U.S. and Afghan forces kill 8 Taliban
Tuesday April 19, 2:45 PM
KABUL (Reuters) - U.S. and Afghan forces killed eight suspected Taliban guerrillas and captured 16 to thwart an ambush in the southern province of Zabul, a Defence Ministry spokesman said on Tuesday.
The fighting occurred in Zabul's Dai Chopan district on Monday after the guerrillas tried to ambush a convoy of troops,
Zahir Azimy said.
"After the ambush, fierce fighting broke out and we called in coalition air support. Eight Taliban were killed and 16 were captured," he said.
Guerrilla activity in Afghanistan has picked up after a winter lull but activity is down on past years, fuelling speculation the Taliban may be struggling to find recruits and resources.
Azimy said four of those caught were wounded, while U.S. and Afghan forces suffered no casualties.
A U.S. helicopter landed at the site of the battle due to a "technical reason", but took off later, he added.
The U.S. military had no immediate comment. Independent confirmation of the details of the fighting in the remote area was not immediately available.
Zabul is one of the provinces where the Taliban have been most active since their overthrow by U.S.-led forces in late 2001.
Nine Afghan troops were wounded at the weekend by a mine planted by the guerrillas in another area of the province.
Last week, Afghan and U.S. forces said they killed 12 insurgents in the southeastern province of Paktia.
The Taliban said only one of their fighters was killed, while the guerrillas killed five government soldiers.
U.S.-led troops overthrew the Taliban after they refused to hand over al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the architect of September 11 attacks on U.S. cities. Bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar remain at large.
U.S. Forces Arrest 24 Suspected Afghan Militants
Mon Apr 18, 8:09 AM ET World - Reuters
KABUL (Reuters) - U.S. troops have detained 24 suspected Taliban militants in Afghanistan's southeastern province of Khost, bordering Pakistan, the provincial governor said Monday.
The men were picked up during a Sunday night raid by U.S. troops backed by helicopters in Khost's remote Ali Sher district, the governor, Mirajuddin Patan, told Reuters.
He did not know if any prominent Taliban members were among those arrested, but said local officials had urged U.S. forces to coordinate such raids with provincial authorities.
Villagers have in the past complained of heavy-handed U.S. tactics such as breaking into people's homes and detaining innocent people.
The U.S. military could not be reached for immediate comment but on a separate matter, it said a blast that destroyed five oil trucks outside a main U.S. air base in the south Sunday was not caused by a bomb.
The blast outside Kandahar air base that injured three drivers, who were believed to be Pakistanis, was caused by a faulty fuel tank, the U.S. military said.
A government army commander and a Taliban guerrilla spokesman said Sunday the blast was triggered by a Taliban bomb.
Afghan Commander Quits Militia Leadership To Take Government
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
18 April 2005 -- Afghan commander Abdul Rashid Dostum today resigned as head of his northern militia to take up a post in President Hamid Karzai's government.
Dostum, one of Afghanistan's most powerful commanders, was appointed by Karzai as chief of staff of the high command of the country's armed forces, a largely symbolic post that removes the faction leader from his Shabergan power base.
His deputy party leader, Abdul Majid Rozi, said Dostum has resigned as leader of party, referring to the 'Jinbish Mili Islami Party', drawn mostly from ethnic Uzbeks. Rozi said Dostum will take his new post in a "few days."
Rozi also said Sayed Noorullah, formerly serving as deputy leader of the party, had been appointed as interim leader of the faction. The faction today was registered with the Ministry of Justice as a formal political party under which it can run in the country's first parliamentary elections due later this year.
(AFP/RFE/RL's Afghan Service)
Minister Says Kabul Should Control Aid Flows
Robert McMahon Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
Afghan leaders have begun to call for a leading role in handling the disbursement of billions of dollars in reconstruction aid. Finance Minister Anwar al-Haq Ahadi says the government can channel such aid more efficiently in projects ranging from education to infrastructure development. He also says international donors and the government need to do much more to eliminate the country’s booming opium economy.
Washington, 18 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Three years of international domination of the reconstruction process in Afghanistan is enough.
