Karzai urged to release list of wanted Taliban
By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL, April 20 (Reuters) - An Afghan newspaper urged President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday to publish a list of 150 Taliban members wanted for alleged atrocities, saying this would facilitate reconciliation with moderates from the group.
Karzai, installed in power after U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban in late 2001, has repeatedly offered amnesty to Taliban members, except for a hard core of about 150 who he says are responsible for terrorist acts or linked to al Qaeda.
But the government has yet to publish the list.
In an editorial, the privately run English daily "Outlook" said the government should reveal the names. "If Karzai would announce the names of those 150 culprits, the whole job will become easier to demarcate the boundaries between criminal and the so-called innocent Taliban," it said.
The daily said the entire nation was interested in seeing the list and its publication would make it easier to hunt wanted Taliban members.
No government spokesman was immediately available for comment.
So far at least five mid-level Taliban figures have responded to the amnesty offer and held talks with the government, officials say.
Hardline leaders of the Taliban, including the group's elusive supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, have dismissed the amnesty as an attempt to create a rift in the movement and vowed to continue an insurgency aimed at toppling Karzai and driving foreign forces from Afghanistan.
At the same time, the Taliban have also called on the government to reveal the names of the 150 wanted members.
U.S.-led troops overthrew the Taliban in late 2001 after they refused to hand over the al Qaeda chief, Osama bin Laden, the architect of Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. cities.
Last week, the number two in the Taliban movement, Mawlavi Abdul Kabir, rejected as baseless reports that he had held reconciliation talks with Karzai's government.
Afghan Chief Justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari said recently that senior Taliban figures, including Kabir, had been in touch with him about giving up their insurgency.
Kabir served as the Taliban's top military commander in the east of Afghanistan during the group's rule.
Afghan sources say he played a big role in providing safe passage in 2001 for senior al Qaeda figures, including bin Laden, who had been trapped by U.S.-led forces in the Tora Bora mountains after the Taliban's fall.
Taliban guerrilla activity has picked up after a winter lull that followed the group's failure to make good their vow to disrupt last October's presidential elections, which Karzai won.
But activity is down on past years, fuelling speculation that the movement may be struggling to find recruits and resources.
Afghan President Karzai congratulates new pope
April 20, 2005
(Kyodo) _ Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday congratulated German cardinal Joseph Ratzinger for being elected as leader of the Roman Catholic community.
"I congratulate Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger for being elected as Pope Benedict XVI. On behalf of the Afghan people, I wish His Holiness Benedict XVI every success as he assumes his new responsibility," Karzai said in a statement.
Roman Catholic cardinals elected Ratzinger as pope Tuesday in a conclave to succeed Polish-born Pope John Paul II, who died April 2 at 84 after leading Roman Catholics worldwide for 26 years.
As the leader of the strictly religious Islamic country, Karzai attended the funeral of the late pope. He commended Pope John Paul II's support for Afghan desire for freedom during the Soviet occupation of the country. The Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan for about nine years from late 1979.
During the ruling by the Taliban, Christians, Jews and other minority religions in the country were forced to hide their beliefs for fear of harassment, discrimination and possible death.
The Taliban collapsed in late 2001, following U.S.-led attacks.
Turkish premier pledges to support Afghanistan's reconstruction
KABUL, April 20 (AFP) - Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday Turkey would stand by Afghanistan as the war-torn country struggles to rebuild its shattered infrastructure.
"I want to tell you that in coming years we will remain by our Afghan brothers' side, in reconstruction of schools, drinking water and road construction which will take place by establishing investment," Erdogan told a press conference in Kabul.
"We will encourage Turkish investment here," he added.
During his talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Erdogan signed a cooperation agreement for developing Afghanistan's health sector but neither Erdogan nor Karzai gave further details at the press conference.
Erdogan is scheduled to hold talks with other Afghan officials and visit the Turkish military contingent here, which currently commands the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Turkey took over the ISAF command in February for a period of six months, its second stint at the helm of the force following an initial term between June 2002 and February 2003.
Erdogan will meet with NATO Senior Civilian Hikmet Cetin and ISAF Commander General Ethem Erdagi on Thursday and hold a lunch with Turkish troops.
He will also meet with representatives from Turkish companies before flying home to Ankara.
Afghanistan's Taliban launching coordinated attacks, says US
Thursday April 21, 10:04 AM AFP
Taliban guerrillas are coordinating attacks on American and Afghan forces as part of a new springtime campaign of violence, the US military said after 17 militants died in a gunbattle.
Afghanistan has recently seen some of its fiercest fighting for months with more than 30 insurgents linked to the ousted Islamic regime dying in firefights in the past week, according to officials.
"I think that there is a coordinated effort by the insurgents to make attacks against the ANA (Afghan National Army) and coalition forces," US military spokeswoman Lieutenant Cindy Moore told reporters in Kabul.
Three years of operations by an 18,000-strong US-led coalition have fragmented the ousted Islamic regime, but a top US commander warned last week they could coalesce ahead of parliamentary elections due in September.
Moore attributed the surge in violence to the warm spring weather, which has historically allowed militants to leave the mountainous hideouts they use during the freezing winter months.
"I think we are seeing attacks of similar nature... to the last couple of years in spring," she said, adding that Afghan and US forces would "aggressively pursue" the insurgents.
Local commanders said gunbattles in southeastern Zabul province on Monday left 17 militants dead, including some linked to the Al-Qaeda network. Officials said another 16, at least five of them Pakistani and Chechen nationals, were captured.
Also on Monday, Afghan soldiers killed two Taliban militants and seized three others including a senior commander, officials said.
