Seventeen suspected Taliban killed in southern Afghanistan
Saturday June 5, 2:02 AM AFP
Seventeen suspected Taliban were killed in clashes with US-led coalition and local forces in Afghanistan this week, officials said amid concern that militants have been aided by a disarmament drive.
The Taliban casualties came Thursday during a joint operation with Afghan forces in the vicinity of Daychopan in southern Zabul province, a coalition spokeswoman said.
"We have also confirmed 17 enemy KIAs (killed in action)," Master Sergeant Cindy Beam told AFP.
"Coalition forces are reporting that three US marines received minor wounds in this contact and returned to duty."
More than 100 Afghan soldiers, supported by dozens of US-led coalition troops and helicopters, launched the operation on Wednesday in Mianeshin district, some 140 kilometers (80 miles) north of the main southern city of Kandahar, Kandahar provincial government spokesman Khalid Pashtun said.
Pashtun told AFP by telephone that 13 suspected Taliban were killed and eight captured in the operation.
Afghan forces were Friday pursuing around 50 suspected militants, Pashtun said.
"The government troops are chasing them into the nearby mountains," he said.
Uruzgan police commander Shah Mohammad Khan said four suspected militants were killed in clashes with pro-government militias in Zabul. Khan's police had travelled to neighbouring Zabul to assist in the operation, he said.
"Four Taliban were killed in Daychopan district," he told AFP.
Khan said Taliban fighters had increased their activities in the region, partly in response to a weakening of pro-government forces as a result of an ongoing nationwide disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) drive.
More than 1,445 officers and soldiers have been disarmed under the main phase of the programme which has targeted Kabul, Kandahar, northern Kunduz and southeastern Gardez.
Nationally some 7,630 militiamen have been disarmed, according to the latest UN figures.
"DDR can be very effective if there is no fear of Taliban in the region," Khan said.
"(But) I would like to be clear that we still need AMF (Afghan Militia Forces) to tackle the Taliban," he said.
Regional warlords, who control much of Afghanistan, have previously voiced concerns that disarming their troops could give Taliban and other militants an advantage.
Southern and southeastern Afghanistan have been hit by a wave of attacks blamed on resurgent Taliban militants after the hardline regime was forced out of power by a US-led military offensive in late 2001.
Kandahar, some 480 kilometers (300 miles) south of Kabul, and the neighbouring southern provinces of Uruzgan, Zabul and Helmand have been the scene of several bloody attacks on government and coalition troops in recent weeks.
All provinces are former strongholds of the Taliban militia.
Four US Special Operations soldiers were killed last week when their vehicle hit a land mine near Qalat, the capital of Zabul, bringing to six the number of US soldiers killed in the past month.
Nine Taliban rebels were killed early last week in clashes involving pro-government and coalition troops in Zabul, according to US and Afghan military officials.
Less then two weeks ago, government troops backed by US aircraft killed 20 suspected Taliban fighters in Kandahar's Arghistan district.
Since early May, dozens of combatants on both sides of have died in fighting, while eight aid workers, five of them foreign nationals, have also been killed in violence mainly blamed on Taliban extremists.
NATO to miss summit deadline for Afghan force plan
BRUSSELS - NATO will miss the June 28-29 summit deadline it set for an expansion of its peacekeeping force in Afghanistan because allies have not offered sufficient specialist forces and equipment, diplomats said on Thursday.
The failure would be a blow to the US-led alliance's credibility and leave little time to widen the net of security in Afghanistan before September's elections. NATO had pledged to have five military-civilian reconstruction teams up and running in the relatively stable north and west in time for its summit in Istanbul, Turkey, but now looks set to have the bare bones of just two in the north.
US Deputy of State Richard Armitage told reporters after meeting NATO ambassadors on Wednesday that the five Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) would be "identified" before Istanbul but not operational until the end of the summer. "It's unlikely that even the two in the north will be operational by Istanbul, it will be work in progress," said one NATO diplomat.
"This is still a painful process." NATO's takeover of the Kabul-based International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) last August was a morale-booster for an organisation sidelined by Washington after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, and torn by a row over the US-led war in Iraq last year.