That’s the view of Afghan Finance Minister Anwar al-Haq Ahadi. Echoing the recent comments of President Hamid Karzai, Ahadi said his government should take control of the development process.
He told RFE/RL at the IMF/World Bank spring meetings that the government controls less than one-third of the reconstruction aid. It needs to be given a chance, he said, to show it can handle larger aid flows.
“If most of the money were to be channeled through the government, we think there would be more coherence to the programs, greater rationality to it, and we think greater effectiveness," Ahadi said. "Usually the argument is used that the Afghan government does not have the capacity to handle this amount of money for reconstruction. We think we are ready for the challenge.”
After decades of war and civil strife, Afghans have made clear progress in establishing institutions of self governance.
But three years after the ouster of the Taliban, there has been intensifying debate over the lag in improving living standards, which are far behind most of the rest of the world.
Ahadi said the Finance Ministry has been more disciplined in its handling of aid money than international agencies. He did not name specific projects, but said international efforts to build schools and improve infrastructure could be better run.
“It’s clinics, it’s bridges, it’s roads. In all those areas we should be able to do better in terms of cost effectiveness," Ahadi said. "But right now we cannot do that because in a lot of instances we are not responsible for that.”
Donors last year in Berlin pledged more than $8 billion to Afghanistan over a period of up to three years. In addition, the U.S. government has proposed spending more than $5 billion on assistance to Afghanistan in its next budget.
Ahadi proposes a huge increase in moneys directed toward eliminating the country’s huge opium trade.
The United Nations estimates 60 percent of Afghanistan's economy is tied to the illegal drug trade. With such a large gap to compensate for, current programs promoting alternative livelihoods fall far short of what is needed, according to Ahadi.
“In my opinion, the amount of resources that have been made available for this program -- $2-$3 billion -- that is not adequate," Ahadi said. "The size of our drug economy is between $2.5 and $3 billion and to fill that gap the amount of international resources that need to be committed will have to be closer to that size.”
Afghanistan’s economy is mainly agriculture based and Ahadi suggests that an alternative crop program to replace opium is the right approach. But he said that the country and donors must find a mechanism that provides farmers a substantive income.
“Right now, [the international community has] some unemployment programs or what they call emergency employment programs. Well, that’s good for that limited amount of time that those people are engaged but they need longer-term solutions," Ahadi said. "Building roads so that villagers will have adequate access to markets? Yes, that’s good but I don’t think it’s adequate. Providing fertilizers? Of course that’s good but it’s not going to increase their income to even one-fourth of what they can get [growing opium].”
Some established aid agencies have reacted with concern to government comments about the effectiveness of nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs. They say NGOs are being made a scapegoat by Kabul for slow progress on reconstruction.
The government and donor countries have set up a task force to examine policy toward NGOs.
US, Pakistan, Afghanistan agree to enhance counter-terror cooperation
Mon Apr 18,11:59 AM ET Politics - AFP
ISLAMABAD (AFP) - The United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed to strengthen counter-terrorism cooperation along the Pakistani-Afghan border, the military here said.
Defence officials from the three countries "agreed to further improve coordination and information sharing to enhance the effectiveness of counter terrorist operations," it said in a statement following talks in Islamabad.
They also "welcomed" the establishment of a counter-narcotics working group to "facilitate discussions" between the three countries, the military said.
Afghanistan produces almost 90 percent of the world's opium and Pakistan is often used as a transit country to smuggle drugs to the West.
Pakistan's director-general for military operations Major General Mohammad Yousaf, the commander of US troops in Afghanistan Lieutenant General David W. Barno, and Afghan national army chief of operations Lieutenant General Sher Mohammad Karimi led their delegations at the Tripartite Commission meeting.
The commission, formed some three years ago to settle border issues, will meet again in June 2005 in Kabul, the statement said.
The porous and ill-defined 2,400 kilometre (1,488-mile) Pakistan-Afghanistan border has been the source of enormous friction between the two countries.
