Afghan Leader Enacts Elections Law, Strikes Deal
Thu May 27,12:38 PM ET By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL (Reuters) - President Hamid Karzai has enacted a long-awaited election law ahead of Afghanistan's first direct vote in September, and clinched a power-sharing deal with potential rivals that could cement his place at the top.
The law, presented to the public Thursday, comes less than three years after the fall of the hardline Taliban regime.
It coincides with an agreement between Karzai and factions of the Northern Alliance of mainly anti-Soviet mujahideen (holy warriors) who have pledged not to field a candidate against him, three Alliance sources told Reuters.
Karzai, installed in power after U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001, is widely tipped to win the poll.
Under the new law, enacted Wednesday, both presidential and parliamentary elections will be held through "free, general, secret and direct voting," Justice Minister Abdul Rahim Karimi told a news conference.
To win the race, a presidential candidate needs at least 50 percent of the vote. Around 10 million Afghans are expected to be registered by the election. Two vice presidents will run on the same ticket as the president, Karimi added.
A presidential candidate is required to gather 10,000 voters backing the bid, according to the election legislation put together by five Afghan government-appointed and U.N. experts.
Experts started working on the law last September.
Smaller parties that have emerged since the fall of the Taliban and potential presidential candidates have complained that the law has been delayed for too long, giving them little time to coordinate their campaigns.
Some even accuse Karzai of delaying the signing deliberately in order to strike deals with Northern Alliance factions.
The Alliance, which includes autonomous commanders and religious conservatives, forms the backbone of Karzai's government and was critical in defeating the Taliban regime.
Its members have been accused of resisting a nationwide disarmament program and fighting turf battles, and several prominent members are uncomfortable with Afghan perceptions that Karzai is too close to the Americans.
After discussions in Kabul, Alliance officials say Karzai has agreed to share power with its leadership, who in return have pledged not to field a candidate against him.
"The last and crucial meeting was last night. The mujahideen said they would support Karzai as a candidate and Karzai in return said he would share power with them," an Alliance source who attended the meeting told Reuters.
Under the deal, Alliance officials said Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim, who leads the Alliance, would remain First Vice President but would lose the defense ministry.
Other senior cabinet positions may be given to powerful regional leaders including Ismail Khan, who controls the strategic western province of Herat and has resisted Karzai's calls to disarm local militias loyal to him.
Government officials were not immediately available for comment on the deal, but a presidential official confirmed Karzai's talks with the Alliance leaders.
India's Power Grid Eyes INR3.5 Billion Afghan Elec Project Chairman
NEW DELHI - India's state-owned electricity transmission utility Power Grid Corp. aims to win a 3.5 billion-rupee ($1=INR45.38) contract to build a 300 kilometer-long transmission line in Afghanistan, company Chairman R.P. Singh said Thursday.
"We have already submitted the project report. We are hopeful of getting the construction contract soon," Singh said.
Singh said the proposed transmission line would transmit 300 megawatts from Phul-e-Kumeri in Afghanistan to Kabul, and the power for the proposed transmission line will come from Uzbekistan.
The Power Grid Corp. currently owns about 40,000 kilometers of electricity transmission lines in India.
Afghanistan Attempts to Curb Influence of Warlords in Elections
Michael Kitchen Pakistan 27 May 2004, 17:29 UTC VOA
Afghanistan has approved a new election law, marking another step toward choosing its first elected government in two decades. The new regulations attempt to curb the influence of warlords in the coming vote.
Under Afghanistan's new election statutes, most government or military officials will not be allowed to run for elected office.
Afghan Justice Minister Abdul Rahim Karimi announced details of the new law Thursday evening.
He said the list of those barred from serving as candidates include any officials from the defense and interior ministries.
The move is aimed at locking out militia commanders, who were appointed by the transitional government to provide security for the country after the U.S.-led war in 2001 that ousted Afghanistan's former Taleban regime.
Many of the militia commanders have been accused of acting as warlords, running the territory under their control as independent mini-states.
The Afghan government, with the help of the United Nations, is currently seeking to disarm the militias and replace them with a national army and police force.
U.N. officials say some militia commanders, despite promising to disarm, are seeking to delay the process.
Some observers say the militia commanders hope to use their private armies to intimidate the voters and rig the election.
Abdul-Hakim Noorzai is a former high-ranking Afghan intelligence official and possible parliamentary candidate.
"I am 100 percent sure if there [are] no weapons in Afghanistan, these warlords don't have any chance," he stated. "But unfortunately, for the moment, they have money and guns."
In an apparent move to encourage the disarmament process, militia leaders who resign their commands within 75 days of the election will be allowed to run for office.
Under the international agreement that established Afghanistan's post-Taleban transitional government in 2001, national elections were slated to be held by June of this year.
But security problems across the country, including an armed insurgency by Taleban remnants and their allies, have prompted a postponement until September.
The election commission, whose members were appointed by the United Nations and transitional President Hamid Karzai, have yet to name a date for the election.
Under the new election law, the commission must announce the voting day at least three months in advance.
US says al-Qaeda ready to hit 'hard'
Thursday May 27, 7:42 PM AFP
US Attorney General John Ashcroft said Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda is poised to stage a new attack on the United States, as US authorities launched a public hunt for seven "armed and dangerous" suspects.
"Credible intelligence from multiple sources indicates that al-Qaeda plans to attempt an attack on the United States in the next few months," Ashcroft said Wednesday at a news conference at FBI headquarters.
Ashcroft and Federal Bureau of Investigation director Robert Mueller released the names and photographs of seven suspects, including one woman, who could be part of an attack plot.
"This disturbing news shows a particular intention to hit the United States hard. Beyond this intelligence, al-Qaeda's own public statements suggest that it is almost ready to attack the United States," Ashcroft warned.
He insisted that the accused al-Qaeda associates "pose a clear and present danger" to the security of the United States.
Al-Qaeda had announced it was 90 percent ready to launch a strike against the United States after the March 11 bombings of four Madrid commuter trains that left almost 200 dead, he stressed.
