Taliban Deputy Says Not in Talks with Government
By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL (Reuters) - A leader of Afghanistan's ousted Taliban movement has rejected as baseless reports that he has held reconciliation talks with President Hamid Karzai's government.
Mawlavi Abdul Kabir, thought now to be number two in the Taliban hierarchy after its fugitive leader Mullah Mohamad Omar, also dismissed reports of rifts among remnants of the hardline Islamic movement overthrown by U.S.-led forces in late 2001.
Afghan Chief Justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari said recently that senior Taliban figures, including Kabir, were in touch with him about giving up the insurgency they have waged for the past three-and-a-half years since being driven from power.
In an audio message played to Reuters by satellite phone by Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi, Kabir rejected this.
"There have been no talks with the Americans or the current government and whoever has said this, it has no basis," Kabir said.
"As before, the Taliban are under one leadership," Kabir said, referring to Omar.
Hakimi said the message was recorded on Friday somewhere in Afghanistan. Hakimi said Kabir now served as head of the Taliban's political commission, which would make him Omar's deputy.
Hakimi also said the Taliban were working on a plan to change their tactics away from guerrilla warfare.
STRESS ON SUICIDE ATTACKS
He said the focus was now on the training of suicide bombers to target governmental officials, foreign forces and aid workers in major cities and to infiltrate Taliban agents into government security organs to carry out sabotage activities.
"The change of tactics is an easy way for us to have a longer-term war of attrition and would also not cost many lives for us," he said, while denying that the Taliban would be copying the tactics of insurgents in Iraq.
U.S.-led troops toppled the Taliban government after it refused to hand over al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, architect of Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. cities in 2001.
Karzai has said his government is in contact with Taliban members to try to persuade them to lay down their arms and abandon a bloody insurgency that has claimed more than 1,000 lives in the past two years.
However, the government has stressed that the amnesty offer would not be open to around 150 hardline Taliban figures responsible for terrorist attacks or linked to al Qaeda.
Kabir served as the Taliban's top military commander in the east of Afghanistan during the group's rule.
According to Afghan sources in the eastern city of Jalalabad who spoke in 2001, Kabir played a big role in providing safe passage for senior al Qaeda figures, including bin Laden, who had been trapped by U.S.-led forces in the Tora Bora mountains after the Taliban's fall.
Taliban attacks have picked up this spring following a winter lull after the guerrillas failed to make good their vow to disrupt October presidential elections won by Karzai.
But the current intensity of Taliban activity is less than in previous years, leading to speculation that the movement may be struggling to find recruits and resources.
The Taliban blamed the downturn in its winter activity on especially harsh weather.
An 18,300-strong U.S.-led force remains in Afghanistan hunting Taliban remnants and al Qaeda militants, but bin Laden and Omar remain at large.
Afghan opposition calls for restructuring electoral body
KABUL, April 14 (Xinhua) -- The recently established Afghan opposition alliance has questioned the credibility of the UN-sponsored Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) and called for its reformation, the state-run daily Kabul Times reported Thursday.
"The opposition alliance, National Understanding Front, insiststhat the Election Commission should be formed in consultation with opposition parties, otherwise the commission's reliability can be questioned," the daily quoted the Front's spokesman Syed Mohammad Ali Jawed as saying.
An umbrella of 12 small and big parties launched two weeks ago and headed by Mohammad Yunus Qanooni, the former education minister and chief rival of President Hamid Karzai, has also called upon the United Nations to ensure the transparency during the coming parliamentary polls.
In the meantime, the United Nations said Thursday at a news conference here that the candidate nominations would take place from April 30 to May 19 at the Candidate Nomination Offices, conditioning contesting elections to candidates' military and political background.
"An applicant must not have or does not belong to non-official military forces and has not been convicted of crimes against humanity," said a spokeswoman of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan UNAMA.
A considerable number of opposition leaders including its head Qanooni and his deputy Hajji Mohammad Mohaqiq have been accused of violating human rights including involvement in the killing of opponent groups in the past during the civil war.
