Afghan President congratulates new Indian Prime Minister
KABUL, MAY 23 (AFP)Afghan President Hamid Karzai today congratulated new Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, saying cooperation with New Delhi was a priority for his government.
"On behalf of the people of Afghanistan, I extend my congratulations to you and the people of India on your appointment as the new prime minister of India," Karzai wrote in a letter to Singh.
According to a statement released by his spokesman, Karzai emphasised that "maintaining and strengthening friendly relations and cooperation with India is a priority for the government." "We want a relationship that will contribute to (the) stability and prosperity of both countries," Karzai said.
Afghan Olympic Team Arrives in Greece
Sat May 22, 4:17 PM ET By MIRON VAROUHAKIS, Associated Press Writer
ATHENS, Greece - After an eight-year absence from the Olympics, an Afghan team of five athletes — including the country's first female participants — arrived Saturday to train for the Athens Games.
Dressed in their uniforms and carrying the flags of Afghanistan and the Athens Olympics, the team toured Athens before heading for the Aegean Sea island of Lesvos, where they will train until early July. They will then travel to Thessaloniki, where they will stay until the Aug. 13-29 games.
"On behalf of all the athletes, I want to thank the Greek Foreign Ministry and Athens organizers for making such an opportunity," said Sayed Mohmood Zia, vice president of the Afghan National Olympic Committee.
Afghanistan was banned from the 2000 Sydney Olympics because the Taliban regime outlawed women from sports. The country participated in the 1996 Atlanta Games, but years of war robbed its athletes of most training facilities. Most of the best coaches fled during the conflict.
Olympic officials gave Afghanistan five wild-cards entries. The Afghan team features three men and two women. One woman is a runner, the other competes in judo.
The women had to train separately because of conservative traditions. Some Islamic clerics strongly oppose women competing in Greece, and the two making the trip are expected to dress in long pants to avoid a scandal at home.
Olympic officials handed Afghanistan five wild cards so they could compete in Athens.
Athens Olympics window of hope for Afghan athletes after decades of war
Sunday May 23, 1:33 PM AFP
They don't expect to come home bedecked with gold medals, but Afghanistan's tiny 11-member Olympic team hopes to symbolise its war-torn country's growth and spirit.
Banned from the Games in 1999 in part due to the Taliban regime's treatment of women, Afghanistan's return to the world's biggest sporting event in August after more than a decade will be led by a young woman.
Student Robina Muqimyar, 17, the first woman in Afghanistan's history to compete at the Olympics, is expected to carry the flag at the head of the team in the opening ceremony in Athens.
The Kabul teenager remembers being chased by the Taliban's religious police for failing to wear the all-enveloping burqa that the fundamentalist regime insisted upon.
She is one of two females in Afghanistan's 11-member team heading off to the Games. Fellow 17-year-old Friba Rezihi will compete in judo.
"This is the first time that Afghan women have competed in the Olympic games," said Afghan sports activist Shukriya Haider.
"I am very happy and proud to be participating in this competition," Robina said as she shopped in a Kabul bazaar for a traditional outfit to wear in the Games' opening ceremony.
"Two and half years ago it was just a dream for me to be a runner," she said. "Now I see my dreams came true."
The dark-eyed, 1.70 cm tall athlete has been training for the 100-metre sprint event for nine months.
But with a personal best of 15.06 seconds it seems unlikely she will beat beat the likes of American champion Marion Jones, who does the dash in under 11 seconds.
"I know it will be tough but I hope to make it," she told AFP.
The race means more to Robina as a chance for a personal success than as a "milestone" in the lives of Afghan women, previously deprived of sports and education.
Training at Kabul Stadium, with its damaged running surface, unuseable showers and otherwise non-existent facilities, Robina wears the modest headscarf and tracksuit pants she is expected to wear while competing in Athens.
"This is very special," and a success for the Afghan people particularly women, Greek foreign ministry representative Livaditou Zoi said.
"An Afghan woman will hold the Afghan flag in the parade," she said, adding it was likely to be Robina.
The five athletes in the team, Robina and Friba along with 20-year-old wrestler Bashir Ahmad Rahmati, 20, boxer Bashirmal Sultani, 19, and runner Massoud Azizi, also 19, left Friday for Greece for two months of intensive training funded by the Greek government on the island of Lesbos.
Four coaches and two representatives from the Afghan Olympic Committee will accompany the team, who have been granted 'wildcards' by the International Olympic Committee to allow them to compete.