One week earlier US helicopter gunships and jets killed 12 militants after a Taliban ambush in southeastern Paktia province, officials said.
Early Wednesday insurgents in a Pakistani border village fired at least four "long-range" missiles which landed near a US-led military outpost in Afghanistan's eastern Khost province, the provincial security commander told AFP.
Afghan officials have repeatedly accused militants of crossing the porous border and using Pakistani territory to attack targets in Afghanistan.
However, the US-led military has repeatedly praised Pakistan's military activities against the insurgents, most recently during a meeting between US, Afghan and Pakistani representatives in Islamabad.
US military claim angers Pakistan
Wednesday, 20 April, 2005 BBC News
A Pakistani general says US claims that Pakistan is planning a new offensive against militants in its Waziristan region are "highly irresponsible".
Lt Gen Safdar Hussain, who commands Pakistani forces in Waziristan, was responding to comments by David Barno, head of US forces in Afghanistan.
Gen Hussain said he had no reports on which to base a new operation.
Pakistan stepped up military operations a year ago against suspected al-Qaeda and Taleban militants in the region.
Gen Hussain was responding to Lt Gen Barno's comments that a new Pakistani operation would happen soon.
Gen Barno was in Pakistan this week as part of counter-terrorism talks.
Gen Hussain said in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province: "It is only speculation that terrorists are in North Waziristan.
"We are gathering intelligence but there is no report on the basis of which I can begin an operation.
"There is no organised base of terrorists. They are on the run. I will not let them reorganise."
Gen Hussain, who met Gen Barno this week, said: "I told Gen Barno he should better take care of Afghanistan and we can do ourselves in Pakistan."
His comments came a day after Pakistani army spokesman Maj Shaukat Sultan also criticised the statement by Gen Barno, saying: "We decide for ourselves what needs to be done, when and where."
Analysts say that although Pakistan remains a key ally in the US-led war against terrorism, it is highly sensitive to suggestions of US involvement in its operations.
Pakistan has deployed about 70,000 troops to the Afghan border region in its operation against militants.
The army has said in the past that hundreds of militants, including Arabs, Afghans and Central Asians, have been based in the area.
In his comments on Wednesday, Gen Hussain also said for the first time he had taken action against soldiers involved in the killing of civilians.
The action included their replacement from command positions, stripping them of seniority and sending them home.
He refused to give any further details or numbers.
Gen Hussain also said was sure al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was not hiding in Pakistan.
He said Bin Laden's security ring was such that any movement in Pakistani areas would have left his signature.
But he said Pakistani forces were nevertheless continuing the search.
US kills 12 insurgents in Afghanistan
Thursday April 21, 4:07 PM
KABUL (Reuters) - U.S. forces blasted rebel positions with bombs, rockets and artillery, killing at least 12 insurgents, after rockets were fired at a U.S. base in southeastern Afghanistan, the U.S. military said on Thursday.
Helicopters, aircraft and artillery were used to respond to the four rockets fired without effect at the Salerno base in Khost province on Tuesday night, the U.S. military said in a statement.
"We were able to see the launching point of the rockets and we brought everything we had to bear on it," U.S. army Major J.R. Mendoza said in the statement.
"They shot at us with rockets and we responded with artillery, fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft," he said.
The military said two 500-pound bombs, 10 rockets, and hundreds of artillery shells were fired at the rebels, killing more than a dozen.
The clash is one of the bloodiest in recent months in Afghanistan, where more than 18,000 U.S.-led troops are pursuing Taliban and al Qaeda militants.
The Taliban have been waging an insurgency since being overthrown by U.S.-led forces in late 2001 for refusing to hand over al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, the architect of September 11 attacks on U.S. cities.
Guerrilla activity has picked up after a winter lull but activity is down on past years, fuelling speculation that the Taliban may be struggling to find recruits and resources.
Pakistan denies plan to operate along border with US forces
ISLAMABAD, April 20 (Xinhua) -- A top Pakistani military officer Wednesday dismissed remarks by US Lt. Gen. David Barno, commander of the coalition forces in Afghanistan, that Pakistan isplanning to launch an operation against militants in its North Waziristan tribal region.
"No operation is planned in North Waziristan," Lt. Gen. Safdar Hussain, military operations chief in Pakistan's North West Frontier province, told reporters in the provincial capital city of Peshawar to brief them about his meeting with Barno on Tuesday, the independent News Network International reported.
"I told General Barno that the statement about operation is figment of his imagination," Safdar said. He also denied any plan about a joint operation by Pakistani and American forces.
Barno said in the US embassy in Islamabad on Monday that Pakistani army was set to begin a major operation against foreign suspects and their local supporters in the trial area bordering Afghanistan. Barno was in Pakistan to represent the United States at a meeting of the Tripartite Commission on April 18, which also groups Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Barno reportedly said that the US forces prepared to undertake a spring offensive in Afghanistan as it was launched in Pakistan's North Waziristan.
Safdar condemned Barno's statement and described it as incorrect. He said Pakistan is a sovereign country and makes decisions on its own.
"We do not take any dictation from anyone and operation will be launched if it is needed," Safdar said, adding "We are achieving objectives without firing bullets."
To a question about Osama bin Laden, Safdar said the al-Qaeda chief was not in Pakistan and Pakistan had deployed some 70,000 troops in the tribal region along the border with Afghanistan to hunt down suspected militants. Some 669 check posts had also been set up to capture wanted people, he disclosed.
