Taliban Return to Afghanistan's Air Waves
Mon Apr 18, 5:01 AM ET By Mirwais Afghan
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghanistan's Taliban guerrillas launched a clandestine radio station on Monday, broadcasting anti-government commentaries and Islamic hymns from a mobile transmitter.
Called "Shariat Shagh," or Voice of Shariat, after the station the Taliban ran while in power, the broadcast can be heard in five southern provinces, including the former regime's old power base of Kandahar.
"We launched the broadcast today through a mobile facility," said Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi.
"It goes on the air between six and seven o'clock in the mornings and same time in the evenings," he said by telephone from an undisclosed location.
Hakimi said the Taliban, fighting an insurgency in the south and east of the country since they were driven from power in late 2001, needed their own voice because the world's media were pro-American.
Many Afghans listen to the BBC and Voice of America which broadcast in the country's two main languages, Pashto and Dari. In addition to government-run radio, numerous small, private stations have sprung up, many funded by aid donors.
As well as Islamic hymns and anti-government commentaries, the Taliban station also criticized U.S. and other foreign troops operating in Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted.
Asked what the Taliban would do if U.S. forces detected and destroyed their transmitter, Hakimi said they would set up another.
Taliban attacks have picked up following a winter lull after the guerrillas failed in a vow to disrupt an October presidential elections won by President Hamid Karzai.
But their activity is down on past years, fueling speculation the movement may be struggling to find recruits and resources.
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.
The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant-General David Barno, said at the weekend the Taliban were desperate but still dangerous.
U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban government after it refused to hand over al Qaeda chief, Osama bin Laden, the architect of the Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. cities.
Blast kills two children in southeast Afghanistan
Mon Apr 18, 5:04 AM ET South Asia - AFP
KHOST, Afghanistan (AFP) - Two children were killed and two others wounded by a bomb which was carried by floodwaters into a residential neighbourhood in southeast Afghanistan, an official said.
The youngsters were playing with the device when it detonated on Sunday in Itesarq Mena, a district west of Gardez city, said local security chief Ghulam Nadi Salim.
"On Sunday at about 6:00 pm (1330 GMT) a bomb which was moved by water to a residential area exploded killing two children, and injuring two other infants," Salim told AFP on Monday.
One of the two injured children was in a critical condition and evacuated by US soldiers to a nearby base for treatment, he added.
It was unclear whether the ordinance had been recently planted by insurgents or was left over from the two and a half decades of conflict suffered by the war-torn country.
Afghanistan has been hit by floods caused by snow melt in the wake of a harsh winter, which have dislodged a number of old mines and other unexploded ordnance resulted in new injuries.
War on opium falters in southern Afghanistan Taliban stronghold
Sun Apr 17, 3:09 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - The abrupt end last week to a poppy eradication drive by Afghanistan's fledgling counter-narcotics brigade in a former Taliban stronghold highlights the challenges of the country's war on drugs.
The 600-strong US-trained force came to Kandahar, one of the five Afghan provinces where the production of opium increased this year, at the beginning of April to lay the groundwork for wiping out opium poppy crops.
But confrontation flared Tuesday on the first day the force began its work in Maiwand district, 45 kilometers (28 miles) outside Kandahar city, as 2,000 peasants blocked the road to demonstrate against the destruction of their crops.
At least six civilians and a police officer were wounded by bullets in the demonstration, according to local security sources.
The roadblock was the first time since Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai launched his war on drugs last autumn that the central government had suspended the poppy eradication programme.
Difficulties in Kandahar highlight how hard a task it is to eradicate opium crops, the principal economic resource in the impoverished country where corruption has allowed major traffickers to operate with impunity up until recently.
Afghanistan produced almost 90 percent of the world's opium in 2004 and the United Nations and United States have both warned it is teetering on the brink of becoming a narco-state as 40-60 percent of its economic activity is generated by narcotics.
The Kandahar protest also came at a difficult time for local authorities, with the population already up in arms about a spate of child abductions, the spring resurgence of Taliban attacks and growing rancour from local militia chiefs disarmed as a part of a UN drive.
In addition local peasants are preparing to harvest the fruits of five months of labour and tap the black opium resin, the raw material of the heroin consumed in Europe, in a few weeks time, and have no time left to plant alternative crops.
To avoid more violent clashes, Kandahar governor Ghul Agha Shirzai Thursday invited Pashtun elders, mullahs, and warlords to meet General Zahir Aghbar, head of the anti-drug brigade in the governor's mansion to hash out the issues over cups of green tea.
The previous night, some of the suspected Taliban militants announced their presence by firing several rockets at the building, hitting the walls of the compound.
Representatives of the villages and chiefs of tribes officially gave their support for the eradication campaign, but their political agendas run counter to the demands of peasants who are farming local lands.
"We finalized the deal. There are no excuses... and the Americans are going to help us," he said.
Within the counter-narcotics force not everyone was so optimistic, with one member of General Aghbar's team saying the meeting was needed to untangle substantial problems.
