U.S. forces clash with militants near Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - U.S.-led forces fought militants near Afghanistan's unstable border, the military said Friday, just across from a Pakistani region where suspected al-Qaida fighters are believed to have found refuge.
The skirmish occurred Thursday near Shkin, a border town in Paktika province 140 miles south of the capital, Kabul, U.S. military spokeswoman Master Sgt. Cindy Beam said.
The U.S.-led troops were backed by warplanes in the fighting that was near a remote American base.
"Coalition forces reported troops in contact with anti-coalition militia near Shkin," Beam said in an e-mail. "Air support with precision ordnance was called in during the engagement."
She didn't say if there were casualties or give any other details. Local officials said they had no information about the incident.
Shkin lies just a miles from the border with Pakistan and its semiautonomous Waziristan tribal region, where Pakistani officials say hundreds of foreign militants, including al-Qaida fighters, are holed up.
American commanders have said attacks by al-Qaida remnants who remained in the area after the defeat of the Taliban in late 2001 are concentrated around Afghanistan's Paktika and Khost provinces, which border Waziristan.
Under pressure from the United States, the Pakistani government is threatening military action against the foreigners - believed to include Arabs and Chechens as well as Afghans - if they don't renounce violence and register with authorities.
Meanwhile, Afghan police arrested three Taliban suspects Friday after a remote-controlled explosive wounded five Afghan soldiers on a road in a southern province, a senior officer said.
The pickup truck the soldiers were traveling in was wrecked in the blast, which took place in the Sozyan area of Uruzgan province.
"It was a remote-controlled mine. The vehicle was totally damaged. It was the good luck of our soldiers that they weren't killed and only wounded," said Rozi Khan, Uruzgan province police chief.
Police surrounded the area after the attack and arrested three suspected Taliban rebels, he said, adding that an investigation was under way.
More than 350 people have died in violence across Afghanistan this year. Attacks blamed on anti-government rebels have increased in recent weeks, casting a shadow over preparations for the country's first post-Taliban elections in September.
Karzai seeks deals, but at what price?
By Mike Collett-White via Dawn
KABUL: On the same day US-backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai enacted a law paving the way for landmark elections, he struck a power-sharing deal with hardline holy warriors opposed to some of his most important initiatives.
Unease is growing among Mr Karzai's traditional allies, political party leaders and the international community over what price the president is willing to pay to smooth his path to the presidency in the country's first ever direct vote in September.
Details of Wednesday's meeting between Mr Karzai, an urbane, English-speaking reformer, and battle-hardened "mujahideen", or holy warriors, are sketchy. And in Afghanistan's world of fast-shifting alliances, deals can quickly unravel.
But members of the mujahideen who attended the gathering in Kabul said the commanders and governors vowed not to field a candidate against Mr Karzai in return for top government positions.
Western diplomats and others are also concerned the mujahideen will win extensive control over the courts and a new parliament. "This deal will jeopardize the very democracy the world intends to bring to Afghanistan," said Fazil Sangcharaki, a prominent Afghan journalist.
Leaders at the meeting included Abdul Rabb Rasoul Sayyaf, a religiously conservative commander who has defied calls by Mr Karzai and the Americans to hand over weapons and disband his militia under a disarmament plan seen vital to making elections fair.
Also present was Ismail Khan, another powerbroker from the Western city of Herat who has been slow to disarm and widely criticized by human rights groups for suppressing freedom of speech and action in his province, particularly for women.
"I don't mind Karzai sharing power, but not principles," said a senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Whoever comes into the government must abide by those principles and must be competent.
There is a danger that you will deviate from those reforms if you form an alliance with someone against those reforms." Western diplomats and Afghan analysts say that despite the display of US military power that accompanies Mr Karzai's every step, including heavily armed private bodyguards, snipers and flyovers by fighter jets, he is not as strong as he seems.
And the perception among many Afghans that Mr Karzai is reliant on the Americans both hurts and helps him. While it dents Afghan pride, they realise that without Washington's backing there would be even less reconstruction than there has been and Taliban and other Muslim militants would find it easier to fight their bloody insurgency.
Mr Karzai is a Pushtun, Afghanistan's traditional ruling clan and its largest, but experts say he does not have the backing of tribes and elders, which counts for much in rural areas.
The mujahideen is made up mainly of Tajiks, the second largest group well represented in the government after the US military used its ground forces to topple the Taliban.
While Mr Karzai and other Western-leaning Pushtun technocrats in the government have differences with mujahideen leaders, there are signs the president may be losing support of natural allies.
Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, the finance minister, may decide to run against Mr Karzai, his brother says, although the senior official said he had yet to make up his mind.
"People say Karzai is the Mayor of Kabul," said Hashmat Ghani, Ashraf's brother. "I don't think he is entitled to be called the gatekeeper of the palace."
As well as his perceived weakness, Mr Karzai's major problem is time. The Bonn Agreement in late 2001 mapped out an ambitious dash to elections which the Americans seem bent on achieving.
Resistance from mujahideen leaders has seen disarmament lag, Taliban and Al Qaeda militants are stepping up attacks and high illiteracy rates mean many Afghans will be in the dark even if they do turn up to vote.
"I think elections are completely illogical," said Hamidullah Tarzi, a leading Afghan academic and writer. "The country is not ready. There is no stability or security, especially in Pushtun areas. If you leave them out, there will be a lot of trouble."
Rumours circulate in Kabul that the vote may be put off, but the price could be high for George W. Bush, who is desperate for a foreign policy "success" after the quagmire of Iraq, and for the international community that has backed the poll.
Yet even the Americans appear to be aware it may have been over-ambitious to try to disarm private militia, build a national army and police force, eradicate drug production and hold elections in such a short timeframe.
"We're doing things that otherwise would take decades to do," a US official said this week. "Whether in retrospect we should have given more time for these things; some people say we should have given, instead of two years, five years, or three years." -Reuters
Signs Of Hope In Afghanistan
KABUL, May 28, 2004 CBS News
You know the old saying: No news is good news. But in the news business, it is just the opposite: Good news is no news – which is why you have been hearing so little from Afghanistan recently.
Iraq has been grabbing the headlines. Even the most confirmed optimist would find it hard to see a ray of light there today. But there is a growing body of evidence that things are beginning to improve in Afghanistan. To see why, you need to travel around Afghanistan a bit. That’s something the media find hard to do in Iraq now – many news crews rarely venture out of their hotels in Baghdad.
Afghanistan is not an obvious choice as a potential success story. Decades of war and misrule, wanton destruction, a population that is 80 percent illiterate and a per capita gross national product that is one of the lowest in the world, make it a very tough case. The major cash crop is poppies. Afghanistan supplied more than three-quarters of the world’s illicit opium last year.
Add to that America’s past mistakes in Afghanistan: The CIA supported the Islamic fighters who fought the Russians (and later formed the core of al Qaeda). Then America left the country to the mercy of its own warlords when the Russians were driven out. Finally, American oil interests toyed with the Taliban in the hope that they would bring stability to the country and play ball with companies that wanted to run a pipeline through Afghanistan to provide an outlet for Central Asia’s gas and oil riches.
In the late 1990s, representatives of the Taliban were even wined and dined in Houston! Well, perhaps not wined, but one wonders what they thought of Neiman Marcus and all the rest.
With a track record like that, the chances that the United States would get it right in Afghanistan this time were not good.
Some painful compromises have been made. Hamid Karzai, the American-backed provisional President of Afghanistan, has given government ministries to some of the warlords who ruined the country, and is even seeking to draw “responsible” elements of the Taliban into the government tent. These are risky deals, designed to buy a little stability in a country that Karzai only partially controls.
NATO allies, primarily the US, France, Britain and Germany, are building a national army and police force for Karzai, and efforts are underway to persuade the warlords to disarm their private armies. Progress is slow, but the effort is beginning to pay off.
With the exception of the border with Pakistan, which has always been a problem, and parts of the southern badlands, there is basic security in much of the country.
You can travel around, as CBS News has, and see the results of foreign aid projects in the countryside. There are big projects, like a highway construction program that began with the Kabul to Kandahar road, which was completed in record time. And there are countless smaller projects that make real improvements in the lives of the people.
Aid to Afghanistan is not costing a lot: 67 dollars a year for each man, woman and child. Kosovo got more than ten times that as it recovered from war. Even Haiti got more. But a little bit of aid goes a long way in this country.
In Charasiab, southeast of Kabul, we saw a new well provided last year by CARE which now brings clean water to a parched village. While we were taping, an old man approached the camera to say, “Thank you, thank you” to the Westerners. And everywhere, you see new schools and children flocking to classes, including happy schoolgirls, recognizable by their black smocks and white scarves.
When you drive north from Kabul through the Shamali Valley, where the warlords razed entire villages and the Taliban destroyed the thousand-year-old irrigation system, there are now bright patches of green, and grapevines once again flourish.