"The Madrid railway bombings were perceived by Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda to have advanced their cause," said Ashcroft.
"Al-Qaeda may perceive that a large-scale attack in the United States this summer or fall would lead to similar consequences."
The new alert came just ahead of Saturday's dedication of a World War II memorial by President George W. Bush which is expected to draw about 140,000 people to central Washington.
Next month there is the summit of the eight industrial powers in Georgia. The Republican and Democratic party conventions in July and August, the presidential election on November 2 and the presidential inauguration in January could also be targets, authorities fear.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge earlier had highlighted the increased threat but said there was no immediate plan to increase the nationwide terrorist alert which is currently "high", the third level on the five-stage alert.
Asked how he would handle a terrorist threat, Democratic Senator John Kerry, Bush's electoral rival, told reporters during a campaign stop in Washington state that if he were in charge "the terrorists will never shut down the democracy or the ability to function of this country, never."
The attorney general said the seven suspects "are sought in connection with the possible terrorist threats in the United States. They all pose a clear and present danger to America. They all should be considered armed and dangerous."
The US government is offering up to 25 million dollars respectively for information leading to the arrests of two of the suspects, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed.
Both men have been indicted by a New York court for alleged involvement in the August 7, 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, that killed hundreds of people.
At least one of the seven suspects, Adnan G. El Shukrijumah, is said to have scouted sites across America that might be vulnerable to attack.
El Shukrijumah, speaks English well, had lived in the United States for 15 years and has been trying to reenter America using various passports, Ashcroft said.
One suspect, Adam Yahiye Gadahn, 25, was born in the United States and may also be using his original name, Adam Pearlman. Officials said he received training at a militant camp in Afghanistan.
There are also two Canadians: Amer El-Maati, 41, and Abderraouf Jdey, 38.
Mueller identified El-Maati as a licensed pilot who is a Canadian citizen of Egyptian and Syrian origin. The FBI website said El-Maati was born in Kuwait.
Mueller said that Jdey is a Canadian citizen born in Tunisia who appears in a video seized in Afghanistan that reportedly portrays the last will and testament of a possible jihad martyr.
The seventh member, a woman, was named as Aafia Siddiqui. Photos and details of the seven have been posted on the FBI's website.
Ashcroft said the seven might seek to travel with a family in order to "lower their profile."
"Let me say that the face of al-Qaeda may be changing," he said.
"Al-Qaeda is a resilient and adaptable organization, known for altering tactics in the face of new security measures.
"Intelligence sources suggest that ideal al-Qaeda operatives may now be in their late 20s or early 30s.
"Our intelligence confirms al-Qaeda is seeking recruits who can portray themselves as Europeans," he said.
Despite the warning, Ashcroft highlighted that there had not been a terrorist strike on US soil since the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington that killed some 3,000 people.
"We are winning the war on terror," he asserted.
Asked about the timing and location of any attack, Ashcroft and other top officials said they had no "specific information".
US authorities this week imposed tougher security on the US railway network which experts said has not had the same amount of attention as airports since the September 11 attacks.
Coalition Putting NGOs at Risk in Afghanistan -EU
Thu May 27, 2004 11:59 AM ET By John Chalmers and Marie-Louise Moller
BRUSSELS, Belgium (Reuters) - U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan are putting relief workers at risk by blurring the lines between military and aid activities, the European Commission said Thursday.
A spokesman for the EU's executive branch said elements of the 20,000-strong coalition hunting Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in southern Afghanistan wear civilian clothes and drive vehicles that cannot be distinguished from those used by aid agencies.
"Elements in the coalition forces, through their behavior, contribute to a situation where the distinction between humanitarian and military personnel is becoming blurred," Jean-Charles Ellermann-Kingombe told a news briefing.
"This undermines the perception of humanitarian aid workers being neutral. So we clearly feel these practices have to stop."
The Commission, announcing $43 million in aid for the Afghan crisis in 2004, said aid workers were already targeted by Islamic militants and the possibility of being mistaken for foreign troops made them doubly vulnerable.
"The main challenge faced by the humanitarian community in Afghanistan is the specific targeting of relief workers by anti-Western armed groups," Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Poul Nielson said in a statement.
"Since March 2003, 23 aid staff have been killed."
Aid workers and Commission officials made a distinction between U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan and NATO's Kabul-based peacekeepers.
Barbara Stapleton, an advocate for the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief said, unlike NATO's force, the coalition had not complied with a request made through the United Nations to camouflage-paint its vehicles.
"As far as I know we got no action from them on painting their vehicles differently," she said by telephone from Kabul.
Military vehicles do not use green license plates reserved for aid groups, but there had been a recent case where they were used by a Western security company whose non-uniformed staff were driving around Kabul with submachine guns.
An EU official also complained that U.S. forces distribute leaflets promising Afghans humanitarian aid in return for information on Taliban and al Qaeda militants.
Stapleton said United States agreed to stop dropping such leaflets after requests from international aid groups.
The U.S.-led mission, code-named Operation Enduring Freedom, commands 11 Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), which carry out small development projects or protect aid workers.
NATO commands one reconstruction team and aims to have six up and running in the relatively stable north and west soon.
US-trained Afghan army gets to work
By Waheedullah Massoud Dawn
MEYMANAH (Afghanistan): As Afghan National Army soldiers pass through this northern city recently beset by tensions between rival warlords, a small schoolgirl throws a flower over the convoy while others wave as a sign of respect.
For more than a decade Afghanistan had no national army and the residents of provincial areas like Meymanah, in the northern province of Faryab welcome the green-beret troops as a sign of the growing authority of the military arm of the Kabul government in areas long ruled by militia commanders.
The fledgling Afghan army was formed in May 2002 following the signing of peace agreements after the fall of the Taliban regime. Afghanistan then began to build a 70,000-strong national army with financial support and instruction from the US and other countries.
But hit by mass defections in the early stages and even now outnumbered by scattered militiamen by at least five-to-one, there were fears over whether the people of this war-torn country would trust a US-led Afghan army. Those fears are now ebbing.