In March last year, Pakistani forces began large-scale operations against suspected al-Qaeda militants and tribesmen supporting them in South Waziristan. The army believes hundreds offoreign Islamic militants including Arabs, Afghans and Central Asians are holed up in the region.
Pakistan asks coalition forces to check movement by militants from Afghanistan
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) Pakistan's military has asked U.S.-led coalition forces to do more to stop Afghan militants from entering Pakistan, a spokesman said Tuesday. The army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, said they made this demand at a meeting of senior defense officials and diplomats from Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States, who met at Rawalpindi, a garrison city near the capital Islamabad on Monday.
He also dismissed the suggestion by Lt. Gen. David Barno, America's senior military commander in Afghanistan, that Pakistan will soon launch an offensive against militants in its North Waziristan tribal area near the Afghan border. ``We decide for ourselves what needs to be done, when and where,'' Sultan said.
Pakistan, a key ally of the United States in its war on terror, has launched major military operations in its tribal regions near the Afghan border to flush out al-Qaida linked militants over the past year. However, Islamabad has been criticized by U.S. and Afghan officials for not doing enough to stop Taliban militants crossing from Pakistan to launch attacks inside Afghanistan.
Karzai vows clean sweep of corrupt Afghan officials
KABUL, April 19 (Reuters) - The Afghan government will sweep provincial officials out of office if complaints against them over security or corruption prove true, President Hamid Karzai said on Tuesday.
Karzai, who has made fighting corruption a priority since winning the presidential election in October, said senior officials would fan out across the country to scrutinise administration in the provinces.
"We have decided to study each of Afghanistan's provinces separately ... if there is a need for wholesale reform, then we will do it and we will send new individuals," Karzai told an audience made up mostly of Islamic scholars in Kabul.
Karzai said it would take up to 15 years to attain efficient government. As an example of public anger and frustration, Karzai referred to a demonstration last month by residents of the southern city of Kandahar angry about insecurity and child kidnapping.
Some protesters even called for the return of the Taliban, under whose strict rule much crime was stamped out. Many who voted for Karzai in October said they hoped he would root out corruption and consolidate the central government's hold on the country after nearly a quarter of a century of war and Taliban rule.
In the first case of its kind in years, two deputy ministers in Karzai's government and six senior officials were sentenced last week to various terms in prison on graft charges.
The UN Commission Convenes To Discuss Human Rights In Afghanistan
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
20 April 2005 -- United Nations Commission on Human Rights convenes today in Geneva to discuss human rights violations and adopts resolutions and decisions on matters of human rights.
The 61st session of the Commission compiled several recommendations for Afghan government that should help the authorities cope with reconstruction efforts in order to establish civil society in Afghanistan.
The Commission recommends that Afghan government should work with help of international community to establish rule of law, strengthen justice system and combat drug trafficking and warlords who are increasingly involved in this illicit business.
The government should also work with the international community to train public defenders in order to strengthen due legal process and thus avoid and combat inappropriate detentions and convictions, according to the UN Commission report.
Among other recommendations offered by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights were development of a 'robust civil society', press freedom, broad access to media throughout the country, expansion of public discourse and development of new social, cultural and political organizations.
The UN Commission on Human Rights meets annually in Geneva in March and April for six weeks and discusses human rights issues and offers recommendations for respective governments all around the world to ensure human rights.
Meanwhile, today, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the United Nations to increase rights monitoring in Afghanistan, a country the U.S.-based group says is having a "human rights crisis."
Human Rights Watch said in a statement that "warlords and armed factions still dominate many parts of the country and routinely abuse human rights, especially the rights of women and girls."
The group urged the U.N. Commission on Human Rights to send more rights monitors to Afghanistan and criticized donor countries, particularly NATO members, for being slow in meeting aid commitments.
The statement says "Afghans countrywide continue to complain about extortion and robberies by militias and political repression by local strongmen."
The rights group also said the United States, which has about 17,000 troops in Afghanistan, should do more to support U.N. efforts on human rights.
UN urged to address Afghan "rights crisis"
April 20, 2005
KABUL (Reuters) - The United Nations must increase human rights monitoring in Afghanistan, a country still facing a rights crisis with gunmen holding sway over large parts of the country, a U.S.-based rights group said on Wednesday.
Close attention to rights was particularly important in the run-up to parliamentary elections in September that are likely to be fiercely fought, Human Rights Watch said.
"There is still a human rights crisis in Afghanistan," said Brad Adams, the group's Asia director. "Warlords and armed factions still dominate many parts of the country and routinely abuse human rights, especially the rights of women and girls."
The group urged the U.N. Commission on Human Rights to send more rights monitors to Afghanistan and criticised donor countries, particularly NATO members, for being slow in meeting aid commitments.
"As a result, Afghans countrywide continue to complain about extortion and robberies by militias and political repression by local strongmen," the group said in a statement.
Election monitors were unable to cover much of the country during a presidential election in October, largely because of security worries. Human Rights Watch said it had documented intimidation of civil society groups and journalists.
The election was won by U.S.-backed Hamid Karzai, who has stressed the need to protect human rights and has tried to rein in faction leaders and disarm their fighters.
Human Rights Watch said September's parliamentary election would be at risk of abuses and called on the Afghan government to press for greater international support for rights monitoring.
"Parliamentary elections, which are more competitive at a local level, are expected to be more fiercely contested and thus more vulnerable to political intimidation," it said.
The rights group also said the United States, which has about 17,000 troops in Afghanistan, should do more to support U.N. efforts on human rights.
