Seven arrested over kidnapping of foreign aid workers in Afghan capital
Saturday October 30, 8:16 AM AP
Foreign aid workers have been warned to restrict their movements around the Afghan capital amid fears of Iraq-style threats following the abductions of three U.N. election workers.
Police detained seven suspects for questioning over the kidnappings on Friday but investigators appeared no closer to establishing whether Taliban-linked militants or criminals were responsible.
Later Friday, two unidentified men opened fire on a NATO peacekeeping patrol in central Kabul, injuring one soldier in the foot, spokesman Maj. Valery Putz said. Peacekeepers returned fire but the men fled. The shooting did not immediately appear to be linked to the abductions.
Officials said no demands have been received for the release of the victims who were snatched from their United Nations-marked vehicle by about five armed men around midday on Thursday.
They have been identified as a male Filipino diplomat Angelito Nayan, and two women _ Kosovan Shqipe Habibi and Annetta Flanigan from Northern Ireland. All work for a joint U.N.-Afghan commission overseeing landmark presidential elections.
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said three of the seven people arrested in the Kabul area were armed men wearing military uniforms without belonging to any regular military or police unit.
Interrogation of the suspects had so far established no definitive link to the kidnapping, spokesman Latfullah Mashal said.
He gave no further details about the suspects, but another government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said some were suspected criminals picked up to see if they could provide any leads.
After the kidnapping, staff of aid agencies were told to restrict all but essential movements around Kabul _ which is patrolled by thousands of NATO peacekeepers, making it usually one of the safest places in the country.
"It's an ominous development," said Paul Barker of the aid group CARE International. "We've not seen this kind of incident in Kabul before and I think we are still trying to figure out if it is a new trend or a one-off. Until it's resolved, we won't really know."
Suspected Taliban rebels have kidnapped foreigners on several occasions during the past year in southern Afghanistan, but never in the capital. And while political violence has claimed hundreds of lives this year, it has not involved abductions or suicide attacks of the intensity seen in Iraq.
The abductions come a week after a suicide attack killed an American woman and an Afghan teenager in the normally secure Afghan capital, and ahead of final results due in the coming days for the historic Oct. 9 poll, set to install U.S.-backed interim leader Hamid Karzai as the nation's first elected president.
Karzai condemned the kidnappings as "a criminal act ... against the Afghan people aimed at derailing the process of peace and prosperity."
A man claiming to speak for a Taliban splinter group, Jaish-al Muslimeen, said on Thursday that it was responsible for the kidnappings, but offered no proof it was holding the three.
Mashal said it was "very difficult" to believe that Taliban militants could drive around Kabul with guns and military uniforms, suggesting that "illegal, armed warlords" may have been behind the attack.
Mashal said the vehicle used by the kidnappers was seen heading toward Paghman, a district west of Kabul with a reputation for banditry, and authorities had obtained the license number but had yet to trace its owner.
Naqibullah, an Afghan government militiaman, said on Thursday afternoon foreign peacekeepers surrounded mountains in a nearby area, but left later that night. It wasn't clear if they had searched homes there.
The presidential vote passed relatively peacefully, despite Taliban threats to sabotage it, although a string of bombings and shootings killed at least a dozen election workers in the preceding months.
Karzai won 55 percent support in the election to claim a comfortable victory, ahead of former Education Minister Yunus Qanooni with 16 percent.
Vote counting is complete, but election officials are awaiting final reports from investigations into fraud allegations before certifying the results _ likely to delay Karzai's official triumph until next week.
Three UN hostages alive, but may be killed: abductors' spokesman
October 29, 2004
ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Three foreign United Nations employees kidnapped in Kabul are alive but may be killed if an attempt is made to rescue them, a spokesman for the group that has claimed responsibility told AFP.
"Our group has captured the three foreign infidels and we are keeping them at a safe place. So far they are safe," Mullah Mohammad Ishaq, a spokesman for the Jaishul-Muslameen (Army of Muslims) group, said by telephone on Friday.
"But if any forces are used against us to free them, those forces will be responsible for whatever harm that will come to the lives of the hostages."
Armed men kidnapped British-Irish woman Annetta Flanigan, Filipino diplomat Angelito Nayan and a Kosovar woman, all UN employees working to oversee Afghanistan's historic October 9 presidential election, in Kabul on Thursday.
Ishaq said Jaishul-Muslameen had targetted 25 foreign election workers for kidnapping because they had helped conduct "fake elections" and kept US-backed interim president Hamid Karzai in power.
"There were 25 people that we targetted but we got only three. They all had come to support the infidel forces," he said.
"We are determined to increase our jihad (holy war) against these infidels and you will see more actions from our group."
Ishaq said the three hostages were in Afghanistan but would not disclose any other details about their location. He said he was speaking from inside Afghanistan.
He said he was 33 years old and from Takaht-e-Pul town in Kandahar province, a stronghold of the former Taliban regime that US-led forces ousted from power in late 2001.
A senior Pakistani Islamic leader told AFP Thursday that Jaishul-Muslameen was the new military wing of the Taliban, which the United States had written off as a spent force after they failed to disrupt the elections with promised violence.
"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 Islamic leader, who had close links with the Taliban.
He said Mullah Omar, the hardliners' fugitive spiritual leader, was overall commander, and had created Jaishul-Muslameen as a military force to free up the Taliban to operate as a political entity.
Afghan intelligence chief for southern Kandahar province, Abdullah Laghmanay, also told AFP this month that the Jaishul-Muslameen was a radical new Taliban wing "operating in small bands of two or three fighters".
But Ishaq denied Jaishul-Muslameen was the Taliban's new armed wing.
"We are not linked to the Taliban but several Taliban have joined us," he said, adding the group had 5,600 fighters.
Army of Muslims is Taliban's new armed wing: Pakistani religious leader
ISLAMABAD, Oct 28 (AFP) - The group claiming to be behind the abduction of three foreign UN election workers in Afghanistan on Thursday is the new military wing of the Taliban, a senior Pakistani religious leader told AFP.
The group, calling itself the Army of Muslims, contacted an Islamabad-based correspondent from the Arabic Al-Jazeera satellite station less than four hours after the afternoon abduction to claim responsibility.
'Fighters from the Army of Muslims have kidnapped the three UN workers,' said the group's commander Akbar Agha, without making any demands. The Pakistani religious leader said Mullah Omar, the leader of the hardline Islamic Taliban group who has been on the run since US-led forces overthew his regime in late 2001, had established the Army of Muslims.
'Jaishul Muslameen (Army of Muslims) is the new military wing of the Taliban. It is headed by Mullah Mohammad Omar,' said the leader, who had close links with the ousted regime.
'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.'
The three hostages are a woman with dual British-Irish nationality, a woman from Kosovo and a Filipino man, all of whom were working with the United Nations on Afghanistan's historic October 9 presidential election.
The trio were abducted just as the joint UN-Afghan election commission announced counting in the historic vote had ended, giving a landslide win to US-backed interim president Hamid Karzai.
The religious leader, who spoke to AFP on the condition of anonymity, said Omar had established the Amry of Muslims to serve solely as the Taliban's military wing, freeing up the Taliban to be used as a political entity.
'Omar wants to keep Taliban purely as a political name and jihad (holy war) will be done in the name of this military wing,' said the man, who still has some contact with the Taliban. 'They are all united in the leadership of Mullah Mohammad Omar.'
The religious leader said he did not know if the Army of Muslims were responsible for the abductions, but he was confident they were behind recent attacks on US military forces in Afghanistan's insurgency-hit southeast Zabul province.
The US military said in a statement that three US troops and an Afghan soldier were injured in a roadside bomb attack on Wednesday in Zabul. 'They were responsible for the attack on the American convoy in Zabul, destroying several US tanks,' the religious leader said.
