Turkish P.M. Erdogan Due To Afghanistan
Published: 4/19/2005 Turkish Press, MI
ANKARA - Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will leave for Afghanistan on Wednesday on a state visit.
On the first day of his visit, Prime Minister Erdogan is scheduled to meet President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and former Afghan King Mohammad Zahir Shah.
Prime Minister Erdogan will visit the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters on Thursday.
He will hold talks with NATO Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan Hikmet Cetin and ISAF Commander Gen. Ethem Erdagi.
Erdogan will partake in a lunch together with Turkish soldiers.
After meeting representatives of Turkish companies operating in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Erdogan will return to Turkey the same day.
Turkish National Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul, Health Minister Recep Akdag and Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputies Egemen Bagis and Omer Celik will accompany Prime Minister Erdogan during his visit.
Seventeen Afghan prisoners freed from US detention in Guantanamo
Tuesday April 19, 8:53 PM AFP
The United States has released 17 Afghan detainees from military custody at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and they will be handed to Afghan authorities after arriving home, officials said.
Abdul Wakil Omari, spokesman for the Afghan Supreme Court, said the men would be formally transferred to the control of local officials at a ceremony later in the day.
"Seventeen prisoners have been released from Guantanamo Bay," Omari told AFP. "They are in the country."
The detainees' fate would be decided later, he added. It was not clear if the men would face any charges in Afghanistan.
An anonymous Afghan official said earlier the men were due to arrive at Bagram Air Base, the largest US base in Afghanistan, on Tuesday afternoon.
US military spokeswoman Lieutenant Cindy Moore said she could not confirm whether the prisoners were arriving from Guantanamo. "This is a matter for the Afghan authorities and we cannot comment," she said.
The release comes three weeks after the United States said it had cleared 38 foreign nationals held at the naval base of their controversial status as "enemy combatants" and said they would be sent to their home countries soon.
Officials said the decision had been reached following a 10-month-long review of the cases of 558 detainees captured in Afghanistan and other countries in the course of the war on terror and shipped to Guantanamo for interrogation and possible prosecution.
Special tribunals have confirmed the status of 520 detainees, officials added.
In January, 80 Afghan detainees were released from US custody at Bagram ahead of the Muslim festival of Eid as part of an attempt to bring moderate Taliban supporters in from the cold.
The United States has told how its detention camp at Guantanamo has become its single best source of intelligence on Al-Qaeda's recruiting, bomb-making and interest in weapons of mass destruction.
A Defense Department report, released as the Pentagon finds itself fending off legal challenges to the indefinite detention of "war on terror" suspects, tells how doctors, pilots, lawyers, engineers and translators are among the approximately 550 detainees.
The report, posted on a Defense Department website last month, said 10 percent of the inmates have university degrees or obtained higher education, in many cases at US colleges.
However the US military has come under fire from rights groups for its methods at detention centers in Afghanistan, where at least eight detainees have died since 2002.
Around 400 Taliban and Al-Qaeda suspects are still being held by the US military in Afghanistan.
A US-led offensive in late 2001 drove the fundamentalist Taliban from power after they refused to hand over Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
Taliban leaders to join peace process
KABUL, April 19 (Xinhua) -- A large number of Taliban high-ranking leaders accepted the government-initiated national reconciliation policy and would soon announce their support publicly, presidential spokesman said Tuesday.
"A considerable number of Taliban's prominent leaders have returned to Afghanistan, even to Kabul," Jawed Ludin told journalists at a news conference here.
His remarks came amid reported presence of Taliban's senior leader Mawlawi Abdul Kabir to Kabul and talks with government officials.
Kabir, who served as acting head of state during Taliban's reign, is according to media in Kabul to seek reconciliation and join government, while a Taliban spokesman Mullah Rahmatullah lastweek rejected the report as unfounded and said no Taliban would contact US-backed administration.
However, Ludin expressed his ignorance about Kabir's presence to the capital city.
"Not only the Taliban but all Afghans who afraid of their past political affiliation can return home and resume their normal lives," he noted. "It is the time to rebuild our country".