A registration drive is underway for elections, which the government hopes to hold in September. The country already has a new constitution.
Afghanistan is still on knife's edge. But, unlike Iraq, it seems to be headed in the right direction
And one other thing. Birds have come back to Kabul. Locals say they were driven away by the fighting. Now their songs wake you in the morning.
Afghan warlords weigh militias' bullets against chance of government office through ballot box
Financial Times, UK 05/28/2004 By Victoria Burnett
These should be darkdays for Afghanistan's warlords. After months of delay, the government has begun disarming the private armies that serve provincial strongmen across Afghanistan.
The UN-sponsored programme, which aims to demobilise about 60,000 irregular soldiers before September elections and is seen as crucial to staging a free and fair vote, will dent the power of provincial chiefs who flout Kabul's authority.
But the impending poll has hardened the warlords' reluctance to give up a valuable source of power and softened President Hamid Karzai's resolve to confront them, say observers.
"The president is walking a tightrope and does not want to make difficult decisions ahead of the elections," says an official involved with the disarmament.
The Afghan New Beginnings Programme (ANBP) requires commanders to give the defence ministry lists of militias to be disbanded. The soldiers are disarmed and offered job possibilities and a one-off payment. Nearly 7,000 irregulars out of an estimated 100,000 have been demobilised under a pilot programme that started in November.
But commanders are stalling, failing to produce the lists needed to begin disarming their men. Since the official deadline of May 17, about 400 men have been disarmed in four cities.
"There's absolutely no incentive for anyone in possession of a militia to give it up," says Vikram Parekh, analyst for the International Crisis Group in Kabul.
Negotiations between recalcitrant commanders and top government, UN and US officials last week extracted commitments to co-operate from three defiant northern strongmen: General Atta Mohammad, General Mohammad Daoud and Ismail Khan, the powerful governor of Herat province. Jawed Ludin, spokesman for Mr Karzai, said anybody who believed "hanging on to weapons [would] give them some kind of insurance for a position" in a future government was mistaken.
But recent negotiations between Mr Karzai and vari ous warlords have sent a different signal, say government officials and observers. The president has been in talks with several warlords over senior government posts they could fill if he is re-elected.
"[Mr] Karzai is making his own deals, based on the assumption that people who are offered posts in the cabinet will be able to deliver support," says Mr Parekh. "They're each trying to find the most advantageous compromise."
With strong US backing and no prominent rival, Mr Karzai is expected to win the presidential poll. But officials say he has been unnerved by recent rum blings of an opposition alliance between the northern provincial leaders.
Mr Khan, who openly opposes the dissolution of his militia, has discussed becoming interior minister. Mr Karzai visited him last week in his western fiefdom.
General Abdul Rashid Dostum, an influential northern Uzbek commander, has been shuttling back and forth to Kabul to negotiate a senior defence post, government officials say, though his desire to become army chief of staff has been rejected.
Mr Ludin said only: "Conversations happen all the time" and any talks were unrelated to disarmament. Deals with power brokers may avert regional unrest or an opposition alliance, but they do little for the government's credibility, say analysts.
"We call them warlords and when they come to Kabul we offer them positions," says a government official. "It looks ridiculous."
Critics concede that until recently Mr Karzai did not have the military power to take on rebellious provincial leaders. But Afghanistan's new national army - about 9,000-strong - has been used twice in recent months to quell provincial unrest. The presence of dozens of US advisers in its ranks gives the national army clout.
Critics say the government has failed to present the country or the warlords with an alternative to a political culture where power is based on military muscle. The law governing the elections was enacted on Wednesday but no details have been released.
Michele Lipner, UN representative in northern Afghanistan, says there has been a surge in political activity around Mazar-e-Sharif, capital of the northern province of Balkh, where Gen Dostum vies for influence with Gen Atta.
"They [the northern commanders] are realising that times are changing and they are promoting their agendas through political means rather than military force," she says.
But if rival political players are not allowed a voice, analysts say they will have little recourse apart from their guns.
Unspoken’ complaints against US in Afghanistan
Families have complained of members being arrested and never heard from again
Saturday May 29 2004 01:42:00 AM BDT NFB: News From Bangladesh
KABUL, May 28: Many complaints against US soldiers in Afghanistan remain unspoken, with illiterate and isolated citizens unwilling or unable to lodge their protests, according to the country’s main rights organisation, reports AFP.