Two years after their formation, the national force numbers almost 10,000 soldiers and has been deployed to the south, southeast and east of the country working with US-led coalition troops to hunt and kill Taliban, and Al Qaeda remnants.
National troops have also been stationed in the north and west to stop factional fighting and implement central government orders where they are warmly received by locals.
So far no private militia group has dared to fight Afghan army troops and US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad recently declared they will number some 24,000 troops by the end of the year.
The national force will also play a large role in the ongoing disarmament of the country, absorbing both the weapons and some of the men from the private armies who are demobilised.
Afghan army soldiers came to Faryab province, of which Meymanah is the capital, in April after tensions between a local militia commander who had been appointed as governor by Kabul and forces loyal to warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostam turned violent.
"People warmly welcomed ANA (Afghan National Army) in Faryab province," the province's deputy governor Sayeed Ahmmad Sayeed says. "A national army leads our nation towards national unity, we appreciate their work in Faryab," says Soraya Jan, a female administrator at Sitara High School in Meymanah.
In northern Balkh and Faryab provinces and Herat in west Afghan soldiers conduct routine patrols on highways hit by banditry and in districts to maintain security. They also give medical help to poor villagers if needed.
The biggest test of the fledgling force was the deployment of some 1,500 soldiers to Herat in March after bloody street factional fighting in the country's wealthiest province and one controlled by the strong fist of warlord and governor Ismael Khan.
"Afghans are tired of factional fighting by militia commanders," says Herat shopkeeper Ali Hussain. "We see the ANA as the only tool which can bring peace to our destroyed country."
Afghanistan has endured more than two decades of conflict beginning with the decade-long Russian invasion and followed by the 1992 to 1996 civil war which destroyed Kabul and all government institutions.
"We appreciate the arrival of the national army to our province, they put an end to factional fighting as soon as they arrived," says 24-year-old Ahmed Jawid, from northern Mazar-i-Sharif city, adding that he wants to enlist with the national army. -AFP
Pakistan, U.S. military officials meet to discuss border incursions
Associated Press Thursday May 27, 8:01 PM
Senior military officials of Pakistan and the United States met in a remote Pakistani tribal region Thursday to discuss border incursions by U.S. troops based in Afghanistan, an army spokesman said.
Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan said a Pakistani brigadier was meeting with an American counterpart in North Waziristan, where American soldiers are accused of twice searching homes in defiance of a ban on them crossing into Pakistan while chasing Taliban or al-Qaida fugitives.
Pakistani officials say the American troops entered Lowara Mandi village on May 2 and 20, only going back to Afghanistan after authorities protested their presence.
U.S. officials apologized for the May 2 incursion, but denied that their troops crossed into Pakistan on May 20.
Pakistan is a key ally of the United States in its war on terror. It has provided air bases and other facilities to U.S.-led coalition forces operating in Afghanistan, but says it will not allow foreign forces to operate on its soil.
Pakistan itself has deployed 70,000 troops in the tribal areas to block the insurgents from launching cross-border raids into Afghanistan. However, it suffered a setback in March when dozens of its troops were killed in clashes with suspected al-Qaida fighters in South Waziristan, a tribal region also bordering Afghanistan.
Pakistan's tribal regions are believed to be possible hideouts for Osama bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, and hundreds of other rebels fighting coalition forces in Afghanistan since the ouster of Afghanistan's Taliban regime in late 2001.
UN frustrated over peacekeepers' slow expansion outside Afghan capital
KABUL, May 27 (AFP) - A United Nations spokesman Thursday expressed frustration over peacekeeping forces' slow pace of expansion outside the Afghan capital. "It is a source of frustration for the Afghans, for us and, I'm sure, for ISAF itself," said Manoel de Almeida e Silva, the UN's spokesman here, referring to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Working under a UN mandate and numbering some 6,500 troops from more than 30 countries, the NATO-led peacekeepers were initially charged with securing Kabul and the surrounding areas in cooperation with Afghan authorities.
In October, NATO approved the expansion of the force's operating area outside of the capital in the hope that peacekeepers could establish civil-military reconstruction teams.
But NATO, which wants to open at least five of the teams in the north and west, has found it difficult to find nations willing to contribute troops. So far only one ISAF provincial reconstruction team has opened. Run by several hundred German soldiers, the group is based in the northern city of Kunduz.
"For a long time, it has been talked about, it has been requested," de Almeida e Silva said of the expansion at a press conference in Kabul. "Everyone took the necessary legal actions for this to happen, but what we need are the men and the women on the ground," he said. "Only the troops from NATO can do it," he said, adding that the UN had no doubt that more forces would be pledged, allowing the force to expand.
Peacekeepers come under regular attack here and some 89 of their number have died in Afghanistan, although 62 of these deaths were in an air crash. Earlier Thursday hundreds of peacekeepers farewelled their latest casualty, a 29-year-old Norwegian who was killed during a rocket attack on his patrol.
UN appeals for more troops in Afghanistan
Daily Times Pakistan
UNITED NATIONS: The UN special envoy to Afghanistan said on Thursday that more money and troops were needed to stabilise Afghanistan and pave the way for successful national elections in the coming months.
Jean Arnault told the UN Security Council that security had deteriorated in some areas, notably the restive south, and that it could damage the credibility of elections in the eyes of some Afghans.
“At this critical juncture for the Afghan peace process, international security assistance continues to make the difference between success and failure,” Mr Arnault told the council in a briefing. “Widespread, robust international military presence in support of domestic security forces remains critical.”
He appealed to member states of NATO, which leads the 6,500-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, to provide the needed troops.
The appeal came just hours after the UN spokesman in Kabul expressed frustration over the slow expansion of ISAF outside the Afghan capital.
“It is a source of frustration for the Afghans, for us and, I’m sure, for ISAF itself,” said spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva.
NATO approved the expansion of the force’s operating area beyond the capital in October, with the hope that peacekeepers could establish civil-military reconstruction teams.