More and more Taliban members have surrendered to the government since the collapse of the former extremist regime more than three years ago. In the beginning of April, one of the most high-profile Taliban commanders Wahid handed himself over to the authorities, which has helped to bring other Taliban in.
Taliban's elusive chief Mullah Mohammad Omar, whose supportershave intensified their activities since the beginning of spring, vowed early of March in a statement to continue Jihad or holy war till the withdrawal of US-dominated foreign troops from Afghanistan.
Action planned in N. Waziristan: US general's briefing
April 19, 2005 issue Dawn (Pakistan)
ISLAMABAD, April 18: Pakistan is planning to launch an operation against terrorists in North Waziristan as US forces prepare to undertake a spring offensive in Afghanistan.
This was stated by Commander of the coalition forces in Afghanistan, Lt-Gen David Barno, while talking to journalists at the US Embassy here on Monday.
Referring to a meeting of the Tripartite Commission of the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan held earlier in the day, he said: "We collectively feel that there is a need to undertake an operation in North Waziristan. That's an area where I think the Pakistani military is about to undertake a military operation to keep pressure on terrorist networks.
"We are in the middle of beginning a spring offensive and the Pakistani forces are busy moving troops to North Waziristan to continue to put pressure on terrorist networks," he said.
Gen Barno, who completed his tenure in the region after having been posted in October 2003, said he visited Pakistan frequently during his 18-month stay to hold meetings with senior military and intelligence officers. He said that besides Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, his areas of responsibility included Pakistan as head of the combined forces in Afghanistan.
Replying to a question about incidents of firing between Pakistan and Afghan troops along the border, Gen Barno said the number of such incidents had reduced significantly as Pakistani liaison officers deployed at the coalition operational headquarters in Afghanistan shared information on activities of forces on both sides of the border.
Gen Barno warned that remnants of Taliban and Al Qaeda were planning to stage some high visibility attack over the next six to nine months that would 'get them back on the scoreboard' after suffering major strategic defeats last year.
"There are continuing threats out there. The enemy operations taper off during winter and make resurgence during spring which has been a pattern over the last few years."
The US general said though the popular support for the Taliban and their remnants in Afghanistan had decreased the terrorist threat was still there. "Terrorists are not going to go away and the only way to combat them is to put pressure on them and disrupt their operations. We will continue to see attacks in Afghanistan. The war is not over."
About the pockets of support for the Taliban and others terrorist groups, Gen Barno identified areas in northern and eastern Afghanistan where coalition forces or the central government were not present.
He said the number of Nato troops in Afghanistan would be increased from their current strength of 8,500. By June 1, Nato forces would have the military responsibility of the northern Afghanistan and would expand further into the western parts of the country, he said.
Gen Barno said the hunt for Osama bin Laden remained an intelligence challenge. He said as compared to a military operation, the hunt for a single individual in rugged mountains was a difficult task, but efforts to find Osama would not be given up till success was achieved.
Talking about major challenges in the coming days, Gen Barno said Al Qaeda wanted chaos in the region and remnants of the Taliban regime, including Gulbadin Hekmatyar's group and others, were still a threat and efforts were on to tackle them.
When asked about Iranian influence in Afghanistan, especially in Herat, Gen Barno said Iran had an interest in that area as it was situated on their border. "I have not seen indications that they are sending weapons into Afghanistan.
When asked if arms had made way into Balochistan to create trouble in Pakistan, Lt-Gen Barno said: "I don't know. I have not seen any intelligence report in this regard. But we don't have any intelligence focussed on that part of the border on either side."
In reply to a question about poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, he said it had declined during the past three months and the UN had documented that there was a significant decrease in the first part of this year. However, he said, a narcotics network operated in Afghanistan and the Karzai government had launched an operation to tackle the problem.
TRIPARTITE MEETING: The tenth meeting of the tripartite commission held here on Monday was attended by Pakistan Army's Director-General Military Operations Maj-Gen Mohammad Yousaf, Lt-Gen Sher Karimi of the Afghan army and Lt-Gen Barno of the US military.
