Two US soldiers killed, three wounded in Afghanistan
KABUL (AFP) - Two US troops were killed and three wounded by a mine detonated by remote control in Afghanistan's southcentral province of Uruzgan, the US military said.
"We had five casualties, two killed in action and three injured in action," US military spokesman Scott Nelson told AFP, adding the troops were all US nationals.
They had been on a routine patrol Thursday in the Deh Rawood district in the south of the province when the mine was detonated as they passed by, he said.
A remote-controlled bomb also killed five people in the east of the violence-plagued country, an Afghan official said.
The five, who included a policeman, were killed in eastern Kunar province late Friday after the bomb exploded near a truck supplying food to US bases.
The truck had been stopped and set on fire by suspected loyalists of the ousted Taliban regime and the blast happened after a crowd had gathered, provincial governor Saeed Fazel Akbar Agha told AFP.
The explosion was on the main road in Dap area of Asmar district of Kunar province some 125 kilometres (80 miles) east of capital Kabul.
"The incident occurred after a truck supplying food to US bases in Kunar was stopped and set on fire by enemies of Afghanistan," the governor said.
"District police went to the site and villagers were there as well when the remote control bomb went off."
The attacks come after a landmark presidential poll on October 9 that went ahead peacefully despite vows by Taliban fighters to disrupt the vote.
Experts have warned of a possible resurgence of violence after the election as security is relaxed.
Policeman, Three Afghan Children Killed
KABUL, Afghanistan - A bomb attack in an eastern Afghan province killed at least three children and a policeman on the first day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, the government said Saturday.
Interim President Hamid Karzai strongly condemned the assault Friday in the Asmar area of Kunar province, saying it was an atrocity committed by "enemies of Islam."
His office said in a statement that unidentified attackers set ablaze a truck, drawing a crowd, and then detonated a remote-controlled bomb.
"The terrorists that perpetrated this attack showed once more their barbarous, inhuman and un-Islamic face by the killing of innocent civilians, especially children," Karzai said in a statement.
"Clearly, only the enemies of Islam could commit such an atrocity on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan."
Afghanistan had a public holiday Friday for the start of Ramadan, when Muslims observe a dawn-to-dusk fast.
The attack came a week after millions of Afghans voted in the country's first direct presidential election, which passed off largely peacefully despite a threat of attacks by Taliban-led rebels active in the east and south of the country.
Vote Count, Finally Under Way, Is Paused For Start Of Ramadan
By Ron Synovitz / Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
After a delay of nearly a week, vote counting in Afghanistan's presidential election finally got under way yesterday -- only to be put on hold again today for celebrations marking the start of Ramadan. So far, with only about 26,000 valid ballots counted, transitional leader Hamid Karzai has garnered about 59 percent of the vote. But an estimated 8 million ballots remain to be tabulated before final official results can be announced.
Kabul, 15 October 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The eight regional vote-counting centers across Afghanistan were quiet today as election workers took the day off to celebrate the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Faruq Wardak, the chief of the secretariat of the UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), had announced the start of counting just a day earlier.
"The moment for which the entire Afghan nation and the world community was waiting for has arrived," Wardak said. "Counting of the ballots has started."
The vote count officially began in three of the eight regional counting houses -- in the Kabul, Konduz, and Kandahar provinces. By last night, votes also were being tallied in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif and the southeastern city of Gardez.
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman and presidential hopeful Karzai is widely expected to become Afghanistan's first popularly chosen president. But even if Karzai gets the more than 50 percent of the vote needed to win the election in the first round, final official results are not expected until around 30 October.
Officials from the JEMB said they could delay an announcement until 6 November if no candidate wins the first round outright.
That would allow a second-round runoff to take place on the proposed target date of 20 November. Afghanistan's election law requires that no more than two weeks pass between official first-round results and a second-round vote.
Reg Austin, the chief technical adviser to the JEMB, said the vote count is being carefully supervised by international monitors.
"At the tables are Afghan staff who've been trained to carry out this [counting] process. And there are about 1,000 of them around the country," Austin said. "In addition to that, there are international staff who are supervising. That is an important element in this process, since a degree of suspicion exists after the era of conflict that this country has been through."
Austin estimated that about 8 million voters -- or 75 percent to 80 percent of those who registered -- turned out to vote. He said about 95 percent of the ballot boxes have been transported to the regional counting houses so far, from more than 21,000 polling stations across the country.
Austin said seals used to guard against ballot-box tampering broke off of some ballot boxes along the way. But Austin said foul play is not suspected. Rather, he said, the problem appears to be the result of transporting the ballot boxes across difficult terrain in remote regions.
Once a ballot box reaches a regional counting house, Austin said the first step in the process is "reconciliation" of the ballot papers inside.
"Reconciliation is essentially checking to see what is in the ballot boxes and to reconcile what is there in the way of ballot papers that have been used with the ballot papers that have not been used," Austin said. "So it is really a paper trail and an audit -- which is basically to check that what you get in the ballot box, what is returned to you from that station, is essentially what went there [before the vote]."
Once officials confirm that a ballot box has not been stuffed with more votes than the number of ballots sent to a polling station, the next step is to mix all of the votes together from a single province. In this way, militia commanders with links to one particular candidate will not be able to determine if people in one village voted against their candidate.
Austin said the mixing process is an important way to ensure a secret ballot and prevent possible retaliatory attacks against particular villages or districts.
"The mixing process means that the boxes are mixed into a provincewide body of votes," he said. "The votes for any particular village or local region -- the place from whence they come -- will not be able to be identified by anyone. It will be a provincewide vote, and that is all that we will be able to say."
Once the votes have been mixed together, they must be sorted into piles for each of the 16 candidates. The actual vote counting takes place only after the reconciliation, mixing and sorting of ballots has been completed.
The JEMB put the vote count on hold during the past week amid complaints of irregularities by all 15 of Karzai's opponents. An independent panel staffed by three foreign election experts is investigating those allegations.
Austin described several different forms of electoral fraud that he thinks are being investigated by the panel.
