Troops fan out west of Kabul in hunt for UN kidnap victims
Friday October 29, 10:53 AM AFP
Afghan forces backed by foreign peacekeepers fanned through a valley west of Kabul in a massive manhunt for three UN election workers kidnapped by gunmen from outside their office in the Afghan capital.
A woman with dual British-Irish nationality Annetta Flanigan, a Filipino diplomat Angelito Nayan and a Kosovar woman were pulled from their UN-marked car by armed men and bundled into a black four-wheel drive Thursday, as the slow count from Afghanistan's first presidential vote ended.
"Police, intelligence and forces from Kabul army garrison have been tasked to find the kidnapped people," an Afghan intelligence official said.
Apache helicopters from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force led the aerial search, as roadblocks were thrown up around the congested city and main streets blocked for car-searches by heavily-armed troop.
After sweeping several neighbourhoods in Kabul the security forces honed in on the Paghman valley west of the mountain-ringed capital, security officials said.
"Investigations are under way," interior ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal told AFP. He refused to give details.
The Jaishul-Muslameen (Army of Muslims), described by intelligence officials as a new military wing of the Taliban, claimed responsibility.
"Fighters from the Army of Muslims have kidnapped the three UN workers," the group's commander, Syed Akbar Agha, told the Arabic television network Al Jazeera's correspondent in Islamabad.
A senior Pakistani religious leader said Jaishul-Muslameen was the new military wing of Afghanistan's former ruling Taliban regime, ousted three years ago by US-led forces.
Its mission is to "conduct military operations against occupying forces, targeting foreign non-governmental organisations and people associated with them," said the Pakistani religious leader, who had close links with the ousted regime.
Mullah Omar, the hardliners' fugitive spiritual leader, was overall commander with Agha its operational commander, he said.
Afghan intelligence chief for southern Kandahar province, Abdullah Laghmanay, told AFP this month that the Army of Muslims was a radical new Taliban wing "operating in small bands of two or three fighters."
A regular Taliban spokesman, Abdul Latif Hakimi, said he doubted Jaishul-Muslameen had the numbers or capacity to carry out the abduction.
He was unsure whether Taliban militants were behind the abduction but said he would praise the act if it was aimed against US-led forces or at pressing the US to release Taliban prisoners.
The abduction is the first of foreigners in Kabul and has raised fears of copycat kidnappings mimicking the wave of abductions in Iraq.
"You can't rule it out," Nick Downie, security advisory for a coalition of aid organisations, told AFP.
Several abductions of Indian and Turkish engineers took place on the highway linking Kabul with Kandahar between October and March. All were released except for one Turkish national who was killed.
Suspected Taliban insurgents, who had vowed to sabotage the UN-assisted October 9 presidential election, have killed more than 61 election workers this year, three of them foreigners, Downie said.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan expressed "deep regret and dismay" at the abduction.
"The United Nations is in close contact with the authorities and is hoping for the staff members' immediate and unconditional release."
The US embassy warned this month foreigners could be targeted for political kidnappings.
"Anti-government forces are planning to implement a policy of kidnapping foreigners as a political tool," the embassy said in a statement on October 8.
Three foreign UN election workers kidnapped in Kabul
Thu Oct 28, 3:47 PM ET World - AFP
KABUL (AFP) - Armed men wearing military-style jackets abducted three foreign United Nations election workers in broad daylight in Kabul as vote-counting ended in Afghanistan's landmark election.
The trio -- a British-Irish woman, a woman from Kosovo and a Filipino diplomat -- were pulled from their UN-marked car in front of a UN compound in a busy west Kabul neighbourhood, UN officials and witnesses said.
They were employed by the joint UN-Afghan election commission that oversaw Afghanistan's first presidential election on October 9.
The kidnappers forced the three out of their car in front of the UN compound in a busy street, beat up their driver and bundled them into a black Toyota four-wheel drive vehicle just after 12:30 pm (0800 GMT), officials and witnesses said.
The driver, who was left behind as the kidnappers tore away at high speed, sounded the alarm.
"The (UN workers) were stopped...by armed men in camouflage military uniforms driving a four-by-four vehicle and were kidnapped," interior ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal told AFP.
The kidnappers were armed with AK-47 rifles, said an Afghan intelligence official on condition on anonymity.
A group calling itself the Army of Muslims claimed responsibility, Arabic satellite television station Al-Jazeera reported.
"Fighters from the Army of Muslims have kidnapped the three UN workers," the group's commander, Syed Akbar Agha, told the station's correspondent in Islamabad, the capital of neighbouring Pakistan.
A senior Pakistani religious leader said the group was the new military wing of Afghanistan's former ruling Taliban regime and was headed by the hardline militants' fugitive spiritual leader, Mullah Omar.
"It has been assigned the task of conducting military operations against occupying forces (in Afghanistan), targeting foreign non-governmental organisations and people associated with them," said the Pakistani religious leader, who had close links with the ousted regime.
A purported Taliban spokesman who has issued previous Taliban claims for attacks said his group was not behind the abductions. An Afghan intelligence chief told AFP this month however that the Army of Muslims was a radical new Taliban wing operating in small bands of two or three fighters.
The US embassy warned this month that foreigners could be targeted for political kidnappings, which have become prevalent this year in Iraq .
"Anti-government forces are planning to implement a policy of kidnapping foreigners as a political tool," the embassy said in a statement on October 8.
Fighters loyal to the Taliban have been waging a bloody insurgency, targeting foreign and Afghan aid workers, troops and officials. They failed to disrupt October 9 elections but have since killed 21 people.
More than 60 election workers, including three foreigners, have been killed in Taliban-related violence in Afghanistan this year.
Over the past two years 34 UN and aid workers, four of them foreigners, have been killed in other non-election violence, said Nick Downie, a security adviser for a coalition of aid organisations.
The abduction was the first of its kind in Kabul since the Taliban's fall three years ago and drew disturbing parallels with the spate of kidnappings in Iraq.
Downie said it was likely a "targeted abduction."
The Irish foreign ministry identified the kidnapped Irish national as Annetta Flanigan.
"I condemn unreservedly this kidnapping and call for the immediate and unconditional release of those taken," Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern said.
Foreign peacekeepers, Afghan troops and local police launched a full-scale search for the abducted trio in several Kabul neighbourhoods and the Paghman valley west of the city.
Troops blocked all main roads and set up checkpoints. Apache helicopters from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force buzzed overhead.
The abductions come five days after a suicide bomber attacked a group of foreign peacekeepers buying carpets on Kabul's famous "Chicken Street" shopping strip.
An American woman, 23, and an Afghan girl, 11, were killed and three Icelandic peacekeepers were injured in Saturday's attack, for which the Taliban claimed responsibility.
Taliban not responsible for UN workers' abduction - spokesman
KABUL, Oct 28 (AFP) - A purported spokesman for Afghanistan's ousted Taliban said his group was not behind Thursday's abduction of three foreign UN workers in Kabul and was sceptical of a claim responsibility from an allegedly new military wing of the extremists.
"I do not claim responsibility for the kidnapping in Kabul," Abdul Latif Hakimi, who has previously issued Taliban claims of responsibility for attacks, told AFP by satellite phone from an unknown area.
"Usually when Taliban carry out an operation they let me know, but about this particular case we have not been informed by our men, so that is why we cannot claim responsibility," he said.
The abduction has been claimed by a group calling itself Jaishul Muslameen (Army of Muslims) through a message to the Al-Jazeera Arabic television network's Islamabad correspondent.
Jaishul Muslameen was described by a senior Islamic leader in Pakistan as the Taliban's new military wing, led by the fundamentalists' fugitive spiritual leader Mullah Omar.
But Hakimi said the group had only a small number of followers and he doubted their ability to operate in the Afghan capital.
"I doubt it because they are a very limited number of people and they don't have access to Kabul to carry out operations," Hakimi said, without elaborating.
The spokesman said he would "praise" the abduction if it had been carried out because of hatred of the United States or to press for the release of Taliban prisoners in US custody.
Fighters loyal to the Taliban, a hardline Islamic student militia who were smashed from power by US-led forces three years ago, have been killing foreign and Afghan troops, aid workers and officials since early last year.
They failed in vows to derail October 9 presidential elections but have stepped up attacks in the three weeks since the ballot, killing at least 21 people.
Islamist group claims Kabul kidnapping of UN workers: Al-Jazeera
DOHA, Oct 28 (AFP) - A group calling itself the Army of Muslims claimed responsibility Thursday for the abduction in Kabul of three UN election workers, Al-Jazeera television reported.
"Fighters from the Army of Muslims have kidnapped the three UN workers," the group's leader, Akbar Agha, told the station's correpsondent in Kabul, without making any demands.
UN officials said earlier that armed uniformed men had kidnapped three UN election workers in Kabul, including an Irish woman, a woman from Kosovo and a man believed to be Filipino.
Al-Jazeera quoted the group's spokesman, Ishaq Manzur, as saying that "the shura (consultative) council is meeting to decide the fate of the three hostages who have been taken out of Kabul."
"The names, the nationalities, as well as the Army of Muslims' demands will be announced" following the meeting, Manzur said.
The three, all of whom worked for the joint UN-Afghan election commission, were taken captive in broad daylight as their UN-marked car approached their offices in the west of Kabul, a UN official said.
The workers' driver was beaten before armed men made the three get into a black four-wheel drive car, after which the driver raised the alarm, the official said.
Al-Jazeera said the group, linked to the Taliban but operating independently, had already kidnapped a Turkish worker in Afghanistan in November 2003.