However, the alliance's leadership who lost last year's historic presidential election to Karzai termed such allegations as unfounded and a trick to bar their victory in the coming legislative polls slated for Sept. 18.
The much-delayed parliamentary elections in Afghanistan will beheld on Sept. 18. The Wolesi Jirga (House of People), with 249 seats, and the Provincial Council elections will take place at the same time. Each Provincial Council will elect one of its members to a seat in the Meshrano Jirga, the upper house of the National Assembly.
UN mission in Afghanistan on standby for potential flooding
UN News Centre
14 April 2005 – After the harshest winter and heaviest snowfalls in years cut off supplies for tens of thousands of Afghans, the United Nations mission in the country is on alert for potential flooding that could affect up to 100,000 people.
“With the weather warming up, snow melting and heavy rains, the rising level of water in many Afghan rivers is now being closely monitored, as it is far higher than seasonal levels,” UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) spokesperson Ariane Quentier told a news briefing today in Kabul, the Afghan capital.
“Although no large-scale floods are currently happening the rising levels of water could signal a deterioration of the situation,” she added of seven high-risk zones in the country. Pre-positioning and response mechanisms have been put in place at the central and provincial levels, bringing together all those who may offer a valuable contribution in case of floods.
Weekly meetings of the Disaster Response Committee, comprising UNAMA, Afghan ministries and coalition forces of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) are monitoring the situation.
Pakistan had no part in Taliban’s emergence
Daily Times Staff Report
PESHAWAR: Negating any possibility that Pakistan was instrumental in raising the Taliban movement in Afghanistan, a former senior officer of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has said the Islamic militia may not re-emerge in their original form but their ideals will continue to inspire coming Afghan generations as they represent a socio-religious system.
Delivering a lecture Friday at the Area Study Centre (ASC) for Russia, China and Central Asia, Peshawar University, Colonel (r) Sultan Amir Imam expressed his views on the topic ‘Taliban phenomenon and its effect on neighboring countries.” Former Interior Minister Naseerullah Khan Babar, Brigadier (r) Mohammad Anwar, a former ISI officer responsible for political affairs of Afghan resistance groups in Pakistan, Professor Dr Azmat Hayat Khan, director ASC, and a number of students and journalists attended the talk.
Col Imam, who enjoys legendary popularity among former Afghan mujahideen for his involvement in Afghanistan since 1983 until the fall of the Taliban, declared Taliban a “regular feature of Afghan social life” in almost all ages. He said that religious seminaries had existed in Khurasan for many centuries and even the first Afghan king, Ahmad Shah Abdali, was a Talib from Multan.
“The Taliban had never been a part of the political process in Afghan history but they were at the forefront whenever the governmental authority witnessed a severe breakdown. But ultimately they returned and did not join the political power process,” he said.
The ex-ISI official said that when Russia invaded Afghanistan, the most hardcore recruits to resist the Soviets emerged from religious seminaries. When the Russian forces withdrew from Afghanistan, the Taliban returned to their seminaries but circumstances once again called them back to the war front, he added. He said that when in October 1994, a Pakistani convoy being headed by him as Pakistan’s envoy in Herat was cordoned by local Asmat and Nadri militiamen, the Taliban emerged on the scene and it created a wrong impression that perhaps Pakistan had raised the Taliban force. On the contrary, he said, the Taliban were an indigenous rising. He said severe infighting and a civil war-like situation in Afghanistan, the complete breakdown of law and order, hooliganism, and the existence of warlords were the circumstances that ultimately paved the way for the Taliban’s consecutive victories.
The only force that stood in the Taliban’s way was Gulbadin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami, he said. But his fighters refused to fight the Taliban and Hekmatyar lost ground, he told the audience.
Naseerullah Babar substantiated Col Imam’s claim and said that Gulbadin had telephoned him after the emergence of the Taliban and sought advise as to whether he should fight them or not. Babar said he advised Gulbadin not to fight the Taliban.
Memorial Held for Americans in Afghanistan
Fri Apr 15, 4:32 AM ET World - AP Asia
BAGRAM, Afghanistan - A memorial service was held Friday for 18 Americans killed when their helicopter crashed during a sandstorm in southern Afghanistan earlier this month.
