U.S. forces kill 22 rebels in southern Afghanistan; aid workers withdraw from western city
Tuesday September 14, 8:58 AM AP
U.S. troops and helicopter gunships killed 22 militants, including three Arab fighters in southern Afghanistan, the military said, in the latest bloodshed ahead of historic elections.
Meanwhile, the United Nations withdrew dozens of staff from the western city of Herat on Monday, a day after mobs ransacked its offices. The mob violence came after President Hamid Karzai fired the city's warlord governor. His replacement later ordered a 9 p.m. curfew.
The 12-hour battle in the southern province of Zabul, a hotbed of resistance to Karzai's U.S.-backed government, began late Sunday, the military said.
Spokesman Maj. Scott Nelson said some 40 militants attacked coalition soldiers on a search operation. The troops called in two Apache helicopters, which opened fire on the fighters.
"Skirmishes continued throughout the night, and the final battle damage assessment from the incident, from our soldiers on the ground, was 22," Nelson said. Among the dead were three Arabs, the spokesman said. Another Arab was among three people arrested. No coalition forces were hurt, he said.
The U.S. forces seized a global positioning system, a video camera with tapes, four grenades and two assault rifles, he said. Nelson declined to give the Arab fighters' nationalities, or say what was on the tapes.
Guerrilla violence is surging in the run-up to Oct. 9 elections, despite the presence of 18,000 coalition forces who have been hunting for terrorist suspects since late 2001.
In another incident Sunday, Nelson said Taliban gunmen ambushed a coalition patrol near the southern city of Kandahar. American soldiers returned fire without stopping. No casualties were reported.
The Taliban have vowed to sabotage the presidential election, which Karzai is widely expected to win. Twelve elections workers are among more than 900 people killed in Afghan political violence this year.
In another reminder of the country's insecurity, weekend rioting left three people dead in Herat and on Monday led international aid workers to leave the city.
The United Nations, whose offices were burned and looted in unrest after the ouster of regional strongman Ismail Khan, said it flew about 40 staff members to the capital. The U.N. Security Council, following a briefing in New York, condemned the attacks late Monday.
Council members also appealed "to all concerned to do all in their power" to ensure that elections are conducted "in a peaceful and democratic way," said Spain's U.N. Ambassador Juan Antonio Yanez-Barnuevo, the current council president.
The U.N. refugee agency, whose office was looted, said it suspended operations in the west, stranding more than 1,000 returning refugees on the nearby Iranian border.
Dozens of relief workers from other organizations were also evacuating. But Filippo Grandi, deputy head of the world body's Afghan mission, said the move was only temporary.
"They were under considerable shock so we allowed them to come to Kabul just for a few days for rest," he said. Hundreds of Afghan staff and a handful of expatriates remain.
Two U.N. workers, three American troops and three Afghan soldiers were reported injured by the crowds, which the U.S. military said threw grenades as well as stones.
Health officials said three Afghan civilians were killed and dozens wounded, many by bullets apparently fired by Afghan forces trying to control the crowds.
The government announced Saturday that Khan was being replaced _ in a bold move to extend its authority into a wealthy region recently wracked by factional fighting.
Khan, who has ruled Herat province like an autocrat since helping U.S. forces oust the Taliban, has long sparred with the central government over millions in customs duties levied at the Iranian frontier.
He also clashed with the United Nations after the world body accused him of shielding his private army from a nationwide disarmament program, and has been accused of repressing political opponents and women's freedoms.
His downfall came after his troops took a beating in deadly clashes in August with those of rival warlords. One of his rivals could face criminal charges for his part in the violence, while another has been relieved as governor of a neighboring province.
Afghan city calm after weekend violence
By Sayed Salahuddin Monday September 13, 3:58 PM
HERAT, Afghanistan (Reuters) - The western Afghan city of Herat is calm following bloody clashes between supporters of a powerful ousted governor and U.S. and Afghan forces sent to keep the peace.
Roadblocks set up by authorities on Sunday after Ismail Khan's supporters torched buildings in a U.N. compound were removed and the skies were clear of helicopters for the first time since Saturday afternoon.
Medics and witnesses reported seven people killed and up to 50 injured in weekend violence which erupted when President Hamid Karzai -- favourite to win Afghanistan's first ever direct presidential election on October 9 -- sacked Khan and appointed a replacement as part of his campaign pledge to rein in warlords.
The U.S. military said 15 of its soldiers were injured in the clashes, two of whom were evacuated for treatment, along with two Afghan national army servicemen.
On Sunday night, Ismail Khan called on his supporters to exercise restraint and the army announced on Herat TV that further violence would be countered with military force. Authorities also imposed a night time curfew, but did not say how long it would last.
On Monday, shops were open and traffic was flowing normally on the streets of the strategic ancient city, near the border with Iran and Turkmenistan, although troops from the national army, national police and U.S.-led forces were patrolling.
Karzai, named interim president in 2002 after a U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban as punishment for protecting Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda, faces 17 rivals in the vote.
New Governor Takes Charge in Afghan City Hit by Violence
By CARLOTTA GALL The New York Times September 13, 2004
HERAT, Afghanistan, Sept. 13 — The new governor of Herat, Sayed Muhammad Khairkhwa, 51, spent today, his first day at work, ensconced at the top of the hill in the city's finest guest house, surrounded by American troops with maps and satellite dishes and by dozens of Afghan National Army soldiers.
Despite his heavily guarded seclusion from the people, he expressed confidence, in an interview, that the violence in the city on Sunday was over and would not be repeated. At least nine offices of the United Nations and other international organizations were looted and burned in the attacks.
Today, the city appeared to be getting back to normal after the violence, and residents walked around the streets looking at the damage.
Mr. Khairkhwa laid the blame for the unrest of recent weeks firmly on his predecessor, Ismail Khan, the mujahedeen commander and two-time governor, and his dictatorial policies.
As the new leader of Herat, he promised major changes, in particular allowing political pluralism, as well as support for human rights and women's rights — areas that Mr. Khan has been criticized for repressing. The governor's first action was to replace the chief of Herat television and radio, a move that was immediately welcomed by the United Nations.
The United Nations sent a senior delegation to inspect the damage to its and assess the security situation, while evacuating most of its foreign staff in Herat to the capital, Kabul.
Filippo Grandi, the agency's deputy special representative to Afghanistan, was adamant that the mission would rapidly resume its work in western Afghanistan, because elections, which the United Nations is helping organize, are less than 30 days away.
A team of 15 are staying in Herat to clean up and organize offices again, while the bulk of the staff would be evacuated for a few days, Mr. Grandi said on his return to Kabul.
He deplored the violence vented on the United Nations and other offices, saying it was clearly targeted. Various neighboring buildings were left untouched.
"The results of the attack were quite shocking," Mr. Grandi said. "I have hardly ever seen the type of destruction that I saw in the U.N.A.M.A. offices. The office is in ashes. Everything is burned. They spilled gasoline and threw matches and the whole office does not exist anymore — and it's a big office."
Mr. Grandi would not comment on whether the violence was organized or why the United Nations was specifically made a target.
The new governor, however, suggested that his predecessor had encouraged the violence. "In my opinion the atmosphere was created. People do not do this by themselves," Mr. Khairkhwa said.
Mr. Khan was at home today surrounded by supporters. and declined requests for an interview. "He has many guests, but also he is not clear in what he wants to say at this stage," an aide said. He had also advised the new governor against paying Mr. Khan a visit, because the people were still upset that the government had removed him from office, the aide added.
Yet Mr. Khan's official statements were exemplary. His former intelligence chief, Nasir Ahmad Alawi, acting as his spokesman, said that Mr. Khan had urged people not to resort to violence and to accept the government's decision.
"There will not be any violations now,"` Mr. Alawi said, noting that the demonstration had been without leadership and that some destructive people had taken advantage of the situation.
Mr. Khan would not be taking up the position of minister of mines and industries offered to him by President Hamid Karzai, but would remain at home in Herat and advise on ensuring security in the region, Mr. Alawi said. Mr. Khairkhwa, however, was dismissive of the idea, saying that no such advisory position had been offered to him.
The central government's decision to remove Mr. Khan has polarized the city and if the violence has ebbed, the discontent remains.
"Our people are not happy, I am not happy, nobody is happy," said Abdul Rashid, 30, one of Mr. Khan's guards, who has been with him since the age of 15. He and his fellow soldiers said they blamed Mr. Karzai for the upset of their hero, but were critical also of the American military and the United Nations.
"The Americans don't have any business here," Mr. Rashid said, sitting by his guard post and gesturing with his walkie-talkie. Asked about the United Nations, he said: "The people are thinking, why are these offices here? They are here to bring justice but they are not working."
Many of the young men in the streets today, who may well have taken part in the violent demonstrations Sunday, complained that neither the United Nations nor the government or its fledgling national army had done anything to retrieve the bodies of those killed in fighting south of Herat in mid-August.
Opponents of Mr. Khan's regime remained cautious in their remarks, still wary of reprisals that some have suffered in the past for speaking out.
One government worker estimated that 60 percent of the local population were happy to see Mr. Khan go and 40 percent were against it, but he asked that his name not be used for fear of reprisals. "I could lose my job for saying this," he said.
