First Afghan opposition party important for democracy: Karzai
KABUL, April 1 (AFP) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai welcomed Friday the formation of Afghanistan's first opposition party by his main opponent in last year's presidential vote as an important democratic step for the country.
"Hamid Karzai, President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, welcomes the creation of the Afghanistan National Coordination Front as the opposition to the government of Afghanistan," said a presidential statement.
"The president appreciates this initiative which aims to establish an opposition to the government, within the democratic political framework in Afghanistan, and considers it as an important step towards strengthening democracy and the rule of law in Afghanistan," the statement said.
Yunus Qanooni, the chief rival to Karzai during last year's presidential vote, said Thursday that he had formed the war-shattered country first opposition coalition.
Qanooni, who finished second to Karzai in last October's race with 16 per cent of the vote, said he had joined forces with several little-known political parties ahead of Afghanistan's parliamentary elections on September 18.
"The president believes that, in the same way that a parliament and the principle of peoples representation in the state are vital elements of a democratic system, an opposition committed to reform and the true application of law is also a crucial part of such a system," Karzai's statement said.
"As is common in other democracies in the world, the government and the opposition can have differences in views and policies, but are united in defending and promoting national interests which are above political interests," the statement said.
"The president wishes Mr. Yunus Qanooni and his colleagues at the Afghanistan National Coordination Front all the success, and hopes that the Front will play its historical role in strengthening and deepening democracy in Afghanistan by adopting policies that are positive, constructive and leading to reform," it said.
Qanooni on Thursday accused Karzai's administration of postponing the parliamentary vote, originally scheduled for June 2004, to serve its own political ends.
Donors to meet in Afghanistan from April 4
Agence France-Presse Kabul, April 1, 2005|20:24 IST
A conference of major donors to Afghanistan will meet here between April 4-6 with the aim of dispensing billions of dollars worth of pledges to the country, officials said on Thursday.
"This conference will be the occasion to introduce Karzai's cabinet to donors from the international community," said Adib Farhadi, director of the rebuilding and development ministry, referring to President Hamid Karzao.
"We're looking for a more balanced approach. Over the last years, a large proportion of aid went for humanitarian needs.
"We hope now that it goes for development and infrastructure projects. We're looking for sustainable developement for Afghanistan."
Afghanistan to approve new law for aid agencies
KABUL, April 1 (AFP) - Afghanistan has drafted laws aimed at controlling aid agencies, officials said Friday, raising concerns among some organisations that it could limit their efforts to rebuild the shattered country.
The move follows a government probe into the activities of some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and amid the perception amongst many Afghans that the groups are squandering international aid money.
Economy minister Mir Mohammad Amin Farhang said a new law has been drafted under which his administration would control the activities of thousands of NGOs.
President Hamid Karzai's spokesman Khaliq Ahmad said the law was likely to be approved within a few weeks. "The law has been drafted and approved by the cabinet, but needs the approval of the president," Ahmad said.
However it has already prompted speculation among humanitarian groups, with some saying the law would affect their activities.
"Under this law NGOs would not be allowed to receive government contracts," Paul Barker, country director of US-based Care, told AFP.
"So it would prohibit NGOs from being involved in a wide range of activities in the country."
Another western NGO official said on condition of anonymity: "This law is providing tools for the regulation of NGOs. But it brings a lot of restriction, and it's pretty negative for the NGO community."
Afghan planning minister Ramazan Bachardoust quit in protest last year after his proposal to dissolve more than 2,000 NGOs was heavily criticised by his own government.
A conference of major donors is set to begin next week in Kabul with the aim of dispensing billions of dollars worth of pledges to the country.
U.S. Hands Over Herat Provincial Reconstruction Team to Italy
Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan Coalition Press Information Center (Public Affairs) April 1, 2005
HERAT, Afghanistan – Italian Col. Aldo Guaccio assumed command of the Herat Provincial Reconstruction Team today from U.S. Navy Cdr. Kimberly Evans.
