5 Dead in Raid on Afghan Gov't Office
Associated Press Sunday May 30, 5:55 PM
Suspected Taliban fighters attacked a government office in a remote district of southern Afghanistan, sparking a fierce clash that left four Afghan soldiers and one attacker dead, the local mayor said Sunday.
The incident in Helmand province came within hours of the deaths of four U.S. special forces operatives, underlining the violence threatening plans for September elections.
Guerrillas riding a fleet of vehicles swept into Musa Qala, a market town 150 miles southwest of the capital, Kabul, late Saturday, opening fire on the government office with assault rifles and heavy machine-guns, mayor Mullah Amir Aghunzada told The Associated Press.
Four of the 30 soldiers defending the compound were killed and eight others wounded, Aghunzada said. One Taliban was also killed and four captured, three of them wounded.
The injured soldiers were treated in the market town's small clinic and were out of danger, Aghunzada said.
The official said about 100 Afghan troops rushed from the provincial capital Lashkargah and began combing the area for the attackers Sunday.
"There is some support for them in this area," Aghunzada said. "They live up in the mountains and come down at night."
The attack came within hours of the death Saturday of four members of the American special forces in Zabul province, one of the worst losses for the U.S.-led coalition force since it entered Afghanistan to topple the Taliban for harboring al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in late 2001.
The military said late Saturday that the four were "killed in action" in Zabul province, but gave no details.
U.S. military officials in Kabul could not be reached for comment Sunday.
But an Afghan government official told The AP Sunday that the four died when their Humvee hit a mine in the province's mountainous Sorie district. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said three more Americans were wounded in the blast, and that U.S. and Afghan troops had cordoned off the area.
At least 89 American service personnel have died in and around Afghanistan since the start of the U.S. war on terrorism following the Sept. 11 attacks, including 55 killed in action.
More than 360 people have died in violence across Afghanistan so far this year, most of it blamed on militants bent on disrupting the country's first post-Taliban elections slated for September.
Karzai's Talks Raise Some Fears About Afghan Vote
By Pamela Constable Washington Post Foreign Service Sunday, May 30, 2004; Page A24
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Private talks between President Hamid Karzai and rival Islamic militia leaders have raised fears of a power-sharing deal that could undermine internationally backed elections scheduled for September.
The negotiations with members of the Northern Alliance coalition have angered leaders of Karzai's Pashtun ethnic group and alarmed foreign diplomats and election observers, who said a deal with religious strongmen will send the wrong signal to a nation preparing to embark on its first democratic vote.
The Northern Alliance is dominated by ethnic Tajik militia leaders who were given key roles in a coalition government set up by the United Nations in 2001. In the recent meetings, participants said, Karzai's representatives have sought their support for his candidacy in return for posts in a future administration and partially appointed parliament. Some sources said a partial deal had been struck in a meeting Tuesday.
"This is like saying that the only ticket to the palace is having weapons behind you," said one European diplomat. "These elections are costing $200 million, and if that can't produce a credible and legitimate process, then all the money will have gone down a black hole. It's not only a lost opportunity, it's a regression to the past."
Aides to Karzai said his aim in holding such talks is to ensure a trouble-free election, not to sabotage it. They denied reports that he had promised Northern Alliance leaders important government roles but said he was seeking to bring them into the fold so they would not be tempted to thwart the country's progress to democracy.
"These are not negotiations. They are talks about building an understanding based on certain principles," said a presidential aide. "The president believes that although elections are a step forward, they will not remedy all the ills of Afghanistan. To strengthen the peace process, he believes, it is important to move cautiously and neutralize forces that might want to destabilize it, and they can, especially if they think they are going to lose."
The Northern Alliance is a coalition of Islamic militias that fought occupying Soviet troops in the 1980s and were later allied with U.S. forces against the Taliban, which was toppled in late 2001. Many Afghans are wary of these groups because they held power during a chaotic and destructive period of civil conflict in the early 1990s. Nevertheless, the United Nations gave several Northern Alliance leaders a prominent role in the temporary post-Taliban government, which they are determined not to lose through elections.