As the furor rages over the alleged abuse of Afghan and Iraqi prisoners in US custody, some 40 other criticisms against the American military and the way they conduct their fight against Taliban and Al-Qaeda insurgents have been lodged with the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.
Families have complained of members being arrested and never heard from again, others complain of civilian deaths and injuries in American bombings, and some at the midnight intrusion of soldiers into their homes.
Three deaths in US custody in Afghanistan are being investigated by the US, two of which date back as far as December 2002. Two more deaths were revealed by Pentagon officials in Washington last week, but little other information has been given out.
Of 44 complaints against the US-led coalition reported to the commission, three concern prisoner abuse.
Commissioner Ahmad Nader Nadery believes these are the tip of the iceberg. “For sure there are more complaints,” Nadery told AFP in an interview this week.
“In some cases maybe people are afraid. Some of the people don’t know if they can go and complain, and maybe there is a perception that the government is supported by the US so maybe they (the government) don’t listen. Which is not the case.”
Some Afghans might not be able to travel to one of the commission’s provincial offices to lodge a complaint.
Other people simply see military searches and aggression as a part of life after more than two decades of war, he said.
Commission member Ahmad Zia Langari told AFP that many cases may never emerge.
“There might be more cases but people, considering the Afghan traditions and culture, have not told us,” he said.
The US-led coalition now numbers some 20,000 troops in Afghanistan, the vast majority being US troops.
Many complaints of general aggression by US troops have been received, primarily in the southeastern city of Gardez which covers the Pakistan border provinces of Khost and Paktika where the US-led force is deployed in strength.
The complaints “deal with the way they have been treated while in custody, families who have not heard from their captured relatives, coalition forces entering by force into homes,” commission member Farid Hamidi said.
“Afghans have their own culture and they don’t allow men to search females but during the searches this happens, in some cases... and that is something against Afghan culture.”
AFP/ The News Today
Mahindras to supply MUVs to Afghanistan
The Hindu News
Mumbai, May 28. (PTI): Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M) today said it will supply multi-utility vehicles Bolero and MM 550 XD to Afghanistan government.
The 80 Boleros and 40 MM 550 XD would be transported by sea and land route to Kabul where they would be formally handed by Indian embassy to the Afghan army in second week of June, M&M said in a release here.
This order is being executed through Mahindra Defence Systems and is part of an aid package provided by Indian government to Afghanistan.
"We are confident that both the Bolero and MM 550 XD -- approximately 10,000 of which are in service with the Indian army -- will measure up well to the challenges of the terrain in Afghanistan and be an asset to their army," Mahindra Defence Systems vice-president and head Khutub Hai said.
There is a potential of larger numbers depending on the requirements of the Afghan army, he said.
M&M in the recent past has executed similar orders for governments of Nepal and Sri Lanka to supply Scorpios.
Landmine blast kills three children in southern Afghanistan
Source: Deutsche Presse Agentur May 28, 2004
Islamabad (dpa) - A landmine planted by suspected Taliban fighters to target U.S. and Afghan troops killed three children and wounded another in Afghanistan's troubled southern province of Kandahar, a news report said Friday.
The landmine went off Thursday evening on the main road in the Shor Andam area, which is primarily used by U.S.-led coalition and Afghan forces to gain access to the aiport in Kandahar city, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) said.
An military spokesman told reporters in Kandahar it was a newly-planted mine laid by Taliban remnants to target two important Afghan commanders who normally use the road for travel to the airport. ``But on Thursday they did not travel on that road and the four children who were passing by instead became victims,'' he said.
Thursday's attack came one day after a U.S. air raid in the southern Afghan province killed at least 20 fighters of the radical-Islamic militia that reportedly included two important Taliban commanders - identified as Qari Faiz Mohammed and Qari Haji Mohammed.
The rebels were preparing for an assault on the district when government troops launched an attack on their camp in the southern part of the province.
Anti-government forces have recently stepped up their activities, mainly in the southern and eastern provinces of Kandahar, Zabul and Paktia, which have remained lawless since the fall of the Taliban regime in December 2001.
Since January, at least 230 people - including U.S. and Afghan soldiers, civilians, aid workers and loyalists of the ousted Taliban - have been killed and more than 200 wounded. dpa ig blg
5 Afghan soldiers hurt in explosion
KANDAHAR: Police arrested three Taliban suspects on Friday after a remote-controlled explosive wounded five Afghan soldiers on a road in a southern province, a senior officer said.