A member of the opposition council of professionals said it was too early to be sure that the changes were permanent. He also asked not to be quoted.
Refugees stranded after Afghan violence-UN
13 Sep 2004 16:59:21 GMT
GENEVA, Sept 13 (Reuters) - Hundreds of Afghan refugees returning home after years of exile in Iran have been stranded at the border between the two countries following violence in the city of Herat, the United Nations said on Monday.
The world body's High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, said some of the returnees were staying in emergency camps or shelters on the Iranian side after his UNHCR agency was forced to suspend convoys by the incidents.
"This suspension comes at the worst possible time for Afghanistan when increasing numbers of refugees are coming back to their homeland and just a few weeks ahead of a crucial election that will shape the future of the country," he declared.
Afghans are due to vote in a U.N.-organised presidential poll on October 9.
The UNHCR halted its operations, which have been transferring up to 3,000 people a day in recent weeks from Iran through Herat, the major city in western Afghanistan, after attacks on U.N. compounds there at the weekend.
Angry supporters of the city's powerful governor Ismail Khan, dismissed by President Hamid Karzai, left the U.N. headquarters in Herat in ashes, according to one senior U.N. official in a protest over his dismissal.
A total of seven people died and up to 50 were injured when the protesters clashed with U.S. and Afghan government forces sent to halt the disturbances, witnesses in the city said.
Lubbers said it was crucial that U.N. staff be allowed to carry out their work in safety. During the weekend incidents, UNHCR staff in Herat took refuge in a bunker while crowds looted their offices, according to the agency.
Most U.N. staff have now been moved out of the city, which was reported calm on Monday.
The UNHCR began a voluntary repatriation programme in 2002 for Afghan refugees in Iran, many of whom fled during the 1980s when a Western-supported Islamic guerrilla movement fought an Afghan leftist government and Soviet forces backing it.
Since then, it has helped over a million people return home from Afghanistan's western neighbour. About 1.6 million more have returned from Pakistan.
Not all share U.S. optimism after Afghan violence
September 13, 2004 By David Brunnstrom
KABUL (Reuters) - When President Hamid Karzai sacked Afghanistan's most powerful provincial governor and his own close rival at the weekend, protesters in the western city of Herat burned U.N. offices and stoned U.S. and Afghan troops.
Up to seven protesters died in clashes with security forces, 50 were hurt and a curfew imposed, but U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan American seen by many as the driving force behind Karzai's policies, appeared unperturbed.
Expressing optimism that the situation would improve, he told a news conference as U.N. buildings were being consumed by flames and dozens of aid workers huddled for safety in an American base: "We just have to ride out the initial bumps."
Some analysts, though, question U.S.-led policy making ahead of presidential elections here on Oct. 9, which are seen as a crucial test of U.S. President George W. Bush's nation-building efforts before his own re-election bid in November.
Critics accuse Bush, desperate for a foreign policy success to balance the problems he faces in Iraq, of trying to fast-track polls in Afghanistan, whether or not the conditions to ensure they are free and fair have been put in place.
They see the decision to replace Ismail Khan as governor of Herat just weeks before the election as part of that risky strategy and warn that it could backfire.
Vikram Parekh of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group think-tank said Khan's sacking by Karzai just after the president launched a manifesto in which he pledged to rein in regional warlords was a clear piece of electioneering.
"I think this was a matter of Karzai seeking political capital by being seen to get tough on commanders," he said.
"But the point at issue is whether you have a better alternative to offer with sufficient local support. Otherwise you are simply going to end up destabilising the situation."
Khan's removal has been part of a broader strategy by Karzai to limit the influence of powerful commanders ahead of the polls.
This includes the sidelining of Mohammad Qasim Fahim, his vice president and defence minister, who had expected to be chosen as Karzai's running mate but was unceremoniously dropped at the last moment and has now thrown in his lot with the incumbent's main rival, Yunus Qanuni.
Khalilzad hailed progress in creating what he calls "a new Afghanistan", saying that the Karzai administration had taken significant steps in terms of strengthening institutions and extending central government authority in recent months.
"I think it's sent a clear message of where Afghanistan is headed and how you can be part of the future of Afghanistan."
But not everyone shares his optimism. Some point to the failure of a nationwide drive to disarm factional militias to make much progress ahead of the elections.
"I think it's been overstated," Parekh said of Khalilzad's assessment. "If these transfers had been well managed, you wouldn't have had the violent demonstrations we saw in Herat and there would have been more progress on disarmament."
Barbara Stapleton of the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief said its surveys showed the biggest concern Afghans have about elections is the continued existence of warlord militias and their ability to intimidate voters.
The government has said it aims to disarm, demobilise and reintegrate 27,000 more factional fighters by Oct. 8, but with only 14,000 disarmed since the process began last year, independent observers consider this a highly optimistic target.
"They will be holding elections in a highly militarised society in which power is under factional control," Stapleton said.
Given the security worries created both by warlord armies and a continuing Taliban insurgency, Afghans will also go to the polls with insufficient numbers of independent monitors to judge whether the voting has been free and fair, she said.
Parekh said the replacement of Ismail Khan, who has one of the largest private militias in Afghanistan, could help speed the disarmament process in his province.
But at the same time there was a risk that commanders like Abdul Rashid Dostum, who is standing against Karzai for president, might feel their military power bases sufficiently threatened to form a political alliance against him with other contenders such as Qanuni.
"It may help the disarmament process in Herat, but it may also make commanders in some other areas, especially in the north, more reluctant to comply and fully disclose their weapons stocks," he said.
PLAYING THE MASSOUD CARD IN AFGHANISTAN’S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
Daan van der Schriek 9/13/04 EURASIA INSIGHT
In the run-up to Afghanistan’s October 9 presidential elections, one man holds a greater political punch than all 18 living presidential candidates combined. Though already dead for three years, Ahmad Shah Massoud, a leader of the Northern Alliance’s Taliban resistance, has become the political weapon of choice for both President Hamid Karzai and his top rival in the country’s first popularly contested presidential ballot.
Since his death on September 9, 2001 at the hands of two al Qaeda-linked Islamic radicals, Massoud has been transformed from Tajik mujahedin to national hero -- if not saint. Pictures of Massoud, the Afghan-Tajik mujahedin who battled the Soviets, other warlords, and the Taliban for more than 20 years, vastly outnumber those of any other Afghan – including those of Karzai.
This year, the Massoud cult reached new heights with a September 8 ceremony in Kabul’s National Stadium attended by more than 20,000 people to commemorate the third anniversary of the warlord’s assassination. "The martyred Massoud, the national hero of Afghanistan, is one of the most glittering and luminary figures of the jihad and resistance," Karzai said at the event. "The best way to commemorate Massoud is to follow in his footsteps."
For Karzai, such a eulogy could not come a moment too soon.
Though the favorite to win the elections this October, with 17 other candidates in the race, Karzai needs to secure more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a run-off. With armed squabbles between rival warlords still rife, and Taliban attacks also prevalent, such a scenario could leave Afghanistan’s interim government in a dangerous limbo.
The violence that shook the town of Herat on September 12 illustrates the stakes involved in choosing political partners. At least seven people were killed and more than 20 wounded as Afghan police and army struggled to stamp out uprisings sparked by the central government’s removal of popular Tajik warlord Ismail Khan as governor of Herat. Foreigners were evacuated to Kabul after protestors set fire to offices for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN Development Program and the UN Assistance Mission.
Karzai’s campaign to curtail the vast power enjoyed outside of Kabul by warlords and their private militias appears to have motivated the decision to remove Khan. [For background see the EurasiaNet Insight archive]. The silver-haired resistance fighter, a religious conservative and key leader of the mujahedin resistance against the Soviet Union, initially accepted a government posting as the minister for mines and industry, before deciding to remain as a "private citizen" in Herat.
But if opinions about Karzai’s attempt to centralize power vary widely, differences of opinion about Massoud are less pronounced. To build an image as the heir to Massoud’s legacy, Karzai has already named the warlord’s brother, Ahmad Zia Massoud, a former ambassador to Moscow, as his candidate for first vice president. [For background see the EurasiaNet Insight archive]. This is meant to help secure votes in the Panjshir valley, Massoud’s home territory and a location where Qanuni holds considerable sway.
But Karzai’s leading political rival, Yunus Qanuni, a former minister of education and Tajik leader of the Northern Alliance, who has positioned himself as an outspoken critic of the Karzai government, is also playing the Massoud card. Though Qanuni did not address the crowd at Massoud’s commemoration, he routinely emphasizes his own ties with the Tajik fighter by including the fighter’s image on his election posters. Qanuni is also running as a candidate of the Tajik-controlled Nahzat-e Melli-ye Party, which is headed by Ahmad Wali Massoud, another brother of the slain warlord.
And just in case the Massoud name fails to draw attention, Qanuni has lined up additional star power. To name Zia Massoud as his running mate, Karzai first had to disband with Defense Minister and Vice President Mohammad Fahim. Fahim, the head of a powerful private militia, has since allied himself with Qanuni, a fellow Tajik. Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, also a Tajik, is another influential backer.