"It's a great opportunity for us," says Sultani. "My only hope of winning this competition comes from the two months training we are supposed to get from the Greek coaches."
Sultani has already received seven months' training in Iran under the same Greek-sponsored scheme.
Afghanistan's sports institutions were badly damaged as a result of more than two decades of war and hundreds of qualified sports professionals either died or fled the country.
The last time an Afghan attended the Olympics was in Atlanta in 1996 when four male sports officials visited the United States, just weeks before Afghanistan was taken over by Taliban, said Afghan Olympic Committee deputy director Syed Ahmad Zia Dashti.
Local and Greek authorities, aware that nine Afghan football players went missing in Italy last month and sought asylum in Europe, have taken "proper measures to prevent" such incidents.
"They cannot do it -- we have special security measures," said Zoi. "From Istanbul to Athens and back to Kabul we have strong security."
The very participation of war-ravaged Afghanistan at the Olympics is seen as a success.
"Despite hoping to get good results, we are not seeking to win gold medals -- our participation itself is a success," Dashti said. "We are just recovering from war."
5 Afghans Die and 4 U.S. Soldiers Are Wounded in Clashes
By DAVID ROHDE May 22, 2004 The New York Times
KABUL, Afghanistan, May 21 — Two Afghan policemen and a three other Afghans died in clashes in Afghanistan on Friday that left four American soldiers wounded. In a separate incident, Pakistani officials protested what they said was the second incursion by American forces into Pakistani territory in a month.
Over the last year, more than 300 people have been killed in rising violence ahead of national elections, scheduled for September.
The largest clash occurred in southeastern Afghanistan in the village of Tani in Khost Province, roughly five miles from the Pakistani border, according to American and Afghan officials.
United States military officials said American soldiers were fired upon as they carried out raids in the area. American forces fired back, killing three fighters. They also detained 23 people.
But Abdul Gyaz Wardak, chief of the local governor's office, said Afghans had fired on American forces by mistake. He said two men in Tani shot at an American patrol at 3 a.m., thinking rival Afghans were approaching to attack them.
"Two men who were shooting at Americans were killed," he said, adding that the wife of one of the Afghans was killed when she stepped out of a house. Mr. Wardak said that an American helicopter took part in the firefight but that it was shots from American ground forces that killed the three Afghans.
American military officials offered a different account, saying that all three people were fighters who were killed by aircraft fire. "Precision air support was used," they said in a statement, "and all rounds were on target."
In a clash on Wednesday, suspected Taliban fighters killed two Afghan policemen in Farah Province in western Afghanistan, The Associated Press reported Friday. The local governor said gunmen ambushed the police as they returned home after escorting United Nations staff members to the city of Herat.
In Pakistan, meanwhile, military officials filed a "strong protest" on Friday over what they said was the second incursion by American military forces into Pakistan in a month, state-run media reported.
Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, a Pakistani military spokesman, said American forces crossed into Pakistan on Thursday after they thought they had been fired on from the area. He said the village, which he did not name, was exactly on the Afghan border.
American forces searched several houses, including three in Pakistan, he said, and returned to Afghanistan.
U.S. Names General for Afghan Jail Review
Sat May 22,10:50 AM ET By STEPHEN GRAHAM, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - The U.S. military on Saturday named a long-serving brigadier general to carry out a review of its secretive Afghan prisons, while officials in Washington revealed that they were looking into the deaths of two more Afghans.
Brig. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby, deputy operational commander at the U.S. military's main base at Bagram, north of Kabul, will carry out the "top to bottom" review and deliver a report by mid-June, spokesman Lt. Col. Tucker Mansager said.
The commander of the 20,000 U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David Barno, ordered the review earlier this month in response to the growing scandal about prisoner abuse in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Jacoby will visit each of the about 20 American detention centers, including the main jail at Bagram and others at smaller bases around the country "to ensure internationally accepted standards of handling detainees are being met," Mansager said.
"He will ensure facilities are adequate, procedures are in accordance with the spirit of the Geneva Conventions and are being followed correctly and fully, and that staffing and capabilities are adequate to the task," Mansager said.
The U.S. recently announced two new criminal investigations into allegations of abuse by former prisoners in Afghanistan, where it is also under pressure over the unexplained deaths of prisoners in custody.
An investigation into the deaths of two Bagram inmates in December 2002 — both ruled homicides after military autopsies — is still incomplete. The CIA inspector general is investigating the death of another detainee in eastern Kunar province in June 2003.