According to an official statement, the three sides expressed satisfaction over successes achieved in 2004 and agreed to further improve coordination and information-sharing to enhance the effectiveness of counter-terrorist operations.
The Inter-Services Public Relations Directorate (ISPR) said the three sides welcomed the recent visit of President Hamid Karzai to Pakistan and stressed the importance of peace and stability in Afghanistan.
The parties welcomed the establishment of a counter-narcotics working group, a body operating in parallel to the Tripartite Commission, formed to facilitate discussions of officials of the three parties on counter-narcotics issues. The Tripartite Commission will meet again in June 2005 in Kabul.
Afghan Leader Karzai Seeks Ban on Forced Marriages
By Sayed Salahuddin / April 19, 2005
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai Tuesday called on the country's Islamic clerics to help stop forced marriages of young girls.
At a religious gathering in Kabul, Karzai urged Afghan scholars to follow the lead of Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah al-Sheikh, who earlier this month termed forced marriages un-Islamic and said violators should be jailed.
"Last week I became very happy when I heard the Ulema (scholars') fatwa by the brotherly country and heart of Islam, Saudi Arabia," he told the assembly, which included some women.
"In this fatwa they mentioned that forced marriages of girls is unjust in Islam. We have similar problems in Afghanistan. I hope that the noble Afghan Ulema issues a similar fatwa like the Saudi Ulema to end the oppression of Afghan women and girls."
He said some Afghan women were still oppressed three and a half years after U.S.-led forces overthrew the radical Taliban government that barred women from education and most outdoor work.
While the Taliban greatly restricted women's rights, ordering them to wear coverall burqa garments when venturing outdoors, they themselves opposed forced marriages of girls.
The group's reclusive leader Mullah Mohammad Omar issued a decree banning forced marriages but the practice, which has been going on for centuries, has continued.
In some parts of the country, girls of 12 or younger are still given in marriage to settle tribal disputes, especially in southern areas bordering Pakistan which are home to ethnic Pashtuns, Afghanistan's biggest tribe.
Despite an easing of restrictions on women's rights since the Taliban's overthrow, many women continue to wear burqas to avoid inflaming conservative sentiments, and dozens commit suicide every year to escape abuse by their husbands.
Afghanistan's Karzai urges Islamists to fight violence against women
KABUL, April 19 (AFP) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday urged Islamists to fight violence against women and to take a strong stand against girls being forced into marriage against their will.
Karzai called on Afghan Islamists to "raise their voices" in support of women and "urge the people through mosques to stop violence against women."
Speaking to a gathering of religious leaders and government employees in a ceremony to mark the birth of the Prophet Mohammad, Karzai said his US-backed administration will continue its struggle for women's rights.
"A week earlier I was so pleased to hear the Fatwa (decree) of ... Saudi Arabia's Ulema (Muslim scholars) in which they said that forced marriage of girls is banned in Islam," he said adding, "We've a similar problem in Afghanistan."
Karzai added that government officials would be sent on fact-finding trips around the war-torn country to see how local commanders who hold sway over the provinces deal with women's rights.
"We've decided to study every single province in Afghanistan -- the ministers and vice-presidents would go to each province ... if they find any wrong-doing we will take action."
Karzai has been trying to reduce the power of regional warlords. However, military strongmen who helped the US topple the Taliban regime in late 2001 still control large parts of the country.
Afghanistan: U.N. Rights Monitoring Still Needed
19 Apr 2005 21:55:15 GMT Source: Human Rights Watch
(London, April 20, 2005) -- Afghanistan's perilous human rights situation demands ongoing monitoring by the United Nations, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch urged the U.N. Commission for Human Rights, now conducting its annual meeting in Geneva, to keep Afghanistan on its agenda and to increase the number of human rights monitors in the country.
"There is still a human rights crisis in Afghanistan," said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "Warlords and armed factions still dominate many parts of the country and routinely abuse human rights, especially the rights of women and girls."
Donor nations, and specifically the NATO countries, have been slow in meeting their commitments to Afghanistan. As a result, Afghans countrywide continue to complain about extortion and robberies by militias and political repression by local strongmen.
