UN calls on neighbours to trust and open up to Afghanistan
by Nick Coleman
BISHKEK, May 12 (AFP) - The United Nations on Wednesday used a regional conference on Afghanistan to urge its neighbours and regional powers to overcome distrust of the war-torn country and create a vibrant inter-dependent economy in the troubled region.
The event in Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek gathered officials from Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and the former Soviet Central Asian republics to find ways of creating economic ties that could help wean Afghanistan off its crippling dependence on heroin production.
"Regional and economic cooperation is so critical to achieving broader growth and stability not just for Afghanistan but for all of its neighbours," said Mark Malloch Brown, head of the United Nations Development Programme.
Afghanistan "has the potential to be a land bridge to trade between Central and South Asia," Brown told the UN-sponsored conference entitled Afghanistan's Regional Economic Cooperation.
He said that growth in the region could only be achieved if a myriad of regional rivalries were put aside and the neighbours united in a close-knit economic community.
More than two years after the hardline Taliban militia fell, Afghanistan is still struggling to stand on its feet as US-led forces continue to pursue the regime's fighters and their al-Qaeda allies.
Neighbouring countries such as Uzbekistan that have repeatedly sealed their land borders in response to terrorist infiltration from Afghanistan must learn more flexibility and openness, Brown cautioned.
"The reality is that Central Asia is still relatively stable -- a short-term, close-down-the-borders, turn-inwards strategy offers you absolutely no prospects for tomorrow," Brown said in an interview with AFP.
His message was welcomed by Afghan officials and business people.
"We are in a position to turn our spatial proximity into relationships of mutual economic dependence that can bind us in a common strategy for improving the livelihoods of our people and enable us to have security, stability and prosperity," Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani told delegates.
"We need people to come to Afghanistan, to join us, to bring money and invest," said Ghulam Dawood Naseeb, a northern Afghan businessman eyeing new markets for his fledgling potato chip business, interviewed by AFP.
After an international conference in April gathered pledges of aid for Afghanistan totaling some 8.2 billion dollars, Wednesday's conference focused on ways of reducing trade barriers, enhancing transport infrastructure and streamlining border systems.
Afghanistan has major potential as a route to the sea for exports of the region's natural gas, oil and cotton, Ghani said.
India's cooperation would be vital to the prospects of long-discussed plans for a gas pipeline from former Soviet Central Asia to the Indian Ocean, he added.
But suspicions run deep, especially following a series of blasts in Uzbekistan last month that the country's hardline President Islam Karimov blamed on Taliban infiltrators.
A recent World Bank report found little reason to expect a swift let-up in the sometimes deadly rivalry within the region, where border shootings and deaths by landmines remain relatively common.
Aggressive competition is likely to remain the norm among larger players such as Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as they depend on exporting the same type s of product -- oil, gas and cotton -- to distant world markets, the report found.
Afghanistan asks neighbours for more openness, but relations remain strained
by Tolkun Namatbayeva
BISHKEK, May 11 (AFP) - Afghanistan's neighbours meeting at a UN conference this week will be urged not to leave the war-torn country's problems to the rich world but to get involved by boosting regional trade and cooperation.
Ahead of the ministerial conference on Wednesday, a senior United Nations official warned that neighbours such as Iran and the former Soviet Central Asian republics were doing too little to help put Afghanistan on a stable footing.
"Afghanistan's restoration is going on in a vacuum, but the country is ready to build bridges," Ercan Murat, Kabul representative of the the UN Development Programme (UNDP), said.
"It's extremely important to establish permanent cooperation between the new Afghanistan and its regional partners," Murat told a preliminary session of the conference, which is entitled Afghanistan's Regional Economic Cooperation and takes place in Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek.
Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani also called on neighbours such as Iran, Pakistan and Uzbekistan to put to one side doubts about whether Afghanistan can overcome its current instability and reliance on heroin as the basis of its economy.
"The new Afghanistan wants to establish close economic cooperation with its neighbours -- Afghanistan can serve as a land bridge for the Central Asian republics," Ghani said.
More than two years after the hardline Taliban militia fell, Afghanistan is still struggling to stand on its feet as US-led forces continue to pursue the regime's fighters and their Al-Qaeda allies.
An international conference in Berlin in April gathered pledges of aid for Afghanistan totalling some 8.2 billion dollars over the next three years, mostly from rich countries.
This week's conference to be overseen by UNDP administrator Mark Malloch Brown will focus instead on ways of reducing trade barriers, enhancing transport infrastructure and streamlining border systems in this habitually fractious region.
Afghanistan's neighbours have made a variety of overtures to Kabul recently, including an invitation to Afghan President Hamid Karzai to attend talks in June in Uzbekistan of a six-nation security grouping, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, that includes China and Russia.
Several neighbours see Afghanistan as a potentially convenient route to the sea for exports such as natural gas, oil and cotton.
But suspicions remain deep, as demonstrated last month when Uzbekistan slammed shut all of its borders after a series of blasts that it blamed on Taliban remnants infiltrating via Afghanistan.