A senior military official told reporters in Washington on Friday that two other deaths in custody in Afghanistan were also under scrutiny — one in southern Helmand province last November, and another when a detainee was shot when he lunged for a weapons.
Mansager said he was unaware of either of the new cases.
Jacoby, a decorated West Point graduate who has served in the army for nearly 26 years, arrived in Afghanistan in April. His review is to be independent of the investigations into alleged abuse and the deaths in custody.
US military says woman killed in raid in southeast Afghanistan
KABUL, May 22 (AFP) - A woman was among four people killed in an American bombing raid in southeastern Afghanistan, the US military said Saturday after earlier stating that only three enemy combatants had Been killed in fighting.
'After further investigation we have identified a fourth casualty resulting from the raid -- a female, age and identification still unknown,' US military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Tucker Mansager said.
'She was killed after coalition forces were fired upon and returned fire on the target that she and the previously announced enemy dead were in,' he told a press conference in Kabul.
The mayor of Khost district, where the incident occurred, has said that those killed were civilians guarding their home, located between Tani and Gurbuz areas south of the city.
Mayor Jalil Ahmad Hassani said that the locals fired on the Americans after they became frightened when they saw a US patrol approaching their house with its lights off. “They were civilians and it was an accident,' he told AFP on Friday.
The incident, in which four US soldiers were wounded, occurred in a region where violent tribal and family disputes are common and most men are armed.
The US military, already under fire for allegations of prisoner abuse In Iraq and Afghanistan, has previously been criticised for the number of civilian deaths incurred as it hunts Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other militants here.
Mansager said that those killed were 'anti-coalition militia that had fired on our forces first.' 'We don't know the status of the woman... but she was located in the same building from which our coalition forces took fire,' he said, adding that 23 people had been detained and the incident was under investigation.
The US military in Afghanistan is also investigating two cases of abuse in American-run prison facilities and has ordered a 'top to bottom' review of detention procedures.
Pentagon officials have said that the US army has investigated five deaths in custody in Afghanistan, including one case in which 'a soldier... shot and killed an Afghani who allegedly lunged for his weapon.' They have also investigated 32 deaths in Iraqi prisoners.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, which monitors the US Main detention center at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, has not yet been given access to the southern Kandahar detention center, one of about 20 in Afghanistan, Mansager said. Some 350 prisoners are in US military custody in Afghanistan, he said.
There are more than 15,500 US-led troops in Afghanistan hunting Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other militants and they regularly come under attack. On Friday four US soldiers were injured in a rocket attack at the American base in Khost.
AI concerned over journalist's 'disappearance'
Dawn (Pakistan) May 23, 2004 issue Bureau Report
PESHAWAR, May 22: The Amnesty International has expressed concern for the safety of Afghan journalist Sami Yousafzai and his Pakistani driver Muhammad Saleem who had "disappeared" on April 21.
The international agency has described the incident as a violation of the Constitution and international human rights standards.
In an urgent action call given to human rights activists across the world, the rights body has requested them to write to the authorities concerned, including President of Pakistan, and urge them to disclose where and in whose custody the two detainees had been kept.
The Amnesty International stated that the families of the detainees "have been unable to establish their whereabouts" and "fear they may be at risk of torture or ill-treatment."
The human rights body notes: "The 'disappearance' of Sami Yousufzai and Mohammad Salim violates a number of human rights guaranteed in the Constitution of Pakistan and international human rights standards."
The Constitution of Pakistan states in Article 9: "No person shall be deprived of life and liberty, save in accordance with law."
It lays down in Article 10 that every detainee has the right to be informed of the charges against them, to consult and be defended by a lawyer of his choice and be brought before a magistrate within 24 hours of arrest. None of these requirements have been fulfilled in the case of Sami Yousufzai and Mohammad Salim, the human rights body said.
The Amnesty International added that by possibly transferring the two detainees to areas outside the jurisdiction of the provincial high courts, the authorities "have also denied them the right to have the lawfulness of their detention examined by a high court."
Under Article 199 of the Constitution of Pakistan, provincial high courts have the power to direct "that a person in custody within the territorial jurisdiction of the Court be brought before it so that the Court may satisfy itself that he is not being held in custody without lawful authority or in an unlawful manner".
The Amnesty held that the tribal areas "are outside the jurisdiction of any of the country's high courts." There are also concerns for their safety given the widespread use of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in detention in Pakistan.
The activists have been called upon to express their fear for the safety of the detainees and ask the authorities to ensure that Sami Yousufzai and Mohammad Salim will not be subjected to torture or to other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment if they are in custody;
Authorities were asked to release the detainees immediately and unconditionally if there were no criminal charges against them.