"Assuming that [the allegations] are some reflection of what was announced when the 15 candidates made their [original protests], it's probably ballot-box stuffing; polling staff directing people to vote for a particular candidate; ballot papers being either genuine or false, stolen or reproduced -- being distributed and being used to stuff ballot boxes; intimidation; and the possibility of people who were inked ineffectively voting more than once," Austin said.
Afghan election staff were supposed to mark voters' thumbs with indelible ink when they voted. At many polls, however, the ink used was easily wiped off.
Former Education Minister Mohammad Yunos Qanuni and a representative of ethnic Uzbek candidate General Abdul Rashid Dostum met with the three-member panel yesterday.
Qanuni said after those talks that all of Karzai's rivals hope the commission can investigate the alleged wrongdoings in a way that is free from political pressure.
Craig Jenness, a Canadian lawyer on the panel, said the candidates' complaints will be considered carefully.
Karzai Leads with 99 Pct of Afghan Vote to Be Counted
Fri Oct 15, 5:21 AM ET By Simon Cameron-Moore
KABUL (Reuters) - With 99 percent of the votes still to be counted in Afghanistan's presidential election, incumbent Hamid Karzai had taken a lead that many observers expect him to retain right to the end of a marathon count.
Counting was halted Friday for the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and will resume Saturday.
Objections by Karzai's opponents over voting irregularities meant counting only got under way Thursday, some five days after millions of Afghans went to the polls for the first time to pick a leader.
During the few hours of counting some 34,078 votes were tallied, of which 19,367 went to Karzai, giving him a 57.9 percent share of the votes counted so far, according to preliminary results posted on the U.N.-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body's Web Site.
Hot favorite to win after running an interim government put in place when U.S. and Afghan resistance forces toppled the Taliban militia almost three years ago, Karzai needs a 51 percent mandate to avoid a run-off against his nearest rival.
A member of the majority ethnic Pashtun community and seen as a guarantor of billions of dollars of Western assistance needed to rebuild a country devastated by a quarter-century of war, Karzai has been able to cut across ethnic divides in a nation desperate for peace and security.
Vying for second place among the 18 candidates were Yunus Qanuni, from the ethnic Tajik minority, and Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek general from the north, both taking close to 16 percent, but with Qanuni nosing 73 votes ahead.
Qanuni is viewed by many as a proxy for Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim, who once led powerful Tajik militia factions, but fell out with Karzai, notably over going slow on disarmament policies.
Massouda Jalal, the lone woman candidate in a field of 18, was in fourth place with 738 votes, a 2.2 percent share, although women voters accounted for around 41 percent of the votes counted so far.
The participation of women in the vote varied widely from region to region.
In some southern provinces where a Taliban-inspired insurgency is most active and the conservative attitudes of Pashtun tribes deterred women, their participation barely reached more than 10 percent.
In the province of Faryab, part of Dostum's northern powerbase, women accounted for more than half the votes counted so far. The counting process could take three weeks with ballot boxes being brought from remote mountains and deserts to eight counting centers by car, helicopter and donkey.
A JEMB official said more reliable trends from results could be evident within a week to 10 days.
"We might have a substantial result, something that you can interpret, in a week to 10 days," said Reginald Austin, head of JEMB technical and logistics operations.
"The voters have done their job very well. Now it is up to us," said Austin, after the JEMB came in for heavy criticism over a series of glitches on polling day.
Candidates submitted 43 complaints to be investigated by a three-member panel of experts while counting continues.
A mix-up over the kind of ink used to mark voters' thumbs prompted 14 candidates to declare that they would refuse to recognize the result, but they have since backed down while the investigation is carried out.
Hardest yet to come in Afghan election odyssey
By Mike Collett-White / October 15, 2004
KABUL (Reuters) - Sebghatullah Sanjar sits in a modest office in Kabul and confidently predicts his fledgling political party will be Afghanistan's biggest and most powerful within five years.
In the same breath he says parliamentary elections set for April will be neither free nor fair and should be further delayed.
At 37, wearing a well-cut grey suit, Sanjar is the kind of young intellectual the international community wants to nurture in a country where political parties have a bad name and power is as often wielded by the gun as by the government.
Whether he and his like can shine in an April poll is unclear. With the presidential election out of the way, the spring ballot promises to be far more complex and prone to coercion and violence by warlords seeking power, experts say.
That, and a voting system that favours individuals, not parties, are making Sanjar's life difficult.
"In five years' time, things will be better," he said. "The Republican Party of Afghanistan will win more than 50 percent of the seats in parliament then, but this time we are too young, and there is the rule of the gun, there is the insecurity."
His party is small, with only a few thousand members, but it aims to do what no other large movement has done for years in Afghanistan -- cut across ethnic and factional lines and overcome political scepticism bred by 25 years of fighting and occupation.
Sanjar concedes that, today, only one person can create such a party -- President Hamid Karzai. From Afghanistan's traditional ruling Pashtun clan, the favourite to win the presidential vote appeals to other constituencies and the international community.
Yet, his critics say, he has failed to use his unique position to lay the foundations of a democratic movement that could be a unifying force.
Western diplomats believe Karzai shares Afghans' doubts about political parties. Fresh in people's memories are the Communists followed by rival factions involved in the vicious destruction of Kabul in the early 1990s.
TECHNICAL AND SECURITY CONCERNS
Many Afghans were baffled by their first taste of democracy, voting for one of 18 presidential candidates on Saturday.
That may turn to bewilderment at parliamentary polls, where some provinces may have more than 100 candidates to choose from.
"We need to invest much more in making parliamentary elections a meaningful democratic exercise, so voters know how to vote and what they're voting for," said Andrew Wilder of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit.
He and other experts say the electoral system means voters will be presented with a list of individual candidates, not parties, and that the number of votes won by a particular party may differ dramatically from the number of seats they secure.
Civil rights groups also want the international community to do more to train election workers and avoid the mistakes of the presidential vote. Most candidates threatened to withdraw from the process after confusion over the ink used to mark voters' thumbs raised concerns over multiple voting.
Several members of the 49 parties so far registered to contest the spring elections have called for a delay, at least until June when factional militia, some linked to political movements that may contest the poll, are supposed to be disarmed.