Some observers have argued that such deal-making indicates that the real decisions in this election will be made by the country’s still heavily armed mujahedin. In such a situation, having a Massoud at his side may do little to enhance Karzai’s chances for a sweep of the polls, they argue. By sidelining the defense minister, the president may effectively have lost the support of most Afghan Tajiks who feel that Fahim was wronged in Karzai’s switch to Massoud, one foreign diplomat who requested anonymity told EurasiaNet in an August 3 article.
Former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, an ethnic Tajik, disagrees. "It’s too early to say that the commanders have put their support behind Mr. Qan[u]ni," Rabbani told the Dubai-based Khaleej Times in an August 19 interview. "The commanders have their own interests and they will definitely consider that before supporting Mr. Qan[u]ni."
As father-in-law to Ahmad Zia Massoud, Rabbani has come out in full support of Karzai. "I believe that with the appointment of Ahmed Zia, Mr. Karzai will enjoy more support," Rabbani said."It may result in an increase in support. But if it doesn’t increase the support, it definitely won’t reduce it."
At the same time, however, Karzai must exercise caution in his show of enthusiasm for Massoud. Many of the president’s fellow Pashtuns tend to hold the former Tajik fighter in far less regard. That suspicion stems largely from Karzai’s Tajik-dominated government – a situation that Karzai has pledged will be addressed, but so far, there are few results to show for his promises. Perhaps to allay Pashtun misgivings, Karzai did not attend a memorial for Massoud held near the fighter’s tomb in the Panjshiri Valley on September 9.
Editor’s Note: Daan van der Schriek is a freelance journalist based in Kabul.
Taliban not seeking reconciliation with Afghan authorities: spokesman
ISLAMABAD, Sept 13 (AFP) - A Taliban spokesman has rejected claims by the United States military in Afghanistan that leaders of the ousted militia were seeking truce with the authorities in Kabul, a report said Monday.
'We strongly deny the assertion by US military and consider it just a rumour,' a Pakistan-based private Afghan Islamic Press report quoted Taliban spokesman Hamid Agha as saying in a faxed statement.
'No Taliban representative has contacted or held any negotiations with the authorities in Afghanistan,' Agha said. 'Taliban are launching attacks in Afghanistan on the orders of Al-Qaeda or any other country, but they are following orders from their own leadership,' Agha said.
The US military Saturday said support for the ousted Taliban regime was waning and many of its leaders were seeking to call a truce with the Afghan authorities.
Taliban leaders and militants from the Hezb-e-Islami guerrilla organisation had been in contact with the US military and Afghan authorities saying: 'We want to come in from the cold and we want to stop fighting,' Major Scott Nelson told a news briefing in Kabul on Saturday.
US-led forces toppled the Taliban in late 2001 for failing to surrender Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the September 11 attacks. Attacks against government officials, civilians, electoral and aid workers have intensified in recent weeks.
Some 18,500 US-led troops are hunting militants in the south and east of the Afghanistan which is in the grip of a guerrilla insurgency, while 8,000 ISAF troops patrol Kabul and some northern provinces.
Taliban leader offered contact
The Associated Press 09/12/2004
WASHINGTON – A day after former President Clinton sent cruise missiles against al-Qaida targets in Afghanistan, the leader of the country's ruling Taliban militia telephoned the State Department and offered to talk, according to a State Department message disclosed Friday.
Little came of the contact, although Mullah Mohammed Omar counseled the department that the United States would never be accepted as a friend of the Muslims unless Congress forced Clinton to resign.
Clinton announced Aug. 21, 1998, that he had sent cruise missiles "to strike at the network of radical groups affiliated with and funded by Osama bin Laden, perhaps the pre-eminent organizer and financier of international terrorism in the world today." The attacks were to retaliate for the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa two weeks earlier that killed 231 people.
Bin Laden, mastermind behind the al-Qaida terror network, was blamed for those as well as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. He had established training camps in Afghanistan under Omar's protection. His camps and a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, Sudan, that was thought to have been connected with bin Laden were targets of the cruises.
Bin Laden and his comrades escaped. After Sept. 11, U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan and in a brief campaign brought down the Taliban government and put bin Laden to flight. Both Omar and bin Laden remain at large.
The message, drafted by Michael E. Malinowski, then the head of the State Department's Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh desk, reported what is believed to be the first and perhaps only U.S. contact with the rabidly anti-American Muslim cleric.
After a translator confirmed that the caller on an open State Department line was Omar, the message said, "Malinowski noted that we had much to speak about, especially the continued presence of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and the threat that bin Laden posed to Americans."
"Omar replied that, while he had no particular message for us, he was open to dialogue," the message said. "Malinowski suggested that open telephone lines were inappropriate for that serious dialogue."
The message was provided to The Associated Press by the National Security Archive, an independent nongovernmental research group based at George Washington University that collects previously secret government documents. The archive said it obtained the document through a Freedom of Information Act request.
In summarizing his conversation with Omar, Malinowski said the Afghan "parroted some of bin Laden's hard-line views" but listened to U.S. arguments on why Clinton ordered the attacks against Afghanistan and Sudan and "the reasons why bin Laden's continued activities were not in the interest of the Afghan people."
"Omar warned that the U.S. strikes would prove counterproductive and arouse anti-American feelings in the Islamic world," the message said. They could spark more, not fewer, terror attacks, it said.
In another section, Malinowski wrote, "He said that in order to rebuild U.S. popularity in the Islamic world and because of (Clinton's) current domestic difficulties Congress should force President Clinton to resign."
At the time, Clinton was under intense pressure of his affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Some Republicans suggested that he may have sent the missiles to divert attention from the scandal. The Taliban leader told Malinowski he knew of no evidence that bin Laden had planned our carried out terror attacks from Afghanistan.
"Malinowski replied that there was considerable evidence against bin Laden, and that the evidence was solid," the message said. "He noted that Omar and the Taliban should be well aware of what bin Laden had been up to in Afghanistan."
"Omar conducted himself in a careful and controlled manner," Malinowski wrote. "At no time did he bluster or threaten." In a paragraph marked "comment," Malinowski said: "Omar's contact with a (U.S.) official is rather remarkable, given his reclusive nature and his past avoidance of contact with all things American. "It is indicative of the seriousness of how the Taliban view the U.S. strikes and our anger over bin Laden."
Living with the drought in Ghazni
GHAZNI, 13 September (IRIN) - Baz Mohammad is looking for work, even though he is only 10. He was forced to leave the village school just outside the provincial town of Ghazni after his father died - a victim of the drought that is devastating this part of south-central Afghanistan. His 34-year-old father died two weeks ago after falling into a deep well used to irrigate his small garden and wheat field.
The death of Gul Mohammad, the sole breadwinner in his family, is not the only example in an area where deep wells are the only way of obtaining water for irrigation. Local people told IRIN that at least five people had died in similar accidents involving unmarked, unfenced wells over the past 12 months.
Southern and eastern Afghanistan are the areas worst affected by drought, the United Nations said earlier this month when appealing, along with the Afghan government, for US $71 million to help 6.3 million Afghans affected by a drought now in its sixth year.
Grain prices in these regions increased by about 50 percent in recent weeks, making them too expensive for many villagers, the UN said. About 37 percent of Afghanistan's 28.5 million people are classed as "food insecure", twice as many as a year ago, the UN warned.
Traditionally, agriculture in the region has been nourished by a system of canals bringing surface water to the fields, but more than 95 percent of such waterways have dried up in Ghazni as a result of the six-year drought that continues to undermine food security and health.
Digging deep into the earth for water is the only alternative to starvation for many rural people. But now such wells have to reach down at least 30 metres - twice the distance of just two years ago - to draw precious ground water to the surface.
Even drinking water is becoming increasingly hard and energy-consuming to find for people already weakened by malnutrition. "I go to a water source over that mountain to bring drinking water every day. It takes me three hours to reach the water with two donkeys," Amiro, an emaciated farmer with seven children, told IRIN, pointing to a distant hill south of his village in Waghez district.
The number of Afghans needing assistance is increasing as refugees return home from neighbouring Iran and Pakistan. On 2 September, the UN registered the one millionth Afghan refugee to return home from Iran since its repatriation programme began in April 2002. More than 2.1 million Afghans have returned from Pakistan, according to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Livestock herds are also rapidly shrinking due to a lack of water. "Our village had 102 cows before these years of drought. Now, we have only two cows out of that number," Safar Ali, an elderly farmer from Jaghori district, said.
Traditional coping mechanisms have also been blighted, leaving a vulnerable rural population. "Those who had fruit trees as a means of ensuring some income during difficult times have suffered the severest losses because there is no water to irrigate the trees now," Ali added.
Those with the means have left the region, while those without are lucky if they can turn a family member into a labour migrant. "I was pretty well-to-do five years ago thanks to my small orchard of grapes. But now, I cannot water the orchard and I am in debt to every person left in this village," Abdul Hakim, 56, said. His only alternative is to send his son to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to make money.
Some relief supplies are reaching the region but not nearly enough, local officials say. "Several hundred trucks loaded with wheat and cooking oil came last month from Pakistan for the drought-affected people of Ghazni and Wardak provinces, but it was too little to meet the needs of the people," Qadir Ghazniwal, Ghazni's provincial planning chief, told IRIN.