A recent World Bank report found little reason to expect a swift let-up in the sometimes deadly rivalry within the region, where border shootings and deaths by landmines remain relatively common.
This aggressive competition is likely to remain the norm among larger players such as Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as they depend on exporting the same types of product -- oil, gas and cotton -- to distant world markets, the report found.
"Even if transport links are improved or upgraded and trade barriers lowered the scope for expanding intra-regional trade massively over the short term is limited," the World Bank report read.
U.S. Rejects Rights Group Access to Afghan Prisoners
Tue May 11, 1:47 PM ET By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL (Reuters) - The U.S. military, under fire for its treatment of prisoners in Iraq, Tuesday turned down a request by Afghanistan's human rights body for access to Afghans in its custody.
Concerned that local prisoners may be treated like those in Iraq, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission has sought access to Afghans detained for suspected Islamic militant links and held at various U.S. bases in Afghanistan. "We have no intention right now of changing our policy with regard to access to persons we control," said Lt. Gen. David Barno, commander of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.
He told a news conference the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has a traditional mandate to visit prisoners of war across the globe, including in Afghanistan, represented the world in this regard.
"We are confident that the ICRC can represent all organizations who have interest in persons we control. We feel they provide more than sufficient outside objective look."
The Afghan rights body said it had received complaints from more than two dozen detainees released from U.S. custody about their treatment in detention.
And many Afghans are still waiting to hear from the U.S. military about its investigations into deaths of two prisoners in late 2002 at Bagram airbase to the north of Kabul.
Barno said he was not aware of any allegations of abuse from detainees and that "significant changes" had been made at the facility since those deaths.
"I'm very confident in our procedures there," he said.
Graphic photographs of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners have been shown around the world, infuriating the Arab world and damaging U.S. credibility.
And in a report late last year, Amnesty International criticized the United States for its failure to make public any details of an investigation into the deaths of the two Afghans, saying it showed a "chilling disregard for human life."
The U.S. military said in March last year that the deaths of the two prisoners at its Afghan headquarters at Bagram Air Base in December 2002, had been listed as homicides, and it was investigating whether criminal charges would be brought.
Amnesty said interviews with former prisoners of the United States in Afghanistan showed they were subjected to ill-treatment that may constitute torture, including blindfolding, prolonged forced kneeling, sleep deprivation, and cruel use of shackles.
U.S. Faces Prisoner Abuse Complaint in Afghanistan
By Mike Collett-White
KABUL (Reuters) - The U.S. military, facing a backlash across the Arab world for its treatment of Iraqi prisoners, announced on Wednesday it had launched an investigation into a complaint of detainee abuse in Afghanistan.
The U.S. embassy in Kabul said an Afghan police officer, reportedly held by U.S.-led forces in the city of Gardez and the U.S. base at Bagram in 2003, said he had been stripped naked, photographed, kicked and subjected to "sexual taunting."
The allegation will be of major concern to the 20,000-strong U.S.-led force in Afghanistan hunting al Qaeda and Taliban militants waging an insurgency against the government.
Until now the force has not faced the same level of resistance U.S. troops have in Iraq since toppling the Taliban regime late in 2001.
"Yesterday afternoon, coalition leaders were notified of an allegation of detainee abuse," U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Tucker Mansager told a news briefing, apparently referring to the police officer's complaint.
"Upon notification, coalition forces immediately launched an investigation into this matter. The investigation continues."
Graphic photographs of U.S. soldiers abusing naked Iraqi prisoners have been shown across the globe, incensing the Arab world and damaging U.S. credibility.
The U.S. military is under pressure to allow the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission access to suspected Islamic militants held at detention centers including at its main Afghan base at Bagram, just north of Kabul.
Mansager said the issue of wider access was being considered, but added: "The coalition believes that the International Committee of the Red Cross rightfully and properly represents the interests of persons placed under control in a proper manner.
"As they have in the past, they will continue to have access to our Bagram facility that they visit on a regular basis."
It is not known how many prisoners are held at Bagram or who they are. An investigation into the deaths of two prisoners while in U.S. detention in December, 2002, has yet to be completed.
In a report late last year, Amnesty International criticized the United States for its failure to make public any details of the investigation, saying it showed a "chilling disregard for human life."
Explaining the delay, Mansager said: "The people involved back in December, 2002, have returned in many cases to the United States, rotated outside of Afghanistan, have in some cases even returned to civilian life out of the military.
"It takes some time to be able to find those people, get to them, ask the questions that need to be asked and then draw the conclusion."
The Afghan rights body has received complaints from more than two dozen detainees released from U.S. custody about their treatment. Mansager said changes had already been made to U.S. methods at its Afghan prisons as a result of complaints.
"We've had various allegations of alleged assault and deprivation of sleep," he said.
"We have had some complaints about living conditions. Investigations have been made into those allegations and adjustments have been made based on those allegations."
He acknowledged that the outcry over the abuse of Iraqi prisoners had increased pressure on the military to act swiftly in Afghanistan.