Presidential and parliamentary elections were to have been held simultaneously, but security and logistical concerns meant they were delayed more than once and had to be staged separately.
Three important factional leaders ran for president, although analysts argued that none seriously expected to beat Karzai.
Parliamentary elections may be their best chance of holding on to power, raising concerns that the armed factions they used to command may become a factor in the voting.
"We are more worried about next year, because there will be a big push by factions to win as many seats as they can in parliament," said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch.
They also need to be better monitored than the presidential election. Officials at the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan want up to 10,000 observers on the ground for polling, four times what they had for the presidential vote.
While predicting how the 249 seats of the Wolesi Jirga (House of People) will be divided up is difficult, commentators say that independents could do well because of the voting system.
Also, some of the parties that perform strongly may represent single ethnic blocks, making passing legislation and the approval of ministers a tortuous task for Karzai, commentators warn.
"To try and form a majority to do anything will require horse trading," Wilder said. "It could result in gridlock."
For Afghans who want Karzai to turn his back once and for all on the so-called "warlords" and their militia, and build a less fractured society, that sounds like bad news.
Candidate Mangal Maintains Election Boycott
By Andy Heil / Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
15 October 2004 -- Independent presidential candidate Wakil Mangal has vowed to continue his boycott of the presidential balloting that took place four days earlier, saying that "fraud is fraud, whether it's technical, deliberate, or temporary," according to the weekly "Kabul Cheragh" reported on 13 October.
"My position is not the same as that of [Hamid] Karzai, Mas'uda Jalal, or [Mohammad] Mohaqeq," Mangal told the weekly, referring to other candidates who have said they will respect the vote if the independent probe clears the process of overwhelming shortcomings. "Until my investigation is completed and I have made a different decision, the vote-counting process is neither acceptable nor valid for me, even if it's completed," Mangal told the weekly.
Mangal, who is generally regarded as a long shot among the 16 remaining presidential candidates, claimed that 85 percent of polling stations in one district of Kabul did not use indelible ink to help prevent multiple voting. He also criticized the election watchdog, the UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), noting that most of the presidential rivals to Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai had already labeled the JEMB "inefficient and illegitimate." Mangal suggested that the JEMB was biased in favor of Karzai.
Mangal told the weekly that he does not oppose the creation of the independent commission to investigate allegations of electoral irregularities, but added that "we will do our own investigations."
"If the result of their investigation corresponds to ours, we will accept their decision. If not, we won't accept their decisions," Mangal said, according to "Kabul Cheragh." "Until the result of the investigation is announced, we stand by our decision to boycott the election."
Peaceful vote diminishes Taliban
The Afghan rebels had threatened violence to disrupt Saturday's elections, but failed to deliver.
By Scott Baldauf | The Christian Science Monitor
from the October 15, 2004 edition - http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/1015/p06s01-wosc.html
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - Afghanistan's first ever presidential elections were an unmitigated disaster - if you're a hard-core Taliban fighter.
Far from staying away from the polls, the Afghan voters came out in droves. Instead of being intimidated by threats of violence, villagers walked for miles to the nearest voting station to give democracy a try. Worst of all, from a terrorist's perspective, the Taliban were unable to deliver on their promise to spread election-day mayhem. In fact, it was the calmest day in recent memory.
As the top US commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David Barno, put it, the Taliban "didn't show."
"The election was a psychological defeat for the terrorists," says Zalmai Rassoul, chairman of the Afghan National Security Council and a senior adviser to President Hamid Karzai. "[Osama bin Laden's deputy] Ayman al-Zawahiri said that half of Afghanistan is under the control of the Taliban, but if that was true then how could we hold the election in Zabul, in Kandahar, in Helmand, in Khost, in all the regions where the Taliban are active? This was a big defeat."
History may mark Oct. 9 as the death knell of the Taliban as a military force. Or maybe not. This is Afghanistan, after all, where violent guerrilla movements have a way of surging and receding with the changing seasons. But while most Afghans agree that the Taliban are increasingly unpopular, and clearly unable to deliver on their threats, some intelligence officers and former Taliban themselves say that it is too early to declare victory. Finishing off this three-year insurgency may require equal measures of amnesty, negotiation, and occasional shows of military might - and more important, a stable government in Kabul free of corruption.
Whether the Taliban stayed home, or the Afghan government security kept them there, election day was undeniably peaceful. There were sporadic attacks in some districts - including an armed attack on a convoy carrying ballot boxes in Uruzgan Province, in which three Afghan police were killed.
But the main story of election day was what didn't happen. A fully loaded fuel truck with explosives packed in the tires didn't explode outside a polling station in Kandahar. Instead, it was stopped by Afghan forces on the road from the Pakistani border. In Khost Province, a 12-year-old boy didn't carry explosives into a busy polling station. Police arrested him before he left his house, acting on a tip-off from neighbors.
And a group of Taliban commanders, meeting in the village of Charasiab, an hour outside Kabul, did not fire hundreds of rockets onto Kabul or nearby polling stations in Logar Province. Instead, they were arrested on the morning of election day, after a four-hour gun battle with Afghan special Task Force 333, an elite group in the Afghan National Army.
"Even in a wedding, where there are so many people, you have more arguments than we had on voting day," says Shahmahmud Miakhel, deputy interior minister.
Security forces credited
Like most Afghan officials, Mr. Miakhel says the credit for the peace rests on the strong security plan and the coordination between police, US-led coalition forces, NATO peacekeepers, and the Afghan National Army. Movement into and out of Kabul was restricted, and most cars were forbidden to travel the streets.
But Afghan intelligence officers and former Taliban say the peace may also have been due to other factors, including battle fatigue in the Taliban ranks and recent overtures by President Karzai to the fighters to disarm and join the political mainstream.
"Most of the local ordinary Taliban are tired of fighting, they are eager to come back to the country and live here in peace," says Al-Hajj Mullah Abdul Samad Khaksar, the former Taliban interior minister who has since renounced the group. "But they are worried that if they give up their weapons, then the Americans will surround them and search their houses and send them to Guantánamo, so they keep fighting."