The elections that drive Afghanistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times (Hong Kong) May 23, 2004
KARACHI - After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States received the backing of the world community to go after al-Qaeda and the Taliban government that harbored it in Afghanistan, with the implicit implication that the US would help rebuild the devastated country, both politically and economically.
Two-and-a-half years later, Afghanistan remains a virtual basket case, with the US-backed Hamid Karzai regime's writ barely extending beyond the capital Kabul. Warlordism and a growing guerrilla insurgency against thousands of US-led troops still in the country threaten to pull the country apart.
Yet in this environment, Afghanistan is scheduled to stage elections in September, followed two months later by US presidential elections, before which President George W Bush would sorely like to have washed his hands of the Afghanistan problem once and for all.
Time, then, is of the essence for Washington to cobble together some arrangement that will allow for a graceful exit. Key in this initiative is Pakistan, erstwhile Taliban supporter and now aligned with the US in the "war on terror".
Taliban remodeled Mullah Arsala Rehmani was a Taliban minister in the Afghan government before fleeing the country in the face of the US-led attack in late 2001. Like many of his Taliban colleagues, he crossed the border into Pakistan, and melted into the population.
Initially, these "refugees" were housed and fed by the madrassas (seminaries) from which many of the Taliban had emerged in the first place. But this was not a long-term solution, especially as Pakistan began to put a squeeze on funding from foreign charities that supported the madrassas.
So as an alternative, the Taliban revived their old connections from the jihadi days against the Soviets. Arsala, for instance, turned to his former jihadi outfit the Harkat-i-Inqilabi-i-Islami, led by Moulvi Nabi Mohammadi. However, the jihadi organizations were also feeling the financial squeeze as a result of the global "war on terror", and of course they no longer had the flow of money the US Central Intelligence Agency had given them in the anti-Soviet days.
Not being a military commander, Arsala was unable to tap into the lucrative poppy business, which was sewn up by commanders such as Jalaluddin Haqqani and Saifullah Mansoor and others, who had their respective fields. (Incidentally, the Taliban have recently been saying that poppy cultivation in itself is not prohibited in Islam as the plant has several applications, such as medicinal uses. But it is prohibited to turn it into heroin.)
So Arsala, as he was a theologian, eked out an existence as a teacher in the seminaries.
In the meantime, the Taliban were slowly regrouping and intensifying their resistance in Afghanistan, and proving a stubborn thorn in the United States' side. So it was that, out of the blue, Arsala was summoned to Islamabad, and a powerful Land Cruiser with tinted glass was sent to take him to the Pakistani capital.
So from raising calls for the death of all Americans, Arsala found himself employed by Pakistani authorities (with the US not far in the background) as an agent of peace as a go-between for the Karzai administration, the Taliban and the Americans.
As a part of the deal, Arsala was given a cold-storage business in Islamabad, a house, a car and an affluent lifestyle, and new slogans that are likely to give a fresh face to the Afghan government in a few weeks. "Whether it is Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden or the USA, they are equally responsible for the destruction of Afghanistan," Arsala has said.
When Taliban leaders Mullah Ghous and Abdul Waqil Muttawil meet with Karzai in Kabul in the very near future, they will have the backing of more than a dozen mullahs like Arsala, none of whom has military field experience, but all of whom now share the desire for peace and security in Afghanistan.
Key to the process of reconciliation is the influential Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA). Already, a Peshawar-based HIA team, led by Mullah Sarfraz Janbaz and Khalid Farooqui, has met with Karzai and his cabinet ministers, and are now scheduled to hold the HIA's first political meeting in Kabul since 1996, when the Taliban took over Kabul.
Well-placed sources in the HIA in Peshawar tell Asia Times Online that during the initial round of meetings with Afghan officials, US officials intervened and insisted that the delegation announce its separation from Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the legendary mujahideen who heads the HIA's field command and who is an important resistance figure in the east of the country. However, the negotiations are being led by the HIA's political wing, which has already separated from Hekmatyar's field command council.
The US officials also wanted the delegation to denounce Hekmatyar as a terrorist, which they refused to do, although they did denounce terrorism in general. The delegates also demanded the release from US detention of Dr Ghairat Bahair, Hekmatyar's son-in-law, for the dialogue to be a success.