But the alliance, which wants to launch at least five teams in the north and west, has found it difficult to find soldiers. Only one, lead by several hundred German soldiers in the northern city of Kunduz, has begun work.
Regarding the elections set to bring an end to the transitional government, Mr Arnault said that $107.8 million dollars are needed and donor countries had pledged $66.1 million, however, only $27.7 million was secured so far.
Afghanistan is due to hold the polls in September, the first since the Islamic Taliban militia were ousted from power in 2001 by a US-led war following the September 11 attacks on the United States. afp
Huge shake-up on planning and funding needed, says NATO chief
LONDON, May 27 (AFP) - NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has said the military alliance, currently in action in Afghanistan, must overhaul its planning and funding, a British newspaper reported Thursday.
Scheffer told The Financial Times in an interview that the 26-nation body, plagued by difficulties in its operations in Afghanistan, must adapt to the needs of the 21st century.
'Afghanistan is a complicated operation,' Scheffer said. 'If NATO enters into a political commitment, NATO cannot, will not and must not fail,' he said.
The 6,500-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), based in Kabul, has for months being trying to obtain long-promised military equipment from many of the alliance members, The Financial Times said.
Scheffer will outline his reform plans at next month's NATO summit in Istanbul. 'There is no room for gloom,' he told the newspaper. 'It is not easy to generate forces There is a disconnect between the force planning system and the way we generate our forces.'
'When we enter into the political commitment, we have to know what forces we can generate to honour that commitment,' he said. ISAF is mandated by the United Nations to help Afghan authorities provide security in the capital Kabul and its surroundings.
Mine blast kills two children near U.S. base, Afghan official says
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) Two mines exploded in a village near a U.S. military base in southern Afghanistan Thursday, killing two children and injuring another, an Afghan official said.
The children died in Durmishtan village, about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the airport of the southern city of Kandahar, where the U.S. military maintains its second-largest base in the country, said Khalid Pashtun, spokesman for Kandahar's provincial government.
Pashtun said the children, aged 10-12, apparently stood on one of two mines freshly laid in a narrow alley in the village. A boy and a girl were killed. Another boy was seriously injured and taken to the American base for treatment, he said.
The spokesman accused Taliban militants of laying the mines because two senior Afghan militia commanders lived in the village.
``The Taliban wanted to create fear,'' Pashtun said, though offered no evidence to back up his claim.
Dozens of civilians have died in violence across the country this year, caught between Taliban insurgents and U.S.-led forces trying to eliminate them or in factional fighting between regional leaders. Many more fall victim to mines and unexploded ordnance left over from more than 25 years of war.
Special Representaitve, in briefing to Security Council, appeals for continued international security assistance for Afghan peace process
Source: UN Security Council 27 May 2004
Security Council 4979th Meeting (AM)
Security, in general, and for the electoral process, in particular, was ultimately an Afghan responsibility, but one that it could not shoulder without international assistance, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan Jean Arnault told the Security Council today in a briefing on the situation in that country.
He called on the member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to respond to the appeal of their Secretary-General and allow that organization to meet the commitments given early to the people of Afghanistan. Widespread, robust international military presence in support of domestic security forces remained absolutely critical. Whether it was counter-terrorism, electoral security, counter-narcotics or control of factional fighting, international security assistance for the Afghan peace process continued to make the difference between success and failure.
With only a few months remaining before the national elections in September, which would mark the end of the Transitional Government, Mr. Arnault concentrated his briefing on the critical impact of security conditions. While the security "map" had followed a well-known pattern with little change in the provinces, the situation had evolved negatively in recent months in the more risky areas, particularly in the south, with a tangible increase in the number of incidents and their toll. The level of violent opposition to the electoral process was still difficult to gauge, but precautions were being taken as registration pushed into rural areas.
That increase had been consistent with the spring surge in extremists' attacks that the coalition had expected, he said. The modus operandi - anti-government forces operating in small groups of 10 and 20 men and targeting Afghan police, Afghan National Army, civilian administration, non-governmental organizations and government representatives -- also confirmed the shift in Taliban and other groups' strategy, which had been noted last year.
Upon completion in April of voter registration in the eight major population centers, the process had entered its second and final phase, which would cover the rest of the country over the next couple of months, he said. Since the beginning of May, nearly 1 million people had been registered, bringing to 2.7 million the total number of registered voters. Contrary to initial expectations, women's participation had not dropped as voter registration expanded beyond the urban centres.
Still, he said, concerns remained about under-representation in one province relative to another. Registration figures could affect the outcome of presidential elections, particularly if the latter developed an ethnic/regional dimension. Also, the prospect of enabling more than 2 million refugees to vote, such as in Pakistan and Iran, was the largest out-of-country voting operation ever undertaken in a post-conflict context, and in circumstances that were far from easy. A decision about such registration and voting would soon be finalized.
The meeting began at 10:20 a.m. and adjourned at 10:50 a.m.
Extended Summary of Briefing
JEAN ARNAULT, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, said there were only a few months before the holding of national elections that would mark the end of the Transitional Government. In keeping with the format of previous Security Council briefings, and in view of the critical impact of security conditions on the political process, he began by reviewing the security situation in the country.
He said that the most recent United Nations security map bore out the Secretary-General's observation in his March report to the Council that insecurity in Afghanistan continued to follow a well-known pattern, with little change in the identification of low-risk, middle-risk and high-risk provinces. Within that pattern, however, the situation had evolved negatively in recent months in the more risky areas, particularly in the south, with a tangible increase in the number of incidents and their toll.
That increase had been consistent with the spring surge in extremists' attacks that the Coalition had been expecting, he said. The modus operandi - anti-government forces operating in small groups of 10 and 20 men and targeting Afghan police, Afghan National Army, civilian administration, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and government representatives - also confirmed the shift in Taliban and other groups' strategy, which had been observed last year. According to the Coalition, various extremist groups had been involved, including Taliban operating in the south, foreign fighters in the south-east, and Hezb-Islami/Hekmatiar in the east.