Afghan vote count finally ends with Karzai a landslide winner
KABUL, Oct 28 (AFP) - Afghanistan's protracted presidential election vote count finally drew to a close Thursday with Hamid Karzai the landslide victor, but an official declaration of his win still awaited the verdict of a fraud probe.
Karzai, who has served as interim president for the past three years following the end of the Taliban's rule, won with more than 55 percent of the vote to avoid a potentially destabilising second-round run off.
The 46-year-old Pashtun's nearest rival, former education minister Yunus Qanooni, came in second nearly 40 percentage points behind.
"Vote counting has ended in all counting centres," vice chairman of the joint UN-Afghan electoral commission Ray Kennedy told a press briefing.
But celebrations over the historic moment were cut short after armed men in military uniforms abducted three foreign election commission workers in a brazen afternoon abduction in Kabul.
UN officials said one of the abducted trio was an Irish woman, another was a woman from Kosovo and the third was believed to be a Filipino man.
The abductions came less than a week after a suicide bomber killed an American woman and an Afghan girl in Kabul, further raising fears a Taliban-led insurgency will plague the early phases of Afghanistan's new democratic era.
Although the election commission declared the vote over, the latest results on its website placed at 10:27 am (0557 GMT) showed only 99.7 percent of the votes tallied.
According to those figures, US-backed Karzai had won 55.4 percent of the 8,026,222 valid votes counted, with Qanooni on 16.3 percent.
Mohammad Mohaqeq, a warlord and leader of the Hazara ethnic minority, was third with 11.6 percent, followed by Uzbek military strongman Abdul Rashid Dostam on 10.0 percent.
French-speaking Tajik intellectual Abdul Latif Pedram was in a distant fifth spot on 1.4 percent. The only woman to run for election, paediatrician Masooda Jalal, polled sixth with 1.2 percent of the votes, beating 12 candidates.
Although Karzai must wait until the election commission completes its investigations into election fraud, there has been no indication the probes will invalidate the poll.
Qanooni has already conceded and Karzai has said he expects an official announcement on Sunday.
A UN-appointed panel of foreign election experts is conducting one investigation, probing election-day irregularities and fraud claimed by all candidates, largely arising from the failure or misuse of indelible ink.
The panel has permanently quarantined 13 of 90 boxes it originally set aside for investigation.
The election commission's own board also investigated irregularities discovered in the counting process.
In declaring the vote over, the commission's Kennedy said only 163 ballot boxes containing about 100,000 votes quarantined on suspicion of irregularities including ballot-stuffing were unlikely to be counted.
Once his victory is certified, Karzai will become the country's first elected leader, after rule by colonial powers, monarchs, communists, Soviet occupiers, warlords and the fundamentalist Taliban.
Karzai has led the interim administrations since US-led forces toppled the hardline Islamist Taliban regime in late 2001 for sheltering Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network.
His inauguration as elected president will take place 30 days after the formal announcement of his victory, and he will serve for five years.
Afghan presidential polls result to be announced early November
KABUL, Oct 28, 2004 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- The official result of the marathon ballot counting for Afghanistan's first-ever presidential election is likely to be announced early November, a spokesman of the joint UN-Afghan election commission said.
"We will await the complete unofficial results from the election secretariat and the reports from the expert panel and our own internal Complaints and Investigation Unit before certifying the results of the election," Ray Kennedy told journalists here Thursday.
Asked if the result will be announced on the first or second of November, he replied, "It depends on the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB)."
Counting of the votes in which the incumbent president Hamid Karza has garnered 55.4 percent ended Wednesday. His closest rival Mohammad Yunus Qanooni getting 16.3 percent of the votes is far from forcing Karzai into the runoff.
The landmark presidential elections held on Oct. 9 have been marred by allegations of fraud as Karzai's 15 rival candidates had submitted over 250 complaints to the election commission and the UN-appointed three-member panel.
The panel is likely to conclude its report within days and hand over the report to the election commission or the JEMB for discussion.
"We expect to receive these reports in the next few days before making our final statement on the elections and we need time to analyze and discuss these reports before making our final statement on the elections," Kennedy added.
Afghan vote inspectors discuss suspicious ballot boxes
KABUL, Oct 28 (AFP) - Election authorities met Thursday to rule on the final uncounted ballots in Afghanistan's protracted presidential vote count, with Hamid Karzai already assured of victory.
Only 0.3 percent of votes and the certification of the ballot stand between Karzai and formal announcement of his landslide victory.
The US-backed incumbent for the past three years has 55.4 percent of the vote, with a 39.1 percentage point lead on his closest rival Yunus Qanooni.
"Still some boxes need to be verified," a spokesman for the joint UN-Afghan electoral commission, Sultan Baheen, told AFP.
"But it's not a lot of boxes and not a lot of ballot papers. They cannot change the current figures."
However Baheen said no decision on the final ballots would be made on Thursday, further delaying the conclusion of the first-ever presidential vote.
Almost three weeks after eight million people braved snow, duststorms and pledges of Taliban violence, progress towards completing the manual count has slowed because of the logistical difficulties in inspecting several dozen suspicious ballot boxes.
Senior electoral staff have fanned out to regional counting centres across the country to inspect the boxes.
Two parallel investigations are also being conducted into fraud allegations and Karzai cannot be officially declared the winner until they end.
A UN-appointed panel of foreign election experts is probing election-day irregularities and fraud claimed by all candidates, largely arising from the failure or misuse of indelible ink.
The panel has permanently quarantined 13 of 90 boxes it originally set aside for investigation,
The election commission's own board is also investigating irregularities discovered in the counting process. Since Tuesday they have been examining 312 isolated boxes containing around 65,000 ballots.
Some of those boxes had been "blatantly ballot-stuffed", election operations chief David Avery told AFP, and will "just never be counted."
Karzai has refrained from claiming victory, waiting instead until a formal announcement of results and the certification of the poll as free and fair.
He expects that announcement to come on Sunday.
Qanooni, his former education minister and favourite of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, has acknowledged Karzai as the winner.
Once his victory is certified, Karzai will become the country's first elected leader, after rule by colonial powers, monarchs, communists, Soviet occupiers, warlords and the fundamentalist Taliban.
Karzai has led the interim administrations since the Taliban's five-year regime was toppled in late 2001 by US-led forces for sheltering Osama bin Laden.
His inauguration as elected president will take place 30 days after the formal announcement of his victory.
Karzai not planning coalition government
By ILIE FUGARU
WASHINGTON, Oct 27, 2004 (United Press International via COMTEX) --President-elect Khamid Karzai will not form a coalition government, U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said Wednesday.
Karzai, the victor of Afghanistan's first free election, will appoint ministers of his choosing instead of negotiating with ethnic groups to set up a Cabinet.
"President Kharzai said he would not form a coalition government but will appoint honest, competent ministers for the new Cabinet," said Khalilzad.
The ambassador acknowledged that the creation of a new Cabinet would be a "challenge" for the newly elected president, given past political disputes in Afghan society, but now Karzai has gained "a momentum" and will try to take advantage of it. The president-elect drew support in the election from "all ethnic groups," said Khalilzad.
An even more challenging task for the president and his Cabinet will be organizing parliamentary elections next year, for which Karzai is already thinking of forming his own party, according to Khalilzad.
Speaking Wednesday at a meeting at John Hopkins University organized by the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, the Afghan ambassador emphasized the success of Afghanistan's first democratic elections, in which Karzai won 55 percent of the votes, in spite of criticism expressed by some analysts who doubted that the democratic process could be enforced in the still war-torn country.
"The biggest winners in the Afghan presidential election are those who believe in the vision of a moderate Afghanistan" and "the people of Afghanistan" who voted, even when threatened by remnants of the Taliban regime or facing harsh weather conditions, said Khalilzad. He also emphasized the large participation in the election of women, who stood in long lines just like the men's lines, their presence being estimated at about 40 percent of the 8 million voters. In the past, Afghan women were not allowed to vote.
As for the losers, these are "the Taliban extremists and their terrorist allies," according to the ambassador. He said he hoped that the new government would take more action in "curbing warlordism," since now, with the successful free election, private militias have become "deprecated weapons." Khalilzad was referring to the decline of the militias' influence over the last year.
The ambassador stressed that the Karzai government would try to crack down on drug production by seeking ways to compensate farmers who are forced to grow opium by traffickers who lend them money. He also appealed for more European support because Europe is the main market for Afghan drugs, with an estimated $2 billion in sales.
Although expected to win in the Oct. 9 presidential election, Kharzai, a member of the Pashtun ethnic group, was not assured a majority, and his popularity was questioned in non-Pashtun areas. However, his main rival, Yusun Qanooni, a Tajik, barely won 16 percent of the votes, while the other two local warlords Mohammed Mohaqeq, a Hazara, and Abdul Rashid Dostam, an Uzbek, garnered about 10 percent each, according to preliminary results of the voting released Tuesday, after the counting of more than 95 percent of the ballots. Final results are expected to be announced by next Sunday.
After his win, the question was raised about whether Karzai would invite his rivals to join the new Cabinet, a move that could have been seen as conciliatory gesture toward ethnic groups and former warlords who helped in the overthrow of the Taliban regime three years ago.
Such political coordination could have made it easier for the government to deal with the new legislature, slated to be elected in April 2005. The government is to be confirmed when the new legislature is formed.