The pickup truck the soldiers were travelling in was wrecked in the blast, which took place in the Sozyan area of Uruzgan province. “It was a remote-controlled mine. The vehicle was totally damaged. It was the good luck of our soldiers that they weren’t killed and only wounded,” said Rozi Khan, Uruzgan province police chief. Police surrounded the area after the attack and arrested three suspected Talibans, he said, adding that an investigation was under way. Supporters of the former ruling Taliban regime launch frequent attacks on security forces in the south and east of Afghanistan. ap
Afghans, Iraqis attend Global Summit of Women for first time, point to improved conditions
Associated Press Friday May 28, 6:59 PM
Iraq and Afghanistan has delegations at the Global Summit of Women for the first time this year, the latest sign _ they say _ of improved conditions for women in their homelands since the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban.
"I can't compare before with now," said Soraya Rahim, deputy minister of the Afghan Ministry of Women's Affairs, who heads a nine-member delegation to the three-day forum in the South Korean capital.
Attending the international conference, held annually since 1999, had been banned under former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, whose government tightly restricted travel and freedom of association, said Iraqi Minister of Municipalities and Public Works Nesreen M. Siddeek Berwari.
"Exposing Iraq women to the opportunities of leadership and business that women in the rest of the world have achieved _ for us Iraqis, it's quite an eye opener," Berwari said.
About 900 women entrepreneurs, civic leaders, policy makers and politicians from around the world are attending the global summit, which opened Thursday and ends Saturday.
The conference focuses on expanding economic opportunities for women and features seminars on job creation, e-commerce and micro-enterprises. A women's trade fair, WEXPO, will also offer networking and marketing opportunities to women entrepreneurs.
Rahim and Berwari said it was important for Afghan and Iraqi women to take home lessons.
The delegates said women's political and economic rights have improved in their countries since the 2001 ousting of the Taliban in Kabul and the toppling of Saddam Hussein in the U.S.-led invasion last year. But both said women still face many hurdles in their male-dominated societies.
In Afghanistan, women and men have equal rights under a new constitution, but most women are unaware of those rights or have no way to enforce them, Rahim said.
Key to improving conditions is creating new business opportunities for women so they have the money to achieve a measure of independence and decision-making power, Rahim said. The Afghan delegation includes a woman who hosts her own radio talk show and another who runs a construction company.
In Baghdad, more than 100 local non-governmental organizations have sprung up since the war that cater to women and children, Berwari said, and women are increasingly becoming a political force.
Yet, Berwari warned that women still lack access to basic health care and water resources, and face threats from fundamentalist Islamic groups wary of their newfound social freedoms.
"It's hard for us to rebuild the country," she said. "But Iraqi women are against being oppressed and are for having a greater role. And they are now doing things for themselves."
Pakistan seeks expansion of ISAF role
By Our Correspondent Dawn
UNITED NATIONS, May 28: Pakistan on Thursday called for an urgent expansion of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan "to establish a semblance of security throughout the country and the authority of the central government."
Pakistan's UN Ambassador Munir Akram told the Security Council at least 20,000 to 25,000 additional troops were needed for ISAF, noting that "the security situation will continue to worsen unless and until there is resolute action from the international community to comprehensively deal with these threats."
Speaking at an open meeting of UN Security Council which heard from UN Special Envoy in Afghanistan, Jean Arnault, Mr Akram said: "if Nato cannot provide the sufficient levels of troops for ISAF, peacekeepers from the members of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) can be approached to make up the numbers."
Mr Arnault told the council that Afghanistan was still in critical need of international security assistance, and detailed the poor security situation in the country as well as the nation's electoral, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration processes.
Mr Akram, who heads the Security Council for May, observed: "This expansion should not be limited only to Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs)-useful though they are- or to the duration of the elections. ISAF should have a more robust military presence in all of the major urban centres of Afghanistan and their environs."
"There are several sources of insecurity. Threats emanate from (I) extremists and terrorists; (ii) from warlords and factional forces, and (iii) from smugglers and criminals, including those involved in the drug trade," he said.
Mr Akram further said that in addition to ISAF expansion there was a need for: (I) the demilitarization of Kabul;(ii) the comprehensive disarmament of all the factional forces; (iii) meaningful security sector reforms and the creation of a truly representative Afghan national army, police, intelligence service, and ministries of defence and interior; and (iv) the extension of state authority throughout the country.
Authorities ordered to explain detention of Afghan journalist
PESHAWAR: The Peshawar High Court has ordered the authorities to explain the detention of an Afghan journalist who was working for Newsweek magazine and taken into custody two months ago while trying to enter the country’s restricted tribal areas, a lawyer said on Friday.