The ceremony was part of the International Security Assistance Force expansion into western Afghanistan, marking the reduction of U.S. forces in the west.
“Our friends, the Italians, will continue to nurture the new growing Afghanistan,” said Evans, after more than a month of transitioning with the Italian civil affairs team in Herat.
The U.S. forces will move to other regions of the country to create new PRTs and continue reconstruction efforts elsewhere. Meanwhile, Italian forces will continue reconstruction and humanitarian efforts in Herat and outlying provinces.
The PRT’s involvement in the region focuses on agriculture, civic support, education, health, humanitarian assistance, irrigation, water and sanitation, repair of civic and cultural facilities, rule of law and governance, and telecommunication and transportation enhancement projects.
“A lot has been done, a lot has to be done in order to reach our objective, and I hope to continue on the same track as (the) American endeavors. It is Italy’s promise to help this nation to continue towards its goal of peace,” said Guaccio.
Coalition forces arrest three Taliban commanders in Afghanistan
Associated Press / April 1, 2005
Coalition forces with the help of Afghan soldiers raided a suspected Taliban hide-out in southern Afghanistan and arrested three regional rebel commanders after they surrendered without fighting, an Afghan commander said Friday.
The surrender came Thursday, shortly after the trio were surrounded by the U.S.-led coalition forces and Afghan National Army in Charchino district of Uruzgan province, 250 kilometers (150 miles) north of Kandahar, said Gen. Muslim Ahmad, an Afghan commander.
He said the suspects, Mullah Nabi, Mullah Saifullah and Mullah Ghani, were later handed over to the coalition forces.
Ahmad said the captured men were involved in various attacks against Afghan and coalition forces, but gave no other details.
Supporters of the former Taliban regime, ousted in late 2001 in a U.S.-led offensive, have stepped up attacks in Afghanistan in recent months, although dozens of them have been killed or captured in operation by Afghan and coalition forces.
Tankers will stop oil to US troops in Afghanistan
By Iqbal Khattak / Daily Times (Pakistan) / April 1, 2005
PESHAWAR: The All Pakistan Oil Tanker Owners Association (APOTOA) continued its strike on Thursday for an acceptance of its 20-point demand charter, saying it would stop supplying oil to US forces in Afghanistan from today (Friday).
Haji Muhammad Ayub, APOTOA’s NWFP president, told Daily Times that oil and diesel supplies to US and allied forces in Afghanistan would be stopped from today unless the government accepted their 20-point demand charter. About 150 oil tankers cross into Afghanistan every day via Torkham and each tanker carries about 40,000 litres of fuel to US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan.
He said APOTOA had allowed 37 oil tankers into Afghanistan on Thursday, but would stop all tankers from crossing Torkham from today.
APOTOA office-bearers met NWFP Governor Khalilur Rehman on Thursday, but the meeting proved futile as oil tanker owners refused to call off their strike without a clear assurance of their demands being accepted.
Meanwhile, truckers said they had blockaded one of the country’s largest oil terminals at Mehmoodkot, Punjab, and were preventing supplies reaching the north of the country from there, Reuters reported. Strikers had also stopped supplies of fuel from the terminal to US forces in landlocked Afghanistan, he said.
Pakistan State Oil played down the impact of the strike, saying it would not cause any shortages. “Our operations have not been disrupted even for a minute,” PSO said in a statement.
PESHAWAR: Nationalists call for abolition of Durand Line
Dawn (Pakistan) / March 31, 2005 issue
PESHAWAR, March 30: Speakers at a political gathering on Wednesday said that abolition of the Durand Line would promote unity and bring about prosperity to the Pukhtuns living across the 112-year old frontier line drawn by force and dividing a nation into many parts.
The gathering was organized by the Pukhtunkhwa Qaumi Party here at the Peshawar Press Club to mark the launching of a book on the Durand Line. The book is a collection of assorted articles read out by politicians and intellectuals at a seminar on the Durand Line last year.