The delegation also refused to endorse the presence of US troops in Afghanistan, and asked Karzai to announce a schedule for the departure of all foreign troops from the country. Karzai told the delegates that he personally held Hekmatyar in high regard and wanted to meet with him. He said that he had already spoken to US authorities about the release of Hekmatyar's son-in-law.
Karzai then apparently offered powerful ministries to the HIA leaders who had come from Peshawar.
While these developments - the HIA meeting and the upcoming one with the mullahs - are encouraging, Karzai and the US know full well that crucial to any peace process are the field commanders, and as yet no significant progress has been made with them.
The Peshawar-based politicians and mullahs such as Arsala, however, can act as links to placating the commanders. Certainly, Karzai and his American backers all the way to the White House are hoping so.
What's going on in Afghanistan? Believe it or not, some good things
The Free Lance-Star, VA 5/23/2004
Hope exists in a suffering land
THE INTERNATIONAL HEADLINES are numbing. Like cold water pressing in on a drowning man, they drag us down until often we feel we have to fight just to remain afloat in the roiling sea of news. But behind the reports of abuses and deaths, of terror and missteps, are positive developments, stories of hope and the alleviation of human misery and bondage, that deserve our attention--indeed, deserve our applause. Many are from Afghanistan.
Before September of 2001, most Americans would have been hard pressed to find the country on an unlabeled map. Vaguely we might have remembered the Russians were embroiled there for a while, or recalled pictures of the giant, ancient stone Buddhas blown up by the Taliban, but it wasn't until American forces descended on the country, bent on unearthing Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks, that Afghanistan really grabbed our attention. Then the brutalities of the Taliban government, its support of terror, its oppression of women, and its iron grip on the people snapped into focus. That government fell in October of 2001, and since then, the United States and other countries have been working to resuscitate the gasping nation. Some good things are happening.
Recently, a 300-mile stretch of the Kabul-Kandahar Highway was opened. The highway, following an ancient track used by Alexander the Great as he moved his conquering army through Central Asia, links Afghanistan's two major cities and commercial centers, reducing travel time between them from two days to five hours. The road will help farmers get crops to market, sick people get to clinics, workers get to jobs, and students get to schools. More than 35 percent of the population lives near the $190 million highway, now poised to be a vital artery for economic recovery.
The combination of 25 years of civil war and hostilities and four years of serious drought has left Afghan agriculture desolated. But through a re-fertilization program and the use of new, drought-resistant seeds, Afghanistan saw an 82 percent increase in wheat yields in 2002, and last year had an all-time record crop. Irrigation systems destroyed by the Russians or the Taliban are being rebuilt, and an incentive program for farmers who turn from poppy production to high-value crops like grapes, olives, peanuts, and cotton is in place.
The Taliban had severely damaged or destroyed 80 percent of the nation's schools, and in 2000 only 32 percent of Afghan children were being educated. Now, the United States Agency for International Development is turning that around, rebuilding schools, training teachers, and printing 15 million textbooks for 2.9 million students (32 percent of whom are girls).
In Afghanistan, one-quarter of all children die before age 5, and the adult life expectancy is a mere 46 years. Much of the infant mortality traces to bad water. Now, new wells are being drilled, clinics established, vaccinations supplied, and basic health services provided to 2 million people, 90 percent of whom are women and children.
This record of U.N., USAID, and multinational aid to Afghanistan does not negate the formidable challenges that remain. Remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaida still attack aid and construction workers. Warlords are reluctant to recognize the government of President Hamid Karzai, and there are concerns that bad guys of various stripes will disrupt the elections scheduled for June. Al-Qaida remains entrenched, supported by the heroin trade, reaping more than $24 million from one Afghan drug network alone. Should the nation fail, it could well become a lawless land totally controlled by narcoterrorists.
Nevertheless, today 50,000 war widows have jobs, children are going to school, clean water is available, markets are open, and fields are lush with green crops. With the help of USAID and others, the perpetual winter of Afghanistan is beginning to look like spring.
Islamic nations upset with US over treatment of Muslims: Pakistan FM
(AFP) 22 May 2004
WASHINGTON - Islamic nations are upset with the United States for alleged shabby treatment of Muslim tourists and students as Washington stepped up anti-terror measures, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri said on Friday.
He said he raised the matter with US Secretary of State Colin Powell during talks in Washington. “I said: “Mr Secretary, the time will soon come when Muslims will not wish to enter the United States as tourists, the time has come when Muslim students do not wish to come to the United States.
“So are you going to do something about it?” He said Powell told him he understood the problem and was striving to resolve it. Kasuri said he had also raised the issue with Powell previously and that the Secretary of State had brought it to the attention of President George W. Bush.