However, the U.S. ambassador said, the groups that once formed the anti-Taliban coalition, also known as the Northern Alliance, are now competing "looking for their own interest," and with the parliamentary election approaching, every group is preparing for the polling. Even "President Kharzai is thinking of forming his own political movement," he said.
Khalilzad stressed that the Afghan people do not see the United States and its allies as hostile forces, and called for a continuation of their commitment in Afghanistan. Considering the experience of the past, the "greatest fear" of the Afghan population is that they will be let down by the United States, not that the United States is their enemy, said Khalilzad.
He also mentioned NATO's role in maintaining security through "provisional reconstruction teams" deployed by NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghan provinces to help local authorities during elections.
Afghanistan: Experts Voice Concern Over 2005 Afghan Parliamentary Elections
By Nikola Krastev Radio Free Europe 10/28/2004
Tentatively scheduled for April 2005, Afghanistans parliamentary elections are likely to be much complicated than the recent presidential vote. Thats the view of a panel called together by the Asia Society in New York to assess Afghanistans next steps. Panel experts cited security issues, ethnic tensions and corruption as among the many problems that have to be solved in a brief period of time.
New York, 28 October 2004 -- With the vote count just ending on Afghanistans successful presidential election, regional experts are already expressing concern over the countrys more complex parliamentary elections set for spring.
A panel discussion this week by the independent Asia Society found consensus among experts that parliamentary elections are going to be a more significant event in Afghanistans post-Taliban history because a real transfer of local power will be at stake.
Panelist Robert Templer is the Asia Program Director of the International Crisis Group, a nongovernmental organization focusing on security issues. He said that the lack of security and possible increase of politically motivated violence are major concerns.
"The security issues remain a major problem," Templer says. "It is also going to be much more complicated because real local authority will be at stake at this election in a way that it wasnt in the presidential election. So local forces, local militias are going to be competing more thoroughly to influence the outcome of the parliamentary and council votes."
Another major obstacle is the issue of election boundaries -- they have not been settled. And in the next six months, the panelists say, there is expected to be increasing pressure from different groups to establish new provinces, new boundaries, and more parliamentary seats.
Kimberly Marten, an associate professor of political science at New Yorks Barnard College and a panelist, says that at the moment an effective electoral law in not yet in place in Afghanistan.
Whats worse, Marten points out, is that the state is still not in control of much of the country. In part this is because the state does not provide budgetary funds to the provinces to function. Domestic revenue often comes from illegal trade in poppies and processed opium. Other money results from border trade that is not controlled by central authorities.
"A lack of security for the normal population just in terms of being able to do the thing that you would want to be doing as a member of society actually serves to decrease peoples trust in the state," Marten says. "If the state cannot provide for your security then it means that you have no particular reason to give your support to the state. And I think thats one of the things that may blow up in our faces in the parliamentary elections that are coming up where the power division really does matter much more then it was in the presidential elections."
She also says police corruption is endemic. The police are believed to be participating in burglaries, she says, and commerce in the country is very much impeded by this.
But Saman Zia-Zarifi, the deputy director of Human Rights Watchs Asia division and a panelist, says a strong police force -- as opposed to a strong national army -- is the most viable immediate path for security in the country.
"[Afghans] dont want an Afghan National Army. Afghanistan cannot conceivably have a national army that will be able to engage in a territorial fight with its neighbors," Zia-Zarifi says. "What Afghans need, what theyve been talking about for the last three years is a very good police force. And the international community and the Afghan government have gotten that message. They conveyed that message and were now starting to see in fact the transition in international aid from the Afghan National Army to the Afghan police, which can actually directly help the people, give them [a real reason to support the elections]."
The good news, the panelists say, is that the recent presidential elections clearly show that the Afghan people take their voting responsibilities seriously.
Afghans sentenced to death for killing Chinese
By Sayed Salahuddin Friday October 29, 2:26 PM
KABUL (Reuters) - An Afghan court has sentenced to death three Afghans convicted of killing 11 Chinese road engineers in the northeastern province of Kunduz last June.
Eight accomplices were given prison terms of up to 15 years when the case concluded on Wednesday, Judge Abdul Bari Bakhtyari told Reuters on Friday.
The ringleader, General Mohammad Akbar, had been a commander in Kunduz for the Northern Alliance, a coalition of militias that helped the United States to topple the Taliban in late 2001 after it refused to hand over al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden following the September 11, 2001, attacks on U.S. cities.
The other two men sentenced to death with the former commander were identified as Noor Mohammad and Mohammad Asif.
"Noor Mohammad has pleaded guilty while the other two pleaded innocent," the judge said. "But we have enough evidence against the other two, including confessions from Noor Mohammad and from the father of General Akbar."
Those convicted can appeal and if the appeal is rejected only intervention by President Hamid Karzai could overturn the death sentence, Bakhtyari said.
While Akbar had been with the Northern Alliance he had also had contact with remnants of the Taliban, he said.
Taliban spokesmen have denied involvement, and there has been speculation the killings were linked to rivalry over construction contracts.
The engineers worked for a Chinese corporation on a road reconstruction project in Kunduz. The shooting as they slept in their tents was the bloodiest single act against foreigners in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban.
More than 1,000 people, including aid workers, Afghan and foreign troops and militants, have been killed since the Taliban stepped up a campaign of violence a year ago. Most attacks have occurred in southern and eastern areas where the insurgents are most active and have traditionally found support.
Afghan forces sweep feuding commanders
Daily Times Pakistan October 29, 2004
KABUL: Government troops and police swept a group of militia commanders accused of banditry from a troubled district of northern Afghanistan, officials said on Wednesday.
Three commanders were arrested during the operation on Tuesday in the Sholgara district of Balkh province, said Lt Col Patrick Poulain, a spokesman for NATO forces which patrol the region. There was no shooting, but one police officer lost a leg after stepping on a mine, officials said. He was evacuated using a Spanish military helicopter to a Jordanian-run hospital in the nearby city of Mazar-e-Sharif. Khalilullah Ziayi, Balkh’s intelligence chief, said the arrested men had reportedly extorted money from motorists at gunpoint and were engaged in other “criminal activities.”
Sixteen AK-47 assault rifles and ammunition were seized from their homes, he said. ap
The India hand in Afghan politics
INDRANI BAGCHI TIMES NEWS NETWORK THURSDAY, OCTOBER 28, 2004 The Times of India
KABUL: "Pink! I want the hospital walls to be painted pink!" The construction team gulped. Hospitals should be in grey and blue not pink and green. But Afghan colour sensitivities are nothing if not unique. The agitated director of the Indira Gandhi hospital for children won - in a manner of speaking. He got a huge cross sign in pink, though the hospital remained a staid grey.
But reconstruction is an uphill task and more so when it is a hospital that is working and in big demand in Kabul. There's no way it can be closed for repairs and rebuilding. So it is a daily quest of enterprise and creativity by a silent team of engineers and construction staff who are building diagnostic centres, waste treatment plants, even operation theatres and elevators to put this Kabul landmark back in operation.
After the Taliban was ousted, India moved in with large quantities of aid into Afghanistan. And Indian aid diplomacy has worked like very little else. As diplomatic sources here say, its direct and impacts the everyday lives of Afghans and resolutely steers clear of internal politics. And it works.
Schools, power stations for industrial complexes, hospitals, buses and airplanes, TV and telephones, these are the stuff of everyday life and it is where India's presence is palpable. Says an international aid worker, "the Americans build the clinics but India brings in the doctors."
It was when a group of international reconstruction workers were digging deep into the group that they came across a landmine. It blew up in their faces and some of he workers were severely injured and in traumatic shock. But a life-and-death situation was not enough to break ISAF rules: they would operate only within the physical boundaries of Kabul. It fell to Dr Arun Kumar to travel on the dangerous Jalalabad highway to pick up the injured and treat them there. He saved lives that night that were almost giving up.
A rotating group of Indian doctors are hot commodities in Kabul, Mazar, Sheberghan and Herat and in Kabul at least there are several hospitals vying for their favours. Apart from their professionalism, these army doctors of the Indian Medical Mission have great equity with the ordinary Afghan. And this is probably why the Afghan elite prefer to get themselves treated by Indians, either in Afghanistan or in India. Delhi's Escorts Heart Centre conducted a heart camp here recently, to suss out the market. In a few days they had seen some 1500 patients, done some 1300 tests.
Habibia School is a success story. The alma mater of King Zahir Shah and President Hamid Karzai, the school had been one of the worst targets of the Taliban years. Science was banned and the school virtually gutted in repeated bombings. India's $5 million reconstruction project is almost complete. And the old principal, Sayid Naasir Askarzada is back. The finishing touches are being given to classrooms and students who had been moved to tents in the grounds will soon return.
NATO's Afghan commander hopes for early expansion into western sector
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) NATO's commander in Afghanistan said Wednesday he hopes allied nations will give his peacekeeping force the troops it needs to expand into the west of the country before parliamentary elections scheduled for April.
French Lt. Gen. Jean-Louis Py said the allies should have committed troops for the western section by the end of November, but that their deployment could be complicated by the onset of winter.
``If the nations provide what is required for the expansion there is no problem,'' Py told reporters at NATO headquarters. ``Hopefully it will be done before the parliamentary elections.''
Py said the movement to the west would depend on whether troop numbers were increased in time and ``on the capacity to deploy in bad weather conditions.''
Since taking over peacekeeping in Kabul in August, 2003, NATO has slowly expanded its mission, replacing the separate, U.S.-led combat mission as regions become more stable.
