Pentagon announces billion-dollar plan to build five Afghan army bases
Tue Sep 28, 5:52 PM ET Politics - AFP
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The Pentagon notified Congress of plans to build five bases in Afghanistan for the Afghan National Army at a cost of up to one billion dollars.
The Pentagon said Afghanistan had requested the bases be built for the Afghan army's Central Corps in Kabul and four regional commands planned in Gardez, Kandahar, Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif.
"The total value, if all options are exercised, could be as high as one billion dollars," the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said in a statement.
It said the project would be carried out by the Army Corps of Engineers.
The description provided to Congress indicated that plans call for building a large walled base in Kabul with training barracks, medical and dining facilities and buildings to store vehicles and supplies.
The other bases also would have training barracks, dining facilities, medical clinics, and communications centers as well as basic utilities -- power, water, and sewage treatment plants.
The Pentagon did not say where the money would come from for the project, or how soon construction might begin.
"The proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that we hope to help become an important force for political stability and economic progress in South Asia," the DSCA said.
It said Afghanistan "needs these services to support the recruitment, training, bed-down, and operational effectiveness of a military capability to establish security and stability throughout Afghanistan, and to promote the stability and development of a friendly, democratic central government."
The creation of the Afghan National Army has been the centerpiece of US efforts to gradually offset the power of regional warlords.
Only about 13,500 Afghan army troops have been trained and fielded so far, but plans call for a force of some 70,000 troops in five years.
Four Afghan soldiers, two gunmen killed in firefight in Taliban stronghold, official says
Tuesday September 28, 11:41 PM
Militants ambushed an Afghan military patrol in a Taliban stronghold Tuesday, sparking a three-hour gunbattle that left four troops and two rebels dead, an Afghan official said.
The incident was the latest in a string of attacks and killings blighting the run-up to the country's historic presidential election on Oct. 9.
In the ambush, about 20 gunmen opened fire on 30 militia soldiers riding pickup trucks through Nawbahar, a mountainous district of Zabul province, deputy police chief Jailani Khan said.
"It was a Taliban ambush," Khan said. "They fought it out for three hours with AK-47s and machine-guns until the enemy retreated into the hills."
Two militants were killed and two more captured, he said. Four of the Afghan militia soldiers died.
Zabul is a hotbed of the Taliban-led insurgency roiling parts of the south and east of the country despite the presence of 18,000 American-led troops.
The rebels have threatened to disrupt the country's first national election since the Taliban's ouster almost three years ago, and officials warn that violence could surge in the next two weeks, also in the relatively peaceful capital.
"We will do what we can to tighten security during the elections and protect the poor people," Khan said.
In another incident, Khan said the driver of former Zabul Gov. Hamidullah Tokhi had been beheaded in an attack in the province on Monday.
Khan blamed the Taliban, but provided no evidence to show that the deadly factional rivalries which also plague the region were not behind the slaying.
Meanwhile, state television reported that suspected Taliban had killed two religious leaders in the southeast.
The report cited a statement by the national council of religious leaders condemning the killing on Monday in Ghazni province, and identifying the victims as Maulawi Abdul Bari and Maulawi Noor Mohammed.
The council said the two had worked for "prosperity and peace" but didn't make clear if they were supporting government projects such as the elections.
3 U.S. Soldiers Injured in Afghan Attack
Tuesday September 28, 1:46 AM AP
Three U.S. soldiers were wounded, one of them critically, when Afghan insurgents attacked their vehicle with rockets and guns, the American military said Monday.
The military also announced the capture of more than five Taliban leaders, and confirmed the death of a rebel commander who had been released from the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The American soldiers were hurt when militants attacked the vehicle Saturday morning near Qalat, the capital of the troubled southeastern profince of Zabul, a military statement said.
It said the three wounded soldiers were evacuated to a military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany for treatment. One soldier was in critical condition and the other two were in stable condition.
Zabul is a focus of operations for the 18,000-strong American-led force battling Taliban insurgents and other anti-government militias across the south and east of Afghanistan.
More than 900 people have died in violence across the country so far this year. U.S. and Afghan officials say militants are stepping up attacks in an attempt to disrupt Oct. 9 presidential elections.
U.S. and Afghan forces captured "more than five" Taliban leaders in operations since Saturday, the statement said. No details of their identity was released.
The military also confirmed the killing of Abdul Ghaffar, a rebel commander in the Taliban stronghold of central Uruzgan province.
Afghan officials say that Ghaffar, who died along with two other suspects in a gunbattle Saturday night, rejoined the rebels after being released from Guantanamo Bay.
Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said on Sunday that Ghaffar was captured shortly after the U.S. bombing campaign which pushed the Taliban from power in late 2001, but released about eight months later.
A U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that Abdul Ghaffar was once held at Guantanamo.
Lt. Cmdr. Flex Plexico, a spokesman for the Pentagon, said, "Transfers (of prisoners home) are not without risk. We make a determination about transfer of a detainee based on the best information we have at the time. Remember, some of these people are highly skilled in concealing the truth."
The U.S. military also said U.S.-led forces had rounded up more than 10 "Taliban facilitators" in the southeast, disrupting the guerrillas ability to plan and conduct raids.
INTERVIEW - Top al Qaeda figures unlikely to be in Afghanistan
Monday September 27, 6:40 PM
KABUL (Reuters) - Senior al Qaeda figures such as Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri are more likely to be in Pakistan than Afghanistan, the U.S. commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan said on Monday.
Lieutenant-General David Barno said no major al Qaeda figure had been caught or killed in Afghanistan since 2002, while Pakistan has arrested or killed dozens of operatives linked to the terror network since March.