The first operation outside Europe or North America demonstrated that the Cold War alliance had transformed itself to face 21st-century security threats far beyond the borders it was set up to defend 55 years ago. But the drive to extend the stabilising influence of the 6,300-strong ISAF through the provincial units - which provide security for aid agencies and carry out local reconstruction projects - has not gone well.
Killings of aid workers dims hopes of peaceful polls in Afghanistan
Friday June 4, 1:29 PM AFP
The brutal killing of five aid workers, including three Europeans, in northern Afghanistan has prompted grave concerns over whether the country would be able to hold landmark elections scheduled for September, analysts say.
President Hamid Karzai on Thursday gave no indication that the country's first post-Taliban presidential and parliamentary elections, originally scheduled for June, would be delayed again.
"September, ma'am, the date's set," Karzai said in response to a question from a woman journalist at the presidential palace.
But members of the aid community have expressed concerns over whether the security conditions are in place for Afghans to cast their votes free of intimidation and violence.
"The Taliban have made threats and in general I think the consensus... is that the security situation isn't good enough to hold free and fair elections at this time," Andrew Wilder, director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit think-tank, told AFP.
The latest killings will hamper the UN's ability to place international monitors in polling booths, important if the elections are to have legitimacy, he said.
Already the UN has been unable to open voter registration sites in three provinces because of poor security and two Britons and an Afghan working on logistics for the polls were killed in early May in eastern Nuristan province.
Meanwhile, the insurgency against US-led forces hunting Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other militants in the south and southeast has stepped up in recent weeks with coalition commander US Lieutenant General David Barno warning that more attacks should be expected.
Remnants of the Taliban have promised to disrupt the elections, threatening Afghans working on the polls and stating they will kill mullahs who offer their mosques for use as registration or polling sites.
"There are so many challenges to holding peaceful, free and fair elections in Afghanistan and it's hard to see how these conditions will be in place by September," Barbara Stapleton, of the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief, told AFP. "The conditions certainly aren't in place now."
The five Medecins Sans Frontieres workers -- A Belgian woman, a Dutch man, a Norwegian man, and their Afghan driver and translator -- were killed when their Toyota Landcruiser was attacked with grenades and gunfire Wednesday.
Worrying is the fact that the ambush occurred in an area Medecins Sans Frontieres had regarded as one of the least hazardous of the Afghan regions in which it works.
"It's a big surprise," said Wilder. "If it can happen in Baghdis, it can happen anywhere."
The immediate impact will be all non-governmental agencies in Baghdis suspending operations, said country director of US-based Care International Paul Barker.
"The aid community in general is in a bit of shock," he said, adding that the northwestern area had not seen this level of violence in some years.
The UN has suspended all work and temporarily closed all voter registration sites in the province.
Spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said the UN had always stressed that "security was a major area of concern for the electoral process."
According to a nationwide Asia Society survey of more than 800 Afghans in February and March, the two main problems confronting the population are the economy and security.
The survey also highlighted the lack of knowledge in the largely illiterate country about elections with some 20 to 30 percent of those interviewed unfamiliar with the basic concepts of democracy.
According to the Afghan Media Resource Center report 81 percent of those interviewed want to vote but only 37 percent said they thought the polls would be free and fair with most worried about fraudulent counting and vote-buying.
Of those who said they would not vote, eight percent said it was for fear of intimidation, violence and insecurity while 16 percent said they would be unable to participate because of lack of permission.
Annan Calls on Afghan Authorities to Find Aid Workers' Killers
June 4 (Bloomberg) -- United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan called on the Afghan authorities and U.S.-coalition forces to find the killers of five aid workers shot dead in the northeast of the country.
Annan condemned the ``cold-blooded killing'' of the workers from the Medecins sans Frontieres organization, the UN said in a statement on its Web site. The Brussels-based Nobel Peace Prize- winning aid agency suspended most of its work in Afghanistan after Wednesday's killings in Baghdis province.
Jean Arnault, the UN envoy in Afghanistan, said the attack confirmed the UN's assessment that violence in Afghanistan is threatening the country's efforts to hold credible presidential and parliamentary elections in September.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai postponed the election planned for June, citing security and voter registration problems. Arnault told the Security Council last week only 2.7 million Afghans out of the country's 10.5 million eligible voters have registered so far. Registration hasn't been possible in three provinces because of the lack of security, he said.