The court set a June 8 deadline for provincial and federal governments to file charges or respond as to why Sami Yousafzai, who covers Afghanistan for the US-based magazine, remains in custody, said Karman Arif, a lawyer working for his release.
Yousafzai was arrested along with Eliza Griswold, an American journalist and contributor to The New Yorker magazine, at a checkpoint near Bannu near the North Waziristan tribal area bordering Afghanistan. The Paris-based watchdog group Reporters Without Borders has said the two were detained while trying to enter the area without permission, which is punishable by jail or deportation. Griswold was released shortly afterward and has returned to the United States. ap
NATO PA chief says risk of Afghan vote failure
Reuters 05/28/2004 By Peter Laca
BRATISLAVA - Upcoming Afghan elections could fail unless NATO members send more forces and equipment to Afghanistan, NATO Parliamentary President Doug Bereuter said on Friday.
"The security necessary for an election is simply not there in many parts of the country," Bereuter, who is also a U.S. congressman, told a NATO news conference in the Slovak capital Bratislava.
Rising violence in the south and elsewhere is undermining efforts to register voters ahead of the troubled Central Asian nation's first direct vote due in September, U.N. special representative for Afghanistan Jean Arnault warned on Thursday.
Bereuter said NATO's 26 members must bolster the 6,500-strong Kabul-based International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which it took command of last August, to prevent the vote's failure, which would deal a blow to NATO's credibility.
"A failure for NATO is unthinkable, but it is something that faces us unless the countries that make up the 26 think very seriously and quickly about their mission in Afghanistan," Bereuter said.
"We are approaching the critical stage for elections and there will be forces of Taliban and al Qaeda supporters and others that will attempt to thwart those elections," he said at the meeting to open the NATO parliamentary spring session.
It was hard to name a NATO country that had met its commitments, Bereuter said, but in a thinly veiled criticism of some of NATO's most powerful members, he said some older NATO countries had failed to live up to expectations.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has warned the alliance risked missing a June 30 deadline for setting up five military-civilian reconstruction teams in the north and west of Afghanistan.
This week a U.S. official said Afghanistan may recruit part-time soldiers to improve security ahead of the elections, as the West drags its heels over committing more resources to the volatile country.
Bereuter said the finding of two bags of explosives near the site of the NATO parliamentary session in Bratislava would not change the agenda or length of the five-day session.
He added the find, which police have not linked directly to the meeting, underlines the stringent security measures taken by authorities.
Corruption Rampant at Every Level
IWPR 05/28/2004 By Hafizullah Gardish
Citizens complain that nothing in the country can be accomplished without paying someone a bribe
Kanul - When the truck filled with top-of-the-line televisions, stereos, DVD players and satellite dishes pulled up to Adil's shop in the Nadir Pushtoon section of Kabul earlier this year, it didn't come alone. It was closely followed by a police officer, who pointed out that the truck was parked illegally but said he would ignore the offence if he was given a bribe.
An offer of about 10 US dollars by the 28-year-old shopkeeper was rejected by the police officer as inadequate. After a brief argument, Adil and the officer marched down to the local police station, where the police chief promptly demanded a payment of 200 dollars.
"After this experience, I will give the policeman whatever he wants at the beginning, because when you complain to high-ranking officials, the bribes just get bigger," Adil said.
Bakhshish, or bribes, are part of everyday life in Afghanistan. Corruption and extortion are rife among the the police, judicial system, public utilities - even the national airline. In a bid to curb the problem, President Hamed Karzai in March declared the establishment of an anti-corruption department with a staff of almost 400.
Two months later, the department has just three staff and is working out of a room in the presidential palace because there is not yet any budget for additional staff, or to pay for a building and other resources.
When people here talk about corruption in their society, Afghans often cite a old proverb: "Water is muddy from the source."
In fact, people at the highest level of government concede that bribery is a way of life in Afghanistan.
Fazil Ahmad Manawi, a Supreme Court deputy, acknowledges that bribery exists among the judiciary. By way of justification, he said that judges in other countries are paid high salaries to discourage them from resorting to accepting bribes.
But those who have sought justice in the Afghan court system are less than sympathetic to Manawi's explanation.
