waziristan, military spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan said.
"Eight people were killed in the attack including Nek and three foreigners," Sultan told AFP.
Officials said a satellite phone conversation involving Mohammad helped pinpoint the house where the militants were staying, which was then struck by a laser-guided missile.
"He was talking for good 15 minutes to someone on his satellite phone when the missile was launched," an intelligence official said.
Mohammad was in the house of tribal leader Sher Zaman, whose two sons also died along with two of Mohammad's local allies. Sultan did not disclose the identities or nationalities of foreign militants killed with Mohammad.
Military officials have described Mohammad's killing as a major success in the ongoing drive to flush Al-Qaeda-linked foreign elements out of the region.
The situation in South Waziristan is fully under control of the security forces, Sultan said when asked if there were any fears of a tribal backlash over the killing.
Mohammad had been a Taliban commander during the hardline militia's five-year rule in Afghanistan and trained Central Asian militants at a garrison just north of Kabul.
Security officials believe he sheltered hundreds of Chechen and Uzbek fighters around Wana, which is some 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) from the porous Afghan frontier, when they fled the US-led offensive to destroy the Taliban in the wake of the September 11 2001 terror attacks.
Sporadic skirmishes between militants and Pakistani forces have erupted since the army rounded off a major offensive in Shakai area last Sunday, killing 55 militants and losing 18 soldiers.
The Shakai operation, carried out northeast of Wana, was the second since March when Mohammad led bloody resistance to a counter-terrorism offensive in Azam Warsak area that left 124 people dead, including 63 militants, 46 soldiers and 15 civilians.
Mohammad's elimination had removed a major hurdle to the ongoing campaign against Al-Qaeda hideouts in the rugged region, security officials said.
Afghan Killed, Four Foreign Troops Hurt in Attacks
Fri Jun 18,10:35 AM ET By David Brunnstrom
KABUL (Reuters) - An Afghan interpreter was killed and two U.S. and two New Zealand soldiers wounded in the latest violence involving Islamic insurgents fighting to disrupt Afghanistan's September elections, officials said Friday.
A spokesman for the ousted Taliban militia swiftly claimed responsibility for several attacks across Afghanistan.
The interpreter died and the U.S. soldiers were wounded when a vehicle hit a mine 50 km (30 miles) north of Qalat, capital of the southern province of Zabul late Thursday, said U.S. military spokeswoman Master Sergeant Cindy Beam.
She said the soldiers were in stable condition.
The governor of the southern province of Paktika, Haji Gulab Mangal, said he had reports of an attack on a U.S. convoy in its Barmal district Thursday evening. Villagers said they believed there were some casualties, but Beam said she had no such report.
The two New Zealand special forces soldiers were wounded in an attack early Friday on their position in central Afghanistan, Defense Minister Mark Burton said in Wellington. One soldier had a gunshot wound and the other was hit by shrapnel.
The wounded soldiers were evacuated for treatment and their injuries were not considered life threatening.
"They are both in a satisfactory condition," Burton told the New Zealand Press Association. "I have no suggestion at this point that this incident will lead to any reconsideration of the deployment."
The New Zealand troops were attacked with rocket propelled grenades and small arms, Beam said.
In March, New Zealand said it was sending 50 elite Special Air Service troops to Afghanistan for a six-month tour of duty.
A U.S.-led military force of more than 20,000 is battling Taliban and allied Islamic insurgents mainly in the south and east of Afghanistan.
The insurgents have stepped up attacks in recent months to disrupt the run-up to elections scheduled for September.
The U.S. military says 80 militants were killed and 90 detained in an operation launched in late May across several southern provinces, but the insurgents appear undeterred.
Early Friday, the office of the United Nations refugee agency in the southern city of Kandahar was attacked with rocket-propelled grenades, but no casualties were reported.
A convoy of the U.S. Agency for International Development was fired at north of Kabul Thursday, but there were no casualties, USAID spokeswoman Joan Ablett said.
Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi said his guerrillas carried out the reported attack on the U.S. convoy in Barmal, on foreign troops in central Uruzgan province and on the USAID convoy.
The Taliban and their allies have declared a holy war against U.S.-led foreign forces in Afghanistan and also consider foreign and local aid workers legitimate targets for attack.
Canada turns down U.S. request to delay troops' departure from Afghanistan
Fri Jun 18, 5:36 PM ET BETH GORHAM Canadian Press
WASHINGTON (CP) - Canada has turned down a request from the U.S. State Department to delay withdrawing its 2,000 troops from Afghanistan this summer.
Americans, worried about potential violence during Afghan elections this fall, wanted Canadians to act as a rapid reaction force and stay put past their scheduled departure this summer. "This started two or three weeks ago," said Darren Gibb, spokesman for the Defence Department in Ottawa.
"What the Americans are looking for is not exactly what our troops are trained to do," he said Friday.
"A determination has been made that we're going to rotate our troops back."
Canada has made up about 40 per cent of the NATO-led forces of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. The 2,000 soldiers will depart at staggered times from the end of July through mid-August.
They will be replaced by Europeans. Canada will rotate into the country up to 700 armoured reconnaissance squad troops in September with another 200 soldiers for air support, said Gibb.
U.S. officials are expected to apply more pressure on Canada and other NATO countries during the alliance's annual meeting June 28 in Istanbul.
Gibb didn't want to speculate about whether Canada's decision could change.
"The picture is pretty clear. We fulfilled our commitment. As of today, there's no intention to change that position."
The U.S. government has made no secret of its desire to see Canada stay. The State Department's Afghanistan co-ordinator, William Taylor, recently told the Middle East Institute that it would be a good idea if Canada could stay an extra month.
