19 soldiers killed in southern Afghanistan
* German and Swiss soldiers injured in Kunduz
SPIN BOLDAK: Guerrillas from the ousted Taliban regime killed at least 12 soldiers in Afghanistan on Thursday in a sharp escalation of violence ahead of next month’s landmark presidential election.
At least seven more soldiers were killed in other clashes in Zabul on Tuesday and Wednesday, provincial officials said. They said some Taliban members were also killed, but no details were available. Kheyal Mohammad Husseini, the governor of Zabul, said that latest fighting erupted when guerrillas attacked a government post in the Sori district of the restive province and killed 12 soldiers.
The governor did not have further details of the fighting in the province, the scene of repeated attacks by the Taliban over the past three days. On Wednesday, the guerrillas attacked a joint convoy of the US and Afghan forces. The Taliban say several US soldiers were killed, but there has been no independent verification.
Zabul is near the border with neighbouring Pakistan and is part of the main bastion of the Taliban. The guerrillas have vowed to derail the October 9 election, in which incumbent President Hamid Karzai is pitted against 17 other candidates.
More than 1,000 people have been killed since August last year in violence linked to remnants of the Taliban, toppled from power in a US-led war for failing to hand over Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden after the September 11, 2001, attacks. Most of the presidential candidates have called for the poll to be delayed until security improves, but Karzai has said the vote will take place on schedule. The election has already been delayed twice.
German and Swiss soldiers injured: A Swiss and two German soldiers were injured in an attack on a camp in the northeastern city of Kunduz, the German Defence Ministry said on Wednesday.
“A grenade exploded at the camp for provincial reconstruction in Kunduz at 7.12pm,” the ministry said in a communiqué. “Two German soldiers and a Swiss soldier were injured and are being treated.” A ministry spokesman told AFP that the search for the assailants was hampered by nightfall. Security around the camp, where 270 troops and about 30 civilians are stationed, was stepped up. A first grenade had exploded an hour earlier about 500 metres from of the camp. With its 1,480 soldiers, Germany provides the bulk of troops within the NATO-run, 7,000-member International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. agencies
Taliban claim to have killed 12 Afghan gov't soldiers
Friday, October 1, 2004 at 02:31 JST Kyodo News
ISLAMABAD — Afghanistan's former ruling Taliban militia on Thursday claimed to have killed at least 12 Afghan government troops overnight in their continuing attacks on government posts in Zabul province in southern Afghanistan, Afghan Islamic Press reported.
Taliban spokesman Hamid Agha was quoted as saying the government troops were killed when a 40-man strong Taliban group attacked and destroyed Shenkay and Pushiband posts located northwest of Qalat district in the province. (Kyodo News)
Afghan Leader Counsels Patience
RFE/RL 09/30/2004 Amin Tarzi - In an interview in Kabul with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan on 29 September, Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai discussed the upcoming presidential election, the first round of which is scheduled for 9 October. Afghanistan's direct national election pits Karzai against 17 other candidates hoping to become the country's first-ever democratically elected leader.
In his wide-ranging interview, Karzai cautioned that curbing the power of the country's warlords will take time, rejected speculation that he is out to disenfranchise former mujahedin, and suggested that Afghanistan needs something other than a coalition government.
Karzai, widely considered to be the favorite going into the presidential balloting, told RFE/RL that when he was chosen to lead the Afghan Interim Authority by an intra-Afghan meeting convened in Bonn in December 2001, he never thought he would be in a leadership position in his country. But now, three years later, Karzai gave his term as leader of Afghanistan's Interim and Transitional governments positive marks.
Karzai described Afghanistan as a "traditionally democratic society" based on such forms of popularly based decision-making processes as tribal jirgas and local councils. Under the governing system envisaged in the country's new constitution, he said, Afghanistan should enjoy systematized institutions, such as a parliament and free elections, which will allow the people to practice democracy in a more organized manner.
Karzai lamented the fact that he has not been able to campaign across the country, citing his heavy workload and security concerns. Karzai escaped near disaster in early September when a rocket narrowly missed his helicopter as it was approaching its destination in the southeastern Afghan city of Gardez. Purported neo-Taliban elements, who have vowed to disrupt the election process, have claimed responsibility for the rocket attack and proclaimed a victory in having forced Karzai to cancel his visit to Gardez. At the time, a frustrated Karzai said he wanted to take control of his own security detail (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 September 2004).
Responding to criticism that his administration has not done enough to curtail to power of warlords, Karzai said the rule of people rather than gunmen is possible. But he added that achieving that goal is a gradual process.
In a report released the same day as Karzai's interview, the New York-based NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) said human rights abuses by warlords are jeopardizing the integrity of the country's first presidential election. According the HRW, Afghans in general are more concerned over the influence of warlords in harming the democratic nature of the elections than over armed attacks by neo-Taliban militants.
Karzai's most important triumph in combating warlordism has been the successful sacking of western Afghanistan's strongman and Herat Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 September 2004). Karzai, however, dismissed the idea that he was out to disenfranchise former mujahedin leaders and commanders -- some of whom clearly merit the "warlord" label. Karzai told RFE/RL that mujahedin are sons of Afghanistan and have sacrificed their blood for their country.
There are no differences between the mujahedin and ordinary Afghans as such, Karzai suggested, adding that prosperity would help all Afghans, including the former mujahedin. While Karzai did not specifically address the issue, some former mujahedin leaders, including his current Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim, have criticized the removal of Ismail Khan, who was a well-known mujahedin commander.
Karzai also told RFE/RL that he rejects the idea of a coalition government, and he blamed some of the shortcomings of his current administration on its having been based on a coalition. Karzai also stressed the importance of a common platform rather than political-party membership in response to a question concerning his running mates -- Ahmad Zia Mas'ud and Mohammad Karim Khalili -- both of whom are members of disparate political parties. Khalili in fact heads his own political party -- Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan, or Hizb-e Wahdat-e Islami-ye Afghanistan -- and commands his own militia. Should he win, Karzai told RFA, anyone who serves in his administration must agree to participate in his platform and his plan.
Karzai Accused of 'Propaganda Campaign'
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer
HERAT, Afghanistan - The main rival to interim President Hamid Karzai charged Friday that a government "propaganda campaign" is trying to trick Afghans into thinking Karzai is the only one of 18 candidates to have Washington's backing for the Oct. 9 presidential election.
More than 1,000 people jammed the main mosque in this western city to proclaim former Interior Minister Yunus Qanooni "our great leader" and vent their frustration at what many consider Karzai's kowtowing to American interests.
"The government has been running a propaganda campaign, a war of rumor, to make the people feel that America would only support one candidate and the others were doomed to defeat," Qanooni told the cheering crowd, noting U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad had said publicly that Washington was not playing favorites.
Qanooni, an ethnic Tajik who was a senior official in the northern alliance that helped drive the Taliban from power in 2001, said he had spoken to Khalilzad three times. But then he chided the front-running Karzai for working too closely with the energetic ambassador, who is suspected by many Afghans of acting as a puppet-master orchestrating events behind the scenes.
"Afghans don't want a leader imposed on us from abroad," Qanooni told the crowd. "I want Afghanistan to stand side by side with its neighbors, proud and peaceful, like one family, not with the demeanor of a servant,"
Karzai, a member of Afghanistan's big Pashtun community, is expected to easily out poll his rivals Oct. 9, a fact all but conceded by Qanooni. But Qanooni said that if the 17 other candidates could force a runoff by denying Karzai the majority needed for outright victory, they could then defeat him by uniting around a single candidate, presumably himself.
Khalilzad has acknowledged meeting privately with Qanooni and other major candidates, but he denies widespread rumors that he tried to persuade some of them to quit the race. "I have never pressured them to withdraw from the race in favor of Karzai," he said Monday.