The country's minister of rural development, Hanif Atmar, recently called on people badly affected by the drought in southern provinces to remain in their villages where possible as urgent aid was imminent. "Thirty-seven percent of people in villages have lost access to food," the minister said, adding that an estimated 4,000 families had been displaced already from their homes in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand due to a lack of food and water.
Repatriation operation to continue from Pakistan - UNHCR
ISLAMABAD, 13 September (IRIN) - The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will continue operating its voluntary repatriation assistance programme for Afghan refugees from Pakistan, as the agency announced a suspension of operations from Iran via Herat following the attack on the UN offices in the western Afghan city of Herat on Sunday.
"The UNHCR operation is continuing from Pakistan. There is no change in the operation here. Obviously the situation though is in the state of flux at the moment and our main concern is to ensure that everybody is safe in Herat," Jack Redden, a spokesman for UNHCR Pakistan, told IRIN in the capital, Islamabad, on Monday.
The buildings of the UNHCR and the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) were attacked by demonstrators protesting against the sacking by Afghan President Hamid Karzai of Ismael Khan, the governor of the western Afghan province of Herat.
"The trouble is in the west, while mostly the people [Afghan refugees] are moving to eastern parts of Afghanistan from Pakistan," Redden said.
Meanwhile, the UNHCR announced on Monday that it will end its assistance on 15 September to four "new" refugee camps in Balochistan located in the Chaman area of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan. The refuge agency had stopped all its activities in the nine "new" camps in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) on 31 August and two similar camps in Balochistan province on 5 September, but announced an extension for four camps offering the residents relocation to another camp in Balochistan at Mohammed Kheil.
According to the UN refugee agency, no refugee in the four camps on the border at Chaman had accepted the offer to relocate to an alternative camp.
Many Afghans in the Chaman camps said that, rather than relocate to a camp where basic services are available, they would prefer to stay without the UNHCR assistance near the border town where it is easy to find daily labouring jobs, the UNHCR press statement said.
The UNHCR had announced earlier this year that the agency would end all assistance to "new" camps, established near the Pakistan-Afghan border to shelter those fleeing the conflict of late 2001 in Afghanistan. Some 82,000 out of a total of 190,000 Afghans availed themselves of the UNHCR special package for repatriation from "new" camps.
However, the agency will continue to provide water, sanitation, education and medical services in nearly 200 "old" camps throughout Pakistan.
The UNHCR statement said that it was difficult and expensive to provide services to the Chaman camps, which were located on a barren strip along the border with Afghanistan where water had to be supplied by tanker trucks. There was also increasing concern about security because of the long porous border, the statement said.
The UNHCR's regular repatriation assistance package is available until March 2006 to all Afghans wishing to return from Pakistan. The UN refugee agency has assisted some 2.25 million Afghans repatriating to their homeland, including some 350,000 so far this year.
Lubbers deeply concerned over Afghanistan violence
Source: UN High Commissioner for Refugees 13 Sept 2004
This news release was issued by Media Relations & Public Information, UNHCR, Geneva.
GENEVA - The High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, has expressed deep concern after UNHCR had to suspend its operations in western Afghanistan for the second time in less than a month following the violence in Herat at the weekend.
Early on Sunday morning, several hundred protesters attacked the UNHCR compound in Herat. UNHCR staff took refuge in an underground bunker while the crowds looted the offices and surrounding buildings. Herat's other U.N. compounds also came under attack, and it took several hours before security forces were able to lead the staff to safety.
UNHCR is now relocating its personnel out of Herat. All UNHCR activities in western Afghanistan have been temporarily suspended, including the daily convoys for Afghan refugees in Iran who wish to repatriate.
"This suspension comes at the worst possible time for Afghanistan," Lubbers said, "when increasing numbers of refugees are coming back to their homeland, and just a few weeks ahead of an election that will shape the future of the country. It is crucial that U.N. staff be allowed to do their very important work at such a vital juncture. This process must take place in safety: it is intolerable that anyone's life should be endangered."
The violence, which left several dead and many injured, started after an announcement that Herat's governor Ismael Khan, was being moved to a ministerial post in Kabul. Supporters of Khan took to the streets of Herat and began several hours of rioting and clashes with governmental and U.S. troops.
The United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, condemned the attacks as "perpetrated by a tiny group who tries to undermine the governments' efforts to restore security and stability in this part of the country."
More than a thousand Afghan refugees who were on their way back from Iran are stranded at the border following the suspension of UNHCR voluntary repatriation convoys. Around 1,000 are staying in a refugee camp, the rest are waiting in emergency shelter for the convoys to start crossing the border again.
More than one million refugees have returned from Iran to Afghanistan since the beginning of the UNHCR voluntary repatriation programme in April 2002 * up to 3,000 people a day in recent weeks. Herat is the first port of call within Afghanistan for refugees returning from Iran, and the recent instability in the region has delayed their travel on several occasions in the past few weeks. In August, UNHCR had to suspend its convoys from Iran for several days because of fighting around Herat between Khan's supporters and troops loyal to a rival regional warlord. In the longer-term, UNHCR is concerned that continued instability could jeopardise the chances of Afghan refugees still in Iran who wish to return home with UNHCR assistance.
In all, more than 3.6 million Afghan refugees have returned home * mainly from Iran and Pakistan * since early 2002.
LE HCR DEPLORE LA VIOLENCE DANS L'OUEST DE L'AFGHANISTAN
GENEVE- Le Haut Commissaire pour les réfugiés, M. Ruud Lubbers, a exprimé sa vive inquiétude à propos de l'instabilité qui sévit dans l'ouest de l'Afghanistan, alors même que le HCR s'est vu dans l'obligation de suspendre son programme de rapatriement volontaire entre l'Iran and l'Afghanistan suite aux violents événements à Hérat ce week-end.
Plusieurs centaines de mécontents ont attaqué les locaux du HCR à Hérat dimanche matin, forçant le personnel de l'agence à prendre refuge dans un bunker souterrain. Les locaux de plusieurs autres agences des Nations Unies à Hérat ont également été la cible d'attaques. Il a fallu plusieurs heures avant que les forces de l'ordre puissent évacuer le personnel.
Le HCR a aujourd'hui ramené son personnel d'Hérat à Kaboul et a suspendu toutes ses activités à Hérat, y compris le programme de rapatriement volontaire pour les réfugiés afghans en Iran qui souhaitent être rapatriés avec l'assistance des Nations Unies.
«Cette mesure de suspension intervient au pire moment possible pour l'Afghanistan, » a dit le Haut Commissaire, « juste avant les élections qui vont jouer un rôle important pour définir l'avenir du pays, et alors qu'un nombre de plus en plus important de réfugiés reviennent en Afghanistan. Il est essentiel que le personnel des Nations Unies soit à même de remplir les fonctions très importantes pour lesquelles il est sur le terrain. Ce processus doit se passer en toute sécurité : il est inadmissible que la vie de quiconque soit mise en danger. »
Les violents événements de ce week-end ont débuté après que le gouvernement ait annoncé le remplacement d'Ismael Khan dans ses fonctions de Gouverneur d'Hérat et sa nomination à un poste ministériel à Kaboul. Des partisans de Khan sont descendus dans les rues d'Hérat où ils se sont livrés à plusieurs heures de combats avec les forces gouvernementales.
Le Secrétaire général des Nations-Unies, M. Kofi Annan, a condamné les attaques contres les locaux onusiens, qu'il a qualifiées « d'actes isolés, commis par un tout petit groupe qui essaye d'affaiblir les efforts du gouvernement pour rétablir la paix et la sécurité dans la région. »
Plus de mille réfugiés Afghans qui étaient sur le chemin du retour sont maintenant bloqués à la frontière iranienne suite à l'interruption des convois de rapatriement volontaire du HCR. Un millier de personnes environ se trouvent dans le camp de réfugiés de Torbat-e-Jam, quelques centaines d'autres ont passé la nuit dans des hébèrgements d'urgence.
Plus d'un million de réfugiés ont quitté l'Iran pour rentrer en Afghanistan depuis le début du programme de rapatriement volontaire du HCR en 2002 ; y compris jusqu'à 3000 personnes par jour au cours des dernières semaines. Hérat est le premier port d'accueil pour les réfugiés de retour d'Iran et la phase d'instabilité récente dans la région a causé des problèmes pour le bon déroulement de ces retours volontaires à plusieurs reprises. En août, le HCR avait déjà dû interrompre ses convois de rapatriement à partir de l'Iran à cause des combats entre les partisans d'Ismael Khan et les troupes loyales à un autre chef de faction local.
En tout, plus de 3,6 millions de réfugiés afghans sont rentrés, principalement de l'Iran et du Pakistan, depuis le début de 2002.
Why al-Qaeda is winning
THE ROVING EYE By Pepe Escobar Asia Times September 11, 2004
Three years after September 11, President George W Bush's crusade is a failure. "War on terror" is a meaningless myth: you can't combat a supple attack machine like al-Qaeda with shock and awe. What should have been a long, meticulous police operation was turned by Bush - instigated by his foreign policy adviser, God - into an illegal, preemptive attack on a nation that had nothing to do with terror.