"It would be good, we're suggesting, if the Canadians could stay on an extra month, if the Europeans could get there on time in August, so that in September you'd have an overlap," said Taylor.
"In September you'd have, therefore, nearly double the number of troops you would otherwise have."
Gibb said Foreign Affairs officials responded to the U.S. request after consulting the Defence Department.
"We talk regularly to Canada and our other NATO allies about how to best provide support, although formal requests and decisions on troops and requirements rest with NATO," said State Department spokesman Jay Greer.
Baroda-born helps US troops break language barrier in Afghanistan
Indo-Asian News Service New York, June 18
He is an Indian serving the US armed forces, speaks six languages fluently and helps American troops stationed in Afghanistan break the language barrier with the locals.
Prashant Shah, a Vadodara (Gujarat)-born Lance Corporal with the US Marines, has been decorated with a medal for using his "extraordinary linguistic skills" to establish a communication link between American troops and Afghan locals.
Shah, who serves with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, speaks not two or three but six languages - English, Hindi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Urdu and Pashto.
His efforts have earned him the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal.
"Being proficient in several languages, he would coordinate with the drivers and explain to them what to do," Lt. Col. Benjamin Braden, MSSG-22 Commanding Officer, said in a statement.
"For a lance corporal, it's a pretty big mission. He's done outstanding."
Initially, many of Shah's comrades didn't believe his linguistic skill, until he started speaking with the locals, reports reaching here said.
"They say I'm lying," said Shah, recollecting his conversations with fellow marines where he spoke about his linguistic gift. "Then they say, 'All right, talk to this guy.' Then I do."
Being able to speak in languages the locals can understand, Shah has been coordinating with numerous local contractors and trucking agencies that help the construction of Forward Operating Base Ripley.
"He's so vital to the logistics mission here," said 1st Lt. Juan Fernandez, the MSSG-22 supply officer. "Without him, we couldn't do it. We get about 20-25 jingle trucks a day. If there's any problems, he'll calm them down."
Part of his skill comes from Shah's upbringing. Shah came to Lincoln Park, New Jersey, in 2001 with his mother from Vadodara.
He was able to pick up the Indian languages because of their similarities. He said he learnt Urdu when he was sailing the Atlantic on the way to Afghanistan by practising with a fellow Marine who knew the language.
In speaking with the locals, Shah has found the presence of the Marine Corps and other coalition forces a reassuring factor in the lives of the Afghans.
"They like when we're here because they're not attacked," said Shah. "We give jobs to the locals. I think we're doing a great job. They also feel safe on the roads, especially the truck drivers, because we have checkpoints."
Shah's ethnic background makes him a curiosity to local Afghans and he is often questioned about his military career.
"The first question they ask is how I joined the Marine Corps. The second most asked question is how they can join," said Shah, in whom seniors find great promise.
Shah is currently pursuing US citizenship and hopes to become a Naval aviator one day.
Lawyer Says Afghan Died of Heart Attack
Sat Jun 19,12:16 AM ET By ESTES THOMPSON, Associated Press Writer
RALEIGH, N.C. - A lawyer for the former CIA contractor accused of beating an Afghan detainee said Friday the prisoner died from a heart attack while in custody.
The contractor and former Army special operations soldier, 38-year-old David A. Passaro of Lillington, was charged Thursday with two counts each of assault and assault with a dangerous weapon — a flashlight. He has a detention hearing scheduled Tuesday morning in U.S. District Court in Raleigh.
Passaro was charged in connection with the June 21, 2003, death of Abdul Wali. Wali had gone to a U.S. base in Afghanistan to surrender because authorities wanted to talk to him about rocket attacks against the base. He died three days after he arrived at the base.
The arrest was the first time civilian charges have been brought in the investigation of prisoner abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Gerald Beaver, a civilian attorney in Fayetteville, said he has a transcript of an Islamic radio broadcast from June 27, 2003, in which an Afghan official said an examination showed Wali died of a heart attack.
"His story is he's innocent," Beaver said. "That's all I can tell you."
The transcript provided by Beaver from Mashhad Radio in Iran said "heart disease has been given as the cause of death of an Afghan national who was being held in detention by U.S. forces in Asadabad city, the centre of Afghanistan's Konar Province."
The report quoted the governor of Konar Province where the prison is located and said there were no signs of assault on the body.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Raleigh, which will prosecute the case, had no immediate comment. The Justice Department said Thursday that no autopsy was performed to establish a cause of death.
Beaver said he planned to meet with Passaro, who is being held until Tuesday's hearing, to determine whether he would represent him. Beaver had represented Passaro since he received a letter from federal prosecutors in March saying he was being investigated.
At the time of Wali's death, Passaro was on leave from a civilian Army medical job at Fort Bragg while doing the contract work for the CIA, according to the Army Special Operations Command.
If convicted, Passaro faces up to 40 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
Some people who know Passaro say he has a history of aggressive behavior, while others said the alleged actions seem out of character.
A spokeswoman for the Hartford, Conn., Police Department, Nancy Mulroy, said Passaro graduated from the city's police academy in 1990 but was relieved of duty after he was arrested by state police before completing his probationary period.
He was convicted in 1991 of breach of peace, state police said. He paid a $100 fine.
Passaro's ex-wife, Kerry Passaro of Fayetteville, said her husband had assaulted a neighbor and was violent throughout their marriage.
North Carolina records show David and Kerry Passaro were divorced in 2001, and that Passaro remarried a year later. Since then, Harnett County deputy sheriffs were called twice to the rural house to investigate domestic fights and again to look into a complaint that Passaro fired a gun at a neighbor's dog.
Passaro's brother, Stephen Passaro, said he believes his brother is innocent.