``The security of personnel from civilian aid organizations and the United Nations must be assured,'' Arnault said. ``The aid community, with international and national personnel, is in Afghanistan to help the needy and vulnerable, to help strengthen Afghan institutions and to help Afghans rebuild their country.''
The five aid workers, two Afghans and citizens of the Netherlands, Norway and Belgium, were killed in an attack on their vehicle near the village of Khairkhana, about 560 kilometers (350 miles) west of the capital, Kabul.
They were the first fatalities for the agency's Dutch division and the first ever fatalities in Afghanistan for the group, which was set up by French doctors in 1971.
``All international staff are being taken either to Kabul or to regional capitals,'' Nigel Jenkins, spokesman for MSF's Dutch division, said yesterday. While all of the agency's 78 international workers in Afghanistan, and most of its 800 local workers, will stop activities, ``there will be some national staff carrying out life-saving work,'' he said.
The attack was carried out by Taliban fighters, the Associated Press reported earlier this week, citing Taliban spokesman Mullah Abdul Hakim Latifi.
Karzai has asked the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which leads a 6,500-strong peacekeeping force in Kabul, to provide more soldiers to help with security during the elections.
Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters have increased attacks in recent months in southern Afghanistan. The Taliban militia was ousted from power in the U.S.-led war on terrorism in December 2001. Many fighters fled across the border into Pakistan.
Ailing former Afghan king returns home after latest treatment abroad
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) Afghanistan's ailing former king returned from the Middle East Friday after his latest spell of treatment for a troublesome intestinal condition, state television reported.
Mohammed Zaher Shah, 89, flew to the United Arab Emirates on May 18 along with members of the former royal family and was admitted To a Dubai clinic.
State television showed the ex-monarch descending unaided the steps of an Afghan national airline jetliner which brought him back to Kabul airport, where he was met by President Hamid Karzai.
The report said he was fully recovered.
Shah ruled Afghanistan from 1933 to 1973, the country's last period of peace before it slid into anarchy and war.
Exiled for nearly three decades in Italy, he returned to Afghanistan in April 2002 after the fall of the Taliban.
A new constitution passed in January declared the country an Islamic republic, consigning the monarchy to history but maintaining The former king in the role of ``Father of the Nation.''
Zaher Shah received treatment for an intestinal blockage in the Indian capital, New Delhi, in February, and has made few public appearances since.
Ahmad Zia Masood emerges as main challenger to Karzai
PNS 06/03/2004 By Rahimullah Yusufzai
PESHAWAR - Late Ahmad Shah Masood's younger brother Ahmad Zia Masood is likely to emerge as one of the leading challengers to President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan's forthcoming presidential elections.
Ahmad Zia Masood, Afghanistan's ambassador to Russia and son-in-law of former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, hasn't made his candidature public but there were indications that he was preparing to do so. However, the final choice of a consensus, non-Pashtun candidate against Karzai would depend on the leaders of the normally fractious Northern Alliance.
Karzai, a moderate, Pashtun politician from the southwestern Kandahar province, has already declared himself a candidate in the presidential polls. Enjoying strong backing from the US and its Western allies, he would be able to draw support from the 20,000-plus foreign troops and the Afghan government while fending off the electoral challenge from the divided opposition.
The presidential elections were scheduled in June but insecurity and poor voter registration prompted the Afghan government and its principal backers, the UN and the US, to postpone the polls to September. However, doubts are being expressed whether it would be possible to organize the elections in September. There is already talk of not holding the polls in 2004 and scheduling the event next year after ensuring foolproof arrangements.
Two lesser candidates have already entered the presidential race. Mohammad Mohaqqiq, an ethnic Hazara and leader of a breakaway faction of the Shiite Hezb-i-Wahdat, had to quit the Karzai cabinet after announcing his candidature. He stands little chance against Karzai and other contestants belonging to the major ethnic groups even if he is adopted as a presidential candidate by the Northern Alliance. In fact, Mohaqqiq would likely withdraw from the contest if the Northern Alliance overcomes its differences and puts up Ahmad Zia Masood or another consensus candidate against Karzai.