In the past week, concern and speculation about a possible deal between Karzai and the alliance have overshadowed news of progress toward holding elections for president and the lower house of parliament. On Wednesday, officials announced an electoral law that had been delayed more than two months.
Voter registration has continued a slow climb, reaching 2.6 million of 9.5 million eligible voters, and nearly 600 rural registration sites are now open. The number of political parties officially registered rose to more than a dozen, although party leaders complained of bureaucratic delays, cumbersome requirements and political bias against some groups.
Meanwhile, several public debates have been held among political leaders and likely candidates. At one government-sponsored forum, impassioned, testy exchanges illustrated the fragility of Afghanistan's political fabric, the tension between ethnic groups and the tendency to assign blame for Afghanistan's quarter-century of conflict.
"There were a lot of philosophical speeches, but some people didn't want to hear criticism, and they seemed afraid of having a democratic discussion," said Noor ul-Haq Ulemi, a former Afghan army general who heads the newly formed National Unity Party. "Our country was destroyed by a struggle for power. We need to put that behind us, stop calling each other names and work for unity."
Karzai, who was chosen interim president by delegates to a national council in 2002, declared his intention to run for election several months ago. But he has made few public appearances, formed no political party and remains largely confined to his palace under heavy security. Instead of seeking support from voters, he has spent time forging alliances and seeking agreements with groups likely to cause trouble for his candidacy or the elections.
One such initiative, strongly backed by the U.S. Embassy, has involved efforts to persuade more than 80 militia commanders nationwide to surrender their weapons and demobilize about 40,000 fighters before the elections. In return, they are being offered job training, economic aid, slots in a possible new regional security force and pledges of an honorable status in the country's future.
But the political talks taking place in the capital are a broader effort that includes former political and military officials from the Northern Alliance, including former president Berhanuddin Rabbani, conservative Islamic scholar Abdul Rasool Sayyaf, Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim, Gov. Ismael Khan of Herat province and Education Minister Yonus Qanooni.
According to several individuals who have attended some of the meetings, the Northern Alliance leaders have demanded key posts in a future Karzai government or leadership roles in parliament in exchange for endorsing Karzai's candidacy. The participants said Fahim and Sayyaf have been acting as Karzai's representatives and will be given senior posts if he is elected.
"Fahim and Sayyaf are trying to persuade the commanders to nominate Karzai, and some of their demands have already been agreed to," said a participant from a major Northern Alliance group. "It's fine to have talks and to get support from well-known figures, but any prior deals cannot be good for democracy and will surely create an outcry among the people."
One source said that at a pivotal meeting Tuesday, the militia leaders demanded that Karzai get rid of a half-dozen technocratic ministers, mostly Pashtuns who returned from the West to help his government. The source said Karzai was highly unlikely to agree to this demand.
Aides to Karzai described the meetings differently, saying the Northern Alliance leaders had sought out the president after being unable to agree on an alternative candidate. They said the leaders seemed eager to become part of the political process and were willing to endorse the economic and security reforms that are the top priority of Karzai's U.S.-backed government.
"The president has no obstacle to engaging with them because his definition has always been inclusive," Jawad Luddin, Karzai's chief spokesman, said Friday. "He has no ethnic or regional or personal agenda. His agenda is for Afghanistan, and whoever thinks they can play a role in a constructive manner can be a partner."
Some Pashtun leaders, however, are said to regard Karzai's outreach to ethnic rivals as a further betrayal of their interests after more than two years in which Northern Alliance figures have held many key posts in the transitional government. Sources said two senior Pashtuns in the Karzai administration, including Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, are seriously considering challenging him or backing alternative candidates.
Even some Pashtun figures who said they would support Karzai's candidacy expressed disappointment in his leadership, saying he has been unwilling to stand up to regional bosses despite enjoying strong international support -- and is now snubbing his tribal constituents while courting perennial adversaries.