"There are two issues: the tribal problem, and the problem of traffickers and corruption in local authorities," he told AFP.
Despite the fanfare after the gathering, the eradication operation announced by Shirzai failed to take place by Saturday, still hamstrung by local politics.
Instead there were more discussions between tribal elders and officials from Kabul including General Daud, deputy counter-narcotics minister.
This prudence in handling Kandahar, which was the spiritual home of the Taliban, reflects a preoccupation with appeasing the poorest peasants, "who could be tempted to join the Taliban," and their allies in nearby Pakistan, notes Zmari Sabir police chief in Arghandab district.
But the hesistancy in tackling the opium problem also reflects corruption over Afghanistan's main economic activity has spread its cancer right through the government.
"All men who have power or money are more or less involved in drug trafficking," a local security source told AFP.
Ahmad Jan, a local drug trafficker using a pseudonym, rubbed his hands and noted in recent days the price of opium has climbed with the arrival of the counter-narcotics force.
"If I don't bribe officials, I cannot work," Ahmad Jan told AFP.
Afghan Health Min Seeks to Boost Awareness About Iodized Salt
Monday April 18, 10:41 AM Asia Pulse
KABUL, April 18 Asia Pulse - The Health Ministry, in collaboration with UNICEF, will launch a nationwide campaign on April 19 to create awareness about the use of iodized salt.
UNICEF Information Officer Edward Corwardine told Pajhwok Afghan News on Sunday the use iodized salt helped overcome several deformities among newborn babies, goiter and mental ailments.
He added the media could also play an effective role in the success of the campaign called "Build a Healthy and Happy Nation," which will focus on educating families on medical advantages of using iodized salt.
Brent Aassen, UNICEF representative in Afghanistan, said: "Iodine deficiency is a major cause of several diseases and iodized salt is one of the most effective ways of overcoming that problem." Edward Corwardine pointed out 10 factories in this country have being manufacturing iodized salt since 2003. "These factories can easily meet the demand of the entire Afghan population," he added.
According to a recent survey conducted by the UNICEF, less than 15 per cent of Afghans use iodized salt and half a million babies are born with mental ailments annually due to iodine paucity.
At least 70 per cent of Afghan schoolchildren with iodine deficiency, the survey says, have a low IQ level.
(Pajhwok Afghan News)
Governor, elders hold historic shuras in Zabul
Former Taliban Mullah Gives Support to the Government
April 17, 2005 Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan Coalition Press Information Center (Public Affairs)
ZABUL PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Two historic shuras here in the last week mark important steps forward for Zabul Province. Provincial Governor Delbar Arman held a shura April 14 with local elders and mullahs in Deh Afghan as part of the first gubernatorial visit to this Arghandab Valley village in 26 years. Four days earlier, for the first time in the memory of locals, a “Brotherhood Shura” was held with mullahs, district leaders and police chiefs from every corner of the province. It was held at the Qalat police compound April 10. In addition to the contingent from the provincial government, the local Coalition leadership attended the Deh Afghan shura April 17. The leadership included Lt. Col. Mark R. Stammer, commander of the 2nd Battalion (Airborne) of the 503rd Infantry Regiment out of Vicenza, Italy.
The battalion recently took over as the Coalition element responsible for helping the provincial government with security and development. The group agreed on action to increase security and economic development in this part of the Deh Chopan district in northern Zabul Province. During the shura a local mullah who had recently been released from custody for connections to the Taliban publicly renounced the Taliban and encouraged others to join him in support of the provincial and national governments. At the invitation of Governor Arman, more than 350 leaders from every district in the province made up the Brotherhood Shura on April 10.
The leaders showed their united resolve to tackle the remaining security issues in the province and to work together to improve schools, clinics and the Zabul economy. Arman took the opportunity to thank Lt. Col. M. Scott McBride, commander of the 2nd Battalion of the 35th Infantry Regiment, for his support over the past year. The 2-35 Infantry was replaced by the 2-503 Infantry. Incoming commander Stammer of the 2-503 Infantry was invited to outline his vision for the coming year. With a unified effort among all the people and organizations in Zabul, Stammer said, a permanent and lasting peace is attainable. With that comes the opportunity to gain knowledge and development – critical components for a peaceful Afghan nation to truly prosper, he said. Stammer reminded the group that “the road to the future is an Afghan road,” and although rough and challenging at times, “it is a road that is worth traveling.”
Mystery disease kills thousands of Afghan animals
FAIZABAD, Afghanistan, April 17 (Reuters) - A mystery disease has killed more than 6,000 animals in Afghanistan's northeastern province of Badakhshan in the past two weeks, an official said on Sunday.
Authorities are waiting for test results, carried out by foreign aid workers, to find the cause of the epidemic, said Engineer Mohammad Hassan, chief of the agriculture and husbandry department of Badakhshan.
"It is a very strange type of disease, which locals call animal plague," Hassan told Reuters in Faizabad, the provincial capital of Badakhshan.
"So far more than 6,000 animals, largely goats, sheep and cows, have perished as a result of the outbreak," he said.