Dr Masuda Jalal, an upstart female politician who has to her credit one electoral contest against Karzai during the Emergency Loya Jirga, has once again nominated herself as a presidential candidate. More than anyone else, Dr Jalal knows that she cannot win but her participation in the polls is seen as an attempt by her backers to show that Afghanistan has come a long way from the times when the Taliban banned women from working outside homes and placed restriction on female education.
Ishaq Gilani, a nationalist politician, also appears keen to try his luck in the elections. He would need the platform of a big political party or alliance to have any realistic chances of success.
One Abdul Hakim Jaji from Paktia province is also anxious to contest election for Afghanistan's president. As a former mujahideen fighter, he naively believes Afghans who fought the Soviet occupation of their homeland would vote for him. However, he isn't counted among the serious contenders for the job.
Former president Rabbani has never hidden his ambition to reclaim Afghanistan's top political office. He hasn't given up his pursuit of the president's job but it appears that he is being overtaken by events. It is said Rabbani is now willing to promote the candidature of his son-in-law Ahmad Zia Masood. If that were to happen, the old generation of Afghan politicians would have given way to a new crop of leaders.
Ahmad Wali Masood, another brother of late Ahmad Shah Masood and Afghanistan's ambassador in the UK, has also been dabbling in his country's politics. However, he hasn't shown any inclination to fight the presidential election.
Ahmad Zia Masood's chances of becoming the consensus Northern Alliance presidential candidate would depend to a large extent on the attitude of defense minister Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim, head of late Ahmad Shah Masood's Panjsher Valley-centred Shura-i-Nazaar organization. His support, as well as that of foreign minister Dr Abdullah and education minister Mohamamd Yunis Qanooni, would be crucial for Ahmad Zia Masood to seek backing from other Northern Alliance leaders like Abdur Rasheed Dostum, Ismail Khan, Abdul Karim Khalili, Professor Abdur Rab Rasul Sayyaf, etc. And even if he manages to become the Northern Alliance's challenger to Karzai in the presidential polls, it won't be easy for him to defeat a candidate from the majority Pashtun ethnic group enjoying the backing of the US and its allies.
Karzai Defends Meetings With Former Militia Leaders
The Washington Post 06/03/2004 By Pamela Constable
Afghan President Says Security Is "Quite All Right"
KABUL, Afghanistan, June 3 -- President Hamid Karzai on Thursday strongly defended his recent meetings with former Islamic militia leaders, saying he had no intention of forming a coalition with them if he is elected president in September.
Karzai also said the security situation in Afghanistan was "quite all right," despite the slaying of three European medical workers Wednesday and a series of recent attacks that have left dozens of people dead, including aid workers, election monitors, Afghan police and foreign military forces.
In a rare news conference in his heavily guarded palace, Karzai appeared impatient with critics and visibly stung by recent reports in the American media suggesting that he is corrupt. He said he was "really pained, really hurt" by the reports and vowed, "My honesty will be proven once I leave office."
The Afghan president is preparing to leave Monday on a lengthy foreign trip to gather political and economic support before elections planned for three months from now. He is scheduled to meet with President Bush at the White House on June 15.
Karzai was peppered with questions about his recent meetings with an array of former Islamic militia leaders, with whom he has shared an uneasy governing coalition since late 2001. He has been widely reported to have promised them a share in power in return for their supporting his candidacy.
But the president vehemently denied he had made any deals with the leaders, including former president Barhanuddin Rabbani, saying he had a duty to meet with a variety of Afghan figures in an effort to ensure peaceful elections and national unity.
"These figures are part of the reality of this country. We talk today and we will talk tomorrow," he said. He denied he was forming a new political alliance with the militia leaders, who are mistrusted by many Afghans because of their role in the destructive civil war of the 1990s.
"There is no coalition. There will not be a coalition . . . but negotiating, talking to all Afghans, that is my job," Karzai said. "It's a very legitimate thing. . . . Negotiations will solve more problems than violence."
Karzai said the militia leaders had brought him a proposal that included many areas of agreement, including the need for national unity and disarmament. But he also said he has encouraged some of the regional bosses to take up government posts in Kabul.
