US strike kills eight villagers in northeast Afghanistan: aid group
Wednesday September 1, 12:35 AM AFP
Eight Afghan villagers were killed and an Afghan aid worker injured when planes of the US-led coalition bombed a northeastern village after a firefight with militants, a Danish aid group said.
Our staff said "there were eight dead villagers," Gorm Pedersen, director of the Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees, told AFP Tuesday.
Pedersen said the eight villagers at Waradesh in Pech district in Kunar province were killed in the US bombardment, which was ordered after fighting between Afghan government forces and militants in the district late Monday.
"There was no fighting in the village," he said.
Danish staff operating a water pipeline project said their supply compound was also bombed and an aid worker injured.
The US military in a statement confirmed there was an airstrike in Kunar late Monday.
"Coalition attack aircraft and coalition ground personnel suppressed the insurgents' fire and attack during last night's firefight," it said.
However it could not confirm whether villagers had been killed in the bombardment or give further details.
"We have seen reports. We have no information corroborating what they've reported," said Lieutenant Colonel Pam Keeton.
In an earlier statement the US military said seven children, two Afghan soldiers and one US soldier were wounded in the fighting late Monday between militants and US and Afghan forces in Pech district.
The seven children were injured when a militant blew himself up with a grenade, it said.
Insurgents had fired grenades, rockets and mortars over a facility used by US troops, the military said.
The base was at Mano Gai village in Pech just outside the provincial capital Asadabad, according to local Afghan sources.
One child was in a guarded condition and the other six children and the injured soldiers were in stable condition after being airlifted to Bagram base for treatment, the US military said.
The Governor of Kunar province, Sayed Fazil Akber, told AFP earlier that several people were killed when warplanes bombed a remote village in Mano Gai.
He said the air attack was prompted by a barrage of 25 rockets fired by militants over a government facility also used by US-led troops.
"There were casualties but we don't know if they were civilians or attackers," he said, adding that it was unclear how many people were killed.
Taliban fighters who were ousted by a US-led invasion at the end of 2001 and loyalists of renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar still attack coalition and pro-government targets, usually using rockets and home-made bombs.
Nine people, including three Americans, were killed and scores injured in a bomb attack on a US security firm in downtown Kabul late Sunday.
The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the war-battered country's first presidential election on October 9 and have launched a string of attacks on aid workers, electoral staff and government officials.
In addition to a 12,000-strong US-trained Afghan national army more than 18,500 coalition troops under the command of the United States are in Afghanistan hunting down militants.
U.S. warplanes fire on Afghan village, eight people reported killed, relief workers' camp hit
Associated Press August 31, 2004
U.S. warplanes bombed a village in eastern Afghanistan, killing eight people and destroying the camp of a Danish relief group after assailants rocketed a nearby government office, Afghan officials and the director of the international aid group said Tuesday.
The American military said the air strikes late Monday in Kunar province helped counter an attack on its soldiers and that it had killed several militants.
It accused rebels of injuring 10 civilians, without ruling out that innocent villagers could also have been hurt by American fire.
The incident began when assailants fired 25 rockets at the mayor's office in Mano Gai, 170 kilometers (105 miles) east of the capital, Kabul, said Kunar Gov. Sayed Fazel Akbar. Police responded with small arms fire, he said.
"Then the American planes came and bombarded Weradesh village," from where the rockets were launched, he said. "There are casualties there, but we don't know how many or if they are civilians or the enemy."
The Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees, or DACAAR, which had a team working in Weradesh, said at least two bombs were dropped around midnight and that eight villagers had been killed.
The group's 14 staff fled their darkened camp on the edge of the village seconds before it was struck by one bomb, said Gorm Pederson, DACAAR's director. One worker was injured and several of the group's vehicles were badly damaged.
"Our people decided to take shelter," Pederson said. "It was while they were running from the camp to the village that they were hit."
U.S. soldiers visited the village early Tuesday and had told DACAAR staff to draw up an assessment of the damage, Pederson said.