"We see relatively little evidence of senior al Qaeda personality figures being here (in Afghanistan) because they can feel more protected by their foreign fighters in remote areas inside Pakistan," he told Reuters in an interview.
Bomb explodes in Afghan capital days ahead of polls
Mon Sep 27,11:13 PM ET South Asia - AFP
KABUL (AFP) - A bomb exploded in the Afghan capital late Monday, just days ahead of the country's landmark presidential elections, but caused no injuries, officials said.
"There was a small bomb explosion in the 11th police district by the main road but luckily (we) had no casualties," Kabul police chief General Baba Jan said.
The explosion hit some two metres from a local police post and the blast broke the windows of surrounding shops.
"It was just next to the police post," Baba Jan said, adding that six people had been detained for questioning over the incident.
"I heard a loud blast and didn't understand what it was, but thank god it was late and the street was empty," said Ahmmand Zaman, a pharmacist whose shop windows were shattered by the blast.
Officials said it too early to say who was responsible for the blast but militants with the ousted fundamentalist Taliban regime have claimed similar attacks in the past.
"It is soon to say Taliban are behind it but it was an act by the enemies of our country who want to sabotage the election," said a source close to the Ministry of Interior.
Afghans will go to the polls on October 9 to choose their president in the first elections to be held since the ousting of the Taliban by a US-led offensive in late 2001.
Security has been deteriorating ahead of the elections while Taliban militants have pledged to disrupt polls and vowed to attack all 18 presidential candidates. They have claimed responsibility for a rocket attack which missed President Karzai's helicopter earlier this month.
Remnants of the ousted Taliban regime have also claimed responsibility for five rockets which were fired over the Afghan capital injuring two people on September 9.
Three Americans and at least six others were killed in an attack on US security firm Dyncorp in Kabul on August 29.
Thousands gather as Afghan campaigning picks up
By Hanan Habibzai
SHIBERGHAN, Afghanistan, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of people gathered in a northern Afghan town on Tuesday to hear General Abdul Rashid Dostum launch his bid for the presidency, as a slow election campaign began to gather pace.
Crammed into a sports stadium in Shiberghan, Dostum's bastion, the crowd was largely from the minority ethnic Uzbek clan to which the former Communist commander belongs.
"Afghanistan is going through one of its difficult stages," the burly, moustachioed candidate told the crowd, 12 days ahead of Afghanistan's first direct presidential vote.
"You need to know who you want to vote for," he added, as thousands of supporters clapped in bright morning sunshine.
Many Afghans in the north have complained about the lack of active campaigning in the runup to the landmark poll, which is seen as a key test of U.S. foreign policy as Washington pushes for early elections in strife-torn Iraq.
But after a sluggish start, campaigning has begun to pick up, despite security concerns and a lack of funding that has prevented many of the 18 candidates from travelling.
The rally in Shiberghan was the largest reported election gathering to date, although there are doubts over whether Dostum can appeal to voters outside his traditional heartland in the north of the country.
He had hoped to be named defence minister, but resigned as adviser to President Hamid Karzai before deciding to contest the leadership.
Political analysts suspect Dostum and other candidates may be running against Karzai, the clear favourite, to win political capital and secure a government position after the Oct. 9 poll.
But Dostum's spokesman, Faizullah Zaki, countered such speculation, saying Dostum's push for power was genuine.
"He will win," he said in Shiberghan recently.
KEY U.S. ALLY
Dostum played a key role in helping the United States topple the hardline Islamic Taliban in 2001, but he has seen his influence diluted as a national disarmament drive eats into his militia in the north.
Dostum's forces have a reputation for ruthlessness, but the contender strongly denies allegations that they allowed hundreds of Taliban prisoners to suffocate in shipping containers after they surrendered in the north in late 2001.
Dostum is the self-proclaimed champion of Afghanistan's minority Uzbeks and Turkmens, and loyal followers call him "Dostum Pacha", or King Dostum.
Zaki said Dostum wanted to promote national unity, amid frustration among commanders from minority groups that they are being targeted in the disarmament drive at the expense of the largest Pashtun group, to which Karzai belongs.
Dostum told the crowd that Karzai's government had created an atmosphere of "mistrust", and criticised him for failing to crush the Taliban and allies including al Qaeda who are mostly active in the south and east where Pashtuns are dominant.
Remnants of the Taliban have been blamed for a wave of violence since August last year in which more than 1,000 people have been killed.
They have vowed to disrupt the election, leading many candidates to call for the poll to be delayed until security improved.
U.S. President George W. Bush is likely to want the vote to be held on time in order to portray it as a foreign policy "success" story ahead of his own re-election bid in November.
Afghan warlords 'threaten poll'
BBC News / Tuesday, 28 September, 2004
By Andrew North / BBC correspondent in Kandahar
The power of Afghan armed factions means elections there will go ahead in an environment of fear and repression, US-based Human Rights Watch says.
A 51-page report released on Tuesday says local warlords are involved in widespread intimidation aimed at affecting the 9 October poll results.
Most are former mujahideen leaders and are resisting efforts to disarm them.
The study says warlords are using threats of violence to ensure people vote for their preferred candidate.
While the continuing Taleban insurgency often gets more headlines, it is the grip these commanders retain that worries more people here.
In some areas the report, entitled The Rule of the Gun, argues the power of the warlords is so entrenched that political activists and journalists are censoring themselves for fear of retaliation.
The US group also attacks the American government for complacency about the country's election process and for continuing to work with many of these warlord figures in its war on terror, a strategy it calls self-defeating.
Speaking just before the report's release, the US ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, acknowledged the issue.
However, he said progress is being made in what he called breaking the back of warlordism.