The ceremony at Bagram, the American military's main base in Afghanistan, included remarks by senior American commanders and the playing of the national anthem.
The April 6 crash, which killed 15 soldiers and three civilian contractors, was the deadliest incident for Americans in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. The three civilians worked for Houston-based Halliburton.
Fifteen sets of rifles, boots and helmets were placed behind pictures of the dead soldiers. Behind photos of the three civilian contractors stood boots, crosses and caps.
About 200 soldiers attended the ceremony at a hangar on the base.
The helicopter crashed about 80 miles south of Kabul while returning to Bagram from a mission to deliver mail and supplies and transport personnel in the insurgency-plagued south. The charred wreckage was found in a desert area near a cluster of brick kilns.
Officials reported no sign of enemy fire and suggested bad visibility and strong winds may have caused a fatal pilot error or technical problem.
Most Afghan Mines Controlled by Warlords: Minister
Friday April 15, 3:35 PM Asia Pulse
KABUL, April 15 Asia Pulse - More than 80 per cent of Afghan mines are controlled by local warlords and commanders, and they have been out of government control since the beginning of the civil war in the country, said the mines and industries minister, Eng. Mir Mohammad Sediq, Wednesday.
The Afghan government has tried to monitor and keep a tight-control over illegal mining; it is potentially a great source of income for the Afghan government.
Eng. Sediq pointed out that five coal mines and one lapis lazuli mine in Badakhshan, and two mines in Nangarhar are under government control."
However, there are more than three-hundred copper, gold, Uranium, coal and precious stone mines throughout the provinces of Afghanistan.
In an interview with Pajhwok Afghan News, Lutfullah Mashall said: "It is a fact that majority of mines, particularly in north of Afghanistan are under the control of the local commanders."
Besides local commanders, there are also people who illegally mine without the governments permission and export gems and other items.
A tribal elder from the Saniko area in eastern Khost province, said: "People turn to gem-mining and earning money from it because they don't have another source of income. The government should set up mining factories so that people would abandon illegal mining and this would then create employment opportunities."
The gems excavated in most of Khost province are precious stones mined illegally and then smuggled into Pakistan through the border routes, crossing mountainous terrain.
But an elder from the Alizai tribe in Khost province, Sayel Alizai told Pajhwok that they are not happy selling the precious stones in Pakistan, but would rather sell them to other foreign countries, because they would fetch more money.
The security chief of Khost province, Mohammad Zaman says the mountains are the assets of the government, and a government order has prohibited the sale of precious stones in Pakistan. Ahmad Shah Karim Ulumi, a legal adviser working for the mines and industries ministry, said that the ministry is optimistic about bringing the country's mines under Afghan government control with the interior ministry's collaboration in the near future.
According to Mashal, the interior ministry would create a mine patrol unit that would protect the mines, and preservation of artifacts and the prevention of illegal and unprofessional excavations in the provinces.
He said, until the patrol is formed, the security and border police will have the responsibility for protecting the mines. Sources close to the interior ministry press office, said in the past a brigade of three-thousand officers and soldiers responsible for protecting the mines were employed, but there is no official word on the number to be employed in the future The mines and industries minister also said that the government would permit private sectors to excavate the mines, after professional surveying and scientific detection methods were established.
Gas mines in Sar-e-Pol province is one of the mines which is out of the government control and exlored unlawfully. A resident of the Sar-e-Pul province, 29 year old Nawroz Rahimi told Pajhwok Afghan News: "Many local commanders use the income from mines and the government is unaware of their activity on the ground."
According to an economy faculty teacher, Saifudding Saihon, the mines are out of the government's control because the Afghan government doesn't really have a stable security situation in the country.
"The local commanders are working closely with the government, he told Pajhwok. Saihon said the Afghan government is unable to control the work in the field of mines alone, and it would need the help from the private secto, if it was to succeed.
