Rocket Strikes Near U.S. Afghan Embassy
Friday October 8, 10:27 AM AP
A rocket slammed into the Afghan capital near the U.S. Embassy and other diplomatic missions early Friday, a day before landmark elections. All U.S. embassy staff were ordered to briefly take cover in an underground bunker.
The rocket hit a parking lot near a media accreditation center for the elections, causing no damage or casualties, said Lt. Commander Ken MacKillop, a spokesman for international peacekeepers.
He said peacekeepers suspected a second rocket may have hit nearby, but no impact site was found.
"We are alert and investigating," he said.
Heavily-armed U.S. and Afghan troops sealed off the roads leading to the diplomatic area.
Beth Lee, a spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy, said all staff had been ordered to take cover in an underground bunker as a precaution. A senior U.S. official in Washington said embassy staff were allowed out of the bunkers a short time later.
The blast shattered a relatively calm lead-up to Saturday's vote, at least in the capital. It was loud enough to shake windows and rouse people from bed.
The headquarters for the 9,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force is also close to the U.S. Embassy, as are the German and Pakistani missions.
It was the first apparent attack in Kabul since August 28, when a huge car bomb outside a private U.S. security firm killed 10 people _ three of them Americans. The Americans were helping train anti-narcotics police.
Taliban and al-Qaida rebels have kept up a steady stream of attacks throughout Afghanistan since campaigning for the election began Sept. 7, but they have so far failed to launch the type of high-impact assault that might derail the vote.
Afghanistan's Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said Thursday that Afghan forces had thwarted at least 20 attacks and arrested more than 100 people since the start of the campaign, but that the rebels had managed more than 60 rocket or bomb attacks during the period, most in the provinces.
He put the death toll at more than 60 _ including 15 civilians, 19 security forces and 30 suspected rebels. Six Afghan troops were taken hostage.
In addition to rebel violence, drug smugglers are believed to be posing an increasingly large threat to the country's stability.
Jalali said drug traffickers, not the Taliban, were responsible for an attack Wednesday on interim leader Hamid Karzai's vice presidential running mate, Ahmed Zia Massood.
One person was killed and five others wounded in the bombing, including the former governor of Badakhshan, a mountainous northeastern poppy-growing region. Massood was unhurt.
Jalali said "the evidence shows that it was the work of drug smugglers, because this process (the election) is against their interests."
The attack was the third against Karzai and his political allies since campaigning began. The president survived a rocket assault on his helicopter on Sept. 16 in the eastern city of Gardez, and one of his four current vice presidents survived a bomb attack four days later. The Taliban was suspected in those attacks.
During the last major political event in Kabul, the loya jirga, or grand council, in December and January, militants fired a series of rockets on the city, though there were no casualties.
Karzai on Thursday praised his people for embracing the elections, despite the recent bloodshed. He acknowledged problems of rebel violence and warlord intimidation _ even some being carried out in his name _ but said Afghanistan could not wait forever to hold its vote.
"No election in the world is free of tension ... we all know that," Karzai said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. "Afghanistan will not be an exception."
Rockets fired near Italian camp in Afghanistan
07 Oct 2004 17:30:11 GMT
KABUL, Oct 7 (Reuters) - Two rockets were fired on Thursday near a base used by troops of the NATO-led international security force in Afghanistan, just two days before the country's first-ever direct presidential election.
A Reuters correspondent at Camp Activia in the capital, the base for the 850-strong Italian contingent, said the rockets were fired at about 8 p.m. (1630 GMT) from the southeast to the northeast, but missed the camp.
There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage and an Italian military officer said they were still trying to determine what might have been the target.
Afghanistan goes to the polls on Saturday against a backdrop of threats by the Taliban to disrupt voting.
Interior ministry spokesman Lutfallah Mashall told a news briefing earlier that in the last month, 20 terror plots had been foiled and 100 terror suspects detained.
He said with 48,000 police officers on duty -- 25,000 recently trained with international assistance -- security for the polls was on maximum alert.
"The deployment has been completed. Everything is in place and we are ready for the elections," he said.
Afghanistan tense on invasion anniversary ahead of vote
Thursday October 7, 4:53 PM
KABUL, Oct 7 (AFP) - Three years to the day after the first American bombs fell, Afghanistan battened down the hatches Thursday as campaigning ended and a tense calm settled over the capital ahead of Saturday's elections.
More than 100,000 security personnel, including 18,000 US-led troops and 9,000 NATO peacekeepers were in place around the country to provide security for voters, Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali told reporters.
Afghanistan was set on course for the elections on October 7, 2001, when a US-led coalition launched a bombing campaign ahead of invading in a bid to capture Al-Qaeda terror mastermind Osama bin Laden.
Bin Laden escaped, but the hardline Islamic Taliban regime which refused to hand him over to the US after the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, was toppled.
Ahead of the anniversary, the United States embassy in Kabul warned American citizens to restrict their movements around the city for fear of violence before and during the presidential election.
Officials have warned of a possible sharp rise in attacks on election day when up to 10.5 million registered voters go to the polls, with major cities at risk of car-bomb blasts and polling stations under threat of armed assault.
Around one million refugees in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran are also expected to cast ballots, in what organisers say is the world's largest ever refugee vote.
The streets of Kabul were in their normal state of traffic chaos Thursday and the bazaars were busy, but plans are being made to limit the movement of vehicles in major cities from Friday.
An assassination attempt on interim President Hamid Karzai's vice-presidential running mate Wednesday was the latest in a series of attacks ahead of the vote, which remnants of the Taliban regime have vowed to disrupt.
The US-backed Karzai, 46, who was installed after the invasion, is expected to win against 17 other candidates in elections that will be watched more for their relevance to the US presidential campaign and the turmoil in Iraq than their impact on this sidelined country.
A smooth election with an undisputed outcome will enable US President George W. Bush to claim a victory for his foreign policy and predict a similar outcome for Iraq, which is due to hold elections in January.
"Bush is anxious to portray the Afghan elections as an important step towards democracy and justify the launch of the war on terrorism," said Marvin Weinbaum, a scholar at the Washington-based Middle East Institute.
"It becomes all the more important now because Iraq has become so problematic," he said as Bush continues to face criticism from his White House rival Senator John Kerry for last year's Iraq invasion.
While US-led forces are struggling against a growing and bloody insurgency in Iraq's cities, attacks in Afghanistan have been sporadic and on a smaller scale.
Bin Laden is thought to lurk somewhere along Afghanistan's wild border with Pakistan, and remains the major bogey-man in the West's war on terrorism.
But for ordinary Afghans, he is not an issue in the elections, and the Taliban regime which took power in 1996 appears to have gone mostly unmourned here.
Surveys have shown that most Afghans simply want peace after 25 years of conflict, which began with a Soviet invasion in 1979.
Drug Smugglers Blamed in Afghan Attack
Thu Oct 7, 4:47 AM ET By PAUL HAVEN, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - The Afghan government on Thursday blamed drug smugglers — not Taliban or al-Qaida fighters — for a bomb attack on interim leader Hamid Karzai's vice presidential running mate, saying the country's landmark el ections are a threat to their business.
The attack Wednesday in the mountainous northeastern poppy-growing region of Badakhshan killed one person and wounded at least five others — including the former governor. Karzai's running mate, Ahmed Zia Massood, was unharmed.
"I don't want to name anybody, but the evidence shows that it was the work of drug smugglers, because this process (the election) is against their interests," said Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali.
Afghanistan holds its first-ever direct presidential election on Saturday.
Karzai is widely expected to emerge the winner from a large field of candidates. On Wednesday, the last day of campaigning, two minor candidates dropped out and threw their support behind the president. Still, with 16 people left in the race, it remains to be seen whether Karzai will be able to reach the 50 percent majority necessary to avoid a runoff.
Karzai on Thursday praised his people for embracing the elections, despite continued violence against election workers and ordinary citizens. He acknowledged problems of rebel violence and warlord intimidation — even some being carried out in his name — but said Afghanistan could not wait forever to hold its vote.
"No election in the world is free of tension ... we all know that," Karzai said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Crop. "Afghanistan will not be an exception."
Karzai has made it a point in his recent campaign rallies to tell people to vote for him because they want to, not because someone has told them to.
The revelation of drug ties to the attack on Massood was illustrative of what might prove a time of transition in Afghanistan, from a largely rebel and al-Qaida-based threat, to one marked by the threat of ever-more violent drug interests.
Heroin and opium production has boomed in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime, which had been surprisingly successful at enforcing a ban on cultivation. Officials say they believe the Taliban — now a rebel group — is benefiting from the drug trade, but warlords allied to the government are also heavily involved.
There has been speculation that drug traffickers might have had some hand in an August 28 car bombing outside a private U.S. security firm in Kabul, which killed 10 people — three of them American. The Americans were helping train anti-narcotics police. Taliban or al-Qaida militants also prime suspects in the blast.
U.N. surveys estimate Afghanistan accounted for three-quarters of the world's opium last year, and the trade brought in $2.3 billion, more than half of the nation's gross domestic product.
New surveys suggest even more has been planted this year.
Northeastern Badakhshan, bordering Tajikistan, China and Pakistan, is far from the Taliban strongholds of southern and eastern Afghanistan. Its rugged terrain is covered by poppy fields, and the government has been unable to do much to curb production.
The attack was the third against Karzai and his political allies since campaigning began on Sept. 7. The president survived a rocket assault on his helicopter on Sept. 16 in the eastern city of Gardez, and one of his four current vice presidents survived a bomb attack four days later. The Taliban was suspected in those attacks.
The Taliban has kept up a drumbeat of violence, but so far has not succeeded in launching a high-impact assault that could derail the vote.
Jalali said Afghan forces had thwarted at least 20 attacks and arrested more than 100 people since the start of the campaign, but that the rebels had managed more than 60 rocket or bomb attacks during the period, most in the provinces.
He put the death toll at more than 60 — including 15 civilians, 19 security forces and 30 suspected rebels. In addition, six Afghan troops were taken hostage.