Karzai condemns abduction of int'l workers in Afghanistan
KABUL, Oct. 29 (Xinhua) -- Afghan interim President Hamid Karzai strongly condemned the abduction of three international workers working on the country's first presidential elections and vowed to go all out for their release, a statement from the presidential palace said Friday.
"The President condemns it in the strongest terms and sees it as an act of enmity against the Afghan people aimed at derailing the process of peace and prosperity," the statement said. "Whatever the motive, it's a criminal act."
Three foreigners from the Philippines, Britain and the Republicof Bosnia and Herzegovina working with the UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body were kidnapped by a group of armed men on their way to work in the broad daylight in the early afternoon of Thursday in Kabul. This is the first of its kind in the capitalof the war-ravaged Central Asian country.
A branch of the now-ousted Taliban regime has claimed responsibility for the act. However, it has not made known its motive behind the kidnapping.
The statement which was released by a presidential spokesperson also said that the Afghan authorities have been strongly pursuing the case and some progress has been made, but it did not elaborate.
Local media reports said that three individuals suspected of involvement in the kidnapping were apprehended by law enforcing forces and the search and rescue action is still going on.
Kidnapping the beginning of Karzai's headaches: analysts
KABUL, Oct 29 (AFP) - The abduction at gunpoint of three UN election workers in Kabul as Afghanistan's presidential vote count ended underscores the formidable challenges facing Hamid Karzai as the country's first popularly-chosen leader, analysts said Friday.
'Whatever the motive, it's a criminal act,' Karzai said in a statement condemning the abduction 'as an act of enmity against the Afghan people aimed at derailing the process of peace and prosperity.'
The abduction, the third direct assault on foreigners in Kabul in two months, fuelled fears that Iraq-style kidnappings could envelop the Afghan capital, just as the violence-weary land emerges from an otherwise peaceful first exercise in democracy.
The US-supported incumbent who has steered Afghanistan from the ruins of conflict to its earliest steps in nation-building for the past three years, already has his work cut out.
He must disarm another 40,000 to 60,000 private militiamen, dilute warlords' stranglehold on power, fight the almost blanket opium poppy cultivation, raise GDP from 300 dollars a year and combat 86 percent illiteracy.
Since the October 9 vote insurgents, who have killed hundreds of people including foreign aid workers and road engineers this year, have shown they are not the fade-out force some had hoped since they failed to sabotage the ballot.
The Jaishul Muslameen (Army of Muslims) which claimed responsibility through media channels for the kidnappings, is a new military wing of the ousted Taliban, intelligence officials said. But it was unclear Friday who kidnapped the trio, and whether it was because they were foreigners or because they worked on the election.
Some observers in Kabul were sceptical that militants belonging to the Taliban, the Islamic fundamentalist regime which provided Osama bin Laden with sanctuary and was toppled by a US-led invasion in late 2001, would expose themselves in the centre of the capital.
'The Taliban? It doesn't appear very possible, for them to come out and expose themselves in broad daylight like that,' Hamidullah Tarzi, a political analyst and former minister in the 1970s and 1990s, told AFP.
He saw stronger links with the dissatisfaction of several of Karzai's rivals with the conduct of the election and the president's landslide victory. 'Some of these warlords and other fundamentalist candidates felt sidelined,' he said.
'There may be some sort of link between kidnapping and some of the hard feelings of the candidates or other ethnic groups... because the people who've been kidnapped were very involved in the counting and registration process.'
The next big reminder of Karzai's uphill tasks comes next week when the United Nations releases its latest report on the booming poppy trade. Already the world's top exporter of heroin, Afghanistan's opium production this year has rocketed 40 percent, according to the US Central Intelligence Agency.
Some 35 percent of Afghanistan's gross national product comes from opium, according to the World Bank, and a campaign to eradicate poppy growth has had little impact among farmers attempting to lift themselves out of poverty.
'We must be compensated first before eradication. Drugs have always been in Afghanistan,' Tarzi said. 'Maybe poppy farming could be controlled or even legalised. But eradication is a very difficult task.'
Other Afghan affairs experts say disarming militias is the top priority. Disarmament is crucial for parliamentary elections otherwise 'local faction leaders will fight each other to get a seat in parliament,' said analyst John Sifton of Human Rights Watch.
Tarzi disagrees. 'For an Afghan his weapon is a very precious thing. He likes to keep his weapon,' he said, adding that in some areas warlords, with their private armies, were a stabilising influence. Parallel to disarmament, the nascent 16,000-strong Afghan National Army must be reinforced.
Karzai has named as his top priority the rebuilding of infrastructure shattered by a quarter century of fighting. One early step forward will be parliamentary elections scheduled for April. 'I don't think it will be smooth riding,' Tarzi said.
Taliban shows its new face with brazen UN abduction
by Bronwyn Curran
KABUL, Oct 29 (AFP) - The group behind the brazen abductions of three UN workers in Kabul is the new military wing of the ousted Taliban, determined to prove its potency after failing to sabotage Afghan elections this month, intelligence officials said.
Thursday's kidnappings were claimed by Jaishul Muslameen (Army of Muslims) that Afghan and Pakistani intelligence officials say is the military wing of a Taliban force now divided into two or more units.
The group, which told the Arabic Al-Jazeera television network that it had taken the three UN workers somewhere "outside Kabul", warned in a statement earlier in the week that it was planning to strike.
"We are going to strike in coming days because we want to prove the Americans are wrong that Taliban are down after the election," said the message, carried by the pro-Taliban Islam newspaper in northwest Pakistan.
The ousted Taliban's failure to derail Afghanistan first presidential elections on October 9 through promised violence had led many US commanders to declare them divided, demoralised and weakened.
An Afghan intelligence chief told AFP this month that Jaishul Muslameen was a radical new Taliban wing that operated in small bands of two or three fighters.
Its operational commander is Akbar Agha, who made the call to Al-Jazeera's correspondent in Pakistan's capital Islamabad within hours of Thursday's daylight abduction, said intelligence chief of southern Afghan province Kandahar, Abdullah Laghmanay.
Its supreme commander is believed to be the vanquished militia's fugitive one-eyed chief Mullah Omar, who has eluded a massive US military manhunt for three years after the Taliban's ouster in 2001.
Laghmanay said Agha was based in Pakistan's southwestern city of Quetta, home to almost 300 Koranic schools, some of which are used as recruiting grounds for Taliban fighters.
Just 100 kilometres (62 miles) from the border with Afghanistan, Quetta swarms with more than 15,000 Afghan and Pakistani "Talibs" or religious students, whose predecessors formed the vanguard of the Taliban student militia that ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 until late 2001.
Many returned there after their regime was toppled by US-led forces in late 2001 and several ex-Taliban commanders are believed to be living there.
Jaishul Muslameen is a revival of a group first set up by dissenting Taliban commanders in late 2001, unhappy at the Taliban's humiliating retreat from the US-led bombing campaign, according to a Pakistani intelligence official.
Mullah Omar proposed reactivating the Jaishul Muslameen earlier this year, the Pakistani official said.
"The group is now operational and has set up different units in southern and southeastern provinces of Afghanistan," the official told AFP, on condition of anonymity.
"Syed Akbar Agha is the operations commander and gets directions from Mullah Omar," he said.
Their mission: to attack US troops, foreign aid organisations and Afghans working with them.
"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," a Pakistani Islamic leader, who who has close links to the Taliban, told AFP in Islamabad.
"Jaishul Muslameen is the new military wing of the Taliban."
Mullah Omar's vision was to separate the Taliban into a political branch and military branch "because lots of non-militant Taliban were subjected to harassment."
Jaishul Muslameen announced in the Islam daily that it would launch attacks against "occupying forces" in Afghanistan, a reference to tens of thousands of foreign troops and workers in Afghanistan.