Few rallies have been held in the campaign. Abdul Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek leader challenging Karzai, drew about 8,000 people in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif this week, and Karzai's vice president, Karim Khalili, spoke to 2,000 people at a Shiite Muslim mosque in the capital Friday.
Without mentioning Karzai by name, Khalili, an ethnic Hazara, said the election was a major step toward bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan. "All Afghan people should participate in the election. If they don't, I'm sure those who favor war and all the problems of the past will prevail," he said.
A large crowd followed Qanooni through Herat as he visited dignitaries, including former Gov. Ismail Khan, an ethnic Tajik warlord removed by Karzai last month. Khan was accused by international human rights groups of torture and political repression, but he also was credited with overseeing Afghanistan's safest, most prosperous major city.
Most in crowd said they backed Qanooni. "Karzai is just a puppet," said Saeed Usman, a 50-year-old shopkeeper. But some said they would back Karzai, a ubiquitous figure on the world stage in his caracol hat and Uzbek cape. "I'm voting for Karzai because the international community respects him," said Abdul Razaq.
Karzai has rarely ventured out in public since formal campaigning began last month, though he inaugurated a museum in Kabul this week. He escaped a Sept. 16 attack on a U.S. military helicopter flying him to the eastern city of Gardez.
Meanwhile, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Eric Olson, told The Associated Press the military had not seen the feared widespread attacks by militants aimed at disrupting the election and that there were no signs rebels were plotting major violence on polling day.
"What we've predicted as worst-case scenarios haven't played out," Olson said. Also Friday, thousands of Afghan refugees in Pakistan signed up to vote on the opening day of a drive that seeks to register 800,000 people in three days.
Afghan men and women turned out in force in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta, but women weren't seen at refugee camps around the socially conservative northwestern city of Peshawar.
"Men are coming to register, but women aren't," said Ghulam Farooq, an election official at Azakhel camp. In Afghanistan, voter registration was conducted for months and 10.6 million people signed up, more than 40 percent of them women.
Afghan Candidates Stump for Peaceful Vote
By PAUL HAVEN, Associated Press Writer - KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghanistan's vice president urged his countrymen Friday to participate in historic presidential elections, saying a failed vote could lead to renewed war and bloodshed in a nation that has endured both for decades.
Karim Khalili told about 2,000 people at a Shiite mosque that the Oct. 9 election was a major step toward bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan, but he gave no specifics on what President Hamid Karzai would do with five more years in power.
"All Afghan people should participate in the election. If they don't, I'm sure those who favor war and all the problems of the past will prevail," said Khalili, who is also a Shiite Muslim and a member of the nation's Hazara ethnic community.
Khalili did not mention Karzai's name, saying he hoped all Afghans vote for the candidate they prefer. In Pakistan, thousands of Afghan refugees eager to participate in the elections signed up at the start of a voter registration campaign in camps and cities.
But security threats and strict Pashtun tribal mores inhibited many women from taking part, casting doubt over the wisdom of trying to register some 800,000 out-of-country voters in Pakistan in just three days.
Millions of Afghans who fled fighting and drought are still living in Pakistan and Iran, and they represent a significant bloc. Up to 600,000 refugees in Iran can vote but don't need to register, as the government already has an official roster of Afghan refugees.
Friday's campaign rally in Kabul was one of the few held in Afghanistan ahead of the vote. Uzbek strongman Abdul Rashid Dostum drew about 8,000 people to a rally in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif earlier this week. Another candidate, former Education Minister Yunus Qanooni, was holding a rally that drew several hundred people in the western city of Herat on Friday.
Karzai's office had hinted he might attend the gathering Friday at Khatam-ul-Anbiya, one of the largest Shiite mosques in Kabul, but he did not show.
Karzai, the overwhelming favorite to beat 17 rivals, has rarely ventured out in public since formal campaigning began last month, although he inaugurated a new museum in Kabul earlier in the week. He escaped a Sept. 16 attack on a U.S. military helicopter taking him to a school-opening in the eastern city of Gardez.
Khalili told the crowd the election would send a message to the world that "Afghans want peace, security and stability in their country." "We Afghan people have been at war for more than 20 years. We have passed through a very difficult period, but finally we have reached the day where we will have an election in our country," he said.
About 400 supporters of a rival Shiite Muslim candidate, Mohammed Mohaqeq, gathered outside the mosque, waving banners for Mohaqeq and shouting it was time for Karzai to go. "We don't want Karzai to be in power forever," said Hafiz Ahmad, 22. "There should be an opportunity for other people. We need jobs. We need security, and we need help for the refugees who are coming back to the country."
Another man, Ahmed Zia, said he would vote for Karzai, who is a member of Afghanistan's Pashtun majority. "Even though I am a Hazara like Mohaqeq, I plan to vote for Karzai," Zia said. I don't thinkwe should vote based just on ethnicity."
In Pakistan, election preparations were delayed because of lengthy negotiations with the United Nations and Afghanistan — leaving little time for organizers to persuade tribal communities to allow women to participate. At the largest refugee camp, the sprawling Jalozai settlement that houses 115,000 Afghans near Peshawar, an Islamic cleric had apparently dissuaded many women from registering, residents said.
Hazrat Gul, a resident of Azakhel camp, complained about the organization of the campaign. "We have offered to registration staff that if they want to register women they should send female staff to our houses because it's against our tradition to send our women outside our houses," he said.
But at least one resident of Chachagari camp seemed satisfied with the process. Saifuddin, a 20-year old tailor who was born in the camp, showed his right thumb and index finger covered with indelible ink — used to prevent voters from registering more than once. "Now I will have a say in the affairs of my country," he said.
Lackluster Afghan Poll Campaign in Final Stages
By David Fox
HERAT, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghanistan's first presidential election is just over a week away, but campaigning and enthusiasm have been muted for an event described by President Bush as one of his major achievements.
Friday was the last holiday of the campaign in this Islamic nation but only one candidate appeared to take advantage of the day to take his campaign to the 10.5-million-strong electorate. The campaign ends 48 hours before the Oct. 9 vote. Karzai himself has not campaigned and his travel was further restricted after a suspected assassination attempt last month.
Yunus Qanuni, one of 17 candidates challenging Karzai for the presidency, visited the western stronghold of a regional warlord to say he would ensure former mujahideen fighters who battled the Soviets were included in the new national army if he wins. Qanuni, an ethnic Tajik, is considered Karzai's main challenger and a key issue in the campaign has been the role of regional strongmen and their militias in Afghanistan's future.
"The national army, the new Afghanistan, should also include the mujahideen," Qanuni told supporters at a rally at the scenic Blue Mosque in the city of Herat following Friday prayers. "I want to build a government that includes all Afghans. It must be a professional government but include all parties. This is the same for the army."
Karzai, a member of Afghanistan's largest Pashtun community, was handpicked by the United States for the presidency after U.S.-led coalition forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001. Last month, as he stood in the U.N. General Assembly hall in New York, Bush hailed the advent of democracy in Afghanistan.
Soldiers from the 18,000-strong U.S.-led force in Afghanistan will be deployed during voting to prevent attacks by remnants of the Taliban, who have vowed to derail the election. More than 1,000 people have died in militant-related attacks since August last year. Karzai has angered many regional leaders since being installed as interim president by disarming their militias and seeking to curb their powers.
Last month, he dismissed Herat governor Ismail Khan, a veteran of the war against the Soviet occupation and the Taliban. He earlier ditched Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim as his running mate, prompting Qanuni to enter the presidential race.
