U.S. Vows to Pursue Prison Abusers in Afghanistan
Mon May 17,10:14 AM ET By Mike Collett-White
KABUL (Reuters) - The U.S. military in Afghanistan vowed Monday to pursue anyone accused of abusing prisoners following allegations of beating and sexual assault at its secretive network of detention centers across the country.
The military's criminal investigation division has yet to complete an inquiry into the deaths of two Afghans in U.S. custody in December 2002, causing frustration and anger among relatives and friends of the young men who died.
Keen to avoid the same backlash in Afghanistan that its abuse of prisoners in Iraq triggered, the military launched two new investigations last week into alleged mistreatment similar to that suffered by inmates near Baghdad.
"There is no lack of will to pursue the perpetrators of any kind of alleged abuse, none at all," said U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Tucker Mansager, when asked why relatives of the men who died in custody were still awaiting an explanation.
"The investigation is very complicated...due to the fact that our rotation system here in Afghanistan has people leaving not only Afghanistan, but in some cases reverting back to...careers in the civilian world where they are not easily contactable."
John Sifton, Afghan researcher at Human Rights Watch, called the length of time the investigation had taken "shocking."
"If the U.S. military accidentally killed a Korean or Japanese or German citizen, it is difficult to imagine 18 months passing without any explanation. It is deeply disrespectful to Afghans and the Afghan government," he said from London.
Over the weekend Reuters tracked down the family of Dilawar, who died in 2002 at the main U.S. jail at Bagram, north of Kabul. The 22-year-old was taken to the secretive prison on suspicion of supporting al Qaeda, but his family insists he was a taxi driver.
In a remote village near the town of Khost, close to the Pakistani border, Dilawar's three brothers regularly visit his simple grave, while his elderly father struggles to make ends meet now that the family's main bread-winner is dead.
"We ask the Americans: 'Why are you arresting and killing innocent people?' We don't know how he was killed," said Ibrahim, Dilawar's best friend. "We don't want the Americans in our country. They should leave it for us."
Dilawar's death certificate shows he died of "blunt force injuries" to his legs, which complicated a heart complaint. Also in December 2002, another Bagram inmate died of similar injuries.
A third Afghan died at a detention center in Asadabad, in the eastern province of Kunar, in June 2003. Even less is known of his death than those of Dilawar and Mullah Habibullah.
Mansager said the U.S. military had revised procedures at Bagram following the deaths 18 months ago, and continued to make changes based on recommendations from the International Committee of the Red Cross, which regularly visits the center.
He added that the ICRC had made a request last week to visit a jail at Kandahar, but no decision had been taken on access.
"If Kandahar is being used as a detention facility and people are being detained there, we would expect to have access to them," ICRC Kabul spokeswoman Jessica Barry said.
Mansager said he did not know how many detention centers there were in Afghanistan. Some military bases in the south and east of the country have small holding cells, from where suspects are supposed to be taken to Bagram as soon as possible.
The Americans' treatment of hundreds of al Qaeda and Taliban suspects rounded up since the Islamic regime's collapse in 2001 has come under renewed scrutiny since a former police officer said he had been beaten and sexually abused.
Sayed Nabi Siddiqui complained of sleep deprivation, kicking and taunts during around 40 days in U.S. custody last year.
International Committee of Red Cross seeks access to U.S. jail in Afghanistan
Associated Press Monday May 17, 5:35 PM
The U.S. military is considering a request from the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit an American prison in the southern city of Kandahar, a spokesman said Monday.
But Lt. Col. Tucker Mansager rejected calls for an Afghan human rights group and for media to be given access to U.S. holding facilities. In explaining the refusal to allow journalists to visit, the spokesman cited a prohibition of taking and publishing photos of prisoners under the Geneva Conventions.
Hundreds of suspected Taliban and al-Qaida fighters have been held without charge at American jails across the country since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001. Many of them have been transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the U.S. military classifies detainees as "unlawful combatants" and denies them legal representation.
Revelations of prisoner abuse in Iraq have also put the spotlight on U.S. treatment of the detainees in Afghanistan, where the military is investigating the deaths of three men in custody in 2002 and 2003.
Last week, it launched two more probes into alleged mistreatment, including an Afghan police colonel who claimed he was beaten and sexually abused in July-August 2003 before being released without charge.
Mansager said the International Committee of the Red Cross made an "informal request" on Friday to visit the U.S. holding facility in Kandahar and it was under consideration.