(Pajhwok Afghan News)
Afghanistan's Advertising Market Develops
Friday April 15, 3:24 PM Asia Pulse
KABUL, April 15 Asia Pulse - "When I saw hoardings on the streets which showed elders as well as youth talking happily on mobile phones, I was inspired to buy a mobile" 70-year old Haji Nasrullah said.
The white-haired Nasrullah, dressed in a turban and traditional Afghan clothes was buying a Nokia mobile phone from a shop in the city.
Mobile phone services, Alkozai tea, Sadre-Sihat shampoo are amongst the goods which are advertising on TV in a bid to attract customers.
At the gate of Kabul airport the first thing that catches the eye are the big colorful advertising banners with images of men and women laughing. In the crowded streets of Kabul city and some provinces as well, companies importing goods make their products known with interesting pictures and sights.
Advertising companies say that though they could not use pictures of women earlier they are now able to do so.
Advertising is a nascent phenomenon in Afghanistan. It has not had the chance to develop because of the long years of war. Afghanistan had no commercial or independent radio and TV before the war. Even newspapers were not allowed to publish any private or commercial advertisement. Only government advertisements were carried by the official electronic media. Now Afghanistan's new private radio and TV stations are selling time for advertisements.
But currently there are some private radios, TVs and newspapers which sell time for advertisements. There is no accurate data on the advertising market in Afghanistan but some commercial advertising agencies believe that it has grown rapidly in a short period.
Altai a French advertising agency which is responsible for advertising Roshan, a mobile service provider in Afghanistan says that in Afghanistan people are more eager to advertisements, because it is a new phenomenon here.
Roshan is the second telecommunication company in country which started operation in Afghanistan two years ago and according to the head of this company, their subscribers base is 400,000.
Altai official Emmanuel de Dinechin told Pajhwok News Agency: when we started advertising in Kabul, advertising was like a new-born baby and now it is four years old in Kabul and one or two years old in the provinces.
He added that they produce advertisements in accordance with Afghan tradition and when they want to publish a woman's picture they check it several times to make sure it is not against the culture of Afghan people.
Besides the improvements advertisements face some challenges, like the lack of literacy, electricity and peoples access to TV and radio.
The advertising agencies have differing views on advertising. Some of the agencies believe that banners with pictures at busy intersections are the best way because some people do not have access to electricity, or access to radio and TV.
But some other agencies claim that to advertise through TV and radio is the most successful because moving images are more comprehensible to people.
However some people consider it a bad business practice as they are misleading in their attempts to entice consumers.
Some people have objected to the advertisements of Alkozai tea ('Alkozai tea with taste and prize') with pictures of boys and girls in yellow color which appearing at intersections. 30-year old Faiz Mohammad who sells cigars on a pushcart says he had bought the tea many times but got no prizes.
Pajhwok Afghan News tried to contact Alkozai Company for their comments but the company refused to be interviewed.
Others complained about Roshan and Afghan mobile phone service providers who they say deceive customers with their advertisements. The public relations officer of Afghan wireless Mohammad Naeem Haqmal refutes this saying the advertisements are not for marketing but to inform people. Afghan wireless is the first private mobile company which started operation in Afghanistan after the collapse of Taliban and it advertises widely.
The Afghan government has also hired an Iranian company, Tablighaat Iran Rezwi,to place government advertising. Manager of this company, Riza Zarawand told Pajhwok News Agency in an interview that this company has made contract for twenty years with the Afghan government. According to him the duty of this company is only to arrange the ads which are installed in Kabul city intersections.
(Pajhwok Afghan News)
Holiday Destination: Afghanistan's Bamiyan
Fri Apr 15, 2005 08:20 AM ET By Angie Ramos
CITY OF SCREAMS, Afghanistan (Reuters) - It is eerily quiet in the ruined hilltop fort as two Afghan soldiers, guarding against artifact thieves, look out on the valley and the towering cliff niches where colossal stone Buddhas once stood.
Welcome to Shahr-i-Gholghola or the City of Screams, site of the 13th century massacre of the city's 150,000 population by Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan to avenge the murder of a favorite grandson.
Today the ruins, along with other historical sites in scenic Bamiyan, Afghanistan's cultural heart, may just provide a lifeline for this impoverished province.