He said that drug-related violence was an important factor of insecurity. Militias involved in combating the Taliban were widely believed to be responsible for a high percentage of incidents in the areas where they operated. A recent attack against an electoral assessment mission in the southeast turned out to have been organized by the local Border Brigade commander, perhaps in connection with criminal activities. In addition, in the context of the ongoing disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programme, there had been warnings that commanders targeted by DDR would get involved in incidents aimed at creating a perception of a security vacuum. Finally, violent rivalries at the local level also bore part of the responsibility for the overall level of insecurity.
The province of Farah had become increasingly insecure as a result of rivalries among local factions, probably connected with drug trafficking, without ruling out some involvement of Taliban element. In the north and north-east, tensions between the Jumbesh and Jamiat factions remained high following clashes that took place in March in the provinces of Faryab and Balkh. However, the deployment there, and in Herat, of units of the Afghan National Army had had a stabilizing impact and had prevented further escalation. In Kabul, another International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) patrol had been attacked last week with rocket-propelled grenades, causing the death of one Norwegian soldier.
In addition, he said, the number of arms caches uncovered by ISAF in recent weeks had been increasing, and multiple signs of heightened anti-government activity had appeared, indicating that the "spring surge" under way from the east to the south might be ongoing in the capital. While the aid community continued to keep a low profile in insecure areas, the expanding voter registration process had been affected by the overall increase in incidents. So far, four attacks against registration teams had involved improvised explosive devices (IED) - one in the south, one in the north-east and two in the east, fortunately without fatalities. In addition, two grenade attacks occurred.
He said, however, that the level of violent opposition to the electoral process was still difficult to gauge, but precautions were being taken as registration was now pushing into rural areas. Close coordination had been developed with Coalition forces. The deployment of a new United States Marine unit in Uruzgan and Zabul had allowed access to the progress. The Coalition had now reorganized its forces in three regional commands that covered the territory as a whole and liaised with the electoral authority to provide assistance when necessary.
Upon completion in April of voter registration in the eight major population centres, the process had entered its second and final phase, which would cover the rest of the country over the next couple of months. The second phase started with 160 sites opened in early May and had now expanded to 594 sites across 31 of the 34 provinces, with 1,083 teams operating simultaneously. Since the beginning of May, nearly 1 million people had been registered, bringing to 2.7 million the total number of registered voters. Contrary to initial expectations, the participation of women had not dropped as voter registration expanded beyond the main urban centres.
With the active support of the Coalition, he said, the high-risk provinces of Uruzgan and Zabul, which had been off limits to international agencies for nearly two years, were now open to registration, although on a reduced scale. He hoped to expand to the remaining high-risk provinces of Paktika and Nuristan in the coming days, as well as to the newly created province of Daikundi in the Central Highlands. In order to meet registration targets, further expansion was planned in the short-term from 600 to approximately 800 sites by next week, aimed at achieving the minimum required "cruising speed" of at least 75,000 registrations per day.
He said that, while the process was well under way, several concerns remained. The figures today were revealing: altogether, the nine provinces of the south and south-east represented a mere 12 per cent of those registered. If that pattern persisted, that would raise another issue, namely that of the lack of balance in registration between the different provinces. Ultimately, under-registration in one province relative to another should have little impact on the outcome of the elections to the Lower House since the number of seats for any one province would be based on population estimates, and not on registration figures.
However, he said, registration figures could affect the outcome of presidential elections, particularly if the latter developed an ethnic/regional dimension. Quite apart from the immediate impact on the elections' outcome, under-registration, whatever its causes, was bound to generate frustration and suspicion that parts of the country had been disenfranchised. Much rode, therefore, on providing unsafe areas of the south with an equal opportunity to participate in the electoral process.
He cited as another challenge the determination of population figures for each province. Census experts were confident, but given the great sensitivity related to representation, the lack of survey was bound to compound the suspicion already created by low registration figures. A further challenge involved funding. The voter registration had been almost fully funded with a shortfall of just $2.6 million, but the election was only "very partially" funded - of the $107.8 million needed for presidential and parliamentary elections, only $27.7 million had so far been secured.
The electoral law had now been finalized, he said. The main point in that discussion had been the role of political parties during the transitional election. Regarding the representation of women, the electoral law ensured compliance with the constitutional requirement that, on average, two women per province would be elected to the Lower House by providing that the best performing women would automatically get the seats that the provincial quota required. In February, it had been agreed that elections in September would include only the presidential election and elections to the Lower House.
Concerning out-of-country registration and voting, he said he hoped that a final decision would be made in the coming days and that operations could start without further delay. But, the challenges were quite considerable. With the prospect of enabling more than two million refugees to vote, that was the largest out-of-country voting operation ever undertaken in a post-conflict context, and in circumstances that were far from easy.
In Berlin, he had presented a bill for full registration and voting in Iran and Pakistan that amounted to $37.6 million. Some donors had been concerned about the high price, and now less expensive options were being considered, including reducing registration to screening and holding it together with polling. Those raised issues of credibility, however, particularly where the identification of eligible voters was difficult. Again, he hoped that a solution would meet electoral standards and provide franchise to the refugee population soon.
Among the benchmarks for the holding of free and fair elections, he noted that disarmament, demobilization and reintegration was a critical component of a larger process aimed at addressing one of the most dangerous legacies of the Afghan conflict - the continued existence of multiple armies that jeopardized the building of a viable State and threatened civil peace. The strengthening of the legitimacy and authority of the next Afghan Government and State institutions would be compromised if there were a public perception that military intimidation and interference had distorted the election.
That was why the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) had been insisting that the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process was a central and urgent task of the Transitional Government, he said. Coercive disarmament was not an option. Even if the central Government had the will to conduct compulsory demobilization, it did not have the means. The process of disarmament required a combination of factors, including a measure of overall confidence in State institutions, particularly the Ministry of Defence; confidence of soldiers and commanders in the sustainability of reintegration; and the confidence of factional leaders in their security and their integration in the country's political future.