ICRC officials are currently allowed to visit the main U.S. jail at the coalition headquarters at Bagram, north of Kabul, but have no access to holding facilities at U.S. bases elsewhere in the country. Its reports are not made public.
The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission has also requested access to the network of secretive U.S. jails.
The military says it made changes to its prison regime in early 2003 in the light of the three prisoner deaths, and is now transferring prisoners more quickly from outlying jails to Bagram.
Mansager said the two new investigations could lead to more changes.
"We will continue to revise our procedure particularly after two more recent allegations that we just got last week," he told a press conference in Kabul.
Karzai condemns killing of Iraqi leader
The News International, Pakistan
KABUL: Afghan President Hamid Karzai Monday condemned the latest suicide bombing outside the US coalition compound in Baghdad, which killed the leader of the Iraqi Governing Council, Ezzedine Salim. "Terrorists will continue to try to inflict blows to the return of peace and normalcy in Iraq," the president said in a statement released by his office.
"But these efforts should not be allowed to hamper the process, particularly in view of the upcoming transfer of sovereignty to the people of Iraq." A US-led coalition force has been stationed in Afghanistan since the ousting of the repressive fundamentalist Taliban regime in late 2001. Karzai has been the US-backed transitional president since then and is due to face presidential and parliamentary elections in late September.
Remnants of the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other militants launch regular attacks against US forces in Afghanistan and Karzai has survived at least two assassination attempts since coming to power. The upcoming elections in Afghanistan are also likely to be the focus of militant insurgency.
Progress in Afghanistan "insufficient": UN special envoy
Mon May 17, 1:24 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Afghanistan's overall progress towards democracy and stability was "insufficient" and disarmament needed to be accelerated for peace in the country to last, the UN's special envoy Jean Arnault has told AFP.
"It is absolutely clear that the progress which has been made so far is insufficient," Arnault said in relation to Afghanistan's efforts to comply with the Bonn peace accords drawn up after the collapse of the Taliban regime.
Arnault said the Bonn agreements, which were signed in late 2001 and installed Hamid Karzai as president, called for a new constitution within a year and free and democratic elections within two.
"For a short transition, certain conditions had to be fulfilled, notably disarmament, the creation of a professional and independent police force and the formation of a single army," he said.
"Unless we have a transition that addresses these conditions we will not have peace."
The constitution was approved in January 4, 2004 while the elections, which were due to be held in June, have been delayed until at least late September.
Other critical elements of the Bonn accords -- disarming tens of thousands of militiamen and building a national army for the war-ravaged country -- are still in their early stages.
Speaking in French, the UN's number one official in Afghanistan said the global body's number one priority here was disarmament.
"The main danger to the peace process is the return of civil war caused by factional armies," he said.
"For Afghans, as for the international community, there is nothing that has greater priority.... than fair and steady demilitarisation ahead of the elections."
The Afghan government and the UN are attempting to disarm some 40,000 ex-soldiers before the elections but regional warlords, who control much of the country, have been unwilling to surrender their men and weapons.
"These forces are not creating security, and in many parts of the country they are even factors in the insecurity... Afghans want disarmament before the elections and on this point we will be inflexible," Arnault said.
Now in a pilot phase in four provinces, the DDR (Disarmament, Demobilisation and Re-Integration) programme was to be expanded this month throughout the country but has now been delayed.
Arnault said the UN had not yet received the lists of active soldiers, needed to manage the DDR process, notably from areas where armed factions have fought recently including western Herat and northern Mazar-i-Sharif.
Arnault, 52, took over in February from the Algerian-born Lakhdar Brahimi who has now been posted to Iraq.
A senior official with the UN since 1989, Arnault has previously been posted in Namibia, western Sahara, Guatemala, Burundi and since March 2002 in Afghanistan as deputy to Brahimi.
With the upcoming elections, Arnault is hoping for the registration of voters to be "as large as possible and as balanced (as possible) between the regions" as well as inclusive of the largest number of female voters as can be organised.
"If we must face only average participation from the population, it will pose problems concerning the legitimacy of the next government," he said.
According to the latest UN figures, about 2,230,000 Afghans have placed their names on the electoral rolls, of which 30.7 percent of women.
The numbers of people registering in the conservative ethnic tribal zones in the south and southeast, where Taliban and other militants are active and have threatened the electoral process, has been low.