“I, as a friend, pointed out that, you know, it is humiliating to visit the United States these days.” Kasuri said his government might come under pressure at home to ”treat the Americans the way they treat Pakistanis when they land at American airports.”
The Pakistan minister was answering a question at a forum where a Muslim US citizen complained about rising anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States. Kasuri said he had received feedback from Muslim leaders they were upset about the treatment accorded to their citizens visiting the United States.
He said Pakistan, which enjoys close ties with the United States, was concerned its relations with the Muslim world would suffer due to this problem. “This will destroy what’s happening between Pakistan and the United States and what’s happening between Pakistan and every Muslim country,” he said.
“And I speak as foreign minister of Pakistan, who meets all the world leaders and they are very upset with the sort of treatment.” The US authorities have stepped up security measures at airports and tightened procedures for issuing visas to protect the country after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which killed 3,000.
Many Arab students returned to their countries in the wake of the mayhem and various Arab media have reported a decline in the number of Arab businessmen visiting the United States. The American-Arab Anti-discrimination Committee meanwhile had sent FBI director Robert Mueller a letter last week urging him to speak out about hate crimes against Arabs and Muslim-Americans, following the recent upsurge of violence in Iraq and revelations about the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners there by US soldiers.
Kasuri said he told Powell he undertood the desire of the United States to put in place every conceivable defense mechanism to prevent terrorists from entering the country. “But with the technology that the United States has, it’s not so much that,” Kasuri said, apparently referring to the lack of courtesy by airport staff whom he felt did not have adequate training.
For example, he said, “it’s the person who receives you when you enter New York. “That person puts you off and you have to do something about training him.” Kasuri said Powell told him: “Mr Minister, you are pushing against an open door, I’m trying my best.”
Powell was also concerned that the American tourist industry and the universities were losing revenue due to the tighter measures, Kasuri said. “If the Secretary of State persists, and I have no doubt he will, hopefully things will improve,” he said.
Our Man in Kabul
Richmond Times-Dispatch 05/21/2004 By David Fitzgerald
Investors Ensure a Secure Future for Afghanistan - Kabul, Afghanistan -When I first arrived in Afghanistan, the landscape gave shocking recall to another time and place three decades ago. Following years of war with the Russians and the Taliban regime, this land looked much the same as lasting Navy SEAL impressions of Cambodia and Vietnam, left behind years ago - along with an American strategic agen- da lost in the cold marble halls of the unpredictable and often menacing United States Congress. Afghanistan is probably best described as "one of the world's great cauldrons," where new events cause dramatic change. And now I was in Kabul to view events in advance of more unknown change to come.
Forthcoming elections in Afghanistan are one dramatic outcome of war and instability over many years. Their political result will be an authentic intersection of great hopes and worst fears, in a hasty pursuit of unknown outcomes. As a for- mer American warrior, my empathy runs deep for this country when I ponder these uncertainties. Street poverty and hungry children generate vivid mental flashbacks of Phnom Penh 29 years ago.
Years of war-caused distress have conditioned Afghans to having less in life. They are toughened bedrock people, never expressing doubts about abilities to produce, fight, pray, or survive. This helps as national elections draw closer, hopefully bringing new and innovative economic engines that provide jobs and opportunities.
So far, the good and generous of the world - led by the great - are making things happen to rebuild Afghanistan's infrastructure. One can have only admiration for the emotional sticking power of these people who descended into battle's darkest years and then ascended to be recognized as a land of large-scale importance.
SURROUNDING the capital city, demolished Soviet vehicles stand as rusting sentinels on Afghan killing fields. They soberly remind of Cold War power politics and misconceived alliances.
In Berlin in March of this year, I saw firsthand UN leadership and our Secretary of State grapple with Afghanistan's future, if not with its immediate life-line requirements. The event was not an overheated show of hyping attention to the needs of Afghanistan. Rather, it was, perhaps ironically, a patriotic showing of global bankers focused on replacing Afghanistan's painful past with new hopes for the future. I believe these financiers clearly could envision winds of doom without their international support.
Hearts and checkbooks opened as Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his officials presented an international recovery plan with a seven-year expenditure outline for $28 billion. It was a reformist century plan of reconstruction realism, far surpassing nationalistic cheerleading and simply asking for more.
Karzai must now overcome a stagnant history of insecurity. He must stabilize the country's strategic compass and thereby bring democracy and free enterprise together. He understands that regional benefactors and the world's investment giants must continue to hear news reports about market force progress and enhanced security measures.