Afghanistan's milestone elections take place in atmosphere of hope, but also deep and lingering problems
Friday October 8, 8:28 AM AP
Afghanistan's first-ever presidential vote puts this nation of mud-brick houses and tribal fiefdoms on the edge of an improbable experiment with democracy.
Osama bin Laden's training bases have been uprooted and Afghanistan is no longer a base for international terrorists. But three years to the day since a U.S. bombing campaign toppled the Taliban regime, Islamic militancy lives on, the drug trade is booming and warlords hold sway over much of the country.
Hamid Karzai, the nation's unrelentingly optimistic interim president, is the overwhelming favorite to win Saturday's vote against a large field of challengers, though it is not clear yet if he will get the majority necessary to avoid a runoff.
What awaits after victory is a nation with great promise, but daunting challenges.
The Taliban pose no real threat of a return to power, at least as long as Afghanistan's undermanned national army is backed by an 18,000-strong U.S.-led coalition and 9,000 NATO troops. But its hardline followers are far from defeated.
Taliban and al-Qaida fighters have kept up a steady drumbeat of attacks _ especially in the south and east of the nation. The toll of those killed in political violence this year is approaching 1,000 _ 30 of them American soldiers _ hardly a picture of stability.
The U.S. military insists the insurgency is ineffective and hopes the elections will persuade some of those still fighting to put down their weapons and seek a reconciliation with the new government.
Maj. Gen. Eric Olson, the No. 2 commander of U.S. forces, cautioned that true peace will take many years, perhaps longer than some in the U.S.-led coalition had bargained for.
"This is a long fight. This is not something that is going to end after the elections," he told The Associated Press in an interview last week. "I would venture to say it is not going to end in the next 10 years, but ultimately it's a winnable situation."
Despite the destruction of their terror bases, bin Laden and his No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, remain fugitives, probably living in the mountain regions straddling Afghanistan and Pakistan. U.S. officials say the men are still believed to be actively plotting attacks.
But the main threats to Afghanistan's stability probably lie elsewhere _ in the inability of the government to curb regional warlords, and the ballooning heroin and opium trade.
Karzai has exerted more control in recent months _ removing Herat strongman Ismail Khan from the governorship, dumping Tajik faction leader Mohammed Fahim from his presidential ticket and pushing the pace of a much-delayed program to disarm militias. The president has said the warlords are his greatest preoccupation.
The heroin and opium trade _ largely kept in check under the Taliban _ grew into a US$2.3 billion a year business in 2003, more than half of the nation's gross domestic product.
This year's figures will likely be even higher.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said last month that the drug trade "has the potential to undo all the positive things we have done so far or are planning to do."
And the big profits have already begun to bring with them serious violence.
On Thursday, the government blamed drug smugglers _ not Taliban or al-Qaida fighters _ for a bomb attack the day before on Karzai's vice presidential running mate, Ahmed Zia Massood. The politician was not hurt, but one man was killed and five others wounded.
Still, progress has been made in this nation of 25 million.
Three million Afghans have returned from exile in Pakistan and Iran, millions of women and girls have returned to work and school _ resuming lives abandoned for five years when the Taliban ordered them shuttered in their homes.
Signs of reconstruction _ much of it financed by the United States _ are everywhere, from the newly paved highways to the international hotels going up in the capital, Kabul.
The government remains chronically dependent on foreign aid, but key ministries such as finance and health are beginning to find their feet. Delivering services to long-abandoned provinces will be a crucial test.
Some 41 percent of those who have registered to vote are women, a staggering statistic in a nation where centuries of tradition and lack of education have conspired to shut most women out of public life.
Afghanistan's future has become an issue in the Nov. 2 election in United States. President George W. Bush has stressed what has been achieved: millions registering to vote, a people embracing democracy.
His challenger, John Kerry, has focused on the shortcomings: a continued insurgency, the unchecked drug trade and the maddening ability of bin Laden to slip through the largest dragnet in history.
Khalilzad, the Afghan-born U.S. ambassador, acknowledges that full recovery is a distant dream for a nation that has experienced calamity heaped upon calamity for over 25 years _ from the 1979 Soviet invasion, to a bloody civil war, to Taliban misrule, and a devastating drought to boot.
"If the journey of building Afghanistan is a 10-mile journey, we're at the end of mile three," Khalilzad said recently.
Ghaffar Khan, a 30-year-old jewelery trader in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, spoke for many Afghans who hope the elections mean that years of fighting are finally behind them.
"For the first time, the simple people can choose their leader," he said at a shop where he was chatting to a friend Thursday. "We still have problems, but we no longer have fear. We have hope."
Silence over Afghan women's rights
Thursday, 7 October, 2004 By Andrew North / BBC correspondent in Kabul
Forty per cent of the registered voters for Saturday's presidential election in Afghanistan are women - so why is there so little debate about women's rights?
In a bleak and run-down part of eastern Kabul, aid workers call out to a group of poor women waiting for food handouts.
One by one, they collect a ration of flour, salt and cooking oil.
It is supposed to last them and their children for the next month because they all have something in common - they are widows.
In Afghanistan, losing your husband can mean destitution for women.
Many are abandoned by their families. Unable to work, they depend on support programmes like this one run by the aid agency Care.
Hanifa lost her husband four years ago in a rocket attack.
"I'm totally alone. I have no support and I have six children, with no one to help me. All I have is this ration card from Care. Sometimes I feel like killing myself."
But Care is trying to find ways for these widows to earn an income - with chickens.
They are each given a brood of 30 chicks, poultry feed and advice. Zermina is now making about $30 a month from selling the eggs from her grown hens.
"It has made life a lot easier," she says.
"I can get food now for all my children. And I have eight children, four of them blind."
The advantage is these women can earn this money at home - rather than taking the risk of offending local sensibilities by working, in often conservative neighbourhoods.
But across Afghanistan, deep-seated male attitudes towards women force many to suffer far more.
Fatima - not her real name - describes how she was beaten regularly by her brothers, while a refugee in Iran.
She fled, but then returned home - only for the beatings to get worse. Because, Fatima says, her family believed their reputation had been damaged by having a daughter who had been out alone.
"They think that I'm guilty, that I left home. But in fact they forced me to leave home.
"They were beating me but they don't understand that and now they saying: 'You are guilty.'
"Because of their honour they don't want to be faced with other family members. They want to kill me."
Alone and penniless, Fatima ended up as a prostitute. But after being caught by Iranian police, she was handed over to the Afghan authorities, and suffered more terrible treatment.
Two months ago, some police took pity on her. Fatima is now in a refuge in Kabul for battered women, its location a closely kept secret.
Ashamed of daughter
Meena - again not her real name - is in the same shelter. She's well educated and had a good job.
But that's all gone, Meena says, after a man who had said he wanted to marry her raped her - and her family found out.
"My brother and father locked me in the house, and my brother beat me. Then they took me to the police station.
"I told them this man had promised to marry me. The police spoke to him and I was shocked when he said he didn't know me.
"My father and brother were furious."
The police made things even worse, Meena says, by telling her father he should be ashamed of having a daughter like this.
"When we got home, my father said he wanted to kill me. And my mother said I can't help you, you've done this to yourself."
Meena decided she had to leave home, as soon as she got a chance.
Such cases are far from unusual - in fact they're commonplace.
"It's complete impunity," says Rachel Wareham, Afghan director of the charity Medica Mondiale, which cares for women who suffer domestic violence.
"There is no established mechanism for men who are violent to be brought to justice. The best way, I think, to understand it for a European audience is that it's really like medieval England."
So biased against women is the system that Ms Wareham herself was detained by the Afghan authorities when she tried to help another woman who had been mistreated by her family.
The Minister for Women's Affairs, Dr Habiba Sarabi, admits there's a long way to go.
"We have to change the law but education is also very, very important. It's fundamental.
"Changing the attitudes of men rather than women because this is a male dominated country and men should change their mind towards the women."
But so ingrained are these attitudes, the minister believes, that pushing too hard risks a backlash.
And that is also why most of the candidates running for the presidential election have avoided taking a firm position on women's rights.
William Safire: Afghanistan leads off the election parade
William Safire The International Herald Tribune Thursday, October 07, 2004
WASHINGTON Let's not be taken in when defeatists try to pooh-pooh the promise of this week's election in Afghanistan.
Already the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe - more insecure and uncooperative than usual - has announced that it will refuse to declare this coming election to be free and fair. It's not up to its standards. European nit-picking about "irregularities" will be fierce from high-minded bureaucrats who do not realize that the most irregular thing in that part of the world is anything approximating a free election.
Too much world media coverage will focus on pictures of violence at polling places, not on the big news: lines of courageous Afghans patiently waiting to vote. Tinhorn despots are passing out leaflets in refugee camps promising divine rewards to anyone who kills a poll worker. Such terrorist acts by die-hard Taliban insurgents may be excitingly pictorial, but images of Muslims, especially women, voting for the first time - and of candidates for office literally taking their lives in their hands to campaign - are deemed not sufficiently mesmerizing.
Another reason to downplay or dismiss Election Day in Afghanistan is that it is clearly good news for America and its allies, who are directly responsible for this outbreak of freedom in a Muslim land.
If the mountain people of this war-ravaged nation, whose cash crop is poppies for illegal opium, can stand up to their tormentors and grasp the powers of democracy, their example will offer hope to the better-educated Iraqis sitting on their nation's sea of oil. Afghanistan would be the first good domino to tip over.
When the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, visited here a few months ago, he told us of his hopes to persuade some 7 million of the 10 million eligible Afghan voters to register. He underestimated his people's hunger for representative government: Despite threats to registration centers, and in the face of assassination attempts on the lives of candidates, over 10 million Afghans have registered, plus 2 million more in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran.
That's a political miracle. It also does not add up; some people are apparently registering more than once. ("Vote early and often" is supposed to be a joke. U.S. pollsters have never measured an electorate in which likely voters outnumber registered voters.)
But the indisputable fact of the enthusiasm for voting is what is so heartening. Afghans look with wonderment at their secret ballot, and take real risks for the freedom Americans take for granted.
Who's ahead? Karzai is the front-runner in a field of 18, but will face a runoff if he falls short of 50 percent of the vote. Yunus Qanooni is the dark horse. That's the beauty of an election, even one with vote-buying and other "imperfections": It's rarely a sure thing.