Pederson said the group, one of the country's largest relief groups, would abandon its water supply project in the area until it had reassessed security.
The U.S. military said American-led forces in the area came under fire with mortars and rockets, sparking a gun battle in which "insurgents fired indiscriminately at villagers."
Aircraft and troops "suppressed the insurgents' fire," it said in a statement. "Estimates are several anti-coalition militants were killed."
Seven children, one coalition soldier and two Afghan soldiers were flown to the main U.S. base at Bagram, north of Kabul, it said. Four required surgery.
"An insurgent blew himself up with a grenade, injuring the children," it said. One child was in guarded condition and the rest of the injured were stable, it said.
Neither the military nor Akbar said which militant group might have been involved in the fighting. But the area is considered a stronghold of fighters loyal to renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
"They are like thieves," Akbar said. "They come and fight for five minutes and then escape."
U.S. forces man a small camp just a few kilometers (miles) away at Nangalam which has come under repeated attack.
Afghan FM Seeks Better Ties With Central Asia and a New 'Silk Road'
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
TASHKENT, 31 Aug (RFE/RL) -- Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah arrived in the Uzbek capital on Sunday for a official visit aimed at improving regional relations with his country's Central Asian neighbors.
At a press conference in Tashkent Sunday night, Abdullah said the future of Afghanistan "depends on the level of relations with our neighbors." He said the Afghan government wants to create a modern Silk Road, which would see Afghanistan once again becoming a transit country between Central Asia and the Persian Gulf.
Abdullah said the struggle against terrorism and the drug trade were also central issues in his meetings with Uzbek dignitaries, including Prime Minister Shankat Mirziyev and Foreign Minister Sadyk Safayev.
The two sides signed joint protocols on creating an Uzbek-Afghan commission on trade and economic relations; on increasing transit and transport cooperation; and allowing for consultations between their respective foreign ministries.
Meanwhile, Abdullah left Uzbekistan for India.
Afghanistan, India to discuss $400M aid package
Source: Voice of America 31 Aug 2004
Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Abdullah is traveling to India Tuesday to discuss a $400 million Indian aid package for his country.
During the visit, Mr. Abdullah is scheduled to meet with his counterpart Natwar Singh, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other senior officials.
India has pledged money to improve Afghanistan's infrastructure, health facilities, transportation networks, power transmission and educational institutions.
Taliban attack U.S.-Afghan base in eastern Afghanistan
Kyodo (Japan) August 31, 2004
A group of 140 Taliban fighters has attacked the Manogi base of U.S. and Afghan forces in eastern Afghanistan using mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, but no details of losses were available, Afghan Islamic Press reported Tuesday quoting a Taliban commander.
Mohammad Ismaeel reportedly told the Pakistan-based news agency by telephone that Taliban fighters had seized three Afghan government posts in the Manogi district, but they were later forced to leave the posts because of heavy bombardment by U.S. aircraft.
He said at least 60 mortar shells and 200 rocket-propelled grenades were fired on the base during about two and half hours of fighting.
The commander also claimed the U.S. bombing had killed four people and wounded nine Afghan villagers.
Taliban fighters have stepped up attacks on U.S. and Afghan troops and on government buildings ahead of the Afghan general election being planned by the United Nations for October.
FBI Heads Blast Probe As Afghan Capital Braces For More Attacks
KABUL, Aug 31 (AFP) - The FBI Tuesday took over the investigation into the deadly weekend bombing of an American security firm in Kabul as the Afghan capital braced for further attacks in the run-up to landmark presidential polls.
At least nine people were killed and dozens injured in Sunday`s blast at the office of US contractor DynCorp, which provides President Hamid Karzai`s guards and trains the country`s fledgling police force.
"We no longer have anyone on site. We have handed over the investigation to the FBI and the Kabul City Police," Ken Mackillop, spokesman for the NATO-led international peacekeeping force, told AFP.
US Federal Bureau of Investigation agents were coming and going from the cordoned-off blast site, which was still strewn with broken glass and the burnt-out wrecks of cars, according to a western security source.