Ironically, the German press describes Kabul as the new "boom town" in Southwest Asia, ripe for private-sector and infrastructure investment. This year the Afghan government will spend $4.5 billion for immediate needs. The United States will underwrite and provide nearly 50 percent of this year's spending bill. Afghanistan's small-business community soon hopes to have access to renewed bank lending if all goes well.
STEADY WHITE House commitment to Afghanistan is evident, especially this year. But whether that will change if the White House occupant changes this fall is anyone's guess. Hamid Karzai knows that internal security and maintaining the peace are hanging by a thin red thread. Both factors must work together to transform an ill and corrupted economy into a strong economic engine supported by a restyled government and a model president.
Deadlines for Afghanistan to accomplish these priorities have become their own lines in the desert sand. Those benevolent international bankers say that future funding depends on measurable performance.
Nonetheless, world banks are betting that global wallets will stay open as clean drinking water returns, new factories sprout, cement is poured, cellular networks deploy, and new laws and regulations generate investment and spending. One promising sign is large numbers of houses being rebuilt by thousands of Afghans returning home and reclaiming their lives and property. Advanced skills and trades are finding immediate applications within the advancing economic setting.
Afghanistan's future is solidly anchored when compared with failed U.S. foreign policies in Southeast Asia. Afghanistan's passing the hat for world donors to fill shows it has sifted lessons - from the ashes of Vietnam and Cambodia - for dealing with U.S. foreign policy and a Congress known more for shortsighted actions than strategic relationships. The Afghans have come too far to turn back. They will not be turned away from generous foreign donors investing in their success. Capitol Hill should take a page from the world's donor playbook.
David Fitzgerald, a Richmonder, is a retired Navy captain and a former staffer with the Senate Armed Services Committee. This column is the first in an occasional series.
Pakistan hails return to Commonwealth, critics lament
Sunday May 23, 1:39 PM AFP
Pakistan hailed the lifting of its five-year suspension from the Commonwealth as the "right decision", as opposition parties lamented it as a reward for dictatorship.
"It is the right decision at the right time," Information Minister Sheikh Rashid told AFP after the Commonwealth's decision Saturday to lift the suspension.
"We have fulfilled all the requirements and it's a wise decision," he said.
The world's second largest Muslim country was readmitted to the 53-nation club by a nine-member committee meeting in London, but was warned it must consolidate "the process of democratisation."
The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), which currently groups the Bahamas, Canada, India, Lesotho, Malta, Nigeria, Samoa, Sri Lanka and Tanzania, praised Pakistan's progress in restoring democracy but noted "continuing concern in regard to the strengthening of the democratic process."
CMAG, which meets twice a year to reinforce the body's core principles, suspended Pakistan over the October 1999 bloodless military takeover by then army chief General Pervez Musharraf, who went on to declare himself president.
Islamabad's bid to re-enter the grouping since Musharraf officially restored democracy by holding elections in October 2002 had failed until now because his changes to the constitution had not been accepted by the parliament.
Critics complain that Musharraf, as an unelected general, still holds on to the presidency with sweeping self-appointed powers, including power to sack the elected parliament.
Saturday's readmission came despite pleas by former premier Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP), among Musharraf's most strident critics, to maintain the suspension.
It cited as anti-democratic and repressive the jailing of key opposition leader Javed Hashmi for 23 years on a treason conviction, the deportation of exiled premier Nawaz Sharif's brother Shahbaz, and Musharraf's recent refusal to guarantee he would quit the military by year's end.
The PPP wrote to the Commonwealth last week to urge against readmitting Pakistan.
The letter was "our duty towards democracy in the country," PPP senator Farhatullah Babar said in a statement.
"We wanted to place on record that it is wrong to reward dictatorships."
The PPP linked Musharraf's close cooperation with the United States in the campaign to wipe out Al-Qaeda to the readmission.
Pakistan has captured more than 500 Al-Qaeda suspects since backing the US-led ouster of Afghanistan's Taliban regime in late 2001, and is engrossed in a campaign to control hundreds of Al-Qaeda-linked fugitives and Taliban fighters on its northwest frontier.
"The decision is not surprising as Western countries, taking General Musharraf's promise to fight against terror on its face value, wanted to reward his government," Babar said.
Bhutto told BBC radio Saturday: "People want to reward the general Musharraf for the role that he's playing as a key ally of the international community in combating terrorism."