The president sketched a rapid outline of his campaign agenda, saying he sought to increase Afghans' average income to at least $500 a year, achieve full national disarmament and build democratic institutions. Karzai insisted that there are no serious security problems in Afghanistan, only a few incidents that he said are "not an alarming thing."
He cited a foundation report that said most Afghans are more concerned about economic problems than lack of security, and he described Afghanistan as the safest country in the region.
More than 700 people have been killed nationwide in political violence and terrorist attacks since last August, causing elections to be postponed from this month and prompting U.N. officials to express growing concern over whether the vote can be adequately protected when it does take place.
Karzai said he would consider amending the country's new election law after a number of rival candidates protested this week against the requirement that they collect and copy 10,000 voter registration cards to run for office.
Taliban Told U.S. It Would Give Up Osama
Reuters 06/04/2004 By Mark Trevelyan
BERLIN - U.S. and Taliban officials met secretly in Frankfurt almost a year before the Sept. 11 attacks to discuss terms for Afghanistan to hand over Osama bin Laden, according to a German television documentary.
But no agreement was reached and no further negotiations took place before the suicide hijackings in 2001.
ZDF television quoted Kabir Mohabbat, an Afghan-American businessman, as saying he tried to broker a deal between the Americans and the purist Islamic Taliban rulers of Afghanistan, who were sheltering bin Laden and his al Qaeda network.
He quoted the Taliban foreign minister, Mullah Wakil Ahmed Mutawakil, as saying: "You can have him whenever the Americans are ready. Name us a country and we will extradite him."
A German member of the European Parliament, Elmar Brok, confirmed to Reuters that he had helped Mohabbat in 1999 to establish initial contact with the Americans.
"I was told (by Mohabbat) that the Taliban had certain ideas about handing over bin Laden, not to the United States but to a third country or to the Court of Justice in The Hague," Brok said.
"The message was: 'There is willingness to talk about handing over bin Laden', and the aim of the Taliban was clearly to win the recognition of the American government and the lifting of the boycott," he said, referring to the international isolation of the Taliban.
PASSED TO US AMBASSADOR
Brok said he was in no position to judge how credible the offer was, but passed it to the U.S. ambassador to Germany, John Kornblum. He said Mohabbat was then summoned to Washington to be interviewed by U.S. officials.
This led in turn to the German meeting, which ZDF said took place between Taliban ministers and U.S. officials in a Frankfurt hotel in November 2000.
Kornblum, now head of the investment bank Lazard in Germany, had no comment, his office said. A U.S. embassy spokesman said he was not familiar with the ZDF documentary.
The documentary, broadcast Thursday evening, said the Afghans put forward "several offers" and there was talk of holding further negotiations at the U.S. embassy in Pakistan on where and when bin Laden would be handed over.
In fact, no more talks took place before Sept. 11. But negotiations did resume five days after the attacks, in the Pakistani city of Quetta, ZDF said. This meeting has been reported in U.S. media.
Mohabbat said the Americans pressed in Quetta for bin Laden's handover within 24 hours, but the Taliban were unable to meet that demand.
Within weeks, U.S.-led forces intervened in Afghanistan to drive the Taliban from power and kill, capture or disperse al Qaeda fighters based in Afghan training camps. Bin Laden himself is still at large.
Brok said he had not personally taken part in either reported meeting between the Taliban and the United States but believed there had been a "political decision" not to pursue negotiations after the one in Frankfurt.
He told ZDF: "I have to say that I consider this offer (on bin Laden's handover) very much more seriously with hindsight than I did at the time."
Pakistan troops kill Al-Qaeda suspect, capture three foreign militants
Thursday June 3, 10:08 PM AFP
Pakistani troops shot dead an Al-Qaeda suspect and captured three foreign militants who tried to sneak into a northwestern tribal region bordering Afghanistan, the military told AFP.
Troops at a border checkpoint intercepted a pick-up truck as it entered the Pakistani tribal territory of North Waziristan from Afghanistan, military spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan said.
An occupant of the truck hurled a hand-grenade at the troops. The soldiers opened fire and killed the man, Sultan said.