Afghan officials say key commanders of the ousted Taliban militia have been allowed to freely cross the border while conducting guerrilla operations in Afghanistan. Pakistan denies the charges.
The Taliban were toppled by US-led forces in late 2001 after they refused to hand over Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, the architect of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
Faulty fuel tank likely cause of Kandahar explosion
April 18, 2005 Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan Coalition Press Information Center (Public Affairs)
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – A faulty fuel tank is believed to be the cause of an explosion that injured three drivers and destroyed five tanker trunks near Kandahar on Sunday, experts at the scene said today.
“No evidence of any kind has been found that indicates the incident was the result of an attack or an improvised explosive device,” said Maj. Michael Hicks, commander of Combined Joint Task Force-76’s Explosive Ordnance Control Team. “There are no components or items that we would associate with such things.”
“We believe it was a mechanical failure on the part of the fuel truck that caused the explosion,” Hicks said. “Transporting fuel is a risky business; there are stringent procedures you have to follow when handling fuel.”
The explosion, which occurred 1.5 kilometers from Kandahar Airfield at a truck stop, has been reported as a Taliban attack.
No Coalition forces were injured or killed as a result of the explosion.
An investigation into the cause of the incident is ongoing.
Afghan province bans smoking in public places
KABUL, April 17 (Reuters) - Afghanistan's western Herat province has banned smoking in all government buildings, becoming the first region in the country to join an international effort against smoking, government officials said on Sunday.
The move follows Afghanistan's recent signing of a global convention of banning tobacco consumption in public, health officials said.
"The ban has been implemented in government buildings," said Amin Haider a public health ministry official in Herat. "Our next step is to enforce it in covered places or public areas such as restaurants," Haider told Reuters.
Abdullah Fahim, adviser to the Public Health Ministry, told Reuters Afghanistan had yet to pass a law to enforce the ban nationwide.
"Once the law explaining what needs to be done with the violators, such as possible fining, is passed, then we will announce the ban across the country," Fahim said.
In Herat, authorities were urging people through advertisements to stop smoking in public places and locals had largely welcomed the initiative, Haider said.
The majority of men smoke in male-dominated Afghanistan. Most smoke Western-style filter-tip cigarettes, the vast majority of which are counterfeits made in neighbouring countries.
Afghan Women Break Mold, Go Into Business
Sun Apr 17, 7:19 PM ET By MATTHEW PENNINGTON, Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan - A growing number of Afghan women are going into business, capitalizing on new opportunities in a thriving, yet still male-dominated economy three years after the fall of the Islamist government.
A scattering of small textile and handicraft workshops, boutiques, beauty parlors and even a soccer ball factory — run by women and employing women — have sprung up around the capital. Afghanistan's first female business association — set up with foreign funding 18 months ago — says it has 500 members.
Barred from education and jobs during the five years of Taliban rule, women now have the right, at least on paper, to pursue careers of their choosing. But this is a male-dominated society where 86 percent of women are illiterate.
U.N. figures say the per-capita income of Afghan women is only about one-third of men's. A survey of 360 rural households by a Kabul-based research group found that less than 2 percent of women owned land in their own right.
Mina Sherzoy, head of the government's department of Women's Entrepreneurship Development, said that women needing startup money typically must turn to a male relative.
"There are barriers, and they will be lifted slowly," she said. "We are recovering from war and devastation and Taliban repression. ... But there's nothing in Shariah (Islamic law) that says women can't do business."
Sara Rahmani, businesswoman, picks a brown burqa-style dress from the rack, and holding it in front of her face, shows with a broad smile how she refashioned it for post-Taliban Afghanistan.
The all-covering shroud that was mandatory under the hard-line regime has become a flowing gown, with head uncovered and the eye-level gauze dropped to the chest — though not too low. It's on sale now for $30 at her Kabul showroom.
Rahmani started making clothes during years as a refugee in neighboring Pakistan. She returned to Afghanistan last year, and with a $35,000 loan from her brother in the United States, set up shop in a cramped, two-story terrace.