"The security situation has clearly deteriorated in the south, where there is an intensification of the Taliban's military campaign," Arnault said, adding that the UN would soon be able to judge whether the instability was an insurmountable obstacle to voter registration.
Belated Afghan Disarmament Gets Off to Slow Start
Mon May 17, 4:46 AM ET By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghanistan's government launched a belated drive Monday to disarm tens of thousands of factional fighters, a program seen as crucial to the war-torn country's stability ahead of elections in September.
The main disarmament push kicked off in Kabul with the handing over of 69 aging and badly damaged Soviet-era surface-to-air-missiles, and the decommissioning of 135 members of the 99th Rocket Brigade.
"This process will be implemented all across the country," Deputy Defense Minister General Rahim Wardak said at the official launch of the main disarmament drive held at a bombed out military base on the outskirts of the capital.
He said President Hamid Karzai's government would press ahead with the Disarmament, Demobilization and Re-integration (DDR) program and warned that the central government would deal with anyone opposing the process.
Regional militias, formally allied to the central government, are seen undermining Karzai's already weak control outside Kabul. They are adding to security headaches in a country rocked by an Islamic militant insurgency by al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.
DDR aims to disarm 40,000 armed men by the end of June. Most are hangovers from the war against the Soviets and the Taliban. Heavy weapons will also be collected.
Under the foreign-funded pilot phase which started last October, around 6,000 men were disarmed, re-integrated and given new job opportunities.
The main phase is designed to be completed by the end of June and should have started a month ago, but regional power brokers with large private armies have resisted the move, and it remains to be seen how their opposition can be tackled.
Wardak said the central government had received assurances from key commanders, including Ismail Khan, the powerful governor of the western city of Herat, and General Abdul Rashid Dostum, from the north, that they would cooperate.
"Talks and negotiations were necessary," he told reporters, when asked about the delay. "Now there is no problem. We have commitments for its implementation and we are trying to expedite the process in order to compensate for the delay."
But Japan's ambassador, Kinichi Komano, whose government leads the DDR project, was less upbeat about the scheme, regarded as essential to Afghanistan's security and to holding free and fair elections in four months' time.
"There are challenges ahead of us," the ambassador said at the base, perched at the foot of hills where craters were still visible from the civil war in the 1990s and the U.S.-led drive to oust the Taliban regime late in 2001.
"Negotiations with non-compliant commanders is still ongoing in some provinces. In Kabul, some units are still resisting participation in the DDR," he said, without elaborating further.
Western sources have said conservative Islamic commander Abdul Rabb Rasoul Sayyaf and Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim, both based in Kabul, were dragging their feet.
"This is the critical moment for Afghanistan. The government together with people need to get together to achieve the goal for the stabilization and security in Afghanistan," the ambassador said.
Anti-aircraft missiles handed over in Afghan disarmament drive
Associated Press Monday May 17, 7:03 PM
A brigade of Afghan forces handed over 69 anti-aircraft missiles on Monday as part of a disarmament drive intended to demobilize militias that still dominate much of the country.
The Russian-made missiles, with a 25 to 40-kilometer (15 to 25-mile) range, were loaded onto United Nations trucks in Kabul and transported to the base of the fledgling Afghan National Army outside the capital.
However, the launchers needed to fire the missiles had been destroyed during the bombing of the capital by the U.S.-led coalition that ousted the Taliban regime in late 2001, officers of the brigade said.
Some of the 75 officers and soldiers of Rocket Brigade 99, a unit under the Ministry of Defense which had been responsible for the missiles, were angry that they were being demobilized.
Maj. Janatgul Mangal, 38, said he feared he could end up as a manual laborer, unable to support his 10 children. "They should kill me, it's humiliation ... We were officers of Afghanistan," said the 20-year veteran of the brigade.
"We are professional, educated people," added Col. Abdul Satar, 38. "Why do they put us in different jobs like carpenters or street cleaners when we are educated people?"
Deputy Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak told a ceremony to mark the handover of the missiles that the brigade members would be supported under the U.N.-backed Disarmament, Demobilization, Rehabilitation program.
Under the program, former militiamen can join the police or the new Afghan army, become deminers, farmers or receive other vocational training.
"I strongly hope that more officers and soldiers going through DDR will join civilian life to contribute to recovery of your home country," said Kinichi Komano, ambassador of Japan, a key donor for the program.