It completed a gradual move into the north last month. The next step is for the alliance to take over the western sector so the U.S.-led force can focus on Taliban and al-Qaida holdouts in the south and east.
The NATO peacekeeping operation has 9,500 troops, while the U.S.-led combat force has 18,000. NATO officials say Italy and Canada are likely to provide extra troops to enable it to take over in western regions, while the United States could switch some of its troops in the area to alliance command.
Alliance officials declined to say how many troops are needed for the operation. Py and NATO's civilian envoy to Afghanistan, Hikmet Cetin, presented alliance headquarters with an upbeat assessment of this month's presidential elections won by the Western-backed incumbent Hamid Karzai.
``It was a real success,'' Py said. ``They wanted to have a better future, to chose it and they succeeded.'' Cetin and Py said the parliamentary vote provisionally scheduled for April 23 would be more complex since there would be thousands of candidates and a real risk of localized rivalries flaring into conflict.
``There may not be an attack against the democratic process, but we could have hotspots around the country where, locally, people will fight to see who will be elected,'' Py warned.
He said that did not necessarily mean that his force would need a large number of reinforcements over the election period, saying that a small number of high mobility units could do the job, similar to the around 2,000 extra troops deployed for the presidential vote.
Py welcomed last week's agreement among NATO allies for the Afghan mission's leadership to rotate until 2007 to end the present system where NATO military commanders have to scramble twice a year to find a lead nation.
`It's a very good idea,'' he said. Turkey, Italy, Britain and Spain will rotate into the leadership role when Py's own multinational Eurocorps formed mainly by French and German troops hands over command in February.
Pakistani police arrest two people, seize opium, poppies near Afghan border
Friday October 29, 12:02 AM AP
Pakistani anti-narcotics police raided a complex of huts in a remote southwestern region near the Afghan border, arresting two suspected drug traffickers and seizing opium and dried poppy, an official said Thursday.
The raid was carried out Wednesday in Chaghai, a desert region about 400 kilometers (250 miles) west of Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, said a spokesman for the Anti-Narcotics Force.
ANF forces were dropped by helicopters in the remote region to search the huts near the Afghan border, and seized 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of opium and eight tons (8.82 short tons) of dried poppy pods, the spokesman said in statement without giving his name.
The two men arrested were suspected of stacking the opium for transport to Afghanistan, where it was to be processed into heroin. It wasn't known whether they were formally charged.
Drugs hauls are common in Pakistan, which is believed to straddle a route for narcotics destined mainly for lucrative markets in the Middle East and Europe.
Rise of drug trade threat to Afghanistan's security
By Gregg Zoroya and Donna Leinwand / USA TODAY 10/28/2004 7:24 AM
SAYAD, Afghanistan — After decades of occupation and conflict, this nation is finally embracing democracy as returns from Afghanistan's first presidential election point to interim leader Hamid Karzai as the victor. But a competing power structure no Afghan voted for is lurking just off the political stage: a deeply rooted and ever-expanding opium industry.
Afghanistan is at once the world's newest democracy and its largest producer of heroin: This year, the country had a record opium crop. The narcotic feeds 95% of Europe's addiction and generates an estimated $30 billion in revenue. Most comes from street sales outside Afghanistan.
But even the $2.5 billion that stays in Afghanistan amounts to a third of its economy. The money corrupts government officials, who tolerate trafficking, and finances warlords and terror groups like the Taliban who encourage cultivation and elicit protection money from smugglers.
National and international leaders say an infant democracy and a narco-economy cannot co-exist here. One must gain leverage over the other.
"The country has made huge progress on the political side," says Antonio Maria Costa, director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Vienna. "On the narcotics front, I would not only say there has been no progress, but a worsening of the situation."
Doug Wankel, a former Drug Enforcement Administration official who is point man for the U.S. counternarcotics initiative at the American Embassy in Kabul, says the opium industry is "financing terrorism. It's financing subversive activities. It's financing warlordism. ... And if it's a threat to the government of Afghanistan, it's a direct threat to the national security interests of the United States."
Final U.N. figures on this year's opium harvest will be out early next month. But officials like Robert Charles, U.S. assistant secretary of State for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, predict a record opium poppy cultivation covering a cumulative area just less than 500 square miles — about the size of the city of Los Angeles.
Before anything can be done, the nation must select a new leader. By Tuesday, results from the Oct. 9 vote showed Karzai had 55.5% of the votes, 39 points ahead of his closest rival. An official announcement declaring Karzai the winner is expected later this week.
Costa, Wankel, Charles and others say that the president must move quickly to cleanse the government of drug-corrupted provincial governors and central government Cabinet ministers to begin reversing the drug's grip on Afghan government.
"He needs to begin the process of wringing out any narcotic influence at any levels in order to be able to go forward," says Charles, whose office already is training Afghan police, border patrol officers, judges and prosecutors necessary to carry out a drug crackdown.
There is a growing sense of urgency within a U.S. administration eager to avoid any tarnish on what is otherwise a foreign-policy success story. "Amazing, isn't it?" President Bush exclaimed of the Afghan election at an Oct. 9 Iowa campaign stop. "Freedom is beautiful."
Andrew Natsios, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which is developing an alternative livelihood program to discourage Afghanistan farmers from growing poppies, says, "The president is quite concerned about this and has given us instructions to move this into high gear."
'Because we need the money'
Nowhere is the evidence of a rising drug tide more evident than among the dirt-poor, subsistence farmers of the small village of Sayad, 10 miles north of a sprawling U.S. military base at Bagram outside Kabul. Farmers tilling the arid fields and living in the mud-walled homes say they have lived for generations off the tomatoes, cotton, wheat, rice and corn grown on tiny parcels of land.
Until now. Last spring, the village was visited by men from Nangarhar Province, southeast of here astride the trade route from Kabul to Islamabad, Pakistan. The men came with poppy seeds and a promise to pay 10,000 Afghanis — worth $225 to $250 — for each kilogram, or 2.2 pounds, of raw, harvested opium.
Mahrwouf, 20, who like many Afghans, goes by one name, says he and most of the other farmers took up the offer. On his five acres, Mahrwouf harvested just under 9 pounds of opium this year. He earned nearly $1,000, more money than he's ever seen. It paid off the debt from his wedding six months ago. "The villagers are very poor people, so they decided to plant the poppy," he says. "We'll do it again. Because we need the money."
In an agrarian nation where per-capita income is $186 a year, 16% of the roads are paved, 12% of the people have access to a sanitation system and barely two out of 1,000 have use of a telephone, that kind of cash crop is irresistible to the estimated 264,000 farmers.
Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank official who spent 20 years in the USA, has for more than a year expressed concern that his country could tumble into a "narco-mafia state" where real power emanates from a group of drug kingpins, rather than a duly elected central government.
"Opium, unfortunately, is the ideal crop for a drought-stricken country and for a country where labor-intensive work is the demand," Ghani says. "It's a deeply threatening phenomenon."
He says the massive turnout in the election gives him hope that a leader with a popular mandate can move against a rising drug tide. The challenges include:
• Taking on warlords governing poppy producing provinces, such as Helmand and Nangarhar. Karzai has demonstrated a willingness to do this. Most recently, he replaced longtime-warlord Ismail Khan as governor of Herat and deployed U.S.-trained Afghan national army troops to provide security.
• Arresting drug kingpins, some of whom have sizable militias. Charles says there are six to 12 top Afghan smugglers who must be targeted. He identifies two: Haji Juma Khan, who has links with the Taliban, and former Taliban money supplier Haji Bashir Noorzai, who is tied to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terror network. According to House International Relations Committee testimony this year, Noorzai smuggles 4,400 lbs. of heroin out of the Kandahar region to al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan every eight weeks.
• Destroying drug labs and refineries. Thomas O'Connell, assistant secretary of Defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, has testified before Congress that the U.S. government, through various means including satellites, can pinpoint labs and refineries. Afghans just need the manpower to go after them.
• Instituting an alternative-livelihood program that goes beyond merely encouraging the growing of alternative crops. Rural development programs, education and even non-farm employment opportunities would need to be offered, according to a September study by the World Bank. This would require massive international funding, Ghani says.
The last step is crucial. According to the World Bank study, opium's grip on the Afghan economy, with its weak government and lack of security, is unprecedented because of the nation's reliance on drug revenue. So suffocating is the illicit industry here that if an internationally supported eradication and interdiction program was immediately successful, the economy would slip into a recession.
"Time is always our enemy," says Charles, who warns that the drug industry is becoming even more deeply entrenched in Afghan economy and society.
Under the December 2001 Bonn peace agreement that laid out a nation-building plan for Afghanistan, the British agreed to take the lead on counternarcotics, the Germans on training police and the Italians on building a judicial system.
The United States, tasked with building an Afghan national army, has provided the largest security force: 18,000 U.S. troops to pursue remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
But the other countries are not moving fast enough on their commitments, says Wankel, the Kabul-based counternarcotics coordinator. So the United States has stepped in with money and resources to push all three areas.
"They don't seem to have the same sense of urgency," Wankel says of the coalition partners. "Where we see it's not moving at the ... level or the speed we think, we're going to step in and we're going to work with them to help them get it to the level and to the speed which we think it needs."
He adds, "We really believe that within two years, we've got to see the pendulum swing."
Signs of growing sophistication
For now, the pendulum is moving in the wrong direction, according to the World Bank. Since the demise of the Taliban, the flowering plant has spread from the top-producing poppy provinces to 28 of the nation's 32 provinces. Poppy cultivation now employs an estimated 2 million Afghans, who can earn about $7 a day, more than two times the average scale for unskilled Afghan labor.