Haji Mohammed Gul, of Deh Sabaz district northeast of Kabul, said he took a land-dispute issue to a government-established legal panel. He claimed that his family owned 2,000 jerib, or or 4000 square kilometres, of land and had the documents to prove it. But another tribe also filed a claim on the land. When Mohammed Gul appealed to the Joint Delegation for Land Solutions, the judge hearing the case demanded he pay 1,000 US dollars per jerib - an exorbitant price considering the price of land in the district was less than 400 dollars a jerib.
After much bargaining, the judge said that he would decide in favour of the rival claimant unless Mohammed Gul agreed to pay 100 dollars per Jerib.
"I told the judge that I had performed Hajj [pilgrimage] and had sworn in God's house not to offer bribe to anybody, Mohammed Gul said, but the judge said he would take the bribe, whatever Gul had done.
Mohammed Gul eventually won his case - but the judge continues to issue a formal judgement in his favour until the bribe is paid.
Petrol station owner Ahmad Shah says he paid 4,000 dollars in bribes to city and police officials when he was setting up his business.
"Even now police officers take fuel without payment four and five times a month," he said. "I just don't know who to turn to for help"
Street vendors and pushcart owners complain that policemen demand they pay anywhere from 20 cents to two dollars a day to be allowed to operate their businesses.
Eid Mohammad, 12, who sells spinach on the street, said "I pay 6 dollars [a day] to policemen so that I can stay here. If not, they trample over the vegetables..." Mohammad said the police "beat the people who do not pay up".
Haji Yousuf, the owner of Muslimyar, a company in Kabul that sells air conditioners, TVs and freezers, complained that officials with the government department for private business, along with customs officials, often create more problems than they solve. But once a bribe has been paid, he said, the problems suddenly disappear.
Yousuf said there is no distinction between a legal and illegal business since anyone willing to pay 400 dollars can have a business permit.
Stories of corruption at practically every level are legion.
Mirajuddin, who lives in north Kabul, said his electric bill was 120 dollars, but when he went to pay, an official at the utility offered him a deal: Buy a new book of payment slips and a false bill for 20 dollars, then pay 30 dollars for the false bill and a bribe of 30 dollars to the official.
"As it was dishonesty, I did not accept and I paid 120 dollars in total," Mirjuddin said.
Gul Rahman, of east Kabul, said he had to pay 500 dollars in bribes before he could begin reconstruction on his family's house: 260 dollars to the local police and 240 dollars to city planning officials.
Waisuddin, of Kabul, wanted a driving license and road permit for his Mercedes. He said that people who follow the legal procedure could wait a month for the documents to be approved.
"I was issued the driving license and a road permit in 24 hours, after I paid 100 dollars as 'commission'," he said.
In the offices of Ariana, Afghanistan's national airline, a member of staff admits taking bribes from passengers. He said he will continue to do so because he currently must pay 140 dollars a month for rent and support a family of eight on a government salary that ranges from 34 dollars to 80 dollars a month.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has asked the international community to support a number of initiatives launched by the Karzai administration designed to help reduce corruption. Germany is supporting Afghanistan by taking the lead role in training police; Italy is taking the lead role in reform of the judicial system.
Major Gen. Sibghatullah Sayeq, director of the anti-crime department at the Ministry of Interior, all but concedes that corruption is rampant in Afghanistan.
"We have information that bribery is common within government and that bribery takes place in all government institutions," he said.
He doesn't deny the involvement of police, but said that not all police are corrupt. He blames low salary, lack of co-ordination among offices, injustice and unemployment as reasons people resort to corruption.
He added that the president has promised to prosecute any official accused of corruption. "Anyone misusing any national resource is not loyal to this nation, and should know that the law is pursuing him," he said.
Still, rooting out corruption may prove a tough challenge, especially when some high-ranking officials continue to deny its existence.
Mohammed Zia Noor Khail, the deputy attorney general, expressed his own scepticism that he could identify bribery among government officials.
"We are not computers nor have we Ilm-e Ghaib [extraordinary visionary powers] to know where corruption takes place," he said.
Hafizullah Gardish is an local editor for IWPR in Kabul.
Afghan Poppy Reliance May Take Generation to Eradicate, UN Says
Afghanistan's poppy cultivation, which makes the country the world's biggest opium producer, may take a generation to eradicate, said Antonio Maria Costa, the United Nations anti-narcotics chief.
```There is no easy way of solving Afghanistan's opium problem,'' Costa, executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said, according to the UN's Web site. ``In countries like Thailand, Pakistan and Turkey, where the problem was as severe, it took a generation to reverse the trend and put an end to it.''