He noted that some military units in Kabul were resisting disarmament, and negotiations were continuing with militia commanders in some provinces.
The United Nations recently warned that stalling by warlords, many of them in government posts, was putting a Defense Ministry agreement to disarm 40,000 fighters by the end of June in serious jeopardy.
Another 20,000 are to go before historic elections in September in a belated drive that the United Nations and U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai have said is vital if the vote is to be free and fair.
The militias are supposed to make way for the new U.S.-trained Afghan National Army. But only 10,000 of its planned 70,000 men are expected to be in place by September.
Pakistan deploys troops after terror suspects fail to seek amnesty
Associated Press Monday May 17, 7:40 PM
Pakistan has deployed fresh troops in a lawless tribal region near the Afghan border for possible military action after foreign militants there failed to accept an offer of amnesty, a security official said Monday.
Brig. Mahmood Shah, chief of security for Pakistan's tribal regions, told The Associated Press that the troops were sent to South Waziristan after the latest in a series of deadlines for the amnesty passed on Saturday.
He gave no details about the deployment, but inhabitants in Wana, the main town in South Waziristan, said dozens of military trucks carrying troops have driven into the region in the past three days.
In March, a major army counterterrorism operation in South Waziristan left more than 120 people dead, including at least 48 soldiers, until the government opted for negotiations. Local tribal renegades who fought the army and were accused of harboring al-Qaida then laid down arms and promised not to help terrorists.
But Shah on Monday accused influential tribal leader Nek Mohammed of refusing to cooperate with the government, despite his assurances that he would convince foreigners to accept the amnesty offer, which requires them to register with authorities and renounce terrorism in return for permission to live in Pakistan.
"We gave them enough time," Shah said. He said a lashkar, or force of local tribesmen, was "ready for action" and the government would closely monitor its efforts to get foreigners to register with authorities.
"The army will definitely move in if the lashkar fails to deliver," Shah said. "We have sent troops in South Waziristan for a future action."
A 2,000-strong tribal force has been convened, but has yet to launch any operation.
Mohammed on Monday told tribal elders in Wana that the foreigners who had been living in areas under his control had moved, although he would not say where.
"They have gone... they are not in my areas," he said.
South Waziristan is believed to be a sanctuary for al-Qaida and Taliban fighter who have launched attacks in eastern Afghanistan where U.S.-led forces operate, and is a possible hideout for Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayaman al-Zawahri.
Pakistan is a key ally of the United States in its war on terror and U.S. officials praised the March operation although it failed to net any senior terror suspects. Washington has urged the government to take more tough action to "kill or capture" al-Qaida and Taliban holdouts.
Pakistani officials think between 400 to 500 militants, including Arabs, Afghans and Central Asians, are hiding in South Waziristan. Some of them settled in the region after fighting the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Tribal elders often claim that the only foreigners there are Afghan refugees and deny there was any agreement reached with the government after the March operation to get foreigners to register with authorities.
Pakistan Urged to Diversify Exports to Belgium
Tuesday May 18, 8:41 AM Asia Pulse
KARACHI, May 18 Asia Pulse - Abid M Hussain, Belgian Trade Commissioner in Pakistan, has called for diversification of Pakistan's exports to Belgium, which is an excellent transit point to Europe.
Speaking at a meeting with members of Pakistan-Belgium Trade and Industry Committee of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FPCCI) at Federation House, Abid, who has Pakistani origin, said that Belgium has a unique position being in the heart of Europe, and Pakistan's exporters need to give more attention to promote their exports to Belgium.
He suggested to the office-bearers and members of Pakistan- Belgium Trade and Industry to sign co-operation agreement with their counterpart in Belgium to organise trade missions and hold exhibitions of Pakistan's goods.
Abid said that there was need to improve the image of Pakistan in foreign countries as the foreign businessmen are reluctant to visit Pakistan and the insurance companies are charging excessive insurance premiums from visitors to Pakistan.
Abid, who is also Belgium's Trade Commissioner to Afghanistan, said that although Afghanistan is flooded with Pakistani goods, India is more active and is making its presence felt there visibly and several Indian business houses have set up their offices in Kabul. Even Turkish companies are more active in Kabul than Pakistani companies, he added.