But it is partly because so many militia commanders are still in power that many believe it is too dangerous to hold polls in Afghanistan now, including several candidates who have called for the polls to be postponed.
And Human Rights Watch says the risks have been increased by serious shortcomings in the election organisation process as well as with the level of independent monitoring.
Violence expected ahead of landmark Afghan polls: UN
Sept 29, 2004 09:44:00 AM
New York, Sept 29 (PTI) Though violent incidents remain a threat ahead of the landmark Afghan presidential elections next month, massive security arrangements have been made to counter any such occurence, the United Nations has said.
"We're very much aware that this is a tough environment. We know that it's not going to be an incident-free election," Under Secretary General Jean Marie Guehenno told reporters yesterday.
"Despite the killing of 10 Afghan and two foreign electoral workers, the preparations are on track and the security forces have been conducting special training exercises to test their response strategy," he said.
Guehenno said he could not exclude multiple incidents in the country on or around the election day. "But all efforts are being made to react to attacks, especially on the polling sites and provide security to transportion of ballot and counting centers." Security forces have been stationed at key polling booths to enable them to respond fast and tribal and community leaders were being used across the country to help determine local security arrangements, he said briefing the Security Council.
President Hamid Karzai, whom the United States backs, is expected to win the October nine elections though he has 17 challengers.
More than 10 million Afghans, including at least four million women, have registered to vote to choose a president. PTI
Afghan election notebook 2 - Karzai's hometown
BBC News / Monday, 27 September, 2004 By Andrew North / BBC correspondent in Kandahar
Bakers, birds in cages and Bollywood movies - the real Indian embassy in the country, Afghans often joke.
Kandahar bazaar has an eye-catching mix of shops.
Here are gold- and silver-coloured cooking pots, piled high. Then, several shops stacked only with car radios, followed by a line of butchers - red and brown hunks of meat hanging outside.
The bazaar's main street seizes your attention. That is more than can be said for the election campaign here.
As elsewhere in Afghanistan, the only clues that it is happening are small posters of candidates stuck on walls and doorways - most beaming with the face of the local man, Hamid Karzai.
This is the Afghan leader's home city and heartland of his fellow Pashtuns - the country's largest ethnic group.
There is a campaign underway - just not a very public one.
The secret to understanding it is that campaign teams are effectively getting the voters to do the work for them.
"Our campaign is not the type where we go to the people, they come here," says the man largely running President Karzai's election bid in the south, his brother Ahmed Wali Karzai.
Instead of travelling out to villages and towns, the Karzai campaign has been inviting tribal chiefs and elders to visit them in Kandahar for meetings or "jirgas".
These "influential people from each district go back to their villages and talk to the people," says Ahmed Karzai, suggesting who they should vote for.
About 100 or so elders from Kandahar province are here at the Karzai campaign offices, turbans carefully tied as they sit listening to speeches.
Lunch of mutton and rice follows.
But these gatherings are unlikely to see the president himself - he is not expected to travel to Kandahar before polling day, because of security concerns.
He was nearly assassinated here two years ago.
That is another advantage of the "jirga" tactic - it is also much safer for campaign workers.
After the jirga is over, the elders head home to make their recommendations. But does this system really allow people a free choice?
"Every country has its own way," says Ahmed Karzai.
"This is the way Afghans have decided their future, in history. We are people of jirgas. The jirga comes and people follow that, and we will decide again like this. This is our way for 1,000 years."
With these tactics, the Karzai campaign is certain it has the region in the bag.
"Not only Kandahar," Ahmed Karzai says.
"So far, 95% is absolutely guaranteed - there are people in Helmand [province], without anyone going to them, and they have announced they're supporting the president."
'Unity and peace'
Yet although few doubt Hamid Karzai will win all five southern provinces of Kandahar, Zabol, Uruzgan, Helmand and Nimroz, this is not a one horse race.
To some people's surprise, his main challenger nationwide - Yunus Qanuni - is also organising here.
Some prominent people have come out for him - including Khan Mohammed Khan, the man President Karzai dismissed as Kandahar security commander a few months ago.
He was not happy with his consolation post - police chief - and is now backing Mr Qanuni.
At his campaign office, they have just finished their supporters' meeting.
Things are going well, says Haji Fida Mohammed, Mr Qanuni's campaign manager.
"It's still not known, but we expect to get 60 or 70% of the vote."
Given that Mr Qanuni - a northern Tajik - is strongly disliked by many of the southern Kandaharis, this appears confidence in the extreme.
But Haji Mohammed also says he would be happy if Mr Qanuni did a deal with Mr Karzai and withdrew. "We want unity and peace," he says.
The big concern here in Kandahar is protecting the election process, in what is the most volatile region of the country, the heartland of support for the Taleban, which has vowed to disrupt the elections.
Kandahar could be more exposed, because all the votes from the southern provinces will be counted here. And it is likely to take weeks.
The counting centre will be in the main stadium, which less than three years ago was being used by the Taleban for public executions.
Extraordinary preparations are underway there - reinforced containers being dug into the ground as rocket-proof bunkers and blast-proof concrete installed outside.
All approach roads will be sealed off by polling day on 9 October.
Talatbek Masadykov, the UN head in southern Afghanistan, says it is concerned about the threat of violence - especially in Zabol and Uruzgan, where the Taleban-led insurgency has been most intense.
There, American troops will be essential to keeping the process on track.
But Mr Masadykov says the fact that insurgents were unable to stop voter registration is a sign of hope.
Still, Taleban intimidation means most expect turnout in the south to be lower than other parts of the country.
There are also increasing reports of some campaign teams putting pressure on voters.
Mr Masadykov says the UN has heard such allegations "and we are trying to verify these cases, but so far, it has been very difficult".