I asked Karzai during his visit here about his country's warlord problem; would these local satraps with their private militias, and corrupted by opium profits, take direction from the elected central government in Kabul?
"Warlord is a hard word," he replied mildly, trying to be a good politician. "I prefer to call them 'regional leaders.'"
But what about the likes of General Abdul Rashid Dostum, the Uzbek strongman who has been exercising his newfound right of free speech to blaze away at the government for not ensuring security or getting money for reconstruction? Karzai smiled. "You could call him a warlord."
Welcome, then, to the world's interrelated four-month, four-nation election cycle:
Afghans, fighting their unaccustomed way to the polls through feudal fundamentalists and Arab terrorists, will be the most closely watched. But Australians also vote this weekend. Prime Minister John Howard has reaffirmed the traditional Australian-American alliance; he is opposed in the elections by Labor's Mark Latham, the bring-the-boys-home-from-Iraq-by-Christmas candidate.
Then come the U.S. elections, about which you heard plenty recently.
Finally, Iraqi elections are scheduled for January. These will be influenced by the Afghan electoral example, and by the Australian decision signaling the breadth of future coalition support. Most of all, the U.S. election outcome will tell Iraqi voters to expect U.S. help in building a new life in a federal system - or to worry about helicopters hurriedly leaving the roof of the U.S. Embassy.
'Violence can't stop Afghan poll'
Thursday, 7 October, 2004 BBC News
The Afghan government says it is confident that the country's presidential elections will go ahead despite threats of violence.
The former rulers of the country, the Taleban, have vowed to disrupt Saturday's poll.
But Interior minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said that more than 100,000 security personnel would make sure that people could vote freely.
The poll will be Afghanistan's first presidential election.
'Can't be stopped'
"There is no doubt that terrorists will try to disrupt the election process," Mr Jalali told journalists in the capital, Kabul.
"If they attack an election site it will damage the process, but it cannot stop the election."
The Taleban have targeted election officials and aid agencies during the election campaign.
He said that more than 100,000 personnel would provide security for voters. The figure includes 9,000 members of the Nato-led peacekeeping force, and 18,000 troops led by US forces.
Campaigning ended on Wednesday. The favourite is the incumbent, Hamid Karzai.
Two people were killed in an explosion on Wednesday in the north-eastern city of Feyzabad, where Mr Karzai's running mate, Ahmed Zia Masood, was campaigning.
Interior minister Jalali said on Thursday that the attack may have been carried out by drug smugglers.
Earlier, the Taleban claimed responsibility.
President has vowed to bring a very different style of government to Afghanistan if he is elected in Saturday's poll.
In a BBC interview he pledged to break with what he called "every bad thing," in response to Afghans' expectation of change.
But he made it clear this did not mean distancing himself from all of Afghanistan's powerful warlords.
Karzai Hopes to Become Leader in His Own Right
By John Daniszewski Los Angeles Times Staff Writer October 7, 2004
KABUL, Afghanistan — Hamid Karzai became Afghanistan's president thanks to American patronage and his skills as a unifier.
It helped that he left exile in Pakistan three years ago for southern Afghanistan with a guerrilla force that fought alongside U.S. troops. Soon after the Taliban regime was ousted in December 2001, Washington pushed to install Karzai as interim prime minister. Six months later, the U.S. pressed for his subsequent selection as interim president.
In Saturday's presidential election, Karzai hopes to secure more legitimacy by winning a popular mandate, which might give him the power to rein in warlords, halt widespread opium cultivation and set the country more firmly on a path to democracy and development.
But to win votes, Karzai has had to rely on bargaining and other time-honored Afghan tribal customs. For weeks, the president and members of his family have been receiving delegations of tribal leaders, dressed in turbans, long robes and flowing beards, who show up on designated days at the presidential palace near the center of Kabul.
Like Karzai, many are Pushtuns, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group. Arriving dozens at a time, they walk into the compound in the capital for meetings at which they pledge their followers' votes to Karzai, with an unspoken understanding that the loyalty will be recorded and remembered by the president, said a diplomat familiar with the process.
When they return home, their followers are directed to fill out ballots to support the president as a matter of honor and tribal loyalty. Most are expected to comply, even though the balloting is supposed to be private and in secret.
More than 10 million people, including 4 million women previously barred from public life, have registered for the historic election that is scheduled to take place under joint U.N. and Afghan sponsorship. There have been no credible preelection polls, but most observers believe that Karzai will win handily.
Today, the country enters a quiet period of no campaigning, with U.S., multinational forces and the new Afghan army and police on high alert for attacks by militants who want to disrupt the polling.
At least some of the 18 presidential candidates were considering entering into last-minute deals to throw support either to Karzai or his chief rival, former Education Minister Younis Qanooni, in exchange for future government posts.
Karzai held two election rallies, both in the last two days of the 30-day campaign. A rally planned last month for the southeastern city of Gardez was aborted after a rocket was fired at his helicopter. For part of the campaign period, Karzai left the country, traveling to Germany to accept a human rights award.
Bodyguards have kept a thick security wall between Karzai and voters because he is a prime target for assassination by Taliban and Al Qaeda sympathizers, active mainly in the south and east of Afghanistan. He has survived two attempts on his life in the last two years.
Partly because of the tight security, Karzai's final rally at a Kabul stadium on Wednesday seemed staged and listless. Only a few thousand supporters attended, apparently because officials were wary that a larger gathering posed more security risks.
"Please move to the front of the stand so we can see you," an announcer encouraged the sparse crowd.
Karzai's supporters were thoroughly searched before they were allowed onto the soccer field, where the Taliban once carried out public executions.
A drummer played a tribal beat while young men took turns dancing in the hour or so before the president emerged on a reviewing stand high above the field. He was wearing his signature dress — a karakul lamb's wool hat and a blue and aquamarine shawl.
"Long live Karzai! May he be president forever!" shouted a few voices. An imam read a prayer from the Koran and a woman recited her poems before Karzai addressed the crowd in Pashto and Dari, saying the upcoming vote was "a source of pride for Afghanistan and its independence."
"If I receive the free votes of ordinary people, it will be a mandate for me to build a stable and peaceful Afghanistan," he said. "After 18 years of blood and destruction, we will show that we are a noble nation."
Karzai also promised to respect the people's decision and step down if defeated, but that if elected he would rebuild the country so that it could stand on its own feet and eventually bid farewell to U.S. and other foreign troops .
Bodyguards with rifles flanked Karzai, watching the audience warily. Other gunmen were stationed on the roofs above him and in front of the crowd below.
Such precautions have become necessary. On Wednesday, a convoy carrying one of Karzai's two running mates, Ahmed Zia Masoud, was hit by a rocket or roadside bomb near Feyzabad, the capital of Badakhshan province in the northeast.
Masoud, a Tajik and a brother of slain Northern Alliance militia leader Ahmed Shah Masoud — a legendary anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban figure — escaped unhurt. But the explosion killed one person and injured three others, according to news agencies.
Security concerns are not the only reason for Karzai's lack of vigorous campaigning, said Information and Culture Minister Sayed Makhdoom Raheen.
"By now, President Karzai has gone to about all the provinces in the last three years and it is not necessary to make new trips for the sake of the election," Raheen said. "People are already familiar with his thoughts and ideas…. He is not a new and unknown face to the people."
The president also wanted to shun theatrics, such as kissing babies, he said. "I don't believe in all that kind of baloney, do you?"
"There is already a lot of cynicism that it is a done deal," said Andrew Wilder, director of the nongovernmental Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, which is studying the country's democratization attempts.
Analysts say the real question is whether Karzai's 17 opponents collectively will draw enough votes to deny Karzai a majority and force a runoff in November.
His strongest challenger, Qanooni, is a former Tajik guerrilla from the Panjshir Valley, a region where opposition to the Taliban was fervent. Qanooni's campaign has appealed to fellow Tajiks and to the mujahedin veterans who fought the Soviets and the Taliban.
Karzai, educated abroad, was more an intellectual and political activist than a warrior.
He has been active in trying to get the other candidates to join him in a coalition. Other aspirants may do well in specific areas; they include Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, who holds sway in the city of Sheberghan in north-central Afghanistan.
Dostum has warned Uzbeks that only he can uphold their interests, and police in the area under his control have reportedly taken down Karzai signs and intimidated residents, demanding that they support their governor.
Nevertheless, Karzai has the highest name recognition and most familiar face across the largely illiterate country. Although criticized for being too cozy with the West, he is credited with delivering three years of peace. Others argue that he can best guarantee aid and loans from the international community.
To the war-weary Afghan, Karzai is seen as not being connected to the corruption and human rights abuses of the "commanders" — the country's warlords, who are still powerful outside Kabul.
"There is no question that I support him," said Abdulla Almous, a gray-bearded agricultural official from the capital attending the rally. "It is clear [that] since Karzai came to Kabul, there is security and stability. He is a good Muslim, and he makes no distinction among the ethnic groups."
Afghanistan to have eyes of the world upon it on Saturday
Watertown Daily Times - Oct 07 11:15 AM
Dodge County Sheriff Todd Nehls, also a colonel in the Wisconsin National Guard, is currently serving in Afghanistan.
Following is one in a series of articles being sent to the newspaper by the sheriff.
Last week I spoke about the upcoming elections, for the first democratically elected president of Afghanistan. I never gave it a lot of thought until Monday. Lt. Gen. Barno, the senior ranking military officer in Afghanistan flew down to pay a visit to the troops. Barno's words made one reflect on how "fortunate" we are to be here. He referenced the elections and how historic it is for Afghanistan. Our mission, to experience the process and ensure its success. Barno described our role as dangerous, gratifying and very noble, something that tens of millions of Afghanistan people have waited a lifetime for. On Saturday, they will elect their first national president.
Paramount to the Badger Forward staff is to ensure the safety of the elections. The mechanism for success will be our ANA leadership and soldiers. First, some background on the election process. Only those 18 years of age and older, who registered, can vote. After you vote, the registration card will be punched and the thumb dipped in red ink. This will prevent multiple voting. Logistically, ballots will be either flown or driven to area hubs in the country. From that point they will be driven further into the remote regions, some two days by camel. After the election all will be collected and brought to counting centers.