Afghanistan's female drugs cop swaps burqa for Kalashnikov
Wed Apr 20, 4:49 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - By day Malalai Badahari wears dark glasses, combat fatigues and wields an AK-47. But at dusk the diminutive counter-narcotics cop slips her veil back on her head and goes back to her home life, where all her neighbours think she is a teacher.
In the mud-brick street in Kabul where she lives with her husband, father-in-law and her five sons, revealing what she does for a living could mean death as the streets of the Afghan capital are crawling with gangsters and warlords linked to the country's booming drugs trade.
Her family are also worried she could be threatened by Islamic fundamentalists who want to turn the clock back four years to a time when Afghan women were barred from working or leaving the house without first shrouding themselves in a burqa.
But 37-year-old Malalai, who shares her name with an Afghan heroine who battled the British colonialists at the turn of the century, is undaunted by the threats she faces.
"I like President Hamid Karzai because now I can carry a Kalashnikov. This is the new Afghanistan," she says, cradling her machine-gun on her lap and pushing the shades back over the black cap she wears to cover her hair when she is at work.
She is one of six women who have been trained at a centre in the bombed-out rubble of west Kabul as part of an elite counter-narcotics team by British and American instructors to seize drugs, which now make up the backbone of war-torn Afghanistan's economy.
The National Interdiction Unit, of which Malalai is a part, will eventually form part of the frontline in the country's war on drugs and is expected to be 200-strong by the end of this year, with around 15 to 20 female police officers. Women are vital to the unit because they are required to search the women's quarters of homes, something men can't do without offending local Islamic sensibilities.
Malalai and her colleagues have their work cut out. Since the hardline Taliban regime was 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 -- cultivation of opium poppies, the raw ingredient of heroin, has soared.
The crop now accounts for between 40 to 60 percent of the Afghan economy and both the United Nations and the US State Department have warned that the country is teetering on the verge of becoming a "narco state."
-- 'We're Afghan women like you. Not men.' --
At the moment the unit has to operate like a SWAT team, launching lightning raids on heavily-armed drug traffickers and heroin laboratories in Afghanistan's far-flung provinces, and carrying out spot checks on trucks entering Kabul to look for opium, heroin and hashish.
In the West, drugs enforcement agencies like America's Drugs Enforcement Agency (DEA) gather intelligence and monitor crime syndicates before announcing their presence with a raid.
But in Afghanistan there are still no functioning courts or secure prisons to deal with drug traffickers. So the handful of raids Malalai and her colleagues have so far launched have led to relatively small hauls of drugs and not so far brought any major arrests of drug kingpins.
In her biggest seizure to date, Malalai found seven kilos of opium and 70 kilos of hashish secreted in rooms in the women's area of a house in Kabul, where she and her 40-year-old colleague Habiba had gone to search the women.
"When we got there all the women and the children were crying when they saw us storm in with our guns and our sunglasses but we told them to calm down," Malalai says later, back at her home surrounded by her family.
Her head demurely covered by a violet-coloured veil which matches her dress, a diamond stud in her nose and gold earrings dangling from her ears, Malalai grins as she says: "We told them, look, we're Afghan women like you. Not men. There's nothing to be afraid of."
Sitting across the room from her and propped up by cushions is Malalai's crippled father-in-law, Haji Mohammed Shirin Girwal, who lost his legs in a rocket attack during Afghanistan's bloody civil war during the mid-1990s. He says he is proud of her work.
"She is serving her country and that makes me very happy. We are an enlightened family but this society is not ready to accept women as policemen yet, so only our immediate family who live in this house know what she does," he says.
"We have not even told our relatives," adds the old man, who hails from Afghanistan's conservative Pashtun tribal majority -- the same ethnic group that the hardline Islamic Taliban belonged to.
-- 'Under the Taliban it was far more frightening' --
Malalai, who still trains two to three days a week between actual operations, says women are just as good as men at the gruelling training regimen. During her seven months with the unit, she has learned to use a pistol and an AK-47 as well as being trained in surveillance and close combat techniques.
But she says the dangers she faces in her current job pale into insignificance beside the threats she faced when teaching girls under the Taliban regime.
Between 1997 and 1999, Malalai was one of 26 women who taught 300 girls to read and write in a mechanic's house in the Shashadarak neighbourhood of Kabul -- an area that now houses the main base of the NATO-led peacekeeping force in the country.
The Taliban, fiercely opposed to almost any activity by women that did not involve doing housework or praying, raided the school twice, breaking down the door on one occasion and searching for notebooks and writing materials.
"We had bought sewing machines and put embroidery on the walls and we said that we were teaching women how to sew, which was kind of allowed under the Taliban. It was far more frightening than the work I do now," Malalai says, looking at her father-in-law.
If she had been found out when the Taliban broke down the doors, Malalai would have faced an immediate beating, and then been lashed and jailed.
"Even their faces scared me. They looked so fierce under their black turbans," she says with a shudder.
Her father-in-law recalls one time she came home after a Taliban raid, shaking and pale.
"She looked so scared. All the blood had drained from her face," he says.
Despite her family's support for her work since she joined the force, Malalai took a while to get used to the major readjustment of actually working with men.
"When the women arrived at first they wore burqas. This was a burden for them to even be joined with men," says Ricky C.T. Chambers, program manager at Blackwater Training Center, which is grooming the fledgling drugs force.
But after shaking hands with their male American instructors and a few weeks of doing target practice with male Afghan colleagues both Malalai and her partner Habiba asked to be treated the same as their counterparts, casting aside their burqas.
"They change in the same locker room now, just using the locker door to shield themselves from view," Chambers says.
It also took Malalai five months to persuade her husband to let her stay overnight when the force went on drugs raids to the provinces, but eventually her persistence paid off.