But they don't fight very hard, Mullah Khaksar adds, and that tells him that the Taliban have lost the support of local people. It is in this moment of weakness, he says, that the next government should offer amnesty to those low-level Taliban who haven't committed war crimes, and a promise to higher-level Taliban leaders that they will receive fair justice in Afghan courts. But most important, the new government needs to be unified, capable, and clean.
"If the new government is strong and stable, then these people will be finished very soon," says the mullah. "But if this is the same government that we had before, if it is weak, and if the administration is incompetent, then these people will be stronger."
Another theory is that the Pashtun-dominated Taliban did not want to risk upsetting an anticipated victory for Karzai, a Pashtun, over his main challenger, a Tajik. Then there's the official Taliban line given by spokesmen Abdul Latif Hakimi to Agence France Presse Tuesday that the guerrillas didn't target polling stations "in order to avoid bloodshed of innocent Muslims."
Warlords, Al Qaeda a bigger threat
One senior Afghan intelligence official, who spoke with the Monitor on condition of anonymity, says that Afghanistan's greatest threat now is from foreign fighters and from local commanders - especially those involved in the thriving drug trade. Afghanistan now supplies 70 percent of the world's opium.
Referring to a massive suicide car-bomb attack outside an Afghan police training center in Kabul last month, in which 10 were killed, including three American security contractors, the intelligence officer says, "That was Al Qaeda's work. A simple Talib couldn't have done that."
He believes that Al Qaeda will remain active in southern Afghanistan. But urban violence will be the work of local Afghan commanders as the next stage of the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration process challenges their power.
Compared to Afghanistan's other threats, the Taliban are relatively simple to neutralize, says Mullah Khaksar. The best way to convince the Taliban to come in from the cold is to talk with their tribal leaders, whose influence is traditionally much stronger than that of any mullah or foreign militant.
"Taking military action should be the last resort," says the mullah. "If I were interior minister again, I would talk to the tribal leaders and through them try to talk with the opposition to bring them over to our side."
Unfortunately, he adds, many members of the Karzai government are Afghan émigrés who don't have experience on how Afghan tribal systems work.
"Once I met an Afghan foreigner who said to me, 'I'm lost in Afghan politics.' " Mullah Khaksar laughs. "I told him, 'You have been away from Afghanistan 25 years. I have been here my whole life.' Afghans have one point of view in the morning, they change to another point of view in the night, and they change again the next day. Only those who have lived here their whole lives can understand it."
Fears of violence in Afghanistan as Ramadan begins
Fri Oct 15, 9:13 AM ET South Asia - AFP
KABUL (AFP) - Security experts warned of a resurgence of violence after Afghanistan's historic presidential elections as vote counting was delayed for a day by the start of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.
Incumbent Hamid Karzai was ahead in early results from the weekend poll, which attracted a massive turnout while feared attacks by the ousted hardline Islamic Taliban regime failed to materialise.
But now that tight security surrounding the country's first democratic election had been relaxed the violence might start again, said Antoine Russel, of the aid agency security body ANSO.
"Last year Ramadan was a calm period in Afghanistan, but the geopolitics have changed. For the election, the security was very important," he said on Friday.
Russel said there was an enormous deployment of troops from both the Afghan army and US and NATO-led forces in the run-up to and during the polls but that level of security could not be maintained.
"Now troops have returned to their garrisons, so we should prepare for a new wave of incidents," he said.
In the south and southeast of the country, security consultants working on the election concurred, saying that as international forces withdrew thousands of extra troops deployed to secure the polls security could deteriorate.
"Once the US takes its eye off the ball, it will be easier for the Taliban to launch attacks against poorly protected government officials in the south," said one security expert in Kandahar.
However Lieutenant Commander Ken Mackillop, spokesman for the NATO-led peacekeeping force, said the election had been successful and added that they "will continue to be vigilant and maintain our patrols".
"Ramadan is a time of forgiveness and peace and we hope it will be safe," he added.
Afghan vote counters rested for a day Friday at the start of the holy month, after the tally was delayed by allegations of fraud and mismanagement.
"There will be people working on Friday, but no one will be counting ballots," said Silvana Puizana, head of civic education at the UN-backed Joint Electoral Management Body.
Vote counting began at five out of eight regional counting centers across the war-torn country Thursday with preliminary results putting Karzai in the lead with 58.8 percent of the vote.
Trailing Karzai in second place with 16.8 percent of the vote was the man seen as his chief rival, Yunus Qanooni, while ethnic Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostam came in third with 12.8 percent.
Massooda Jalal, the only female presidential challenger out of 18 candidates, was in fourth place with 2.5 percent of the vote ahead of ethnic Hazara military strongman Mohammed Mohaqeq who won 2.0 percent of ballots counted.
However, the initial results from 26,123 ballots represent only a tiny fraction of the ballots due to be counted across Afghanistan in coming days.
So far, over 22,OOO polling stations nationwide have sent ballot boxes by donkey, jeep and helicopter to be counted and 9,917 stations have had their ballot boxes opened and ballots checked, sorted and prepared for counting, according to the UN-backed electoral commission website.
With less than half the polling stations accounted for, voter turnout was 3,393,856, the website said.
Afghans said Ramadan was special this year as it came after their first presidential election, which most hope will usher in a new era of democracy and freedom.
"Last year Ramadan was good but this year it is especially good because we had elections," said 32-year-old policeman Ahmad Agha.
"This Ramadan is quite different, just we had elections and with these elections I hope our lives would change," he said.
Ghulam Ishan, a middle-class government employee, said: "I hope this Ramadan would be the beginning of happiness and prosperity in Afghanistan and the elections; I pray to God it will be the end of war and poverty."
140 refugees get third country resettlement in Canada
ANKARA, 14 October (IRIN) - Dozens of refugees in Turkmenistan, mainly Afghans and Azeris, are set to be resettled in Canada in the near future, according to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Ashgabat. The Canadian government has accepted 140 refugees for resettlement, including 25 families from Azerbaijan, 22 families from Afghanistan, 17 families from Iran and one stateless person. They are expected to leave for Canada in the near future.