Haroon Rashid, Vice-President, FPCCI, who presided over the meeting, said that the European Union, which has now expanded with the addition of 10 new countries, is the biggest trading bloc of Pakistan and its second largest trading partner. Today, Europe has become a major force to reckon with as most economic activities revolve around it.
Korea Resources Corp. to Cooperate with Afghanistan Gov't
SEOUL, May 18 (Yonhap) -- State-run Korea Resources Corp. (KORES) said Tuesday it has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Afghanistan government on cooperation in developing mineral resources.
Under the agreement, Afghanistan will provide the South Korean mining company with information on mineral resources development projects in order to lure investment from South Korea. KORES will give that information to local mining firms or invest itself.
Korean Role Model for Afghanistan
By Kim Jae-kyoung Korea Times May 17, 2004
Afghanistan will use South Korea as a role model in making the war-torn country a society free of poverty, according to the top economic policymaker of the central Asian nation.
``Korea’s success story is a beacon to all of us in our goal of eradicating poverty,’’ said Afghanistan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, 54, who was participating in the 37th annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) on Cheju (Jeju) Island, which ended Monday.
In an interview with The Korea Times Sunday, Ghani said that South Korea’s economic growth was based on a transfer of knowledge and all of us need to learn from the Korean experience.
He expressed special gratitude to the Korean government, noting that South Korea has been a major contributor to Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is considered one of the world’s poorest nations, but the country is now set to move toward a poverty-free society.
The Afghanistan economy has been expanding at an explosive pace over the past few years. Its economy grew 30 percent in 2002 and 23 percent in 2003. And the country expects economic growth to realize more than 20 percent again this year.
``Economic conditions have been improving gradually and the reconstruction project has been going smoothly as planned,’’ said Ghani.
He added that a major part of the reconstruction plan was connecting the nation to neighboring countries to make it a key transit point in the region.
Afghanistan has set up a partnership with the ADB that has produced a seven-year program of public investment, under which it will secure $8.2 billion for the next three years for all economic development projects, including infrastructure and securities.
The country also has expanded investment in the private sector and oil and gas development projects.
``Promotion of a competitive private sector is central to our goal of poverty elimination through the creation of wealth,’’ he said. ``The private sector is assuming its role as a critical partner and interlocutor of the government in the pursuit of economic and fiscal sustainability.’’
Strongly clenching his fist, the minister said that Afghanistan will be very different 10 years from now as its long-term development plan will be realized as planned.
Currently, Afghanistan has a gross domestic product (GDP) of $4 billion and a per capita national income of $180, compared with North Korea’s personal income of $762.
The finance minister, previously a political science professor at Johns Hopkins University in the United States, introduced a goal of increasing per capita income to $500 in 10 years.
``Achieving this goal requires an annual growth of 9 percent a year. Our record of 30 percent and 23 percent growth in 2002 and 2003, respectively, is an indication that the target is attainable,’’ he said.
He pointed out that the biggest obstacle to reducing poverty in the world is lack of effective partnerships, adding that honest government, an effective private sector and a transparent public sector are prerequisites for reducing poverty.
Praising ADB’s efforts to reduce poverty, he said that the Manila-based bank has made significant contributions toward making Asia a society free of poverty. But he said that without partnerships with member states, the outcome could have been quite different.
The minister said that the biggest outcome of the Cheju ADB meeting is the agreement to replenish the Asian Development Fund (ADF) to allow the organization to push forward with its Millennium Development Goals.
Significantly, ADB’s 28 donor nations have agreed on a $7 billion replenishment of the ADF in their fourth and final donors’ meeting in Seoul on Wednesday.
'Trade with Kabul increasing'
ISLAMABAD, May 16: Finance ministers of Pakistan and Afghanistan and deputy secretary of US Department of Treasury held a trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Annual Meetings of Asian Development Bank, in Jeju Island, South Korea, on Sunday.
They reviewed the economic developments in the region and discussed a number of initiatives to foster close economic links between Pakistan and Afghanistan and the region in general.
The meeting noted that the level of trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan was rising rapidly and was likely to touch the billion-dollar mark this year. It was pointed out that there was scope for further expansion in trade provided new border points were established and transit trade arrangements further simplified.
A number of issues related to fast and unhindered movement of goods were examined. Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz pointed out that Pakistan was in the process of acquiring scanning machines to be placed at the border points that would discourage smuggling and pave the way for use of trucks for movement of Afghan transit cargo.