Increased human rights monitoring would be especially important with parliamentary elections planned for September. During presidential elections last year, the international community fielded only a small number of election monitors who were hard-pressed to lend legitimacy the process. Human Rights Watch documented intimidation of civil society groups and journalists during the presidential campaign. Parliamentary elections, which are more competitive at a local level, are expected to be more fiercely contested and thus more vulnerable to political intimidation.
Human Rights Watch called on the Afghan government to press for greater international support in monitoring human rights conditions throughout the country.
Human Rights Watch also urged the United States to help increase human rights monitoring. There are indications that the U.S. delegation to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva has opposed continued U.N. monitoring in Afghanistan by the U.N. independent expert on human rights in Afghanistan, Cherif Bassiouni. Bassiouni had criticized the United States last year for its policies of holding detainees in Afghanistan without legal protections.
"The U.S. should be helping Bassiouni and other U.N. monitors to do more in Afghanistan, not less," Adams said. "Otherwise, U.S. opposition to U.N. monitors in Afghanistan could be interpreted as motivated as a desire to silence critics."
NGOs form 'parallel' government in Afghanistan: minister
WASHINGTON, April 19 (AFP) - Afghanistan's finance minister, Anwar Ul-Haq Ahady said Tuesday that NGOs were running a 'parallel' unaccountable government in his country as it seeks to rebuild its economy.
Ahady said aid to Afghanistan needed to be funnelled to the government directly instead of through aid agencies which have "become a parallel government."
"The function of the government has been taken over by others," he said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here.
Ahady questioned why most health services and education were administered by non government organizations instead of the education or public health ministries.
"The government is accountable to the people. NGOs are not accountable to the people," he said. Ahady noted that non-governmental agencies do not pay taxes or levies on the materials they import and do not risk their own money like private investors.
"We welcome them, but they should get their money from somewhere else," rather than from the pool of international aid, he said.
Ahady said his country would need considerable amounts of continued international aid as it rebuilds.
"Afghanistan was a failed state. The objective was to rescue that failed state," Ahady said of the complete political and economic reconstruction Afghanistan undertook after the fall of the fundamentalist Taliban regime in 2001. "Our own resources are absolutely inadequate."
Ahady said Afghanistan is in the middle of a "comprehensive social revolution," in which both values and institutions change dramatically.
The minister said the transition to a liberal economy was encouraging private investment and that the security situation was improving with warlordism "almost finished."
But, he said, Afghanistan could not sustain the changes without support from donor countries in the form of grants, not loans.
"We need, if not billions, than at least hundreds of millions of dollars for roads," he said. "We cannot really borrow a large amount to rebuild our infrastructure. If we borrowed, we would very soon end up in a fiscal crisis."
Afghanistan wants aid, not loans, for development
19 Apr 2005 18:46:56 GMT
WASHINGTON, April 19 (Reuters) - Afghanistan would quickly run into debt trouble if it had to borrow money to rebuild its infrastructure and needs more international grants, Kabul's finance minister said on Tuesday.
Minister Anwar Ul-Haq Ahady also said Afghanistan wants more of the nearly $13 billion in foreign aid that was pledged to the war-torn country directed to state coffers so that the government can take on tasks now done by U.N. and nongovernmental organizations.
"Our debt sustainability level is very low. We cannot really borrow a large amount to rebuild our infrastructure," Ahady said. He did not give detailed debt figures.
Ahady said Kabul had made headway recovering from 25 years of war but that more needed to be done.
"If we want rescue Afghanistan from a situation of being a failed state, we will have to pay attention to infrastructure to enable the private sector to invest and to employ people," he said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.
"Transport and power are the two most important priorities for investment and we would like these to be done by international grants and assistance," he said.
As much as 70 percent of the $4.5 billion the world pledged in 2002 after U.S.-backed forces ousted the Taliban militia was spent to meet humanitarian needs such as helping refugees return and resettle, he said.