Some 16,000 US troops dominate an 18,000-member military coalition hunting Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters, while up to 9,000 NATO-led multinational peacekeepers patrol Kabul and some quiet northern towns.
Hundreds of foreigners work for the United Nations and other aid agencies, most confined to Kabul because of Taliban attacks which have killed 34 UN and aid agency workers -- four of them foreigners -- in the past two years.
Bin Laden: U.S. Can Avoid Another Attack
By MAGGIE MICHAEL, Associated Press Writer
CAIRO, Egypt - Osama bin Laden, publicly injecting himself into the campaign four days ahead of the presidential election, said in a videotape aired Friday that the United States can avoid another Sept. 11 attack if it stops threatening the security of Muslims.
In the portion of the tape that was broadcast, the al-Qaida leader refrained from directly warning of new attacks, although he said "there are still reasons to repeat what happened."
"Your security is not in the hands of Kerry, Bush or al-Qaida. Your security is in your own hands," bin Laden said, referring to the president and his Democratic opponent. "Any state that does not mess with our security has naturally guaranteed its own security."
Admitting for the first time that he ordered the Sept. 11 attacks, bin Laden said he did so because of injustices against the Lebanese and Palestinians by Israel and the United States.
In what appeared to be conciliatory language, bin Laden said he wanted to explain why he ordered the suicide airline hijackings that hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon so Americans would know how to act to prevent another attack.
"To the American people, my talk to you is about the best way to avoid another Manhattan," he said. "I tell you: Security is an important element of human life and, free people do not give up their security."
After the video was aired, President Bush said that "Americans will not be intimidated" by bin Laden. Sen. John Kerry criticized Bush for failing to capture bin Laden earlier and said that "I can run a more effective war on terror."
The political impact of the tape could cut both ways. It bolsters Bush's argument that the world is a dangerous place and plays to his strength as commander in chief in fighting the war on terror, but it also underscores that his administration has failed to capture or kill America's No. 1 enemy more than three years after the terror attacks on New York and Washington.
It was the first footage in more than a year of the fugitive al-Qaida leader, thought to be hiding in the mountains along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The video, broadcast on Al-Jazeera television, showed bin Laden with a long, gray beard, wearing traditional white robes, a turban and a golden cloak, standing behind a table with papers and in front of a plain, brown curtain.
His hands were steady and he appeared healthy.
The Bush administration said it believes the videotape is authentic and was made recently, noting that bin Laden referred to 1,000 U.S. military deaths in Iraq — which happened in early September.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the administration did not plan to raise the nation's threat level for now. The U.S. official said the 18-minute tape — which carries English subtitles, though not in the portion shown on Al-Jazeera — lacks an explicit threat and repeats well-worn themes.
Al-Jazeera, which is based in Qatar, broadcast about seven minutes of the tape. The station's spokesman, Jihad Ali Ballout, said Al-Jazeera aired what was "newsworthy and relevant" and refused to describe the unaired portions, including whether they included any threats. Ballout said the station received the tape Friday but would not say how.
Before the tape was aired, the State Department asked the government of Qatar to discourage Al-Jazeera from broadcasting it, a senior State Department official said.
In the video, bin Laden accused Bush of misleading Americans by saying the attack was carried out because al-Qaida members "hate freedom." The terrorist leader said his followers have left alone countries that do not threaten Muslims.
"We fought you because we are free ... and want to regain freedom for our nation. As you undermine our security we undermine yours," bin Laden said.
He said he was first inspired to attack the United States by the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon in which towers and buildings in Beirut were destroyed in the siege of the capital.
"While I was looking at these destroyed towers in Lebanon, it sparked in my mind that the tyrant should be punished with the same and that we should destroy towers in America, so that it tastes what we taste and would be deterred from killing our children and women," he said.
"God knows that it had not occurred to our mind to attack the towers, but after our patience ran out and we saw the injustice and inflexibility of the American-Israeli alliance toward our people in Palestine and Lebanon, this came to my mind," he said.
Bin Laden suggested Bush was slow to react to the Sept. 11 attacks, giving the hijackers more time than they expected. At the time of the attacks, the president was listening to schoolchildren in Florida reading a book.
"It never occurred to us that the commander in chief of the American armed forces would leave 50,000 of his citizens in the two towers to face these horrors alone," he said, referring to the number of people who worked at the World Trade Center.
"It appeared to him (Bush) that a little girl's talk about her goat and its butting was more important than the planes and their butting of the skyscrapers. That gave us three times the required time to carry out the operations, thank God," he said.
Excluding the hijackers, the Sept. 11 attacks killed 2,749 people at the World Trade Center, 184 at the Pentagon and 40 in Pennsylvania.
In planning the attacks, bin Laden said he told Mohammed Atta, one of the hijackers, that the strikes had to be carried out "within 20 minutes before Bush and his administration noticed."
Bin Laden compared the Bush administration to repressive Arab regimes, "half of which are ruled by the military and the other half are ruled by the sons of kings and presidents."
He said the resemblance became clear when Bush's father was president and visited Arab countries.
"He wound up being impressed by the royal and military regimes and envied them for staying decades in their positions and embezzling the nation's money with no supervision," bin Laden said.
"He passed on tyranny and oppression to his son, and they called it the Patriot Act, under the pretext of fighting terror. Bush the father did well in placing his sons as governors and did not forget to pass on the expertise in fraud from the leaders of the (Mideast) region to Florida to use it in critical moments."
The image of bin Laden reading a statement was dramatically different from the few other videos of the al-Qaida leader that have emerged since the Sept. 11 attacks.
In the last videotape, issued Sept. 10, 2003, bin Laden is seen walking through rocky terrain with his top deputy Ayman al-Zawahri, both carrying automatic rifles. In a taped message issued at the same time, bin Laden praises the "great damage to the enemy" on Sept. 11 and mentions five hijackers by name.
In December 2001, the Pentagon released a videotape in which bin Laden is shown at a dinner with associates in Afghanistan on Nov. 9, 2001, saying the destruction of the Sept. 11 attacks exceeded even his "optimistic" calculations.
But in none of his previous messages, audio or video, did bin Laden directly state that he ordered the attacks.
U.S. authorities have long said they believe bin Laden is hiding in a rugged, mountainous tribal region of Pakistan that borders Afghanistan, but there has been no firm evidence of his whereabouts for three years.
The last audiotape purportedly from bin Laden came in April. The speaker on the tape, which CIA analysts said likely was the al-Qaida leader, offered a truce to European nations if they pull troops out of Muslim countries. The tape referred to the March 22 assassination by Israel of Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin.
Associated Press writer Katherine Pfleger Shrader in Washington contributed to this report.
Bin Laden video "makes no specific threat"
Sat 30 October, 2004 01:50 By Tabassum Zakaria
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The videotape of Osama bin Laden broadcast in the United States did not appear to contain a specific threat, but officials say they are taking its appearance four days before the U.S. election very seriously.
"You won't find a specific threat. The question becomes is this some kind of a political statement? There are a lot of possibilities out there," one U.S. official told Reuters on Friday, on condition of anonymity.
Bin Laden criticised President George W. Bush and said his administration resembled "corrupt" Arab governments. The White House said there was no change in the terror alert due to the airing of the tape, and another U.S. official said discussions would continue during the weekend about whether to raise the threat level.
"Whether there is a direct harbinger of an attack, that's pretty difficult to nail down," the first official said. "Obviously whenever one of these tapes airs, be it him or (deputy Ayman al) Zawahri, there is always concern about what it could be."
A federal law enforcement source said U.S. officials were taking the bin Laden message "as a very serious threat. It's cause for great concern," the source said.