This policy has actually increased terror attacks around the world. Last year in Cairo, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, Sheikh Yamani, a man who knows one or two things about Arabs, violence and oil, said the invasion would produce "one hundred bin Ladens". They are here, and they have no one else but Bush to thank.
Bush's mission from God - Bush's key perceived strength - apart from his dynastic family name and extra-profitable connections - is his carefully polished image of a strong, straight-shooting, tough-talking commander-in-chief during times of war.
It should be very easy for the slumbering John Kerry campaign to smash that armory. Before Iraq turned into a quagmire - before the 1,000th dead American soldier, the 7,000th wounded American soldier, the 14,000th or maybe even 22,000th dead Iraqi civilian - Bush kept insisting that Iraq was "the new front in the war on terror". Now Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are doing everything in their power not to make the connection - because a majority of Americans seem to view Bush as relatively strong on terror, but a failure in Iraq.
Two related facts are undisputable: more Americans are facing death and destruction in Iraq after Saddam Hussein was captured than before; and now there are increasingly more global terrorist attacks than when Bush proclaimed his "crusade", or "war on terror". The Bush administration always sold the war on Iraq as part of the "war on terror". Reminding Americans about it is to fully certify Bush's overall failure.
In his acceptance speech at the Republican convention in New York, Bush said that "the government of a free Afghanistan is fighting terror; Pakistan is capturing terrorist leaders; Saudi Arabia is making raids and arrests; Libya is dismantling its weapons programs; the army of a free Iraq is fighting for freedom; and more than three-quarters of al-Qaeda's key members and associates have been detained or killed".
But consider this: Osama bin Laden, his deputy Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri and Taliban leader Mullah Omar have not been "smoked out" or captured - "dead or alive", or otherwise - and most likely are still very much active in Afghanistan. And now al-Qaeda, in its delocalized mutation, is thriving around the world. There's nothing "free" about Afghanistan: the Taliban are back, controlling vast areas of the country, in the south and southeast, and the rest is controlled by warlords. In the Afghan presidential election next month, Hamid Karzai will be certified, at most, as the mayor of Kabul. In Pakistan, President General Pervez Musharraf - known as "Busharraf" - barely survives multiple assassination attempts as dictator-in-charge.
And there's nothing "free" about Iraq. Shi'ite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani - who wants direct elections - and the militant Shi'ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr - who wants the end of the occupation now - are the most popular figures in the country. Former US asset turned American-imposed Prime Minister Iyad Allawi barely controls a few Baghdad neighborhoods. The 1,000th dead American soldier pales in comparison with the Bush administration losing the whole Sunni triangle to the Iraqi nationalist resistance. This loss is proof that the war is unwinnable. It also reduces the January 2005 Iraqi elections - if they ever happen - to a joke.
The bottom line: since Bush proclaimed his "crusade" or mission from God against terror, the United States, the Middle East and the world are immensely less safe.
Bush-Cheney '04 are afraid US voters will start making these connections as the November elections draw closer. For the apocalyptic Cheney - as on the campaign trail in Iowa - there's nothing left but the language of fear: "It's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on November 2, we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we'll get hit again." So this is how it works: If you vote Bush, al-Qaeda won't strike. If you vote Kerry, al-Qaeda will strike. Kerry, therefore, is a threat to the US. The problem is, bin Laden votes Bush. Here's why.
The al-Qaeda makeover - Al-Qaeda is more of a multi-headed hydra than ever: the "global" head plus the "local" heads. "Global" al-Qaeda includes groups of multinational operatives striking in the US (as in September 11) or in Western Europe (Madrid's train blasts). These are above all Arab-Afghans, remnants of the jihad of the 1980s against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. "Local" al-Qaeda on the other hand strike in their native countries against Western targets (for example in Casablanca, Bali and Istanbul): these are all part of the big al-Qaeda franchising.
The "historic" al-Qaeda is itself split in two: bin Laden's faithfuls, who have followed him since the Peshawar, Pakistan, days for more than two decades; and the new breed who "graduated" in Afghanistan from 1997 to 2001. Many of bin Laden's faithful have been killed or captured - in essence by Pakistani, not US, forces: they include Mohammed Atef, Abu Zubayda, Suleiman Abu Graith and the alleged mastermind of September 11, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.
For a long time Western intelligence was prone to propagate the myth of al-Qaeda as a pre-September 11 organization with many heads, with sleeping cells occasionally galvanized into action. This is false. Al-Qaeda as a rule waits for no one - unless technical glitches occur, and these usually involve delays in recruitment, research, team-assembling and elaborate counter-security measures. The delays also prove that al-Qaeda is much less of a well-oiled organization than the Bush administration would like the world to believe.
Al-Qaeda subscribes to no political strategy, other than the strategy of total opportunism: as any kind of attack can happen any time, anywhere, it rules by fear - while at the same time demonstrating it is immune to any large-scale US war, from Afghanistan to Iraq. The rule-by-fear tactic also serves the Bush administration well, as fear is constantly used as a powerful political argument to justify the administration's policies ("Be afraid, be very much afraid, but you can count on us to protect you").
Unlike the Bush administration's spin, European intelligence experts in Brussels assured Asia Times Online that the Madrid bombing was only accidentally tied to Spain's national elections. It was not the case that "Spaniards had bowed to terror" (Washington's version), but that Bush ally Jose Maria Aznar's conservative government was mendacious enough to lie to the country, blaming Basque separatists when it already had evidence to the contrary.
The avant-garde brigades - The members of al-Qaeda's new elite were either born in Western Europe - many hold a legitimate European Union passport - or came to the West while still very young and then became radicalized. As Bush is a born-again Christian, they are sort of born-again Islamists. The most important fact is that this "return of the repressed" (Islam) is above all a political radicalization. The new breed's brand of political Islam is much more "political" than "Islam".
Very few of these new brigades come directly from Islamic countries. And their exile is one-way: they never come back to where their families come from. The classic itinerary was to sharpen the knives at a peripheral jihad - Afghanistan, Kashmir, Chechnya - to become widely respected mujahideen, and then go back to Western Europe. They never went to fight in the Maghreb or in the Middle East - although the war in Iraq started to change this pattern.
In 1997, bin Laden obtained from his friend and admirer Mullah Omar monopoly control over the Arab-Afghan training camps in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the Pakistanis and the Uzbeks maintained their own training camps. This means that every single jihadi who was not Pakistani or from Central Asia who went to Afghanistan between 1997 and 2001 was trained at an al-Qaeda camp.
Unlike the faithful, none of the new breed of Arab-Afghans is close to bin Laden. But they definitely inherited a legendary al-Qaeda esprit de corps. The best and the brightest were trained to come back to Western Europe, wait and then raise hell. But the majority stayed behind fighting alongside the Taliban: among these were the hundreds captured by the forces of commander Ahmad Shah Masoud, the Lion of the Panjshir, before he was assassinated exactly three years ago, on September 9 - al-Qaeda's "signal" for September 11.
The best and the brightest of this new al-Qaeda elite form the current backbone of bin Laden's organization - the people who have masterminded and carried out global attacks for the past two years. They remain a very tight bunch, although now thoroughly globalized; treason - and squealing - is out of the question; and most astonishingly, there's nothing to it of a secret society. They work as a band of brothers, sharing everything - apartments, bank accounts - even in the open. Al-Qaeda's joint chiefs, the command and control structure, the base cells and the complex networks, everything works like some family enterprise in northern Italy, based on personal relationships, be they nurtured in Afghanistan or in any other country. But then a complex process of deterritorialization sets in, and the virus spreads.
For al-Qaeda, this poses a tremendous problem. It's easy for Western intelligence (or for the Pakistanis, when they're up to it) to grab a bunch of operatives after identifying a single one of them - as with the recent arrests in Pakistan timed to coincide with the Democratic convention. And with no al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan anymore, there are no places left to meet: Chechnya is too dangerous, the tribal areas in the Pakistan-Afghan border are teeming with US troops, and the Shawal region that straddles Pakistan and Afghanistan is too remote and under constant satellite surveillance.
Brand recognition the name of the game - This is a key reason al-Qaeda mutated still further. To survive and prosper, it needed more converts, and it needed to strike an array of strategic alliances. An additional problem was that al-Qaeda was never a political movement: it is basically an attack machine. Jihad yes, always. But the local objectives involved could not be more disparate - from Chechens fighting Russian occupation to Iraqis fighting US occupation.
Franchising, anyway, worked wonders. As more people in more countries - and the Bush administration - started blaming al-Qaeda for any attack, the desired cumulative effect was the same: al-Qaeda is everywhere.
Local al-Qaeda alliances now include everybody and his neighbor: Jemaah Islamiya in Indonesia (the Bali bombing) and Southeast Asia; warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyr's jihadis in southeastern Afghanistan; the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (responsible for the Tashkent bombings in July); and perhaps even the mysterious, one-legged jack-of-all-trades, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, configured by the Bush administration as the new bin Laden in the Iraqi Sunni triangle.
Old-style al-Qaeda might well be pulverized by the Pentagon any time. But "al-Qaeda", the brand, lives, whatever the Bush administration spin. Zarqawi is the best example: he may not even be directly linked to bin Laden anymore, and he is now the sole boss of his own terrorist cottage industry.