Donors pledged another $8.4 billion for three years in Berlin in 2004, against Kabul's request for $27 billion over eight years. Much of this amount was being spent on security, Ahady said, leaving little for roads, housing and urban development.
Ahady reiterated Kabul's call for a bigger share of funds provided to the country, of which he said two thirds went to NGOs and U.N. agencies that were doing work in health and education that Afghans could do more cheaply.
"The government of Afghanistan should be accountable and most of the resources should be channeled through the government budget," he said, noting that Kabul has recently launched a crackdown on corrupt officials.
"There will be greater coherence, greater effectiveness and even with the existing amount of resources, I think we will get a lot more value for money," Ahady said.
Afghan Opium Eradication Plan Continues
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press / April 19, 2005
SANZERI, Afghanistan - Afghan police and soldiers are pressing ahead with a plan to eradicate the world's largest opium crop, moving from field to field in southern Kandahar province with cutters and large sticks as angry farmers look on.
Authorities have destroyed almost 50 acres of illegal poppy crops since Sunday in and around Sanzeri, Haji Mohammed, the local police chief, told The Associated Press.
Similar operations are under way in other parts of the country, though it will be some time until officials get a clear sense of how much of this year's crop is destroyed.
The eradication campaign was suspended April 12, its first day, when police sent to destroy poppy fields in Kandahar opened fire on rock-throwing protesters. At least seven people were hurt, though officials denied reports of fatalities.
Local and central government authorities have held meetings with tribal elders in an effort to restore calm, and it seemed to be working. On Tuesday, there was anger but no violence among the farmers as they watched officials hack through their crops.
"I had no idea whether growing this was legal or illegal," said one farmer, Mohammed Gull. "All I know is that I was about to harvest my field and now the government has destroyed everything. They have ruined me. I've lost everything."
Another farmer, Yar Mohammed, said the government has promised aid for the drought stricken region, but none had arrived.
"I have not seen it. The government should provide us with schools, roads and electricity and give us some other job we can do to make money if they don't want us to grow poppies," he said. "After this I will have no choice but to go begging for work in town to feed my family."
President Hamid Karzai has called for a "holy war" on drugs after Afghanistan's share of the market for opium, the raw material for heroin, leapt to 87 percent last year, sparking warnings that it is fast turning into a narco-state.
The president sent Gen. Mohammed Daoud, the deputy interior minister in charge of counter-narcotics, to Kandahar on Tuesday to oversee the operation.
Countries including the United States, Britain and France are training new police units to destroy poppy fields, smash drug labs and arrest smugglers while providing hundreds of millions of dollars to help farmers switch to legal crops.
But it is expected to take years to replace a crop that has powered Afghanistan's post-Taliban revival and provided a lifeline to war-impoverished rural communities.
Much of the country's opium crop is expected to be harvested in coming weeks, meaning time is of the essence. But in Kandahar, the going has been extremely slow.
Police have waited for days for the go-ahead from the governor to start eradication in other districts in the province.
Haji Mohammed, the district police official, expressed sympathy for the farmers but he said he would follow his orders.
"Certainly, the people in the area are very poor and need the help of the government and the international community," he said. "They should be given an alternative business or get help to improve their agriculture. But in accordance with our directives, we must destroy all their poppy fields.
Pakistan plans 12 entry points: Afghan border
By Khaleeq Kiani / Dawn (Pakistan) / April 19, 2005 issue
ISLAMABAD, April 18: The government plans to establish around 12 entry points on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border through a road network in a few years to boost trade activities with Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics (CARs), sources say.
A senior official of the ministry of communications told this correspondent main objective of the initiative, backed by the Asian Development Bank, was to provide access to the CARs and Afghanistan to Gwadar port.
According to the official, the forthcoming budget was expected to include allocations for establishing at least four entry points on the Afghan border. The number of the entry points would be gradually increased to 12 in two to three years, keeping in view the security situation in Afghanistan.
These entry points will not only benefit Pakistan but also Afghanistan because it will have access to another port for handling of its transit trade goods. Afghanistan had already asked Pakistan to provide warehousing facilities at Gwadar port, the official said.