Gardez happens to be home to one of only a handful of counting centers in the country. This requires a tremendous amount of security while they count the ballots, expecting to take three weeks. The ANA soldiers, upon being tasked with the Ballot Counting Center security mission, beamed with pride. They know that they were given an opportunity to play a critical role. Their charter, ensuring the safety and success of this historic event.
There are 18 candidates. There is a provision that if any candidate gets assassinated before the election, or during the voting or counting of ballots, the entire election is void. My suggestion was to hide them all under ground until it's over. Our enhanced security has already paid dividends. One man was apprehended with grenades and woman's clothing and an explosive and timer were found under the bridge outside our compound. These early incidents have reinforced the theme of our meeting with the Provincial Governor.
A firm man, constantly under threats of assassination, hosted the key players to his mansion. The governor's intel reports captured my attention and raised the eyebrows of even the bravest attendees. But, it was his opening remarks that captured the most ink in my daily log. The governor, a battle tested and stout man, spending several minutes thanking us for being in Afghanistan. He said the help of the coalition will never be forgotten, not by the young or old, never. He continued by saying that his people consider us part of their country because of all our work and assistance. He closed by saying he never thought this day would come, a democratic election, allowing the people to decide their leader. He said it was by the grace of God and the help from his friends, the Americans.
He closed by asking me for 20 ANA soldiers for personal protection, putting his safety in the hands of U.S. trained military forces over his own police guards. How could I say no?
We received two up-armored Hummer's on Wednesday. This will increase our security tremendously. They are a version of the Hummer with exterior armor and ballistic glass for added for protection. A welcome upgrade from my Ford Ranger. People send many e-mails and letters asking about our living conditions. They improve daily. Still one three minute shower weekly and no laundry. I compare it to deer camp, five men living and working in a small plywood shack, depending upon one another.
My room measures 72 x 81 inches. We get along well and always find humor in what we do. Each morning the announcement, how many days left, how many in country, today it was 302 and 63. Mission 20 percent complete. We look forward to and talk about going home in August 2005. But in this short time, I have come to realize that it will be tough to say goodbye to those we have come to know.
We are enjoying our work with the Afghan soldiers, at times frustrating, yet rewarding. The next three weeks will test all of us. The Badger Forward Team is confident, the ANA and the people of Afghanistan have waited and are ready. Afghanistan will have the eyes of the world upon it Saturday. There is one major difference between this election and ours in November. You will go to the polls without fear of threats, violence and intimidation. Remember, it could always be different. We are blessed in America. I am proud of all who are here and elsewhere who are securing the freedoms we take for granted. The freedom that the people of Afghanistan will experience for the first time in their lives on Saturday. Ten million registered voters with an anticipated 50 percent turnout, history.
Taliban threat to Afghan poll may remain just talk
Reuters 10/06/2004 By Mike Collett-White
KANDAHAR - Three young men are escorted out of a metal cage at the intelligence headquarters in Afghanistan's southern city of Kandahar and ordered to hold up their voter registration cards.
Officials believe from their fake, laminated IDs and suspicious behaviour that they are Taliban recruits intent on carrying out attacks during Saturday's landmark election.
Aged from 18 to 26, they wear the turbans and traditional baggy shawal kameez outfits that are ubiquitous in Kandahar's teeming bazaars. And they would have no difficulty in gaining access to polling centres with the fake IDs.
More than 100 suspected guerrillas have been arrested in recent weeks in the southern province of Kandahar, once the bastion of the hardline Islamic Taliban militia that are bent on disrupting Afghanistan's first ever direct presidential vote.
"We have reports that the Taliban are trying to get into cities and disturb the election process through targeting polling and counting centres, kidnappings and suicide attacks," said Abdullah Laghmani, the softly spoken intelligence chief for the volatile Afghan south.
"We have learned a number of Taliban have made their own fake voter registration cards to get into polling stations more easily," he told Reuters.
Laghmani said Taliban remnants and their allies were desperate to derail polling and undermine the legitimacy of the winner of the vote and the U.S. military, which leads 18,000 troops in Afghanistan hunting Islamic militants.
But so far their bark, including dire warnings of bombings in cities and assassinations of presidential candidates, has been worse than their bite.
Taliban operations have tended to be unsophisticated -- mines along remote roads, small bicycle bombs, and night attacks on Afghan soldiers and civilians in Zabul, Helmand, Kandahar and Uruzgan provinces.
On Tuesday, two Taliban suspects died when the bomb they were planting north of Kandahar, apparently to cut power supplies to the city, exploded. A passer-by was wounded.
More than 1,000 people have been killed in violence linked to militants since August last year. On Tuesday, at least seven soldiers, six civilians and two Taliban suspects died.
Yet it is the more spectacular, headline-grabbing attack that Afghan and U.S. military officials fear most.
Last month, President Hamid Karzai aborted a rare trip outside Kabul when his helicopter came under rocket attack, and in August a car bomb outside an office of the U.S. company contracted to protect Karzai killed at least seven people.
Some Afghan officials argue that the level of threat posed by Taliban guerrillas will drop after the election.
"I believe there will be more attacks by the enemies of Afghanistan after the election, but they will not be as effective as during the run-up," Laghmani said.
Others, such as Kandahar provincial police chief General Khan Mohammad, are less sure.
"The militants have been active for two to three years, so until you eliminate them completely they will try and disrupt the security situation, whether there is an election or not," he told Reuters.
According to Laghmani, groups of 20 to 30 Taliban are gathering in temporary bases, usually in mountainous areas in Kandahar province, while larger units are active in Zabul, the most unstable Afghan province, and Uruzgan.
"There is no front line," he said. "We are trying to find these places and prevent any kind of attack."
He says Pakistan has failed to stem the flow of militant recruits crossing into Afghanistan, although Islamabad has beefed up security along the border in the build-up to the election.
Western security experts say there are more key dates for guerrillas to aim for, including a possible presidential run-off vote in November and parliamentary polls in April.
"The militant threat will in no way decrease (after the election)," said Nick Downie, security coordinator for NGOs across the country.
Afghanistan: UN envoy optimistic of fair and free election
KABUL, 7 October (IRIN) - Despite the challenges, the situation in Afghanistan is favourable for a fair and free election, said the United Nations special envoy for the country on Wednesday.
Jean Arnault, the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan, said the historic election in three days time would draw to an end the rule of the gun in a country ravaged by over two decades of war.
"We know that Afghans want this election in a large measure because they think this is a tool to put the rule of the gun behind [them]," Arnault told IRIN in the capital, Kabul.
More than 10 million people, including at least four million women, have registered to vote on Saturday.
According to Arnault, the winner of Saturday's presidential election - the first in the country's history - can claim to genuinely represent the nation, despite the limitations surrounding the poll process.
"We feel that this can be a meaningful election [and] that the winner can be a full representative of this nation."
But the UN special envoy conceded there had been shortcomings in the electoral process, as well as widespread unfamiliarity with democratic institutions and continuing insecurity by extremist groups.
"We believe that this election is critical because all that violence that is still there by extremists or their factions can only be brought to an end if you somehow have a stronger government."
Despite Arnault's optimism, only in the last two weeks, surveys and reports by national and international organisations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) have warned that Afghans would hold their first democratic elections under fear of disruption and sabotage by members of the ousted Taliban and local armed militia forces.
"Massive security failure throughout the country would certainly call into question the legitimacy of the elections. A situation where half the population was prevented from showing [up] at the polls would create a crisis of legitimacy," Arnault said. "We don't quite believe that is going to happen."
He said many factors, including the registration of over 10 million people, a nationwide election campaign, as well as a well coordinated security plan bringing together US-led forces, NATO-led peacekeepers and the Afghan national army and police, had given him confidence.
"We believe that [through] last minute efforts made, those extremists that want the process to fail will not succeed and the followers of the rule of the gun will not succeed," he maintained.
U.S. ambassador has high profile in Afghanistan
Chicago Tribune 10/06/2004 By Kim Barker
The official from Kabul flew into town for only a few hours. He handed out free radios, announced a new road, a new bridge and a new irrigation project to help 2,600 farms. He answered questions from people worried about guns and security.
Everywhere he went Sunday, people wanted to shake his hand. The election for Afghanistan 's president was only six days away, but some Afghans wanted to meet the man they believe holds real power in their country: U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.
"What he promises to people, he does it," said Ghulam Razaq, a painter and electrician in Herat. "Unlike President Hamid Karzai."
On Saturday, Afghans will choose among 18 candidates for the country's first elected president. The election, almost three years after the fall of the Taliban, is being touted as a foreign policy success story by President Bush , proof that democracy is coming to this war-torn country. Insurgents have failed to mount a significant attack against the election, despite promising to do so.
Envoy born in Afghanistan
Khalilzad, the energetic, hands-on, Afghan-born envoy to Afghanistan, has become a player in the election campaign. Some accuse him of being too close to Karzai, of pulling Karzai's strings. Some candidates accuse the United States and Khalilzad of wielding too much power in Afghanistan and backing Karzai in the coming election. One candidate said Khalilzad suggested he drop out.
"There was no pressure," said Mohammad Mohaqiq, who considers Khalilzad a friend. "It was just a friendly suggestion. I have no problem with Mr. Khalilzad, except one thing. ... He sometimes shows his support of Hamid Karzai."
On Friday, Karzai's chief rival, Yunus Qanooni, held a campaign rally in Herat and accused Karzai of working too closely with Khalilzad. In front of 1,000 people, crammed into the city's main mosque, Qanooni said Afghans don't want a leader imposed from abroad.
In every press conference, Khalilzad is asked questions about his role in the Afghan election. He always gives the same answers. He denies interfering in Afghan politics, denies asking anyone to leave the race, denies supporting Karzai, denies being more powerful than Karzai. Khalilzad says he passes messages to Karzai, who often stays in the presidential palace for security reasons.
"It is the decision of the Afghans as to who the next president of Afghanistan will be," Khalilzad said after fielding similar questions about Karzai at a press conference Monday.