"People were lukewarm before, but now that has turned to bitterness," said a Pashtun tribal leader. "Without the Pashtun vote, Karzai is nothing. We are his natural allies and supporters, but he is ignoring us. It is a huge mistake for him to make deals with people like Rabbani unless he has fortified himself and made sure we are there guarding his back."
Some international observers expressed broader worries, saying the president's deal-making suggests that despite his worldly demeanor and constant invocation of democratic ideals, he is more comfortable with backroom power-brokering and more concerned about winning the election than about bolstering the democratic process.
"Are we here to get one man elected or to help establish a democratic process?" asked a Western election consultant. "Why is Karzai making deals with extremists instead of moderates? His world has always been about making deals among tribes and militias. This election is a new process for Afghanistan. The people seem enthusiastic, but maybe the president isn't ready for it."
Afghan security forces seize hashish, arrest two men in eastern Afghanistan
Associated Press Sunday May 30, 5:14 PM
Afghan security forces arrested two men and seized 162 kilograms (357 pounds) of hashish allegedly found in their car at a checkpoint near the Pakistani border in eastern Afghanistan, an official said Sunday.
The hashish was found during a search at the checkpoint in Roadad district Saturday night, said Col. Abrar Khan, deputy chief for border security in the eastern Nangarhar province.
Khan said the men, who appeared to be Afghans, were being questioned in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar, which borders Pakistan.
Roadad is about 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of Jalalabad.
Khan said the two suspects were headed to Pakistan, which straddles a route for drugs produced mainly in Afghanistan and destined for lucrative markets in Europe and the Middle East.
US troops kill teenager, arrest another in southeast Afghanistan
KABUL, May 30 (Xinhuanet) -- The US troops in an operation conducted Saturday in southeast Afghanistan killed a young boy anddetained another one, a Kabul-based newspaper reported Sunday.
"US troops in a house-to-house search conducted around the Khost airstrip Saturday night killed a youth and took into custodyanother one," daily newspaper Erada reported.
Erada is a popular independent daily newspaper that was launched in 2002 in the wake of the collapse of the fundamentalistTaliban regime.
The detainee was a seminarian, or a religious student, the daily said.
The incident took place amid increasing criticism of alleged USindiscriminate targeting of civilians and mistreatment of the prison inmates in their holding facilities.
Early last week, according to local sources, four civilians including a woman were killed in US bombing of a building in Khostwhile the US military described the murdered people as "militants."
Earlier in the month, Syed Nabi sidique, a former police officer who spent 40 days at a US detention center in Khost's neighboring province of Paktia, accused the American soldiers of mistreatment, saying that he was beaten, striped naked and photographed when he was at the detention center.
Canadians, other NATO troops accompany Afghan police on patrols
Sun May 30, 3:33 PM ET Canadian Press
KABUL (CP) - More than 100 Canadian and other NATO troops accompanied dozens of Afghan police on patrols in parts of the Afghan capital on Sunday.
Aimed at discouraging crime in the city, the patrols, conducted mostly on foot, targeted key areas where criminal activity has been on the rise.
Canadians and other members of the International Security Assistance Force parked their vehicles on a main thoroughfare, lining the road in a show of force in front of the city's main grain silo and bakery complex.
Several Kabul City Police vehicles loaded with officers carrying AK-47 assault rifles met them at the site before patrols formed up and fanned out across the sector.
The troops and police left their vehicles and walked through dusty alleys past war ruins and through poverty-stricken neighbourhoods.
Soldiers said afterward the patrols did not encounter any problems.
Unfinished task in Afghanistan
By Mohammed A.R. Galadari 31 May 2004 Khaleej Times
IT WOULD be both curious and painful, dear readers, to look at Afghanistan, where the US started its anti-terror war more than two years ago, and where an elected government is supposed to be taking over later this year. Elections are slated to be held there in September and voter registration works are ongoing under the supervision of UN officials. But, the news coming out of Afghanistan do not give any reassurance to those who look for better days there. Whether the elections could be held there is by itself a million dollar question.