"This fellow lobbed a grenade but the people (at the post) were safe," he said.
"He is a foreigner, his body has been taken to the hospital," he said. "At another place in the same area we have captured three others. All are foreigners."
No further details were immediately available.
A paramilitary Frontier Corps officer at the Dambdail checkpost, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that the foreigners who had been apprehended appeared to be nationals from the central Asian republic of Turkmenistan.
Pakistani troops have stepped up vigilance at the border amid complaints from Afghanistan that following attacks on Afghan and US-led coalition forces militants flee into the mountainous terrain for shelter.
Residents in the nearby South Waziristan area said troops recently took up position on hills overlooking roads and set up new checkposts amid fears of a fresh military offensive to flush out foreigners.
The Pakistani army launched its fiercest operation in March when at least 46 troops were killed in a 12-day siege and search operation.
The government later changed its strategy and agreed to seek a political solution to the problem.
Under a deal brokered by tribal elders in April, the government allowed an estimated 500 foreigners to stay in the rugged terrain bordering Afghanistan if they denounced militancy and registered with the authorities.
However, despite the expiry of several deadlines, none has registered.
Troops last week erected road blocks and shut down thousands of shops in the markets of the main tribal town of Wana to enforce an economic blockade to pressure local tribes to hand over foreigners believed to be hiding in the area.
Book bomb addressed to Afghan police official kills one, wounds at least four, officials say
Associated Press Thursday June 3, 7:29 PM
A bomb hidden in a book sent to a senior police official exploded in his office in eastern Afghanistan Thursday, killing one officer and injuring at least four others, officials said.
The blast in Nangarhar province came two days after a bomb killed the police chief of Jalalabad, its largest city _ an attack authorities suspected was the work of Taliban or al-Qaida rebels.
But it was unclear if Thursday's bombing was down to local rivalries or anti-government militants.
An unidentified man brought the book on Tuesday to the office of Malik Omar, the head of police in Khogyani district, which lies about 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of Jalalabad, said Gen. Mohammed Younis Noorzai, the provincial police chief.
"It was labeled as a gift only to be opened by the chief of police," Noorzai said. "This morning, it was still lying on a table and one of his colleagues opened it and it exploded."
Noorzai said seven people were injured. But Ebrarullah Khan, a senior military commander in the province said five were wounded, one of whom had died in hospital. The police chief wasn't in the office at the time of the explosion.
Neither official had details, and Noorzai said it was too early to say who might have carried out the attack.
"We are still investigating," he said.
Jalalabad police chief Haji Ajab Shah died Tuesday when a bomb placed under his office chair exploded as soon as he sat down, officials said. A bodyguard and one other person were injured.
Officials have suggested that Shah was on a hit list of Taliban and al-Qaida fighters because he's helped the government of President Hamid Karzai and U.S.-led forces, who have a base in Jalalabad.
But Nangarhar _ including Khogyani district _ is one of Afghanistan's most prolific areas for opium, a trade which officials say is behind some of the violence routinely blamed on militants.
The province is also riven by deadly tribal and factional rivalries reflected in an uneasy balance of power within the security forces.
Thursday's bombing came a day after five aid workers, including three foreigners, were shot dead in a northwestern province, in an attack claimed by the Taliban.
The Poll Ploy
Outlookindia, UK 06/03/2004 By Ahmed Rashid
So George W. Bush wants elections in Afghansitan in September? Or does he actually just want to use the image of a 'stable' Afghanistan to improve his foreign policy score card before the November US presidential elections?
The killing of four US special forces members in late May when their Humvee hit a landmine brings the total American casualties in the Afghan conflict to at least 89. Adding that to the deaths of over 350 Afghan soldiers and civilians in the past five months by a resurgent Taliban and Al'Qaeda, the continuing violence in Afghanistan has raised serious doubts whether the first free elections planned for September can be held on time. A delay, however, would disappoint not only the war-weary Afghans but also US President George W. Bush, who is hoping to showcase the elections in Afghanistan as part of his foreign policy successes.