Along with some 14,000 Tajik and Afghan refugees living in rural areas, Turkmenistan hosts around 500 urban refugees from Afghanistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, the Russian Federation and Iraq. With no strong local links and no possibility of voluntary repatriation to their countries of origin, resettlement to a third country was seen as the best solution for these people, the UNHCR Ashgabat office said in a statement.
"Promoting and facilitating durable solutions is a central mandate responsibility for UNHCR. The office has been facilitating resettlement of refugees whose prospects for long-term local integration or voluntary return to their country of origin are negligible, and persons identified as having special needs that could only be met through resettlement," Ruvendrini Menikdiwela, head of UNHCR in Turkmenistan, told IRIN from the Turkmen capital on Thursday.
Taking advantage of the international community's commitment to sharing the burden of asylum countries hosting large refugee populations, UNHCR proposed the resettlement of these refugees in Canada and the US. A total of 373 persons have been identified and submitted to these countries for consideration.
"Voluntary repatriation is not a solution for these refugees because they are either still at risk of persecution in their countries of origin due to their ethnicities, past activities or political beliefs, or other reasons, or the situation in their countries of origin still remains unstable and volatile and is thus not conducive to their return at this stage," the UNHCR head of mission explained.
Moreover, unlike Tajik and Afghan refugees of ethnic Turkmen origin who share the same culture as the local community and who are generally well integrated in Turkmenistan, individually recognised mandate refugees often lack social, cultural or family links with the host country. "They reside in urban centres and find it much more difficult to integrate," Menikdiwela noted.
Some 250 refugees have been resettled in third countries since UNHCR started operating in the former Soviet republic.
Commenting on the significance of the move, the UNHCR official said that resettlement was an instrument of international solidarity and burden sharing. "Turkmenistan generously provides its hospitality to 13,000 Tajik prima facie refugees in rural settlements. Resettling this group of individually recognised refugees will relieve some of the pressure on the country," she noted.
A team from the US embassy in Moscow is scheduled to arrive in Ashgabat in November to interview 223 refugees. If they are accepted by the US, UNHCR will have found a permanent and durable solution for the majority of the urban refugees in Turkmenistan, thereby reducing the refugee burden on this country, the UNHCR office said.
According to the most recent report on refugee population in the world Global Refugee Trend 2003, more than 400 refugees, particularly Afghans, were resettled to third countries from the three Central Asian republics of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in 2003.
Canadian Sees a Long Haul in Afghanistan
By Doug Struck Washington Post Foreign Service Saturday, October 16, 2004; Page A13
OTTAWA, Oct. 15 -- International forces should expect to stay in Afghanistan for "10 to 20 years," according to a Canadian commander who helped lead foreign troops in Kabul until February.
"We ignore Afghanistan at our peril," said Maj. Gen. Andrew Leslie. He pronounced the election in Afghanistan "a tremendous success," although he acknowledged that the fledgling government would be fragile and require international backing for many years.
Leslie, 46, who became deputy commander of the International Security Assistance Force in August 2003, said the mission's successes in Afghanistan were attributable in part to its cooperation with the existing power structures in the country, in contrast to Iraq, where the United States conducted a "de-Baathification" program after it invaded the country, removing former government officials and military and police officers.
The 8,000 ISAF troops from 36 nations are largely responsible for security in Kabul, while U.S. troops operate outside the capital. Canada had 2,300 soldiers in Afghanistan for a year but rotated all but 700 out of the country at the end of their tours in August. Leslie, now on a sabbatical to complete a doctorate in war studies, spoke at a conference of security experts in Ottawa and in an interview afterward.
In 1992, "when Canada went into Bosnia, we thought it would be three or four years, and we are just pulling out now," Leslie said. "In Bosnia, the level of devastation was less than in Afghanistan, the numbers of dead less, and the general circumstances were better. The West and NATO are looking at a 10- to 20-year commitment in Afghanistan."
He said international troops avoided being widely resented as occupiers, as U.S. troops are in Iraq, in part because "we made it very clear that we were there as guests of the Afghanistan government. They asked us in, and we are working with them and for them.
"In Iraq, the police, army, bureaucrats, were all terminated. From necessity, that means you are starting from scratch. In Afghanistan, that didn't happen. It was two different approaches."
Leslie declined to comment on the charge by the Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, that the Bush administration had fumbled the chance to capture Osama bin Laden in northern Afghanistan. But he said that "the land there is so rugged and riddled with so many caves and tunnels, with tribal links and ethnic links and clan links. If there's any hole possible, those guys will get away."
US trying to speed up creation of 70,000 strong Afghan army: envoy
Fri Oct 15, 7:30 PM ET Politics - AFP
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States is trying to fast-track Afghanistan's objective of having a 70,000-strong army within five years, the American envoy to Kabul said here.
"We are looking at how ... to get to the 70,000 (target) as soon as possible," Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said.
"The current plan is to get there in five additional years. We could do that at a faster rate. We are looking at that."
The Afghan army is more than 15,000 strong today while the police force has more than 30,000 trained personnel, according to the envoy.
Khalilzad said German-led efforts to train Afghan police personnel would also be stepped up, based on lessons learned in Iraq, where training of local policemen was being boosted.
Last year, 20,000 Afghan police personnel were trained and "we are looking at ways to make that police training program into an effective program.
"Our preferred approach is to get the Afghans to stand on their own feet as soon as possible," he said. "We could get at that number sooner if we put more resources in."
Khalilzad said "clearly for some time to come, there will be a role for US and coalition forces and NATO" in Afghanistan with an option to bring about a unified force.
At present NATO-run and US-led forces in Afghanistan were separate entities.
The United States has nearly 20,000 troops in Afghanistan. They are still seeking to pacify the country's southeastern border regions three years after the fall of the hardline Islamic Taliban regime after a US-led invasion.
NATO has a 9,000-strong International Security Assistance force primary involved in peacekeeping and reconstruction efforts.
Khalizad said it would "take as long as 10 years" for Afghanistan "to be a truly successful country in terms of its security, in terms of economic development, in terms of being a successful democratic state."
He said al-Qaeda and the Taliban militia, ousted from power following a US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, failed to stage "spectacular attacks" as part of a strategy to disrupt the Afghan elections Saturday.