"David's a soldier. David's a firefighter. David's a policeman," Passaro said in an interview at his house in East Hartford, Conn. "He has the courage and the charisma and the gumption and the willingness to do what most people only want to go watch movies about."
The chief of the Connecticut volunteer fire department where Passaro served from 1990 to 1991 said the acts described in the indictment are at odds with his memory of a dedicated young man who longed for a career in public safety.
"He was one of those 110 percent people," said Joseph Lorenzetti, 49. "Whatever you needed the young man to do, he was more than cooperative. ... From when I knew the gentleman, this seems very out of character."
A former Green Beret medic and Army Ranger, Passaro began his contract with the CIA in December 2002. He arrived at the Afghan base in mid-May 2003, a few weeks before the alleged abuse occurred, U.S. officials said.
Stephen Passaro said he believes his brother is being prosecuted for political reasons.
"I feel he's a pawn," Stephen Passaro said. "Everyone wants to grab a hold of something and use it as leverage to win points and push their agenda."
Associated Press writers Michael Felberbaum in Raleigh and Matt Apuzzo in Hartford, Conn., contributed to this story.
Afghan government welcomes charges against CIA contractor
Sat Jun 19, 1:12 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Afghanistan's government welcomed the charging of a CIA contractor over the brutal killing of a prisoner in a northeastern jail and said it was confident the United States would pursue other offenders.
The indictment of the contractor comes as the United States military faces international outrage, particularly from the Arab world, over the alleged abuse of prisoners detained in Iraq and Afghanistan.
US authorities on Thursday charged David Passaro with two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and two counts of assault resulting in serious bodily injury over the death of detainee Abdul Wali.
Passaro, 38, is accused of having repeatedly beaten and kicked Wali and smacked him with a flashlight in June 2003 at a camp in Asadabad, some 190 kilometres (118 miles) northeast of Kabul. The prisoner died the following day.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai's chief-of-staff Mohammed Omar Daudzai said the government welcomed the decision to prosecute a case against the contractor.
"This can be a good example," Daudzai said on Friday.
"We are pretty sure and we are confident that the Americans will pursue and identify the two other culprits," he said in reference to the deaths of two other Afghans who died while in US custody in December 2002.
The two men died in separate incidents at the main US detention facility at Bagram Air Base, some 50 kilometres (31 miles) north of Kabul. Investigations into their deaths are ongoing.
Passaro faces a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison and a 250,000 dollar fine for allegedly "brutally assaulting an Afghan detainee in a US military base in Afghanistan," US Attorney General John Ashcroft said.
Abdul Wali was interrogated by Passaro and others after allegedly mounting a rocket attack on the base at Asadabad, in Kunar province, near the border with Pakistan.
A lawyer for Passaro told the New York Times newspaper his client would be stating he was innocent.
Afghanistan's foremost human rights group also welcomed the charges as a "positive step."
"If this happens now we take it as a first positive step for the coalition forces gaining the confidence of the Afghan people, that they are respecting the dignity and rights of Afghans," commissioner with the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, Ahmad Nader Nadery, said.
The US military is conducting a "top to bottom" review of its 20-odd detention centres and is also investigating two claims of prisoner abuse.
One of these claims involves a former police colonel who has told AFP he was deprived of sleep, beaten and sexually taunted while in custody in southeastern Gardez and southern Kandahar. He was later taken to Bagram and released.
The United States, which leads a 20,000-strong coalition force hunting Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, has said it has substantially modified conditions in its detention centres here since the Bagram deaths and that improvements are continually introduced.
In response to a claim from a rights group that the American military has more than two dozen detention centres around the world for people detained in the war on terror, a US coalition spokeswoman would only confirm the existence of two in Afghanistan.
The US military runs detention facilities at Bagram Collection Point and Kandahar but has about 18 additional "transit holding sites," the whereabouts of which would not be released, US Master Sergeant Cindy Beam said.
According to a report by Human Rights First there are 30 suspected and officially confirmed US detention centres around the world with most of the 13 "suspected" secret prisons in Afghanistan.
Secrecy surrounding the jails makes "inappropriate detention and abuse not only likely, but inevitable," the group said.
Shanghai 6 Promise Afghans Support
The Moscow Times 06/17/2004
TASHKENT - The presidents of Russia, China and four Central Asian nations fortified their security alliance Thursday, inaugurating an anti-terrorism center and promising to support Afghanistan in bolstering its stability.
At a one-day summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Chinese President Hu Jintao also said his country would offer $900 million in credit to other alliance countries, which include Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai also attended the talks in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent. Leaders of the six-nation SCO grouping pledged to help rebuild Afghanistan, which has been a source of regional instability in the past and a haven for extremist groups that have launched incursions in Central Asia.
President Vladimir Putin proposed establishing a contact group between the alliance and Afghanistan. Karzai welcomed the initiatives and said Afghanistan was eager to actively cooperate with SCO and open its borders for regional trade. "The future of your countries is strongly linked to the future of Afghanistan," he said.
The SCO anti-terror center in Tashkent is to serve as a think tank and clearinghouse to share information between alliance countries. Karzai said terrorists are still arriving in Afghanistan and attacks continue, telling reporters "the fight against terrorism is a long-term fight." Uzbek President Islam Karimov said anti-terrorism efforts should not focus only on military action.
"We should destroy the many radical extremist centers that create the ideology of hatred, those who poison the minds and zombify youth," Karimov told the meeting. Karimov's administration drew fresh criticism Thursday for an alleged crackdown on demonstrators attempting to stage peaceful protests ahead of the summit.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said at least two activists were beaten by unidentified assailants, while others were detained along with their children or prevented from leaving their homes. Ahead of Thursday's talks, Russia and China signed separate bilateral agreements with Uzbekistan, Central Asia's most populous country.