"I'd like to see Pakistan readmitted by the Commonwealth -- but not under a military dictator," said Bhutto, who lives in exile in London.
Political commentator Ayaz Amir saw the move as "a small pat on the back for Pakistan's semi-military, semi-democratic government."
"The Commonwealth has done more of a favour to itself than to Pakistan by this decision," Amir told AFP, adding that the organisation of former British colonies "is not considered that terribly powerful in Pakistan."
But Rashid, the information minister, dismissed the complaints, calling the readmission "a moral victory for the government in the face of opposition criticism."
Students from Afghanistan, Africa conquer alienation, classes
By Eun Kim The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, MO 5/22/2004
In a few weeks, Najma Kazami and Amie Tambadou will walk across a stage at America's Center and graduate from Soldan International Studies High School. When they started there, Kazami had only a second-grade education and Tambadou could barely count.
The two young women arrived in St. Louis in 1999 as refugees, Kazami from Afghanistan and Tambadou from Sierra Leone, and each with vastly different backgrounds.
Now, Kazami will graduate with a 3.8 grade point average and hopes of becoming a doctor. Tambadou plans to pursue a computer science degree she wants to parlay into a dream job with the FBI.
The two have come a long way from the days when Tambadou deliberately set her alarm clock late so she would miss her school bus, and Kazami went to bed scheming about what physical ailment could keep her from school the next morning.
"Every day when I was going home, I was crying. I was telling my dad to send me back, because I don't understand what they were saying," Kazami recalled with a smile. "But after a while, I studied and learned from the way they were talking around me. I like my school a lot. I understand things now, and I get good grades."
The policy of St. Louis Public Schools is to place students in classrooms based on their age. For Tambadou, who was 15 when she arrived, that meant being placed in high school even though she never learned to read or basic math concepts. Growing up just outside Freetown, Sierra Leone, war had kept her from school.
"She was placed in grade nine, (but) she didn't know her letters, her alphabet, her numbers. She started from zero," said Marilou Connoyer, who oversees a tutoring program for students such as Tambadou at the International Institute. "She has made very remarkable strides. She's focused, she knows what she wants, and she's very ambitious."
Tambadou's initial image of America crumbled from the moment she landed in St. Louis. Movies had portrayed the country as one filled with charity and kindness, she said.
"I thought everybody was friendly, that everybody cared about everybody and would take care of you, and if you're a stranger, everybody is going to love you," she said. "But when I come down, that's not the way it was."
Particularly among her peers. When Tambadou first arrived at school, she was bullied by classmates and made of fun of when trying to speak.
"When I was in Africa, when we see a stranger our age - oh my God, you are so popular. We want to know all about you. That's what I thought it was going to be when I came here," she said. "But when I came here, they were pushing me in the hallway."
Kazami's biggest adjustment was cultural as well. The way students talked back to teachers stunned her, as did the way they slept at their desks in full view of them. In Afghanistan, children would stand at attention when a teacher entered the room, she said.
And then there were the relationships between students and their public displays of affection.
"I see some students who, I don't know how to say it, like, they were having so much freedom," said Kazami, 18.
She remembered how one guy teased her by trying to hold her hand and stroke her arm. The act mortified her.
"He was just messing with me, but at the time, I started crying," she said. She got hysterical, ended up in the nurse's office and went home early.
In Kabul, Kazami attended school until the second grade, when the mujahedeen, the militant force waging Afghanistan's holy war, forbade girls from going. Shortly afterward, Kazami remembers hiding out in the basement as gunfire erupted outside. A rocket suddenly blasted into their home, showering glass around them and prompting her father to move the family to Pakistan. There, Kazami attended a makeshift school for refugees set up in the home of an Afghan woman. But those lessons mostly focused on religion, she said.
When Kazami first struggled to learn English, she would stay up until midnight studying, only to wake up at 3 a.m. and study for another two hours until she got ready for school.
Both young women credit the International Institute's tutoring program for helping them get through the initial years here. Tambadou, now 20, stayed in school an extra year because she lacked the right English and science credits to graduate earlier. But her hard worked paid off this semester when she made the honor roll.
After graduation, Kazami will get married and move to the suburbs of Washington. Tambadou has enrolled in a computer science program at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park.
Richard McPherson, a Soldan teacher who has both women in his college algebra-trigonometry class, described the two as extremely personable.
"This is very much a cliche, but they are a joy to have in class. I don't think they know how to be rude," he said. "They don't settle for as little as many of the American students do. I attribute that to their backgrounds.
"They've resisted being less than what they can be."
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