Aside from the violence, the factors working against smooth Afghan elections in September are many: Organized Afghan political groups are strongly opposed to the draft election law, The UN has yet to register over 75 percent of eligible Afghan voters, Osama bin Laden is still missing but presumed 'in action' , The European members of NATO have failed to commit the troops and resources necessary to provide security before the election, Powerful warlords are still refusing to disband their 100,000 strong militias, The opium harvest this year is expected to be the largest ever .
''I am seriously concerned at the prevailing security situation in the country,'' said Francesc Vendrell, the European Union Special Representative in Kabul. ''The lack of security for the elections is just one of many concerns,'' he added.
On Monday, May 24 the police chief of the eastern province of Paktika was killed in a Taliban ambush in which eight other Afghans were also killed. During the previous weekend there were three separate Taliban attacks in three provinces that left several Afghan soldiers dead.
The spate of violence has dramatically curtailed reconstruction projects and NGO activity in a swathe of provinces south and east of Kabul. Much of Zabul province, which borders Pakistan, is in the hands of the Taliban day and night, according to a Western NGO official based in southern Afghanistan. ''Neither the Americans nor Afghans troops have made any effort to seal the border, from where most of the Taliban-Al'Qaeda incursions into the south are coming,'' the official said.
Political preparations are also suffering. The elections in September are expected to vote in President Hamid Karzai and legitimize the political process begun after September 11, 2001. An election law is due to be passed, but there is widespread disagreement on its legitimacy. More than a dozen political parties have already registered to contest the elections.
The UN, charged with supervising the elections, has so far registered only 2.5 million Afghans out of a total of 10.5 million expected to vote in September. The lack of security in the south makes it unsafe for UN voter registration teams to operate there. So far only 446 UN registration sites are operating in the country, whereas 4000 are needed before September.
Despite these challenges, the Bush administration is desperately keen that Afghan elections take place in September, and it has invited President Hamid Karzai to meet with President Bush on June 15 at the White House. However, the visit is already mired in controversy. Some aides to Karzai have advised him not to make the trip at this time, with the US so unpopular in the Muslim world, the controversy over abuses against Afghan and Iraqi prisoners by US jailers, and the Pentagon's refusal to allow Afghan human rights officials into US run jails in Afghanistan.
Aides fear that Karzai's visit will be used as a photo opportunity by Bush, who could use the image of a 'stable' Afghanistan to improve his foreign policy score card before the November US presidential election.
For Bush the Karzai visit will also raise the embarrassing question about what happened to the pledge by US commanders to catch bin Laden this year. In February the 16,000-strong US-led coalition forces, who were reinforced with 2,200 US Marines in April, announced with much fanfare a major offensive to crush the Taliban and capture bin Laden.
US generals had said the terrorists would be crushed between ''the hammer'' of US forces in Afghanistan and ''the anvil'' of Pakistani forces on their side of the border. However, after suffering more than 150 dead in operations in March and April against pro-Taliban Pashtun tribesmen, the Pakistani military is now trying to appease the tribesmen. President Pervaiz Musharraf is caught between trying to appease both an angry Washington and his own reluctant army and intelligence services, which see him as leaning too close to the Americans. What's worse for the US, bin Laden is still on the loose.
The US has also failed to mobilize the Europeans. NATO, which took over control of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) last August, has failed to deliver more promised troops and equipment so that ISAF can take greater control of security across the country before the elections. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told NATO ambassadors in Brussels in mid-May that the alliance had failed to commit enough resources to its Afghan mission and was ''flirting'' with failure.
At the same time, a $300 million UN-Japan-Afghan government plan to disarm 60 percent of the 100,000-strong militias controlled by warlords before the election is floundering badly. Some of the most powerful warlords are refusing to disband entire military units – a key UN demand – rather than just downsize their units. "As someone who has consistently stressed the importance of national elections in Afghanistan as the only way to provide legitimacy to a new government, I am troubled at the prospect of elections held in the absence of disarmament and in an insecure political environment,'' said Vendrell.
Disarmament before elections are held is also a key demand of the majority of Afghans. Warlords have unleashed a wave of crime, kidnappings, extortions in the north and west of the country where the Taliban are not active. ''Elections that ended up legitimizing the current power holders in Afghanistan would lack credibility among the Afghan public, and rather than being the culmination of the [peace] process started in Bonn, could mean a serious setback to it," Vendrell cautioned.