In recent weeks, Kandahar has been relatively quiet.
As the election approaches, the question many in the city are asking is - is this a sign that the polls will pass off more peacefully than anyone was hoping, or is it the lull before the storm?
4 polling stations in capital for Afghan elections
Staff Report Daily Times
ISLAMABAD: Four polling stations will be set up in the federal capital for the upcoming Afghan presidential elections on October 9.
The polling stations will be established in sectors G-9/2, G-9/3 and I-10/2 and will be used by Afghan voters living in Islamabad, Rawalpindi and ajjoining areas. Eighteen
Afghan officials and leaders in these areas are being trained to assist returning officers. The training is taking place in Rawalpindi under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, sources said. Returning officers have been directed to register voters at these polling stations between October 1 and October 3. Voting will take place on October 9 between 7am and 5pm.
557 polling centres to be set up in Balochistan: The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) will set-up 557 polling centres in Balochistan for the Afghan presidential elections, APP quoted Richard Atwood, IOM director, on Tuesday. Mr Atwood said that 398 centres would be established in Quetta, 116 in Afghan camps in Mastung, Loralai and Pishin districts and 43 in the Chagai district camps. He said half of these polling centres would be for women.
Phone threats: Staff members who are organising the October 9 Afghan presidential elections have received anonymous phone threats, a senior election official told AP on Tuesday. Pamphlets have also been circulated in Afghan communities in Pakistan warning people not to vote, said Peter Erben from IOM, which is organising out-of-country voting in Iran and Pakistan for the landmark poll.
10 percent of presidential vote: Ten percent of the vote for Afghanistan’s first elected president could come from refugees in Iran and Pakistan, AFP reported on Tuesday.
“The out-of-country vote in Iran and Pakistan is very significant and may constitute 10 percent of the entire vote,” said a UN official.
UN Says Afghan Elections on Track
The Epoch Times - Wednesday Sep 29 11:06 AM SGT
UNITED NATIONS - United Nations officials say preparations for Afghanistan's October 9 presidential election are on track, despite expectations of violence. U.N. and Afghan diplomats reject warnings that powerful warlords will try to hijack the vote.
With a week and a half to go before election day, U.N. Undersecretary General Jean-Marie Guehenno says recruitment of 125,000 poll workers has been completed in six of Afghanistan's eight regions. Sixteen-thousand more observers and poll monitors will be stationed at 5,000 voting centers nationwide.
Ten million people have registered to vote in what will be Afghanistan's first-ever presidential election.
Briefing the Security Council Tuesday, Mr. Guehenno cautioned that the process remains vulnerable to what he called "the prevailing level of insecurity." He said in some areas where security staff is spread thin, tribal elders, some of them often referred to as "warlords," are being asked to help out.
"Tribal elders have been requested to both provide security and work with local councils to ensure that those attempting to disrupt the process are deterred or discouraged," he said. "In most cases, the response has been extremely positive."
Mr. Guehenno's briefing came a day after a human rights group warned that powerful warlords were hijacking the election process. The group Human Rights Watch issued a report saying armed factions, some of them allied with the United States, were using force, threats and corruption to win over voters.
Both Mr. Guehenno and Afghanistan's U.N. ambassador, Ravan Farhadi, brushed off the report's conclusions. Ambassador Farhadi predicted that many of those described by Human Rights Watch as warlords would be among those helping with election preparations.
"This is just their way of propaganda, because the warlords, I mean they were calling warlords those who serve Afghanistan," he said. "A man like Ismail Khan, like [Abdul Rashid] Dostum, General Atta [Mohammed], they are all serving Afghanistan for peace."
Undersecretary General Guehenno said he had heard reports of voter intimidation, but was confident they would not affect the credibility of elections.
The Afghan election is widely seen as a test of the Bush administration's policies in that region.
Mr. Guehenno predicted the vote would be far from perfect, but said he was confident any disruptions would not be enough to damage the credibility of the election.
Up to 800,000 Afghan refugees to cast votes from Pakistan: IOM
Kyodo via Yahoo! Asia News - Tuesday Sep 28 10:40 PM SGT
Up to 800,000 Afghan refugees in Pakistan are expected to cast their votes Oct. 9 in the Afghan presidential election, an official of the International Organization for Migration said Tuesday.
Peter Erben, whose organization has been entrusted with the massive task of conducting the out-of-country portion of Afghanistan's presidential election, told a press conference that the refugees in Pakistan and Iran are expected to play an important part in it.
"The vote in Pakistan and Iran is extremely significant as it may constitute more than 10 percent of the entire election," he said.
Erben, who heads the IOM's Out of Country Registration and Voting Program, said that in Pakistan, where around 1.5 million Afghan refugees live, 1,669 registration and polling stations have been set in around 300 locations.
They include the refugee camps of the North West Frontier Province and Balochistan, as well the urban areas of Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta. Separate stations will be provided for men and women.
In Iran, where around 800,000 Afghans live, approximately 1,200 polling stations will be opened on Oct. 9 in around 150 locations to cater for up to 600,000 voters.
"This has been largest out-of-country operation for refugees ever held and no election of this sort has ever been put together in such a short period of time," Erben said.
"IOM is conducting an election for people who have never voted before in a democratic election, and a great many of those who will be voting are illiterate," he said.
Asked about the threats by formerly ruling Taliban to disrupt the election, he said the Pakistani government has put in place security arrangements so that Afghan refugees can cast their votes without fear.
Southern Afghan women urged to vote despite threats, fears
by Michaela Cancela-Kieffer
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Sept 27 (AFP) - Female election commission educators in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar are persistent and brave, ignoring threats each day they criss-cross the city to convince women to vote.