He said Pakistan and India would also be opening two more routes on Jammu-Sialkot and Madarpur-Poonch border in a few months, initially for a bus service like the one between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar.
He said the Azad Kashmir government had been asked by the federal government to be prepared for providing required facilities and to improve relevant road network on the two routes. The routes could also become trade routes at a later stage, subject to progress in the ongoing peace process, he added.
President Khatami receives Afghan Martyrs Minister
Tehran, April 19, IRNA
President Mohammad Khatami received here Monday the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan's Minister of Martyrs Seddiqa Balkhi.
According to the Presidential Media Department, President Khatami referred to the great hardships endured by the Afghan nation and their epic of resistances, pointing out the Iranian nation and government's sympathy and constant readiness to offer humanitarian aide to their Afghan brethren.
The IRI president meanwhile expressed Iran's readiness to transfer its experiences and expertise in a bid to help organize the affairs related to the Afghan martyrs and the families, as well as war disabled veterans and their families.
Evaluating the presidential election in Afghanistan as "Positive", President Khatami expressed hope that the Islamic country could achieve its deserved and appropriate position in regional and international spheres.
Emphasizing the necessity of fast renovation and reconstruction of Afghanistan, the President said "Iran has been punctually duty-bound to its vowed commitments regarding your country."
The Afghan minister, for her part, praised the Iranian government and nation for their "great support" of the Afghan people.
She expressed hope that the Afghan Martyrs Ministry could be benefitted from the hard achieved experience of Iran's Martyrs Foundation throughout its long history.
Balkhi also welcomed the idea of boosting cooperation and establishment of regular consultation sessions between the women of the two Islamic countries in different fields.
Better housing units, indoor plumbing to improve quality of life at Kandahar
By Kent Harris, Stars and Stripes Mideast edition, Tuesday, April 19, 2005
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — Flip-flops might soon disappear from the must-have lists of servicemembers stationed at this high desert base.
That’s because new modular housing units will soon have functioning toilets and showers inside the units. So no more walking over rough rocks to get to the facilities.
“That’s a huge step up in quality of life,” said Lt. Col. Jim Hardy, the base operations commander.
Drinkable water and flushable toilets are not common in most of Afghanistan. And, after three years in country, the U.S. military still has a lot of work to do to bring a semblance of modern life to their facilities. Kandahar might be the closest to making it happen. Its facilities are quickly becoming the most modern in the theater.
It now has 156 modular housing units. They’re not elegant to look at, but the metal structures each contain seven rooms — sleeping two to four people — with an eighth designated for toilets and showers. Those could be working in about a month, Hardy said.
In order for that to happen, sewer and water lines have to be finished. So does a concrete reservoir that will hold up to 350,000 gallons of drinkable water. Hardy, a National Guardsman from Texas who serves as an architect in his civilian life, also plans to have a modern sewage treatment plant on base to replace the sewer pond close to the modular housing — much too close if the wind’s blowing in the wrong direction.
If Hardy gets his way, the moving is far from over. He hopes to relocate the current Army and Air Force Exchange Service store and other AAFES vendors near the airport to a spot closer to the modular housing. It would be next to a new dining facility, an outdoor recreation area and three huge festival tents.
One of those tents houses “probably the nicest gym in the entire Afghan theater,” Hardy says. There are dozens of weight-lifting stations, treadmills and assorted equipment designed to get or keep soldiers in shape.
The gym is a popular place, but it might not be as popular as the MRW tent next to it. That houses a small movie theater, library, music room, pool and ping-pong tables and dozens of televisions hooked up to video games.
Soldiers who have been based at Kandahar in previous rotations seem to be impressed by the changes.
“Kandahar has changed dramatically,” said Capt. Jay Smith, commander of the 74th Infantry Detachment/Long Range Surveillance, part of the incoming 173rd Airborne Brigade. He served in the area with the 101st Airborne Division in March 2002.
“I hardly recognize it,” said Spc. Matthew Haflett from the brigade’s Combat Support Company.