The opium they produce earns a farmer 57 times as much as wheat, the next most profitable crop. But it has had an insidious effect on the poorest planters. Farm prices for poppy have declined as production has increased. Many farmers, who borrowed to pay for staples to get them through the winter, are falling into debt. Rural credit lines for farmers would be another important facet of an alternative livelihood program.
Among the reasons officials feel a sense of urgency is that the drug industry here is not yet an organized, price-controlling cartel as with Colombia and cocaine. But the system is showing new signs of sophistication. In the past, most heroin was processed in neighboring countries along the smuggling route to Europe. Now, it's processed here.
Eradication efforts have had mixed results. A 2002 British-led initiative to destroy fields and compensate the farmers and an effort in 2003 to encourage local governors to destroy poppy crops failed. The compensation program only encouraged other farmers, eager for government compensation, to grow poppies. And local governors used their eradication efforts to punish enemies.
With British and U.S. assistance, there was limited success this year with interdiction and eradication by newly organized central government forces. Most notably, a British-trained 150-man commando-style unit known as the Afghan Special Narcotics Force in the past six months has destroyed 50 tons of opiates, 32 processing labs and made 20 arrests. The unit, also called Force 333, reports directly to Karzai and Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali, and uses U.S. transport helicopters and pilots to transport them on missions.
The United States, meanwhile, is paying Afghan laborers $10 a day to chop down poppy plants. Under this program, about 2,000 acres have been eradicated.
To offset the common practice of arrested drug dealers bribing their way to freedom, the United States will begin training a core Afghan group of 10 prosecutors, 10 police investigators and five judges to act as a special task force to prosecute high-profile drug smugglers.
The unit, Wankel says, should be up and running by March. It will work out of offices in a refurbished section of Pol-e-Charki Prison outside Kabul. Wankel says the new program could cost the United States $300 million to $400 million in the next few years.
Bill Rammell, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, who oversees British efforts in Afghanistan, says his nation is spending $150-$200 million on counternarcotics there.
"We do have the plans and the strategy in place to meet our targets and begin to reverse, I would hope, the tide by this time next year," Rammell says.
But Mahrwouf and other Afghan farmers who have limited choices and almost no enforcement see only opium in their future. "If the Americans would give me a job at Bagram air base," he says with a grin. "I would stop growing it."
Contributing: Zoroya reported in Afghanistan, Leinwand reported in Washington
Osama and his Shi'ite nemesis
By B Raman / Asia Times / October 28, 2004
CHENNAI - The Shi'ites of Pakistan and Afghanistan have a long memory for the insults and brutalities inflicted against them. It now appears they're on the hunt for their sworn enemies, and Osama bin Laden is among them.
That might be because they haven't forgotten what he did to them in 1988. It was then that hundreds of Shi'ites of the Northern Areas (NA - Gilgit and Baltistan) of Pakistan, known before 1947 as the Northern Areas of Jammu and Kashmir, were massacred after a demand raised by them for the creation of an autonomous Shi'ite state called Karakoram, consisting of the Shi'ite majority areas of the NA, Punjab and the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). Military ruler General Zia-ul-Haq called in bin Laden, then living in Peshawar, and his Sunni tribal hordes to carry out the massacre.
To avenge these deaths, a Shi'ite airman is believed to have caused an explosion on board the aircraft in which Zia was travelling from Bahawalpur to Islamabad in August 1988. This was followed in 1991 by the assassination in Peshawar of Lieutenant-General Fazle Haq, a retired army officer, close to Zia and hated by the Shi'ites because of his suspected role in the assassination of a respected Shi'ite leader.
The Taliban rule in Afghanistan from 1994 to October 2001, particularly after it captured Kabul in September 1996, saw the large-scale massacre of Shi'ites belonging to the Hazara tribe. These strikes were carried out by al-Qaeda as well as Pakistan's Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and its militant wing, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ).
Angered over this, the Shi'ite community refrained from participating in large numbers in the anti-US demonstrations that were organized in different parts of Pakistan by the Sunni religious organizations to protest the US military strikes against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan after September 11, 2001.
Since the beginning of 2003, there have been indications that sections of the Shi'ite community have been doing their own hunt for bin Laden and his No 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri. It was reported that the arrest at Rawalpindi, Pakistan in March 2003 of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, who had allegedly orchestrated the September 11 terrorist strikes in the United States, was made possible by intelligence provided by some Shi'ites in Quetta, Balochistan province, where Khalid was living before fleeing to Rawalpindi.
After hearing these reports, the SSP and the LEJ, both members of bin Laden's International Islamic Front, retaliated by massacring a large number of Hazara Shi'ites in the Quetta area in July 2003. This was followed by many anti-Shi'ite incidents in Karachi and other parts of Pakistan.
The Shi'ites struck back by helping the Pakistani authorities arrest Massob Arooshi, described as Khalid's nephew, on June 13 this year following an unsuccessful attempt to kill the corps commander of Karachi on June 10. Arooshi was arrested at the house of one Abbas Khan, a former divisional engineer of Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited, and reportedly the father of Javed Abbas, a serving deputy superintendent of police of Sindh.
According to the Daily Times, the prestigious Lahore daily, a Shi'ite cleric from Gilgit working in Karachi tipped off the police about Arooshi's presence in the house of Abbas Khan. The paper said it was another Shi'ite cleric who had tipped off the police in March last year about Khalid's presence in Rawalpindi.
Arooshi's arrest led to the arrest on July 12 of 25-year-old Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, a Pakistani national described as an al-Qaeda computer expert; the arrest on July 25 at the home of an LEJ member in Punjab of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian national born in Zanzibar and wanted by the US's Federal Bureau of Investigation in connection with the explosions near the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam in 1998, and his Uzbeck wife; the arrest on August 6 of Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the amir of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) and his subsequent deportation to Pakistan; and the death in an alleged encounter at Nawabshah in Sindh on September 26 of Amjad Hussain Farooqi, alias Mansur Hasnain, who, according to Pakistani authorities, was the mastermind behind two abortive attempts to kill President General Pervez Musharraf last December and in the kidnapping and murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002.
The SSP and the LEJ once again sought revenge against the Shi'ites through a suicide bombing at a Shi'ite place of worship in Punjab on October 1, resulting in the death of 30 Shi'ites. The Shi'ites retaliated on October 7 with a cab-bomb attack that killed 40 Sunnis near a religious function organized in Punjab by Sunni members of the SSP and the LEJ. The function marked the first anniversary of the death of Azam Tariq, the former head of the SSP, who was assassinated last year allegedly by a Shi'ite gunman in Islamabad.
Azam Tariq was close to Musharraf, who had the cases pending against him under the Anti-Terrorism Act withdrawn, enabling him to contest and win the October 2002 National Assembly elections. The SSP retaliated against the October 7 attack by causing an explosion in a Shi'ite place of worship at Lahore on October 10, killing four Shi'ites.
And so it goes; attack and revenge. And so it will go on, until the Shi'ites of Pakistan and Afghanistan have smoked out bin Laden, al-Zawahiri and Mullah Mohammad Omar, the amir of the Taliban, and dispatched them to their maker or, worse still, to the Americans at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
The Shi'ites have a long memory for the insults and brutalities inflicted against them, as Zia, Fazle Haq, Khalid, Amjad Farooqi and many others have learned, at great cost. They hunt relentlessly for their suppressors and for those who massacred their near and dear ones - no matter the price.
They have not forgotten what bin Laden, at Zia's insistence, did to them in Gilgit in 1988. They have not forgotten what bin Laden, the Taliban and al-Zawahiri did to them in Central Afghanistan. They have not forgotten the role of the SSP and the LEJ in the massacre of the Shi'ites in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
They are on the hunt for their sworn enemies. They are unlikely to rest until they get them. They are doing this not because of any love for the US or Musharraf, but to avenge the deaths of their near and dear ones at the hands of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Unlike Iran, which is allegedly not cooperating with the United States in its hunt for the dregs of al-Qaeda, the Shi'ites of Pakistan have mounted their own hunt for bin Laden and his cohorts. It is not a coordinated operation with the US or Pakistan. It is an independent operation in parallel, whose objective is not to make the world safe for the Americans, but to avenge the deaths of their brothers and sisters and to make the world safe for the Shi'ites. No amount of brutality and retaliatory killings by the SSP and the LEJ will deter them from this.
If bin Laden is still alive, don't be surprised if his greatest nemesis proves to be the Shi'ites of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
- B Raman is a retired additional secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, government of India, New Delhi, and currently director of the Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai and distinguished fellow and convenor at the Chennai chapter of the Observer Research Foundation.
How Bush blew it in Tora Bora
THE ROVING EYE By Pepe Escobar / Asia Times / October 27, 2004
"And again, I don't know where he is. I - I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him." - President George W Bush, March 13, 2002
"Gosh, I don't think I ever said I'm not worried about Osama bin Laden. That's kind of one of those exaggerations." - President Bush, October 13
"Now my opponent is throwing out the wild claim that he knows where bin Laden was in the fall of 2001 and that our military passed up the chance to get him in Tora Bora. This is an unjustified criticism of our military commanders in the field." - President Bush, October 25
So where is the October surprise? The US presidential election is less than a week away, and still he refuses a great Hollywood-style entrance - or a Lazarus-like resurrection from his cave. The whole world is asking: where is Osama bin Laden?