But three years after declaring war on the Taliban, the influence of America in Afghanistan and with Karzai is undeniable. About 18,000 U.S. troops patrol the country. Karzai travels in U.S. military planes and helicopters. He is constantly surrounded by American bodyguards from the DynCorp security company, through a U.S. State Department contract. The guards often annoy local Afghans, who must wait in traffic jams if Karzai goes anywhere.
In all but one of his rare public appearances in the last 10 days, Karzai has stood steps from Khalilzad. At a road-opening ceremony near Shiberghan, at the opening of a women's dormitory in Kabul, at the re-opening of the national museum in Kabul, Khalilzad has showed up, announcing U.S. support. These projects will not be finished for months--one of the museum's walls wasn't even built.
Whether true or not, the implication seemed obvious: With Karzai in charge, American dollars are guaranteed. USAID alone spent $1.2 billion in Afghanistan in the past fiscal year.
Even some powerbrokers in Afghanistan who were once lukewarm about Karzai have started to negotiate on his behalf, saying his election is essential for American support. A former president and a leader of a major militia party now support Karzai. Such endorsements and maneuvering worry other candidates. In a country just learning about democracy, they say, this message about American support might taint the ballots.
"We have a deep concern that this will not be a fair election," said Abdul Sattar Sirat, adding that Khalilzad assured him the U.S. is not interfering in Afghan elections.
Wide welcome for U.S.
Although some candidates have declared they would like the U.S. to leave Afghanistan, many Afghans welcome the U.S. presence for security reasons. If anything, most want more U.S. money, more U.S. soldiers. Two-thirds of those asked earlier this year approved of the U.S.-backed overthrow of the Taliban, according to a poll commissioned by the Asia Foundation.
"A country like our country needs a powerful supporter like America," said Khadija Ahadi, 26, a journalism student in Herat given a radio by Khalilzad. "It's known to everyone that Khalilzad is the most powerful person here. He is the bridge between Afghanistan and America."
Khalilzad's influence in this country also can be attributed to his personality. He's from Afghanistan, able to move in Afghan circles without an interpreter. To call him "hands-on" is almost an understatement. Since his arrival in November, he often meets with Karzai, attends dinners with Afghans late into the night and rides in the cockpit of the U.S. military C-130 Hercules when he travels. He seems compelled to shake one more hand, answer one more question, even when his aides are trying to get him to move on.
"Thanks for your struggles," said Khalilzad, shaking the paint-covered hand of Razaq, the electrician and painter in Herat. "These are the hands of work."
Afghan warlord hits the presidential campaign trail on horseback
Strongman from the north makes unlikely democrat
Declan Walsh in Mazar-i-Sharif Friday October 8, 2004 The Guardian
The burly general stood a little uncertainly before the roaring crowd in Mazar-i-Sharif. For 20 years Abdul Rashid Dos-tum had built up a reputation for ruthlessness: the Uzbek general who imposed his will on northern Afghanistan from the turret of a tank.
Now, in the approach to the country's presidential election, he had come to politely solicit votes.
"I am here because of you," he said. "I see a future when leaders respect their people. I see peace in Afghanistan."
Then, in a flourish worthy of any western spin-doctor, he leapt on to a horse and galloped away in the manner of a medieval lord.
Almost three years after the US bombed the Taliban out of power promising peace and stability, Afghanistan takes a wavering step towards democracy tomorrow.
Seventeen candidates, including the interim leader and runaway favourite, Hamid Karzai, will stand in the presidential election. More than 11 million people in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran have registered to vote.
Gen Dostum is the least likely of the putative democrats. Several unsavoury warlords have swapped their fatigues for a politician's shirt, tie and plastic smile, but many find his candidacy galling.
A banner over his rostrum proclaimed him a "kind man" but local history suggests otherwise. His troops are accused of suffocating hundreds of Taliban prisoners in shipping containers in late 2001, with other alleged abuses including raping young children. But it is feared the gunmen will try to swing the poll his way.
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Voters fear the warlords more than the Taliban, Human Rights Watch said last week in a report describing a "pervasive atmosphere of repression and fear". It singled out Gen Dostum as a specific threat.
But local human rights officials have recorded only a handful of cases of intimidation. "The situation is better than elsewhere in the country," said Mobarak Razee of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. "We are expecting a good election."
A European official in Mazar said the intimidation appeared to be limited to isolated cases in remote villages. "The commanders' power seems to be weakened," he said. "People seem to realise this ballot will be secret and free."
Gen Dostum has run a vigorous drive in an otherwise colourless campaign. Most other candidates have canvassed little in public, spending their time courting tribal leaders over cups of tea or attempting backroom deals with stronger candidates.
Mr Karzai has been encased in a security bubble for fear of of Taliban attacks. He held just two rallies before campaigning closed yesterday.
But Gen Dostum has taken to the road. He has held 10 big rallies and printed posters in seven languages. Some depict an avuncular politician; some a horseback warrior against a blazing sunset; others a pensive visionary gazing toward the future.
The variety reflects his flexible attitude to principle and ideology. Originally a communist trade union official, he changed sides numerous times to maintain his power. "Communist, mujahideen, Taliban, freedom fighter, now an aspiring democrat - it's a fantastic CV," a western diplomat in Kabul said wryly.
Known as the Lion of Mazar, Gen Dostum enjoys considerable support among his Uzbek people. Qodratullah, a former militiaman at the Mazar rally, said: "Nobody wants to fight any more. And Dostum will definitely be our president."
But Qodratullah will probably be disappointed. Analysts say the general is looking for as many votes as he can get, probably with an eye to a cabinet post. But it remains unclear whether he has broken with his violent past.
To qualify as a presidential candidate he had to sever his ties with local commanders. But only about 500 of an estimated 3,000 soldiers have demobilised, and few doubt he remains the de facto leader.
"There's no doubt the soldiers still listen to him," Vikram Bhatia, a demobilisation officer, said. "He's like a god to them."
Diplomats, analysts and UN officials argue that keeping warlords "inside the tent" is crucial to removing the gun from Afghan politics, distasteful as Gen Dostum's past may be.
But to the general's battle-hardened soldiers demobilisation is a sensitive topic.
This week several dozen officers from his 8 Corps waited to hand in their uniforms at Qala-i-Jangi, the mud-walled military fort outside Mazar. Many said they felt angry and abandoned.
"How will I feed my family now?" Mohammed Zahir shouted from the barbed wire enclosure. "The government wants to just leave us in the desert. I don't want my country to be rebuilt. Let it be destroyed as it is."
The UN says tomorrow's vote will be imperfect but that it is an important first step towards democracy.
Officials are learning lessons for the parliamentary elections planned for April, which are expected to be much more keenly contested and more difficult to organise.
But tomorrow, Mr Karzai is likely to win easily. The question then will be what role men like the Lion of Mazar will play in his government.
· A blast hit Kabul early this morning when a rocket struck near the US military compound and Nato headquarters.
There was no word on casualties, but roads to the base were blocked and US staff were evacuated to a bunker.
Afghanistan suspends traffic for three days
By Bureau Report Dawn
PESHAWAR, Oct 7: Afghanistan has informed Pakistan it is suspending vehicular traffic from Pakistan from Friday, one day before the presidential elections due to security reasons, official sources told Dawn.
Official said that the Afghan commander at Torkham, border point between Pakistan and Afghanistan, conveyed to the Pakistani authorities on Thursday that Kabul had ordered suspension of vehicular traffic between the two countries from Friday to Sunday.
The official communication gave no reason for the suspension but official source thought this could have been done due to security concerns ahead of the Afghan presidential elections on Saturday.
NATO's military commanders in Afghanistan have warned of a surge in attacks by forces inimical to the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to disrupt the first-ever presidential elections in Afghanistan.
The Afghan communication, however, said that pedestrians from both sides would be allowed to enter Pakistan and Afghanistan from Oct 8 to 10. The official source in Peshawar said that the government had no plans to suspend in-bound traffic from Afghanistan. "The suspension of vehicular traffic is from their side not from us. We will continue to let traffic coming in from Afghanistan," the official said.
The official said that there were no plans to seal the border between the two countries on Oct 9. He said that security would be provided to election staff and polling stations in the tribal areas.
Over 740,000 Afghan refugees are expected to vote in the out-of-country election process in Pakistan. Elections in Pakistan are being organized by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), an international inter-governmental body in Pakistan and Iran.
Afghanistan-Pakistan: Insecurity hampered voter registration in North and South Waziristan
PESHAWAR, 7 October (IRIN) - The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has been unable to register Afghan voters in Pakistan's embattled North and South Waziristan agencies due to prevailing tension in the area, which lies close to the Afghan border.
"We have done enough to register as many Afghan refugees as we could so that the maximum number of the Afghans living in Pakistan can take part in the first ever presidential election in Afghanistan," Peter Erben, director of IOM's Out-of-Country Registration & Voting (IOM OCRV) programme, told IRIN on Wednesday in the western Pakistani city of Peshawar.
They had been unable to implement the voter registration effort in the troubled North and South Waziristan agencies due to security threats, he noted.
A major military operation by Pakistani military forces in the South Waziristan Agency (Wana) has been underway over the past few months to flush out Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, along with sympathisers, who are believed to have sneaked into the area during the Tora Bora operation in neighbouring Afghanistan which began in late 2001.
Flanked by Maurizio Giuliano, regional reporting officer of the OCRV programme, and Haji Zahir Jabbarkhel, head of the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), Erben said that they could not enter an area unless security clearance had been given to the IOM members.
He noted, however, that apart from the two tribal agencies, the registration of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan had been conducted peacefully in the whole of the country, saying that it was a good omen that no violent incident had been reported anywhere.
Some 740,000 Afghans living in Pakistan have been registered to vote in the forthcoming Afghan presidential election, scheduled to be held on 9 October, following a four-day registration period in Pakistan that ended on Tuesday.
Initially three days had been scheduled for the registration, but due to positive feedback from ordinary Afghans, an extra day was added, Erben explained, allowing another 175,000 more Afghans to register.
The IOM official noted that 28 percent of all Afghans registered to vote in Pakistan were female.
Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) recorded the highest number of voter registrations. Some 410,000 refugees, 27 percent of whom were women, registered there.
According to the IOM, in Peshawar around 160,000 refugees registered to vote, 20 percent of whom were women, while in the city of Abbotabad 70,000 had registered, 27 percent of whom were women. In Kohat 90,000 registered, 35 percent of whom were women, and another 90,000 registered in Mardan, 32 percent of whom were women.
Erben noted that in the southwestern province of Balochistan, the total number of registrants was 320,000, 29 percent of whom were women.
In the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, another 10,000 registered, 16 percent of who were women, he added.
Regarding ballot boxes and ballot papers being shifted to selected areas, he explained: "In order to avoid the doubts of rigging, all necessary equipment, as well as ballot papers, will be shifted to the polling stations on the eve of the election date."
The UN official praised the cooperation from the Pakistani government, adding that in order to maintain order and avert any untoward incidents on polling day, the Pakistani law enforcement agencies had made foolproof arrangements.
The polling, Erben said, would start at 7 am on Saturday and continue until 4 pm, at which point the sealed ballot boxes would be escorted to the Afghan capital, Kabul, for counting.
Taleban beefs up security for landmark Afghan vote
(AFP) 8 October 2004 via Khaleej Times
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Five thousand armed Afghans backed by foreign troops will be patrolling this southern Afghan city, birthplace of the hardline Islamic Taleban regime, on Election Day on Saturday.
In the run-up to the landmark presidential polls, the city has seen a spate of small explosions of homemade-bombs but there has been no major assault by loyalists of the regime ousted by a US-led military campaign in 2001.
Violence against the electoral process has been “far less than we expected but anything could happen and we have to prepare for that,” said Kandahar provincial governor Mohammed Yusuf Pashtun.
For months, security analysts have been expecting the Taleban, supported by Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda, to plan a spectacular attack against voter registration sites or electoral workers.
Twelve electoral workers have been killed nationwide since May and more than 30 injured, but the attacks have been unsophisticated and not comparable with the techniques used by insurgents in Iraq.
“Iraq is a much higher priority for Al Qaeda,” said the governor, who claims that there is a steady flow of US dollars from the Middle East and Pakistani rupees backing the Taleban insurgency, but that the manpower is absent.
“The Taleban are not highly trained and I don’t just mean technical training. I mean convincing people to be a suicide bomber. To do this you have start when they are children, it is much harder to convince a man of 20 to kill himself,” he said.
US military analysts estimate that there are around 2,000 active Taleban fighters in Afghanistan, and Pashtun says there are around 800 to 1,000 active fighters in the five southern provinces of Kandahar, Uruzgan, Zabul, Nimroz and Hilmand.
Taleban forces have been waging a hit-and-run guerrilla campaign, operating in groups of 15-20, and attacking electoral workers, UN staff and aid workers as well as US and Afghan troops.
Pashtun said the roads are being secured, and police have been stationed inside and outside the city’s perimeter, although he admits that they are poorly trained and do not have enough ammunition.
At the Kandahar stadium, where adulterous women were stoned to death and thieves had their hands amputated under the Taleban regime, US Major Dave Flynn Thursday surveyed the preparations for the vote count.
In a sign that battlefield logistics have met democracy, a wall of shipping containers topped with barbed wire has been placed around the stadium.
It is filled with tents, which will be used to count the votes that come in from five provinces after Saturday’s polls.
“It’s prudent military planning. We are prepared for vehicle bombs and suicide bombs, although they are not all that prevalent,” Flynn said.
Underground bunkers have also been prepared in the stadium in the event of an attack.
The US military will be providing back up to the 5,000 Afghan soldiers and police who will be providing security for Saturday’s polls and the count that follows.
Flynn is commanding 200 US soldiers, Afghan National Army and Romanian troops who are stationed next to the stadium for back-up, but the bulk of the work will fall to the fledgling Afghan police and army.
Outside Kandahar, districts such as Shkin, Shawali Kot and Maroof where seven Afghan soldiers were killed earlier this week may be dangerous and voters might stay home, Kandahar police chief Khan Mohammed admits.
But he is confident that within the city, order will prevail, saying it will be “safe and sound.
Western security experts concur, saying the Taleban will stay well away from the firepower of US forces.
“There may be problems in outlying districts, but they won’t stick their heads out where the US can get them,” said one western security source.
France calls for anti-drug commando force in Afghanistan
WASHINGTON, Oct 7 (AFP) - French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie called Thursday for creation of a separate international force for Afghanistan that would deal with the growing problem of illegal drug cultivation in the country.
"Like the international community, France is concerned about narcotics and is willing to help," the minister wrote in an article published in The Washington Post. "We will need to take advantage of the post-election dynamics to act quickly and help Afghanistan combat this problem."
She said NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) will not be enough to handle the problem.
"It will be necessary to establish an international force, other than the ISAF, specifically tasked with counter-narcotics operations,"
Alliot-Marie pointed out. "And a third axis is necessary, one which would support the development of substitute crops on a local basis."
According to the minister, 28 of the country's 32 provinces are apparently producing opium, and employing more than 1.7 million people at this work.
She also cited UN data indicating that opium production in Afghanistan in 2003 amounted to about 3,600 tonnes, or three-quarters of world production.
"More then 90 percent of the heroin arriving in France comes from Afghanistan," complained Alliot-Marie.
Afghan children get first lesson in democracy
By Jill Gralow
KABUL, Oct 7 (Reuters) - Sonam Hashemi was considered something of a rank outsider when she started campaigning to be elected president in Afghanistan.
The only female candidate in a male dominated society, her campaign speeches of sexual equality and other lofty goals had not been a great success.
So no one was more surprised than Sonam when the votes were tallied and she discovered she had been elected president. Her supporters cheered wildly. Her two male vice-presidents threw their arms in the air in triumph.
And then the bell rang for the end of school. Sonam was a participant in a day long "lessons in democracy" course organised by a Danish-Afghan non-governmental organisation called the Mobile Mini Circus for Children (http://www.afghanmmcc.org/).
The group scouts for talented children among the legions of underprivileged youngsters in the country and trains them as a troupe to entertain and educate other Afghan children.
As Afghanistan prepares for its first-ever direct presidential election on Saturday, the circus has focused its attention on teaching youngsters all about the voting process.
It is a lesson the whole country has been grappling with for months, as the last time any government election of any sort was held was in the late 1960s.
"We present a joyful and astonishing world of opportunities different to the ones Afghan children know, and this is an ideal way of bringing them hope and helping them cope with life," said David Mason, a founder and director of the circus.
"We are teaching the children that life can be fun. It gives them a lot of self-confidence and hope for a better future.
Since its formation in 2002, the 50 permanent child members of the troupe have performed for 350,000 children across the country.
When not focused on the election, the circus teaches children subjects ranging from health and safety to social skills and even how to avoid land mines.
But it is the lessons in democracy that are proving popular at the moment. Participants choose candidates, campaign, take part in a secret ballot complete with mock voting papers and then the result is tallied.
The lessons are also helping adults gain a better understanding of the historic election. Circus officials say many of the children who participate in the election show have illiterate parents and they often tell their families about the process.
"The election is very good. It means that with your own hand you can choose the leader," said Mohammad Azim, one of the youngsters taking part in the performance.
Sonam gave a humble acceptance speech after her victory, promising to deliver on her campaign pledges.
"I want to help poor people in Afghanistan, help them have work and help those who don't have much," she said.
Asked about sexual equality, she answers as a modernist.
"Both men and women can become president of Afghanistan because they are the same."
Afghan woman gives up gun, takes up make-up
KABUL, Oct. 7 (Reuters) - An Afghan woman has given up her weapons under a U.N.-backed drive to disarm militia fighters and gone into the beauty business instead, a U.N. spokesman said on Thursday.
Bubany Khair, 35, who worked for a militia in the capital, Kabul, is the first woman in the war-torn country to disarm. She has decided to run a small business selling cosmetics, said chief U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva.
He did not give more details or say if there were other women fighters due to be disarmed in the deeply conservative and male-dominated Muslim country.
There are no women soldiers in the Afghan army but some women do serve in the police and intelligence networks.
The U.N. is running a nationwide drive aimed at disarming about 50,000 members of various irregular forces. Disarming gunmen is seen as a crucial step on Afghanistan's path to stability after 25 years of conflict.
More than 20,000 fighters have given up their guns under the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration scheme launched last year, the U.N. spokesman said.
RM190mil equipment for Afghan military
The Star Online - Friday Oct 08 8:32 AM SGT
MOSCOW: The Russian Defence Ministry is sending trucks and spare parts to the Afghan military worth about US$50mil (RM190mil), the Itar-Tass news agency said yesterday.
Russia will deliver, in total, 200 heavy trucks and off-road vehicles, as well as replacement equipment for artillery systems and armour, the report said, citing ministry officials.
The delivery is part of an agreement reached in 2002 between Moscow and Kabul that promised Russian military aid worth US$110mil (RM418mil) for the fledgling Afghan military.
The report said most of the equipment was brought by train to Tajikistan and then driven across the border to the Afghan capital, Kabul. Other equipment was sent by air.
Russia has strongly supported the US-led anti-terror operation in Afghanistan. Eager to develop close ties, Moscow had pledged to help Afghanistan modernise its military. – AP
Armitage: Afghanistan Shows that Democracy, Islam Are Compatible
U.S. Dept of State - Oct 07 5:39 PM
Deputy secretary of state interviewed by Italian newspaper
The upcoming election in Afghanistan on October 9 is yet another sign that democracy and Islam are compatible, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said during an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera from Washington, D.C. on October 6.
"I think a democratic election held in the Muslim world will be a further sign that there's nothing antithetical about democracy and the great religion of Islam," Armitage said. "We've seen this in Indonesia. We've seen this in Malaysia. We've seen it in various places."
Armitage also praised Italy's role in Iraq, noting that President Bush has frequently conveyed to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi "the enormous gratitude" of America and the people of Iraq for Italy's sacrifices.
"The strength and the courage of the people of Italy is one that, I think, fills Iraqis themselves with some hope and some energy for their own future to fight the tough battles they have to fight for their own future," he said.