"Don't miss this chance. We are independent, we are human beings, we have rights. There is an election and it is up to us to decide who should be president," Shukria, 34, tells a small audience of women bakers in this former stronghold of the Islamist Taliban regime.
They listen from behind their veils because a man has slipped into the courtyard where they have gathered near the bread oven.
"What happens if you put crosses for two or three candidates?" asks one of the women.
"Can one woman take several (voting) cards and vote for the others?" asks another.
Holding a ballot paper, Shukria patiently explains the voting system for the historic October 9 election in which President Hamid Karzai and 17 others are contesting the presidency.
This morning, the main question concerns threats of violence around the polls which Taliban militants have pledged to disrupt.
"We have great concerns about our security," says one woman. "We have small children, we are scared for them."
"We are happy with Karzai. Since he came to power women can work, go to school, but we are concerned about security and suicide attacks," explains another.
"If you are scared about security, we have security. It is just propaganda. Don't be afraid. Please, for God's sake, this is a golden chance. It is not a Taliban government where you could not go out even if you were sick," Shukria says.
Some of the women have already taken the major step of getting a voter registration card to take part in the election.
But contrary to national statistics which show 42 percent of registered voters are women, the Pashtun women of the south have often avoided the registration centres.
In the five southern provinces including Kandahar by mid-August, five days before registration ended, 1.2 million cards had been distributed with just 230,000, or 20 percent, going to women.
However, decades of conflict have left many widows, and women make up the majority of the population.
"This country has had two-and-a-half decades during which both males and females have been left uneducated. You cannot change their minds overnight," says Safia Amajan, a women's representative in Kandahar.
"They have not seen anything else but killing of people and mortars ... and machine-guns ... we need some time to reconstruct their minds."
Paradoxically, according to her, the better-off women are the ones who are least likely to vote.
"Those who have to work outside are the ones to register. Some people don't even like their wives to go outside," she says.
Of four average family women questioned by AFP in Kandahar who said they wouldn't vote, one said her husband prohibits her from leaving the house, two others because their mother does not want them to vote and the fourth said she was against the election.
Another, more obvious, division is displayed between urban and rural residents, explains Fatima Jailani, who supervises the civic education of the women of Kandahar.
In the village of Loya Wala, near Kandahar, "Three months ago, a woman was given a (registration) card.
"Her husband came home and she showed the card. She was beaten and sent back to her mother's house with the two children," she says.
Threats made in Pakistan as refugees prepare to vote in Afghan election
Tuesday September 28, 7:41 PM
Staff helping to organize voting in Pakistan by up to 800,000 Afghan refugees for the Oct. 9 Afghan presidential election have received anonymous phone threats, a senior election official said Tuesday.
Pamphlets have also circulated in Afghan communities in Pakistan warning people not to vote, said Peter Erben from the International Organization for Migration, which is organizing out-of-country voting in Iran and Pakistan for the landmark poll.
"I hope that these threats will not in any way obstruct the election process," Erben told a news conference.
He said IOM staff had received threatening calls in the past couple of weeks, but did not elaborate on the nature of the threats. He blamed "unfortunate groups that are interested in disrupting the electoral process."
Taliban-led insurgents in Afghanistan have vowed to sabotage the vote, and at least a dozen election staff have been killed in attacks. There have been no reports of violence during the preparations in Pakistan.
The IOM is scheduled to register voters during three days starting Friday, just a week ahead of the vote itself _ Afghans' first chance to directly elect their leader after more than two decades of fighting. Millions who fled the fighting and drought are still living in Pakistan and Iran.
The incumbent, President Hamid Karzai, who came to power after a U.S.-led coalition ousted the Taliban militia from power in late 2001, is expected to defeat his 17 challengers.
The election is seen as a crucial step toward Afghanistan's recovery, and Erben said refugees were eager to take part.
"We have traveled around and talked with many Afghans about the elections and we are struck by their level of commitment to the process," he said.
"They want these elections to go ahead and they wanted to vote ... They see this as a turning point after so much war in Afghanistan."
The IOM expects that up to 800,000 Afghans in Pakistan will turn up for registration at more than 1,600 stations. The group is also catering for up to 600,000 potential voters in Iran. Already, some 10.6 million people have registered to vote inside Afghanistan.
Preparations for out-of-country voting began late because of prolonged negotiations between Afghanistan, the U.N. organizers and the two host countries.
Afghanistan to introduce new law on anti-terrorist financing
KABUL, Sept. 28 (Xinhua) -- The Afghan government, in a fresh bid to further restrict terror activities and chock terrorists' financial resources, has decided to introduce a new law, Presidential spokesman Jawed Ludin said Tuesday.
"Afghanistan as part of its commitment to keep on fighting against terrorists would soon introduce a new law to check and chock terrorists' financial income," he said at a news conference here.
"A draft, prepared by the Ministry of Justice and the central bank 'De Afghanistan Bank' after approval by the cabinet would be enacted by the president," he noted.
He declined to provide more details by saying: "I cannot comment on details of the law but hope it would provide framework to check money laundering used for illegal activities".
This is the first time that post-Taliban Afghanistan as a front-line ally of the United States in the ongoing war on terror is inking a new restriction on Taliban and their al-Qaeda and like-minded allies.
Remnants of the former fundamentalist regime are still receiving financial assistance from unknown circles both at home and abroad to keep on their hit-and-run activities in certain parts of the war-torn country.
In Afghanistan, observers believe it is difficult to check remittances as many prefer to use the traditional way of "HAWALA,"that is, remitting through money changers and shopkeepers.