Don't ask the Pakistanis. "No one knows where bin Laden is," Pakistan's Foreign Office spokesman Masood Khan said last Sunday. So maybe we should ask the Pentagon. According to a number of leaks by Pentagon officials, bin Laden is hiding in South Waziristan, in the Pakistani tribal areas, not far from the Toba Kakar mountain range in Baluchistan province. Khan seemed to be startled by this revelation: "We are getting in touch with them [the Pentagon] to clarify this matter." Don't ask the Pakistani military. Major General Shaukat Sultan has said they have been pursuing all of the Pentagon's leads, to no avail. So maybe we should ask Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf. In a recent interview with NBC he referred to "some broad indications" to proclaim he was "reasonably sure" that bin Laden is alive and absolutely sure he would be captured or killed. But he "didn't know his location".
Musharraf also said that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is working "very closely" with the Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) in the hunt for bin Laden and al-Qaeda. So maybe the ISI knows something Musharraf doesn't. ISI officials in Karachi told Asia Times Online correspondent Syed Saleem Shahzad "they have no clue" where both bin Laden and his No 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, might be. But they reconfirmed they are in Afghanistan. Other sources in Peshawar, very close to the tribal areas, told this correspondent bin Laden has been "for months" on the Afghan side of the border, because the Pakistani tribal areas "are infested with FBI and ISI operatives".
According to Musharraf, "there's no pressure" on him by the White House and the Pentagon to find bin Laden. "What pressure? he asked in his NBC interview. "Their [al-Qaeda] leadership, a few high level, and others mid and low level have been arrested - then we have attacked them in the mountains. We have attacked three of their very big sanctuaries in the valleys in the South Waziristan agency in tribal areas - but they're on the run now. And they're in smaller groups. Maybe there are a few more concentrations, which we don't know. But they are on the run, as far as al-Qaeda is concerned, they're on their own, surely."
Trekking in Tora Bora
So bin Laden won't surface as an October surprise. He won't be captured and exhibited "Saddam-in-chains" style as another Bush hunting trophy. Funny, when we think that he should have surfaced as a November surprise - way back in 2001.
On November 17, 2001, as the Taliban regime was self-disintegrating, Osama bin Laden, his family and a convoy of 25 Toyota Land Cruisers left Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan headed toward the mountains of Tora Bora. In late November, surrounded by his fiercest and most loyal Yemeni mujahideen in a cold Tora Bora cave, bin Laden delivered a stirring speech. One of his fighters, Abu Bakar, later captured by Afghan mujahideen, said bin Laden exhorted them to "hold your positions firm and be ready for martyrdom. I'll be visiting you again very soon."
A few days later, around what would probably have been November 30, bin Laden, along with four Yemeni mujahideen, left Tora Bora toward the village of Parachinar, in the Pakistani tribal areas. They walked undisturbed all the way - and then disappeared forever.
By the time the merciless American B-52 bombing raids were about to begin, bin Laden had already left Tora Bora - as a number of Afghan mujahideen confirmed to Asia Times Online at the time. They said they had seen him on the other side of the frontline in late November. Hazrat Ali, the warlord and then so-called minister of "law and order" in the Eastern Shura (traditional decision-making council) in Afghanistan, was outsourced by the Pentagon to go after bin Laden and al-Qaeda in Tora Bora. He bagged a handful of suitcases full of cash. He put on a show for the cameras. And significantly, he was barely in touch with the few Special Forces on the ground.
The crucial point is that while bin Laden was already in Pakistan, General Tommy Franks at US Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida, was being directed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to concentrate on toppling Saddam Hussein. According to Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack, on "December 1, a Saturday, Rumsfeld sent through the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff a Top Secret planning order to Franks asking him to come up with the commander's estimate to build the base of a new Iraq war plan. In two pages the order said Rumsfeld wanted to know how Franks would conduct military operations to remove Saddam from power, eliminate the threat of any possible weapons of mass destruction, and choke off his suspected support of terrorism."
Also in early December, Pir Baksh Bardiwal, the man responsible for intelligence operations in eastern Afghanistan, was absolutely puzzled: why didn't the Pentagon block all the obvious exit trails from Tora Bora, when all of Hazrat Ali's mujahideen, paid by the US, knew them by heart? Only a few Arab al-Qaeda fighters were captured in Tora Bora - after bin Laden had left (later they were sent to Guantanamo, along with hundreds of Afghan bystanders). Most of the al-Qaeda fighters that remained in Tora Bora died in battle, as "martyrs", buried under the rubble caused by bunker-buster bombs. As far as the American military was concerned, Pir Baksh was adamant: "Al-Qaeda escaped right out from under their feet."
So it was a major Pentagon blunder. It was a major Rumsfeld-Franks blunder. It was a major White House blunder. And there were two reasons for it: 1) The Pentagon outsourced the war in eastern Afghanistan to the wrong warlords, who were collecting suitcases full of cash with one hand and spreading disinformation with the other. 2) The White House's and the Pentagon's attention were already directed toward toppling Saddam. This all amounts to Senator John Kerry being fundamentally correct when he charges on the campaign trail that Bush blew it in Tora Bora. This is not a "wild claim", as Bush puts it: it's a serious charge that debunks the whole myth of Bush as a strong and resolute commander-in-chief of the "war on terror".
WITH PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION SETTLED, AFGHANISTAN AGAIN TURNS ATTENTION TO SECURITY ISSUES
Eurasianet; 27 October 2004 Mevlut Katik
Afghan officials are hoping the country's quiet and relatively fair presidential election will generate momentum for stabilization efforts. NATO leaders have helped boost expectations by signalling a willingness to deploy peacekeepers in Afghan provinces, and by securing commitments from some neighboring Central Asian nations to get more involved in security-related operations.
With nearly all ballots counted, election officials say Karzai won 55 percent of the roughly 8.2 million votes cast in the October 9 presidential election. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive]. His nearest rival, Yunus Qanooni, has tacitly acknowledged Karzai as Afghanistan's first popularly elected president. Nevertheless, Qanooni indicated he will refrain from formally conceding the election until a special commission issues its findings on electoral fraud allegations. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Election officials admit that several instances of ballot-box stuffing did occur, but maintain that irregularities were limited and did not sway the election's outcome.
Almost as important as the final result, members of Karzai's administration are relieved that the election passed without large-scale bloodshed. Islamic radicals had vowed to take action to disrupt the poll, but only a few relatively minor attacks were reported on election day. Officials are also encouraged by the fact that presidential challengers, Qanooni in particular, appear prepared, albeit grudgingly, to accept Karzai as the country's legitimately elected leader. [For additional information see the EurasiaNet archive]. This may increase the chances that Karzai's administration can erode Afghanistan's sharp ethnic divisions. Inter-ethnic hostility has played a major role in driving the country's vicious cycle of violence over the past 25 years.
Given the Afghan government's limited resources, stabilization efforts are entirely dependent on outside assistance. Until recently, Western officials were reluctant to sanction the expansion of the international peacekeeping mission beyond the Afghan capital Kabul. In the aftermath of the successful presidential vote, however, Western donors are expressing a willingness to support the deployment of troops from the NATO-led International Security and Assistance Force in Afghan provinces. Such deployments could help counter the two main threats to stability – the Islamic radical insurgency and the various warlord militia groups that dominate many parts of the country. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive].
On October 20, with Karzai's election win appearing increasingly likely, NATO's Military Committee released a rough sketch of its plans for ISAF until 2007. Turkey will take over command of ISAF for the first half of 2005, NATO officials indicated. Leadership would then rotate to Italy, Britain and Spain, with each country serving an approximate six-month term as ISAF chief. For both Turkey and Britain, it would be the second time that they have led ISAF. In announcing the two-year plan, NATO officials sought to reassure Afghan leaders on the Atlantic alliance's commitment to improving the security climate.
NATO officials indicated that over the next two years the scope of ISAF's mission would be extended to Afghanistan's provinces – something that Karzai has long requested. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Expansion efforts are likely to concentrate initially on western Herat Province, which is fast developing as a trade hub capable of generating much-needed revenue for the government. In recent months, Kabul has helped pave the way for an ISAF deployment by taking action to neutralize the region's most powerful warlord Ismail Khan. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Beyond solidifying ISAF's plans, NATO leaders have sought to strengthen the regional support network for Afghan stabilization efforts. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer conducted a tour of Central Asian nations from October 18-21. In comments made during his stop in Kazakhstan, the secretary-general indicated that NATO ties with Central Asian states had been underutilized in addressing the Afghan security issue, as well as the ongoing threat posed by Islamic radicalism.
"A key element of NATO's reorientation to address new threats is to make better use of the partnership relations that we have developed over the past decade," de Hoop Scheffer said.
Central Asian states appeared interested in boosting cooperation, recognizing that, in de Hoop scheffer's words, promoting peace in Afghanistan is of "vital interest" to regional security. Even Turkmenistan's mercurial leader, Saparmurat Niyazov, expressed a desire to provide support for ISAF, although he provided no details on his intentions. Perhaps the most significant development occurred October 20, when Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov signed a "support and transit" agreement designed to improve the efficiency of ISAF operations. According to a NATO statement, Tajikistan is the first Central Asian state to conclude such a pact with NATO.
Editor's Note: Mevlut Katik is a London-based journalist and analyst. He is a former BBC correspondent and also worked for The Economist group.