Asked about other international efforts, Armitage said NATO is "discussing a training facility in Iraq to train the army of Iraq.... The United Nations and the Special Representative of the Secretary General, Ambassador Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, are very active. Carina Perelli [chief of the Electoral Assistance Division at U.N. headquarters] is very active in trying to arrange this electoral process. So we've got a pretty robust capability in the international community with the UN and NATO."
Following is a transcript of Armitage's interview:
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
October 6, 2004
DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE RICHARD L. ARMITAGE BY ENNIO CARETTO OF CORRIERE DELLA SERA
October 6, 2004
(10:30 a.m. EDT)
MR. CARETTO: I am from Italy, from Corriere della Sera. One of the accusation that have been the object of polemics in this campaign, electoral campaign in Afghanistan, is that practically the United States are interfering the election by carrying President Karzai around and privilege him compared to the other candidates who don't have either the means or the freedom of movement he has.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, we protect several people in Afghanistan. Obviously, he is the interim president and we do protect him. We have 18 candidates who are running for office, including one woman, and we look forward to whatever choice the people of Afghanistan make.
MR. CARETTO: Do you see in the election in Afghanistan sort of a rehearsal of the election in Iraq?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I don't know that the situations are quite the same, and we're almost three years after the original invasion of Afghanistan so we're a lot farther along the way.
But I think there will be lessons learned from Afghanistan that might appeal to the leadership of the Interim Iraqi Government.
MR. CARETTO: Do you foresee a situation where, in Iraq, where you have the same support that you have in Afghanistan from NATO, from the United Nations, et cetera?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, we've got now NATO discussing a training facility in Iraq to train the army of Iraq, which I think is a very good thing. The United Nations and the Special Representative of the Secretary General, Ambassador Qazi, are very active. Carina Perelli is very active in trying to arrange this electoral process. So we've got a pretty robust capability in the international community with the UN and NATO and we're pretty pleased with it.
MR. CARETTO: What do you -- can you -- I'm Italian. Can you express your opinion on the Italian contribution in Afghanistan and Iraq?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I don't think anybody can express it more ably than our President. He has told Prime Minister Berlusconi time and again of the enormous gratitude, the enormous gratitude of the people of the United States, but moreover the people of Iraq, for the Italian contribution. And we know you have sacrificed, you've had hostages killed, and this is a terrible blow for the nation. But the strength and the courage of the people of Italy is one that, I think, fills Iraqis themselves with some hope and some energy for their own future to fight the tough battles they have to fight for their own future.
MR. CARETTO: We have a problem in the United Nations, that is, that the United States supports Japan and Germany, and Italy would like to know if it has the support of the United States to get into the Security Council.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Gosh, I think I'd better go talk to the President about that. (Laughter.) And the Secretary of State. (Laughter.)
MR. CARETTO: What do you expect from the Afghan election as far as the Muslim world is concerned?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I think a democratic election held in the Muslim world will be a further sign that there's nothing antithetical about democracy and the great religion of Islam. I think that's a good sign. We've seen this in Indonesia. We've seen this in Malaysia. We've seen it in various places. And now to have another Muslim nation be able to have a democratic election I think is making the point that is made so dramatically by Turkey; there can be secular governments who have Islamic character or who have Islam as the dominant religion in the country. There's nothing antithetical about democracy and Islam.
MR. CARETTO: What about the Iraqi elections? Do you think that Sadr should take part in them?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: It doesn't matter what I think. It matters what the people of Iraq think. And Muqtada al-Sadr, thus far, has been a very divisive and troublesome element. It seemed to me that if he could play by legitimate rules and no violence, the people of Iraq then could make a different decision about whether he is eligible for their political process.
MR. CARETTO: I thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.
DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Thank you, sir. Best of luck to you.
Salvadoran left bristles at Cheney comparison with Iraq, Afghanistan
Wed Oct 6, 4:13 PM ET Politics - AFP
SAN SALVADOR (AFP) - An official with El Salvador's leading political opposition was angry at US Vice President Dick Cheney for comparing his country's civil war in the 1980s to the current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In his debate late Tuesday with Democratic contender John Edwards in Cleveland, Ohio, Cheney reacted to charges by his rival that violent insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan were making democratization difficult in those countries.
"Twenty years ago we had a similar situation in El Salvador," said Cheney. "We had -- guerrilla insurgency controlled roughly a third of the country, 75,000 people dead, and we held free elections. I was there as an observer on behalf of the Congress."
El Salvador's civil war was fought throughout the 1980s, and ended when the US-backed government reached a peace agreement with leftist rebels that was mediated by the United Nations.
The agreement, signed in January 1992, led to democratic reforms, put the military under civilian command, and got rebels with the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) to disarm and become a political party.
According to Cheney, "the terrorists would come in and shoot up polling places; as soon as they left, the voters would come back and get in line and would not be denied the right to vote.
"And today El Salvador is a whale of a lot better because we held free elections," he said.
But for the FMLN, there is "no relationship" between what Cheney said and the situation in El Salvador, FMLN spokesman Eugenio Chicas told AFP.
El Salvador's civil war was rooted in social injustice, while the war in Iraq and Afghanistan are part of a preventive conflict unleashed by the United States, Chicas said.
"Politically and militarily they are two different contexts: in the case of Iraq the struggle is resistance against US occupation, which installed a government of their liking," said Chicas.
"And in the case of Afghanistan, the United States wants to decide its electoral future" while an armed resistance also fights the occupation, he added.
How a frozen-food salesman from New Jersey — a former refugee from war-torn Afghanistan — built his country’s largest wireless network
AT YAKA BADEM, HIGH IN THE RUGGED mountains of northern Afghanistan, a platoon of warlord Mohamed Daoud Khan’s militiamen are roasting lambs and drinking whiskey.
On what was once a killing ground—the Taliban fought its last battle against these same fighters on a nearby tank-strewn peak three years ago — Afghan Wireless Communications Co. has broken ground for a microwave link that will bring cellphone service for the first time to the 100,000 people living in Daoud’s fiefdom.
But as his men celebrate by firing their Kalashnikovs and draining their whiskey, Daoud sits in his carpeted lair with Amin Ramin, the New Jersey-based company’s 36-year-old point man in Afghanistan, debating the merits of a reporter’s Sony-Ericsson handset over his own Motorola clam. “You can get e-mail on that?” Daoud asks.
Daoud’s region around Kunduz is the missing link in AWCC’s nationwide network, which after three years and a $200 million investment claims to have 150,000 subscribers. AWCC’s engineers reckon that Yaka Badem, nine miles outside town, is the best place to site the link to Mazar-e-Sharif, 31 miles to the west, which in turn connects to the capital Kabul and the rest of the world. “We must modernize and build our country together,” says Daoud, one of the few regional commanders who supports President Hamid Karzai’s efforts to unite Afghanistan.
Fine words. But the logistics of bringing modern technologies to Afghanistan are staggering. AWCC has to truck its equipment in from Dubai—a five-day trek across Iran—or through Pakistan via the Khyber Pass. Afghanistan doesn’t have a national electricity grid, so AWCC has to build its own power stations, fashioned from shipping containers, for each cell site. And its tanker fleet has to crisscross the country on appalling roads to deliver diesel fuel to the generators, which are guarded by AWCC’s own armed militia. That makes Afghan Wireless not only Afghanistan’s biggest telephone company but also its biggest power generator, its biggest transport company, and the commander of one of its biggest armed militias.
Afghanistan’s 25 million people have never had mass-market telecommunications before. A system installed in the 1950s had fewer than 5,000 phones and only six international lines. Before AWCC resurrected it, the country’s international dialing code (93) hadn’t functioned since the 1980s. The few external calls were routed through Pakistan via an ancient switching facility at Lataband, a snowbound peak that was one of the first places hit when American cruise missiles started raining on Afghanistan in October 2001. On top of the rubble, AWCC has built a state-of-the-art transmission facility.
“Some days I’ve thrown my hands in the air and said, ‘That’s it, I’m going crazy, I can’t do it,’” says AWCC’s 41-year-old chairman, Ehsan Bayat, as he wanders through Kabul’s war-trashed neighborhoods. “And then an old woman comes and kisses me on the cheek and thanks me for connecting her with her relatives in the U.S., and it makes my day.”
BAYAT, THE SON OF A KABUL DOCTOR who emigrated to the U.S. in 1981, was running a frozen-food distribution company in New Jersey when he got the idea to start a wireless network in Afghanistan. A 1995 meeting with the country’s then foreign minister, whose family owned a chain of fast-food restaurants in the U.S. that was a customer of Bayat’s, got him thinking about rebuilding his war-torn nation.
Within a year, despite a lack of telecommunications experience, he had partnered with Ramin, another Afghan refugee running a chain of fried-chicken restaurants in Brooklyn called Luther’s, to form Telephone Systems International. That was the easy part. Cutting a deal with Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers, who swept into power in 1996, proved painfully slow. “The wheels were in motion,” Bayat says, “but nothing was happening.” Finally, in 1998, TSI signed a joint-venture agreement with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Communications and promised to invest $150 million in AWCC in exchange for 80% ownership of the company.
It was money Bayat and Ramin didn’t have. So they pulled together an eclectic group of partners, among them Lord Michael Cecil, an English aristocrat-businessman and principal in one of Africa’s leading mobile phone companies, Kenya-based Wilken Telecommunications; Olaf Guerrand-Hermès, an heir to the Hermès fashion empire; and Gary Breshinsky, a 48-year-old New Jersey satellite phone salesman who claimed to have been a CIA assassin. They all came together at a meeting with Taliban officials in Kandahar in November 1998.
As an American citizen, Bayat’s dealings with the Taliban were a game of cat-and-mouse over the extent of his business links with what became, after the August 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa, an outlaw regime. The joint venture agreement creating AWCC was signed in September 1998, shortly after retaliatory U.S. airstrikes on al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. Bayat claims that TSI divested its AWCC interest in July 1999 and only bought it back after U.S., UN, and British sanctions were lifted in 2002. But he says he can’t remember much about this period—one former associate says a Liechtenstein company may have owned AWCC for a while—and couldn’t provide any evidence that a divestment took place.