"Certainly there is a lot more focus on the issue at this point in time due to what's come to light in Iraq. But we will continue to investigate, as we always have, very thoroughly and very seriously any of these allegations."
When asked why prisoners had been stripped naked while in U.S. custody, he replied: "Part of it is to ensure that the person under confinement doesn't have something illegal, explosive or dangerous with them."
General: Alleged Abuses in Afghanistan Prompt Big Prison Regime Changes
Tuesday, May 11, 2004 AP
KABUL, Afghanistan — Alleged abuse of prisoners -- including three deaths -- at U.S. jails in Afghanistan has prompted "very significant changes" in how the military treats detainees, including quicker transfers from jails at outlying bases, a U.S. general said Tuesday.
But Lt. Gen. David Barno rejected demands by an Afghan human rights group for access to the prisoners to make sure they are not suffering the same abuses that have come to light in Iraq.
Speaking to reporters, Barno said the military had looked into "challenges and problems" at holding facilities in Afghanistan. He didn't say what the allegations were, or if any of them had proved true.
"One of the things we've done recently is to reduce the amount of time we're allowing local [American] commanders to have people in their temporary facilities before they come to Bagram," the main U.S. base north of Kabul, Barno said.
Barno was fielding questions about reported complaints by former detainees at bases including Gardez in eastern Afghanistan and Kandahar, in the south.
He said all complaints were investigated and "appropriate action" taken as a result.
"I am aware of a number of the allegations out there. We have run a series of investigations on some of the challenges and problems that have been brought up with some of the remote holding facilities," he said.
Sima Samar, head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, said detainees' relatives were outraged by the images of abused prisoners in Iraq.
Samar said she sent a letter to Barno and President Hamid Karzai asking for access to the prisoners. "We don't want the same things happening to Afghans."
But Barno said the military had no plans to let anyone other than the International Committee of the Red Cross visit prisoners.
"We feel they provide a more-than-sufficient ... unbiased, unfiltered look at our procedures," Barno said. "I think they represent the interests of the persons under control quite well."
Samar said she had received about 40 complaints this year, mainly about prisoners' lack of contact with their families and U.S. troops breaking down doors to search homes. None alleged physical abuse, she said.
The military opened a formal investigation into the deaths of two Afghans at Bagram's closely guarded jail in December 2002, but says it has had trouble gathering evidence and has yet to release results.
Military autopsies found that both men died of blunt force injuries.
A third Afghan died last June at a holding facility in eastern Kunar province.
A U.S. intelligence official said last week that the CIA inspector general is investigating that death because it involved an independent contractor working for the agency.
Barno said "a number of very significant changes" were made at Bagram as a result of the deaths there, but the military refuses to give details of its prison regime.
Barno said he was now "very confident in our procedures."
The U.S. military views Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners as "unlawful combatants," and has held hundreds captured in the war that ousted the Taliban in late 2001 for more than two years without formal charge or access to lawyers.
In their latest operations, U.S. forces detained 13 suspects Saturday in Zabul province, near the Pakistani border, where resurgent Taliban militants have carried out a string of attacks on Afghan forces. It hasn't said where they were taken.
Afghan government officials have expressed concern that any sign of widespread abuse could turn ordinary Afghans against the presence of foreign soldiers, but remain supportive of the presence of 20,000 U.S.-led troops here.
The United States is relying also on Pakistan to help it crush militants, and Barno on Tuesday dropped criticism of Islamabad's resolve to move against insurgents on its side of the border.
Islamabad has offered amnesty to foreign militants on its side of the border if they agree to register with authorities and live in peace. A deadline for foreign fugitives to accept or face possible military action expired Monday.
But after talks with Pakistani military leaders in Pakistan on Monday, Barno said Islamabad had "complementary military-political plans to kill, capture or ensure the surrender of these dangerous elements."
"I have confidence in the direction they intend to pursue," Barno said.
Rocket Hits Peacekeepers Base in Kabul
The Associated Press 05/11/2004
A peacekeeper in the Afghan capital was slightly injured Tuesday by a rocket fired into the international force's main base, a spokesman for the troops said.
The rocket hit at about 9:35 a.m. local time inside the International Security Assistance Force's Camp Warehouse in eastern Kabul, Canadian Capt. Bernard Dionne said. "We suspect a rocket," Dionne said, though he added troops were still investigating.
Kabul's deputy police chief, Khalil Aminzada, also said it was a rocket attack. The injured soldier was "doing just fine," Dionne said. Neither the soldier's name nor nationality were available.
After the attack, reporters saw troops driving toward a village near the base as helicopters circled overhead. Rockets are regularly fired into Kabul, sometimes slamming into homes, but rarely cause major damage or injury. Last year, a barrage on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks slightly injured a Canadian contractor in Camp Warehouse.
This year, soldiers from the NATO-led force have defused a series of homemade bombs along the Jalalabad Road, where Camp Warehouse and several other ISAF and U.S. military bases are located.
In January, one Canadian and one British soldier in the force were killed in suicide attacks on consecutive days. The 6,000-strong force currently patrols Kabul and one northern city, but is expected to fan out across the north to help provide security for planned September elections.