Seven months later she employs 70 women, 10 doing machine stitching on site and 60 others doing embroidery by hand at home. She also employs two Afghan men — a tailor to teach the workers and an English-speaker to help with marketing and shopping for fabric.
Her company, Sara Afghan, is still struggling to make ends meet, but is busy with orders from two American clients for 100 blouses and 100 sets of duvet covers and sheets, from which Rahmani hopes to make about $2,000 profit.
"We have two orders, so we should be OK to pay salaries and rent for the next two months. God willing, after that, more business will come," she said. "A lot of poor women are praying for me."
Across town, another cottage industry makes quality leather balls for soccer, volleyball and handball — hand-stitched by about 130 women working from home, many of them widowed during a quarter-century of war.
Aziza Mohmmand, 45, who ran a secret girls' school at her house during the Taliban rule and heads an Afghan aid group to help women, said she got the idea two years ago when she saw a young boy on a Kabul street trying to sell a homemade ball.
"At the start, it was a struggle. We had so many footballs, we'd spent lots of money and we couldn't seem to sell them," she said in her office, above the din of a generator driving a leather-cutting machine.
"But demand gradually picked up. Before Ramadan (last November) we discovered for the first time we were actually out of stock."
Her company produces more than 1,000 balls a month sold under the name of the aid group Humanitarian Assistance for Women. It supplies balls to local markets and the Afghan Olympic association. A German aid group has helped fund training of the work force, and now the factory can at least cover its costs.
The women earn 32 Afghanis (64 cents) for each ball they stitch. A novice can take two days to stitch a ball, but those with experience can make up to four a day. The balls sell for about $6 each.
"Before this we had no job," said 16-year old Morsal, a returned refugee, stitching a ball outside her simple house with plastic sheeting covering the windows. "I'm happy we got training and have this skill."
Afghanistan's Jalalabad to Spend US$560,000 to Improve Roads
Tuesday April 19, 1:15 PM Asia Pulse
JALALABAD, April 19 Asia Pulse - The provincial government in eastern Nangarhar is to improve the inner-city roads of Jalalabad, with US$560,000 in two months, officials said Monday.
The 14 kilometre city road will be asphalted and renovated to make passenger travel easier and cheaper. The mayor of Jalalabad, Abdul Razzaq Arsalayee told Pajhwok Afghan News the rebuilding project will be jointly supervised by the provincial municipality and the public works department.
"If our construction machines were not worn-out and functioning effectively we would finish this work in a short time." "Tarring the roads reduces rents of taxis and rickshaws since the roads will be even without pot-holes and the journeys will be less arduous and short," Arsalayee said.
A rickshaw driver, Salim, agreed he would reduce his taxi-fares if the roads were improved. "When roads are tarred cars take less fuel and they don't break down so often, so, we can reduce our fares." However some ordinary people who use the city road regularly say rebuilding the roads will not have any impact on their lives, until the Afghan government imposes a restriction on fares the taxi driver are free to charge what they like. "The taxi-fares should decrease with the tarring of the roads, but there is no law that stipulates that taxi drivers have to reduce their fares.
Last year, when the road from my home to the university was not tarred they were charging the same money as they do now when the road is tarred," lamented Abdul Latif, a student of the Jalalabad University.
(Pajhwok Afghan News)
Anti-US Magazine Hits News-Stands in Peshawar
Tuesday April 19, 1:05 PM
PESHAWAR, April 19 Asia Pulse - The fifth edition of Tora Bora magazine hit the news-stands in Peshawar on Monday, with a renewed call for jihad against foreign military presence in Afghanistan.
The magazine, reportedly published by anti-American Afghans, is named after the former al-Qaeda stronghold of Tora Bora mountain range southwest of Nangarhar province near the Pak-Afghan border.
In Tora Bora, where the CIA built caves and tunnels during the Afghan jihad against the Russian intervention, US forces launched a major - but abortive - military operation against al-Qaeda supremo Osama bin Laden and his supporters in 2001.
As the periodical emphatically rules out negotiations with the government led by US-backed President Hamid Karzai, most authors and the publisher have chosen to stay anonymous.