He said that following the completion of the pilot projects from December 2003 to February 2004, which had led to the demobilization of 6,000 soldiers and officers, the Government and the international community had reached an understanding on the main phase of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. It included the disarmament by June of 40 per cent of the militia forces and, by July, the full cantonment of heavy weapons under a reliable safekeeping arrangement. However, the implementation of that agreement had suffered serious delays. Senior commanders had been reluctant to cooperate with the process, citing lack of balance in the programme between rival armed formations, Taliban operations in the south, and lack of confidence in the prospect for reintegration, including political reintegration.
There was no doubt about the positive impact that the holding of genuine national elections could have on the consolidation of peace, he said. The elections could be an invaluable means to broadening the legitimacy of the new State and strengthening its authority to address violent extremism, factionalism, drugs and human rights. Voter registration had mobilized the population at large, which was demanding participation in the electoral process. That should allay the concerns of those who might fear that the elections had no popular underpinning.
He said that a process perceived to be biased and distorted could deeply undermine the hopes enhanced by the adoption of the new Constitution that differences among Afghans could be settled through peaceful political means. The requirements of freedom and fairness were not a foreign standard; they were a pre-requisite for the holding of an election that would further peace, stability and national reconciliation. Much of the responsibility for providing such an environment rested with the Afghans themselves. In particular, those leaders who aspired to the authority that stemmed from a national election must know that the anticipated legitimacy of its outcome was predicated upon the legitimacy of the process itself.
Returning to the question of security, he called on the member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to respond to their Secretary-General's appeal and allow the organization to meet the commitments it had given earlier to the people of Afghanistan. Security in general, and that of the electoral process in particular, was ultimately an Afghan responsibility, but it was one that Afghans could not shoulder without international assistance. Training, funding and general capacity-building were important tools, but they were not enough. Widespread, robust international military presence in support of domestic security forces remained critical.
He said that Afghanistan's persistent woes - terrorism, factionalism and criminal networks - were as much at work today as they had been two years ago and their ability to subvert State-building and a genuine political process was hardly diminished. Whether it was counter-terrorism, electoral security, counter-narcotics or control of factional fighting, international security assistance continued to make the difference between success and failure.
First Afghan Entertainment TV Channel Goes on Air
Thu May 27, 8:44 AM ET By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan has its first entertainment television channel, three years after the fall of the radical Taliban regime that banned the medium.
Using a mobile antenna positioned on a hill overlooking the capital, the broadcast range of "Afghan TV" station only covers Kabul city, but its owner, Ahmad Shah Afghanzai, hopes to widen its range across the country in a year's time.
"Within a year we hope to be watched all over the country through a satellite station," he told Reuters.
Afghanzai, a 34-year-old businessman, has invested $200,000 in the nascent private operation, and needs nearly $3 million to expand it to cover the whole of the country.
"Hopefully, with the help of others, we can achieve this. We are not charging viewers and plan to run advertisements to cover the costs," he said.
"Commercial interests and people's demand for entertainment made me come up with this idea," he added.
The fledgling station airs mostly Indian and Western songs as well as films for nearly sixteen hours each day.
"It's really fun to watch," said Timoor, a Kabul resident, of the new channel. "You have girls and boys dancing and singing...It is a totally new phenomenon when you compare it with government-controlled TV."
State-owned Kabul TV is currently the only Afghan channel on air.
The birth of "Afghan TV" comes less than three years after television, cinema and music were banned by the Taliban, a hardline Islamic movement that imposed a strict interpretation of Sharia law.
A U.S.-led military campaign using local Afghan ground forces overthrew the Taliban in late 2001, more than five years after it swept to power.
Information and Culture Minister Sayed Makhdoom Raheen said President Hamid Karzai's government had no intention of censoring the new channel, so long as its broadcasts did not contravene Islamic law and Afghan culture.
Raheen is among a handful of liberals in Karzai's government, which still contains many members of mujahideen or "holy warriors" factions, who tend to be religious conservatives.
He was criticized by government hard-liners after allowing songs by local female artists to be aired earlier this year, ending a ban on such broadcasts imposed in 1992.
The conservatives managed to stop the airing of the songs briefly, but Raheen won the battle in the end.
Pakistani Forces Reportedly Cross into Afghan Territory
RFE/RL 05/27/2004 By Amin Tarzi
Pakistani troops are reported to have advanced on two border areas of the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 26 May. The alleged intrusions occurred on 25 May in the Gosari and Goshta regions, where and armed clashed have reportedly occurred between Afghan and Pakistani forces. In July 2003, Afghanistan accused its eastern neighbor of intrusions across the border in the same areas.
The Afghan-Pakistani border, referred to as the "Durand Line" after Sir Henry Mortimer Durand, the British signatory of the 1893 agreement that demarcated the border between Afghanistan and British India, has never officially been recognized by Afghanistan, and sections of it -- including those where alleged intrusions have taken place -- are not properly demarcated.
Russian guards kill four suspected drug smugglers on Tajik-Afghan border
DUSHANBE, Tajikistan (AP) Russian border guards have killed four suspected Tajik drug smugglers in a shootout on the Tajik-Afghan border, officials said Thursday.
The four were fatally shot Tuesday after they opened fire on border guards, ignoring their orders to stop, the Russian Border Guards said in a statement.
The suspects, whose nationalities weren't immediately known, were allegedly trying to smuggle 32 kilograms (70 pounds) of heroin and 1.2 kilograms (2.6 pounds) of marijuana into Tajikistan.
The anti-smuggling operation was carried out jointly by Tajik police and Russian border guards, 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Tajikistan's capital, Dushanbe, the statement said.
Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic, has in recent years become a major drug trafficking route from Afghanistan to Central and Western Europe. About 10,000 Russian border guards help patrol the country's long and rugged border with Afghanistan.