"I told him that the government is paying me a salary and this is the nature of the job," she says later as she prepares to do a training exercise with her 25-strong group of colleagues, who all go on raids together out to eastern provinces like Nangahar, and Logar and Kandahar in the south.
-- 'It's an important job. Drugs are against Islam' --
Even in Afghanistan's more liberal capital Kabul, women are rarely allowed out after dark without being escorted by a family member for fear that people will start whispering about their virtue being compromised.
And even if the woman is a major breadwinner in the family, like Malalai who earns 150 dollars a month from her work, it is hard for husbands and other male relatives to adjust.
"When she explained it to us, it almost sounded like he didn't trust her or trust us, and felt insecure about her being around all these men later in the day, when he is used to having her home by four, cooking or being with the family," Chambers says.
Sitting at home with her eldest son and her father-in-law, Malalai says that with five boys all grown up and at school -- her youngest is 12 -- it's not such an obstacle to be away from home.
"It's an important job. Drugs are against Islam and if we carry on this way more and more people will be addicted and there will be more misery," she says.
But she is realistic about how long it will take to turn the tide on the narcotics trade given the poverty of Afghanistan, where most of the population scrape by on less than two dollars a day and 20 percent of children never live to see the age of five.
"Farmers here are very poor. You have to give them some alternative, and that will take years. The entire nation is so poor." Malalai says.
The party's over for Afghan NGOs
By Ramtanu Maitra (Asia Times)
On April 4, Afghan President Hamid Karzai finally stepped out of outgoing US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad's shadow and called some of the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating inside Afghanistan "corrupt".
After making known Article 8 of the new Afghan legislation that prevents NGOs from bidding for Afghan government-sponsored project contracts, Karzai called a meeting with ambassadors and representatives from the United Nations and donor countries based in Kabul.
Voicing his strong concern that some NGOs were responsible for squandering the precious resources that Afghanistan received in aid from the international community, Karzai told the gathering: "We have a responsibility towards the Afghan people, as well as the taxpayers in the donor countries, to stop NGOs that are corrupt, wasteful and unaccountable."
The Afghan president announced the establishment of a joint task force consisting of Minister of Economy Mohammad Amin Farhang, Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development Haneef Atmar and chief of staff of the President's Office Umer Daudzai to examine the issue and submit recommendations in no more than a month.
Bashar Dost's accusations - To many observers of Afghan developments, Karzai's denouement of the NGOs was overdue. Last November, Abdur Rasheed Saeed of the Institute for War and Peace (IWP) reported that Planning Minister Dr Ramazan Bashar Dost had told him of thousands (there are some 3,000 NGOs operating within Afghanistan, of which close to 350 are foreign-based) of NGOs that had failed to deliver effective assistance to the stressed Afghan people. In December, ostensibly under pressure from the NGOs and the countries they represent, Dost was forced to resign. It was evident that in asking Dost to step down, Karzai, whether he liked it or not, had to succumb to the external pressure.
Since becoming the planning minister in March 2004, Bashar Dost made it clear publicly that the NGOs were ineffective and had wasted money that should be being spent on the Afghan people. Pointing out that existing Afghan law "didn't clarify the responsibility of NGOs and the procedure for their control", Dost spearheaded a draft law that would regulate their operations. He noted that when an NGO received funds, either from a government or a non-governmental source, they are supposed to distribute most of those funds to the people of Afghanistan. "I have yet to see an NGO that has spent 80% of its money for the benefit of the Afghans and 20% for their own benefit," he said.
"International NGOs get big amounts of money from their own nations just by showing them sensitive pictures and videos of Afghan people, and there are even some individuals who give all their salaries to NGOs to spend it on charity here. But [the NGOs] spend all the money on themselves, and we are unable to find out how much money they originally received in charitable funds," Bashar Dost told the IWP.
Dost advocates elimination of "NGO-ism" - and not NGOs. He told the IWP that there are some so-called NGOs that operate for profit, like private companies. "I haven't seen any NGO at all which works efficiently yet," he added.
A predictable uproar - Dost's comments angered the NGOs and the United Nations. Paul Barker, country director of the aid agency CARE, declared: "These ill-founded, unsubstantiated and generalized attacks, from a government minister, are creating a climate in which the government is seen to be legitimizing attacks on NGOs." Of course Parker did not want to urge the Karzai government to investigate and substantiate Dost's charges, suggesting he is wholly aware that the planning minister was not whistling in the dark, and that evidence of a cobweb of corruption may come out if such investigations were carried out.
Instead, Barker, speaking for the NGO community, took the high road, accusing the planning minister of aiding attacks on the NGOs. Similarly, without making reference to the Afghan minister's charges, UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva told a news briefing in November: "Justification of violence in general, and against NGOs in particular, is unacceptable. The government has a paramount duty to uphold law and order and it cannot be involved in legitimizing or condoning physical aggression in any way."
Missing the real issue - The UN spokesman's statement is certainly true, in general. But both Dr Parker and the UN are dodging the real issue. The fact is that NGO activity in Afghanistan raises many legitimate questions. For instance, using their foreign and donor nations' links the tax-exempt NGOs have gotten access to government contracts that tax-paying local commercial companies should have won. The NGOs, using their political muscle and their well-oiled linkages to the International Security Assistance Forces, won some contracts by developing access to government officials, including ministers, some of whom were formerly their employees. Because of the higher pay they can offer, some of these NGOs have hired qualified individuals who would otherwise be available to serve the government.