A US forensic team was also expected to comb through the wreckage for further clues, the source said.
"Everything apart from the bodies is still in place. Nothing has been touched," he added.
Kabul braced for possible further strikes with two security alerts in the Wazir Akbar Khan embassy district Tuesday morning.
The street, which passes the US-led Coalition`s Kabul Compound and many major European embassies, was blocked for a car-bomb alert around 11:00 am but a NATO-led ordnance team established that it was just a stalled vehicle.
Just over an hour in a second false alarm, a truck was stopped on the same road outside the German embassy because it was suspected of carrying explosives.
Four dogs reacted to the vehicle at the gates of the embassy, peacekeeping soldiers and police at the site told AFP. NATO-led explosives teams investigating the truck established that it did not pose a threat.
With Afghanistan`s first presidential elections just five weeks away, the culprits behind Sunday`s attack are still at large and details of exactly who was responsible remain obscure.
Mackillop said Monday that NATO-led peacekeepers knew that the blast had been caused by a remote-controlled device in either a truck or a car, but were still unclear who carried out the attack.
Neither NATO troops or US-led coalition forces were able to provide further details about the investigation Tuesday.
Both Al-Qaeda and the Taliban have claimed responsibility for the blast in statements.
NATO-led forces detained one suspect at Kabul airport who was found with traces of explosives on his hands. But they were unable to establish a link between the suspect and Sunday`s blast.
Despite heightened tension, international aid agencies and United Nations workers were allowed to move around the city and resume their work.
A ban on non-essential movement within the capital was lifted at 7:00pm (1430 GMT) Monday, the UN said.
Security in Afghanistan has worsened in the run-up to the election, with a string of attacks on soft targets such as election workers, civilians and aid agency staff as well as government officials and US-led troops.
Remnants of the hardline Taliban regime ousted by a US-led campaign in 2001 have vowed to disrupt the election. They have mounted a guerrilla insurgency in the south and southeast of the country and sporadic attacks in other parts of Afghanistan.
American arrested in Afghanistan on suspicion of homosexuality, soliciting, officials say
Associated Press August 31, 2004
An American adviser to the Afghan government has been arrested in the capital for allegedly having homosexual relations with an Afghan man, officials said Tuesday.
The man was arrested late last week after an Afghan detained by police told investigators the American had paid him for sexual relations at a Kabul hotel, the officials said.
Afghan officials say homosexuality remains a crime, even though it no longer brings the brutal punishment handed out under the Taliban before its ouster in 2001.
Under its harsh interpretation of Shariah, or Islamic law, homosexuals were crushed to death by having walls toppled on them, although Afghans say closet gay relationships remained widespread.
"Islam doesn't allow homosexuality," said Abdul Halim Samadi, a prosecutor dealing with the current case in Kabul. "Prostitution is also punishable in Afghanistan under Islamic law."
Samadi said the American could get a jail term of 5-15 years if convicted.
A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said she was unaware of the arrest and declined further comment.
The head of the criminal department for Kabul City Police, Jamil, said the American was an adviser to the Finance Ministry. He declined to disclose his name.
Police had trailed the 18-year-old Afghan "coming and going from the American's room" in an upscale hotel in Kabul, said Jamil, who goes by one name.
Samadi said the Afghan man told investigators the American paid him up to US$50 (euro 40) per visit and helped him get a job at a relief organization.
He said the attorney-general's office was awaiting the results of medical tests on the Afghan man before deciding on any charges.
Afghanistan 'forgotten' by Bush, Edwards says
By Charles Hurt THE WASHINGTON TIMES August 31, 2004
WILMINGTON, N.C. — Democratic vice-presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards accused President Bush yesterday of fumbling the war against terrorism by not finishing "what they started" in Afghanistan.
"The Bush administration miscalculated by turning its back on Afghanistan," Mr. Edwards told an enthusiastic crowd in an auditorium here at the coastal campus of University of North Carolina.