But a source confided to Pajhwok Afghan News the journal was brought out by Maulvi Anwarul Haq Mujahid, who is believed to have quietly taken charge of the Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan (Khalis faction) from his father Maulvi Mohammad Younis Khalis.
Maulvi Younis Khalis, after declaring jihad against the US-led coalition forces, went into hiding and some months back his family told this news agency he had died. However, Shamsul Islam - a nephew of the jihadi group's leader - insisted his uncle was alive. The 52-page publication carries a letter from Maulvi Khalis, urging Afghans, Taliban and mujideen to press on with their fight against foreign military presence in their country. The letter roundly condemns "American cruelties against Afghans."
In his message, Khalis is quoted as having said: "We will push ahead with jihad in Allah's way even if a few hundred people surrender and go into reconciliation talks with the enemy. This surrender, meaning in no way a victory for the enemy, won't weaken the resolve of the jihad caravan."
On the title page, the magazine has colour photographs of whom it calls "Americans killed in Afghanistan." It contains a number of poems and articles denouncing President Bush, his former ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, past Afghan governments and the Karzai administration.
(Pajhwok Afghan News)
Analysis - Will the Taliban Disrupt Afghanistan's Elections?
Tuesday April 19, 10:14 AM Asia Pulse
KABUL, April 19 Asia Pulse - Despite recent attacks by suspected Taliban insurgents and their successive threats to carry out attacks in the future, some ordinary Afghans and security officials don't perceive the Taliban as a threat in the forthcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for September 18.
Analysts believe the elections would have thousands of contending candidates vying to register for the 249 parliamentary posts. According to the independent electoral commission, the registration of candidates will take place the week commencing the 30th of April. But the Taliban threats persist with warnings of attacks to disrupt the polls, and the US-led coalition forces have also predicted this. Lieutenant Cindy Moore, a spokeswoman for the US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, told Pajhwok Afghan News, Sunday that she foresees a wave of Taliban attacks in the next six to nine months.
However, Zahir Murad, a spokesman for the ministry of defence in Kabul, said the Taliban threats were empty words, and they failed to fulfill their threats during the last presidential elections. "Lately, the nerve-center of the Taliban has dispersed completely," he said.
Murad said President Karzai's security organization and foreign forces will take special security measures to ensure security throughout the country, and make sure the elections go ahead according to schedule.
Security officials say there are more than 25,000 Afghan National Army soldiers and around 40,000 police ready to provide security for the parliamentary elections.
In addition, there are four army divisions in the western province of Herat, southern Kandahar, eastern Paktia and northern Balkh assigned to ensure security.
Lutfullah Mashal, a spokesman for the interior ministry, agrees with Muradi.
"The Taliban cannot do anything to disrupt the elections as the government has taken sufficient measures to ensure security, so all our compatriots should be confident," Mashal said.
The Afghan National Army will be positioned on all the routes and highways leading to the constituencies, and they will have the full backing of the international peacekeeping forces and the coalition forces.
A spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) also said that four F-16 planes from the Dutch contingent will be providing aerial support, for added security. Qudos Khan, a shopkeeper in the city of Kabul, is not afraid of the Taliban threats.
"The Taliban are weak now and their words are empty, and they just promise but never keep their word just like the government," he said. Faramarz, a United Nations worker in Kabul, said: "I don't think the Taliban will be able to carry out attacks anymore because they are weak and they no longer have the support they used to enjoy." But Taliban spokesman Lutfullah Hakimi in an interview with Pajhwok reiterated his vow to disrupt the September polls.
(Pajhwok Afghan News)
U.S. Military Chief in Afghanistan Meets with Tajik President
General Barno, President Rahmonov discuss Afghan elections, narcotics
U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe Dushanbe, Tajikistan; U.S. State Department - Apr 18 7:26 PM
Terrorist organizations might try to interfere with the upcoming parliamentary elections in Afghanistan “but they will be unsuccessful” and the Afghan people will go to the polls in September just as they did for the 2004 presidential election, says the United States’ senior military officer in Afghanistan, Army Lieutenant General David Barno.