At a meeting with Hu on the sidelines of the summit, Putin praised Russia's booming trade with China and said he looked forward to an October visit there. Trade between the countries was $15.7 billion last year, a rise of 32 percent from 2002, and Hu said he expected it to reach $20 billion this year.
Children from Iraq, Afghanistan struggle to reach international competition
Boston Globe June 18, 2004
CLEVELAND -- Young athletes from Iraq and Afghanistan are finding it difficult to reach this summer's International Children's Games in Cleveland.
If successful, the children will represent their countries -- post Saddam Hussein and Taliban -- as cultural ambassadors, an original goal of the games.
Iraq and Afghanistan will join 21 other countries planning to make their first appearances. About 24,000 children ages 12-15 have participated in the games since their inception, representing 200 cities in 50 countries.
A Yugoslavian professor who weathered World War II as a child organized the first International Children's Games in 1968. He hoped the event would promote peace, friendship and tolerance.
Cleveland will be the first American city to be host to the games when they open July 28 and run through Aug. 2. Organizers expect to attract about 3,000 athletes and coaches.
A native Iraqi who lives in the Cleveland area hopes two of his second cousins from Baghdad will be able to attend with their father, who trains them in track and field events.
The Convention and Visitors Bureau of Greater Cleveland has offered to donate Continental tickets for the trio. But first, they will must make a dangerous trek to Jordan for visas, then to travel to Amsterdam, the closest airport served by the airline.
"We're doing as much as we can to make sure they can come," games program director Carol Payto said. She declined to give the names of the Iraqis and their American relative, citing security concerns.
Eight girls from Kabul, Afghanistan, traveled to Islamabad, Pakistan, for their visas. Because their country is red-flagged as a security concern, they may need another visa to transfer planes in London.
American Airlines has donated free domestic flights for the Afghan delegation. The group plans to spend about a month in America, starting in early July.
They will land in New York, then travel to the Afghan Youth Sports Exchange training camp in Simsbury, Conn., before arriving in Cleveland.
The girls will become the first group to participate in the exchange, a program developed by 24-year-old Awista Ayub.
Born in Kabul, Ayub arrived in America as a baby when her family fled Afghanistan to escape war with the Soviet Union.
She grew up playing sports and founded the women's ice hockey team while an undergraduate at the University of Rochester.
Sports teach self-confidence, perseverance, teamwork and many other practical skills, she said.
"Our ultimate goal is for them to go back and become leaders in their communities," Ayub said.
But first the girls will need to learn to play soccer, the sport in which they will compete at the games.
Once they arrive in Connecticut, Ayub and community volunteers will explain the rules of the game and coach the girls for three weeks.
Ayub said she picked soccer because it's relatively cheap.
"All you really need are sneakers and a ball," she said.
First Afghan poll funds arrive but shortfall faced
KABUL, June 17 (Reuters) - Washington has provided the first instalment of the $101 million needed for Afghan elections, but a shortfall of tens of millions of dollars remains just months before voting, the United Nations said on Thursday.
The $12.5 million contribution by the United States for the polls, which are due to be held in September, was received on June 16, U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said.
"It is the first contribution by a donor nation to the electoral budget," he told a briefing.
"There have been pledges totalling $70 million, which leaves us with a shortfall of about $30-31 million...The issue here is not only to bridge this gap, but also for donors to transfer amounts already pledged as soon as possible."
U.N. and Afghan officials have said a delay in the release of funding by international donors could make it difficult to hold elections on schedule.
An increasing number of observers have been urging a delay Given the deteriorating security situation as a result of attacks by Islamic militants who have vowed to disrupt the polls.
The Joint Electoral Management Body, with groups U.N. officials with the national Election Commission, said last week that $87 million of the total funds would be needed by July 1 to make sure the ballot papers could be ordered in time.
Analysts say U.S. President George W. Bush, the main backer of President Hamid Karzai, is eager to see the polls in September to give him a foreign policy success story to balance against Iraq before his own bid for relection in November.
The polls have already been delayed from June due to security and logistical difficulties that hampered voter registration.
The U.N. spokesman said nearly four million of an estimated 9.5-9.8 million eligible voters had so far registered, 64 percent of them men and nearly 36 percent of them women.
Voters were registering at the rate of about 90,000 a day, eh said.
However concerns have been expressed about the slow pace of registration in the south and east, where militants are most active, and the low percentage of women registering.
Nato boss pleads for Afghan focus
By Paul Adams BBC defence correspondent Saturday, 19 June, 2004, 01:12 GMT 02:12 UK
Nato Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has made an impassioned plea for member states to commit resources to existing operations, notably in Afghanistan.
Speaking in London, Mr de Hoop Scheffer said it was "simply intolerable" that he was forced to get out his begging bowl as a standard operating procedure.
Nato's members, he said, announced political decisions to undertake missions, but "then we suddenly find out that nations are not prepared to make available the necessary capabilities".
There is nothing new about Nato bosses complaining to members that they are not being given the wherewithall to do the alliance's work.
But this secretary general is clearly fed up with it.
Mr de Hoop Scheffer, like his predecessor, has made a number of strong speeches in the past, urging members to improve their contributions to Nato, but this speech, on the eve of the Istanbul Summit (which begins in just over a week), was unusually forceful.
And why the outburst? In a word, Afghanistan. With the government of Hamid Karzai barely able to extend its authority beyond the capital, Nato has still not provided the extra personnel and equipment promised several months ago.
"Given the vast quantities of personnel and equipment available to the alliance overall, we have to ask ourselves why we still cannot fill them," he said.
"What is wrong with our system that we cannot generate small amounts of badly needed resources for missions that we have committed to politically?"