The accusation is part of a speech that the North Carolina senator is delivering this week aimed at laying out concrete "fundamental national-security differences" between the Bush administration and one that would be led by Democrat hopeful Sen. John Kerry, who is vacationing at his beach house on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts during the Republican National Convention.
By stressing the differences this week, the Kerry campaign hopes to counter some of the prime-time rhetoric coming out of the convention in New York.
The campaign also hopes to close a gap among many voters who wonder how Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards — both of whom voted to authorize Mr. Bush to invade Iraq — would differ significantly from the Bush administration on national security issues.
"I know that there are some Americans who question whether there are differences between us and our opponents," said Mr. Edwards, using the term "differences" about 15 times during his 35-minute speech. "There are big differences, and today, I will tell you what they are."
He said a Kerry-Edwards administration would work harder to build alliances, act quicker to reform intelligence-gathering and focus more on the efforts to root out terrorism in Afghanistan.
"Afghanistan is in many ways a forgotten front in the war on terror," Mr. Edwards said. He added, however, that "it has come a long way since I visited there two years ago."
Republicans said the only time Afghanistan was a "forgotten front" was when Mr. Edwards and "John Kerry voted against funding our troops in Afghanistan."
"Afghanistan is not forgotten, but perhaps Edwards has forgotten that we liberated that nation," said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican. "We ended the rule of a regime that harbored al Qaeda, drove Osama bin Laden into hiding and sent Afghanistan on the way to free and fair presidential elections, scheduled for next month."
Mr. Edwards won the most applause when he said that the blame for the "horrific abuses" at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq rests "at the top of the administration."
He peppered his speech with the word "miscalculation," a reference to Mr. Bush's acknowledgment last week that current problems in Iraq stem at least partially from his administration's miscalculating the enemy.
"The president calls this miscalculation," Mr. Edwards said at one point. "You can call it whatever you want. The truth is: It was a failure of leadership."
After the speech, Mr. Edwards granted interviews to several local reporters and was asked repeatedly about the ads aired this month by an independent group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which opposes Mr. Kerry because of his conduct during the Vietnam War.
"I think they say more about the president's character than about anyone else's that he's let these ads continue to run," Mr. Edwards said.
He also wrapped himself in the flag, beginning and ending his speech with stirring imagery of a worker hoisting Old Glory up the flagpole in front of City Hall, stepping back and looking up.
"We all look up to that flag," Mr. Edwards said. "It is our symbol of freedom and democracy — our hope for mankind."
Beside him — just off stage — a huge flag hung from a pipe frame set up for the event.
But there was a problem: This particular Stars and Stripes was too long for the frame, so about three feet of red and white stripes bunched together at the bottom, piled on the floor of the auditorium, leaving a narrow walkway to the steps of the stage.
Separating fact from fiction in Afghanistan
In Asne Seierstad's 'The Bookseller of Kabul', Shah M was portrayed as a domestic tyrant who abandoned his wife. Now he plans to set the record straight, writes Nick Meo
The Independent (UK) / 30 August 2004
It is not easy being known to the world as the living symbol of Afghan men's hatred and maltreatment of their women, and Shah Mohammed freely admits that the last year has been a kind of purgatory. He is not a man without his faults. But the villainous reputation unexpectedly dumped on him in 2003's surprise international literary hit The Bookseller of Kabul turned him into the laughing stock of the Afghan capital and, for an international audience, into something much more sinister.
Readers across the globe learned of the Afghan patriarch's convoluted family life and dark private secrets - for tens of thousands of readers the book has become their most vivid portrait of Afghan life. It was a minor sensation, recommended by everyone from Richard and Judy to The New York Times as an account of the harsh reality of a culture virtually unknown to the outside world before 11 September.
According to the book, Shah M is a domestic tyrant who abandoned his faithful wife of 30 years to purchase a teenage bride after haggling with her greedy parents, as if buying a horse. He bullies his children into working in his shops to make money for himself instead of sending them to school.