“The Afghan people will come out and vote once again for their future,” said Barno in an interview in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, following his meeting with Tajik President Emomali Rahmonov April 15. “They have rejected terrorism and they voted for democracy, and that makes the whole region a safer place.”
The general said he and Rahmonov discussed the current military situation in Afghanistan and the state of U.S.-Tajik military cooperation and U.S. assistance to Tajikistan for border security and counternarcotics.
“I have been in Afghanistan in my posting for about a year and half now, and I have seen a continual improvement of the security situation,” Barno said. In 2004, terrorists suffered “four major strategic defeats” when:
• The Afghans passed their constitution;
• 10 million Afghans registered to vote;
• 8.5 million Afghans came out and voted for democratic government; and
• President Hamid Karzai was inaugurated and appointed his cabinet.
In addition to President Rahmonov, Barno met with Minister of Defense Colonel General Sherali Khairulloev, Chairman of State Border Control Committee Colonel General Saidamir Zuhurov, and Director of Drug Control Agency Lieutenant General Rustam Nazarov.
“We had very extensive discussions on the threats posed by the narcotics trade and how collectively Afghanistan, Tajikistan and the U.S. and Coalition military can help to stem and interrupt that trade,” Barno said.
Following is a transcript of Lieutenant General Barno’s press briefing provided by the U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe:
Transcript of the press conference at the Tajik Presidential Dacha following the meeting of President Rahmonov with Lieutenant General David W. Barno, Commander Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan Anti-terrorist Coalition Forces in Afghanistan, and U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan, Richard E. Hoagland.
Question: (Avesto Information Agency): General Barno, what were the main issues you discussed with President Rahmonov?
General Barno (GB): We had a very good meeting and looked at many security issues that affect both Afghanistan where I am stationed and Tajikistan. We had very extensive discussions on the threats posed by the narcotics trade and how collectively Afghanistan, Tajikistan and the U.S. and Coalition military can help to stem and interrupt that trade. We agreed that a very important part of that was working collectively to help secure the borders between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. We recognize that the Tajik border security forces had a lot of success in stopping narcotics trade and making arrests, and I talked to the President about our U.S. military role here in conjunction with the State Department, the United Kingdom, and the international community to help build the same kind of capabilities with the Afghan border forces.
We also talked about the continuing threat that terrorism poses to the nations in the region and looked at ways that we can work collectively on the military-to-military side to help interrupt that threat and to prevent it from having impact on the countries of this region who seek peaceful outcomes and a peaceful future.
It was a very good meeting and helped to reinforce the already good relationship between the U.S. and coalition military, the Afghan military, and the Tajik military and border forces.
Question (IRNA, Iranian Information Agency): How do you evaluate the security situation in Afghanistan on the eve of parliamentary elections?
GB: I have been in Afghanistan in my posting for about a year and half now, and I have seen a continual improvement of the security situation. Last year, in my view, the terrorists there - Al-Qa'ida, the Taliban, Hekmatyar's group - suffered four major strategic defeats. They were defeated when the Afghans passed their constitution; they were defeated when the Afghan people came out in over 10 million in numbers to register; they were defeated during the election when 8.5 million Afghans came out and voted for democratic government; and they were defeated a fourth time when President Karzai was inaugurated and appointed his cabinet. Those were four major losses for terrorists last year.
This year we have five more months before the parliamentary elections in September, and I am sure that the terrorist organizations are going to try to interrupt that - but they will be unsuccessful. The Afghan people will come out and vote once again for their future. They have rejected terrorism and they voted for democracy, and that makes the whole region a safer place.
Question (ITAR-TASS, Russian News Agency): General, did you discuss with President Rahmonov the support that Tajikistan can make to your anti-terrorist actions in Afghanistan?
GB: We had more broadly focused discussions looking at counter-narcotics issues and border-security issues - more with regard to how we can continue to build close relations with Tajik military forces and border forces here. We continue to look at opportunities for the U.S. military and the Tajik military to work together to help build better capabilities for counterterrorism here in this region.
Question (Reuters): Will the number of U.S. troops change in Afghanistan in the next year?