Afghan Ministry Launches Probe Into Activities Of NGOs
RFE/RL 05/27/2004 Amin Tarzi - The Afghan Planning Ministry is to launch a probe to evaluate the activities of the numerous nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Afghanistan, Radio Afghanistan reported on 26 May. According to the report, there are around 3,500 foreign and domestic NGOs working in Afghanistan and thus far no one has scrutinized their activities.
Newly appointed Planning Minister Ramazan Bashardost has initiated the program that will monitor NGOs' relations with Afghan government departments and will seek transparency in the activities of NGOs, including their finances. Bashardost believes that the presence of too many NGOs has had a negative impact on the reconstruction process in his country and they have wasted millions of dollars in donations, the report added.
JUI team holds talks with Karzai
ISLAMABAD - A delegation of Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam, headed by Maulana Shoaib, has held talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai after its arrival in Kabul.
The group has recently parted ways with JUI (F). The delegation will also hold talks with other officials of Afghan government. It is for the first time that any head of religious party is visiting Afghanistan after ouster of Taliban regime, reports VOA. Maulana Shoaib later told newsmen that the basic aim of their visit is to promote peace as Islam teachers us that there should be peace and people live happily in the country.
He said that Afghanistan is our neighboring country and we want peace in that country. "We want friendship and peace," he maintained. "We should not forget Afghanistan and that is why our party has decided to visit Afghanistan and extend support in solving their problems," said JUI team leader.
Look for Osama in Karachi and Quetta, suggests Afghan diplomat
Daily Times Pakistan
Washington: Said Tayeb Jawad, Afghan ambassador to the United States, said here on Tuesday that the search for Osama Bin Laden should be centred in Karachi or Quetta as the chances of his being found in an isolated area were slim. He was answering questions after delivering his concluding address to a conference on Afghanistan organised by the Middle East Institute.
Mr Jawad did not think Bin Laden was being “harboured” in the Afghanistan-Pakistan tribal belt. He said the Al Qaeda chief’s infrastructure stood destroyed and it would not be long before he himself was caught. He pointed out that it was logical to look for Bin Laden in the same areas from where leading Al Qaeda figures had been arrested.
Reacting to an earlier speaker’s assertion that Pakistan would continue to need “strategic depth” in Afghanistan, the ambassador said it should be realised that times had changed. The day of the Great Game was over and no more games should be played in his country. A strong, democratic Afghanistan was the best means of ensuring Pakistan’s security, no less than that of Afghanistan itself. He said “strategic depth” meant a weaker Afghanistan, whereas what was needed was cooperation. He pointed out that Pakistan-Afghanistan trade last year was worth $1 billion, a figure that could easily be increased many times. There were so many economic opportunities for Pakistan in Afghanistan, one factor being Central Asia. Afghanistan, he stressed, wanted the most friendly relations with Pakistan. Pakistan could play a very positive role in the region. Any other policy would bring harm to both countries, he added.
Mr Jawad, in answer to another question, called Gulbuddin Hekmatyar a “criminal”. He said the Karzai government had permitted those Taliban who wanted to return to normal life to settle back in their villages. They had been made more than welcome, but there was no question of any such quarter being given to Hekmatyar and his kind because they had committed crimes against the people of Afghanistan. “Their day is done,” he declared. He stressed that the Karzai government wanted to bring everybody into the fold, but there would be no “negotiations” with those who were once on the other side. “However, if they want to come back, they will be welcomed,” he added. khalid hasan
Turkey To Send Three Helicopters And Personnel To Afghanistan
Anadolu Agency: 5/27/2004
ANKARA - Three helicopters and 56 flight and maintenance personnel were charged to serve International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, Turkish General Staff said on Thursday.
A statement of Turkish General Staff said that establishing an administration in Afghanistan which ensured internal stability and which could fulfil its international obligations in order to restore peace and security of Afghan people was among targets of NATO and Turkey.
The statement added, ''to this end, Turkey continues its contributions to ISAF, functioning under NATO leadership, since the beginning of the operation on Afghanistan. In line with NATO's demand and as a requirement of its responsibilities as a NATO member country, Turkey has decided to charge three helicopters to meet the needs in Afghanistan.''
''Helicopters which will be used within the scope of ISAF and 56 flight and maintenance personnel will leave for Kabul on May 29,'' the statement added. Turkey took over command of ISAF from Britain on June 20, 2002. General Hilmi Akin Zorlu, the commander of Turkish troops in Afghanistan, was the commander of ISAF till February 10, 2003. Turkey handed over ISAF command to Germany and the Netherlands in a ceremony on February 2, 2003.
Sweden to send 85 troops to Afghanistan
STOCKHOLM, May 27 (AFP) - Sweden will send some 85 soldiers to northern Afghanistan to take part in British-led reconstruction efforts, the Swedish defense ministry said on Thursday.
The troops will begin arriving in Afghanistan in June, bringing the number of Swedish soldiers participating in the NATO-run International Stabilisation Force for Afghanistan (ISAF) to 110. Some 25 Swedish soldiers are already stationed at ISAF's military headquarters in Kabul.
According to defense ministry military advisor Bengt Svensson, the 85 new troops will be based in northern Afghanistan as part of a British-led provincial reconstruction team. The Swedes will work on security issues, among other things.
The Atlantic alliance agreed earlier this year to a request from the Afghan authorities to extend the NATO peacekeeping force beyond Kabul To the provinces.
'Sweden has contributed to ISAF's efforts in Afghanistan since the start of the operation. It is natural to continue to contribute so that the efforts already made can provide a secure basis for the reconstruction of the entire country,' Swedish Defense Minister Leni Bjoerklund said in a statement.
She added that it was 'important for the international community to Help improve security' in view of ensuring that Afghanistan's elections in September are 'as fair as possible'.