One can get a whiff of the type of "NGO-Raj" that angered Dost in an article published in Outside magazine (December 2003): "When the world community of do-gooders arrives to rescue a nation from itself, the first sign is the blinding white traffic jam. White Land Rovers stack up thick at the airport; white Nissan Pathfinders block the streets at lunch; miraculous white-on-white Toyota Land Cruisers choke the traffic circles of the lucky target country. This caravan of chariots was triple-parked outside the Mustafa Hotel in downtown Kabul on a Saturday night. Late-model 4x4s filled the avenue and circled the block, churning up dust as the chauffeurs maneuvered for parking. I threaded my way through a cluster of acronyms: UN, UNESCO, UNDP, UNHCR, FAO, UNICEF, UNICA, UNAMA, UNOPS, UNEP, MSF, ACF, MAP, MACA, IRC, WFP, IOM, IMC. Even the hotel was painted white. I could hear Shakira [Colombian singer and sex symbol] playing faintly from above."
Similarly, a writer for the Chennai-based Indian daily The Hindu, posted in Kabul, observed: "People working in some of these NGOs lead a lavish lifestyle. A look at their offices and their houses, the way they are furnished, the air-conditioned cars they drive, all add to the resentment of the people, as it all comes out of the aid being pumped into the country."
In an article that appeared on March 26 in Der Spiegel, under the title "Afghanscam", Susanne Koelbl made a case, pointing out that in a country where the per capita income is just US$200, foreigners, or more appropriately the "$1,000 men" are jostling the streets of Kabul. Koelbl says the so-called $1,000 men were everywhere, hired by donor institutions like the World Bank or the Asian Development Bank. Recently, a list of salaries surfaced, causing a medium-sized political earthquake in the government. An employee of the British consulting firm Crown Agents, for example, received $207,000 for his 180-day placement in the Aid Coordination Office, plus expenses. Another submitted a bill for $242,000 for 241 days - 10 times as much as the Afghan minister responsible for running the ministry earns in a year.
The $1,000-a-day men - In addition, hundreds of consulting firms are competing for huge projects, and the number of active consultants in Afghanistan is estimated to be at least 3,000. "Suddenly there were more consultants than flies and dogs in this city," said an employee of the US Embassy who has worked in Kabul for two years. One German diplomat estimates that at least a quarter of US relief aid is spent on foreign experts alone, Susanne Koelbl wrote.
The article discusses one such consultant, William Strong, a 67-year-old Californian who recently landed a $30 million contract. Strong has a valid background making money in almost all of the world's crisis regions. He lives together with a dozen international co-workers in a $12,000-a-month villa in the northern part of Kabul. Working for a company called Emerging Markets Group, he has been given the task by the Afghan government of surveying the country's land and clarifying property ownership. "This is a huge market," a rapturous Strong said, before complaining that it's hard to find people who are "more interested in their job than money", Koelbl reported.
Koelbl's article also looks at another successful company, Bearing Point. With its headquarters in McLean, Virginia, the global consulting firm's Afghanistan budget alone is more than $100 million. Reports indicate the company's chief executive, Ed Elrahal, has succeeded in placing 70 of his company's consultants in the government. Elrahal's employees aren't allowed to talk to the press and in the few cases where they are, they can only do so under strict supervision. Nevertheless, one of the company's employees in the Finance Ministry told Koelbl why he is working here - anonymously, of course. In Kabul, he earns the same amount he would in far more dangerous Iraq - a daily rate plus a supplement of 50% for hardship and danger pay. But he refuses to disclose the amount - "It's a company secret," he said. But those with experience here know that the daily rate for the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which operates globally, is $840.
The lifestyle of the foreign NGOs is not all that draws the ire of Afghan locals. Objection has also been raised to the corruption associated with the forming of fake community organizations, delivering small credits to the rich or friends of the NGO staff, reporting fake community development schemes, sharing the funds allocated for such schemes with a few community members, conducting meaningless training just for the sake of training, and over-budgeting the same to the donors. What angers other Afghans is the exuberance of the NGOs in funding programs related to "gender and development", which the more religious types perceive as "anti-Islam."
There is also a deeper, political point. Bashar Dost is among those who point out that NGOs in Afghanistan have not always functioned the way they are now. When the Taliban were in power, most NGOs were truly involved in humanitarian activities. But now there exists a semi-functioning government that the international community - in other words, the United States - wants to strengthen.
Donors like USAID want NGOs to work hand-in-hand with the Afghan government and the US military, and to wear donor political support on their sleeves. They are reportedly being asked to subjugate their anti-poverty missions to broader, more complex political and sometimes military goals. And this raises serious issues that ought not to be swept under the rug.
Ramtanu Maitra writes for a number of international journals and is a regular contributor to the Washington-based EIR and the New Delhi-based Indian Defence Review. He also writes for Aakrosh, India's defense-tied quarterly journal.
Afghanistan: National iodine campaign
KABUL, 20 April (IRIN) - A nationwide multi-media campaign was launched on Tuesday calling on Afghan families to use iodised salt, following new findings which indicate that Afghanistan is facing a high prevalence of iodine-deficiency disorders, including goitre, stunted physical growth and mental retardation.
The campaign is using radio and television spots, posters and banners and point-of-sale information leaflets that will show consumers the benefits of consuming iodised salt.
According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) less than one-third of households in Afghanistan use iodised salt - the simplest, cheapest and most sustainable way of introducing health-enhancing iodine into the diet.
Iodine deficiency is believed to result in 500,000 babies being born each year in Afghanistan with intellectual impairment, while 70 percent of school-age children are iodine deficient, a UNICEF study in 2003 indicates. Lack of iodine is thought to result in a reduction in IQ by as much as 15 percent.