What the Terrorists Have in Mind
By DANIEL BENJAMIN and GABRIEL WEIMANN The New York Times / October 27, 2004 OP-Editorial
With less than a week before the election, President Bush is seeking to turn the favorable ratings he receives for his prosecution of the war on terrorism into a clinching advantage. His latest television advertisement, using a pack of wolves to stand in for foreign terrorists, ends with the line: "Weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm." He has backed up this sentiment in his foreign-policy stump speeches. "In a free and open society, it is impossible to protect against every threat,'' he told a New Jersey crowd. "The best way to prevent attacks is to stay on the offense against the enemy overseas."
Of course, Mr. Bush is correct: A central part of our strategy must be to pre-empt terrorists, attacking them before they attack us. But not all offensive strategies are equal, and Mr. Bush errs by arguing that the one being employed is doing the job. One need only listen to the terrorists and observe their recent actions to understand that we face grave problems. After all, their analysis of the battle is a key determinant of the level of terrorism in the future.
To get a sense of the jihadist movement's state of mind, we must listen to its communications, and not just the operational "chatter" collected by the intelligence community. Today, the central forum for the terrorists' discourse is not covert phone communications but the Internet, where Islamist Web sites and chat rooms are filled with evaluations of current events, discussions of strategy and elaborations of jihadist ideology.
Yes, assessing this material requires a critical eye since there is plenty of bluster and some chat room participants may be teenagers in American suburbs rather than fighters in the field. Some things, however, are clear: There has been a drastic shift in mood in the last two years. Radicals who were downcast and perplexed in 2002 about the rapid defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan now feel exuberant about the global situation and, above all, the events in Iraq.
For example, an article in the most recent issue of Al Qaeda's Voice of Jihad - an online magazine that comes out every two weeks - makes the case that the United States has a greater strategic mess on its hands in Afghanistan and Iraq than the Soviet Union did in Afghanistan in the 1980's. As translated by the SITE Institute, a nonprofit group that monitors terrorists, the author describes how the United States has stumbled badly by getting itself mired in two guerrilla wars at once, and that United States forces are now "merely trying to 'prove their presence' - for all practical purposes, they have left the war."
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist now wreaking havoc in Iraq, sees things in a similar way. "There is no doubt that the Americans' losses are very heavy because they are deployed across a wide area and among the people and because it is easy to procure weapons," he wrote in a recent communiqué to his followers that was posted on several radical Web sites. "All of which makes them easy and mouthwatering targets for the believers."
Clearly, the president's oft-repeated claim that American efforts are paying off because "more than three-quarters of Al Qaeda's key members and associates have been killed, captured or detained" - a questionable claim in itself - means little to jihadists. What matters to them that the invasion of Iraq paved the way for the emergence of a movement of radical Sunni Iraqis who share much of the Qaeda ideology.
Among the recurrent motifs on the Web are that America has blundered in Iraq the same way the Soviet Union did in the 1980's in Afghanistan, and that it will soon be leaving in defeat. "We believe these infidels have lost their minds," was the analysis on a site called Jamaat ud-Daawa, which is run out of Pakistan. "They do not know what they are doing. They keep on repeating the same mistake."
For the radicals, the fighting has become a large part of a broader religious revival and political revolution. Their discussions celebrate America's occupation of Iraq as an opportunity to expose the superpower's "real nature" as an enemy of Islam that seeks to steal the Arab oil patrimony. "If there was no jihad, Paul Bremer would have left with $20 trillion instead of $20 billion," one Web site declared.
Moreover, the radicals see themselves as gaining ground in their effort to convince other Muslims around the world that jihad is a religiously required military obligation. And the American presence in the region is making the case for fulfilling this obligation all the more powerful.
Iraq, in fact, has become a theater of inspiration for this drama of faith, in which the jihadists believe they can win by seizing cities and towns, killing American troops and destabilizing the country with attacks on the police, oil pipelines and reconstruction projects. Although coalition forces have retaken Samarra and pounded Falluja, we have ceded control of much of western Iraq. Taliban-like councils are emerging in places under the control of extremists, some linked with Mr. Zarqawi's organization.
From the militants' perspective, America's record has been one of inconsistency and fecklessness. For example, we signaled that we were going to attack Falluja last summer, and then held off. We have allowed it and several other cities to become no-go zones for coalition forces. The apparent decision to postpone a major campaign to retake western Iraq until after the Nov. 2 election is another move that the militants will inevitably view as a sign of weakness. In the end, we are stuck in the classic quandary of counterinsurgency: we do not want to use the force necessary to wipe out the terrorists because we would kill numerous civilians and further alienate the Iraqi population.
Meanwhile, radicals in dozens of countries are increasingly seizing on events in Iraq. Some Web sites have moved beyond describing the action there to depicting it in the most grisly way: images of Western hostages begging for their lives and being beheaded. These sites have become enormously popular throughout the Muslim world, thrilling those who sympathize with the Iraqi insurgents as they see jihad in action. Fired up by such cyber-spectacles, militants everywhere are more and more seeing Iraq as the first glorious stage in a long campaign against the West and the "apostate" rulers of the Muslim world.
It is remarkable, for example, that the Pakistani Sunni extremist group Lashkar-e-Tayba appears to be shifting its sights away from its longtime focus on Kashmir and toward Iraq. Probably the largest militant group in Pakistan, it has used its online Urdu publication to call for sending holy warriors to Iraq to take revenge for the torture at Abu Ghraib prison as well as for what it calls the "rapes of Iraqi Muslim women." "The Americans are dishonoring our mothers and sisters," reads a notice on its site. "Therefore, jihad against America has now become mandatory."
The organization's postings speak of an "army" of 8,000 fighters from different countries bound for Iraq. While that number is undoubtedly exaggerated, the statement is not pure propaganda: members of the group have already been captured in Iraq.
Another worrisome development is the parallel emergence of a Shiite militancy that shares the apocalyptic outlook of Al Qaeda. One citation that crops up frequently in chat rooms is a quotation from a sheik describing the fighting in Iraq as a harbinger of the arrival of the Mahdi, the messiah figure whose expected return will bring about a sort of final judgment: "The people will be chided for their acts of disobedience by a fire that will appear in the sky and a redness that will cover the sky. It will swallow up Baghdad."
It seems clear that, while the administration insists that we are acting strongly, our pursuit of the war on terrorism through an invasion of Iraq has carried real costs for our security. The occupation is in chaos, which is emboldening a worldwide assortment of radical Islamists and giving them common ground. The worst thing we could do now is believe that the Bush administration's tough talk is in any way realistic. If we really think that the unrest abroad will have no impact on us at home - as too many thought before 9/11 - not even a vastly improved offense can help us.
Daniel Benjamin, a director for counterterrorism on the National Security Council staff under President Bill Clinton, is a co-author of "The Age of Sacred Terror." Gabriel Weimann is professor of communications at the University of Haifa in Israel and the author of the forthcoming "Terror on the Internet."
Afghanistan looks for direct trade with Bangladesh:
New Kerala, India
[World News]: Dhaka, Oct 28 : Transitional state of Afghanistan expressed interest in setting up direct business link with Bangladesh as the former found a huge business scope left unexploded for both the countries.
"Afghanistan now would like to establish direct business relation to facilitate export and import with Bangladesh," Afghan Ambassador in Dhaka Akmal Ghani told reporters after a meeting with chief of Bangladesh's business apex body FBCCI, Abdul Awal Mintoo, on Thursday.
Ghani pointed out that said Bangladeshi have the opportunity to enter into the markets of CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries through Afghanistan and underscored the need for an intense business relation between the two counties.
Presently, direct trade volume between Bangladesh and Afghanistan is insignificant, but Bangladeshi goods like tea and jute products go to Afghan markets through Pakistani importers.
Statistic available with the Bangladesh's Export Promotion Bureau show that in the just-ended 2003-04 fiscal year, Bangladesh exported products worth 4.19 million dollars, mostly tea, to Afghanistan.
In the previous two fiscals, Bangladeshi exports to Afghanistan amounted to 3.09 million dollars and 7.3 million dollars respectively.
With the situation, the Afghan envoy also mentioned that as Afghanistan is located in the central part of Asia, it is very easy for Bangladesh to transshipment and trade with Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and other central Asian countries through Afghanistan.
The ambassador mentioned that as India was giving lot of privileges on customs duty and tax to Afghan products and requested Mintoo to convince Bangladesh government for giving similar facilities in the interest of bigger volume of imports and exports.
The ambassador emphasized that direct contact between the apex chambers of the two countries while the FBCCI president agreed that business relation and people to people relation between Bangladesh and Afghanistan is very important for the trade interest of both sides.(ANI)
Kerry's Afghan Amnesia
By Charles Krauthammer Friday, October 29, 2004; Page A23 The Washington Post
In the 1990s, Afghanistan was allowed to fall to the Taliban and become the global center for the training, indoctrination and seeding of jihadists around the world -- including the mass murderers of Sept. 11, 2001. This week, just three years after a two-month war that destroyed the Taliban, Afghanistan completed its first free election, choosing as president a pro-American democrat enjoying legitimacy and wide popular support.
This represents the single most astonishing geopolitical transformation of the past four years. (Deposing Saddam Hussein ranks second. The global jihad against America was no transformation at all: It existed long before the Bush administration. We'd simply ignored al Qaeda's declaration of war.) But perhaps even more astonishing is how this singular American victory has disappeared from public consciousness.
Americans have a deserved reputation for historical amnesia. Three years -- an eon -- have made us imagine that the Afghan war was easy and foreordained.