Kabul said Khan has been reluctant to allow his forces to be demobilized or integrated into the new Afghan army. Khan saw the strategy as a ploy to weaken his position and impose Pashtun leadership on the Tajiks. Khan and Qanuni were mobbed by crowds after Friday prayers, although it was difficult to say who was the main attraction.
Many left the mosque after prayers, but about 200 stayed to hear Qanuni say he was confident of victory and that former mujahideen -- holy warriors -- should be retrained for posts in the army or government. Outside the mosque, the reception for Qanuni was indifferent.
"Most people will vote for Karzai, I am sure," said one man leaving the mosque. "We support Ismail Khan, but Karzai is doing things for all of Afghanistan, not just Herat. Even if you are from Herat, you still need the whole of Afghanistan to be peaceful." After his speech, a convoy of Qanuni's vehicles toured the city, loudspeakers blaring, urging Heratis to vote next Sunday.
Qanuni's posters are prominently displayed on public buildings, but Karzai's portrait dominates in private businesses and shops. Khan's refusal to publicly endorse any candidate has probably worked in Karzai's favor -- although the president's campaign has been restricted because of security concerns.
"You can criticize who you want as long as it is not Khan," said Rafiq Shair, head of the Herat Professional Shura, a lobby group for the city's professionals. "So by Khan not saying 'vote like this', or 'vote like that', he really is leaving it to the people to decide."
Musharraf: Pakistan killed about 100 al-Qaida terrorists in recent operations near Afghanistan
Friday October 1, 11:40 PM
Pakistani security forces killed about 100 al-Qaida terrorists during a recent military operation in tribal areas near Afghanistan, state-run TV on Friday quoted Pakistan's president as saying.
President Gen. Pervez Musharraf also said the operation in the rugged South Waziristan tribal region was "purely against al-Qaida."
"During this operation, about 100 al-Qaida terrorists were killed," Pakistan Television quoted Musharraf as saying aboard a plane on the way back from visits to the United States, the Netherlands and Italy.
He gave no further details about the slain terror suspects.
His comments came hours before Pakistani intelligence agents raided a home near the northwestern city of Peshawar on Thursday and arrested a Libyan with suspected al-Qaida links.
Authorities say the man identified himself as Ahmed Abdullah during interrogation.
Pakistan, a key ally of the United States in its war on terror, has deployed about 70,000 troops in its tense tribal regions in an effort to flush out terror suspects, who often target security forces.
Meanwhile, a land mine planted on a road killed three children and wounded two more Friday on the outskirts of Wana, the main town in South Waziristan.
Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan said the children had been walking to school when one of them picked up the explosive device "planted by miscreants for sabotage purpose." The children's ages were not immediately known.
Shortly after the incident, Pakistani troops killed a suspected foreigner and captured another man, also a foreigner, after a shootout in the same area where the children were killed, Sultan said.
He said local residents helped them to track down the pair, who were suspected of trying to plant a land mine on a road to target Pakistani forces.
Sultan said authorities are also investigating whether the two men had planted the device that killed the children. He refused to disclose the identity or nationality of the suspects.
South Waziristan has been the scene of military operations against al-Qaida-linked foreign militants and their local supporters in recent months. Militants often target security forces with rockets and land mines.
Officials said this week that their security agencies had "broken the back" of al-Qaida's network in the country by killing a key Pakistani operative, Amjad Hussain Farooqi, during a weekend raid in the country's south.
Farooqi was believed to be behind the kidnapping and beheading in 2002 of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, and two failed assassination attempts on Musharraf that left 17 other people dead in December 2003.
Musharraf returned Thursday night after a two-week trip to the three countries. He met with U.S. President George W. Bush, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other world leaders on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
Neo-Taliban Spokesman Says Group Will Not Attack Afghan Voters in Pakistan, But Would Kill The Candidates if They Could
RFE/RL 10/01/2004 By Amin Tarzi
Hamed Agha, purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, told AIP on 30 September that the militia does not intend, nor does it have the ability, to attack Afghan voters in Pakistan. "Pakistan is an independent country. The Taliban have no intention of disrupting the Afghan electoral process there," Hamed Agha said.
However he said that the neo-Taliban "are requesting the [Afghan] refugees [living in Pakistan] not to participate in the electoral process.... [which] are only for the sole benefit of the Americans and [the] British." Since the communist putsch and the subsequent Soviet invasion in the late 1970s, millions of Afghans settled in Pakistan.
Since the demise of the Taliban regime in late 2001, many refugees have returned to Afghanistan, though there are still many Afghans living in Pakistan who are eligible to vote in the 9 October presidential elections. Registration of Afghan refugees in Pakistan begins on 1 October and will last for three days.
Hamed Agha said that if the neo-Taliban were able to, they would kill Afghan presidential candidates, AIP reported on 30 September. Contradicting most of the recent reports that the neo-Taliban are focused on disrupting the elections, Hamed Agha said that in their attacks the neo-Taliban "do not care about the elections."
"We are particularly focused on daily escalation of the mujahedin's operations because the people are supporting us," he added. Hamed Agha warned that the intensity of neo-Taliban "operations will continue vigorously even after the end of the elections."
Taliban try to intimidate Afghan Voters
SF Chronicle Thursday, September 30, 2004
Uruzgan, Afghanistan -- The photocopied notices appeared on the blue mosque door in Uruzgan, a small town below a line of jagged mountains in central Afghanistan, a few hours before Friday prayers. Pinned up by an unknown hand under cover of darkness, their colloquial name -- "night letters" -- had a quaint ring. Their message did not.
"A holy war has been declared against the infidel," announced the first. Christian invaders, led by the United States, wanted to conquer Afghanistan's Muslims, said the second letter. Any Afghan working with them would be "punished," warned the third. At the bottom of each was a common signature: "The Taliban."
In the days before Afghanistan's historic presidential election on Oct. 9, the Taliban are intensifying efforts to scuttle the vote. Hunted by U.S.-led international troops, the black-turbaned insurgents have amped up their strategy of assassination and intimidation.
In rural areas such as Uruzgan, a Pashtun-dominated southern province, the Islamic warriors are trying to prevent voters even from going to the polling booths. The night letters are a primary weapon in the campaign of intimidation. Election officials, teachers and ordinary voters are receiving the threatening notes every day, said Atiqulla, the provincial electoral coordinator for Uruzgan who, like many Afghans, goes by just one name. The night letters have also cropped up in Kandahar province and other parts of Afghanistan.
"They are told that if they cooperate with the elections, they will be killed. It's the Taliban's new way of preaching to them," Atiqulla said in his office in the heavily fortified U.N. compound in the regional capital, Tarin Kowt.
Although the Americans provided security for voter registration, election teams have now been left to fend for themselves in the pre-election civic education drive, which is considered crucial in a country that has never experienced a full-scale democratic vote.
On the streets of Tarin Kowt, there are few signs that a major election is looming, even though more than 200,000 people have registered to vote across the province. There are no election posters, and not one of the 18 presidential candidates has visited.
In fact, few voters even know the contenders' names, Atiqulla said. "The main problem is education. We have no newspapers, no local radio, so we depend on our teams of civic educators. And they are scared," he said.
The U.N. compound where Atiqulla works is ringed with sandbags and barbed wire and protected by 52 hired gunmen. His staff members are afraid to venture into remote areas and have generally abandoned the gray Russian jeeps the United Nations provided, saying they make them targets for attack.
They have reason to fear. Since May, five members of Atiqulla's staff have been killed and two have been injured. Election workers have been attacked and killed in other areas, and voter registration sites have been bombed. In June, a minibus carrying an electoral team was bombed in Jalalabad, killing three women and wounding several others.