A year ago, Taleban remained almost “vanquished”, and things seemed to be getting back to normal there. The Hamid Karzai government, aided by the US-led military forces, appeared to be firmly in control of the situation. Mr. Karzai was making foreign visits and telling the world that it was smooth sailing there. But look at the state of affairs today. Some 700 people have been killed in fresh bouts of violence in the country in the last 10 months, and the situation is turning from bad to worse there as days pass.
There are those who say that the US, that shifted its focus from Afghanistan to Iraq a year ago, should shoulder the blame for the grim situation in the landlocked country. Perhaps they have a point. The result is that the US has to fight wars on two major fronts at the same time. Four US soldiers were killed in attacks by resistance forces in the southern sector yesterday. That raises the number of coalition soldiers and intelligence agents killed in Afghanistan in the last two years to 127. Even international aid workers are coming under attack. Yesterday’s was reported to be the deadliest attack since the latest round of operations against militants was launched there two months ago. In fact, violence erupted in three districts in the southern region, where American planes bombed two places, following attacks on soldiers.
The fact of the matter today is that the entire country is in turmoil. Insurgents are fighting their battles in the south and east of Afghanistan and factional fights are going on in the north and west.
Alongside comes allegations from human rights organizations that cases of rights violations by coalition soldiers were going unreported in Afghanistan, unlike in Iraq, where both the Arab and international media are alert and active. Poor, illiterate Afghanis often do not know what to do in the event of harassment, excesses or other rights abuses. On many occasions, they have no one to turn to. The International Red Cross, for one, is functional, but their reach is limited. According to the Afghan human rights commission, a majority of the complaints against coalition soldiers were going unreported. This is a painful scenario.
The people of Afghanistan have had enough in the past, ever since the overthrow of the monarchy in 1973. The creation of the pro-Marxist ‘People’s republic’, followed by a coup and subsequent occupation of the land by the Soviet Union, followed by the Mujahideen fighting, had all left their heavy tolls in terms of both human life and development there. Whoever thought the Hamid Karzai government would make a difference in the people’s life there are a disappointed lot now.
Dear readers, I believe that if ending terrorism was a priority for the US government, President Bush should not have left the job unfinished there before he ventured into another major tas — of ousting a dictator from power in Iraq. This is bound to have its echo in the US presidential elections, and Bush will have to do a lot of explaining as to how he handled the anti-terrorism operation so far.
I have also come across reports in the Western media hinting that the US war in Iraq has heightened the levels of terror threat to the US. That will not be what the American public would want to hear. It reinforces the view that the president should have stayed the course in Afghanistan, and facilitated the restoration of normalcy there, to the mutual advantage of both the US and Afghanistan. I am sure history would have given better credit to the US president if there was to be a positive turn of events in this under-developed country.
Senior Cleric Killed in Pakistan Attack
Associated Press Sunday May 30, 10:12 PM
Gunmen killed a senior pro-Taliban cleric on Sunday, sparking riots across this southern Pakistani city by thousands of his Sunni Muslim supporters who ransacked shops, banks and a police station.
At least three policemen and four protesters were injured in gunfire exchanges, police said. Angry crowds shouted slogans against rival Shiite Muslims, raising fears of sectarian unrest.
The violence started after assailants riding in two cars and a motorcycle shot the cleric, Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai, a fervent critic of the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was traveling in a pickup truck to his Islamic seminary in the east of Karachi, said police official Fayyaz Qureshi.
A bodyguard of the cleric returned fire and wounded one of the six attackers, Qureshi said, quoting witnesses. Four others in Shamzai's vehicle were wounded _ one of his sons, a nephew, his driver and a body guard _ but none seriously.
Shamzai, who was in his 70s, died of gunshot wounds in a nearby hospital. No one claimed responsibility for the killing, and there were no arrests.