Generally, there was a consensus among the speakers that the forcibly drawn boundary, which had divided a nation, should be abolished in the interest of the Pukhtun people.
PQP chief Lala Afzal Khan, Awami National Party former provincial chief Begum Nasim Wali Khan, veteran politician and poet Ajmal Khattak, National Awami Party Pakistan secretary-general Abdul Latif Afridi, Dr Said Alam Mehsud of the Pukhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, Mufti Kifayatullah of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal and others spoke on the occasion.
The nationalist leaders were of the view that the Duran Line should be abolished as it was against the interests of the Pukhtuns. They said a people divided into so many parts, like Pukhtuns, could not be called a nation. They underlined the need for bringing all the Pukhtuns, wherever they live, under one banner and one geographical unit.
Begum Nasim Wali Khan said it was an artificial line, drawn by the then English rulers of the subcontinent, to extend their divide-and-rule policy down to the Afghans territory. But, she recalled, the Pukhtuns had resisted it and refused to accept the English rule in their area.
Salim Raz asked the Pukhtun politicians to chalk out a strategy how they would end the Durand Line and where they would demarcate it - at Margala or at Jehlum. He said the Pakistan People's Party was also opposed to the Durand Line.
Mr Afridi said the Durand Line had divided houses, families and tribes of the Pukhtuns living across both parts of the dividing line. He said it was inhuman and immoral to deprive a nation of its basic rights. Pukhtuns, he added, had never accepted this colonial decision and waged a number of battles against it.
Mufti Kifayatullah, a spokesman for the ruling MMA, opposed the demand made by the nationalist parties and urged them to get the Pukhtuns of the NWFP, Fata and Balochistan united in a single unit first and then aspire for the unity of others.
He pointed out that all those MNAs, MPAs and senators, who had been administered oath under the1973 Constitution, could not oppose the existence of the Durand Line. He said abolishing the Durand Line was tantamount to the break-up of the country, which was separated from Afghanistan by a boundary in the west, called the Durand Line.
Bashir Ahmed Bilour of the ANP, however, rejected the views of Mufti Kifayatullah and dubbed these as anti-Pukhtun feelings. Lala Afzal, host of the event, said the Durand Line was a great obstacle in the unity of the Pukhtun nation. This line, he added, was a scar on the face of Pukhtuns and should be abolished in the interest of the nation.
Machimura to leave for Afghanistan, Pakistan on Monday
April 1, 2005
(Kyodo) _ Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura will make a five-day trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan from Monday to observe reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and participate in an Asian foreign ministerial forum in Islamabad.
On the sidelines of the Asia Cooperation Dialogue forum, Machimura is seeking to meet with South Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Ban Ki Moon, who canceled a trip to Japan last month after a territorial row erupted anew, according to Machimura.
Machimura is scheduled to arrive in Kabul on Tuesday and meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah as well as members of Japanese nongovernmental organizations involved in reconstruction of the country, Foreign Ministry officials said.
Machimura will then travel to Islamabad the same day and attend the ACD forum, which gets down to business Tuesday evening.
Representatives from the ACD's 26 member states are expected to focus on how to strengthen mutual cooperation in Asia and a Pakistan-proposed initiative on economic cooperation, the officials said.
Machimura hopes to take advantage of the trip to improve relations with South Korea, which have recently deteriorated, due to rekindled territorial and historical disputes, one Japanese official suggested.
On March 26, Japan's Shimane Prefecture declared Feb. 22 as a commemorative day for a Sea of Japan island controlled by South Korea but claimed also by Japan, a move that sparked an angry reaction from South Korea.
Ban canceled a trip to Japan originally planned for March to protest Shimane's move. The prefecture's assembly enacted an ordinance to establish the commemorative day for the island, which is called Takeshima in Japan and Tokto in South Korea.