GB: We continue to look at the requirements for security forces and troop presence in Afghanistan. For the first time recently, there is a larger force in the Afghan National Army - the new national army - than there are with coalition military forces that under my command. The Afghan National Army now has over 22,000 troops.
We continually evaluate the number of forces required in Afghanistan based on the threat and the success of Afghan National Army and now the new expansion of NATO as they continue to grow their forces in Afghanistan and take a larger and larger security role. But I can tell you the United States has a long-term commitment to the success of the Afghan people as they embark on their democratic processes.
Kabul gets new customs chief
Pajhwok Afghan News 04/17/2005 By Mustafa Basharat and Frozan Danish Rahmani
KABUL - Abdul Basir Bahrami has been appointed as the new head of customs department of the Kabul province, according to a decree of President Hamid Karzai.
A government source told Pajhwok Afghan News Sunday's presidential decree replacing Abu Muslim Siddiqi with Bahrami had come in line with Finance Minister Anwarul Haq Ahady's recommendation.
Bahrami, well versed in his field, has acquired a lot of professional expertise in Germany, Ahady's proposal says. However, Finance Ministry spokesman Aziz Shams said he was unaware of Bahrami's appointment.
New Controversy Over Anthem
IWPR 04/17/2005 By Wahidullah Amani
President Karzai's decision to scrap the version he had only just approved reopens the dispute.
By Wahidullah Amani in Kabul (ARR No. 168, 16-Apr-05)
Given the country's turbulent history and ethnic tensions, it should come as no surprise that choosing a national anthem has posed a challenge. But even by Afghan standards, the current fracas over the selection of the right wording is extraordinary.
The lyrics to the new national anthem, selected from more than 100 entries after a competition lasting more than a year, have now been tossed aside.
The search is on for a new text, but Afghanistan's poets are threatening to boycott the process because of the near-impossible task of incorporating all the required political messages into the verses.
The national anthem question caused acrimonious debate at last year's Constitutional Loya Jirga. The most contentious issue at the time was the choice of language: Pashtuns insisted that the anthem be sung in Pashtu, which prompted a walkout by non-Pashtun delegates.
In the end, the constitution agreed by the Loya Jirga stipulated that the anthem should be in Pashtu.
A special council was then set up to consider submissions, and eventually chose one consisting of the first lines of an anthem that had been adopted in the Seventies, and new verses written by Habibullah Rafi, a political analyst and member of the Academy of Sciences.
The words went to President Hamed Karzai for his seal of approval, which he duly gave, and Afghans breathed a sigh of relief
A bit prematurely, it now seems.
In late March, President Karzai announced that the verse that he had only just approved was being scrapped, and that new entries were being sought.
This complete about-face was explained somewhat disingenuously by presidential spokesman Jawed Ludin, "The president approved the national anthem at first, but later on when he read it several times, he thought that the anthem should stir the emotions and express the history of Afghanistan."
According to Ludin, some of Afghanistan's ethnic groups complained that their names were not mentioned in the anthem.
Afghanistan is made up of Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara and assorted smaller groups. Ethnic tensions were fanned by the Soviet occupation, and further exacerbated by the factional wars that followed the collapse of the Najibullah regime, as ethnic and regional groups engaged in a vicious free-for-all to fill the vacuum.
The scars from those years have yet to heal. The anthem, which was supposed to cement the process of national reconciliation, has instead ripped open old wounds.
Habibullah Rafi, the author of the now-discredited anthem, said that he believes the reason Karzai rejected his poem was pressure from the mujahedin, the commanders who were seen as heroes when they fought against the Soviet invaders, but are widely reviled for their actions in the subsequent intra-Afghan conflict.
According to Rafi, the mujahedin want the national anthem of the Nineties to remain. These words were composed under the mujahedin-backed regime of Burnahuddin Rabbani, and are still sung at government ceremonies - in Afghanistan's other national language, Dari.
"It is not an anthem, it is a sectarian song," said Rafi, himself a Pashtun.