Officials and residents want to have tourists back, just like in the 1960s and 1970s when Afghanistan was part of the "Hippy Trail" that ran from Europe to Kathmandu.
"We want to build hotels and a museum so we can safeguard all the artifacts here in Afghanistan and visitors can admire and understand our country's history," said Sayed Newaz Razai, the official overseeing the province's historical sites.
The city of Bamiyan is rich with history dating back to the 3rd Century when the first Buddhist monks traveled from India.
Its centerpiece was two giant Buddhas carved out of pink sandstone cliffs by devotees in the third or fourth centuries.
The statues awed travelers across central Asia for hundreds of years, until the Taliban's Islamist fighters destroyed them in 2001, defying international pleas to respect one of the world's great historical sites.
ROOF OF BAMIYAN
That callous act further crushed the spirits of residents, already terrorized by the Taliban's oppressive policies.
Four years later, Afghan businessman Sheer Hussain, 50, is anything but crushed.
Armed with $50,000, he turned a former governor's house into a 16-room hotel, one of three in the city.
Aptly named "Roof of Bamiyan," the hotel served as a base for American Special Forces in 2001, and has some of the best views of the valley with the majestic Hindu Kush mountain range in the background.
"Tourists love this place ... most people come because of Buddhism, they come here to meditate,," said the gregarious Hussain with a thick American accent.
For anyone who makes the punishing 7-hour drive on impossibly bumpy roads through deep gorges and valleys, it's worth it.
Picturesque villages along river banks shaded by cherry blossoms and willow trees line the route, or nestle high on mountainsides along with the ruins of Buddhist stupas.
Farmers with their donkeys regularly walk past the empty niches of the twin Buddhas, while visitors stand quietly at the foot of the giant structure, gazing at the empty holes in front.
Many visitors to Bamiyan are aid workers taking part in Afghanistan's reconstruction, but Hussain says a growing number of tourists are coming in.
"After 30 to 35 years, I saw a Czech tourist who stayed here for three days," Hussain laughs, adding that he was building a second hotel this year to accommodate more guests.
NO MORE GUNS
Another attraction, one fairly unique in Afghanistan, is the absence of overbearing security.
There are no armed guards on Hussain's property.
"There's no one here who carries guns, only the soldiers," he said, adding that unlike some Afghans, he had never owned a gun.
But a huge task lies ahead to ensure that Bamiyan is ready for tourists.
For one thing, there is still no electricity in the city.
The hum of generators in a nearby bazaar is the only noise that can be heard from the City of Screams.
Then there are land mines left over from the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.
Newly appointed Governor Habiba Sorabi, the country's first ever female governor, said the administration was working on a master plan to map out Bamiyan's tourism future.
"It is not too difficult because the international community is interested and there is a lot of potential," Sorabi said. Like much of Afghanistan, poverty remains the big problem.
But there is optimism, even among poor people like Abdullah who earns less than $10 a month as a porter in the market, but harbors ambitions to be a tour guide.
"It's peaceful here right now and I know the future will be too. We are now safe," said Abdullah, whose home for the last 30 years has been a cave overlooking the City of Screams.
RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS TO LEAVE TAJIK-AFGHAN BORDER SECTOR
DUSHANBE, April 16 (RIA Novosti) - On April 16, Russian border guards started transferring a sector of the Tajik-Afghan border to their Tajik counterparts. That sector was guarded by the Moscow border-control detachment until now, the press center of the Russian border-control task force in Tajikistan told RIA Novosti.
Tajik border guards will establish control over 15 posts and 18 outposts along this sector within the next two months, the agency's interlocutor said.
The Moscow border control detachment had guarded a 232-km sector until now. Russian border guards confiscated more than 15.5 tons of drugs, including 6.75 tons of heroin, there between 2001 and 2004.
In December 2004, the Tajik border control force established control over 881.6 kilometers of the Tajik-Afghan border's Pamir sector. The Tajik republican border protection committee also received the Lyaur field training center and another training center near Dushanbe.
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