Government adviser Aftab Shaikh described Shamzai's shooting as a targeted killing and said authorities had warned the cleric that his life was at risk and had given him a police bodyguard.
Tens of thousands of Sunnis were expected to join a six-mile funeral procession for Shamzai after evening prayers. Some 15,000 police and paramilitary rangers _ most of the city's police force _ were being deployed to cover it, Shaikh said.
After the shooting, angry students from Sunni seminaries in ethnic Pashtun-dominated areas of the city poured onto the streets, setting fires and pelting passing vehicles with stones.
Security forces went on alert.
"Our task is to protect Shiite worship areas as we fear a backlash on these areas," said Maj. Gen. Javed Zia, the chief of the paramilitary rangers in the city.
Shamzai, a soft-spoken and scholarly man, was a strong supporter of Afghanistan's former ruling Taliban regime. He headed the Jamia Islamia Binor Town religious school where thousands of students get an Islamic education.
He rose to prominence after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America when he led a delegation of clerics from Pakistan to Afghanistan in a last-ditch effort _ that failed _ to save the Taliban from U.S. attack in late 2001 for hosting Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida members.
Shamzai's supporters _ mostly seminary students wearing beards, traditional white caps and tunics _ raided a police station near his school, beating up three policemen, and setting vehicles on fire. Rioters also set fire to four banks and ransacked shops and other buildings and landmarks.
In the worst clashes, about 2,000 rioters attacked a building housing a bank and a newspaper. Police in armored cars fired in the air and with tear gas, and from within the crowd, automatic gunfire crackled back.
Shaukat Imran, a police official, blamed rioters for shooting at the police who returned fire. He said three police and four protesters were wounded in the firing, none seriously. At least six other police were hurt in stone-throwing.
Calls were being made over loudspeakers at Shamzai's seminary _ which has 18 branches in the city, attended by more than 10,000 students _ urging his supporters to remain peaceful. Cleric Iqbal Mohammed said 17 students were detained by police during the unrest and they were seeking their release.
Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said Shamzai was a "great Islamic scholar" and condemned his killing as a tragedy. But Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the head of Pakistan's largest Islamic group, Jamaat-e-Islami, blamed the government for failing to prevent it.
Karachi _ Pakistan's largest city of 14 million people and the country's commercial center _ has been the scene of recent sectarian violence and terrorist attacks, including twin car bombings near the U.S. Consul's residence last week. On May 7, a suicide bombing at a Shiite Muslim mosque killed 22 people.
Much of the violence is blamed on Islamic militants, angered by President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's support of the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism in Afghanistan, but clashes also occur between rival Sunnis and Shiites.
Shamzai had met with bin Laden sometime before the Sept. 11 attacks, and the reclusive, one-eyed leader of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammed Omar.
The Eastern Front
The Baltimore Sun 05/30/2004
IF AMERICA loses sight of Afghanistan because of the mess in Iraq, it would be one of the most unfortunate casualties of that unfortunate war. Afghanistan -- starved of attention and of funds because of President Bush's determination to unseat Saddam Hussein -- teeters today on the brink. The country where al-Qaida once found a haven could still be lost to the dark forces of fanaticism.
This year began on a brighter note. After two years of shocking neglect, the United States and other Western countries finally began to make good on their pledges of assistance. Aid money began to flow, and the realization took hold in Washington that making progress in Afghanistan means more than hunting down terrorists. Provincial Reconstruction Teams fanned out; the country began preparing for this year's elections. But profound problems remained -- and then came uprisings in Fallujah and Najaf, and photos from Abu Ghraib. Once again, the Eastern Front in the war against militant Islamists is in danger of disappearing from view.
Here's what's going on:
More land is under cultivation for opium-producing poppies than ever -- 300,000 acres, according to a State Department estimate. This year's crop may be up to 100 percent larger than last year's, which was a record. Virtually all of it flows north toward Europe, through Tajikistan and, probably, Turkmenistan. Farmers need credit to buy seeds for planting; they can get it for poppies, but not tomatoes. Eradication programs have been a total failure.