About 5,000 people currently call the base home. Most are American servicemembers, but there are also more than 1,000 civilians and military units from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Romania.
Kandahar airfield is similar to Bagram Air Base in that it’s not located next to any large city. And both have room to grow. But the geography is different. Kandahar borders a high desert and is about 1,500 feet lower in elevation. Temperatures soar in the summer and dust storms are prevalent.
Hardy said the United States and the Afghan government haven’t agreed to a long-term commitment at Kandahar. But he says there’s a lot more work that could be done if American forces stay a while.
“If they say go, I’m going to have a list of projects lined up.”
Stars and Stripes is a Department of Defense-authorized daily newspaper distributed overseas for the U.S. military community.
Pakistan: Afghan delegation encouraging repatriation
ATTOCK, 19 Apr 2005 (IRIN) - A delegation of the Afghan Return Commission Working Group (RCWG) has been visiting Afghan refugees of Turkmen origin in the Pakistani city of Attock in Punjab province, some 80 km northeast of the capital, Islamabad, to hear their concerns about repatriation.
The RCWG, a government body, was formed three years ago to help remove obstacles in the way of repatriation of the millions of Afghans living in neighbouring countries. This is the first visit of its kind by the RCWG to inform Afghans in Pakistan about conditions in their homeland and to encourage the repatriation of at least a million Afghans who remain in the country.
The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been sponsoring the tour of the nine-member RCWG team, composed of delegates from five northern provinces of Afghanistan; Balkh, Sar-I-Pul, Jowzjan, Samangan and Faryab.
"The delegation is here to tell Afghans from northern Afghanistan living in Pakistan about the prevailing situation over there and how their problems hindering repatriation could be solved. It [the delegation] is also here to collect questions that they will take back and raise with the relevant Afghan authorities," Jack Redden, a UNHCR spokesman, told IRIN in Islamabad on Monday.
About 2,500 Afghan families of Turkmen origin hailing from the northern provinces of Afghanistan have been settled in Attock for over past two decades. The Dari-speaking Turkmen have established new lives in the city with carpet weaving as their main source of income. A relatively well-to-do Afghan community, it is reluctant to relocate its established businesses to Afghanistan where immense problems of reconstruction, development and security remain, elders say.
"There is a huge pile of problems waiting for us if we go back," said Ustad Karimullah, an Afghan elder in Attock. "There is poor availability of land, shelter, drinking water, food, construction material and employment opportunities. Also there are immense problems of law and order; warlords still have a strong hold in several northern areas."
"At least five children of those few families who repatriated from here last year were killed during the intense winter this year. There is shortage of resources and [a lack] of social services - no one can imagine life without that, particularly for children and women," another community elder, Allah Murad, pointed out.
The UNHCR-sponsored RCWG delegation is planning to visit Afghan refugees living in all four provinces of Pakistan over the next two weeks.
Nearly 2.3 million Afghans have returned from Pakistan since 2002 under UNHCR's voluntary repatriation assistance programme. The agency estimated a further 400,000 would return this year, the UNHCR spokesman said.
The three-year tripartite agreement between the governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the UNHCR - which governs the voluntary repatriation programme of the UN refugee agency – runs until March 2006.
Iraq: Activist Marla Ruzicka Remembered For Work In Afghanistan, Iraq
By Ron Synovitz
Human rights groups, aid workers and war correspondents around the world are paying tribute to the courage of a young American activist who was killed by a suicide bomber in Baghdad Saturday. Marla Ruzicka worked tirelessly in Afghanistan and Iraq to document cases in which innocent civilians were killed during combat involving U.S. forces. In an effort to get the U.S. government to compensate the families of civilian war victims, Ruzicka founded a nongovernmental group called CIVIC -- "Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict." Her efforts convinced the U.S. Congress to allocate some 17 million dollars in direct aid to civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Prague, 19 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Marla Ruzicka is being remembered in a hail of tributes this week by journalists and aid workers who encountered her in Afghanistan and Iraq during the past four years.