"Right now, everyone involved in antiterrorism efforts is on higher alert," the law enforcement source said. "This has now given us new concern for Election-Day security."
The videotape shows bin Laden standing against a mustard-coloured backdrop apparently reading from a script. It appears to be of recent vintage and there was a "high degree of confidence the voice and image are him," the official said.
It was difficult to determine the state of his health, although some government analysts believed he seemed "a little thinner," the official said.
Law enforcement officials are considering what extra steps they can take on Election Day on Tuesday. U.S. intelligence agencies were continuing to analyze the videotape for clues.
QUESTIONS ABOUT TIMING
Much of the content was "fairly well-worn themes," the first U.S. official said.
The timing of its release may have been to show bin Laden's supporters he was still alive after aggressive anti-al Qaeda operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan and elections held in Afghanistan, the official said. "In some ways it's 'Hey I'm here, I'm active.'"
Both Bush and Democratic challenger Senator John Kerry, in a close race for the White House, vowed to hunt down bin Laden, who on the latest videotape made his clearest claim yet of responsibility for the September 11 attacks.
The al Qaeda leader told Americans: "Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or al Qaeda. Your security is in your own hands and each state which does not harm our security will remain safe."
Bin Laden said he had wanted to "destroy towers in America so it could taste some of what we are tasting and to stop killing our children and women."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said there were no immediate plans to elevate the U.S. terrorism alert level in response to the bin Laden tape.
McClellan said Bush was notified late on Friday morning about the tape by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice while he was traveling aboard Air Force One.
He said U.S. authorities "are doing everything we can to disrupt and prevent attacks from happening."
The last time a videotape aired showing bin Laden speaking was December 2001, just months after the September 11 attacks.
There have been several bin Laden audiotapes that have been broadcast since then and also a video showing bin Laden walking with Zawahri with an audio track separate from the images.
NATO soldier shot and wounded in exchange of fire with unidentified gunmen in Afghan capital
Saturday October 30, 2:22 AM AP
One NATO soldier was shot and slightly wounded in a brief exchange of fire with unidentified gunmen in the center of the Afghan capital Friday, an alliance spokesman said.
The incident took place close to where a suicide attacker killed an American translator and an Afghan youngster last weekend. There was no indication it was related to efforts to find three foreign U.N. workers kidnapped in Kabul on Thursday.
NATO troops on a routine patrol came under fire from two men encountered in the city's commercial district at about 8:30 p.m. (1700 GMT), NATO spokesman Maj. Valery Putz said.
One soldier was shot in the foot during the clash, in which a total of three shots were exchanged, Putz said. The soldier, whose nationality was not released, suffered a minor injury.
The attackers "fled the scene and it was impossible to see where they went" though the darkened streets, he said.
NATO helicopter gunships were scrambled in response to the incident, and NATO armored vehicles and Afghan security forces were seen later at several downtown junctions.
The bulk of NATO's 9,000-strong International Security Assistance Force is based in Kabul, where it has stepped up patrols since the abduction of the three election workers in broad daylight on Thursday afternoon.
Thousands of foreigners live in Kabul, including diplomats, aid and reconstruction workers, private security guards and U.N. staffers, their ranks swollen to manage the country's Oct. 9 presidential election.
The kidnapping and last Saturday's suicide attack, which also injured three Icelandic soldiers from the NATO-led force, have fueled concern that militants opposed to interim leader Hamid Karzai, who won 55 percent of the vote, have infiltrated the city.
Nato considers Afghan expansion
Thursday, 28 October, 2004 BBC News
Nato's top commander in Europe says the alliance could expand its peacekeeping force in Afghanistan ahead of a parliamentary poll planned for April.
General James Jones said the number of troops needed could be up to 1,000, but any final figure would depend on the number offered by member countries.
All military operations in Afghanistan should come under one command, he said.
The alliance's multinational force of 9,000 currently works alongside US-led coalition troops in the country.
Nato has been in charge of the international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan since late last year, its first so-called out-of-area mission.
The Afghan authorities have repeatedly asked for the expansion of the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), which is limited to the capital, Kabul, and a few northern provinces.
"I hope we would see something by spring," the US general said at a news conference at Nato's military headquarters south of the Belgian capital, Brussels.
Gen Jones backed a US suggestion to eventually integrate the two forces in Afghanistan under a single command.
German and French defence ministers have rejected the proposal, allowing Nato to take overall responsibility for peacekeeping and reconstruction in Afghanistan.
"We will have to come up with a solution that is acceptable to all 26 (member countries) which takes into account the sensitivities of some countries to combat," Gen Jones said.
"It's always better to integrate if you can," he added.
Afghan elections over, what lies ahead?
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2004 11:18:16 PM The Times of India Online
KABUL: As the dust of the Afghan presidential elections settles, the focus is now on Taliban reconciliation. On the face of it, it's a plan to bring into the mainstream a large swathe of Afghans. But it is also the beginning of an exit strategy for US presence in Afghanistan.
Taliban reconciliation is being peddled by the US and supported by the country's new president Hamid Karzai. The contours of this plan are that Afghan Taliban fighters and foot soldiers be brought back under a general amnesty plan. They would be distinguished from the hard-core leaders who would be treated as war criminals.
The plan has traction with quite a few of policy makers within the Afghan government. "We have to bring back those people who joined the Taliban because there was no option," said a senior official.
But the process could be more difficult than Karzai and his officials think, and Taliban activists are still sending out statements that they can't be written off. A Taliban associated group calling itself Jaish-e-Muslimeen kidnapped three international workers from the Joint Electoral Management Body on Thursday on the Kabul-Jalabad highway.
The group has threatened to execute the hostages an Irish woman and Kosovo woman and Filipina man. However, the driving force behind the reconciliation policy is that the threatened Taliban disruption of the elections did not really happen.
There were stray attacks, including one on Karzai's helicopter during one of his rare campaigns. And in the weeks before the elections, convoys of trucks and tankers filled with explosive devices were intercepted. But that apart, the fact that the Taliban, which, even by US reckoning, is well over a few thousand, let a largely violence-free election through, has been seized upon by most people here.
According to others, Taliban leaders have been in touch with the government before the elections.Talking to TNN, foreign minister Dr Abdullah said: "To discriminate against everybody and anybody who worked in that system would not be the right attitude in a country that is rebuilding itself. But there should be no pardon for war criminals or those who committed crimes against the people of Afghanistan."
Over the next six months, a policy to reconcile the Taliban is likely to be put in place. The first inkling was given by the US General Barno, commander of US forces in Afghanistan. As he said recently, "There's a rank and file Taliban, and many of these people want to come back into the mainstream of Afghan life. They want to join this political process. Is the Taliban reconciliation going to take hold, and what effect will that have on this Taliban movement in Afghanistan and Pakistani border areas? The ultimate decisions on how many troops you need may rest on how that actually pans out."
It's not a new idea. In the months after the Taliban ouster, US secretary of state Colin Powell, had been one of the proponents of this strategy, which had found takers in Pakistan but not in India.
Afghanistan's fatal addiction
International Herald Tribune 10/28/2004 By Barnett R. Rubin
NEW YORK There's good news from Afghanistan. President George W. Bush boasts that freedom is on the march. He showcases the presidential elections of Oct. 9, in which millions voted. Hamid Karzai is headed for a clear victory. The Taliban and Al Qaeda were unable even to disrupt, let alone halt, this election. The inevitable irregularities and disputes should not detract from this success.
Unfortunately, there is also bad news from Afghanistan. The CIA had been scheduled to release a report on drugs in Afghanistan last Friday. But the Los Angeles Times reported on Oct. 4 that the CIA estimated that the land planted in opium in Afghanistan had increased 60 percent over the previous year. And last year, according to the United Nations, income from opium growing and trafficking was equal to more than half of the legal economy of Afghanistan. So the administration decided that Friday afternoon was not a deep enough well to drown this report in and postponed its release until late November, according to a Pentagon source.