Mr de Hoop Scheffer said Nato had to "devise a formula that both encourages and enables nations to honour their collective decisions and commitments".
The alliance had no choice but to deliver, making sure its means matched its ambitions, he added. He wants to reform the planning process.
The allies, he said, should consider common funding of essential capabilities, like airlift and medical facilities.
He is also clearly worried that Nato leaders are thinking too much about Iraq at a time when they should be making good on their promises to Afghanistan.
Asked about Nato's possible role in Iraq, Mr de Hoop Scheffer said it would be wrong for members to start a discussion without first finding out what the new Iraqi government wants.
He also said he did not know if consensus on sending Nato troops to Iraq was achievable.
But he said that if the new Iraqi government asked for Nato's assistance, the alliance would not "slam the door in its face".
Afghan army to better coordinate with US at Kabul headquarters
KABUL, June 17 (AFP) - Afghanistan's newly-trained national army Thursday officially opened its command and control center to accelerate a countrywide disarmament program and better coordinate military operations with US-led troops hunting militants, officials said.
It will become the 'nerve center' of the nascent army which numbers fewer than 10,000 soldiers but is projected to grow to 70,000, US commander of the office of military cooperation, Major General Craig Weston said.
'This command center allows the ministry of defense to better direct the field teams that have an important role in the current disarmament, demobilization and re-integration of militia forces in the field,' Weston said.
'The conference rooms of this center will allow the ministry of defense and (coalition) combined forces command to continue the joint planning for coalition and Afghan army operations.'
The center has been set up with assistance from Afghanistan's New Beginnings Program, a UN initiative to disarm tens of thousands of militia forces.
Deputy director of the disarmament program Peter Babbington said he hoped that the centre would lead to an acceleration of soldiers handing in their weapons 'which will eventually lead to the elimination of the AMF (Afghan Militia Forces) and their replacement with the new national army.'
An estimated 40,000 to 50,000 militiamen are still active around Afghanistan, large parts of which are controlled by regional commanders and warlords.
Afghan defense ministry officials said the facility will serve as a military coordination center between Afghan troops and the 20,000-strong US-led force hunting remnants of the Taliban regime and other militants.
The centre will 'better organize military operations and prevent misunderstandings as well as organise the DDR programme,' chief of Afghan defense ministry staff, General Bismullah Khan said.
The Afghan national army is working with the coalition in the southeast and is stationed in the north to prevent factional fighting. It is also assisting in the disarmament process and in providing security for voter registration ahead of elections now slated for September.
The government has promised to disarm 40 percent of militiamen before June, when elections were originally scheduled to be held. Just under 9,000 men have so far surrendered their weapons.
'Definately we will disarm the 40 percent before the election,' Deputy Defense Minister General Abdurrahim Wardak said Thursday, without specifying the date. The new army is being trained under an international effort being led by the United States.
Rocket-propelled grenades fired at UN refugee agency's office in Afghanistan
Source: UN News Service 18 Jun 2004
Several rocket-propelled grenades were fired at an office of the United Nations refugee agency in southern Afghanistan today.
The firing at the office in Kandahar of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) caused little, if any, damage and no casualties, according to a UN spokesperson.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) noted that the attack was a matter of grave concern, as an attack on UN premises. An investigation into the incident has begun.
Afghan UN Refugees Agency Office Attacked
Associated Press Friday June 18, 4:30 PM
Assailants attacked a United Nations refugee office in southern Afghanistan on Friday, sparking a shootout but causing no casualties, the governor's spokesman said.
The attack was the second on the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in the southern city of Kandahar this year. It also follows the assassination Tuesday of the local government's chief of refugee affairs, Hamid Agha, who was gunned down by assailants on motorcycles. Three of his bodyguards were also wounded.
On Thursday, the Afghan Minister of Refugees, Enayatullah Nazeri, and the top UNHCR official in Afghanistan, Daniel Andres, traveled to Kandahar to pay their respects to Agha's family and review the security situation.
Attackers on Friday fired at least two rockets at the UNHCR office walls, causing some damage, said Khalid Pashtun, a spokesman for the governor.
Pashtun would not say who was behind the attack, but previous attacks against foreign aid agencies and government offices have been blamed by the authorities on Taliban whose government was ousted as a result of U.S.-led operation late 2001.
Afghanistan has seen a surge in recent violence throughout the country, raising fears that the nation will not be ready to hold free and fair elections scheduled for September.
Foreign reconstruction and aid agency workers have been a favorite target of the insurgents.
Eleven Chinese road contractors were shot and killed in their beds in Kunduz province last week in the worst attack on foreign civilians since the Taliban were pushed from power in late 2001.
Five aid workers, including three Europeans, were gunned down June 2 in the remote northwest, and another bomb on Wednesday damaged the office of a British relief group in northeastern Badakhshan province.
More than 500 people have died in violence across Afghanistan this year. Drug traffickers and warlords are suspected in some of the attacks routinely blamed on Taliban and al-Qaida militants.
Why millions of Afghans have gone home
Thursday, 17 June, 2004, 16:41 GMT 17:41 UK BBC News
By Charles Haviland BBC correspondent in Kabul
With 646,000 refugees having returned home last year, Afghanistan is top of the league for returnees, according to a new UN report.
For a country still struggling to establish security after nearly a quarter-century of war, this offers a ray of hope.
Those flocking back are not just officially registered refugees.
Alongside them are people who have lived all or most of their lives outside the country and just find the new Afghanistan a more congenial society than it was.
Mohammed Nader Farhad, a spokesman here for the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, says that, when internally displaced people and voluntary returnees are counted, no less than 3.6 million Afghans have returned home since early 2002.
Take a walk under the pine trees, past some of the pockmarked buildings in dusty downtown Kabul, and you will see the impact of those who have decided to rebuild their lives in their homeland.