Taliban kill Afghan soldiers, U.S. troops detain suspects in southeastern Afghanistan, commander says
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) Taliban guerrillas killed two Afghan soldiers Tuesday on the country's U.S.-funded highway in a troubled southeastern province where American troops continue to arrest suspected militants, a senior Afghan commander said.
The soldiers died near Shahjoy, a trouble spot in Zabul province, 280 kilometers (170 miles) down the newly resurfaced road from the capital, Kabul, said Gen. Naimatullah Khan, the provincial military commander.
``Taliban ambushed the vehicle and both the soldiers were killed,'' Khan told The Associated Press. ``The attackers made off with the vehicle.
Khan said another militia vehicle was ambushed near the provincial capital, Qalat, on Monday. The driver, who was traveling alone, was shot and wounded. ``They stole his vehicle, too,'' Khan said.
Khan didn't say how he knew the attackers were Taliban, but officials have blamed the ousted militia for a spate of attacks in Zabul and elsewhere along the Pakistani border that have left dozens of Afghan soldiers dead in recent weeks.
The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David Barno, said Tuesday that American-led operations against militants would be ``relentless,'' vowing to safeguard painstaking reconstruction efforts and protect national elections planned for September.
Khan said the U.S. military, which has 20,000 soldiers in the country, continued to comb three districts of the province Tuesday, including Shahjoy.
``Yesterday, they picked up another 15 suspects,'' Khan said. He said the operation was continuing but he had no details.
The U.S. military said Sunday it had arrested 13 suspects and found a weapons cache in the province. Officials made no immediate comment late Tuesday.
Punjab Nat'l Bank Gets Nod to Start Operations in Afghanistan
Wednesday May 12, 9:55 AM Asia Pulse
NEW DELHI, May 12 Asia Pulse - Punjab National Bank (BSE:PNBK) has obtained permission to start its operations in Afghanistan and plans to open offices in Dubai and Shanghai as well.
The Afghanistan government has authorised PNB to start banking operations through a Representative Office at Kabul. "It is expected that PNB would start its work in a month or so," Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement here Tuesday.
When contacted, a PNB spokesman told PTI the bank's chief manager'S K Mohanty will head the Kabul operations.
Mohanty along with other officials was in Kabul to complete the formalities, he said, adding the bank's operations would start in June.
PNB recently opened a Representative Office in London, he said. The bank also has plans to open offices in Shanghai (China) and Dubai (UAE) also.
Afghanistan to have electoral law within days
KABUL, May 11 (Xinhua) -- As the Afghans are moving towards thelandmark general elections, the Afghan transitional government is expected to approve the first-ever electoral law in the post-Taliban country within a couple of days, an official said here Tuesday.
"The Cabinet is to begin discussion on electoral law's draft prepared by the Election Commission, today and would probably approve it within days," Presidential spokesman Jawed Ludin told journalists at a briefing.
The draft, if endorsed, will be eventually promulgated by President Hamid Karzai in order to facilitate the presidencies' aspirants to register for the upcoming elections, the official said.
So far only five political groups out of over 40 big and smallpolitical segments have registered for the first-ever landmark presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for next September.
"Any one badge more than 50 percent of the votes will be elected as the president of the country," added the spokesman.
Elections for the presidency and Walasi Jirga ( lower house) will be simultaneously held in September, but voting for Mushrano Jirga or upper house is expected to be held in 2005. The candidates could be independent or introduced by political parties, he said.
Post-war Afghanistan's lower house would have 249 members, and all of them will be elected through people's vote but one-third ofthe upper house will be selected by the President, according to the presidential spokesman.
"Each of the 34 provinces of the country would have two representatives at the upper house while one-third of whom will beselected by the president," Ludin added. The spokesman made this comment amid increasing insurgency, especially in southern mountainous region where Taliban remnants are believed to hole up.
Earlier, due to Taliban's related militancy which slowed down the current voters' registration process, the government has put off the polling from June to September. Around 2 million Afghans out of 10.5 million eligible voters have registered since the inception of the program began in December 2003.
Taliban's fugitive leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and his ally Gulbudin Hekmatyar in their statements from unknown places have vowed to disrupt any political process administered under the US control.
Senior U.S. envoy in Pakistan for talks on terrorism, Afghanistan
Associated Press - Tuesday May 11, 6:29 PM
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca was in Pakistan on Tuesday for talks with government leaders on the war against terrorism and to visit U.S.-funded development projects.
Rocca arrived late Monday as "part of periodic consultations" between Pakistan and the United States, said Masood Khan, a spokesman for Pakistan's Foreign Ministry. Rocca is scheduled to meet on Wednesday with President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Prime Minister Jamali Zafarullah Khan and other senior government officials to discuss counterterrorism and the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq.
On Tuesday, she visited U.S.-funded health and education projects in the northwestern city of Chitral, Khan said. Pakistan is a key ally of the United States in tracking Taliban and al-Qaida suspects along the border with Afghanistan. Hundreds of such militants are believed to be hiding in Pakistan's tribal regions.