He also elaborated on a number of steps the government was taking in opening new border points and improving the efficiency of ports for expeditious clearance of goods.
He also mentioned that all major irritants had been removed, including curtailment of negative list of goods for Afghan transit trade. Afghan finance minister stated that there was a need to set up textile industry in Afghanistan. This would induce farmers to grow cotton, which had been a sizable crop in the past but was replaced by others, including poppy.
He further stated that a number of successful Pakistani manufacturers were keen to establish industry in Afghanistan. However, this would only be possible if Afghanistan was allowed preferential access to US and EU markets along the lines provided to Jordan and Bangladesh. -APP
Afghanistan begins main phase of disarmament programme - UN mission
Source: UN News Service 17 May 2004
Afghanistan has launched the main phase of a national campaign to disarm tens of thousands of irregular troops, according to the United Nations mission in the country.
The Ministry of Defence (MOD), with support from the Afghanistan New Beginnings Programme (ANBP), kicked off the campaign in the capital Kabul, where ex-fighters of the 99th Rocket Brigade turned in over 60 of their surface-to-air missiles at a military site in nearby Qagarah, making the first time a military unit has turned in its missiles.
Manoel de Almeida e Silva, spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) told a news briefing yesterday that as the programme rolls out some 800 soldiers from six units will be disarmed and demobilized.
Two weeks later, they will begin the reintegration programme of their choice, according to Mr. de Almeida e Silva. The options are agriculture, vocational training, small business, de-mining, contracting teams or joining the Afghan National Army or Afghan National Police.
Red Cross seeks access to US jail in Afghanistan
In Afghanistan the US military is considering a request from the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit an American prison in the city of Kandahar. Hundreds of suspected Taliban and al-Qaida fighters have been held without charge at American jails across the country since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Revelations of prisoner abuse in Iraq have also put the spotlight on US treatment of detainees in Afghanistan, where the military is investigating the deaths of 3 men held in custody in 2002 and 2003. ICRC officials are currently allowed to visit the main U.S. jail at the coalition headquarters at Bagram, but have no access to prison facilities at U.S. bases elsewhere in the country.
OP-ED: The real challenge in Afghanistan
Wajahat Ali Daily Times, Pakistan
Make no mistake: the ordinary Afghan does seek international assistance for political stability; he shows no hostility towards the coalition forces; but, caught in the vortex of conflict in that country, he continues to live under threat
The ‘war on terror’ will go down in history as the mother of all controversies.
Some call it a ‘clash of civilisations’; others describe it as an effort to shape the conflict within the Islamic world — a battle between the moderates and the extremists that will not only determine the future of the Muslims but will impact western values in general and American security in particular.
The proponents of the war claim the United States needs to partner with the right forces in the Muslim world: it is not enough to overthrow the Taliban, unseat Saddam or even capture Bin Laden — the greater challenge is to alter the mindset of those in the Islamic world who think in terms of an Armageddon between the Islamic and non-Muslim world.
At least this is the broader theoretical construct, though limitations are already evident on the ground.
The Bush administration’s first challenge came in Afghanistan. Conventional war was a foregone conclusion and US forces ousted the Taliban easily. But the victory also ushered the US and its allies into the difficult phase of the war: building a modern state on the ruins of a medieval, warring society.
The task is three-fold: make Afghanistan secure; reconstruct it; and win the people. When I went to Afghanistan recently, it was to find answers to these questions.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) is trying to connect the dots in Afghanistan by taking an integrated approach towards the reconstruction process. Education, it knows, is important. But equally vital is the need to create jobs. For only in this way can the Afghans earn their own livelihood and the reconstruction effort be deemed truly sustainable.
So while the agency is building quake-resistant schools for girls, it is also trying to secure their long-term future by opening up new avenues for them.
The Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) in Kabul, for instance, has trained several female journalists to file and edit news reports. And according to the project’s overseer, one graduate has now secured a position with the Voice of America.
Admittedly, it is this ‘softer’ side of the war on terror that has enabled previously inconceivable opportunities to take root. But the question remains: Can America change Afghan thinking?
The answer here is mixed and it depends on how one looks at the glass: half-full or half-empty. It also depends on whether one uses the material calculus (statistics) to determine success or some abstract principle like pride and honour. For instance, how does one solve the problem of restoring peoples’ pride not because nothing has been done but because quite a lot may have been achieved though at a cost to their pride?