Alongside the myriad carpet shops and kebab joints, there are the signs of an economic boom - new restaurants, construction companies and hotels, even boutiques.
Many are the initiatives of Afghans returned from abroad to employ their talents.
Omar Zamani left at the age of two in the early 1980s.
Raised in Las Vegas, America's gambling capital, he returned for the first time a few months ago and works in a new bar-restaurant called Elbow Room.
"I am a lot more American than Afghan - I don't know the culture too well," he admits.
"But I'm adapting. I bring these awesome drinks here from Vegas and people are loving them."
Hamed Sangary presents a contrast. The 24-year-old, his parents and his eight brothers and sisters have been refugees twice over.
They fled to Pakistan to escape the Soviet-supported Afghan regime of the 1980s.
They returned under the Mujahideen in the 1990s, only to flee from the Taleban in 1996.
"Life in Peshawar was a little good but not very good," says Hamed, who worked with stonemasons and then studied there.
"Coming back was very good. We were given money.
"Things had changed a lot - there were girls at school and ladies working with NGOs."
In Hamed's view, the Taleban were worse than the communists. Their time was "the worst time in our history", he says.
Now he has high hopes for the future and wants to learn German and computing.
Mohammed Nader Farhad says the returns are very good news - a sign of Afghans' love for their country.
The UNHCR has given many returnees cash or food allowances, and helped build houses and wells around the country.
Many returnees do face problems. Housing is one, with property prices having spiralled in the capital; unemployment is another.
Particularly in the south and east, where a Taleban-al Qaeda insurgency is growing, returnees, like others, face grave insecurity.
In these parts, says Paul O'Brien of the NGO Care International, the mass return of people was an inspiring sign of hope.
But he warns that many have not seen returns on the investment they have made by coming back.
"If their needs aren't met soon by better funding, and there isn't a peace dividend soon, things could get unstable," he says.
There are still vast numbers of Afghan refugees - 2.3 million in Pakistan and Iran alone.
Nevertheless, the numbers choosing to come home or at last feeling it is safe to do so are transforming the face of this country.
Two New Zealand troops injured in Afghan skirmish
Associated Press Friday June 18, 6:31 PM
Two elite New Zealand troops were injured in central Afghanistan Friday when they were fired on by militants armed with small arms and rockets, officials said.
The two soldiers were evacuated by helicopter to a U.S. base in the southern city of Kandahar for treatment, American military spokeswoman Master Sgt. Cindy Beam said.
Both were in stable condition, Beam said in an e-mail.
She said U.S.-led forces "received small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire" from a group of militants at about 4 a.m. (2330 GMT Thursday), but gave no details of the fighting.
In Wellington, the New Zealand Defense Force said the wounded soldiers were members of the elite Special Air Service. A military spokeswoman refused to make any further comment.
Radio and television stations in New Zealand reported both men had been shot.
The New Zealand government announced the deployment of about 50 Special Air Service personnel to Afghanistan in March, for a term of up to 180 days.
Their missions included "long-range reconnaissance and direct action," according to a parliament Web site.
Last month, the New Zealand Herald newspaper, citing leaked government documents, reported that the SAS troops would engage in combat missions with U.S. forces in Afghanistan including small-scale offensive operations against insurgents.
5 Afghan Athletes Set Sights on Olympics
Associated Press Friday June 18, 9:39 AM
Five young athletes from Afghanistan have set out on an adventure.
They have no money. They are in a foreign land whose language they do not speak. They rely on a Greek woman who has brought them to this town on the Aegean Sea island of Lesvos. Their destination is the Athens Games.
This is the first Afghan Olympic team since the 1996 Atlanta Games, and the first to include women. The athletes are doing everything possible on a meager budget to perform respectably for the Aug. 13-29 games.
"The winning and losing is not important for me," said Friba Razayee, 18, who will compete in judo. "The world is preparing four years for the Olympic Games. We are preparing three months ... but we will try our best."
Razayee and 100-meter sprinter Robina Muqimyar, 17, are the two women on the team. They come from a country where the former Taliban regime banned schools for girls and required the shroudlike burqa for all women.
Their teammates are men: a wrestler, another sprinter and a boxer, who was the only one to qualify for the games. The rest were invited by the International Olympic Committee.
Afghanistan last sent athletes to the Olympics just weeks before the Taliban took the capital, Kabul. The IOC suspended Afghanistan in 1999 for a list of grievances led by the ban on female competitors.
But it is Zoi Livaditou, Afghanistan coordinator of the Greek Rescue Team, who got the team to Greece to train for the Olympics.
Livaditou decided to help after seeing sprinter Masoud Azizi, 18, practicing in worn sandals in Kabul's stadium, which was used for executions during the Taliban regime.
After negotiations with the Greek state Lesvos, Livaditou's birthplace was chosen for the training. The mayor of Kalloni, George Kyratzis, persuaded the citizens to offer free room, board and food. The athletes even got free haircuts.
On June 26, they will travel to Thessaloniki to train until the Olympic Village opens in August.
Athens organizers have not given any money to the team, but persuaded Adidas, a sponsor, to give clothes and equipment, Livaditou said. But the team needs pocket money and she has none left.
"I do not have the ability. My money is finished," said Livaditou, whom Azizi calls his surrogate mother. "They need their vitamins, their supplements."
Kyratzis gave the athletes $480 and coaches $720 as a gift when they first arrived since they had no money of their own. The team then sent all the money to their large families back home.
"We did not see them just as another team. We saw it as a humanitarian effort," Kyratzis said. "We welcomed the proposal from our hearts."
The athletes are always accompanied by two undercover police officers. They have tried new things, such as a concert organized by famed Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, whose music was played in Kabul during the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
Before coming to Greece the men were training in Iran from October to April with economic support by the IOC.