The 28-year-old native Californian was killed Saturday by a suicide bomber as she was traveling in Baghdad to visit an Iraqi child who had been injured by a bomb. The suicide attack also killed Faiz Ali Salim, the Iraq country director for CIVIC.
Human Rights Watch credits Ruzicka with proving that the U.S. military has been keeping data on civilian deaths in Iraq --even though the Pentagon had denied the existence of such statistics.
Human Rights Watch credits Ruzicka with proving that the U.S. military has been keeping data on civilian deaths in Iraq --even though the Pentagon had denied the existence of such statistics.
Steve Crawshaw, director of the London office of Human Rights Watch, says, "During her last trip to Iraq, she managed to obtain information from the U.S. military about the number of civilians who had been killed during the hostilities after the end of the major combat operations. This information that she received related only to a brief period in the Baghdad area. But it was very important in establishing that the U.S. did, in fact, record civilian injuries. She was trying to get the U.S. government to publicly release these statistics about all the areas of Iraq."
Crawshaw says Ruzicka's field work in Afghanistan -- which confirmed the deaths of more than 800 civilians as a result of U.S. airstrikes -- was crucial in getting the U.S. government to release millions of dollars in compensation payments.
"She began her work on behalf of civilian victims in Afghanistan in December 2001. And as a result of her efforts in very precisely identifying injured civilians, the U.S. Senate allocated 2.5 million dollars to assist Afghans injured by U.S. actions. And that sum has now grown in the meantime. It's now more than 7 million dollars on that work," says Crawshaw.
Crawshaw also credits Ruzicka for helping to convince the U.S. government to set aside 10 million dollars to compensate civilian Iraqi victims.
"It was extraordinary achievements, really, what she was doing throughout these conflicts -- working with tireless energy throughout, which I think impressed all the people who came into contact with her," Crawshaw says.
RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel met Ruzicka when she arrived in Kabul in 2001. Recknagel says that for anyone meeting Ruzicka for the first time, her optimism and youthful idealism belied what would later prove to be a pragmatic ability to mobilize large amounts of U.S. government assistance.
"In conflicts, ordinary citizens see and fear occupying armies. And sometimes their homes and lives are destroyed by fighting. Marla tried to help those civilians. In doing that, she showed the gentle side of her country. She was an American civilian who cared enough about other ordinary people to come thousands of miles to help them, and who successfully lobbied the U.S. Congress for money to directly help them too," says Recknagel.
One difficult aspect of Ruzicka's work was that with little initial funding, she rarely had money to pay for office or living space. "Washington Post" correspondent Pamela Constable recalls that in order to make ends meet, she slept many nights on the couches of journalists or aid workers in Kabul and Baghdad.
RFE/RL correspondent Peyman Pejman also got to know Ruzicka when she occupied a spare room in his Baghdad quarters for a month in the summer of 2003.
Pejman says he saw firsthand how U.S. military officials either refused to cooperate or could not help Ruzicka in her quest to determine the extent of civilian casualties in Iraq. Pejman says those difficulties ultimately showed Ruzicka's gift for diplomacy.
"On the one hand, she was trying to get the cooperation of the U.S. forces to document some of the casualties. And on the other hand, it was a difficult task because Washington had said from the beginning that it was not going to count any of the Iraqi casualties -- whether military or civilian," says Pejman.
Pejman says he once asked her about the challenges of maintaining rapport with U.S. military officials.
"She basically said, 'This is a very apolitical job. It doesn't matter whether you like the war or don't like the war, or whether you agree with the invasion or not. The issue here is that civilians should not be harmed in any conflict.' She said it was her job to document specific cases of death and injuries to Iraqis so that the U.S. and other governments can be held accountable," Pejman says.
Amongst all the tributes to Ruzicka since her death, it is her own quotes, published on the website of the nongovernmental group she founded, that best describe the work she had committed her life to.
Those quotes say: "No one can heal the wounds that have been inflicted [by war]. You just have to recognize that people have been harmed. Victims of violence, terrorism and war -- we want them not to be forgotten. We want a process that accounts for them. We want governments -- international, the United States, the United Nations -- to have structures in place for assistance."
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