In the city of Kandahar, for example, he said foreign and Afghan forces managed to detain a tanker truck laden with five tonnes of explosive material.
"God forbid if that tanker trucker exploded in downtown Kandahar. Quite a lot of people would have been killed," Khalilzad said.
Afghan democracy years away
But U.S. envoy says the nation has made a good start
By CHARLES ALDINGER Reuters News Service
WASHINGTON - It could take 10 years for Afghanistan to become a successful democratic state, the U.S. ambassador to Kabul said Friday.
The Pentagon has stressed that the United States had set no time limit for maintaining American and coalition military forces in Afghanistan. There are about 18,000 U.S. troops there along with soldiers from NATO and other countries.
"I think Afghanistan is firmly heading in the right direction. I think the Afghan people would like to succeed," U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said after meeting with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
He praised Afghans for voting in this month's ground-breaking presidential election despite threats from al-Qaida and Taliban insurgents, but said it would take time to build the Afghan army's strength of 15,000 and the 30,000-member police force to a size necessary to maintain security.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai took a major lead in vote counting over 18 rivals Friday.
Pentagon chief spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said international military and reconstruction cooperation is growing in Afghanistan.
Bush triumphalism masks mission unaccomplished in Afghanistan
Sat Oct 16, 1:06 AM ET South Asia - AFP
KABUL (AFP) - Three years after the US-led invasion, Afghanistan is flooding the world with heroin, warlords reign in the provinces, women are scared and the new security forces are underarmed and undersized, analysts say.
But as he bids for re-election, US President George W. Bush is trumpeting Afghanistan's own recent presidential polls as a symbol of success in nation-building.
His Democrat challenger John Kerry meanwhile makes the diversion of resources from Afghanistan to Iraq and the failure to nail Osama bin Laden three years ago key planks of his attack.
Bush's vision of success in Afghanistan since US forces helped overthrow the ultra-Islamic Taliban in late 2001 is rose-tinted, the analysts say. But Kerry's criticism may be over-simplistic, they add.
"Bush has painted a rosier picture than exists on the ground... and expressed success prematurely," said Vikram Parekh, Afghan affairs analyst for the International Crisis Group.
"When Bush presents Afghanistan as a country which has made great strides towards democracy, those claims lack credibility," Riffat Hussein, head of strategic studies at Pakistan's Quaid-e-Azam University, told AFP.
Hussein and others cite three yardsticks for improvement in the war-torn central Asian land in the last three years: the creation of a national security force; eradicating opium poppies; and disarming warlords' militias.
"If we take these three or four areas to measure success, you will get a very mixed result," Hussein said.
"Militarily the country is under the control of the warlords and Karzai's government does not run beyond Kabul. Right now it's virtual warlord rule whether you look east, west, north or south of Kabul.
"One litmus test is Afghanistan's progress in setting up its own army. Initial goals were for 90,000 and they've not been able to raise beyond 15,000.
"This lack of a national army is directly related to the failure of the government to reign in opium poppies."
Poppy cultivation is set to jump 40 percent this year, the CIA predicts, after a bumper crop last year supplied 90 percent of Europe's heroin and three quarters of the worldwide supply.
It brought in 2.3 billion dollars to Afghanistan last year, 35 percent of gross domestic product, making it the crippled economy's biggest source of revenue.
Parekh points out last weekend's peaceful and well-attended election was "only half an election". Parliamentary elections are on hold until April, because of insecurity and logistical problems.
"That's still going to be a formidable task to administer," Parekh told AFP. "By postponing it, we haven't addressed the obligations that we the international community have committed to."
Post-election claims by the US military that the Taliban are a spent force after failing to sabotage the elections, were "very much a premature conclusion," Parekh said.
Bush capitalised on the first vote on October 9 being cast by a refugee woman in Pakistan, to underscore women's emancipation from Taliban-imposed repression.
Outside Kabul however most are still in all-enclosing burqas, and women are scared to speak out.
Human Rights Watch said a "pervasive atmosphere of fear" persists for women involved in politics. "Many Afghan women risk their safety if they participate in public life," it said in a report this month.
Freeing the provinces from the rule of the gun was also a long way off.
"Large parts of the country remain dominated by militia and the disarmament process has made limited headway," Parekh said.
Most Afghans told Human Rights Watch they were more afraid of local military commanders than the Taliban.
The crucial disarmament drive in one year has stripped just over 10,000 militiamen of weapons, but at least 30,000 are yet to surrender them.
Kerry accuses Bush of making "a colossal error of judgment" in diverting resources from the hunt for bin Laden to the war in Iraq.
"Instead of using US forces, we relied on the warlords to capture Osama bin Laden when he was cornered in the mountains (in December 2001)," he said in a campaign speech.
A Western diplomat said Kerry had "oversimplified" the bin Laden hunt, saying it was less about troop numbers, more about local intelligence and the capacity of neighbours like Pakistan to block his movement.
But Hussein concurred with Kerry on the need for more US resources.
"I think Kerry is right, if you need this government to get on its feet you need to put in more troops and help set up the country properly," he said.
France to send air intelligence mission to Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn 2004-10-15 06:19:22
PARIS, Oct. 14 (Xinhuanet) -- A French air detachment composed of three planes and a supply aircraft is to start next week an intelligence mission in Afghanistan, French general staff said Thursday.
This detachment will stay during three weeks in Douchanbe, rearbase of the French army for its operation in Afghanistan.
The aircraft will take photos to inform French force in Afghanistan and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) on the positions taken by the combatants before they conceal in winter, when air intelligence is almost impossible due to climate conditions, according to the French staff.
Airing of film about Taliban opposed
AMMAN, Oct 15: A militant group threatened on Friday to attack the producers and broadcasters of a televised love story set during the Taliban rule in Afghanistan if it insults the former hard line government.
Several Arab television stations are to begin broadcasting the series, The Road to Kabul, during Ramazan. "This is a warning for all those who contributed to making this soap opera, actors, producers, cameramen, if it contains insults to the Taliban," said an Internet statement by a previously unknown group calling itself the Mujahedeen Brigades of Iraq and Syria.