The Bush administration's decision to arm and fund commanders with long histories of involvement in drug trafficking, and its failure for almost three years to do anything about it, has greatly exacerbated this problem. When he visits Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld meets military commanders whom Afghans know as the godfathers of drug trafficking. The message has been clear: Help fight the Taliban and no one will interfere with your trafficking.
Drugs have become the key political and economic issue. Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, told The Boston Globe, "Just as people can be addicted to drugs, countries can be addicted to a drug economy. That's what I am seeing in Afghanistan."
Drugs provide livelihoods for poor farmers as well as employment for laborers during the harvest. Teachers and bureaucrats earn extra money as small-time traders. Merchants and money lenders earn profits as financiers and middlemen. Militia commanders, including members of Karzai's cabinet and the commanders of the country's principal military garrisons, have enriched themselves protecting the trade.
Every time Rumsfeld goes to Kabul, he exudes enthusiasm over the revival of commerce and construction. He notices all the new vehicles in the streets. Just what does he think is financing most of that investment and imports? The $3.3 billion of international aid disbursed on active projects since January 2002, or the $7 billion in opium revenues over the same period of time?
No government can establish security or the rule of law under these circumstances. The Bush administration has belatedly awakened to the threat that trafficking poses. Unfortunately, the policies that some propose will both make the drug problem worse, and threaten everything else that has been accomplished.
As a member of the Afghan government told me a few months ago, cultivators don't create traffickers, traffickers create cultivators. Many peasants who grow opium are bound to the cycle of opium production by debt bondage. The traffickers, including supposed allies in the war on terror, and the laboratories where value is added, should be the targets of law enforcement. The farmers need alternative livelihoods - not just crops, but credit, debt relief, roads to market, and other forms of farm and nonfarm employment.
Yet some in the Bush administration are now pushing for aerial spraying of drug crops with herbicides, which would damage other farm products and injure the people's health. Eradicating part of the crop - the most that could be accomplished - would drive up the price, creating incentives to grow opium in more inaccessible areas. The deeply indebted farmers, who owe opium to wholesalers on futures contracts for cash they received at planting time, will face a grim choice: give their daughters to the traffickers, flee the country or grow more opium. That was what they did when the Taliban banned the crop without alternative livelihoods.
If foreigners destroy half of their economy without offering an alternative, without any meaningful consultation, what, then, will the Afghans think of the elections? Will they feel they are living in an emerging democracy?
Afghans will work to eliminate drugs if America develops, with the Afghan government, a long-term program that balances law enforcement against traffickers and warlords with a major effort to transform rather than destroy the Afghan economy.
Approval of Inter-Continental Five Star Hotel Project with capital of $50 Millions
Press Release of Ministry of Commerce – Kabul – 10/28/04
In the High Commission on Investment (HCI) session dated October 27, 2004 at Afghan Investment Support Agency (AISA); chaired by H.E. Sayed Mustafa Kazemi Minister of Commerce, Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan and Chairman of High Commission on Investment approved the Inter-Continental Five Star Hotel project proposal which would be constructed in a 8000 m2 space in the center of Kabul city.
In the HCI session the construction project of a new city (Naw-e-Kabul) in Pai Monar Deh Sabz, Kabul with an investment of USD 2 Billions by National Development Foundation (Bonyad-e-Enkeshafi-e-Milli) was also approved. To make this process more transparent and solve the legal problems a working group was assigned to draft a legal framework and propose it to the HCI.
The HCI also approved the project proposal of National Bank of Afghanistan (Bank-e-Millie Afghan) with a capital of AF 250 Millions.
Volume of Afghan Transit Trade Goods to Kabul Grows Rapidly
PESHAWAR, Oct 29 Asia Pulse - The volume of goods being transported from Peshawar to Afghanistan under the Afghan Transit Trade has grown manifold as a result of Islamabad's decision to liberalize its trade policy towards the war-torn country.
"The ATT grew substantially during the last couple of financial years because of Islamabad's liberal policies," said a Peshawar-based officer of the Central Board of Revenue.
The total value of goods exported from Peshawar to Afghanistan via Torkham border crossing during the financial year 2003-04 stood at Rs7.8 billion, which reflected a considerable increase in comparison with the financial years 2001-02 and 2002-03.
Situation during the current financial year is also not different from the last fiscal year when the size of ATT grew substantially. Though the goods transported to Afghanistan under the ATT during the first five months of the current financial year appear to be marginally less than the last year, the decrease was the result of development cess levied by the Sindh government, sources say.
Scores of containers, said a customs clearance agent, were not cleared by the traders because of the provincial levy, which was recently withdrawn on the instructions of Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.
The sources said the ATT volume would grow substantially during the months to come when businessmen would start getting cleared their goods lying at the Karachi Port. "This would lead to grow the ATT taking its quantum to a new height," said an official.
The goods transported under ATT during the financial year 2003-04 recorded an increase by 39 per cent over the financial year 2001-02 and 34 per cent more when compared with the goods transported from Peshawar under the ATT to Afghanistan in the financial year 2002-03. Goods worth Rs4.7 billion were exported to Afghanistan in 2001-02. The value of goods in the financial year 2002-03 stood at Rs5.2 billion.
The increase in the quantum of ATT has been attributed to the federal government's decision to remove certain items from the negative list. The government removed ball bearing, vegetable ghee, black tea, air conditioners and yarn from the negative list.
Ball bearings worth Rs46 million were allowed to be transported to Afghanistan under the ATT, whereas the value of black tea and vegetable ghee stood at Rs865 million and Rs223 million, respectively.
The government had earlier put black tea and vegetable oil on the negative list because of heavy misuse of the ATT facility. The two items were put on the list after the government found that goods transported under the ATT to Afghanistan were smuggled back to the Pakistani market.
Other major items which are being imported by Afghanistan under the ATT include medicines, electric appliances, crockery, blankets, generators, green tea, motor oil, bicycles and their parts, hardware, diesel engines and their parts.
The Best Political News of 2004
New York Times 10/28/2004 William Safire
WASHINGTON — Good news is no news. That's why the most historic development of this news-drenched year has not been on front pages and hasn't led TV newscasts.
Against all dire predictions and threats from terrorists, Afghanistan - breeding ground of Al Qaeda under the medieval rule of Taliban fundamentalists - has just held the first presidential election in its bloodstained history.
The winner was Hamid Karzai, 46, a politician of the majority Pashtuns, who emerged with 55 percent of the eight million votes cast. The runner-up, Yunus Qanooni, received 1.2 million votes; after grumbling about a few hundred stuffed ballot boxes, Mr. Qanooni, a hero of the minority Tajik population, yesterday conceded Karzai's victory.
A bigger winner was the Afghan people. Their men - fierce nationalists who used U.S. munitions to humiliate the Red Army, thereby hastening the demise of the Soviet Union - had fallen victim to regional dissension and Taliban fanatics supported by Arab terrorists. Their women were hidden at home and treated like slaves. Now, thanks to the U.S.-led intervention and their own willingness to fight for freedom, Afghans lined up to vote in the first presidential election in that nation's history.
The biggest winner of this unfettering event is the cause of democracy in the world, and especially in this region, which much of the West assumed was too culturally backward to express a longing for freedom.
We should not be so wrapped up in our own political campaign to fail to recognize the power of this message: if the loosely connected Afghan tribes can do majority rule and minority respect, so could the more literate Iraqis, numerous Egyptians, rich Saudis and misled Palestinians. American and British Wilsonian idealists can hold their heads high today; the defeatists who presume to call themselves realists were defeated.