Razayee, with a fondness for ice cream since tasting it in Greece, said although she is competing in judo, boxing is her first love.
"They are very proud and they encourage that we be brave," Razayee said.
Sultani Basharmal, a 19-year-old boxer who will compete in the 152-pound category, has seen many things on this Greek odyssey.
"Greece is the best country. It has a beautiful view, beach and lovely people. In Afghanistan we haven't a pool like here," Basharmal said after learning to swim in just one day.
With training, sprinter Azizi cut his time in the 100 meters from 11.74 seconds three months ago to 11.16. Running in the Kostas Kenteris stadium in Lesvos _ named after Greece's gold medalist in the 200 meters at Sydney _ has helped. It is better than running on rocks and dust in Kabul.
"I am very proud to be with the other world champions," Azizi said. During the games "I will introduce myself to them."
But in the end, it is not about the Olympics or about winning. The athletes want to find money to refurbish the stadium in Kabul, to buy sports equipment or maybe a gym.
For the women there is a lot more to accomplish.
"I do not want to be married," Muqimyar said. "I just want to try to be a good athlete. I want to change the history of Afghanistan. I want the other women to watch me and see me and follow me."
First Private Museum To Be Established In Kabul
Daily Afghan Report June 17, 2004
Source: Radio Free Afghanistan (part of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty)
Ahmad Shah Sultani, a London-based Afghan businessman, is planning to establish the first-ever private museum in Afghanistan, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 16 June. Sultani said that he has purchased more than 1,500 historic artifacts of Afghan origin from international art dealers and is planning to display them in his museum in Kabul as a gift to the Afghan people. The artifacts range from 100 to 5,000 years in age. Sultani is also planning a second museum in Ghazni, in east-central Afghanistan. He also said that he has purchased and donated some items, which originally belonged to the National Museum of Afghanistan, to the Afghan government. Many of Afghanistan's rich historic treasures were destroyed by the civil war of the early 1990s and subsequent Taliban regime. According to the Radio Free Afghanistan report, illegal excavations are still continuing across the country in areas controlled by warlords. AT
Afghanistan - "far from victory"
Radio Netherlands 06/18/2004
"We are seeing the security situation worsen hugely in the last two or three months. A UN official in Kabul told me incidents are doubling every month since January, now that's an extraordinary thing to be happening two-and-a-half years after the war against terrorism [in Afghanistan] was supposed to have been won." Ahmed Rashid
Afghanistan is gearing up for elections in September but the path to democracy will be far from smooth.
Outside the country's capital Kabul individual warlords remain in charge, running their regions as they see fit, and paying little or no attention to the 'central government' of Afghan president Hamid Karzai.
A major plan to disarm the different warlord's militia groups has floundered due to a lack of peacekeepers and, with renewed pleas for more peacekeepers falling on deaf ears, there are fears the elections could prove a failure.
Attacks on aid workers have intensified and drugs are once again Afghanistan's main export. The country provides three quarters of the world's heroin, a trade with an international turnover of 30 billion dollars a year.
This week Amsterdam Forum turned its attention to Afghanistan asking if there is a risk the country could slip back in to chaos.
Journalist and author Ahmed Rashid, who's been reporting from the region for 25 years, joined the Forum.
He first gave his reaction to claims made this week by US president George Bush that the progress made in Afghanistan towards democracy showed it was a success story in the American war on terrorism, something to be replicated in Iraq.
"Well Bush actually called it a victory, and I think the western alliance is very far from yet calling it a victory. What we've seen in recent months has been the resurgence of the Taliban, the growing problems of drug trafficking and really the failure of disarming the warlords."
"I think there's been an enormous rush by the Americans to carry out these elections partly in a bid to try and prove exactly what Bush is saying, you know, that there's a victory at least in one area in the war on terrorism and this becomes more important of course with Iraq in the situation it's in. There certainly has been a lot pf progress in Afghanistan but we're still very far away from saying that it's a victory."
The other panellist joining the discussion was Omar Qurishi from the Institute for a New Afghanistan, a Dutch based group committed to helping in the reconstruction of the country.
"I agree that we are far away from victory . . . and there is also another major problem, the Islamic militia [the Northern Alliance who helped the US overthrow the Taliban] now has a very important role in the Afghanistan government – and while we have seen in the last three years that there have been lots of good things happening in Afghanistan this is one of the negative things; that the Islamic militia has become stronger and stronger."
Asked about President Bush's assertion, made earlier this week, that Afghanistan was "no longer a terrorist factory sending thousands of killers into the world," Ahmed Rashid said he disputed the claim.
"In the last few weeks we've got up to five or six Taliban/Al Qaeda attacks a day. Something like 450 Afghan civilians and soldiers and policemen have been killed this year alone, so there there's certainly still terrorist activity in many parts of the country and of course there's a lot of problems with the warlords, it's not just a question that they are not allowing Kabul to govern properly. The fact is in their areas there is crime, there is rape, there is repression of many kinds, the NGOs can't work properly and the UN agencies can't work properly."
As ever Radio Netherlands' listeners had their say.
Richard Deschene from Brockville in Canada: "There were several reasons why I disagreed with the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and this was one of them: the reconstruction of Afghanistan had yet to really begin and shifting the US and global focus onto Iraq would mean Afghanistan would be left in a vacuum."
"The lack of intense reconstruction in Afghanistan during the last year has proven my concerns were well-founded. The US and UK in particular have missed an incredible opportunity to help a nation whose physical and political infrastructure has been destroyed for several decades now."