"We have to increase the demand for iodised salt and that is why this campaign is being launched, it is all about getting people to go to the market place and choose iodised products instead of the non-iodised products," Edward Carwardine, a UNICEF spokesman, told IRIN as the campaign was launched in the capital, Kabul, on Tuesday.
"Certainly in terms of supply, there is enough to meet the needs of the whole population," Carwardine said, adding that there were 10 iodised salt production plants in the country.
The new campaign, led by the Ministry of Public Health with the support of UNICEF, builds upon a successful increase in the production of iodised salt following the establishment of iodised salt plants in Afghanistan since 2003, Carwardine added.
With the flowering of broadcast media in post-Taliban Afghanistan, radio and television are being utilised more widely for health education. The country has one of the lowest rates of literacy in the world, but there are more than 40 local radio and five TV stations now operating.
But health workers believe the problem needs more than just a media campaign to solve. "The government should impose a ban on the use of non-iodised salt or shopkeepers should be encouraged to introduce iodised salt to rural customers, many of whom do not have access to messages through the media," Hasinajan, a health worker at the MOPH told IRIN.
The costs of iodised salt are broadly comparable to non-iodised salt, UNICEF maintains.
The campaign also serves to help consumers recognise genuine iodised salt in the marketplace through the introduction of an official seal that identifies government-approved quality iodised salt.
Evidences of ruins dating to Buddhist era found in Kabul
Pajhwok Afghan News 04/20/2005 By Zainab Mohaqiq
KABUL - The winter rains experienced by many provinces throughout Afghanistan has unearthed the ruins of an ancient building, believed to date back to the pre-Islamic Buddhist era, in Paghman district northwest of Kabul.
The head of the archeology department at the ministry of information and culture in Kabul, Mohammad Nader Rasuli said initial investigations suggest that the ruins were unearthed near Kunjaki Hill, near Oryakhail village, which was linked to Buddhism. Rasuli added that this may mean that other Buddhist statues may be found in the same vicinity.
Mohammad Nader, the owner of the land where the monument was discovered said that stones of the building surfaced after heavy rains washed away soil. "Then I reported the finding to the information and culture ministry," he said.
The ministry officials have been excavating the area for the past three days. "We have started the excavation in order to enlighten dark angels of history," Rasuli said.
Fazluddin a resident of Kunjaki village is in charge pf the excavation program. "During the Taliban, this area was excavated illegally and the Taliban officials did not allow ordinary people to visit the site," Fazluddin said. An American organization that carries out archeological research will fund the research project for the excavations to be conducted by Afghan archeologists.
Pak to donate 35 buses to Afghanistan
Islamabad, April 21 (PTI): Pakistan will hand over 35 buses to Afghanistan on Thursday as the first instalment of one hundred buses which Pakistan pledge to donate to ease out Afghan transport problems.
These buses would be handed over to the Afghan minister for public works, Sohrab Ali in Islamabad, Pakistan Foreign Office Spokesman, Jalil Abbas Jilani told a media briefing here on Wednesday.
He said Pakistan has already donated 200 trucks and 85 ambulances to Afghan government.
He said Pakistan is also engaged in the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan. He said Pakistan's involvement in the development process of Afghanistan include in infrastructure development, health, education and capacity building.
The spokesman said Pakistan welcome the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as new Pope. He said Pakistan looks forward for further strengthening of already cordial and friendly relation with the Vatican.
Two face court-martial over Afghan action
KVIA - Apr 20 8:07 PM
EL PASO, Texas Officials at Fort Bliss say two Ohio soldiers face court-martial on charges related to the deaths of two Afghan detainees at the Bagram Control Point in Afghanistan in 2002.
P-F-C Willie Brand, a 26-year-old from Cincinnati, faces a general court-martial on charges of maiming, assault, maltreatment and false swearing.
Major General Michael A. Vane dropped an involuntary manslaughter charge on the recommendation of Brand's Article 32 investigating officer and others.
Specialist Brian Cammack faces a special court-martial on charges of assault, maltreatment and making a false official statement.
A Disarming Presence In a Dangerous World
The Washington Post 04/20/2005 By Pamela Constable
It was an especially bleak moment on a frozen night in Afghanistan, just before Thanksgiving in 2001. An assortment of grizzled correspondents was crammed into a filthy hotel. That week four of our colleagues had been ambushed and killed by gunmen on the highway to Kabul, and we were all in shock. One evening several of us were lingering over coffee in the dining room, too depressed to head back to our rooms to work.
Out of nowhere, a perky blond apparition materialized at the table. She looked about 16, and she was wearing pajamas with cartoon animals under an Afghan robe. She introduced herself as Marla and started chirping about how she had just come from California to work on human rights issues. We all stared at each other in disbelief. She seemed so young and vulnerable that we were seized with the identical, protective thought: Marla, go home.
But Marla Ruzicka stayed on, working to bring public awareness and official help to the plight of war victims in Afghanistan. Later she moved her one-woman human rights crusade to Iraq, where she was killed Saturday in a suicide bombing at age 28.
In Kabul, she flitted like a cheerful sprite through our hard-bitten war correspondents' world, alighting on our couches for the night and floating off with a backpack in the morning. She never had any money, but she had an amazing knack for organizing parties, procuring hidden vodka and making foreigners in a war-ruined Muslim capital feel at home.