It came about, first, because American power - and our vengeful will to do justice after 9/11 - made it possible. Our long-range and naval air power and Special Operations forces provided decisive backing to the indigenous Tajik Northern Alliance resistance. With prodigious economic and political pressure, U.S. diplomats induced Pakistan to double-cross its Taliban ally and join our war on the terrorist haven.
It came about, second, because we had a trio of Afghan-Americans in the diaspora who could step into the transition without appearing to be occupiers: the neocon Zalmay Khalilzad became our ambassador in Kabul, joined by Ashraf Ghani of Johns Hopkins University as minister of finance and Ali Ahmed Jalali of the Voice of America as interior minister.
Charles Fairbanks Jr. notes in the current Weekly Standard that all three will have to bail out as local Afghans take full charge, but nation-building requires talented emissaries who speak the language and relate to the people.
As those who believe that democracy stands no chance in Iraq are quick to point out, Afghan progress also came about because we brought along NATO allies girded with a U.N. blessing. There is no denying this has played an important part in success so far, though not the central part.
More of the credit should go to President Bush's shrewd choice of a leader who turned out to be Afghanistan's choice this week. Karzai is one gutsy, deft and appealing politician. With his appointments and parceling out of U.S. aid, for the past three years he has split the ethnic opposition, undercut the most dangerous warlord and built a coalition that ran a winning campaign.
The crucial moment came early, I'm informed, as he was juggling political plums to create a governing coalition, when a group of tribal elders told him bluntly: "If you have the U.S. behind you, we're behind you; otherwise, no." We were there for him; now he's there for democracy, and we should invest strongly in his nation's growth.
A nascent republic needs its Ataturk, its Nehru, its Adenauer. With his overwhelming election mandate, the shyly charismatic Karzai can better combat the corrupting power of the poppy growers, and then turn to the next stage in building a democracy: electing a parliament.
The embodiment of this year's good news is an optimist. I asked him recently when he expected Osama bin Laden to be caught. He replied, "You can't be a fugitive forever."
NATO-Russia Council holds seminar on Afghan narcotics
BRUSSELS, Oct. 28 (Xinhuanet) -- National experts representing the member states of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) gathered in Brussels on Thursday to explore possible cooperation in the NRC framework against the threats posed by the trafficking of Afghan narcotics.
During the seminar, the participants examined the challenges posed by the exponential growth of opium production in Afghanistan and of illicit trafficking in Afghan narcotics for security in Afghanistan, and stability in the region and in the broader Euro-Atlantic area.
The meeting represents a tangible expression of all NRC member states commitment to the development of a stable and prosperous Afghanistan.
The participants expressed their support for the Afghan Authorities in the implementation of their National Drug Control Strategy, their defense and security reform efforts, as well as for relevant international efforts aimed at stopping the cultivation of poppies and the production and transit of narcotics.
The UN Office of Drugs and Crime was also represented at the seminar.
Who Rules Afghanistan
by CHRISTIAN PARENTI November 15, 2004 The Nation
It is noon in northern Afghanistan, Balkh province. The autumn sky is empty and bright. A tough 60-year-old farmer named Mamood sits for an interview in the shade of a tree. Surrounding us in all directions are fields of marijuana on the verge of harvest. The plants are tall, thick and fragrant, their dark green flowers glistening with potent oils.
Soon the crop will be cut, dried and beaten against linen in small rooms to extract the resin that makes hashish. It's dirty work that falls primarily to women and children. The rooms fill with dust; asthma is a common occupational hazard. In a month the farmers will sow these same fields with opium poppy. After each crop come the marauding gunmen who collect "taxes" of 20 percent on the harvest.
"In the past few weeks they've taken money, some vehicles and kidnapped a girl," says Mamood. "They work for the commanders. They take whatever they want and they will kill you if you try and stop them. When you hear 'commander' just think 'thief' or 'murderer.' That is all they are."
Mamood is not talking about the Taliban or Al Qaeda but rather about Afghanistan's mujahedeen warlords, or jangsalaran in Dari. These men are America's allies, central players in the international effort to rebuild a state in the world's third-poorest country.
These are the same men who killed 40,000-50,000 civilians during their factional fighting in Kabul between 1992 and 1994. Under their rule chaos reigned in much of the countryside: Militias raped, plundered and destroyed the economy. At times there were between ten and fourteen separate currencies circulating, each printed by a different commander. Whole villages fled; trade and agriculture broke down. As John Sifton of Human Rights Watch puts it, "What these guys did made Sarajevo look like kindergarten."
Now, instead of being treated as part of the problem and hunted down, the jangsalaran are being folded into government and given new power and legitimacy by the UN and the US-backed government of Hamid Karzai. The "commanders" now use titles like "security chief," "governor," "minister" or even "presidential candidate." International administrators justify the political inclusion of these mujahedeen commanders as "the price of peace."
Indeed, a return to the open factional warfare of the early 1990s is unlikely. But neither is Afghanistan headed toward real peace and prosperity. Instead, this country of 20-25 million inhabitants is an embryonic narco-mafia state, where politics rely on paramilitary networks engaged in everything from poppy farming, heroin processing and vote rigging to extortion and the commercial smuggling of commodities like electronics and auto parts. And while the Western pundit class applauds the recent Afghan elections, the people here suffer renewed exploitation at the hands of America's local partners.
Back under the tree in the marijuana fields, Mamood is joined by other farmers, who recount a litany of depredations.
"A few weeks ago I had two motorcycles stolen," says Saja Hudin, who also lives and farms in this rural community two hours from Mazar-i-Sharif. "I had a guest and we were going to work some of my land near Kudbarq. Two gunmen stopped us. I thought they were security or I would have tried to escape. They took both motorcycles and all my money. I was holding 12,000 afghani for a cousin. One of the men wanted to kill us, the other stopped him. Now I am in debt." Hudin says that one of the perpetrators was the nephew of a local commander, Shafi Dewana.
"Dewana means crazy," says another man in English.
Saja Hudin reported the theft to the authorities--but in Balkh province people like Crazy Shafi are the authorities. The new Karzai-appointed governor is Mohammed Atta, a powerful warlord and commander of the Seventh Corps of what UN disarmament experts politely refer to as "Afghan Military Forces." These are the private armies that now have government money and sometimes uniforms but are not part of the US-trained Afghan National Army. Crazy Shafi is one of Mohammed Atta's deputies.
"We had an audience with Governor Atta. I told him about the robbery," says Saja Hudin. "He said he'd tell Shafi to give back the motorcycles, but when I left, Crazy Shafi found me and threatened to kill me if I went back to the governor." The farmers explain that Shafi does not control this immediate area but holds sway along the road that leads to Mazar-i-Sharif.
"A month ago Crazy Shafi even took a girl who traveled through his area," says Saja Hudin. In a moment of naïveté I suggest to my driver and interpreter that we go find and interview Crazy Shafi.
"No," says the farmer Mamood. "He is really crazy."
"Yeah, go visit him and he will fuck all of you," says a farmer to peels of laughter from the visibly nervous crew of men under the tree. Unconvinced, I press the point.
"No! Are you crazy?" says my driver, Mobin, in English. "He will steal my car. Why do you think they call him crazy?" Then I realize it's a ridiculous proposal.
Back in Mazar, I track down a local translator with an NGO, who tells me more about the kidnapped girl. The young man, who recently returned from exile in Pakistan and has Western sensibilities, had a tryst with the woman. She was "modern" like him, a free spirit--"not a prostitute," he says, "but she had been with some men." He won't tell me her name.
Crazy Shafi saw the young woman as fair game. So he kidnapped her and raped and beat her for two days. Once released, she disappeared.