Atiqulla argued that the Taliban's night letters may be a sign of weakness as much as strength. "They are afraid to fight with weapons anymore, so this is the only remaining way," he said. The commander at the local U.S. military base, Lt. Col. Terry Sellers, agreed. "Yes, there will be an increase in attacks before the election, but we will be able to deal with it."
There are other potential threats to the legitimacy of the October election. To the north, there are fears that power-hungry warlords will encourage ballot-rigging in favor of their chosen candidates. In the south, the question is how much the Taliban's terror tactics will affect turnout.
Even in the midst of the Taliban campaign of intimidation, there seems to be a quiet determination to pursue democracy. More than 10.5 million of Afghanistan's 27 million people have registered to vote, a much higher figure than anticipated and one touted as a measure of success, despite some worries about double registration.
"This will not be a perfect election," Atiqulla admitted. "But despite the threats, the people know the Taliban are not good any more. They want a new government. I am sure of it."
The U.S. military is hoping to win over the local population in former Taliban strongholds such as Uruzgan by building schools, digging wells and providing some medical care. The army is also building a $20 million road from Tarin Kowt to Kandahar in the south to reduce the province's isolation.
Military operations have scattered and reduced the Taliban forces, but the militants' ability to project fear across southern Afghanistan remains undiminished. The mullah of the mosque in Uruzgan town, where the night letters were pinned to the front door, said it was the first time such notices had appeared at his mosque -- contradicting accounts of other citizens.
"I don't know who did it,'' he said. "All I know is that they are not locals." Moments later, a U.S. soldier ripped the letters down, and the mullah quietly slipped away.
Ismail Khan Warns Not to Isolate Afghan Veterans
Reuters 0/01/2004 Peter Graff
HERAT -A powerful warlord dismissed as governor of Afghanistan's most prosperous province warned yesterday against isolating the heroes of the resistance against Soviet and Taleban rule.
Ismail Khan, whose replacement as governor of Herat by Afghan President Hamid Karzai sparked bloody protests in the western city this month, said Mujahedeen leaders who fought Moscow's decade-long occupation in the 1980s still had a role to play.
"Some of the commanders have spent their lives fighting," said Khan. "They have skills that can still be used by the government. They should be included more in governing."
Veteran warrior Khan said he saw no role for himself even after Afghanistan's first-ever direct presidential elections on Oct. 9 — unless it was in a military capacity.
Karzai offered Khan the role of minister of mines and industry after removing him as Herat governor, but the commander declined what Kabul said was a promotion because he said he lacked the necessary qualifications.
The situation highlights the problems faced by Karzai as he heads into an election he hopes will legitimize his rule after his appointment as interim president in December 2001 following the overthrow of the Taleban. Karzai needs a team of technocrats in government if he is to rebuild Afghanistan following decades of conflict.
Although the presence of nearly 25,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan has improved security and stability, Karzai still relies on the support of regional warlords and commanders to give the central government credibility and to channel revenues.
Khan, who fought against the Soviets and the Taleban, is the highest-profile regional strongman to be tackled by Karzai. The snowy-bearded commander has ruled Herat as a personal fiefdom for years and is credited with turning the city into the most prosperous and well-organized in the country.
"He is a good man at heart, but he is a commander first," said Rafiq Shahir, head of the Herat Professional Shoura, a lobby group for more than 2,000 doctors, engineers and other experts. "He has done many things for Herat, but there are some who think his time has passed and it is time for a new way of doing things."
Although he has moved from the governor's residence to his well-appointed personal compound, Khan still spends up to 15 hours a day receiving visitors and petitions from his supporters.
"He may not be governor any more, but he is still in charge," said Momin Abizaid, a former member of Khan's militia, as he waited for an audience to ask for money for his sick son. The new governor, Herat native and former ambassador to Ukraine Sayed Muhammad Khairkhwa, has pledged to disarm factional fighters.
Khan's influence is everywhere in Herat. In the city center, the newest monument features giant portraits of Khan, his son, Afghan resistance hero Ahmad Shah Masood and Karzai.
No posters of Karzai appear on the perimeter of Khan's residence, although pictures of the other 17 candidates standing in next month's election are plastered on the walls.
"If people ask me who to vote for, I tell them to carefully think about it and make up their own mind," Khan said. "I believe in the concept of democratic presidential elections, but I also think that the candidates need to consider the regional nuances of Afghanistan and not always think along central government lines."
Khan said he fully accepted that he was no longer governor, but did not see an end to his involvement in politics. "I hope there is still a role for me in Afghanistan," he said, adding that he did not want to waste his wide experience.
Khan said he felt the creation of a new Afghan National Army was taking too long and had not included enough powerful and senior military commanders from regional militias who would have been loyal to a central government.
"There was an opportunity to take the best," Khan said, complaining that many veterans had been demobilized and the new army created mostly from younger soldiers trained by foreigners. "This can cause problems in the future," said Khan. "The country should not be divided."
Most Afghans — even former commanders — wanted a quiet life after years of conflict and would welcome the election, he said. “People call us warlords and such like. I don't mind," said Khan. "But we are all actually seeking peace."
Schroeder plans Afghan visit despite security fears
DPA 0/01/2004 -
BERLIN - German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder plans to go ahead with a visit to Afghanistan later this month despite security concerns raised by top aides, a government spokesman said Friday. "We assume the Chancellor will travel to Kabul on 11 October," said Schroeder's deputy spokesman Thomas Steg.
Steg said the German leader was "firmly determined" to visit Afghanistan for talks with President Hamid Karzai as part of an Asia trip with stops in India, Pakistan and Vietnam.
On Thursday, a senior German official said Schroeder might be forced to cancel the Kabul visit due to fears over his safety after six soldiers were injured in an attack on a German military post in the country.
"Under certain conditions the trip could have to be cancelled," said an official speaking on the condition of anonymity. The official said Schroeder was not due to fly into the Afghan capital using his regular Airbus jet but rather in a German air force transport plane.
"We will be in close contact with our intelligence services on the situation there," said the official. Germany has over 2,000 soldiers in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan as part of NATO's 7,000-member International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) created by the United Nations in 2001 after the overthrow of the Taliban by a United States-led coalition.
NATO reinforces its security forces in Afghanistan
BRUSSELS, Oct. 1 (Xinhua) -- The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) reinforced its security forces in Afghanistan Friday as part of international efforts to safeguard the presidential election on October 9.
The last of over two thousand extra troops had arrived to bring its total strength to 9,000, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in a statement of the alliance's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Spain and Italy have both added extra battalions to the NATO force in recent weeks, while the Netherlands has provided six F-16 jets and Britain six Harrier aircraft. A further U.S. battalion is on standby at its base in Germany.
NATO, the trans-Atlantic military alliance, took command of the three-year-old ISAF in 2003, its first mission beyond the European and North American borders it was set up to defend in 1949.
Spain to bring home battalion from Afghanistan after elections
Kabul, Sep 30 (EFE).- Spain's defense minister said here Thursday that about half of his nation's thousand-plus contingent of soldiers in Afghanistan will be brought home following elections next month. Defense Minister Jose Bono commented after meeting with President Hamid Karzai, a candidate in elections set for Oct. 9.
He said Karzai asked him for an extension of the presence of the Spanish contingent. The minister said he told the Afghan leader that the soldiers running a field hospital in Kabul would remain, but that a 500-strong battalion in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif would be brought home following the vote.
Bono was accompanied here by high-ranking military officers and a delegation of legislators. Though the Socialist government withdrew Spanish troops from Iraq soon after taking office in April, the deployment of 1,040 soldiers to Afghanistan, where a U.N. mandate is in effect, was approved by the administration and congress in July.