The United States has urged Pakistan to "kill or capture" the militants, whom Pakistan targeted in a major military operation in March but has since been trying to persuade to take up an amnesty offer.
Washington has also asked Pakistan to send peacekeeping troops to Iraq, but Islamabad says it will only do so under the aegis of the United Nations. Khan would not say whether that request was likely to come up in the talks with Rocca, who is due to leave Pakistan on Thursday. A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy declined to discuss details of Rocca's program.
Explosion hits election workers' car in eastern Afghanistan, injuring driver
Associated Press Tuesday May 11, 5:13 PM
An explosion hit a car carrying Afghan election workers in eastern Afghanistan, slightly injuring the driver, in the latest in a string of incidents marring preparations for the vote in September, a senior official said Tuesday.
The blast occurred Monday evening near Narang, a town 180 kilometers (110 miles) east of the capital, Kabul, in Kunar province, Kunar Gov. Sayed Fazel Akbar said.
"There was a mine on the road, and it exploded when their car reached it," Akbar said.
Four Afghans who work for the joint U.N.-Afghan government body organizing the election were unhurt but their driver suffered minor injuries to his feet, Akbar said.
U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva confirmed the incident and said at least one person was reported injured, but had no details.
The blast follows an explosion on Saturday in eastern Nangarhar province that damaged another vehicle carrying Afghan election workers, also injuring the driver.
Last week, two British security contractors also working on election preparations for the United Nations were gunned down in neighboring Nuristan province as they were searching for safe voter registration sites. Taliban militants claimed responsibility.
Akbar said there had been several recent attacks along the road where Monday's blast occurred, some apparently aimed at U.S. troops or aid workers based in the Kunar provincial capital, Asadabad.
"We can't say if it was deliberately targeting the election workers," Akbar said.
The U.N. has vowed to press ahead with registering voters for planned September elections, despite the recent attacks on its staff. Some 2 million of an estimated 10 million eligible Afghans have signed up so far.
Representatives Present Petition to Promote Their District to Provincial Status
RFE/RL 05/11/2004 By Amin Tarzi
About 100 representatives of Shinwar District in eastern Afghanistan's Nangarhar Province have traveled to Kabul to present a petition to the Afghan Transitional Administration requesting that their district be given provincial status, the Kabul daily "Erada" reported on 9 May.
According to some of the Shinwari representatives, the rationale behind their demand is the remoteness of their district from Jalalabad, the provincial capital. "Erada" reported that the recent elevation of the districts of Daikondi and Panjsher to provincial status prompted the representatives of Shiwari to step up their efforts.
The Daikondi District, formerly in Oruzgan Province, and the Panjsher District, formerly in Parwan Province, were named provinces in March and April, respectively. The districts of Adnkhoy, Khogiani, and Orgun are also seeking provincial status.
Hekmatyar trying to woo both Karzai and Taliban
Daily Times - 05/11/2004
LAHOREHizb-e-Islami leader Gulbadin Hekmatyar is trying to get his share in the new government after the Afghan elections in September, while remaining engaged in jihad with Taliban against the US-led forces in Afghanistan, Daily Times has learnt.
HI sources said Qutububddin Hilal, the HI's special political representative, was in contact with President Hamid Karzai's special representative to deal with the Taliban and jihadi forces to secure the Hezb's support in the upcoming elections. Sources said the rumours that Mr Hilal had parted ways with the HI and was initiating talks with the Karzai government on his own were false. "He enjoys Mr Hekmatyar's full support. Two other HI leaders, Waheedullah Sahawan and Qazi Waqar Amin, are also backing Mr Hilal to get a role in the next government," sources said.
Mr Hikmatyar has been engaged in jihad against the US forces and he has also established operational relationship with Taliban — he has recently announced that he was ready to come under Mulla Omarr's spiritual tutelage (bait). "This is not contradictory, because the Hezb has two setups — jihadi and political. Both wings are working in their relevant fields and there is complete harmony between them," sources said.
Sources said that a political struggle did not mean that the Hezb would compromise on principles. "The HI is opposed to foreign forces. Mr Hekmatyar has asked President Karzai that if he promised to reduce American role in his government, he will cooperate with him," sources said. Sources said the HI political wing could participate in the election even if Mr Hilal's talks with the Karzai government failed.
"If the HI political wind decides to participate in the upcoming elections, Taliban will not oppose Mr Hekmatyar because it is he who can tell them about the likely operation against them," sources said. Sources said President Karzai's representative had asked Mr Hilal that he wanted complete truce between the HI and the American forces and was ready to release their men, in exchange, his government would support the HI candidates in the election. "Both sides have not made a final decision, but thing are moving in a positive direction," sources said.