"We will strike, God willing, satellite channels showing this soap opera and their correspondents as well as their offices in Iraq and Syria," the statement continued. The Jordanian production is one of many soap operas due to be shown during Ramazan, the time of year when television stations throughout the Arab world broadcast their biggest-budget productions and when families spend the most time watching television.
"We notice today that (those who made the soap opera) have made every effort to attack Islam" at the beginning of Ramazan, the statement said. The series, featuring Jordanian and Syrian actors, recounts the relationship between a young Afghan woman and an Arab man who meet in London and then return to live in Kabul.
Their love story is told against the backdrop of recent Afghan history, from the Soviet occupation of the 1980s through the emergence of the Taliban to the US-led invasion of the country in Oct 2001. -AFP
Pakistan hunts kidnappers' leader
BBC News / Friday, 15 October, 2004
Pakistan has vowed to track down the leader of a kidnap group in South Waziristan after one of two Chinese hostages died in a rescue attempt.
Pakistani forces launched the mission on Thursday, killing five kidnappers who had abducted the Chinese engineers last weekend.
Kidnap leader Abdullah Mehsud directed the kidnapping from another location.
Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has asked Pakistan to ensure the safety of Chinese citizens in the country.
President Pervez Musharraf sent a message to Chinese President Hu Jintao after the rescue mission, saying the "masterminds behind this terrorist action will be pursued relentlessly and meted out the most severe punishment".
On Friday a Pakistani government official said "all possible measures" were being used to track Mehsud down.
A security official told the Reuters news agency: "We have to hunt [Mehsud] down. Now we will evolve a strategy and do some planning. The man has become too big for his shoes."
Mehsud was freed in March after 25 months in US custody in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. There is no word on his whereabouts now.
He had refused to hand over the Chinese until safe passage had been granted for his men.
Security forces began their rescue after hearing shots from inside the surrounded mud compound near Chagmalai, in the Afghan border region.
The hostages had been handcuffed and their legs chained. They were also strapped with explosives.
Wang Peng was killed but his colleague Wang Ende was returned safely to Chinese diplomats.
A Pakistani guard and a soldier who were also taken captive had been released earlier.
A delegation sent from the Mehsud tribe to Abdullah Mehsud had earlier failed to secure any releases.
Mehsud kept a high profile during the kidnapping.
The BBC's Rahimullah Yusufzai met him shortly before the end of the siege and was even allowed to speak to the kidnappers by telephone.
Our correspondent says Mehsud appeared uncompromising and emotional but also careless with communications.
This is the second time in recent months that Chinese engineers have been targeted in Pakistan.
In May, three were killed by a car bomb in the south-west of the country.
The blast occurred as the engineers were being taken to work on a project developing port facilities in the city of Gwadar, near the border with Iran.
Now Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, has asked his Pakistani counterpart, Shaukat Aziz, to take "effective measures" to protect Chinese citizens working there.
'Through the window'
In June, another tribal leader who challenged the Pakistani military, Nek Mohammed, was killed by a missile fired at his home after he was tracked by satellite phone communications.
One diplomat told the Reuters news agency: "I've a feeling Abdullah will soon get a missile through his window just like Nek Mohammad."
Mehsud tribal members condemned the kidnapping of the Chinese.
National Assembly member, Maulana Mirajuddin Khan, said: "The [kidnappers] have disgraced the movement against US influence in the region."
Diplomats say Pakistan will be eager to bring to justice a man who has embarrassed relations with one of its closest allies.
Who Masterminded the 1999 Air India Hijacking to Kandahar
By Amir Mir
LAHORE, October 7: Having established its consulates in the Afghan cities of Herat in the West, Kandahar in the South and Jalalabad in the East, the Indian government is making renewed attempts to get hold of any evidence that could prove the involvement of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) in the December 24, 1999 hijacking of Indian Airlines’ flight IC-814.
For the first time since the hijacking, Indian and American investigation agencies have reached the epicenter. Two Deputy Inspectors General of the Indian Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the same number of Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) officials have reportedly visited Kandahar to interrogate the Taliban-backed masterminds of the operation, which led to the hijacking of the Indian Airlines plane as soon as it took off from the Kathmandu Airport on December 24, 1999.
Before proceeding to Kandahar, the Indian officials reportedly got permission from the Northern Alliance government to question several Taliban operatives including Mullah Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil who happened to be Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister during the Taliban rule and key witness in the 1999 hijack.
The Indian plane was on its way to Delhi from Kathmandu when five armed men hijacked it over Varanasi. They first took it to Amritsar and from there to Lahore. After refueling in Lahore, the plane then took off for Dubai where the hijackers allowed 21 passengers to disembark before they took it to Kandahar.
Although an Indian national, Rupin Katyal was murdered by the hijackers, the rest of the passengers returned home safely after spending a week [from 24th to 31st December] in captivity before they were released in exchange for the release of three top Pakistani militant leaders including Maulana Masood Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Omar Saeed and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar.
Of them, Sheikh Ahmed Omar Saeed has already been convicted for the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl. The Indian as well as the American authorities had subsequently registered separate cases against the hijackers.
The Pakistani intelligence operatives in Kabul are learnt to have provided highly disturbing information to their bosses back home, according to which the FBI sleuths had seized exceptionally revealing tape-recorded conversations between the hijackers of IC-814 and the Air Traffic Control in Kandahar.
Some of the information contained in those tapes was recently shared with the Indian intelligence, pursuing which an FBI team went to India while a CBI team visited Kandahar to follow up on those leads. The FBI had reportedly extended full cooperation to the CBI because an American national, Ms. Jeanne Moore (a psychotherapist from Bakersfield, California) was also amongst the passengers of the ill-fated flight.
While pursuing the criminal case registered in the US against the hijackers, an FBI team recorded Ms. Jeanne Moore’s testimony and visited New Delhi thrice to discuss her abduction and progress in the case. Determined to get to the bottom of the hijack in order to unmask the masterminds, the FBI has already set up an office in New Delhi to cooperate with India to curb growing terrorism.
The CBI, on the other hand, claims to have acquired the record of the incoming calls at the Air Traffic Control of the Kandahar airport.