AFP Interview: Afghan vote process speeds up disarmament
KABUL (AFP) - In both of Afghanistan's official languages, Dari and Pashtu, disarmament is a dirty word, which partly explains why progress in removing weapons from militias has been slow until now, according to the head of the program.
"The Afghans disliked the word disarmament. To disarm in Dari or Pashtun is a demeaning word," Peter Babbington, director of the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) program told AFP in an exclusive interview.
But the word 'DDR' has now entered the lexicon of both languages, and with the country's first presidential election just over one week away, disarmament deadlocks have begun to thaw, he said.
"This election is forcing the issue. It is moving now, albeit stuttering, but it is moving," Babbington said. By September 24, 16,861 militiamen had handed in their guns and begun the process of moving toward a civilian life in a country wracked by more than two decades of conflict.
They are a fraction of the tens of thousands of militiamen who were working under local commanders, believed to number between 40,000 and 60,000. However, Babbington said that the numbers are deceptive as many commanders had phantom soldiers drawing paychecks.
When the disarmament process began a year ago the Ministry of Finance was paying salaries for around 100,000 militiamen. Disarmament teams have yet to find a single militia corp that has as many men as the commander originally claimed, he said.
In one example in southeastern Khost, a province gripped by a Taliban-led insurgency with fighters coming over the border from Pakistan, one local commander was claiming salaries for 1,760 men. Disarmament teams on the ground could only find 760 soldiers. Regardless of the numbers, as Afghanistan faces a presidential election threatened by Taliban militants on October 9, much of the country is still under the sway of local militia commanders.
A recent report by Human Rights Watch said warlords posed a greater threat to polls than the Taliban-led insurgency, and pointed out that disarmament has proceeded much more slowly than had been hoped with recalcitrant commanders reluctant to give up their private armies.
Babbington said the program "would barely scratch the surface of the number of weapons" in Afghanistan. The process aimed to break up the structures of local militia forces rather than confiscate every gun in the land, he said.
"We are not producing the final solution here, but trying to create a normality where you have an opportunity to put into place normal structures of administration and bureaucracy," he said. Militia commanders did not have standing armies but were still likely to be able to summon forces at short notice. "At the end of the day if one of these strong warlords says, 'I want the troops to come in,' these guys will drop their shovels and ploughshares and will join up," Babbington said.
The aim of the disarmament program was to provide many of the tens of thousands of fighters with alternative livelihoods so that they were less willing to be at the beck and call of local commanders. "The majority are delighted to get something out of this whole process," he added.
"Reconstruction is booming so we will train them to be a carpenter, a concrete specialist, a road-builder and while they are doing that vocational training we pay them a stipend." Disarmament had to be an Afghan-led process because there were not enough US-led or NATO troops to enforce disarmament.
"DDR that has gone on in Africa, in Cambodia, in Timor even in the Balkans, there has been a military force from outside that has imposed itself on the country." The impression that foreign forces could enforce disarmament was "completely wrong," Babbington said. "We had to make this an Afghan-owned project."
With the removal of warlord Ismael Khan as governor of Herat province disarmament had speeded up in western Afghanistan. Progress was being made in the Panjshir valley, the heartland of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, with an emphasis on locking away heavy weapons.
Many so-called warlords were "bully boys and when they are faced down they turn out to be fairly shallow," Babbington said. "But at the end of the day people are wary of taking on a bully boy because he can still hurt people." Which is why progress on cantoning tanks and other heavy armaments was vital, "because just to have a couple of tanks rolling down the road can really intimidate people."
Pakistan offensive helping to keep Taliban from disrupting Afghan election so far, official says
WASHINGTON (AP) Taliban fighters have been unable to disrupt the upcoming Afghan election so far, but predicting how safe the Oct. 9 vote will be is ``a tough call,'' the Bush administration's No. 2 diplomat said Wednesday. Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage said that attacks by militants have amounted to only two or three daily for the past several weeks.
Part of the reason is that a Pakistani offensive in border areas where Taliban and al-Qaida have been hiding has been ``so muscular'' that ``we're even seeing signs that al-Qaida families are starting to leave.''
Pakistan is a key ally of the United States in the war against terrorism, and has deployed tens of thousands of troops along its border with Afghanistan to root out al-Qaida and Taliban militants.
``The Taliban expect to try to really ratchet things up to disrupt this election,'' Armitage told a hearing of the House International Relations Committee. ``But they have not been able to do it.''
He said he had spoken earlier Wednesday with the U.S. commander in the region, Gen. John Abizaid, and though an increase in Taliban attacks is expected, ``thus far, they haven't been able to get it together.''
Abizaid has said U.S.-led forces will have to fight their way through the presidential election in Afghanistan, and Armitage acknowledged the difficulty again Wednesday when asked for an assessment of how the election is going.
``Security (is) obviously a tough call,'' he said, noting plans for 4,800 voting places. ``Forty-eight hundred ... is a lot of polling places to try to protect, but they don't all have to be protected because they're not all in areas that are heavily infested or infected.''
But he said so far, candidates have been able to campaign, there have been rallies, and a ``phenomenal and staggering'' average of 68 percent of possible voters has registered in all but two violence-plagued provinces.
``So I think the election is going pretty damn good,'' he said.
Rep. Robert Menendez, a Democrat, said the administration is ``sugar-coating the realities of what is happening'' in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
``On the eve of the elections, fear of violence keeps candidates from the campaign trail. (Interim) President (Hamid) Karzai had to cancel a planned campaign rally two weeks ago because a rocket or rocket-propelled grenade was fired at his helicopter. He survived an assassination attempt on Sept. 5. Some Afghans have been intimidated by the Taliban, including women,'' Menendez said.
30 dead in bomb attack on Shiite mosque in Pakistan
SIALKOT, Pakistan (AFP) - A suspected suicide bomb blast ripped through a Shiite Muslim mosque during Friday prayers in the eastern Pakistani city of Sialkot, killing at least 30 people and leaving dozens injured, police said.
Hundreds of worshippers were packed into the Mistri Abdullah Imambargah mosque in the city center when the huge explosion tore through the building, police spokesman Mohammad Ihsanullah told AFP.
"Thirty people have died so far and toll may rise as some of the injured are in critical condition," police officer Syed Ishtiaq Hussain Shah told AFP near the site of blast. Body parts and blood were seen splattered across the interior of the mosque. The explosion left a large crater and caused extensive damage to the building.
"We believe the bomber carried the explosive into the mosque in a briefcase which he detonated while sitting amongst the worshippers and also blew himself up," an intelligence official, who would not be identified, told AFP.
"It is an act of terrorism...," police chief Nisar Ahmed told AFP. "We believe a suicide bomber carried out the dastardly attack at a time when hundreds of worshippers were present inside the mosque for Friday's prayers."
One of the wounded, Hamid Naqvi, said he and other worshippers had been listening to a sermon when "suddenly there was a big bang." "There was panic and there was blood and screams all around," he said. "Some of the bodies have serious burn wounds," doctor Mohammad Ali told AFP.
Several hundred angry protesters poured onto the streets outside the mosque after the blast and clashed with police, the police chief said. Private television channels showed people crying and beating their chests. Some clashed with police and several police vehicles were burnt.
Paramilitary rangers surrounded the mosque and allowed only reporters and photographers inside as a crowd gathered outside. A witness said police later found and defused another bomb, weighing about seven kilograms (15 pounds), outside the mosque.
A bomb disposal squad official said that the unexploded device contained five kilograms of high explosives and two kilograms of other materials, including shrapnel, and would have been able to cause devastation within a 60-foot radius.
"The bomb which exploded inside the mosque resembled it," in terms of make-up, disposal squad chief Muhammad Anwar Waraich told AFP. President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz condemned the attack.