Playing Bin Laden's game
The west is losing the war on terror on a global scale. Only if Britain takes an independent line can we protect our security
COMMENTARY Michael Meacher Tuesday May 11, 2004 The Guardian (UK)
Despite the revelations of torture, the US-British policy is unchanged: see this historic struggle through to its conclusion for the sake of democracy and civilisation; apply overwhelming force against terrorists and extremists; and show unremitting resolve to root out resistance wherever it is found. Whether it is Americans in Iraq, Israelis in Palestine or the west against al-Qaida, the approach is the same: a policy proclaimed in the name of freedom, tolerance and a decent world order that, ironically, could hardly be better calculated to produce the opposite.
The policy is lethally flawed by its unwillingness to contemplate what lies behind the hatred: why scores of young people are prepared to blow themselves up, why 19 highly educated young men were ready to destroy themselves and thousands of others in the 9/11 hijackings, and why resistance is growing depsite the likelihood of insurgents being killed. To deal with this reality, we first have to understand it.
The appeal of Osama bin Laden lies in his capacity to radicalise and mobilise the world's Muslims. His denunciation of the US military occupation of the holy land of Saudi Arabia, his condemnation of repressive, corrupt Arab states - often seen as western inspired - his invective against US domination of the Middle East and protection of Israel, and his capacity to fight back have all resonated in the Arab street.
There are essentially three strategic responses to this. One, which President Bush has come dangerously close to voicing, is that this is a clash between western and Muslim values. In fact, this would play into Bin Laden's hands. He wants further attacks by the US and its allies to draw in more Muslims and perhaps trigger the collapse of secularist traditions and western tendencies in the Islamic world. It would also have a dangerous impact in western countries with large Muslim populations.
A second approach, advocated by leading neocons, focuses on military and economic power. The Afghan and Iraqi wars were both geopolitical - focused on the establishment of bases in central Asia and the Middle East - and oil-centred (securing the two largest remaining sources of hydrocarbons in the world). But this again is a losing strategy. Afghanistan is gradually slipping from US hands, with resistance clearly mounting as the Taliban reorganise and Russian influence steadily grows. Two years after the war is supposed to have ended, violence still grips much of the country and there is no sight of an Afghan army capable of offering security.
The Iraq imbroglio is even worse. The death of more than 10,000 civilians, with 20,000 injured and even higher Iraqi military casualties, is exacerbated, one year on, by the failure to deliver key public services, the rushed disbanding of the Iraqi army, rampant unemployment and a gratuitously heavy-handed US military.
Nor has al-Qaida been broken. US intelligence estimates that it still operates terror cells in as many as 65 countries, with a 50,000-strong pool of cadres from two generations of Afghan war veterans. It is resilient for two main reasons: it is the symbol of resistance in the Islamic world against western domination, and it has built strategic depth by keeping operational links with some of the largest and deadliest Middle Eastern and Asian terror groups. Soon after 9/11, al-Qaida had lost 16 of its 25 key leaders, but it adapted and rapidly transformed itself into a more mobile, flexible and elusive force than before. Despite the "war on terror", over the past two years, in at least 18 attacks across the world, al-Qaida seems to have been more effective than in the two years before 9/11.
Military control, despite significant successes, shows little sign of being able to eradicate al-Qaida - indeed, the more it is cut back, the more it springs up elsewhere. But there is a third, alternative approach. Above all, the political dimension must now be given much greater prominence if the real and deep grievances that drive al-Qaida are to be addressed. That will undoubtedly require some contentious policy changes to be made. In Iraq it means a clear UN mandate to cover coalition forces and an early date for their withdrawal. It means the US making clear that it will not maintain a long-term de facto occupation by retaining military bases, with effective control over oil, security and the economy.
After America's decision to withdraw most of its troops from Saudi Arabia, must it still permanently station ground forces on the Arabian peninsula, or is there some alternative for power projection and force structure?
The al-Qaida threat will never be resolved until the US adopts a more balanced Middle East policy and is prepared to put the necessary pressure on Israel to secure a viable Palestinian state. And rather than pursue a self-defeating policy of enforced regime change against suspect countries, it would be much better to identify countries where conditions are likely to encourage the proliferation of terrorism, and to try to pre-empt this by well-structured international economic aid programmes.
These are not utopian objectives, but the US will not budge without much more pressure from friendly governments. Britain needs to make the case strongly that continued British support cannot be unconditional. Given Bush's acute concern for Tony Blair's political survival - as revealed in Bob Woodward's latest book - it is a message that should be well understood in Washington.
If the road from Bali, Kikambala (in Kenya), Casablanca, Riyadh, Jakarta, Istanbul and Madrid is not to pass through London or Boston, those policies would provide a much better defence than continuing to rely exclusively on military control or advance intelligence, vital though both are.
Michael Meacher was environment minister, 1997-2003
Kabul mayor inspired by visions of Toronto
The Globe and Mail 05/11/2004 By Hamida Ghafour
Afghan Canadian hopes to model war-ravaged capital on city's parks and shopping centres
KABUL - Ghulam Sakhi Noorzad climbs down to the muddy rushes in the dried Kabul River and begins lecturing the crowd of moneychangers and carpet sellers who ply their trade where fish once swam.
"I have asked you to put the garbage in bags and leave them on the side of the street, but no one is listening," the new mayor of Kabul said.