Like a multinational product, "al-Qaeda" suits everybody. For President Vladimir Putin in Russia, Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan, even President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the Philippines, "al-Qaeda" is the ideal excuse for any repressive or inept regime presenting its credentials as a full-fledged member of the "war on terror". For al-Qaeda's purposes, bin Laden remaining the supreme evil is an invaluable propaganda coup. And for al-Qaeda franchises - free to pursue their own initiatives - using the brand means guaranteed media impact.
"Al-Qaeda" the brand has now embarked on an inexorable logic of expansion - in flagrant contradiction to Bush's assertion that the world is safer. Al-Qaeda will keep deepening its alliances with ethnic and nationalist movements - with Shamil Basayev, the emir of the mujahideen in Chechnya and trainer of the Black Widow squadrons of female suicide bombers, or with sectors of the Iraqi resistance in the Sunni triangle. "Global" al-Qaeda in all these cases works and will continue to work as a sort of "Foreign Legion", as French scholar Olivier Roy puts it, a capable military vanguard that is useful for local purposes for a determined period of time.
"Global" al-Qaeda may also even profit from the fact that national liberation movements, in desperation, decide to go on an all-out offensive, improving their alliances of circumstance with al-Qaeda. The al-Qaeda brand is also becoming attractive to scattered sectors of the extreme left, because more than appealing to radical Islam, al-Qaeda has succeeded in branding its image as the revolutionary vanguard in the fight against American imperialism. The cross-fertilization between radical Islam and disfranchised Muslim youth born and raised in the West is also performing wonders: when young people convert to Islam in a dreary suburb of Brussels, Paris, Hamburg or Madrid, it all has to do with political anger rather than discovering a direct line to Allah.
A nihilistic big business - At the Republican convention, while the Republicans were harping on September 11, Bush said the Iraq war was "his" war, part of a mission from God to bring freedom to the repressed. "Terrorists hate America because they hate freedom." Wrong: "terrorists" (in fact national resistance movements) hate America because America's imperial policies are the antithesis of freedom.
As nihilistic as it may be, al-Qaeda, from a business point of view, is a major success: three years after September 11, it is a global brand and a global movement. The Middle East, in this scenario, is just a regional base station. This global brand does not have much to do with Islam. But it has everything to do with the globalization of anti-imperialism. And the empire, whatever its definition, has its center in Washington. Bin Laden is laughing: Bush's crusade has legitimized an obscure sect as a worldwide symbol of political revolt. How could bin Laden not vote for Bush?
Lawyer Says Afghan Torture Trial Unfair
Mon Sep 13, 1:11 PM ET By STEPHEN GRAHAM, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - An attorney for one of three Americans charged with torturing Afghans on a vigilante hunt for terrorists said Monday the men were not getting a fair trial.
Chaotic procedures and error-strewn and missing translations of court proceedings and documents were hampering the defense, lawyer Robert Fogelnest said.
"That's one reason why I will ask on Wednesday for these charges to be dropped," Fogelnest told a court. "This legal system does not meet international standards of justice."
Monday's hearing, which marked the first appearance of two new American defense attorneys, was called to clarify if the defense team was ready for a session Wednesday that the judge said should be the last in the trial.
Jonathan Idema, Edward Caraballo and Brent Bennett were arrested July 5 when Afghan forces stormed a house in Kabul, finding eight men who complained they had been tortured.
Idema, a former U.S. soldier who once was convicted of fraud, claims he was working in close cooperation with the Defense Department and the American military — something U.S. officials deny.
The men face up to 20 years in jail if convicted on the charges, which include illegal entry and kidnapping.
Fogelnest, representing Caraballo, a journalist who was making a documentary on counterterrorism, criticized the judge for allegedly neglecting procedures and said the defense urgently needed translated transcripts of earlier sessions.
Judge Abdul Baset Bakhtyari referred him to the other lawyers and media reports.
The lawyers also turned to confront one of the trio's former prisoners, a senior official at the Afghan Supreme Court, sitting in the gallery.
Fogelnest called the man, Maulawi Sidiq, a "terrorist" and taunted him with a photograph showing him with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a renegade Afghan warlord whose followers are fighting U.S. forces and the Afghan government.
Bakhtyari pleaded for order. "If you are real defense lawyers, you shouldn't call anyone a criminal" unless they are convicted, he said.
Sidiq said the photo was at least 7 years old — well before Hekmatyar, a former Cold War client of the CIA, was blacklisted by the United States.
Sidiq told reporters that Idema's armed group "couldn't find anything against us" when they raided his house and detained him and several others. "We've not had the slightest contact with anyone who is against the government," he said.
Wednesday's session would be the sixth in a trial that has embarrassed the U.S. military, which acknowledges receiving a prisoner from Idema, and NATO, whose forces helped him in three raids.
It has also shown an Afghan justice system struggling to manage a case in which several of the country's leaders have also admitted contact with Idema — although no complicity in his activities.
The defense lawyers have played videotapes in court and to reporters showing the trio's prisoners talking about alleged plots and the Americans meeting with prominent Afghan politicians.
Women's rights debate kicks up a political storm
Mon Sep 13, 1:07 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Nearly three years after the fall of the hardline Islamic Taliban regime in Afghanistan, as millions of women prepare to vote in upcoming elections, even debating women's rights remains an issue fraught with difficulty.
Abdul Latif Pedram, a French-speaking poet who returned from exile and is standing for president in the October 9 elections kicked up a political storm earlier this month by calling for a debate over a woman's right to call for a divorce.
Pedram's comments aired repeatedly on state television in which he also suggested that polygamy should be outlawed because it was "impossible" for a man to make four wives happy, have left him open to charges of blasphemy.
Afghanistan's Supreme Court accused Pedram of blasphemy and called for him to be barred from the country's first presidential election on October 9.
"He has said that with polygamy justice is not possible," the head of the Supreme Court's publication department Waheed Mujda told AFP.
Mujda said calling for a debate on women's right to divorce was "against Sharia."
Islamic Sharia law gives the right to a Muslim man to marry up to four wives providing he can treat them equitably although women do not have the right to ask for divorce without their husband's consent.
"Right after his speech was on TV there were lots of angry phone calls to the Chief Justice asking Pedram to be tried for blasphemy," said Mujda.
The High Council of the Court sent letters to the government, the United Nations and the joint UN-Afghan electoral commission asking that Pedram be disqualified from running as a candidate in the presidential elections," Mujda told AFP.
The electoral commission is examining the matter but thus far no action has been taken, a source close to the body said.
Pedram claims the decision by the supreme court was a political sabotage and a plot by his enemies.
"This is a political sabotage against me by my political rivals at this crucial time ahead of elections," Pedram told AFP.
"I have said nothing against Islam and this decision by the chief justice is against law and constitution," he added.
The controversy highlights the cultural taboo of talking about marital politics in a country where few women are free to chose their own husbands or leave them even if they are abusive.
"Women here are locked up for wanting to remarry after they have been widowed, for leaving husbands who beat them and for refusing to marry the person their parents chose," said Rachel Wareham, an aid worker with women's rights charity Medica Modiale.
Wareham cited the example of one widow who was given a one-year jail sentence for wanting to remarry and who is appealing the case from jail.
"Most of these 'crimes' are not offenses under either Islam or the penal code. The woman is the victim and the man should be prosecuted, but it never works out that way," she said.
Released Pakistani prisoners tell tales of woes
By Javed Aziz Khan The News International, Pakistan
PESHAWAR: As many as 364 Pakistanis released from infamous Pul-e-Charkhi Prison in Afghanistan arrived here early Monday morning. They travelled in 13 vehicles amid tight security from the border town of Torkham to the central prison Peshawar.
Most of the released people, 180, belong to the Punjab province, 78 others belong to Sindh, 94 are from NWFP, one from Islamabad, four from Azad Kashmir and three each belong to Northern Areas and Balochistan. "Those who belong to NWFP would be released after going through some legal formalities while the rest would be handed over to the authorities of their respective provinces," an official told The News. He added arrangements have been made to accommodate these people in Peshawar jail for some time.
The first convoy of three buses reached Peshawar at about 1:00 am, followed by four more buses an hour later. The last convoy of six other vehicles arrived just before the dawn after their release from Pule Charki prison, one of the biggest in the world with a capacity of some 20,000 prisoners. A pleasant smile, cracked on everyone’s face’ could be felt when these prisoners were stepping down from buses on their soil. These people have been released as goodwill gesture by the Karzai government, three weeks ahead of presidential elections in the country.
"I never fought alongside Taliban but I was there only to catch some precious birds," an elderly person who refused to mention his name told while entering the prison. He said there were a number of others who never fought against US but were kept in miserable conditions in different jails. Young Anwar said he was brutally tortured in detention. "The signs of torture could be seen on my back and other parts of body. They did this with everyone," he revealed.