On top of this, there has been no effort to deal with the burgeoning drug problem. This summer, in 28 out of 34 provinces, farmers are harvesting what is expected to be the largest poppy crop in the history of Afghanistan, which last year supplied 75 percent of the world's heroin.
''The only good point is that in some areas there is a fungus which may reduce the harvest, but otherwise poppy is everywhere,'' says an official working with the European Union's anti-narcotics campaign. The Pentagon has refused to allow US troops to interdict drugs shipments or help the beleagured government carry out eradication campaigns. Over the past few months that has led to a sharp exchange between the Pentagon and the State Department, which is demanding a larger role by the US to deal with the drug crisis.
Amidst the accumulating trouble in Afghanistan, it may provide cold comfort to President Bush that his initial reluctance to engage in nation-building ventures abroad may have had some merit. Nation-building is shaping up to be an open-ended commitment not liable to be fitted into an election calendar.
An American Trying to Recall His Early Roots in Afghanistan
MOVIE REVIEW By DAVE KEHR The New York Times June 4, 2004
FireDancer," the Afghan-born filmmaker Jawed Wassel's drama of Afghan-American assimilation, made the news in 2001 when Mr. Wassel's dismembered body was found in a van belonging to one of the film's producers, Nathan C. Powell. In June Mr. Powell pleaded guilty to manslaughter while blaming post-Sept. 11 traumatic stress for the killing, and was sentenced to 25 years.
As completed by Vida Zaher-Khadem, whose brother, Baktash Zaher-Khadem, plays the leading role in the film, "FireDancer" opens today in New York. It is a sincere, thoughtful work, though not a very accomplished one.
The model-handsome Mr. Zaher-Khadem stars as Haris, a Conceptual artist whose work runs to grim, threatening imagery, like low-hanging nooses that seem to invite the viewer to suicide.
Haris has nearly forgotten his Afghan roots, having immigrated to New York as a child after his parents were killed by Soviet troops. But he is haunted by figures from his past, ghosts in traditional Afghan garb who turn up at the moments when he is feeling most American.
If Haris is cursed by the absence of family, Laila (Mariam Weiss), an Afghan-American with dreams of becoming a fashion designer, is burdened by too many relatives. Living in Queens with her parents and two younger siblings, Laila is as eager to escape her Afghan identity as Haris is to rediscover his. Her parents are forcing her into an arranged marriage with a spiky-bearded hipster, whose only apparent advantage is his Afghan origin.
"FireDancer" develops the stories of Haris and Laila in lengthy parallel before finally bringing them together. When Haris tries to pick up Laila at a bus stop, she at first denies being Afghan but tips her hand when she subconsciously slips into her native language. Though she is wary of Afghan men, finding that their stance on women's rights leaves something to be desired, she warms to Haris's charm, and soon the two are dating.
"FireDancer" is very much an amateur film, having been made under less than professional conditions (it seems to have been shot with a home video camera) and developed for love rather than profit. Its issues were clearly very close to the heart of Mr. Wassel, 42 when he was killed, and for all the movie's maladroitness, clunky dialogue, unpolished performances and uninspired visuals, its urgency is still moving. Mr. Wassel was not a natural-born filmmaker, but he did have a story to tell.
Written (in Dari and English, with English subtitles) and directed by Jawed Wassel; associate director, Vida Zaher-Khadem; director of photography, Bud Gardner; edited by Bill Gerstenmeier, Lizzie Donahue and Jeff Marcello; music by Bruce Hathaway; score by Wayne Sharpe; produced by Khaled Wassel, John G. Roche and Kate Wood; released by Silkroad Pictures. At the Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 79 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: Baktash Zaher-Khadem (Haris), Mariam Weiss (Laila), Samira Cameron (Zohra), Yunis Azizi (Rustum), Omar Arzo (Farhad) and Attia Jewayni (Laila's mother).
|Back to News Archirves of 2004|
Disclaimer: This news site is mostly a compilation of publicly accessible articles on the Web in the form of a link or saved news item. The news articles and commentaries/editorials are protected under international copyright laws. All credit goes to the original respective source(s).