Rugged Badakhshan lies near the border with China and Tajikistan and a majority of its residents rely on agriculture.
‘Wanted Afghans handed over to Kabul’
By Iqbal Khattak / Daily Times (Pakistan) April 17, 2005
PESHAWAR: Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao on Saturday said Pakistan had handed over ‘wanted Afghans’ to the Kabul government.
However, he did not name those wanted but said all legal requirements were met before their handover. “Pakistan enjoys good relations with Afghanistan and wanted Afghans were handed over after meeting all legal requirements,” he told reporters, after inaugurating a machine readable passport (MRP) office in Peshawar.
A source told Daily Times that Pakistan had handed over Taliban officials arrested in Balochistan. “The Afghan government approached Pakistan through diplomatic channels to seek the custody of those arrested,” said the source, on condition of anonymity.
Sherpao said Asif Ali Zardai was not arrested when he arrived in Lahore. “He is a free man and was not arrested,” he said. “On Zardari’s demand, police were posted to his residence in Lahore,” the interior minister said. He said that PPP claimed that the government had arrested around 40,000 party activists was incorrect. “Those arrested will be freed after meeting legal requirements,” he pledged.
Sherpao said the religion column in the MRP was not restored under pressure. “We respected public sentiments. Some opportunists wanted to exploit the issue but we foiled their attempts,” he said.
With the MRP, the government could arrest smugglers, which would improve Pakistan’s standing internationally, he said. “In the old passport, photo’s could be changed but this is not the case in the MRP,” he said.
The minister criticised the MMA government in Peshawar and said it was focusing on the wrong issues.
Afghan Pistachio Forests Dwindling Due to Illegal Logging
Monday April 18, 10:34 AM Asia Pulse
PUL-E-KHUMRI, April 18 Asia Pulse - Large-scale illegal logging in the northern province of Samangan has led to dwindling forests and decreasing incomes for the pistachio growers of the area.
Locals say unknown armed men are cutting down pistachio forest under the cover of the night and alleged that officials were not taking any action to prevent it. Provincial officials have however denied involvement in the cutting down of forests in the region and blamed it on irresponsible gunmen.
Dry fruits are Afghanistan's biggest export and pistachio exports are the third largest export in dry fruits following almond and raisins.
Many of the pistachio forests have been destroyed through illegal logging by armed groups during the two decades of war in the country. The seven years of drought that preceded this year's rain contributed to the destruction of the forests.
Ehsanullah, a farmer from Rabatak area said local residents used to earn a considerable sum by collecting pistachios from the forest every year but since the collapse of the Taliban, the cutting down of forests had increased and the trade had decreased.
The 40-year old farmer said that pistachio trees grew again even after they were cut down if their roots were left. If it were not for that there would have been no pistachio trees left in Samangan thanks to the illegal logging he said.
However, provincial officials for their part say that the trees are cut down by 'irresponsible armed men' who still carry weapons illegally and are yet to be disarmed.
"The people, especially those who have muscle power, cut trees for wood as well as sale," Abdul Hai Sarhadi the administrative head of the province told Pajhwok Afghan News on Sunday.
He admitted that illegal logging was going on in several areas in addition to Rabatak. They included Taikhunak, Manqotan, Nawkoh, Galagin Khana and the Bust Mountain areas but the local government didn't have a single vehicle to take action for prevent the cutting he said.
The problem of illegal felling of trees is prevalent in other provinces as well. This is a crisis not only in Samangan province. Its adjoining province of Baghlan suffers the same problem.
Eng. Mohammad Rasul Karimi, head of the agriculture department of Baghlan, said: "Although we did our best to prevent extinction of the natural capital (trees), robbers still do it (cut forests) in the mountainous areas of Dushi district".
(Pajhwok Afghan News)
Eight Maternity Clinics to be Opened in Kabul
Monday April 18, 10:27 AM Asia Pulse
KABUL, April 18 Asia Pulse - Eight maternity clinics are to be opened in the capital Kabul, in the weeks to come, according to the deputy health minister, Dr. Nadera Burhani.
Speaking at a workshop on Sunday, Dr Burhani said she believed establishment of such clinics will decrease the mother, infant mortality rate among mothers. According to estimates carried out in Afghanistan, one mother dies every 20 minutes during labor, and nearly 700 children under the age of five die each day.
In addition, she said the clinics will be able to deal with the minor complications associated with deliveries, and in she estimated that 15-percent of the deliveries have some form of complication.
The health ministry says there are only 15 clinics in the capital Kabul, where routine check-ups are carried out, together with vaccination programs and laboratory examinations.
She said there are many patients visiting the Malalai Gynecology hospital, Rabia Balkhi Hospital and the Khair Khana Hospital, and their work load will be reduced now if the patients attended a day-clinic.
The head of the International Medical Core, in the capital Kabul Anwarhulhaq Jabarkhail said the workshops attended by some 80 provincial health workers will further discuss other health issues concerning Afghans and how to best address them.
(Pajhwok Afghan News)
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