The incident "clearly shows that terrorists have no religion and are enemies of mankind", a state-run Associated Press of Pakistan report quoted Musharraf as saying in a statement. Aziz said killing people at a place of worship was a "highly condemnable" act." "Islam is a religion of peace and abhors terrorism," he said.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan also condemned the bombing saying: "No cause or motive can justify attacks on places of worship and innocent civilians." "The secretary general condemns this cowardly act in the strongest terms. He also calls for calm and restraint in the wake of the dastardly act," Annan's spokesman said in a statement.
The attack came five days after Pakistani security forces killed the country's most wanted Sunni Muslim extremist, Al-Qaeda operative Amjad Farooqi, in a shootout in the south of the country.
Farooqi, the alleged mastermind of several attempts to kill Musharraf, was an activist in the Harkatul Jihad-e-Islam, a Sunni Muslim militant group blamed for the 2002 murder of US reporter Daniel Pearl. Police said the attack could be retaliation for the killing of Farooqi.
Fanatics from Pakistan's Sunni Muslim majority and Shiite minority, most of whom co-habit peacefully, have been killing each other since the 1980s. The conflict has so far cost more than 4,000 lives.
The hardline and banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi was blamed for two bomb attacks on Shiite mosques in the southern port of Karachi in May and June which left 45 people dead. The latest bombing also comes as the Pakistani security forces are locked in a fierce battle against Al-Qaeda which has seen a number of important arrests since July.
The most notable were Pakistani computer expert Naeem Noor Khan and Tanzanian Ahmad Khalfan Ghailani, who has been indicted by a US court for his role in the twin bombing of American embassies in East Africa in 1998.
Few Factual Errors, but Truth Got Stretched at Times
The Washington Post 10/01/2004 Glenn Kessler and Walter Pincus
President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry made few major factual errors in last night's debate, though on occasion they stretched the truth or left out inconvenient facts -- or may have confused viewers as they spoke in policy shorthand.
Bush, for instance, hailed the coming presidential election in Afghanistan, saying that the fact that 10 million people had registered to vote was a "phenomenal statistic." But Human Rights Watch this week said that figure was inaccurate because of the multiple registrations of many voters. In a lengthy report, the respected organization also documented how human rights abuses are fueling a pervasive atmosphere of repression and fear in many parts of the country, with voters in those areas having little faith in the secrecy of the balloting and often facing threats and bribes from militia factions.
Kerry repeatedly stated that U.S. forces allowed Osama bin Laden to escape during the battle at Tora Bora in 2001 because the administration, he said, "outsourced" the task to Afghan militia leaders. This probably overstates the case -- it is unclear whether bin Laden was at Tora Bora -- but it is true that the Pentagon relied on Afghan proxy forces in an effort to minimize the potential loss of U.S. military lives. Kerry said bin Laden was in Afghanistan, but the intelligence community has always said he was somewhere along the Afghan-Pakistani border.
After the Tora Bora fight, as local Afghan militias began withdrawing, considering their part of the war over, top Pentagon officials appeared ready to send hundreds of conventional ground troops into the White Mountains to press the search for bin Laden and his associates. That plan was dropped in favor of offers of money, weapons and cold-weather clothing to sustain Afghan cooperation.
On North Korea, Bush charged that Kerry's proposal to have direct talks with that country would end the six-nation diplomacy that the administration has pursued over Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions. Kerry has said he would continue the six-party talks as well. Bush said direct talks with North Korea would drive away China, a key player in the negotiations.
But each of the other four countries in the talks has held direct talks with North Korea during the six-party process -- and China has repeatedly asked the Bush administration to talk directly with North Korea. Moreover, the Bush administration has talked directly with North Korean diplomats on the sidelines of the six-party talks, and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell met with his North Korean counterpart over the summer.
In a fierce debate over nuclear proliferation, Bush asserted: "Libya has disarmed. The A.Q. Khan network has been brought to justice." He was referring to a nuclear smuggling ring based in Pakistan.
But many experts also credit the patient diplomacy started in the Clinton administration for persuading Libya to cooperate. Moreover, Khan, a national hero in Pakistan, was pardoned by President Pervez Musharraf, and not a single person involved in his network has been prosecuted anywhere. Yesterday, in fact, the International Atomic Energy Agency complained that it had been prevented from interviewing Khan.
Bush said he has increased spending on curbing nuclear proliferation by "about 35 percent" since he took office. But in his first budget, he proposed a 13 percent cut -- about $116 million -- and much of the increases since then have been added by Congress.
Kerry misspoke when he asserted that Bush is spending "hundreds of millions of dollars to research bunker-busting nuclear weapons." In fact, the budget for research on that weapon is less that $35 million. The administration has set aside almost $500 million for future budgets in case the president and Congress agree to go ahead with the production of such a weapon.
The two men also disputed whether Saddam Hussein would have been stronger if the United States had not launched an invasion. This is a question that will be debated by historians, and the answer may never be clear.
Bush said "Saddam Hussein had no intention of disarming." Yet Iraq asserted in its filing with the United Nations in December 2002 that it had no such weapons, and none has been found.
The Bush administration invaded Iraq because it believed Hussein was concealing stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. Some post-invasion reports have argued that Hussein retained the capability to restart his weapons programs, but many experts consider that doubtful as long as he remained under U.N. sanctions and inspections.
However, when Kerry said Hussein would have been continually weakened, he was making a leap of faith that the U.N. Security Council would have been willing to continue sanctions that were increasingly unpopular with key nations.
Kerry suggested that the United States has spent $200 billion on Iraq, largely because it supplied the bulk of the troops. This was an exaggeration because it combined the amount already spent -- about $120 billion -- with money that is expected to be spent in the coming year or requested by the administration.
But Bush also overstated the case when he corrected Kerry by saying that the senator forgot to mention that Poland supplied forces when the invasion began. Kerry said there were three countries that did -- Britain, Australia and the United States -- and Bush said, "actually he forgot Poland."
Poland later supplied troops and commanded a zone in Iraq. But, except for a few commandos, Polish troops were not part of the original ground invasion. And though Bush said there are 30 countries in the coalition, he neglected to say that about a half-dozen have recently withdrawn their troops.
Kerry was correct when he said that the number of U.S. troops killed in June, July, August and September increased month by month. But he left out that the highest number killed in any month was 150 in April and that the total dropped to 88 in May and to 42 in June before it started climbing again to September's 92.
At another point, Kerry said that Powell "told this president the Pottery Barn rule: If you break it, you fix it." This anecdote comes from Bob Woodward's book "Plan of Attack," but Woodward actually reported that Powell privately talked with aides about the rule that if "you break it, you own it." He did not say this to the president -- and it turns out Pottery Barn has no such rule.
As part of his case that Kerry has sent mixed messages, Bush asserted that "he voted against the $87 billion supplemental to provide equipment for our troops, and then said he actually did vote for it before he voted against it."
While Bush meant it as a jab, this was an accurate description of the Senate process. Kerry supported a different version of the bill, which was opposed by the administration. At the time, many Republicans were uncomfortable with the administration's plans and the White House had to threaten a veto against the congressional version to bring reluctant lawmakers in line. In a floor statement explaining his vote, Kerry said he favored the $67 billion for the troops on the ground, but he faulted the administration's $20 billion request for reconstruction.
Staff writer Dafna Linzer contributed to this report
Afghan election set to be fiasco
By Lawrence Smallman Thursday 30 September 2004, 11:48 Makka Time, 8:48 GMT
Commentators say the election is stacked in Karzai's favour
Afghans in the southeastern province of Khost were given a stark warning this week in preparation for the 9 October presidential elections: Vote for Hamid Karzai or get your house burnt down.