President Hamid Karzai's government has an ambitious plan to double economic output by 2011. That would raise per capita annual income all the way to $500.
Warlords still control most of the country outside the capital, Kabul, but they have refrained from insurrection. The fledgling Afghan National Army now has 3,000 soldiers deployed in the provinces; it is, at least, a start. The United States says it is serious about demobilizing the far larger private militias and reintegrating them into society (even as it hedges in Iraq). This would be a tremendous step forward.
Elections are scheduled for September. Only about a quarter of the eligible voters have been registered so far. Providing security during the voting at 4,600 polling places, and for 4,600 ballot boxes afterward, will be a daunting challenge; the legitimacy of the election will hinge on it.
The U.S. reconstruction effort is being directed by the Pentagon, and the emphasis is on wells dug and schools built rather than on creating councils, courts and other structures of a functioning society.
Afghans still think of themselves as Pashtuns or Tajiks first, as Muslims second, and as Afghans hardly at all. India and Pakistan are engaged in a quiet but furious campaign to cement alliances with various ethnic groups, as part of their larger regional strategies. This is very unhelpful, and it's happening under the noses of American officials in Kabul.
At June's NATO summit in Istanbul, there will be proposals to increase the alliance's troop commitment to Afghanistan. There are no good reasons to resist them. Afghans are notoriously adept at playing along with outsiders when it seems prudent to do so, and have had centuries of practice at it. That won't change. But the country desperately needs better security; more NATO soldiers would make it seem more prudent to more Afghans to try to get along.
The Taliban enjoy considerable support in parts of the country. If they were to return to power, it would be an unmitigated disaster. Americans would then rightly ask: Who lost Afghanistan?
23,000 Afghan mothers die in childbirth each year
Medical News Today - 05/29/2004
The pregnant woman died surrounded by snow-swept mountain peaks, yet in a terrible sense she was far from alone: 23,000 Afghan mothers die in childbirth each year, making it the nation's leading cause of death for women.
"It's not a clean death, a clinical death," said Dr. Jeffrey M. Smith of Johns Hopkins' Bayview Medical Center, an adviser on maternal health to Afghanistan's health ministry. "It's death in a pool of blood. It's death in incredible pain. It's death on the top of a mountain."
It's also the single biggest health threat that Afghan women face, claiming the lives of more expectant mothers each year than malnutrition and war. It is a public health catastrophe with few parallels elsewhere in the world.
Central Asian leaders say Afghanistan must fight drugs
Interfax 05/28/2004 - ASTANA
The problem of drug trafficking from Afghanistan needs to be resolved within Afghanistan itself, said Uzbek and Tajik Presidents Islam Karimov and Emomali Rakhmonov.
"Until this problem is resolved in Afghanistan itself, and until Afghanistan earmarks money to discourage the population from producing opium, no solution can be found. All these barriers that we are erecting are a secondary thing," Karimov said at a Friday press conference in Astana, following a regular meeting of the Central Asian Cooperation organization heads of state.
The organization is made up of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The Uzbek president noted that despite the activity of the antiterrorist coalition in Afghanistan, drug production in that country and the traffic of drugs from it are increasing.
Certain estimates indicate that revenues from drug production in Afghanistan exceed $3.5 billion a year, Karimov said. "This money, in particular, finances the terrorist and bandit units," he said.
President Rakhmonov told the press conference that "according to the estimates of UN experts, opium production in Afghanistan has grown 2.5 times since the beginning of the antiterrorist operation there."
"Some member-states of the antiterrorist coalition in Afghanistan say their job is to eliminate bin Laden and Mulla Omar, while drug contraband is not their problem. This is a mistake, because the prime source for financing terrorism and extremism is the production of drugs," Rakhmonov said.
"The drug problem is not only a problem of our region and Afghanistan. This is as global a problem as the problem of terrorism and extremism. This problem should be nipped in the bud," Rakhmonov said.
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