Easy? In 2001, we had nothing there. What had the Clinton administration left in place? No plausible military plan. Virtually no intelligence. No local infrastructure. No neighboring bases. The Afghan Northern Alliance was fractured and weak. And Pakistan was actively supporting the bad guys.
Within days of Sept. 11, the clueless airhead president that inhabits Michael Moore's films and Tina Brown's dinner parties had done this: forced Pakistan into alliance with us, isolated the Taliban, secured military cooperation from Afghanistan's northern neighbors, and authorized a radical war plan involving just a handful of Americans on the ground, using high technology and local militias to utterly rout the Taliban.
President Bush put in place a military campaign that did in two months what everyone had said was impossible: defeat an entrenched, fanatical, ruthless regime in a territory that had forced the great British and Soviet empires into ignominious retreat. Bush followed that by creating in less than three years a fledgling pro-American democracy in a land that had no history of democratic culture and was just emerging from 25 years of civil war.
This is all barely remembered and barely noted. Most amazing of all, John Kerry has managed to transform our Afghan venture into a failure -- a botched operation in which Bush let Osama bin Laden get away because he "outsourced" bin Laden's capture to "warlords" in the battle of Tora Bora.
Outsourced? The entire Afghan war was outsourced. How does Kerry think we won it? How did Mazar-e Sharif, Kabul and Kandahar fall? Stormed by thousands of American GIs? They fell to the "warlords" we had enlisted, supported and directed. It was their militias that overran the Taliban.
"Outsourcing" is a demagogue's way of saying "using allies." (Isn't Kerry's Iraq solution to "outsource" the problem to the "allies" and the United Nations?) And in Afghanistan it meant the very best allies: locals who had a far better chance of knowing which cave to storm without getting blown up. As Kerry himself said on national television at the time of Tora Bora (Dec. 14, 2001): "What we are doing, I think, is having its impact and it is the best way to protect our troops and sort of minimalize the proximity, if you will" -- i.e., not throwing American lives away in tunnels and caves in alien territory. "I think we have been doing this pretty effectively and we should continue to do it that way."
Now, as always, the retroactive military genius says he would have done it differently. Yet in the same interview, when asked about how things were going overall in Afghanistan, he said, "I think we have been smart; I think the administration leadership has done it well and we are on the right track."
Once again, the senator's position has evolved, to borrow the New York Times' delicate term for Kerry's many about-faces.
This election comes down to a choice between one man's evolution and the other man's resolution. With his endlessly repeated Tora Bora charges, Kerry has made Afghanistan a major campaign issue. So be it. Whom do you want as president? The man who conceived the Afghan campaign, carried it through without flinching when it was being called a "quagmire" during its second week and has seen it through to Afghanistan's transition to democracy? Or the retroactive genius, who always knows what needs to be done after it has already happened -- who would have done "everything" differently in Iraq, yet in Afghanistan would have replicated Bush's every correct, courageous, radical and risky decision -- except one. Which, of course, he would have done differently. He says. Now.
In Search of Freedom, Afghan Wives Make a Grisly Choice
By Keith B. Richburg Washington Post Foreign Service Thursday, October 28, 2004; Page A16
HERAT, Afghanistan -- Zahara Mohamedi decided she couldn't take it anymore.
Last year, when she was 18, her family sold her for the equivalent of about $1,200 into a forced marriage with a man she had never met. She moved from the city to a village, where her new husband never allowed her to leave the house. She was treated as little more than a servant, taking orders from her in-laws -- even from an 11-year-old girl.
Eight months ago, Mohamedi poured cooking oil over her head and chest and announced that she was going to set herself on fire. Her in-laws dared her to. They beat her and held her. She broke free and lit a match, immediately engulfing her face and upper body in flames.
"It was a kind of protest against the pressure," said Mohamedi, who survived the ordeal but carries its scars -- her left arm is badly burned and her chin is bound to her chest by her own skin.
"I didn't care about my life," she said, speaking quickly and softly, tugging at the beige shawl that covers her disfigured features. "If I was killed, I would be free of him. If I survived, I would be free of him, too."
Mohamedi's story is hardly unique here in westernmost Afghanistan, where, three years after the fall of the Taliban, women remain subject to many legal, religious and cultural restrictions and domestic violence is endemic. So far this year, at least 180 women and girls have been taken to the rudimentary burn ward in Herat's hospital. More than 100 have died.
All are believed to be victims of self-immolation, though many, in the presence of their husbands or relatives, later deny they were attempting suicide and blame their injuries on cooking accidents. The majority of them, like Mohamedi, were in their teens or mid-twenties, sold into forced marriages and victims of constant abuse.
Last year, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, using records from the burn unit, recorded 300 suspected cases of women and girls setting themselves on fire; more than 80 percent of them died.
The commission says the actual number of women who have resorted to self-immolation is far higher than what is reflected in hospital records. In addition to those taken to the hospital, many more may be dying in isolated villages, rights workers say.
"Why does it happen? Because of poverty in society," said Qazy Ghulam Nabi Hakak, the Herat regional program manager for the human rights commission. "The families that can't survive engage their young daughters to older men. . . . Another problem is the tradition of the people. Conservative families don't allow their women to sit with men, to work with men in an office or to walk open-faced from their houses. Women feel like they are in prison, and under that pressure, they commit suicide."
Herat province, which borders Iran, is more religiously conservative than many parts of Afghanistan. In rural areas, men expect women to stay indoors or to cover themselves with burqas when they venture outside.
Conditions for women improved after the Taliban was toppled in 2001, but "advances were tempered by growing government repression of social and political life," according to a report issued by Human Rights Watch late the following year.
Ismail Khan, a powerful faction leader who governed Herat before and after Taliban rule, imposed many of his own restrictions on women. "Ismail Khan has created an atmosphere in which government officials and private individuals believe they have the right to police every aspect of women's and girls' lives: how they dress, how they get around town, what they say," said Human Rights Watch's Zama Coursen-Neff in the report she co-wrote. "Women and girls in Herat expected and deserved more when the Taliban were overthrown."
Last month, Afghan President Hamid Karzai dismissed Khan from the Herat governorship. But popular reaction to the move did not suggest widespread support for the lifting of social constraints. A mob stormed the human rights commission's office on women's affairs and set it on fire, destroying files and computers.
Last Sunday, there were 10 burn victims in the Herat hospital's burn ward, all women, the youngest a 14-year-old. Nosh Afreen, a physician, said 10 cases amounted to a slow day. Sometimes, she said, "we don't have one empty bed."
"Most of the women who want to commit suicide use this method," Afreen explained. "Actually, the women aren't aware of any other method to commit suicide. If they wanted to take pills, they don't know how many pills to take. So this is the only method they know."
As she spoke, a burn victim arrived, covered by a blue burqa, leaning on the arm of her husband and limping badly. When her husband saw a foreign journalist and his interpreter, he muttered, in an agitated voice: "These women ought to learn to be more careful when they're cooking!"
Later, the woman, 25, sat in a bed in the burn ward with most of her face swathed in gauze, only her eyes visible, and an intravenous drip in her arm. When questioned, her husband said that she had been preparing a meal in a pressure cooker when it exploded.
Afreen and members of the Human Rights Commission said husbands and other relatives of women who survive suicide attempts often try to cover up what happened out of shame and fear of criminal prosecution. In most self-immolation cases, police respond and file a report. Afreen said that, despite the investigations, "nothing happens."
In many ways, Mohamedi's story is typical.
She was born in Iran to parents who were refugees from western Afghanistan. They returned to Herat even before fall of the Taliban. The family was poor, with five girls and a boy. Her father tried to make ends meet by selling whatever he could find from a wheelbarrow. Mohamedi's education ended after the seventh grade.
Last year, a distant relative came with an offer: Two young men from a village an hour away would purchase her and her younger sister, then 15, to be their wives. When the money was paid, there was a lavish double wedding.
"Nobody asked me what I wanted to do, or did I like him or not," Mohamedi said. "When I found out they had engaged me to him, I said okay, if it's my family's wish, I'll do it for them."
From the beginning, she recalled, her life was hell. She was forbidden to go outside, even to see her younger sister, who lived 20 minutes away, or her mother in Herat. Her husband beat her regularly, sometimes for no reason, but most often for asking to leave the house.
Her in-laws, she said, were worse. She was treated like the family servant. At one point, her mother-in-law told her to take orders from her 11-year-old sister-in-law. "You should serve her like a servant," Mohamedi recalled the woman telling her. "Whatever she wants, you should do it."
Mohamedi constantly warned her husband that she was thinking of killing herself. But he only laughed, she said, and encouraged her.
"He thought I was just joking," she said. "I didn't know how to commit suicide. He was encouraging me, saying, 'Why not just burn yourself?' "
One night after dinner, she served tea to her father-in-law, returned to the kitchen, poured cooking oil over herself and set herself ablaze.
The family at first refused to take her to the hospital, instead placing her on a bed and fanning her scorched body. It was only when her sister found out what happened and came, and neighbors gathered outside, that the family took her to Herat's burn ward. At first, the in-laws said she had been in a cooking accident -- that her scarf caught fire. But her mother, Sharifa Ghulani, said she started screaming until she learned the truth.
Mohamedi spent 23 days in the burn ward. While there, she said, she saw 56 other women, all of whom had done the same thing. The youngest, she said, was 13.
She and her sister are now divorced from their abusive husbands. Mohamedi said she feels bad about her appearance but that her scars may serve as a lesson.
"It's not only a lesson for my younger sisters," she said. "It's also a lesson for all of our relatives and neighbors."
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