The United States and its allies earlier have frozen the assetsof Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders in different countries including Pakistan, but failed to effectively deliver as the insurgents are active in many parts of the world including Afghanistan.
Pakistan holds al-Qaeda suspects
BBC News / Tuesday, 28 September, 2004
Pakistan says 11 alleged militants have been arrested since security forces killed leading al-Qaeda suspect Amjad Farooqi on Sunday.
They include a key suspect in a suicide bombing in Karachi in 2002 that killed 11 French engineers, an official in southern Sindh province said.
President Pervez Musharraf says the killing of Farooqi has removed "a major terrorist threat".
On Tuesday, Farooqi's family called for his body to be released for burial.
A spokesman for the Sindh provincial government, Saluddin Haider, said the latest arrests had been made "in connection with the interrogation of the accomplices of Amjad Farooqi".
He added: "We are quite hopeful of breaking this network."
Two accomplices were arrested after Sunday's shootout in Nawabshah, 250km north-east of Karachi. Farooqi and two other men were killed.
Interrogators said the accomplices told them Farooqi was responsible for the assassination attempt on prime minister designate Shaukat Aziz in July. Mr Aziz escaped unhurt but nine people died.
Pakistani intelligence also suspected Farooqi of involvement in two assassination attempts on President Musharraf last December and in the killing of US journalist Daniel Pearl.
A security official told the AFP agency that three of the 11 suspected militants arrested were brothers from Sukkur, 200km north of Nawabshah, and belonged to the outlawed Jaish-e-Mohammad group.
Two others were arrested elsewhere in Sindh province and six in Punjab province.
The May 2002 attack outside the Sheraton hotel was one of the most deadly in Karachi.
The 11 French naval engineers killed were helping Pakistan's navy develop a new submarine.
On Tuesday, the family of Farooqi appealed to President Musharraf to allow the militant's body to be released for burial.
Muslim tradition calls for burial within 24 hours of death.
However, DNA tests are still under way to confirm Farooqi's identity and may take another four or five days.
Farooqi's elder brother, Mohammed Javed, said: "My brother is gone and he will not come back, but at least we have the right to get his body.
"We appeal to the president to give his body to us."
President Musharraf arrived in Italy on Tuesday as part of his European tour.
He is scheduled to meet Pope John Paul and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, with global terrorism likely to be high on the agenda.
Afghan national arrested in J&K
Press Trust of India Jammu, September 28
The Border Security Force (BSF) troops have arrested an Afghan national near Indo-Pak border in Jammu and Kashmir on Monday night, official sources said in Jammu on Tuesday.
Identified as Gulshan Ahmed from Afghanistan, the 59 year old had crossed into Indian territory via international border in RS Pura in Jammu district, they said.
When Gulshan was arrested, only Rs 90 in Pakistani currency was recovered from him, they said. Gulshan has been sent to joint interrogation centre for questioning, they added.
Analysis: Does Bin Laden still count?
By Gordon Corera / BBC security correspondent Tuesday, 28 September, 2004
What has happened to Osama Bin Laden? Is he dead? On the run? Or readying for new attacks on the US?
These are questions that have been asked almost constantly for the past three years, but have a particular resonance now.
On the two previous anniversaries of the 11 September attacks, Bin Laden made some kind of appearance.
In 2003, it was video footage of him walking in the mountains, although it was unclear when it was filmed.
In 2002, his voice was heard on a video praising those who had carried out the attacks on New York and Washington.
But so far this September, we have yet to hear from him.
The last statement which is believed to have come from Bin Laden himself was the audio message of 15 April.
In it, he gave Europe three months to consider an offer of a truce if it committed to not attacking Muslims or interfering in their affairs.
There have been no major attacks in Europe since the end of that deadline.
A video did appear from Ayman al-Zawahri, al-Qaeda's deputy leader, on 9 September which was designed to boost the morale of jihadis by playing up America's problems in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Of course, Bin Laden's non-appearance cannot be read in itself as a sign that he has died or is no longer hard at work - he could well be biding his time waiting to appear to gloat after a major attack on the US, an attack that American officials say could come in the next few months around election time.
However, his non-appearance still raises important questions about what exactly his role is in al-Qaeda and the broader global jihadist insurgency.
Pulling the strings?
Since 2001, there has been a tendency from both the media and some politicians to personalise the conflict, setting up Osama Bin Laden as an all-powerful puppet master, pulling the strings of a global network that reports to him, and is responsible for every attack.
Before September 2001, there was some evidence to back up that view.
In the case of the 11 September plot itself, the recently released US independent report makes clear that Bin Laden was involved in the plot to a greater level than thought before, actually making changes to details of the plans and intervening over when the attacks should take place.
But things have changed over the past few years. The US has been saying that three-quarters of al-Qaeda's known leadership has been captured or killed.
The core of its leadership is undoubtedly under pressure and having to take extreme care over movements and communications, limiting its ability to direct plans - video messages can provide many clues on location which may be one reason they do not appear so often.
But the problem is that Bin Laden's jihadist ideology has spread like a virus around the world.
Mystique of invincibility
Many of the attacks, like those in Madrid and Jakarta this year, almost certainly were not centrally directed by al-Qaeda but launched by groups and individuals who follow Bin Laden's ideological agenda.
In some cases, individuals and networks have been inspired by Bin Laden but may never have trained at his camps in Afghanistan.
In other cases, existing regional groups have adopted al-Qaeda's narrative of needing to target the "far enemy" of the US and western interests rather than just the local state which they have always been fighting.
New leaders are emerging on the local level, sometimes with limited links to Bin Laden, who can build their own networks and stage their own attacks.
The best example of this is Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi in Iraq who has never been formally part of al-Qaeda itself, and has built his own parallel network.