Some 300 elders of the Tarzi tribe expanded on their ominous electioneering technique in a public statement released on Friday.
Any man who does not vote for the US-appointed interim president, they said, will not be buried by his family. And he can forget about marrying off his female relatives, too.
But fear is just one part of the everyday reality for millions of ordinary Afghan people, according to more than a dozen national and international organisations.
Hearing the voiceless
The Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium* (HRRAC) published a report detailing the views of hundreds of people from six cities - views that are a testimony to how little has been achieved since the Taliban were ousted in November 2001.
Entitled Take the Guns Away, people from the Afghan street explain what it is like to live in Herat, Mazar-i Sharif, Faizabad, Kabul, Jalalabad or Kandahar.
They say the rule of law is non-existent, militias are still armed and regional commanders are as powerful as ever.
Recording the experiences of local teachers, housewives, shopkeepers and farmers, HRRAC project directors Dawn Stallard and Julie Lafreniere summarised information recorded from 700 surveys.
"Afghans continue to be exposed to all manner of humiliation and abuse. The rule of law is effectively non-existent throughout the country and ... a culture of impunity dominates.
"It's hard not to conclude that this [presidential election] was so much about getting an end result and not having a meaningful process"
Andrew Wilder, Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit chief
"They recite a litany of crimes committed against them - mainly by [regional] commanders or their men. Confidence and trust in the police is low and ... central government is weak," the report said.
A Herati man also condemned Kabul's US-sanctioned policy of giving some regional commanders official government positions.
"There is no difference between the forces of the Taliban and the Mujahidin and all the others who carry guns. Only the faces and the clothes have changed," he says.
Given the atmosphere of fear and intimidation, other international organisations have drawn the conclusion that presidential elections simply cannot be free or fair.
In a report published on Monday, US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned that the vote was unlikely to be representative of anything since the country is still run by private armies involved in extortion, kidnapping, rape and murder.
HRW chief John Sifton concluded: "The warlords are calling the shots. Politically active people are not taking part and few voters understand the secret ballot, so people are being told how to vote."
Last week, the group quoted a UN worker in Jalalabad who said village elders in the east had been threatened and told to vote for candidates including President Karzai and that "there was little cause for optimism".
A communications manager at the Kabul-based Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) has even highlighted major flaws in the election process itself.
Thomas Muller told Aljazeera.net that "the presidential elections in Afghanistan are likely to be observed by less than 150 international observers covering 5000 polling stations".
Thousands of ordinary Afghans
will not be able to vote freely
He estimates that out of the US $200 million that has been spent on registration and holding presidential elections, less than $500,000 is going towards domestic monitoring.
So far, there is just one significant Afghan observation effort - the newly formed Free and Fair Elections Foundation for Afghanistan (FEFA).
But a FEFA member who asked for anonymity says that even if his organisation managed to train 1500 people before 9 October, it would only be sufficient to observe just 12% of polling stations.
Muller believes that in many areas polling staff from local villages will be "guarded" by local police, all under the watchful eyes of the local militias.
"This is a recipe for electoral fraud. The US and their Nato allies have not made human rights and democratisation a priority."
Rigging under way
Since voter registration centres closed in mid-August, evidence has grown that widespread vote-rigging is in progress - a controversy that has consequences for Bush's re-election campaign.
Election officials openly acknowledge the number of voting cards issued far exceed the estimated number of eligible voters - and that the illegal practice of multiple registrations is widespread.
"An Afghan election marred by allegations of fraud would be bad for President Bush's overall claim of promoting democracy in the Muslim world," said Husain Haqqani, an Afghanistan expert at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The timing could not be worse, he adds. "In the absence of good news from Iraq, the Bush administration needs Afghanistan as its success story."
Few believe the elections will be
free from attacks on voters
With his own election on 2 November, Bush has staked political capital on a successful democratic Afghanistan, saying it would serve as an example of how the US can bring democracy as well as free and fair elections to the developing world.
"The rise of democratic institutions in Afghanistan and Iraq is a great step toward a goal of lasting importance to the world," Bush said in a speech in Washington last March.
"We have set out to encourage reform and democracy."
But the type of democracy being encouraged is quite peculiar. Abd al-Latif Pedram, a writer who is one of 17 candidates challenging Karzai, says the rushed election process is designed to benefit two incumbents only: Karzai and Bush.
He too believes that a comfortable victory by Karzai will bolster Bush's re-election chances - which is why the electoral playing field is so uneven.
In fact, challengers operate at a disadvantage. Pedram pointed out that only the US-appointed interim president has been given resources to visit the country's 34 provinces by the US military.
"Karzai can go with American helicopters and American bodyguards to 10 provinces in one day," he said. "What can we do?"
Other Afghan and Western analysts say pressure from the US and Karzai has forced UN officials, who are organising the vote, to create a form of instant democracy that cuts corners.
"It's hard not to conclude that this was so much about getting an end result and not having a meaningful process," said Andrew Wilder, head of the Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit.
From a brutal warlord to "our hero of peace" - now he wants to be Afghanistan's president
The Times, London 09/30/3004 By Catherine Philp
Shiberghan — Posters of his burly, thick-browed face adorn every shop window and car windscreen across his dusty northern stronghold where countless Saddam-style painted portraits of the notorious Mujahidin commander gaze down on his people. Posters for any of the other 17 candidates running against him for the Afghan presidency are absent, bar a smattering belonging to Massouda Jalal, the only woman in the race and a ferocious opponent of warlord rule.
"We're not obliged to put up their posters for them," said Faizullah Zaki, General Dostum's sharp-suited spokesman.
"Maybe they just don't want to waste them when they know everyone will vote for the local leader."
Few doubt that the Uzbek general will sweep the vote in this province, his longstanding powerbase, which he regained after his triumphant return from exile during the war to oust the Taleban.
His chances of polling anything substantial nationally, however, remain slender, raising the question of why the country's most notorious warlord is running for office and, indeed, why the authorities are allowing him to. The fear is that, by running, General Dostum and other former Mujahidin commanders with similarly poor human rights records are seeking to legitimise themselves and win political capital to barter for future positions in power. That no one is stopping them has left many Afghans despairing that next month's historic presidential elections are unlikely to change the warlord culture that has plagued their country for nearly three decades.
The son of a peasant farmer, and a former plumber who rose through the ranks of the Mujahidin to become a regional commander, General Dostum's name has become a byword for the brutality and venality of the Mujahidin years. The forces he controlled during the battles for control of the capital in the 1990s stand accused of gross atrocities including rape, murder and looting.
While running his own mini-state in the north of the country, he frequently ordered public executions of criminals and opponents from other ethnic groups, many of whom were crushed to death under his Russian tanks. He was recently accused of allowing hundreds of Taleban prisoners to suffocate in containers, a charge he denies.
His role in helping to topple the Taleban, however, saw him embraced by the political mainstream. He became a security adviser to President Karzai despite his reluctance to disarm. When presidential elections were announced, he decided to stand; "persuaded", his aides said, by his supporters.
Not all of his countrymen welcomed the flowering of his presidential ambitions. Of the 115 complaints against candidates received by the election commission, well over half were against General Dostum. Many complained that he had clearly violated the law forbidding candidates from maintaining a private militia. Human rights groups and election monitors say he is one of four warlord candidates who should have been disqualified. That they were not is a disturbing precedent. "The Government shouldn't have let them stand at all," said Saeed Mohammed, of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. "But these people haven't been disarmed yet. If they had been refused as candidates, they may have caused more problems."
And retaining their forces gives the warlords the power to swing votes their way through intimidation, helping them to store up political capital to barter their way into government.