"If we don't do this, the foreigners visiting our city will laugh at us."
There are no foreigners to be seen, or any streets for that matter, but Mr. Noorzad makes his point. The diminished river is choked with household and human waste. Someone suggests a public toilet should be built.
Mr. Noorzad, 62, nods in agreement and promises to look into it. It is the sort of public campaigning any Canadian politician would understand, and something he had years to observe.
In fact, the new mayor is an Afghan Canadian who spent 18 years in Toronto before returning to his homeland last month to accept the demanding job offered to him by President Hamid Karzai.
Mr. Noorzad's challenges include cleaning up the rivers of raw sewage that flow through the Kabul River's open ditches, getting rid of corrupt civil servants and designing wider roads to cope with heavy traffic -- all on a budget of $13-million.
"This is the capital of Afghanistan; it should be a good capital. But it is a filthy city, it is a ruined city," said the mayor, who earned a doctorate in engineering from Kabul University.
He remembers, quite vividly, a different era. In fact, he was the last mayor of Kabul before the Soviets took control of the country in 1978, and fired him for refusing to co-operate with the new regime.
"That night all government employees were told to come to work the next morning," he recalled. "At 9:30 the next morning, officers with Kalashnikovs came. They took me to a basement for a while longer; I had no idea where I was because they put a bag over my head."
After he was released, he fled to Pakistan, then later to New Delhi. In 1985, he and his wife Zobaida and their five children arrived in Toronto, where his family still lives. He could not work after a 1990 car accident left him with back problems, but he remained active in Toronto's Afghan community.
"I was never as happy as I am in Kabul, my own country. I want to serve my people again," said Mr. Noorzad, who returned to find his city in an appalling state.
The population has swelled to two million, from 300,000 when he left. Families live on hillsides in blue tents donated by the United Nations. Vehicles compete with hordes of goats, cows and fat-tailed sheep. Public parks that once blossomed with roses and pomegranate trees are being illegally sold to businessmen who are building shopping centres and mansions. Even the streetlights have been stripped bare by looters.
His task is huge, but Mr. Noorzad has a no-nonsense approach and wastes no time. In his first week in office, he fired 43 employees for accepting bribes. The city's 5,500 workers make about $50 a month, and bribery has become a means of survival. The last mayor of Kabul was a former wrestler who was fired for accepting kickbacks.
"All those years I was a mayor I never took a gift," said Mr. Noorzad, who was chosen by Mr. Karzai because of his clean record. "If anyone had accused me I would have cut off my own hands. I don't even make that much money. I'm living in my brother's house at the moment, he has a spare room. I don't even have my own bathroom."
Increasingly, the country is relying on a growing number of Afghans who are returning to help in its reconstruction. Many of those who left in the early years of the Communist regime, such as Mr. Noorzad, are part of the professional classes who are returning to jobs they had 25 years ago.
In some ways, Afghanistan is starting again from the year 1978. When Mr. Noorzad started his new job, the first thing he did was visit the old engineering office and look through filing cabinets. Under a thick layer of dust, he found a city plan he drew up 25 years ago. It will form the basis for a new, postwar Kabul.
"The plans I had 25 years ago have not been implemented," he said. "We could have rivalled developed countries. I had dreams for public parks and green spaces, like Toronto has. I wanted wide roads and boulevards." He added: "On the hillsides of Kabul people are building shacks because they have nowhere to live. They shouldn't be there. I would have planted trees, which would have shaded the city and kept it cool in the summers."
Now he intends to use Toronto as his inspiration. "I remember the beautiful parks in Toronto, like Edwards Gardens. I would walk in the park and imagine having that in Kabul. Also the shopping centres are good; I would like to have a shopping mall like the Eaton Centre."
Perhaps Toronto could help, he said, almost as an afterthought.
"I would like to have some kind of co-operation with the city of Toronto. Perhaps we could create a friendship, maybe be twin cities. We are a poor city and need the help."
Ahmed Rashid Speaks About the State of the Media in Afghanistan
Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist based in Lahore is the Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia correspondent for the ‘Far Eastern Economic Review’ and the ‘Daily Telegraph,’ London. He also writes for the ‘Wall Street Journal’, The Nation, Lahore and academic journals. He appears regularly on international TV and radio such as CNN and BBC World. His earlier book ‘Taliban: Islam, Oil and the new Great Game in Central Asia,’’ was published by I.B.Tauris (2000) in London and Yale University Press in the US and has been a world wide best seller. It has been translated into 22 languages and 1.2 million copies have been sold since September 11. In January 2002 he donated a quarter of his royalties of ‘‘Taliban" to launch the ‘’Open Media Fund for Afghanistan’’ (OMFA), which gives cash grants to newly starting independent print media in Afghanistan. OMFA, which seeks to raise money from private donors has distributed nearly US 300,000 dollars to 14 newspaper and magazine start ups in Kabul and other cities. OMFA is a US registered charity and is managed by Internews, a US based media foundation.
DG: Tell us about the current state of the Afghan media.