Unless there is a renewed commitment of funds and man-hours in helping Afghanis help themselves, it is quite reasonable to expect that Afghanistan will continue to be a source of inciting international terrorism, as well as local instability for its neighbouring countries through the activities of local warlords."
Ahmed Rashid: "I thoroughly agree there's been a huge lack of commitment on the reconstruction issue largely because of Iraq. If Iraq hadn't happened these issues would have been dealt with much better."
Ursula Peddie from Canada: "They did not get their hands on Osama Bin Laden and the US and the rest of the world has lost interest in Afghanistan and their people. All is now geared towards Iraq and the US election coming up."
Ahmed Rashid: "It's absolutely clear that Iraq was a huge distraction in both the reconstruction of Afghanistan and the search for Bin Laden. What we had at the end of 2002 was that the Americans moved out all their intelligence, their special forces, satellite surveillance, all the things that they needed to catch Bin Laden they moved them all to Iraq and they've only just come back a few months ago. They've missed out something like 18 months tracking him down . . . and naturally you can't just then come in and hope someone will deliver Bin Laden to you."
Jan Velema from London, Ontario, Canada: "It is sad to say but the international community will only care about Afghanistan when there is an economic benefit for it. This is what our 'civilization' has accomplished."
Ahmed Rashid: "The fact that Afghanistan does not have oil and Iraq does have oil is the reason why you have two billion dollars being spent on reconstruction in Afghanistan and something like 25 billion being spent in Iraq."
Afghanistan is Bush's good news
United Press International 06/18/2004 By Roland Flamini
WASHINGTON -Standing beside President George W. Bush in the White House Rose Garden Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's head of state, observed jokingly that perhaps he would remain in the United States instead of returning to Kabul. "One likes to stay here and not go, it's such a good country," he said.
If he expected Bush to reply that he would be welcome, he was disappointed. "Get home and get to work, will you?" the president said, only half joking. Karzai replied: "Thank you, yes."
Visiting Washington this week Karzai got the red carpet treatment. He had a private lunch at the White House with President Bush and his wife. He addressed a joint session of congress, a signal honor reserved for prominent visitors, and he had talks with top Bush advisers.
Though nobody said so, the speech to congress was to compensate for an embarrassing blunder two years ago when the Bush administration arranged for President Karzai to appear before the Senate Committee on foreign Relations as if he were testifying.
But some observers felt the extra frills were intended as a substitute for substance. From the Bush administration's standpoint having Karzai in Washington was 1) a chance for Bush to trumpet Afghanistan as a U.S. success. He called it "the first victory in the war on terrorism," 2) a way to ensure that Karzai didn't feel deserted by Washington after the new president of Iraq, Ghazi al-Yawar, had the previous week attended the summit of the industrialized nations -- the G8 -- in Georgia, 3) an opportunity to impress on Karzai the importance of holding presidential and parliamentary elections in Afghanistan on schedule in September.
For Karzai the visit was an opportunity to make sure that his country would not be forgotten amid the clamor surrounding the U.S. return of sovereignty to Iraq on June 30. It was also a welcome break from the upheavals and the constant threat of assassination in his own country. The fleeting desire he expressed to stay where he was safe was very human.
Inevitably, Bush and Karzai both emphasized the progress made in Afghanistan since the defeat of the Taliban Islamic fundamentalist regime in 2001 as a result of the U.S.-led military offensive. A new constitution was introduced in January of this year, reconstruction has begun, more children are in school, and women have returned to public life.
Speaking at a Washington think tank Karzai also singled out press freedom and the proliferation of political parties for special mention. "The New York Times and the Washington Post look like government-controlled papers compared to the Afghan newspapers," he said. "That's how free the press is." As for political parties, they are "mushrooming," he said. "I don't know how many political parties we have today."
The following day he told congress: "You came to Afghanistan to defeat terrorism, and we Afghans welcomed and embraced you for the liberation of our country. Together we ended the rule of terrorism." In line with current Bush administration language he did not mention the Taliban, or the al-Qaida terrorist organization and its leader Osama bin Laden. Yet about 20,000 U.S..-led troops face frequent attacks from a guerrilla insurgency spearheaded by remnants of the Taliban organization and al-Qaida fighters.
Residual Taliban/al-Qaida resistance is part of a larger security problem that besets the Karzai government, which more than a year after taking office still has limited control outside Kabul, the capital.
Warlords and tribal chiefs run the impoverished provinces -- with the help of some 50,000 militiamen. Karzai was seeking a larger NATO force to buttress the government's authority at least in the main towns. But with Bush pressing the Atlantic Alliance to take on a larger role in Iraq, observers say, the size of NATO's presence in Afghanistan is unlikely to be stepped up in the short term.
Related to the security problem is the re-emergence of Afghanistan's drug trade, especially opium. This year's opium harvest is expected to be the country's largest. "We began to destroy poppies (the opium producing flower) and to address the difficulty once the interim government came into office," Karzai said at the think tank.
"For Afghanistan's sake, for us as a nation, poppies are a menace," he went on. "They criminalize the economy...they pay for terrorism, they go hand in hand with crime and warlordism and terrorism so Afghanistan has to definitely address it, and I hope there will be enough sustained international assistance."
Though Karzai seems confident that Afghanistan can hold fair and free elections in September others see that prospect receding because of the security situation and slow voter registration. They believe that at worst, the elections will be postponed for the second time. At best, they would be "symbolic" rather than truly democratic, Nasrullah Staniczai of Kabul University was quoted as saying this week.
"There is a possibility of holding elections in September but they would be sort of symbolic elections because they will not be able to cover the whole country," says Staniczai, who teaches political science.
This is not good news for the White House, which would like to score a significant political success in Afghanistan two months before Bush faces his own presidential polls. Particularly, say observers, since there will by then be little good news coming out of Iraq.
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