One of his sons lures a pre-pubescent beggar girl into the back of their bookshop for sex. And the book disclosed the honour killing of a female relative, murdered because of a twisted code of revenge, had been covered up to look like an accident. Its portrait of the secret world of the Afghan family was so bleak as to provoke one reviewer to write: "If this is what life is like in the family of Afghanistan's Tim Waterstone there is clearly no hope for Afghanistan." Another traumatised reviewer called it "an emotive indictment of a horrible society."
Sixty-year-old Shah M claims that the monstrous portrait of him was not the warts-and-all truth but in fact an act of treachery by the journalist he invited into his family home in good faith. And now the bookseller is to turn writer. He plans to tell a very different story. The Bookseller of Kabul, he believes, pandered to the stereotypes of Western readerships repelled by the excesses of the Taliban and ready to believe any horrible new revelations about Afghanistan.
The writer, Norwegian journalist Asne Seierstad, moved into Shah M's home for four months in 2002 after arriving from the battlefield with the Northern Alliance. At the time the bookseller, known to visiting journalists through years of war and repression as one of Kabul's best and most independent sources, was helping the army of reporters who had descended on the city. Shah M, as his friends know him, was invaluable to confused reporters trying to make sense of a complex culture scarred by 24 years of war. He thought Seierstad's idea of writing a book about an Afghan family was a good one. "I invited her into my house," he says. "I ordered everyone in my family to speak very openly before her and not to hide anything. I thought it would help my country if somebody wrote a book about our life and customs.
"But her book gave a false and salacious impression of Afghanistan. There were so many mistakes. The outside world just doesn't understand my country, and this book has not helped."
Seierstad's prose appears to be bravely honest. "We shared many good times," she wrote. "But I have rarely been so angry as I was with the family, and I have rarely quarrelled as much as I did there. Nor have I had the urge to hit anyone as much as I did there."
She enjoyed the kind of success that all journalists dream of, selling more than any other non-fiction book in Norway's history and getting on bestseller lists for months in Europe and America. A close reading showed some rather odd reporting quirks, however.
Seierstad made a lame attempt to disguise Shah M's identity, calling him Sultan Khan, and coyly described the book as "fictionalised" in her preface.
"She lied about me and my friends," is how Shah Mohammed puts it, quivering with anger. "Hurtful lies, and dangerous lies." The public pillorying was particularly cruel because Shah M spent three decades braving the communists, warlords and religious fundamentalists who have in turn tortured his country and stamped on its intellectual life. Nobody in Kabul has done more to keep the city's battered intelligentsia supplied with books, suffering jail and having to watch the defacing of his precious volumes at the hands of first the Marxists and later the Taliban.
For two years his shop was derelict when it was on the frontline between warlords. It was burnt out after a rocket strike. For all those years of war and chaos, before Afghanistan briefly became a massive story after 11 September, Shah M Books was a magnet for foreigners. For three decades journalists, aid workers, spooks, and soldiers - first Soviet and now US soldiers - have browsed through his shelves trying to find clues to the dangerous land that history and politics brought them to.
"The Russians were very nice and polite. They often smelled of vodka," Shah M recalls. "They bought a lot of books about the culture of my land.
"The Americans rarely come in here. They are very crude, always swearing, strutting around with guns and dark glasses."
From Shah M Books he has watched the history of Kabul unfold and now he plans to set the record straight by writing an autobiography, in which he will outline his extraordinary life at the centre of his country's turmoil.
The bookshop, in the centre of Kabul on an insanely busy traffic junction where violent arguments between armed motorists are not uncommon, holds one of the most fascinating collections on Central Asia anywhere. Memoirs of Victorian players of the "Great Game" and volumes by 1920s archaeologists sit on shelves next to Marxist essays and propaganda works on the Soviet adventure by Czech communist journalists. The shop is one of Kabul's landmarks, and a window into its history. The proprietor himself, a heavy-built man with a wispy beard and the sort of distinctive Central Asian features seen in Persian miniatures, is usually to be found sitting cross-legged on a carpet drinking green tea.