In a report released yesterday, Human Rights Watch cautioned that, far from bringing democracy to Afghanistan, the elections looked set merely to consolidate the warlords' power, legitimising them in the process. Part of the blame, it said, fell on the Americans for embracing and sponsoring the warlords in the fight against the Taleban. The report presented evidence of voter intimidation by, among others, General Dostum.
Activists reported that his commanders had "threatened local leaders to ensure that local populations vote as they command" but few dared speak out for fear of reprisal. "Everyone says they support Dostum in public," the activist said. "In private they know he has done many criminal things ...really they despise him."
In Shiberghan it is hard to find a single person who says he will not vote for General Dostum. "The General is the only person who brought us from ignorance to lightness," Mohammed Mohsin, a shopkeeper, said. "He is a hero of peace."
At a road-opening ceremony attended by President Karzai he was treated as just that, welcoming the President and the American Ambassador to his fiefdom. A government minister introduced him as a "national hero", after which he gave a speech boasting of his prowess in driving out the Taleban. After talking earnestly of the area's drought problems, he threw a lavish lunch for visiting dignitaries around one of the six swimming pools inside his candy- coloured mansion. When General Dostum refused to talk to the press, the Ambassador stepped in and deftly fielded an awkward question about his failure to disarm.
It is such official acceptance of the warlords that makes it so hard for people to speak out. Even in Mazar-e-Sherif, no longer under General Dostum's control, the fear is palpable. "There is no family that hasn't lost someone but they won't tell you about it," said Mohammed Nassim Rahmoni, a student. His uncle, a judge, was killed on the orders of a warlord but fear stops him naming the perpetrator. "He hasn't been disarmed and he's still in power," he said. "I don't know if we will ever have justice as long as the Government keeps accepting these people."
Many now fear that the historic polls hailed as the dawn of Afghan democracy will be hijacked. John Sifton, of Human Rights Watch, said: "There was supposed to be progress towards democratisation, disarmament and elections, but the democratic process has entrenched the warlords."
US Blames Europe For Failures in Afghanistan
Deutsche Welle (DW) / September 30, 2004
With the clock ticking on crucial presidential polls in Afghanistan next month, the US Congress has blasted European nations for not sending enough troops to bolster security in the volatile country.
With just about ten days to go before millions of Afghans vote in the country's first direct presidential ballot, the US Congress on Wednesday slammed European nations for not fulfilling promises to reinforce NATO-led troops in the country to beef up security.
Tom Lantos, a Democratic representative from the San Francisco area, attacked "the freeloading and sheer hypocrisy of some of our European allies," calling the NATO contingent in Afghanistan "pitifully" small. The comments came during a hearing in the US House of Representatives in the run-up to the October 9 Afghan elections.
"Where is the administration's outrage over the fact that NATO and key allies in the Middle East have not only refused to help in Iraq, which is a controversial and separate issue, but turned their backs on Afghanistan as well," Lantos asked. He added that President Bush's administration "must be prepared to publicly condemn them for their failure to act."
NATO commitment questioned
The criticism comes on the heels of NATO's announcement that it would complete expanding its forces in Afghanistan this week to meet its commitment for supporting the election. There are currently around 8,000 NATO-led peacekeepers based mainly in Kabul.
The reinforcements -- mostly Spanish and Italian troops -- would bring to around 9,000 the number of troops deployed with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, which NATO has run since last year.
But the military alliance's commitment in Afghanistan has been thrown in question after much dithering over the need to boost its presence in the country. Additional reinforcements were finally decided after much wrangling at NATO's Istanbul summit in June.
Several European members are believed to be wary of sending troops to the country, which many view as hopelessly lawless and not high enough on their list of priorities.
Security the main worry
On Wednesday another Democrat representative, Shelley Berkley from Nevada, found fault with NATO's delay on expanding its presence in Afghanistan.
Berkley insisted the US should ensure that European countries as well as Egypt and Turkey carry "their fair share load in Afghanistan." She added, "And if they're not going to provide troops, the least they could do is provide money, of which they're not doing either."
Berkley's comments however seem to have overlooked the massive aid packages promised by European countries during the Afghan donor conference in Berlin in April this year. At the time Germany, which has traditionally provided the most financial aid to Afghanistan among European countries, pledged 320 million pounds over the next four years. Italy offered more than 140 million pounds over the next three years. The European Union has pledged 700 million pounds ($852 million) for this year.
But there remains little doubt that security has been the major concern in the run-up to the Afghan elections. Near-daily attacks, blamed on remnants of the Taliban and entrenched warlords, have prompted many of the 18 candidates contesting the polls to call for the election to be postponed. Over 1,000 people have died in militant-related attacks since August last year. In the latest incidence of violence, two German soldiers stationed in Kunduz were injured in a grenade attack on their camp on Wednesday.
US allies "fail the moral test"
Lantos said the Europeans owed it to the US to meet commitments in Afghanistan given the fact that the US had protected their continent from the Soviets for two generations.
"We had hundreds of thousands of troops in Europe protecting Europe. We succeeded, in large measure, in making Europe prosperous. And Europe has simply opted out, with the exception of Britain and a few others, from their global responsibilities," Lantos said.
Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, lamented the that Europe was not more thankful. "Notwithstanding all the things that our nation was responsible for, historically, I don't think gratitude travels."
Lantos argued that US allies such as France, Germany, Belgium and Turkey, and friendly countries in the Middle East, such as Egypt "have failed the moral test" in sustaining the fledgling democracy in Afghanistan "in its time of desperate need."
Clash Reported Between Karzai and Qanuni Supporters in Western Afghanistan But Police Deny the Incident
RFE/RL 09/30/2004 By Amin Tarzi
A number of supporters of presidential candidate Mohammad Yunos Qanuni marching in protest on 28 September in Herat city reportedly clashed with supporters of Chairman Karzai, Sada-ye Jawan radio reported on 29 September. Qanuni is widely considered to be among the strongest of Karzai's 17 rivals for the presidency.
The argument between the two camps apparently resulted in the removal of Qanuni posters by Karzai supporters. However, in a sign of reconciliation after the fracas, Karzai supporter Khalil Ahmad Taymori said instructions to his team are "not to stick Hamid Karzai posters over the posters of other candidates," according to the radio report.
Mohammad Amin Hokumat, a security officer in Herat, denied the report of clashes between supporters of Karzai and Qanuni, Sada-ye Jawan reported. "Such incidents [clashes] did not take place in Herat," Hokumat said, adding that the security forces "were ready to tackle any kind of incidents in the city."
Hokumat advised citizens in Herat to be calm and patient and "vote for the person they like most." "It's not good to insult one another and tear down posters of the candidates," Hokumat added.
Afghan Ambassador to Canada Presents Letters of Credence
The Ambassador designate of Afghanistan to Canada, H.E. Omar Samad, presented his Letters of Credence to H.E. the Right Honorable Adrianne Clarkson, Governor General of Canada, at a ceremony held in Rideau Hall, Ottawa, on Monday.
At the ceremony, Ambassador Samad conveyed to the Governor General the best wishes of H.E. Hamid Karzai, President of the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan, and his hopes for further strengthened relations between the two countries.
The Afghan Ambassador thanked the Canadian people and Government for their comprehensive support towards stability and reconstruction in Afghanistan since 2001.
The Governor General, who visited Kabul earlier this year, showed keen interest in events unfolding in Afghanistan, and in the upcoming presidential elections in particular.
At a reception following the ceremony, the diplomatic staff of the Afghan embassy in Ottawa and the Consulate General in Toronto was introduced by the new Ambassador to the Governor General.
Embassy of Afghanistan
September 28, 2004
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