Meanwhile, AWCC pressed ahead with building its network during this time and currying favor with the Taliban regime. In 2000, a British supplier of reconditioned telecommunications hardware installed rudimentary switching equipment for AWCC in Kabul and Kandahar. On one of their visits to the country, Cecil and his British business partner, Stuart Bentham, who also owned a piece of TSI, donated cricket equipment to the government. The two also set up a mining company called Afghan Development.
Bayat’s memory improves after 9/11 and the war that ousted the Taliban. Driving toward Manhattan that Tuesday, he could see the smoke from the World Trade Center. He recalls: “A little voice in the back of my head says, ‘You know what, I think this is an opportunity.’ I just knew this was my time to return to Afghanistan. I thought that the Taliban were screwed. I knew the sanctions were going to be lifted.”
By December of that year, Kabul was overflowing with military, UN, and foreign advisors. All were desperate for communications. The new interim administration honored the Taliban contract with TSI, and by April 2002 AWCC had launched a phone and Internet service in the capital. At last, one of the planet’s few telecommunications holdouts had been breached.
WITH SANCTIONS-BUSTING NO LONGER an issue, AWCC turned its attention to bringing phone service to the entire nation. The company applies the same thinking to its cell towers as Afghans have long brought to the siting of fortresses: Both require strategic height and line of sight. It took Mohaymen Sahebzadah, AWCC’s signals chief, two months to find Yaka Badem. Seven times he walked through a minefield overgrown with wild poppies, cacti, and tulips to case the site. A gentle man who previously worked for Verizon Wireless in New York (he was fixing a cell site on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge on 9/11), Sahebzadah still shudders at the thought of the mines. “We counted six anti-tank mines,” he says, “and we stopped counting the antipersonnel mines after 30.”
With AWCC’s wireless grid almost complete, expectations are rising. The company operates ten Internet cafés in Afghanistan, and mobile customers who have never used proper communications are complaining about service problems. The company won’t disclose how much money it’s making, or what its revenue is, but business appears to be brisk, despite calls costing an average of 20 cents a minute. Many Afghans are paying between $75 and $100 in cash for prepaid SIM cards.
There’s also competition. Roshan Communications, backed by the Aga Khan Foundation and partly owned by Alcatel and Monaco Telecom, boasts 150,000 subscribers after only a year of operations. “I like that,” says Bayat of the competition. “It shows the country is progressing.”
Bayat is less tolerant of some of his former business partners, with whom he has had a falling out. Cecil and Bentham are suing Bayat in federal court in New York over the 30.2% of TSI they claim they own. Bayat insists he is the sole owner of the company, but the documents which he says prove his case are under seal. A May 2002 filing by TSI with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission that is part of the case file acknowledges that Bentham and Cecil each own 15.1% of the company. Bayat is listed as having a 51% stake, and the ownership of the remaining 18.8% is not specified. Cecil and Bentham say they are legally constrained from commenting on the dispute, but their New York attorney, Robert Friedman of Kelley Drye, says, “We are looking forward with enthusiasm to our day in court.” As for Breshinsky, he was pushed out of the company by Bayat in 2001 and died in 2003.
Business conditions in Afghanistan remain less than ideal. In July, Ramin, who hails from a Tajik family of warrior-patriots, was called to Mazar to negotiate the release of two AWCC employees. They had been detained by a local warlord for refusing to eavesdrop on the calls of a rival clan leader who was suspected of drug dealing. Ramin eventually won his colleagues’ freedom, but he refuses to describe how.
Still, Bayat says he is confident that Afghanistan’s violent past is behind it. There’s even talk that AWCC could anchor a future capital market in Kabul. “The government knows this thing is going to be a gold mine,” Bayat says. “Five years down the road this company is going to be worth God knows how much.”
It’s not clear how much AWCC is worth today, as revenue and profit figures are unavailable. At 20 cents a minute, calls are expensive by developing-country standards. AWCC’s original business plan was based on calls at half that price, or less. “If we assume an average subscriber base of 40,000 from 2002 to 2004, a sign-up fee of $50, and $5 per month in charges, that’s $8 million in revenue over those two years,” says a former AWCC employee who had a falling out with Bayat in 2000 but saw the original business plan. “Move your subscriber base to 60,000, the sign-up fee to $100, and the monthly charge to $15, and you get a total revenue of $27 million. But it could be much higher. They were bragging about a 50% profit margin.”
Emerging-markets telecom analyst Rena Bhattacharyya of International Data Corp. in Massachusetts says that if AWCC wants mass-market penetration “those prices are going to have to come down.”
But the smooth-talking Bayat, who has been at this for nearly a decade, is clearly a persuasive salesman. “I tell all my Afghan staff here,” he says from his office in Kabul, “If it doesn’t work, I can always change color. I’m an Afghan today — I’ll be an American tomorrow. But what the hell are you going to do? If we don’t succeed, where are you going to go?"
"There's no room for failure here. We only get one shot at this.”
Rebuilding lives in Afghanistan
Source: UN High Commissioner for Refugees 7 Oct 2004
More than 3.5 million Afghans have returned to their homeland since the end of 2001, when the Bonn Agreement set Afghanistan on the long and bumpy road to political stability and socio-economic development. UNHCR has been part of that process since its beginning, with staff and offices all around Afghanistan to assist the millions displaced by the decades of strife and war.
In 2002 alone, more than two million Afghan people, refugees and families who had been forced to move within Afghanistan, returned home. Since then, a steady stream of people have made their way back from Iran and Pakistan to establish themselves in the new Afghanistan.
The journey home is just the beginning. Once inside Afghanistan, returning families face the daunting prospect of having to rebuild not just their lives, but also their country's future.
The serious housing shortage that affects parts of Afghanistan, especially in the cities, is of great concern to all Afghans, and especially to those who have just arrived back in the country. UNHCR, in cooperation with partner agencies and the Afghan authorities, has helped build 100,000 shelters since 2002, providing homes for up to half a million Afghans. In 2004 alone, UNHCR allocated some $22 million to finance the construction of another 20,500 shelters.
Job prospects in the cities are slowly improving, but poverty remains a real problem in many rural areas. UNHCR works with the government to make sure that areas where returnees live are included in all national development plans and runs its own cash-for-work and training programmes to help set returnees back on their feet.
The continuing insecurity, exacerbated in the run-up to the 2004 elections, remains a problem, for returnees and for those striving to help them. Although much of the country is safe, some areas are still volatile. This is a key concern for refugees in Iran and Pakistan who are considering coming home.
The voluntary repatriation programmes from both Iran and Pakistan are governed by tripartite agreements which end in March 2005 for Iran, a year later for Pakistan. Looking to the future, UNHCR is discussing with the governments of Iran and Pakistan, as well as Afghanistan, to find comprehensive regional solutions for Afghans who may choose not to repatriate.
Killer or victim, hard to tell in Afghanistan
via The Manila Times By Rachel Morarjee, Agence France-Presse Friday, October 08, 2004
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan—Wrapped in a blanket and sniveling in the guardroom outside Kandahar’s Mirwais hospital, Bariolai could be the new face of the Taliban—or he could be a hapless tailor who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The slight 25-year-old, whose goes by one name, was arrested two weeks ago after a bomb on a bicycle exploded in Kandahar’s Shnou Gunbad district and he was found on the scene.
“I am a tailor and I used to go to my shop in the morning and come home every night, and on my way back to my residence I heard an explosion and I didn’t know what happened,” Bariolai said, sitting on the floor surrounded by policemen.
“The police came and arrested me and told me you are the one who has exploded this mine.”
Sitting opposite him Sardar Agha, the police chief at the Mirwais hospital police station, dismissed his story with a smile.
“Don’t believe anything he says, he was found with a remote-control device in his pocket which is used to trigger bombs,” he said.
Supporters of the Islamic Taliban regime ousted by the US-led invasion in late 2001 are waging an insurgency in south and southeast Afghanistan, which has killed hundreds of people this year.
The bomb blast Bariolai is accused of is one of a string of incidents in which seven suspected Taliban have been killed or injured by their own explosive devices over the last 10 days.
“The Taliban are very uncoordinated and poorly trained. Even their remote-controlled devices don’t have timers and are laid in a very amateurish fashion,” said a western security expert working on the elections process here.
But even if the multiple deaths in southern and eastern Afghanistan in recent days are evidence of Taliban incompetence, it suggests that other explosive devices are still being stored for use on Saturday after polls open.
“They can’t block roads or attack polling stations. We will not allow such attacks, but attacks which contain bombs and explosive devices or use suicide bombers are difficult to control,” said Kandahar police chief Khan Mohammed.
Khan was upbeat though about security on polling day, saying: “It will be safe and sound on the day. Security is not as bad as people say.”
Afghanistan’s fledgling police force, poorly trained and with little experience of investigations, will provide the bulk of security for the election.
Outside Bariolai’s shuttered tailor’s shop which he has run for over a decade in Kandahar’s bazaar his neighboring shopkeepers were angry.
“He was walking home and he was arrested because he was on the scene when it exploded and no one else was there,” said Noor Mohammed, 48, a fruit-stall owner.
Neighbors and friends are now pooling resources to feed his five children, they said.
In the hospital meanwhile, Agha was being treated as a patient rather than a prisoner and bomb suspect.
“Although he is a Taliban he is one of our brothers, he has been misled by foreigners,” the policeman said. “We don’t think of him as prisoner, when he gets better he will be taken away for investigation.”
Afghan on Kidnap Plot Charges
By Pat Clarke and Shenai Raif, PA News
The trial of an Afghan accused of plotting to kidnap and torture in his homeland, will begin at the Old Bailey today.
Witnesses are due to give evidence from thousands of miles away via video link.
Faryadi Sarwar Zardad, 42, denies conspiracy to torture and conspiracy to take hostages between December 31, 1991 and September 30, 1996.
The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, will open the case against Zardad. The trial is due to last until Christmas.
The judge, Mr Justice Treacy, told the jurors earlier this week that they would be trying a “somewhat unusual” case.
“Many of the witnesses will be giving evidence by video link from Afghanistan and possibly from Pakistan,” he said.
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