"Maybe she is in Uzbekistan or Pakistan," says the young translator. "Nobody knows." Later in the middle of a somewhat formal dinner with some of his colleagues, the young man leans over to me and flips open his cell phone. On the screen is the photo of the young woman, smiling, unveiled, looking over her shoulder. "That's the girl," he says in a depressed, almost drunken tone.
Commanders like Crazy Shafi do not restrict themselves to motorcycles, women and taxation. They also intimidate journalists, kidnap people for ransom and, according to rural Afghans whom I interviewed and to the Kabul-based Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit, are engaged in widespread land seizures.
Some stolen plots belonged to refugees who had fled Afghanistan; others were traditional commons used by villages to pasture animals and gather firewood. The boom in drug crops, particularly opium poppy, has put a new premium on Afghanistan's limited arable land. "If you cannot defend your land, they will take it," explains Mamood.
Mazar-i-Sharif sits on a flat plain surrounded by distant mountains. It is an ugly, sprawling town, but it is filled with white doves, called kaftar. The doves congregate at the tomb of Hazrat Ali, the fourth caliph of Islam, the cousin and son-in-law of the prophet Mohammed. People here say that any pigeon of a different hue will turn white within forty days of being set free in Mazar-i-Sharif. And indeed, there are no gray or even speckled pigeons here.
Many of the people who move to Mazar are not so easily transformed. As a prelude to becoming governor here, the warlord Mohammed Atta had his men lay siege to the home and offices of a rival, the provincial security chief Gen. Mohammed Akram Khakrizwal, who is almost universally acknowledged to be an honest man committed to the rule of law. Police loyal to Khakrizwal were driven away, and an armed standoff ensued for the next twenty days.
During the siege, Khakrizwal was resupplied with food and water by the small garrison of British troops stationed here, but the foreign soldiers were unable or unwilling to intervene further. Eventually some accommodation was reached and Mohammed Atta was appointed governor of Balkh province.
Now back on the job, the barrel-chested, thickly bearded Pashtun General Khakrizwal--in charge of a largely Tajik and Uzbek area--describes the real and very imperfect nature of his work: "We have security here in Mazar, but in the districts we have only 10 percent control. There are many serious crimes--murder, drug trafficking--but even more important, there are ethnic tensions between Pashtuns, Tajiks and Uzbeks as well as land and water conflicts. We do our best to stop any violence between these groups and between the political parties." The parties he refers to are Abdul Rashid Dostum's Jumbish and Atta's wing of Jamiat, the party once led by the lionized but actually quite vicious Ahmed Shah Massoud.
"Only some of the police are loyal to me," continues the general. "We lack the equipment we need, but I am trying to rebuild my forces." As for the standoff with Atta, the chief is simultaneously blunt and diplomatic. "Atta wants power. Now he is my boss." The general's flat smile says: Welcome to Afghanistan.
Mohammed Atta's offices are considerably more lavish than General Khakrizwal's. The mood inside this walled compound is one of intimidating leisure. Among the men waiting to meet Atta is a bohemian-looking Afghan film director named Wakil Negbin. He claims to have made the only Afghan action flick in years.
Atta's inner offices are spacious, lined with fine red Persian carpets and furnished with long beige couches and several awkwardly futuristic overstuffed lounge chairs. The governor is tall and lean, with closely cropped hair and beard. He wears a superb black business suit and gold Rolex, but the clothes seem to make him uncomfortable: he's still getting used to his new persona. We are served tea and pistachio nuts. Armed men guard the doors.
I ask Governor Atta about the charges that his deputies, like Crazy Shafi, are pillaging the countryside, involved in the drug trade and refusing the UN's requests to disarm.
"I have no military forces anymore; I am just the governor," says Atta, staring at me blankly. "My concerns now are reconstruction and security, building schools and clinics." In fact, it's well-known that Atta is still in command of his troops and that he refuses to demobilize according to the UN-set schedule. And, like most governors, he keeps most of the taxes he collects.
As for his recent military clashes with his rival Dostum: "We have had our disagreements. Dostum is very aggressive, and when I was commander of Seventh Corps I had to defend my people when he attacked."
Was Atta's siege of Gen. Akram Khakrizwal's offices also a defensive move? "What happened there," says Atta in a tone of feigned apology, "was that some of Akram's men were caught smuggling narcotics. So we had to arrest them and fire some of the police. But that incident was really very minor."
As we talk, a dapper Afghan journalist enters and without a word starts shooting video on an ancient TV camera. The man has a finely sculpted goatee, wears a brown velvet Nehru jacket, creased black slacks and spotless designer shoes. After a few minutes he leaves. The interview goes on for another hour.
That night when Balkh state TV--the only channel available in Mazar--starts its three-hour nightly broadcast, the dandy journalist with the goatee and funky jacket appears behind a desk reading the news. Top item: Governor Atta's schedule. Prominently featured: Governor Atta's "cordial meeting" with a journalist from "an important American magazine." The newsreader explains, "The two discussed the progress of reconstruction in Balkh and the importance of Governor Atta's work." My translator is also named as being in attendance. The broadcast has the creepy, stilted feel of old-school dictatorship. We leave Mazar at dawn.
Back in Kabul, the presidential elections are approaching. At 1:30 am, the night before the vote, I am awakened by a huge and close blast. The photographer Teru Kuwayama and I run out to investigate. The dark streets are empty except for packs of feral dogs. A dust storm has risen from the rubble of the city's largely destroyed west side. Soon we find the source of the explosion: Two rockets have hit our immediate neighborhood, exploding above a UN media compound. There are no casualties, but the US troops guarding the area are jumpy. "Put the fucking camera down!" shouts a soldier from behind some floodlights. We go back to bed.
The next day more violence is expected, but none materializes. Instead of tragedy, the vote plays out as farce. By late afternoon, it is clear that there is massive vote fraud under way. Most of Karzai's fourteen opponents are calling for a boycott and suspension of elections. Journalists are running back and forth across town to find the most egregious technical errors and blatant fraud. The crisis is getting so bad that President Karzai calls a restricted, invitation-only press conference.
I am rolling with some scruffy American photographers. We are not on Karzai's list, which seems to include no more than a dozen news organizations. But soon we are joined by other journalists all demanding to get in. Finally the press officer relents and we are slowly passed through layer upon layer of DynCorp security guards and across the desolate gardens of the classy but run-down Afghan presidential palace, which looks like an old European hotel. In a small, wood-paneled conference room we meet Karzai.
"The commission will look into all of these problems, but I am sure the vote was free," says the cloaked and karakol-wearing Karzai after a few jokes and greetings.
Throughout the rather intimate press conference, Karzai invokes the image of "a poor, hungry, cold Afghan woman waiting to vote. She cannot be intimidated." Questions are sparse. Karzai seems like a nervous jollier, trying to play down the election debacle with jokes about Lise Doucet from the BBC. "Where is she with her sharp questions? I am ready." He repeatedly asks for questions from "my friend Ahmed Rashid." The distinguished Pakistani journalist has one query but declines to respond to the president's further cajoling.
Finally I am called on. Citing specific examples, I ask about allegations that Karzai's campaign has used fraud and intimidation--in short, warlord tactics. The president grows angry. "What report? Human Rights Watch? They do not understand Afghan culture. Tribal culture, it is very democratic. Tribal elders cannot be intimidated. They do not know what is really going on. The tribal elders from Khost were just here. They signed a document saying everything is OK."
The UN, which essentially ran the elections, likewise does its best to calm the situation with deft spin and dulcet tones from its smoothly effective spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva. "I am not just trying to be some happy guy. I admit there are problems. But there are also genuine efforts to sort this out. Let's give it some time," he says, stopping politely on the way out of the crisis meeting, his hand holding my shoulder as if we were old friends. Before long, the crisis is being beamed back at us by the international media as a matter of "a few glitches" or "questions about ink."