Everyone stationed in Kabul after the fall of the Taliban knew her. The men fell in love with her and the women were reminded of themselves, a decade or two younger. At first, Ruzicka seemed too much of a flower child to be taken seriously. Ivan Watson of National Public Radio recalled her kick-boxing with the Afghan cook in the back yard of his house; another correspondent described her giving everyone back rubs after long days.
I remember her scribbling little thank-you notes and invitations with smiley faces on them, and yet another correspondent recalled that when she was leaving Kabul, Ruzicka came to her house early that morning with a gift and a long goodbye note. Over each letter "i" was a heart instead of a dot.
Ruzicka was far from a simpering sandalista. There was a determined agenda behind her ditsy persona, an earnest sense of purpose that enabled her to charm her way through military checkpoints and wring pledges of aid for war victims from congressional offices. While no one was paying much attention, she began systematically compiling data on casualties and damages that resulted from the U.S.-led attack on Kabul. In the spring of 2002, she led a group of Afghan families to the gates of the heavily guarded American embassy to demand compensation for the victims.
After that, we all viewed her with new respect.
"Marla had no guile. There was a complete lack of cynicism, a total selflessness in what she did," said Catherine Philp, a foreign correspondent for the Times of London and one of Ruzicka's closest friends, speaking from New Delhi. "We live in such a jaded community, and she alone seemed untouched. She was like an angel of life, but an angel with a broken wing. It made her seem so fragile that everyone wanted to help her."
After the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Ruzicka shifted her efforts to Iraq. By then she had founded a Washington-based organization called the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict. She shifted from handwritten notes to a barrage of e-mails to friends, journalists and congressional offices. She was still broke, but by the time she arrived in Iraq, many Kabul correspondents had also shifted to Baghdad, so she found a plethora of couches to crash on.
Her mission was the same: to document the damage done to Iraqi civilians and their homes by the war. Baghdad was a far more dangerous place to work than Kabul, with foreigners exposed to far greater risks from suicide bombings, sniper fire and kidnappings. Major news organizations acquired armored cars and armed guards, and many Western journalists were confined to their homes or hotels much of the time.
Once again, Ruzicka took on the role of hostess and hovering angel for the exhausted and stressed-out Baghdad press corps. Richard Leiby of The Washington Post recalled her throwing a party called "Baghdad Needs Some Love." I saw her only a few times during my brief visits to Iraq, but she forged close friendships with full-time correspondents, and her e-mails mixed breezy, Valley Girl jargon with emotional appeals for her project to document and seek compensation for victims of wartime violence.
"She happily reminded me of many of the Greenpeace kids I worked with in the 1980s . . . a bulldog of energy with absolutely no constituency or power," said William Arkin, a peace activist and military affairs writer who worked with Ruzicka in Iraq. Even hardened generals and policymakers, he wrote in an e-mail to a friend Sunday, were disarmed by a beautiful "spitfire of disorganization" who badgered and begged for their help.
Despite her youth, Ruzicka, a native of Lakeport, Calif., had spent much of the last decade as a volunteer for political causes, visiting Cuba and Israel while attending Long Island University, and later joining Global Exchange, a nonprofit group that promotes concern for world poverty and suffering.
While in Iraq, the diminutive Ruzicka ventured out to places few other foreigners dared go, visiting families who had lost relatives or homes in military or terrorist attacks. She took limited precautions, traveling with a single Iraqi assistant and driver, Faiz Ali Salim, who was also killed Saturday by the suicide bombing on a road near the Baghdad airport. Her only protection was the thin disguise of a traditional black abaya, from which wisps of telltale blond hair constantly strayed.
Peter Baker, a Post reporter, first met her in Afghanistan in 2001. "She looked like a high school girl. I remember thinking she was going to get herself killed," he said. But over time, she became such a familiar presence in war-torn settings, and exuded such an ethereal quality, that she seemed somehow impervious to the evils of war. "There are so few truly good souls anywhere, but especially in that part of the world," Baker said. "It never occurred to me to think she would be in danger."
For all her moxie, Ruzicka confided to friends that she endured periods of deep self-doubt and anxiety. Despite her nurturing nature, she sometimes seemed to hint at the realization of her own vulnerability. In one recent e-mail to a journalist friend, she signed off with a casual "good vibes to you," but she also added this darker sentence: "I need angels in my life."
Afghans to learn China's development experience: says Afghan Vice President
KABUL, April 18 (Xinhua) -- Afghanistan's Vice President Abdul Karim Khalili has sought China's support in the recovery and stabilization of its economy.
"As Afghanistan's great neighbor, China has made significant achievement in the field of economy, so we Afghans are looking forward to learn your experience and stabilize our economy," he told Xinhua before leaving for Beijing.
Khalili, who is paying his first visit to China on Tuesday, would also attend the Boao Forum for Asia in south China's Hainan Province. "Today, China is one of the successful nations in developing economy and it would be a huge contribution in rebuilding Afghanistan if it extends its experience to us and pave the way for our fast recovery," Khalili noted.
To a query, the Afghan leader backed China's possible support in exploration and utilizing Afghanistan's untapped natural resources. "Afghanistan is a naturally rich resources country. We want the cooperation of all our friends, particularly China, to extend support in exploration and utilizing our underground resources and enable us to recover our economy," Khalili stressed.
He also termed the Sino-Afghan relations as "deep rooted," saying the historic relations between the two countries would further grow in the years to come.
"China has never intervened in the internal affairs of Afghanistan, rather it on Afghans side in the time of need," the Afghan dignitary emphasized.
The Hazara minority leader, who fought against former Soviet Union and later on help the US military to oust Taliban regime in late 2001, was sworn in as Second Vice-President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in December 2004.
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