He is always ready to greet browsers and fire off the kind of barbs that have got him into trouble with numerous regimes in the past.
President Hamid Karzai is "a new pilot flying an old airline" he believes, adding that he will not vote in October's presidential elections because the candidates are "all reactionaries". He is not optimistic about the future. "We that have suffered so much are becoming a mafia state now," he says. "This is our next trial. If I had $100,000 I would be a nervous man." Surprisingly, there is one copy of the hated book on his shelves. He pulls it out with a sly expression. The central episode which he objects to was the claim that he had abandoned his first wife, the mother of his children, for an attractive younger bride. The negotiations and haggling involved are described in detail in the book's opening, with Shah M portrayed as a lecherous old man.
Taking a second, younger, wife may be shocking in the West but it is not unusual in Afghanistan, although it is seen as rather low class. Shah M insists the arrangement was discussed with his family and approved by his first wife.
He says his first wife was a refugee in Pakistan, waiting to return, but Seierstad claims mistakenly that she was abandoned. "My wife loves me very much," he says. "There is no adversity between us. Seierstad gave a salacious account." Even more humiliating was a gripping, and nauseating, account of his eldest son's supposed predatory sex life with Kabul's beggars. "This was a very dirty thing, very shameful for our family," Shah M says. "How could she write this thing? It was all a lie." But most disturbing of all to the bookseller were two family secrets disclosed by Seierstad - gossip about the love affair of a woman neighbour, and an account of an honour killing of a woman connected to Shah M's family. "These are dangerous things," he says. "Afghan families are very large and revenge is very important to us. There are cousins who did not know these things. Now she has told the world. We fear what may happen if people find out."
The book was a deep personal humiliation. He says he can still hardly hold his head up in the street - Kabul's newspapers relished the fuss.
Shah M launched his own counter-publicity offensive ,with threats to sue, and briefly met Seierstad last year in Norway. They met for two hours and he claims she regretted what she had done. "Why didn't she go to the media and say what she had written was wrong?" he says. "She has damaged herself badly in all this and she looks foolish. I feel sorry for her actually, I do not hate her. Anyway, she was never a lovely friend." Since publication, Seierstad has backed away from what she wrote, telling one newspaper "maybe I was stupid or naive" and saying that perhaps some details were too intimate. She insists she had not betrayed Shah M but had simply described her experiences in his home. "At first I thought he was a hero and this was what I said in the first few chapters," she explains to me. "Women in his family told me what he was like - his first wife was crying over the marriage to the young girl. They all said it was really shameful for the first wife.
"When I spent time with the women I learned how he treated them. I wrote what I saw. It wouldn't be an honest book otherwise." She says she has no regrets about how she wrote the book - and no plans to return to Kabul.
Shah M believes that her brief stay in his country was not long enough to grasp its problems. "She gave this distorted picture of Afghan women to the world," he says. "Our women have suffered a lot it is true, but mainly this is because the economy is so damaged and because of the war." The book he is writing will recount his extraordinary life in bookselling, which began humbly when he was a student at Kabul University. A natural wheeler and dealer, Shah M realised there was money to be made selling volumes of Persian poetry and scientific books and enjoyed making business trips to Tehran and Moscow.
In the seventies, when Afghanistan's future looked so bright, his bookshop was filled with Kabul's intellectuals, professors and the hippies on the road to India who spent hours in his shop smoking hashish and leafing through his stock. Marxism took hold. To Kabul's tiny educated class it seemed to hold the key to rapid development of their backward, semi-feudal country, and Shah M started making more trips to Moscow's book markets.