French writer Bernard Henri-Levy writes in his famous book “Who Killed Daniel Pearl”: “Two high-ranking officers of the ISI were present on the tarmac in Kandahar when the Indian negotiating team landed there. They were later joined by colleagues from the special operations wing of the ISI’s Quetta station. Negotiations were being conducted over wireless sets. The five hijackers got careless and inadvertently allowed Indian negotiators to overhear them, taking the following instructions from Urdu-speaking men:
Hijacker to Indian negotiator: ‘‘Come and take charge of the aircraft’’.
Negotiator: ‘‘Okay, we’re coming’’.
Overheard voice (in Urdu): ‘‘Don’t release the aircraft before you retrieve your baggage from the cargo hold.’’
Hijacker to negotiator: ‘‘Hum plane release nahin kar sakte’’. (We cannot release the aircraft)
Negotiator to hijacker: ‘‘It will take time to clear the cargo hold and segregate your baggage and then there will be further delay. We guarantee you we will take the designated baggage of the passengers and return yours’’.
Overheard voice: ‘‘Nahin, woh bahot zaruri hai’’. (No it is very important)
Hijacker to prompter: ‘‘Yeh (the Indians) nahin maan rahein hain’’. (These Indians are not agreeing)
Overheard voice: ‘‘Tell them the baggage contains explosives.’’
The hijackers were subsequently allowed to remove their baggage. It later transpired the baggage held diaries containing phone numbers and addresses of their intelligence contacts in Nepal. The hijacking episode eventually came to an end with the release of Maulana Masood Azhar, Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar and Sheikh Ahmed Omar Saeed.
During and after the hijack drama, Islamabad vehemently denied having any role in it and went to the extent of offering to negotiate on New Delhi's behalf. The fact, however, remains that Mufti Abdul Rauf (the younger brother of Jaish-e-Mohammad founder Masood Azhar) and his brother-in-law, Yusuf Azhar were among the hijackers whilst the Jaish chief who was to be released by the Indian government from a Srinagar jail was shortly seen leading victory processions in Pakistan.
According to well-placed Pakistani intelligence sources, the CBI has informed the FBI that Muttawakil had played an adverse role during the plane hijack leaving the then Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh red-faced by going back on several commitments made during the negotiations with the hijackers.
The Indian side says Wakil, who acted as an interlocutor at Kandahar after the IC-814 plane landed there, was also hostile during the negotiations.
When Jaswant Singh landed in Kandahar with the three militant leaders (Maulana Masood Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Omar Saeed and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar) Wakil had made it a point to assure him that the hijackers and the terrorists would be held in Afghan custody until all the Indians left Kandahar. However, as soon as the three Pakistani militants were handed over to the hijackers, they were provided with a jeep in which they victoriously drove away.
The CBI believed that Muttawakil would be able to divulge more details about the intricacies of the hijack such as contacts that hijackers had with the outside world including instructions and logistical support they received from Pakistan.
Therefore, during the Indo-US Joint Working Group on Terrorism meeting held on July 11 and 12, 2003 in Washington, India requested the Bush administration to make the FBI give permission to the CBI to grill Mullah Muttawakil.
After being denied access for almost two years, Indian investigators finally succeeded in debriefing Mullah Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil and a few other Taliban leaders as well. What is not known to the Pakistani intelligence is whether Muttawakil was questioned for reconstructing the hijack drama or whether he had agreed for a statement to be recorded as a witness in the ongoing trial in a Patiala court in India.
The FBI investigators are convinced that on several occasions, Muttawakil had used the Air Traffic Control (ATC) channel to speak to the hijackers and to some Pakistani officials.
Therefore, he, more than any other Taliban official, had the total picture of how the hijack was facilitated by Pakistan and where the five hijackers were headed after the scenario came to an end.
India insists that Pakistan’s role in the hijacking should be seen within the context of the Taliban’s then official spokesman, Abdul Haj Mutmaen’s January 1, 1999 statement that the hijackers and terrorists that had been released from Indian jails were left on the Pak-Afghan border near Quetta, Baluchistan.
From India’s point of view — any evidence that could establish the role of the Pakistani intelligence in the hijack could put enormous pressure on Islamabad for the custody of the IC-814 hijackers. Under the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation’s convention on extradition and mutual assistance in tackling criminal activities, India made two formal requests for the extradition of the five hijackers and their accomplices.
But the Pakistani government refused to oblige, maintaining that if any person suspected of being involved in the hijacking was to be found on its territory or in Azad Kashmir, Islamabad would undertake to apprehend and prosecute the suspect.
The then CBI Director RK Raghavan subsequently raised the issue with Interpol officials during the 69th Annual Conference of the International Organization in Athens. Soon afterwards, the Interpol authorities issued a red corner alert (look-out notice) to Pakistan, Britain, the United Arab Emirates, Nepal and Bangladesh against the five hijackers and two accomplices who are believed to be the key conspirators in the hijacking.
However, the Indian side is not very hopeful about getting their custody even after issuance of a red corner notice given the fact that several countries did not comply with the warrant from the international Organization Despite a resolution to make mandatory warrants of the Interpol at its annual 1997 conference held in New Delhi, several countries still had to ratify it to turn it into an appropriate law.
The CBI has already in addition filed a charge sheet against ten people in the hijacking case, including three Indians -- Abdul Latif alias Patel, Bhupalmar Damai alias Yusuf Nepali and Dilip Kumar Bhujel.
The other seven accused, all Pakistani nationals, were Ibrahim Athar, Sunny Ahmed Qazi, Zahoor Ibrahim, Shahid Akhtar Sayed and Shakir and accomplices Yusuf Azhar and Abdul Rauf. Yusuf Azhar and Abdul Rauf are believed to be the key conspirators.
The CBI charge sheet alleges that the hijackers possessed a very sophisticated satellite telephone to communicate with their mastermind in Rawalpindi. “And when the Taliban authorities in Kabul refused to allow the hijacked aircraft to land, which was communicated by the hijackers to the authorities in Rawalpindi, they were asked to proceed to Kandahar”. Islamabad, however, has denied these charges time and again.
This story is based on Chapter VI of Amir Mir's book “The True Face of Jehadis”, published by Mashal Books.
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