Afghanistan's lightness of being
Hamid Karzai is indispensable. And that, in a nutshell, is the problem, says Gelber Prize-winner STEVE COLL
The Globe and Mail (Canada) By STEVE COLL / Thursday, March 31, 2005 Page A17
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is a buoyant, elf-like man who radiates optimism. More than three years after the fall of the Taliban, his charisma is undimmed. He is more than ever the indispensable man of Afghan politics: a unifier within, and a trusted partner for the country's crucial outside donors. And therein lies a problem.
Mr. Karzai barely paused to express regret when he announced in Kabul earlier this month that Afghan's oft-delayed parliamentary elections would again be postponed, this time until September. Sporadic Taliban attacks and organizational problems were best thought of as technical setbacks, he suggested cheerfully as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stood supportively at his side.
Afghanistan's nascent democracy and reconstruction is lurching forward. The Taliban's attempts at revival have so far failed. The country's opium economy is a serious problem but not yet a crisis. Afghanistan's neighbours are, in the main, committed to its stability. Overall, the country's steady recovery seems a minor miracle to many of those working on it. In that respect, the pace of parliamentary elections might seem a minor matter.
It is not. Only a successful parliament can make Mr. Karzai less indispensable -- and thus make Afghanistan less vulnerable to the crisis that would surely follow his sudden passing. Perhaps as important, a successful parliament is essential to contain and ultimately defeat the Taliban's attempts at resurrection.
If Mr. Karzai were assassinated tomorrow, no committee of credibly elected Afghan leaders could meet to endorse his successor. They could not meet because they do not exist. Afghanistan would be plunged back into the smoke-filled conference rooms, factional bargaining and strongman rivalries that characterized its politics during the long period of civil war in the 1990s. Its democratic experiment might survive the crisis, but it would be severely tested.
The trouble, partly, is that Afghanistan's politics are regionally unbalanced. In the north and west, Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara ethnic leaders associated with the former Northern Alliance led by guerrilla commander Ahmed Shah Massoud are well along toward building a sustainable culture of normal political bargaining, even if it is sometimes thuggish and corrupt. But in the south and east -- in the tribal Pashtun heartland of the Taliban -- no such normal politics has yet emerged.
The Taliban feed on Pashtun grievances, of which there are many. A federation of tribes that makes up about half of Afghanistan's population, Pashtuns speak a distinct language, revel in a proud and rebellious history, and cling to social mores that are often more conservative than those of their northern countrymen. The Taliban's political and military movement has always had as much to do with Pashtun nationalism as with religion. And with their bizarre interpretations of Islam now more discredited than ever, the Pashtun card is mainly what the Taliban have left.
Mr. Karzai has been able to outflank the Taliban so far because his leadership remains credible to most Pashtuns. He is a royal from a southern political family who has given Afghanistan's democracy an attractive Pashtun face and accent, yet he has also held on to northern groups and Western governments as full partners. This is the feat that has made Mr. Karzai indispensable.
And here is where a parliament matters. For Afghanistan to find democratic stability, a new centrist Pashtun coalition politics must be born, one that rejects both the Taliban's totalitarianism and the narrow agendas of regional tribal warlords. To achieve this, Pashtuns need the time and space to construct normal party-based politics, negotiate alliances with non-Pashtuns, bargain peacefully for power and resources, and develop credible democratic leaders beyond Mr. Karzai.
Only a national parliament founded on free multiparty competition can light such a path. The longer Afghanistan waits to get started, the more difficult it may be to construct such a miracle amid the country's poverty, illiteracy and resilient drug economy.
In the postcolonial period of the 1960s and 1970s, many a promising new country in the developing world, led early on by a charismatic unifier, fell apart when that leader passed from the scene or became corrupted by power. The exceptions are equally notable: When Jawaharlal Nehru died in 1964 after 17 years as independent India's prime minister, the parliament and constitutional institutions he left behind assured that democracy would flourish.
Hamid Karzai was educated in democratic India and understands its political strengths. One can only hope that he and his international partners are alert to the lessons of its history.
Steve Coll, associate editor of The Washington Post and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is the author of Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, which won the Lionel Gelber Prize for foreign-policy writing. Mr. Coll received the award yesterday in Toronto.
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