Then politics became brutal as left-wing factions fought deadly battles. "The Communists assassinated at least 5,000 educated people," Shah M said. They threw him in a jail where he was forced to watch fellow prisoners being tortured. His books were burned. By 1988 the Russian-backed regime was on its last legs. The Soviets were pulling out and intellectual tastes changed - Afghans were looking to Allah instead of Marx as it became clear CIA-backed guerrillas inspired by Islam were going to win. "Intellectuals swapped to Sufism. They liked 'soft Islam', especially Afghan mystics like Rumi who said it was OK to drink alcohol," Shah M recalled. "Most of them had been enthusiastic Communists." Then came years of civil war after the guerrilla commanders fell out. Shah M's shop was looted; he stayed in business by buying valuable volumes from looters or desperate refugees.
In 1996, the illiterate Taliban arrived in the capital. Like the Communists, the black-turbanned Taliban burnt his books or scribbled in black marker pens over pictures of people. Shah M hid his most valuable copies. Ironically, the Taliban-vandalised books have become expensive souvenirs for the foreign aid workers and peace-keepers who today make up his wealthiest customers. The Afghan book-buying public is a disappointment to him. Mostly they buy self-improvement books to teach themselves English or computing. Books about politics, philosophy and poetry sit gathering dust in his shop's remote corners.
"Life is hard in Kabul today, the economy is bad. People struggle to buy books. Prices are so high for food and just the essentials of life, there is nothing left over," Shah M said.
Seierstad's book said little about his past, so enmeshed with the city's. Perhaps she preferred the sensational, and in many ways she missed the really fascinating story.
She says she thinks legal proceedings were dropped in the spring - Shah M says legal action may still be taken later this year.
Carpets exporters being forced to fall back on Afghan weavers
By Imran Ayub Daily Times
KARACHI: Carpet exporters are being forced to outsource their manufacturing business to Afghanistan following the post-war repatriation of Afghan refugees, whose hand-knotting technique they say is still in demand in the international market.
A large number of exporters, mostly from the NWFP, have started outsourcing carpets’ manufacturing after the rejection of locally knotted products abroad, the exporters say.
“I started outsourcing in June 2003,” said a leading exporter, who asked not to be named. “I took the decision because of objections from my clients to our designs and knotting techniques.”
He said that, like many exporters, he contacted an Afghan family whose members used to knot the carpets he produced for export.
“There are many others who are doing the same, and in fact they encouraged me to follow their example,” he added.
An unexpected problem: The voluntarily repatriation of more than two million Afghan refugees since March 2002, which was welcomed as a positive development in Pakistan, turned out to be a big problem for the country’s industry of hand-knotted carpets.
The industry has suffered a 30 percent decline in exports during the last three years, and the exporters put this down to the departure of Afghan carpet-weavers who are considered “naturals” in their craft.
“The Afghan refugees were involved in 50 percent production of carpets, amounting to roughly 60 percent of Pakistan’s exports,” said the exporter who outsourced his manufacturing business.
The Afghan refugees active in carpet production, who were settled mostly in the Peshawar and Attock areas, returned to their country after the ousting of the Taliban government.
As much as 98 percent of the carpets produced in Pakistan are exported.
The exporters say the basic reason for the downward trend in carpet exports is the absence in Pakistani products of the designs created by Afghan weavers.
They say the Afghans had brought the export figures to around $300 million in 2001-2002, an amount which came down to $230 million in 2003-04.
Designs in demand: They say that Afghan weavers managed to cleverly copy Persian rug designs, employing the Sana Knot, instead of sticking to the Kashmiri school of carpet weaving widely followed in India. “Such an innovation, coupled with vegetable dyes and antique techniques of washing, gave an immaculate look to Pakistan’s hand-knotted carpets,” said Yaqoob Salehji, a former chairman of the Pakistan Carpet Manufacturers and Exporters Association (PCMEA).
Out of the total carpet export, the share of European importers, which used to be 25-30 percent, had now dropped to 17-18 percent, he said.
“Exports to the US, Europe and other countries parts of the world continues, but the pace has dropped since the Afghans’ repatriation,” said Mr Salehji.
The exporters are now in search of other markets, such as South America and Eastern Europe, so that 2004-2005 could prove to be a better year.
“For this we have organized the ongoing three-day exhibition in Lahore from Aug 30,” PCMEA vice chairman Akhtar Nazir Khan said.