Those who have been released on the orders of President Hamid Karzai on Sunday included Shahid Mahmood of Toba Tak Singh, Hussain Ahmad of Attock, Shah Wazir of Dir Bala, M Latif of Talagang, Gul Sher of Haripur, M Mahboob of Gujranwala, Maqbool Ahmad of Sialkot, Fazal Qayyum, Samar Bagh, M Amir of Islamabad, Haq Nawaz of Jhang, Bakht Zada of Karachi, Masjood Ahmad of Rahimyar Khan, M Amjad of D G Khan, Nasir Ahmad of Sahiwal, Jabbar of Karachi, M Yar of Khanewal, M Sadiq of Khanwal, M Yaqoob and Mahboob of D G Khan, M Akram of Karachi, M Idrees of Karachi, M Ishfaq of Faisalabad, Pir Asif of Malakand, Mohamamd Usman of Larkana, M Anwar of Gojranwala, M Akram of Lali Wask, M Ishaq of Karachi, M Kashif of Sindh, Bakhtiar of Peshawar, Fazal Rehman of Karachi, Shahabuddin of Karachi, Ghulam Yasin of Khanewal, Razaq Mahmood of Azad Kashmir, Roohul Amin of Karachi, Ghulam Nadir of Multan, Masood Ilyas of Azad Kashmir, Rawlakot, M Sadaqat of Attock, Mahmood of Karachi, Mian Munir of Sialkot, Abdul Rehman of Rawalpindi, M Sohail of Chitral, Naveed Akhtar of Rahimyar Khan, Zulqarnain of Azad Kashmir, Anwar Ali of Chota Lahore Swabi, Afzal Khan of Karachi, Noor Aslam of Karachi, Mohibbullah of Mardan, Shaukat Khan of Karachi, Shahid Khan of Karachi, Zahid of Vehari, Sadaqat Hussain of Azad Kashmir, Taj M of Rahimyar Khan, Wahidullah of Mohmand Agency, M Khalid of Jhang, Tahir of Swat, Javed Khan of Darra Adamkhel, Farman Sadiq of Gujranwala, Khalil Rahman of Karachi, M Riaz of Sargodha, Wahid Ahmad of Toba Tak Singh, Saifullah of Chitral, Ibrahim Khan of Karachi, Shah Hakim of Batkhela, Gohar Mahmood of Mardan, M Salim of Karachi, M Asif of Rahimyar Khan, Gul Nawaz of Swat, M Saleh of Karachi, Zahoor Khan of Nowshera, Gul Nawab of Swat, Gulab Noor of Tank, Amir Zeb of Swat, Khuda Bakhsh of DG Khan, Said Badshah of Buner, Faisal Mahmood of Khushab, Tariq Mahmood of Toba Tak Singh, Farid Shah of Karachi, Said Umar of Karachi, Ishfaq Ahmad of Karachi, M Sajid of Mandi Bahauddin, Hayatullah of DG Khan, Nazir Ahmad of Azad Kashmir, Faiz Talib of Dir Bala, Nisar Khan of Dir Lower, M Shahid of Gujranwala, Bilal of Attock, Said KAram of Nasir Abad Balochistan, Babar Kahn of Karachi, Bismillah of Kohat, Tauqir Ahmad of Mandi Bahauddin, Khalil Rahman of Vehari, Salim Mahmood of Dir, M Nasir of Attock, Ayub Khan of Swat Kanju, Umar Badshah, Dir Payan, Abdul Malik Shah Takhtbhai Mardan, Amir Khan Dir Payan, Fazal Rahim, Kabal, Swat, Said Umer Dir Bala, Fazal Hakim Dir Payan Dost M Peshawar, Asif Mahmood Attock tehsil Jund, Amanullah Peshawar, Shahid khan Mansehra, Aseem Qureshi, Abbottabad, Faheem Qureshi, Abbottabad, Muhammad Ilayat Mianwali, Abdul Karim Sangarh, Zulfiqar Ali Rahimyar Khan, Amjad Ali Khaniwal, Aamnir Sadiq Gujranwala, Tanveer Ahmad Lahore, Fayaz Gul Karachi, Fazal Rehman Bahawalpur, Abdul Ghaffar Laya, Ali Asghar Hyderabad, Abdullah Balochistan, Imran Karachi, Sajjad Ahmad Lahore, Ali Asghar Tobateg Singh, Abdul Mutalib Karachi, Abul Kalam Karachi, Abdur Rashid Karachi No 31, Ali Zaman Karachi, M Israr Mianwali, Irfan Khan Noshera Kalan, Liaqat Ali Gujranwala, Kalimullah Gujranwala, M Shahbaz Gujranwalai, Abdul Malik Multan, Imran Karachi, M Ayub Rahimyar Khan, M Shahid Okara, Jamshed khan Mardan, Shamur Rahman Dera Ghazi Khan, M Arif Karachi, M Laiq Karachi, Amreen Shah Buner, Nazir Ahmad Multan, Naeem Iqbal Karachi, Naveed Ahmad Sialkot, M Sarwar, Sheikhupura, Khalilur Rehman Faisalabad, M Sajid Bawalpur, Danial Karachi, M Shuaib Dera Ghazi Khan, Umr Rahman Dir Bala, M Zubair Multan, Ashiq Mirpur, Mehboob Ahmad Vehari, Obaidur Rehman Kohistan Dasu, M Imran Gujranwala, M Aslam Muzafargarh, M Aslam Lodra, M Aslam Kaachi, M Tayyab Sahiwal, Rafique, Khaniwal, M Shafiq Karachi, Abdul Hameed Rahimyar khan, M Asif Bahawalpur, Abdus Salam Sialkot, Mahmood Karachi, Abdul Ghafoor Toba Teg Singh, Abdul Majeed Bahawalpur, Abdul Basit Bahawalpur, Abdullah Dir Bala, Maqsood Ahmad Hyderabad, Abdul Wahab Sahiwal, Atiqur Rehman Gujranwala, Umara Khan Dir Bala, Ali Rehman Mingora, Azam Khan Batkhela, M Younus Bakkar, M Asif Qasur, M Irshad Qasur, Gulzar Swat, Riaz Swat, Shaukat Ali Multan, M Shoaib Muzaffargarh, Ajmal Khan Chakdarra, M Dildar Karachi, Riaz Salim Kohat, Raband s/o Hasamuddin Karachi, M Aamir Dera Ghazi Khan, Mukaram Khan Buner, Gulzar Ahmad, Bahawalnagar, Ghulam Mustafa Muzaffargarh, Waqar Ali Peshawar, Syed Ghani Buner, Hamidullah Dera Ismail khan, Sabir Ali Dera Ghazi Khan, Sadi Ahmad Faisalabad, Yasir Ahmad Sargodha, Sajid M Mandi Bahawuddin, Ihsanullah Dir Bala, Hamid Khan Okara, Asad Kamran Multan, Habib Rehman Buner, Ahmad Saood Jhang, Ghulam Sarwar Sargodha, Ahmad Murad Chitral, Nasir Khan Haripur, Shahzeb Karachi, Khalil Rehman Karachi, Gulzar Alam Dir Bala, Khalid Mahmood Lahore, Younus Mavis Multan, Abu Bakar Muzaffargarh, Nadir Karachi, Noor M Dir, Janbaz Karachi, Ziaur Rehman Attock, M Abdullah Faisalabad, M Mujahid Toba Teg Singh, M Abid Sahiwal, M Naveed Gujranwala, M Ali Karachi, Niaz M Dir, Taj M Mansehra, M Ismail Muzaffargarh, M Zamrullah Khaniwal, Iftikhar Nowhera, Najmuddin Attock, Gul Afzal Dera Ismail Khan, M Usman Faisalabad, M Yaqoob Sheikhopura, Liaqat Ali Karachi, Salim Hussain Karachi, M Salim Gujranwala, M Saeed Lahore, M Sherin Dir Bala, Ghulam Mustafa Faisalabad, M Imran Lahore, Said Ali Shah Dir Payan, Ahad M Peshawar, Liaqat Ali Faisalabad, Ghulam Murtaza Khaniwal, Said Ali Sajid Bakkar, Said Ahmad Faisalabad, Nadir Ibrar Balochistan, M Salim Karachi, Jalal Hussain Swat, Nasir Mahmood Danishpur, Tariq Mahmood Bahawalpur, Taimur Shah Dir, M Jehangir Karachi, Afsar Ali Swat, M Imran Rahimyar Khan, Anis Karachi, Asif Suhail Lahore, M Aslam Lodhran, Khadim Hussain Sangarh, Haroon Saeed Lahore, M Iqbal Lodhran, Sajid Mahmood Chakwal, M Irfan Gujranwala, M Owais Kashmir, M Ghani Kashmir, Shah Akbar Buner, Wazirzada Charsadda, Ishtiaq Ahmad Okara, Shamshad Ali Faisalabad, M Iltaf Mianwali, M Banaras Khan Mansehra, , Mubarik Shah Tarbela, M Yousuf Khaniwal, Ihsan Akhtar Vehari, M Adnan Karachi, Sajid M Karachi, Ubaidullah Bahawalnagar, M Yaqoob Atock, Mazhar Iqbal Bahawalpur, M Siraj Karachi, Ghulam Umar Swat, Gul nawab Dir, Jan Badshah Dir, M Umar Gotki, Rahimullah Gilgit, Umar Hayat Khushab, M Afzal Faisalabad, M Mehmood Faisalabad, Allah Bakhsh D.I.Khan, M Maqsood Okara, Mohammd Asalan Lahore, M Anwar Karachi, Mohammd Ishfaq Attock, Mehtab Hussain Abbottabad, Shaukat Ali Karachi, Latifur Rehman Swabi, Abdul Khaliq Khaniwal, Amjad Ali Abbottabad, M Naeem Bahawalpur, Khanzada Dir, M Iqbal Hafizabad, M Sarfaraz Okara, Abdul Sattar D.G.Khan, Habib Rahim Peshawar, M Ubaidullah Lodhran, Shahid Mehmood Sargodha, M Irfan Toba Teck Singh, Hamid Haider Karachi, M Rafiq Karachi, M Ibrar Batkhela, Mudasir Hussain Gujrat, Asadullah Dir, Attaullah D.G.Khan, Malik Ghulam Rahimyar Khan, M Abbas Karachi, Abdul Rehman Chakwal, M Asif Sahiwal, M Ramzan Bahawalpur, Abdul Rehman D.I.Khan, M Shahbaz Norawal, M Bashir Swat, M Tahir Karachi, Umar Farooq Ludhran, Mahmoodul Husain Sargodha, M Tahir Karachi, M Anwar Karachi, M Ramzan Sargodha, M Safdar Bahawalnagar, Abdul Ansar Jang, Abdul Qadeem Muzaffargarh, Asadullah Rajanur, Ali Nawaz Sangarh, M Javid Gujranwala, M Zia Dir, M Shafiq Karachi, Maqsood Ahmad Sahiwal, Mahmoodul Hussain Bahawalnagar, M Amin Lahore, M Akhtar Muzaffarar, Hafiz M Multan, M Asif Lahore, M Akram Multan, M Adnan Muzaffarabad, M Sajid Karachi, M Sajid Ogi, M Sohail Karachi, M Irfan Karachi, Asif Ali Sargodha, M Ishfaq Haripur, M Arshad Rahimyar Khan, Shahid Nawaz Khaniwal, M Nadeem Karachi, Sadiq Hussain Faisalabad, Amjad Hussain Batkhela, Asadullah D.G.Khan, Sher Alam M Hafizul Haq Gilgit, Inamullah Hyderabad, Muzaffar Iqbal Gilgit, Mushtaq Ahmad, Roohul Amin, Karachi, Farooq Ahmad Rahimyar Khan, Ziaul Haq Karachi, Nisar khan Faisalabad, Zahoor Hussain Jang and Ghulam Murtaza of Jang.