Make no mistake: the ordinary Afghan does seek international assistance for political stability; he shows no hostility towards the coalition forces; but, caught in the vortex of conflict in that country, he continues to live under threat.
The slightest miscarriage of justice can result in his losing everything.
According to a Human Rights Watch report, “Enduring Freedom”: Abuses by US Forces in Afghanistan, the Americans ‘take into custody all men of military age found within the vicinity of an operation’. The report accuses US soldiers of using ‘excessive’ and ‘culturally insensitive’ force ‘during what are essentially law-enforcement operations’.
HRW claims the Americans take most of their prisoners to Bagram where ‘they are stripped and photographed. Samples of hair and skin flakes are taken, presumably to collect for a DNA database. Detainees are then instructed, through interpreters, about the rules of Bagram, which include restrictions on talking with other detainees. They are then shackled and taken to cells, where they are held during the periods they are not being interrogated. They are given bottles of water and fed in the cells. Except during interrogations, the detainees are shackled, even while sleeping’.
Add to this the ‘humiliating taunts from women soldiers’ and the dungeons (where captives ‘have no opportunity to challenge the basis for their detention’) become reminiscent of the horrific images coming out of Abu Ghraib.
This is the downside and it threatens to undo the good that is being done. I couldn’t stop thinking about these detention centres during my three-day stay with the US forces at Bagram. But it was difficult for me to reconcile these reports of gross human rights violations with the warmth shown to me by my American hosts.
I recalled that HRW had sent written requests to Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and General John Abizaid, seeking access to these detention facilities. Although it received no official response, ‘officials in the public affairs offices of the Pentagon and CENTCOM told Human Rights Watch such requests would not be granted’.
Newsweek recently claimed that ‘US officials hate to talk about it openly, but a primary function of places like Bagram and Abu Ghraib is interrogation’. It added: “The lives of American soldiers can depend on secrets spilled there.” Even more recent reports in the New Yorker and the Washington Post have sought to spill the beans on the US interrogation centres around the world. Reports on Abu Ghraib have also revealed that interrogation methods that have caused outraged were approved at the highest level, which take responsibility right up to Mr Rumsfeld.
This may explain the equivocating response I received from Lt Col Michele DeWerth when I asked why the US kept so many troops at Bagram and what was the exact nature of their brief. She immediately threw the ball into Maj Stacy Bathrick’s court. Again I was given no answer. Instead, I was told that a press kit would answer all my queries. I knew it was a cul de sac.
The main conflict thus is the balance between securing American troops and reconstructing Afghanistan. The first results in abuses and excesses in a conflict environment; the second in the warmer, more humane side of the US and coalition forces. Unfortunately, it seems the first is likely also to determine the success or failure of the reconstruction project. Therefore, the US would need to do more than just rebuild. It would need to help the ordinary Afghan regain his crushed spirit. That’s the real challenge.
The writer is Assistant Editor at Daily Times
Two foreigners killed in Afghan capital were gem smugglers: police
KABUL - Two foreigners found beaten and stabbed to death in a Kabul park, believed to be Swiss and Norwegian citizens were involved in gem smuggling, a senior police official said Sunday.
Mystery has surrounded the brutal killings of the two men, whose ages and names have not been disclosed, since their bodies were discovered last week in a west Kabul garden which was closed to the public.
"The investigation has reached to a point that makes us sure we will arrest their killers very soon," Kabul police commander General Baba Jan told AFP. Jan said the two men appeared to have been involved in gemstone smuggling rather than any "terrorist activity."
"Our investigation found that they were gemstone smugglers," Jan said, without providing details. He said several people, including "some, who had accompanied them from the Torkham border (with Pakistan) to Kabul, were under police observation." Citing the security of the investigation, Jan refused to provide further details but he said arrests were "very close."
The two men had entered Afghanistan from Pakistan via the Torkham border crossing near Peshawar and were previously believed to be tourists. The victims were dressed in traditional Afghan robes, hats and sandals when their bodies were found.
One has been confirmed as a Swiss citizen while the second was a Norwegian, Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said last week. In a separate incident two police officers were killed early Sunday in western Kabul when their patrolling vehicle came under fire, the police chief told AFP.
"The two police officers, Naqibullah and Mia Khail, were killed by armed thieves in Dasht-e-Barchi district," he said. He said that police have arrested four men in relation to the police shooting.