There has, of course, been speculation that there will be particularly strenuous efforts to find Bin Laden in the run-up to the US presidential election in November.
Personification of the threat
On one level, this would be a huge morale boost for the US and a blow to al-Qaeda's supporters, undermining Bin Laden's mystique as some invincible leader.
But some analysts believe Bin Laden's departure from the scene would have only a limited impact on the overall level of violence.
"In reality it's going to make no difference whatsoever, because his ideology has now infected individuals and groups right across the globe," says MJ Gohel of the Asia-Pacific Foundation.
"From the very beginning, there has been a mistake in understanding the terrorist threat we face. We're not dealing here with a single organisation, a single command and control structure. We're dealing with an ideology and an ideology is very difficult to defeat."
Getting rid of Bin Laden might simply reveal the complex reality of local conflicts, with their roots in specific ethnic, regional issues, and the ideology will live on after its propagator has passed from the scene.
With the personification of the threat gone, it may also make it harder for American politicians to generate the kind of domestic support needed to continue the fight.
Others disagree, arguing that even though he is unlikely to have been involved in planning and executing most of the attacks since 11 September, 2001, Bin Laden still plays a central role in communicating broad strategic objectives which others will then carry out in their own time and manner.
"There's a conventional wisdom that it doesn't matter if Osama Bin Laden is captured or killed, which I think is erroneous," argues Peter Bergen - one of the few western journalists to have interviewed the al-Qaeda leader.
"Both Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri continue to influence the broader al-Qaeda movement, giving them broad strategic guidance via the medium of these audio tapes.
"For instance Bin Laden called for attacks on members of the coalition in Iraq, there were then attacks on Italian police barracks in southern Iraq; there were attacks on the British bank and consulate in Turkey, there was the attack in Madrid."
Capturing or killing Bin Laden remains a key goal for the United States. Doing so would undoubtedly be a major morale booster and would also have some impact on the direction of the struggle - but it almost certainly would not end it.
Final push in 2004 drive to combat polio in Afghanistan
Over 6 million children to receive life-saving polio vaccine in three day effort
Source: UN Children's Fund
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN, 26 September 2004 – More than six million Afghan children under the age of five will be vaccinated against the life-threatening polio virus in the final, three day immunization campaign for 2004 that starts on Tuesday. Every province in Afghanistan will be covered, in a joint initiative between the Afghan Ministry of Health, UNICEF and the World Health Organization.
Afghanistan remains one of just six countries in the world where polio is still endemic, although health experts believe that the National Immunization Days, led by the Government and its partners, have played a crucial role in reducing the number of new cases from 27 in 2000 to just three so far in 2004. The last reported case occurred in May 2004, making the past five months the longest "polio free" period in recent Afghan history.
40,000 vaccinators, one-third of them being women, will stretch out across Afghanistan from 28 September, with the aim of bringing polio vaccine to every community in the country before 30 September. Vaccination teams will travel on foot, on horseback, and on motorcycles across some of the country's most challenging terrain, and in spite of the seasonally high temperatures. The National Immunization Day strategy brings vaccine to children in their homes, to ensure that no child in the target age group is missed. Vaccinators are trained by UNICEF and WHO, in both administering the two drops of oral polio vaccine to each child and ensuring that accurate data is collected on the campaign's coverage.
The United Nations has committed itself to the interruption of wild polio transmission by the year 2005, viewing polio not only as an issue of health, but also as an impediment to economic progress and national prosperity. South Asia is particularly affected – half of the six polio endemic countries are in the region. Afghanistan hopes to have reached the goal of stopping polio transmission by the end of 2005, through regular National Immunization Days and investment in routine immunization services. Last year, Afghanistan opened its first national vaccine storage centre, established by the Ministry of Health with UNICEF support. This development means that Afghanistan is now able to manage the storage and distribution of all essential vaccines within the country. Continued efforts are being made to improve training of health workers, and immunization infrastructure across the country.
To ensure that the importance of vaccination is explained to families, UNICEF has been working with religious and community leaders to solicit their support for the National Immunization Day campaigns. In addition, social mobilizers from the Afghan Ministry of Health have been working in local communities to raise awareness of the campaign, repeating the message that from September 28 – 30th all Afghan children under the age of five should be vaccinated against polio.
The campaign against polio is funded through contributions from UNICEF, Rotary International, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Governments of the United States of America and Japan. A special launch ceremony will be held on Monday 27 September, at the Indira Gandhi Hospital in Kabul, attended by The Afghan Minister of Health, the new Ambassador of Japan to Afghanistan, His Excellency Norihiro Okuda and representatives of UNICEF, WHO and other partners. The launch starts at 10.00 am.
For further information, please contact:
Edward Carwardine, UNICEF Afghanistan, +93 (0)7960 7400, email@example.com
Damien Personnaz, UNICEF Geneva, +41 22 909 5716, firstname.lastname@example.org
Gordon Weiss, UNICEF New York, +1 212 326 7426, email@example.com
Afghan women urged to vote despite threats
By Michaela Cancela-Kieffer Daily Times
Contrary to national statistics, which show 42 percent of registered voters are women, the Pashtun women of the south have often avoided the registration centres
FEMALE election commission educators in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar are persistent and brave, ignoring threats each day they criss-cross the city to convince women to vote.
“Don’t miss this chance. We are independent, we are human beings, and we have rights. There is an election and it is up to us to decide who should be president,” Shukria, 34, tells a small audience of women bakers in this former stronghold of the Islamist Taliban regime. They listen from behind their veils because a man has slipped into the courtyard where they have gathered near the bread oven.
“What happens if you put crosses for two or three candidates?” asks one of the women. “Can one woman take several (voting) cards and vote for the others?” asks another.