Karzai insists that democracy and freedom are winning in Afghanistan. He denies that he will buy off his opponents and the warlords with cabinet posts, governorships and ministries. Never mind that this is already his government's modus operandi.
Given current dynamics, Afghanistan will remain a weak and fragmented state, easily controlled by outside powers, its economy broken, its common people mercilessly exploited, suffering from a low-simmering but ineffective insurgency. One place to see this is unfolding is on the border with Pakistan.
The road from Kabul east to Jalalabad is an abysmally rutted dirt track that ascends and descends in switchbacks up high mountains, with thousand-foot drops at the road's edge, then passes down through some parched valleys into a desert strewn with huge boulders. The trip takes a full day. Roadside bombs are not uncommon here: Numerous NGO workers and journalists have been killed on this stretch of road in the past year.
This is Nangarhar province, which juts like a peninsula into Pakistan and contains the infamous Al Qaeda stronghold of the Tora Bora mountain range. Most of the province's districts are classified as no-go areas for internationals. All the NGOs have left. The place is crawling with US Special Forces, out hunting. When their convoys of Humvees and white Toyota trucks lurch past on the dusty back roads, they look like landlocked pirates, wearing costumes of mismatched camouflage, Afghan scarves, beards and assorted bush hats.
A security expert in Jalalabad tells me that there's been at least one IED attack every day for a month, and that the local US garrison, or Provincial Reconstruction Team, was recently besieged for five hours straight. Even so, US casualties around here have remained fairly light.
Officially the Taliban are a big problem, but in private, security experts acknowledge that the Taliban and their allies are isolated and under pressure from both US troops in Afghanistan and Pakistani forces across the border. Once backed by the Pakistani state, Al Qaeda and the Taliban are now said to rely only on a network of retired Pakistani intelligence officers.
Although villagers warn that Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters are around and looking for targets, the insurgency seems to have little support. "They are in Pakistan, but they come into Nangarhar to attack," says a local journalist. "The people here do not want them."
On our second day of driving we leave Jalalabad and head northeast into the district of Kuna. This is poppy country, occasionally traversed by Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters but thoroughly controlled by two warlords: Hazrat Ali, the security chief, and Haji Din Mohammed, provincial governor.
In Khakhi village, we meet with a group of four maliks, or village leaders. All of them farm opium poppy and were mujahedeen during the anti-Soviet jihad, but now all speak openly of their hatred for the commanders.
"They have big houses and the best land. They will take a man's daughter if they want. And what do we have? Nothing," says Askar Khan, who sits hunched over on a wood and rope cot beneath a grape arbor. "All of us were wounded fighting the Russians. We fought for America, and now we are jobless. That is not good."
Another man shows me some gruesome scars and says he was taken to Indiana for treatment back when he was fighting the Red Army. Once these mujahedeen liked the United States, but now they are growing resentful. "Why does America give these commanders positions in government?" asks Askar Khan, the chief malik, who is slumped on the cot.
The poppy crop has already been harvested, but some of the local farmers show me big brown blocks of opium and offer me hash. They say that drought and hunger forced them to grow poppy. "Hazrat Ali controls the smuggling," says one of them. The malik Askar Khan explains, "There are no schools and no clinics in our district. The NGOs just spend money on themselves. When people are hungry they commit sins. If we only grow wheat, we will starve."
The men allege that Mirwais Yasini, head of Afghanistan's Counter Narcotics Directorate, has a deal with Hazrat Ali. When the harvest is done, Hazrat Ali tells the farmers to burn their fields, then Mirwais Yasini can tell the British (who are officially charged with running a war on poppy) that progress is being made. Counternarcotics officials in Kabul vigorously deny these charges.
The trip back to Kabul is as slow and dusty as the trip out. After a few hours of driving we see an overloaded passenger bus with luggage stacked on the roof. The vehicle sways and bounces toward us. Then it sways just a bit too far and topples over the edge of the road into a gully below. A cloud of dust rises and momentarily obscures the wreck.
The bus sits on its roof. Three men are trapped beneath it. About a dozen other people lie around in various states of injury: a young man limps by, his crushed foot wrapped in a bloody scarf. An old man lies by the road moaning. The men underneath the bus are dying; the crowd is growing frantic.
"Help! Push the bus! My brother is trapped," begs a desperate man from down in the gully. The trapped men are migrant laborers, Afghan refugees whose families live in Pakistan. The crowd of men starts pushing the bus back and forth, hoping to tip it one more rotation. But chaos and panic reign, there is no coordination to the effort and the bus weighs too much. A flatbed truck tries to back into an edge of the bus to flip it over but it is no use. The trapped men are being crushed. Someone says one has just died.
The whole debacle is a pathetically fitting, if clichéd, microcosm of Afghanistan's current state: The bus and these people mean little to the great powers that have appointed themselves masters of this place. Out here in the desert and mountains there is no democracy, no nation building, no NGOs, no American patrols--only an appallingly bad road that once, long ago, was a paved link to the world and one of Afghanistan's few symbols of modernity and national progress. Now the only sign of something like state power is a local commander's young gunman with a bayonet on his AK-47. He commandeers a car and orders it to take one of the wounded back to Jalalabad.
No decision yet on F-16s, US tells India
By Our Correspondent Dawn
WASHINGTON, Oct 29: The United States has assured India that it has not yet taken any decision about selling F-16 aircraft to Pakistan. The assurance -- given at a briefing here on Thursday -- followed a demonstration in New York by Indian-Americans against the proposed sale.
"No decisions have been made on the sale of F-16s to Pakistan," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher when informed about the protest. Indian and US newspapers have been reporting since early this month that a second Bush administration, if he wins next week, will sell the F-16s to Pakistan. The reports said that the US administration planned to sell 18 planes in the first instalment with 62 more to be sold later.
The US sold 40 F-16s to Pakistan between 1983 and 1987, when Islamabad supported Washington's efforts to drive the then Soviet Union out of Afghanistan. But in 1990, Congress passed legislation halting delivery of the jets because the US believed Pakistan was making a nuclear bomb.
Reports that the Bush administration may resume the sale appeared to be vindicated when Rear Admiral Craig McDonald, head of the office of the US defence representative in Pakistan, told a recent Pentagon-organized conference on security cooperation that the Bush administration would go before Congress early next year to seek authorization for the sale.
The Indian lobby on Capitol Hill, however, has vowed to block the sale in the US Senate where India has powerful supporters in both Republican and Democratic parties. New Delhi also has opposed the proposed sale, saying the planes would be used against India.
Last month, Pakistan Air Force chief Air Marshal Kaleem Sadaat told reporters in Karachi that the US had indicated that it would be 'ready next year' to sell F-16s to Pakistan.
An Indian lobby, the Indian American Forum for Political Education (IAFPE), recently wrote a letter to President Bush saying that the proposed sale would be detrimental to furthering Indo-US ties and would fuel arms race in South Asia.
"Supplying sophisticated fighter aircraft to Pakistan will only stoke the flames of arms race in this region," IAFPE president Sudhir Parikh said in the letter to President Bush.
Mr Parikh said while the Forum had supported Mr Bush's bid for a second term in office, "reports of F-16 deliveries to Pakistan would make several members reconsider their endorsement."
Despite the Indian protest, US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told a private Pakistani television channel recently that the issue "is still on the table and we have had discussions with the Pakistani authorities about these matters, and I will leave it right there."
A Pentagon official said that although nothing had so far been decided, "that does not mean a decision could not come down at any moment". At Thursday's briefing, Mr Boucher also dismissed questions about news stories alleging that a cache of weapons of mass destruction from Iraq might have been moved to Syria and found their way to Pakistan. "These sorts of rumours have been around for a long time. As far as I know, they have never been corroborated," he said.
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