“Now we are focussing on our non-traditional market, and hopefully will succeed.”
He said the exhibition had received confirmation of around 177 delegates and the figures were expected to touch 400 buyers around the world.
Industry leaders concur with the exporters’ assessment, but say they are making the best efforts to manage the production locally to meet the demands in the international market.
“Yes, it’s a fact,” said Mr Akhtar Nazir Khan. “But we are trying our best to deal with the situation, although it involves risk and more time,” he added.
“Actually, it is a cottage industry,” said Mr Khan. “The country has around 1.5 million cottages, 75 percent of them in Punjab, and they are all operating with local workers.”
The trend of outsourcing has declined in the last few months, according to Mr Khan, who said he was hopeful it would go down still further by the year’s end.
Afghan Prison Abuse Charges Expected Soon
WASHINGTON - The Army is expected to begin filing charges soon against 26 soldiers following a probe into the late 2002 deaths of two detainees in Afghanistan.
Army investigators have recommended bringing abuse-related charges ranging from negligent homicide to dereliction of duty and failure to report an offense, The Washington Post said in a report for its Wednesday editions, quoting two Army officers familiar with the investigation. One sergeant has already been charged.
A Pentagon spokesman said he had no information about the report.
The military has spent more than a year investigating the deaths of the two prisoners at the U.S. base in Bagram, Afghanistan, in December 2002. One died of a pulmonary embolism due to blunt-force injuries to the legs, the other from blunt-force injuries to his lower extremities complicating coronary artery disease.
The Post said that most of the soldiers facing charges are from the Fort Bragg, N.C.-based 519th Military Intelligence Battalion and the 377th Military Police Company, an Army Reserve unit based in Cincinnati.
Some members of the 519th intelligence unit were later deployed to Iraq and have also been implicated in the abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison that occurred in late 2003.
The Kabul Times 08/30/2004
Kabul - There are 18 candidates for the forthcoming presidential elections. And 15 of them get together almost daily to choose a rotating spokesman for the day to declare that they give a few days to the incumbent president to resign prior to the election scheduled to be held on 9 October.
President Hamed Karzai has already announced that this is out the question because Article 161 of the Constitution allows the incumbent chief of the executive to remain in power pending the election of the new president and assumption of his office to avoid a power vacuum.
The other candidates argue that President Karzai would take advantage of the government facilities, including the official media, to promote his election campaign and as a result, win the election in an unfair way.
To be fair, the president has not yet started his campaign through the official or private media while the other candidates have and the texts of their speeches are published in one government paper and in private publications.
Since this is the first exercise in a democratic election, one cannot blame the candidates who express their apprehension. However, decorum does not allow any of them to level allegations against the other and the special press supervisory commission set up to investigate serious accusations hurled by individual candidates should forestall this or at least mitigate the likely efforts to smear competitors.
The 15 candidates have threatened that should Karzai decline to resign within a few days, they would consider boycotting the election in another meeting.
Yesterday's spokesman to the presidential candidates' cooperation association, Homayun Shah Asefi alleged that the ministry of tribal affairs had rented a number of guesthouses to entertain tribal chieftains and that district governors are summoned to Kabul and told by the interior ministry to lobby for President Karzai.
This is not an apologia for the incumbent president but it is common practice in every election that the candidates meet and try to persuade every voter to vote for him. And clearly every candidate spends large sums and, compared to those who are less known to the public or who fail to convince voters about their election programmes, President Karzai enjoys an edge.
Many of the candidates who have formed this association are not well-known nationwide, not because they are not qualified but due to the fact that they have come home to stand in the presidential elections from various foreign countries where they have spent two or more decades.
In case they do boycott the forthcoming elections, they will be the sore losers because this will not affect the elections one way or the other while the UN and European Union observers will oversee the elections.
The government has resolved to go ahead with the elections on 9 October and this process will not be postponed a second time for the sake of their beautiful eyes as the French expression goes.
Via BBC Monitoring
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