At the very least, added Rafi, the mujahedin want their contribution to be noted in the anthem.
Shah Zaman Wraiz Stanikzai, director of publications at the ministry of information and culture, and a member of the council responsible for picking an anthem, agreed that the present dispute stemmed from mujahedin objections.
According to Stanikzai, Rafi's anthem was approved before Karzai had solicited the reaction of former warlords. Rabbani, in particular, was opposed to the poem, said Stanikzai.
"I think if the words 'jihad' and 'resistance' are included in the national anthem, it will elicit a serious negative reaction from the public," he said. "People do not have good memories of the jihad or the resistance."
Karzai may face problems getting another version of the anthem in the near future.
According to Rafi, no Pashtun will now agree to pen another anthem.
Stanikzai confirmed that he had made contact with several poets, but that none of them would take on the task.
Another member of the National Anthem Council, Rahnaward Zaryab, said that the numerous conditions surrounding the national anthem would make it difficult for poets to find inspiration.
"The constitution is binding the poets hand and foot," he said.
According to the constitution, the anthem must be in Pashtu, has to contain the words "Allah hu Akbar" (God is Great), and it should include the names of all major Afghan ethnic groups.
Zaryab said that he had never been in favour of the chosen poem, but felt pressured by the rest of the 40-member anthem council, "I had to sign, because most of the members agreed, and we had spent so long trying to choose the lyrics."
Regarding the inclusion of references to the jihad or resistance in the new version, Zaryab was sceptical, "I think we already have enough conditions in the constitution about the anthem."
Rafi does not hide his pique at having his opus so summarily rejected. He insists that he complied with all the conditions set for him, and is bitter that Karzai has decided to call for more entries.
"Just because a person becomes president, it doesn't mean he will also be able to make judgements about poetry," he said.
Wahidullah Amani is a staff writer for IWPR in Kabul.
Only a fourth of the parliamentary election budget financed so far
Pajhwok Afghan News 04/18/2005 By Lailoma Sadid
KABUL - Less than a quarter of the money required for the conduct of the parliamentary elections has been collected so far, the Joint Electoral Management Board said. The JEMB said $36 million of the required budget of $148 million had been collected.
The $36 million includes the $16million which remains from the money collected for the conduct of the presidential elections.
Confirming the figures, Sayed Mohammad Azam, the spokesman of JEMB said they did not see any problems in securing finance for the parliamentary election budget. "We believe donors will give us the money on time" he said.
The registration for parliamentary elections scheduled in September will begin on April 30 and continue up May 16.
Bismillah Bismil the head of the independent election commission felt donors would provide the money on time and the election would not have to be postponed.
He said there would be almost 30,000 voting centers and almost 20,000 workers carrying out the process. He said refugees in Pakistan and Iran could not participate because of technical and financial problems.
Earlier some of the representatives of refugees of Pakistan had said in Kabul that they wanted to take part in the elections because it was their right.
Twenty-five nomadic Kuchis arrested in southern Afghanistan
Pajhwok Afghan News 04/18/2005 By Abdul Majid Arif
KHOST - Twenty five Kuchi nomadic tribal people have been arrested by the coalition forces from a village in southern Khost, according to a Kuchi elder speaking to Pajhwok Afghan News on Monday.
The tribal leader, Ramazan Kuchi told Pajhwok that around 19:00 local time an American chopper landed near their homes and then the forces carried out house-to-house searches until the early hours of the morning.
"They took 25 of our people with them after checking", Ramazan Kuchi added.
But he claimed they were innocent and they weren't in possession of any arms, and don't understand why the Kuchis have been arrested.
When Pajhwok contacted the Coalition forces press office in Kabul, they were unable to give any further information about the incident for the time being.
Merajuddin Patan the governor of Khost told Pajhwok that the coalition forces entered the houses of the Kuchis with prior consent, and the elders were present during the search.
During "last nights operation there were 14 arrests," Governor Patan added.
The commander for the frontier forces in Khost, Almargul Mangal confirmed the operations carried out by the coalition forces and the arrests, but failed to give further information that may have led to the arrests.
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