Costa is on an eight-day visit to Afghanistan after traveling to neighboring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, as well as Kyrgyzstan, to discuss the drug smuggling trade with leaders of the Central Asian nations, the UN said.
The United Nations is organizing a $25 million five-year project aimed at ending the dependence of Afghan farmers on cultivating the opium poppy, the raw ingredient in heroin. The UN estimates 1.7 million Afghans, out of a population of 28 million, are directly involved in poppy cultivation. Afghanistan last year produced three-quarters of the world's opium, the U.S. State Department said.
``The opium economy will continue to grow as long as drug production and trafficking are conducted without risk of retribution or the incentive to do something else,'' Costa said. ``It is urgent to redress this risk-reward imbalance, making engagement in illicit activities legally and economically unattractive.''
Afghanistan's 2003 opium production reached 3,600 metric tons, a 6 percent increase over the previous year, the UN said. The trade generates $1 billion in income for farmers and $1.3 billion for traffickers, it said. Afghanistan gross domestic product was estimated at $700 for each citizen in 2002, according to U.S. government data.
Regions growing the opium poppy expanded from 28 to 32 last year, Robert Charles, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement, said in March. The crop size last year was an estimated 61,000 hectares (150,600 acres), almost double the area in 2002, he said.
Afghanistan's Taliban enforced a ban on cultivating the opium poppy from July 2000 until the regime was overthrown in December 2001 in the U.S.-led war against terrorism. The country's opium production fell to 185 tons in 2001 from a peak of 4,565 tons in 1999, a UN report said at the time.a
Afghan man chased, beaten Victim scolded children in Fremont park for racist comments prior to assault
By Rob Dennis, STAFF WRITER FREMONT The Argus
An Afghan man was badly beaten by a group of men who chased his car after he scolded two children for using racial epithets and cursing at his pregnant wife and young son in Central Park.
Police said the attack last weekend is not being investigated as a hate crime at this point. They are not sure if it was connected to the confrontation with the children, which happened shortly before the assault.
The victim's wife wrote down the attackers' license plate number, and police are following up leads in the investigation.
The 28-year-old Fremont man, an Ohlone College student whose name is being withheld by The Argus because he fears for his family's safety, was using a restroom near Lake Elizabeth in the park about 6 p.m. Saturday while his wife and 2-year-old son waited nearby.
His wife was wearing Muslim head garb, and two children about 10 years old began to harass her and the son, using numerous obscenities, calling her "(expletive) Gandhi" and telling her to "go home and cook some camels," the man said. They also called the boy "(expletive) retarded" and threw a plastic bottle at him, the man said.
"It was enough to make her cry and vomit," said the man, who came to the United States from Afghanistan when he was one year old.
When the man emerged from the restroom and found his wife in tears, he confronted the children.
"I went up to the kids and scolded them -- said they were mannerless, and they need to get lost," he said.
The couple decided to leave the park. As they were driving home, though, a white pickup truck cut them off, forcing the man to brake.
"Two guys jumped out of this truck and started running toward me," he said. "These guys looked like they were violent." The man reversed so he could get past, then drove off toward the police station on Stevenson Boulevard, with the pickup once again giving chase.
Instead of turning left from southbound Paseo Padre Parkway onto Stevenson, however, the man accidentally turned right -- away from the police station.
He turned right again onto Fremont Boulevard and then turned into an apartment complex driveway -- a dead-end.
The man got out of the car so his pursuers wouldn't attack the vehicle with his family inside, he said.
"I had my hands up, and I was telling them, 'Wait, calm down,' when three men jumped out and they had weapons in their hands," he said.
He described the men as Latin, in their late 20s or early 30s.
As the man tried to block one of his attackers, who swung at him with a wrench, another hit him in the face with a mallet, he said.
He fell to the ground, and they continued to kick him until his wife intervened. A Latina who has converted to the Muslim faith, she grabbed one of the men by the shirt and yelled in Spanish, the man said.
The attackers looked surprised and fled at that point, he said.
"She's dressed in Muslim attire -- they didn't expect her to be (Latina)," he said.
The man was taken to Washington Hospital, where he was treated for multiple fractures on his face underneath his right eye. He was released about five hours later.
His eye has been blood-red, and that side of his face has been numb since the attack, the man said. Doctors will evaluate whether he requires surgery after the swelling goes down, he said.
The man, who said he is related to a high-ranking member of the Afghan government, is withholding judgment on his attackers' motive until police talk to them, he said.
"The kids definitely were saying racist remarks," he said. "If the kids were saying that, I just wonder where they learned it from."
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