Hundreds of Pakistanis, who entered Afghanistan to fight alongside Taliban when US attacked the country, were languishing in different jails in the war-hit country for years after the Taliban government toppled and the new administration took over the charge.
There release started two years back when the first batch of 55 Pakistanis arrived in Peshawar airport in a special C-130 plane on September 4, 2002.
Afghanistan: UN Staff Relocated After Kabul Attack
Tuesday, 14 September 2004, 9:11 am Press Release: United Nations
Afghanistan: UN Mission Relocates Some Staff From West To Kabul After Attacks
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has decided to relocate 38 of its staff from the troubled western city of Herat to the capital Kabul for several days following yesterday's violent ransacking of the regional offices of UN agencies and non-government organizations (NGOs) there.
Filippo Grandi, the Secretary-General's Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan, told reporters today in Kabul that 15 international staff, as well as hundreds of UN staff who are Afghan nationals, will stay on in Herat to repair the buildings and open emergency premises.
The offices and compounds of UNAMA, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) were all damaged yesterday, when hundreds of locals demonstrated against the Afghan Government's decision to replace Ismail Khan as the governor of Herat province.
Facilities belonging to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the International Organization for Migration, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and the Danish Aid Committee were also attacked.
Mr. Grandi, who led a mission of senior UNAMA staff to Herat today, said the attacks against the UNAMA and UNHCR compounds were the most shocking.
"I have seen in my life destroyed UN premises but I have hardly ever seen the type of the destruction that I saw in the UNAMA office. The office is in ashes and everything is burned. They spilled gasoline and threw matches and the whole office does not exist any more," he said.
Mr. Grandi stressed that the temporary removal of the 38 staff was not a sign that the world body would be abandoning the city.
He also said he was encouraged by a meeting today with the new Herat Governor, Mohammad Khairkhwa, and his commitments to defending human rights and women's rights, as well as to promoting security.
UNHCR chief Ruud Lubbers said his agency was suspending its operations in western Afghanistan for the second time in a month because of the instability.
"This suspension comes at the worst possible time for Afghanistan, when increasing numbers of refugees are coming back to their homeland, and just a few weeks ahead of an election that will shape the future of the country," he said.
"It is crucial that UN staff be allowed to do their very important work at such a vital juncture. This process must take place in safety: it is intolerable that anyone's life should be endangered."
Mr. Lubbers' comments add to yesterday's statement from Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who condemned the violence, occurring less than a month before an estimated 10 million Afghans go to the polls to elect a president.
Rumsfeld Knew of Prisoner Abuse, Claims New Book
Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian
WASHINGTON, 14 September 2004 — Evidence of prisoner abuse and possible war crimes at Guantanamo Bay reached the highest levels of the George Bush’s administration as early as autumn 2002, but Donald Rumsfeld, the US defense secretary, chose to do nothing about it, according to a new investigation published in the Guardian yesterday.
The investigation, by the veteran journalist Seymour Hersh, quotes one former Marine at the camp recalling sessions in which guards would “fuck with (detainees) as much as we could” by inflicting pain on them.
The Bush administration repeatedly assured critics that inmates were granted recreation periods, but one Pentagon adviser told Hersh how, for some prisoners, they consisted of being left in straitjackets in intense sunlight with hoods over their heads.
Hersh provides details of how the US president approved the establishment of a secret unit that was given advance approval to kill or capture and interrogate “high-value” suspects — considered by many to be in defiance of international law — an officially “unacknowledged” program that was eventually transferred wholesale from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Hersh, who broke the story of the My Lai massacre in the Vietnam War, makes his revelations in a new book, “Chain of Command,” which leaves senior figures in the Bush administration far more seriously implicated in the torture scandal than had been previously apparent.
A CIA (the US international intelligence agency) analyst visited Guantanamo in summer 2002 and returned “convinced that we were committing war crimes” and that “more than half the people there didn’t belong there. He found people lying in their own feces,” a CIA source told Hersh.
The analyst submitted a report to Gen. John Gordon, an aide to Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s national security adviser.
Gen. Gordon was troubled, and, one former administration official told Hersh “that if the actions at Guantanamo ever became public, it’d be damaging to the president.”
Rice saw the document by autumn of the same year, and called a high-level meeting at which she asked Rumsfeld, to deal with the problem.
But after he vowed to act, “the Pentagon went into a full-court stall”, a former White House official is quoted as saying. “Why didn’t Condi do more? She made the same mistake I made. She got the secretary of defense to say he’s going to take care of it.”
The investigation further suggests that CIA and FBI (the US domestic intelligence agency) staff had already witnessed incidents at Guantanamo just as extreme as those that would subsequently be alleged by freed inmates.
A senior intelligence official told Hersh: “I was told (by FBI agents) that the military guards were slapping prisoners, stripping them, pouring cold water over them and making them stand until they got hypothermia.”
The secret “special access program” facilitating much of the mistreatment of prisoners, widely held to have contravened the Geneva Convention (on the rights of prisoners of war), was established following a direct order from the president.
Hersh reports that a secret document signed by Bush in February 2002 stated: “I determine that none of the provisions of Geneva apply to our conflict with Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan or elsewhere throughout the world.” Hersh’s book reports that an army officer communicated concerns over abuses at Abu Ghraib both to Gen. John Abizaid, the US Central Command (Centcom) chief at the time, and his deputy, Gen. Lance Smith.
The officer told Hersh: “I said there are systematic abuses going on in the prisons. Abizaid didn’t say a thing. He looked at me — beyond me, as if to say, ‘Move on. I don’t want to touch this.’” Centcom has disputed the allegation.
In an interview with the Guardian, Hersh provided evidence that the administration sought to evade the issue: He said codenames of some programs were changed within hours of his original story appearing, presumably to maintain their secrecy.
In a statement, the Pentagon, the US military headquarters, said Hersh’s investigation “apparently contains many of the numerous unsubstantiated allegations and inaccuracies which he has made in the past based upon unnamed sources....Thus far...investigations have determined that no responsible official of the Department of Defense approved any program that could conceivably have authorized or condoned the abuses seen at Abu Ghraib. If any of Mr. Hersh’s anonymous sources wish to come forward and offer evidence to the contrary, the department welcomes them to do so.”
Pressure has been building on the Pentagon over its detention policies after it emerged at a Congressional hearing last week that the administration is being accused of concealing up to 100 “ghost detainees” from the Red Cross, which must be granted access to prisoners of war and other detainees under the Geneva Convention.
Rumsfeld told reporters on Friday he had approved the use of harsh interrogation measures, but that they had only been meant for Guantanamo. He said the measures ought to be contrasted with those of terrorists.
“Does it rank up there with chopping someone’s head off on television?” he asked. “It doesn’t.”
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