The civil war in the 1990s and the Taliban regime destroyed any hope of a free independent media emerging in Afghanistan. After the defeat of the Taliban, journalists face horrendous problems. There are no decent printing presses, no inter-city telephone or internet connections, and the roads are too bad for any countrywide distribution network. Even newspaper offices in Kabul have only intermittent electricity. In the provinces, the warlords and some drug lords run their own local television and radio stations and are not keen on allowing an independent press to develop in their areas.
However since December 2001, there has been an explosion in Kabul and provincial cities of Afghan newspapers and magazines - some of them just four sheets of A4 paper stapled together. Most of them are distributed free because nobody has money to buy newspapers, and there are few advertisements. Afghans are desperate to read about their country in their own papers, rather than have to glean news from foreign radio broadcasts. Every day, you can see children hawking papers in every corner of Kabul, and illiterate passers-by gathering around while someone reads the news out aloud. After the years of war and outside interference, Afghans have also developed a keen interest in international news, which is why all the papers lift stories from the Western press about political events in America and Europe.
DG: What are some of the steps that the Afghan government and international community has undertaken to ensure media freedom? How would you rate their success?
There has been a great deal of international donor support to developing Afghan radio which is the main source of information and dozens of new FM radio stations have been started by the international community. TV is also receiving international support. However there has been far less money and very few NGOs who are active in promoting the print media, which I feel is essential if an independent press is to emerge, if democracy and debate are to flourish and if literacy is to be encouraged. Only a print media can help develop a genuine, grass roots civil society.
DG: Tell us about the Open Media Fund for Afghanistan. What led you to set it up and what does it seek to accomplish?
Having covered the wars in Afghanistan for more than 25 years and having lived off the Afghan story for so many years and learnt to love these people, I was keen to put something back into the country myself. That opportunity came in the wake of the September 11 attacks, when my book, Taliban, sold more than one million copies worldwide. As the first royalties arrived, I set aside a quarter of the money to create the Open Media Fund for Afghanistan (OMFA), which aims to help develop an independent Afghan print media by giving grants to local newspapers and magazines.
It is run in conjunction with Internews Network, an American NGO that has contributed to the rebuilding of the radio media in other war-ravaged countries, including the former Yugoslavia and East Timor and is now developing new radio stations in Afghanistan. We have a Board of Directors which is made of prominent Afghans and foreigners and Waheed Warasta , a well known Afghan poet and journalist runs our office in Kabul.
We did not want recipients of our grants to feel that they were politically obligated, so we were determined from the start not to accept funds from Western governments. Instead, we approached Western media organisations and charitable foundations. We have had a good response from foundations and think tanks and media in the US and to some extent in Europe. But it is not easy to persuade donors that print media is important. Individuals have also given generously, from a teacher at my old school, to the Hollywood star Michael Douglas. However since the Iraq war and other preoccupations around the world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to raise money for Afghanistan. However so far this year the Carnegie Foundation of New York and the Soros Foundation have given us small grants.
We believe in spending what we earn. So far we have raised US $ 360,000 and we have spent around US $ 300,000 of that. We started by giving small grants of between 10,000 and 20,000 dollars as start up money for publications, we first vetted and believed in. This money could cover their costs for buying equipment, rent for offices, salaries and printing. In 2003 many of these publications have tripled their print runs and also started selling rather than just giving away copies of their publications. Many of the most successful publications or those facing opposition from local warlords, we have given additional grants to so that they can survive. We are now talking to several Ngos to provide our publications with training in journalism as well as business management.
DG: Can you share some of your success stories?
So far we have given grants to 15 newspapers and magazines around the country coming out in Dari, Pushtu and Uzbek. At the moment we have given additional grants to 11 of these newspapers. They cover a wide variety of topics and may of them are cutting edge publications - taking on warlords, the Taliban or drug runners and all of them promote the Bonn process and democratisation. They include a humor magazine in Kabul with striking cartoons, a Pushtu news weekly in Khost which is taking on Taliban propaganda, the only independent economic and news monthly in Herat bought out by the Shura of Professionals which has led to its editor being jailed 3 times by warlord Ismail Khan, cultural monthly magazines in Kandahar and Kabul, a cinema magazine bought out by Barmak the highly praised director of the first movie made in a free Afghanistan "Osama,'' a children's magazine and many others.
We have encouraged our publications and our money to help the political process. We gave a grant to the Loya Jirga Commission to bring out a weekly newsletter before the first Loya Jirga in June 2002. We then funded the publication of the draft Constitution before the Constitutional Loya Jirga in December 2003 and gave our publications funds to hold seminars and conferences at the local level to discuss the draft. We arranged for our publications to cover the Loya Jirga.
At present we have a program to give inserts to our publications before the Presidential elections in September 2004. We have coordinated with the UN Voter registration office to put a 10 page insert into each publication to encourage people to register. We are working with other NGOs who are preparing inserts for us on basic knowledge about democracy, elections, parliament and what it all means. We are now one of the few NGOs left who are strongly funding the print media.
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