Dasht-e-Barch neighbors Chilston district in western Kabul where the two foreigners were killed. Both districts on the outskirts of Kabul were once known as the front-line during the Afghan civil wars of the 1990s.
700 Iowa troops heading to Afghanistan
DES MOINES (AP) --- About 700 Iowa troops are being deployed to help the reconstruction of Afghanistan, the largest single unit being sent abroad by the Iowa Army National Guard since World War II.
The troops have been training for more than two months at Fort Hood, Texas with Task Force 168, which will provide security in Afghanistan for reconstruction teams. They are also preparing to launch combat patrols to kill or capture Taliban or al-Qaida forces.
Some members of the task force could leave Texas as early as Monday, and all of the Iowa soldiers are expected to be in Afghanistan within the next two weeks. They are expected to be deployed for one year.
"If you are not scared, there is something wrong with you," said Staff Sgt. Scott Stogdill of Council Bluffs, who works for a moving company in civilian life. "This is not flood duty. This is not tornado duty. We are not sitting at an airport. This is a real-world mission going overseas."
He said he has a simple goal for the next 12 months: "I want to bring all my guys home," said Stogdill, 32, an infantry squad leader who is a married father of three children.
The task force is primarily drawn from the Iowa Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry, which is headquartered in Council Bluffs. The force includes soldiers from armories in 22 Iowa communities, plus about 80 troops from the Minnesota Army National Guard and a few dozen soldiers from other states.
Their training has focused on dealing with such threats as suicide car bombers, snipers, roadside bombs, land mines and ambushes in Afghanistan, where the war has been overshadowed by heavy fighting in Iraq.
"Nobody should be under any illusions. They are going into an area where people get shot at. Certainly, it can't be characterized as the same violence we are seeing in Iraq, but it is not safe," said Charles Pea, director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C.
The troops will be split into smaller units across Afghanistan and assigned to remote areas affected by decades of war that have destroyed schools, roads, bridges, police stations and other infrastructure.
Spc. Nick Russell, 19, of Winterset, an automatic rifleman who works in civilian life installing voice and data lines for Baker Electric of Des Moines, said he's looking forward to heading to Afghanistan.
"I am of the mindset that I am ready to go, ready to get out of here," Russell said. The training has been "drilled into our heads" so troops will react instinctively to dangerous situations, he said.
Sgt. Andrew Mortensen, 28, of Kiron, a farmworker in civilian life, said he has a hard time explaining his thoughts about the mission to family and friends back home.
"I would just as soon not go, but this is my job," Mortensen said. "It will be great once we get back, knowing you did something for your country. If a guy ain't proud after that, something is wrong with him."
Charity Concert in Rome to Help Children in Afghanistan
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
ROME, 16 May (RFE/RL) - More than 100,000 people gathered in Rome on Sunday evening to attend a charity concert in favour of children living in war-ravaged places such as Ethiopia, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories.
The four-hour "We Are the Future" concert was being held at Rome's Circus Maximus with giant screens broadcasting the event.
Among the 200 stars attending were boxing legend Mohamed Ali, the U.S. actor Angelina Jolie, singers Alicia Keys, Natalie Cole and Youssou N'Dour as well as Italian football star Francesco Totti, supermodel Naomi Campbell and U.S. tennis champion Serena Williams.
The concert itself was free but proceeds from the broadcast rights will go to finance child centers in Rwanda, Ethiopia, Erythrea, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and the West Bank, Rome's mayor Walter Veltroni said.
Faisal to attend Afghan meeting in Doha
By our correspondent The News International, Pakistan
ISLAMABAD: Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat is leaving for Doha (Qatar) Tuesday to attend a meeting of Interior Ministers of eleven countries on Afghanistan. The minister will be heading a five-member delegation which comprises director generals of National Crisis Management Cell, Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) and commander Police Academy Sihala.
The meeting would be attended by home ministers of neighbouring countries of Afghanistan and other stakeholder nations to discuss peace and development process in the war-torn country in the light of Bonn agreement.
"I will also hold separate meetings with the home ministers of Iran, China and Germany on the sidelines of the conference," Faisal told The News. Later, interior minister would also visit United Kingdom on the invitation of British home minister.
Responding to a question about recent incidents of mass killings in different cities of Punjab, he said the job of the federal government is to formulate a policy, coordinate with the provincial governments and give necessary directions but the provincial governments are directly responsible to maintain law and order situation.
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