Holding a ballot paper, Shukria patiently explains the voting system for the historic October 9 election in which President Hamid Karzai and 17 others are contesting the presidency.
This morning, the main question concerns threats of violence around the polls, which Taliban militants have pledged to disrupt. “We have great concerns about our security,” says one woman. “We have small children, we are scared for them.” “We are happy with Karzai. Since he came to power women can work, go to school, but we are concerned about security and suicide attacks,” explains another. “If you are scared about security, we have security. It is just propaganda. Don’t be afraid. Please, for God’s sake, this is a golden chance. It is not a Taliban government where you could not go out even if you were sick,” Shukria says.
Some of the women have already taken the major step of getting a voter registration card to take part in the election. But contrary to national statistics, which show 42 percent of registered voters are women, the Pashtun women of the south have often avoided the registration centres.
In the five southern provinces including Kandahar by mid-August, five days before registration ended, 1.2 million cards had been distributed with just 230,000, or 20 percent, going to women. However, decades of conflict have left many widows, and women make up the majority of the population.
“This country has had two-and-a-half decades during which both males and females have been left uneducated. You cannot change their minds overnight,” says Safia Amajan, a women’s representative in Kandahar.
“They have not seen anything else but killing of people and mortars ... and machine-guns ... we need some time to reconstruct their minds.”
Paradoxically, according to her, the better-off women are the ones who are least likely to vote.
“Those who have to work outside are the ones to register. Some people don’t even like their wives to go outside,” she says. Of four average family women questioned by the news agency in Kandahar who said they wouldn’t vote, one said her husband prohibits her from leaving the house, two others because their mother does not want them to vote and the fourth said she was against the election.
Another, more obvious, division is displayed between urban and rural residents, explains Fatima Jailani, who supervises the civic education of the women of Kandahar.
In the village of Loya Wala, near Kandahar, “Three months ago, a woman was given a (registration) card.
“Her husband came home and she showed the card. She was beaten and sent back to her mother’s house with the two children,” she says. afp
Drought affects over six million Afghans: minister
KABUL, Sept 28, 2004 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- The successive drought has affected the life of over six million Afghans across the war-shattered central Asian state, Afghan Minister for Rural Development and Rehabilitation said Tuesday.
"Around 6.3 million Afghans are facing the threat of famine as the protracted drought is continuing," Mohammad Hanif Atmar told reporters here at a news briefing.
The majority of the war-weary Afghanistan has lamented in the grip of a sever drought for the last six years.
"This year's drought is the severest one in the living memory of Afghans," he added.
"Some 5,000 families have been migrated to safer places in Daikundi, Bamyan and Faryab provinces," the minister further said.
The UN food agency (WFP) has already begun providing foodstuff to parts of southwest Ghor province and neighboring areas.
To fight the impact of the drought, the Afghan transitional government appealed for 71.3 million US dollars in aid last August. Of these 31 millions dollars have been pledged.
Except Takhar, Kunduz and Badakhshan, the remaining 31 provinces of war-battered country have been affected by the prolonged drought.
The money, he added, would be spent on providing potable water, foodstuff, rebuilding irrigation system and assisting displace people throughout the country.
Denmark vows more humanitarian aid to Afghanistan
COPENHAGEN, Sept 28 (AFP) - Denmark will allocate 23.5 million kroner (3.9 million dollars, 3.2 million euros) in additional humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, Danish Development Aid Minister Bertel Haarder said on Tuesday.
This additional aid brings Denmark's total humanitarian assistance to the war-torn country since April 2002 to 250 million kroner (41.4 million dollars, 33.6 million euros), Haarder said.
"Unfortunately, the situation is far from being normalized and the Afghan authorities are completely dependent on aid from the international community if the reconstruction of this country and the reintegration of citizens who have returned home is to be a success," he said.
"That is why it is essential for Denmark to pursue its assistance efforts in Afghanistan," he added.
A positive development, he said, was the return home of Afghan refugees. Haarder said he expected nearly one million to return this year.
That would bring the number of Afghans who have voluntarily returned home since the fall of the Taliban regime to about four million, he added.
Afghan team arriving to discuss cess issue
ISLAMABAD: A ten-member official delegation from Afghanistan is due to arrive in Islamabad on Wednesday (today) to convince the government to immediately withdraw infrastructure cess imposed by the Sindh government on Afghan Transit Trade (ATT) goods, an official source said.
“Ghulam Jilani Popal, Afghanistan’s deputy minister customs, and Ghulam Nabi Farahi, deputy minister (finance), along with other eight members are arriving in Islamabad to seek a solution of the infrastructure cess imposed by government of Sindh,” the source said.
Meanwhile, the ministry of commerce has opposed 0.5 percent levy on the total cost and freight value slapped by Sindh government, saying it is against the Afghan Transit Trade Agreement (ATTA). Afghan importers have stopped clearance of transit goods from September 1 awaiting a final decision on the issue. Number of containers piling up at the port had reached around 3,000, the source said. The source said the commerce ministry has recommended to the Prime Minister Shukat Aziz to ask the Sindh government to withdraw infrastructure cess as Sindh government has turned down the request of the ministry.
The official said that Afghanistan’s delegation would take up this issue with Prime Minister Shuakat Aziz and hopefully the government of Pakistan would take the decision as per the Afghan Transit Trade Agreement.
It is feared that in case the cess was not withdrawn imports under the Afghan Transit Trade will decline during the current 2004-05 fiscal year.
Afghanistan’s delegation would also take up the issue of demurrage problems that Afghanis are facing at seaports, the official said and added Afghanistan would also seek transportation of containers on trucks. staff report
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