Afghanistan: Commission allocates 35.16 million EUR in humanitarian aid
Source: European Commission - Humanitarian Aid Office27 May 2004
Brussels, 27 May 2004 - Afghanistan: Commission allocates 35.16 million EUR in humanitarian aid
The European Commission has allocated €35.16 million for humanitarian aid to vulnerable people affected by the consequences of the Afghan crisis in both Afghanistan and in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran in 2004. The overarching objective of this aid is to continue assisting the most vulnerable sections of the population while supporting the return and reintegration of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs). Activities will include the rehabilitation of water and sanitation systems; the provision of shelter, healthcare and nutrition; the establishment of 'cash for work' activities; and the protection of vulnerable groups. Funding is also being provided for air transport and security information systems to facilitate access and boost the security of humanitarian aid workers. Funds are managed by the Commission's Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO).
Commenting on the new decision, Poul Nielson, the Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, said: "The main challenge faced by the humanitarian community in Afghanistan is the specific targeting of relief workers by anti-western armed groups. Since March 2003, 23 aid staff have been killed. Although more areas of the country have become off-limits to relief workers, ECHO's partners are continuing to deliver vital aid wherever possible. The Commission remains committed to helping humanitarian organisations reach the most vulnerable in Afghanistan".
After 23 years of conflict and five years of drought, Afghanistan still faces enormous needs. The country's Human Development Index (estimated) places it second-bottom in the world after Sierra Leone. Maternal mortality is extremely high (1600 deaths per 100,000 live births) while infant mortality is the highest in Asia (165 per 1000). Only 13% of Afghans have access to safe water and 70% of the population is undernourished.
On the positive side, the situation has improved since the fall of the Taliban in November 2001. More than three million refugees and IDPs have returned home - a testament to the success of the international humanitarian community's efforts in Afghanistan that has attracted relatively little publicity.
Between 2001 and 2003, ECHO provided humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and to neighbouring Iran and Pakistan worth €183.5 million (not including the assistance provided to Iran in response to the Bam earthquake in December 2003). The funds have helped sustain the massive return of refugees and IDPs to Afghanistan, provided essential support for remaining refugees and IDPs, tackled humanitarian needs resulting from the drought, and generally alleviated the suffering of the victims of the crisis.
Planned activities under the 2004 aid are:
Livelihood security support: Cash for work projects that give people the chance to earn an income in return for work of benefit to the community - such as rehabilitation of water systems, rubbish disposal and snow clearing. Income-generating activities (with a focus on women) including small-scale seed distribution, and the production of clothes and toys.
Shelter: Construction of shelters for returnees, on a self-help basis (distribution of materials and training of beneficiaries on the use of anti-seismic construction techniques).
Water and sanitation: Increased access to both drinking and agricultural water, as well as to improved sanitation facilities. This component will be partly implemented through the aforementioned 'cash for work' projects.
Health: Provision of basic healthcare for groups and areas not yet reached by the national health system with a particular focus on women and children (the Afghan Government is progressively implementing a basic package of health services, which is partly funded by the European Commission, but some humanitarian health interventions are still required in the meantime).
Protection activities: Support for refugees in Iran and Pakistan and IDPs in southern Afghanistan who are wholly dependent on humanitarian aid. Repatriation assistance. Specific assistance for groups at risk such as street children and security detainees.
Security: Funding for a humanitarian flight operation and a security office providing information and advice to ECHO's operational partners.
With this global plan, ECHO's humanitarian assistance to the victims of the Afghan crisis (in Afghanistan, and in neighbouring Iran and Pakistan) since 1993 has now reached €338 million.
The EU has been and continues to be one of the major providers of external assistance to Afghanistan, backing the current reconstruction process. In 2002, the Commission delivered over €280 million (including €72 million from ECHO). In 2003, the Commission delivered over €300 million (including extra €50 million to promote security by supporting police salaries and training, and €55 million from ECHO). In 2004, the EC expects to commit around €245 million for reconstruction and humanitarian support (including this the €35.16 million now allocated).
Troops 'tried to kill Musharraf'
President Pervez Musharraf says junior army and air force personnel were involved in assassination attempts on him last December. General Musharraf said that several military servicemen had been arrested and would soon be tried. The president said that those involved held "junior ranks."
General Musharraf survived two attempts on his life in December. Observers questioned how the attackers could have known his travel plans. On both occasions he was travelling in a motorcade. In March he accused al-Qaeda of being involved.
Military spokesman Major-General Shaukat Sultan told the AFP news agency that around 10 military suspects were being questioned. "None of them is officer rank, all of them are junior people, privates or corporals," he said. President Musharraf made his comments in an interview with the private Pakistani channel Geo that is due to be broadcast on Thursday. He said that state power was needed to stop terrorist attacks.
"But it is important to address the social issues that cause some people to indulge in such activities," he said. He rejected the suggestion that the involvment of junior members of the military was indicative of any growing dissent within the Pakistani armed forces towards his policies,
The president said he was satisfied with the performance of law enforcement agencies, which had tracked down and arrested all the people involved in attacks on him. There have been three attempts on the president's life. The first was in April 2002 when a remote control bomb failed to explode near his motorcade in the city of Karachi.
The second and third attempts took place within 11 days of each other last December: in the first a remote control bomb detonated moments after his convoy passed, and in the second two trucks laden with explosive rammed his convoy in the city of Rawalpindi, killing 14 people.
President Musharraf has made it clear he believes that the attacks were ultimately masterminded by al-Qaeda. In recent months, al Qaeda's second most senior figure, Ayman al-Zawahri, has issued a series of statements against President Musharraf, calling his policies and actions as anti-Islamic, and asking the Islamic groups in Pakistan to eliminate him or overthrow his regime.
President Musharraf "explained that there is a mastermind in al-Qaeda somewhere, some foreigner, and he is the mastermind who recruited local Pakistanis," his military spokesman said.
The spokesman said it was possible that those in the military alleged to have been involved in the assassination attempts may not have known who they were working for. But he stressed that it would be incorrect to say that that al-Qaeda had infiltrated the military. In March, President Musharraf directly accused al-Qaeda of trying to kill him.
He said that a Libyan man had a role in both attempts on his life, and one of his associates was under arrest. Speaking to tribal elders in Peshawar, he said there were 500-600 al-Qaeda members hiding in the South Waziristan semi-autonomous area.
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