Key Taliban commander killed, other arrested in Afghanistan
KABUL (AFP) - Afghan military forces have killed a key commander of the ousted Taliban militia and captured another important militant in southcentral Afghanistan, the military said.
Mullah Besmillah, a key Taliban leader in troubled south-central Uruzgan province, was killed in fighting with Afghan soldiers late Thursday when another militant, Mullah Abdul Manan, was captured, the official said on Friday.
"They were both the Taliban's key commanders in the region -- their capture will have a major impact on security," General Muslim Hamed, the military commander in southern Afghanistan, told AFP.
The clash was part of an operation by the Afghan military, backed by coalition troops, to hunt down militants in southern and southeastern Afghanistan, plagued by a Taliban insurgency.
"Our hunt for Taliban began last week and will continue until we root them out," the general said.
Remnants of the hardline Islamic Taliban regime ousted in a US-led operation in late 2001 have stepped up attacks on Afghan and coalition forces in the recent weeks.
Southern and eastern Afghanistan, rugged terrain along the Afghan-Pakistan border, have seen heavy clashes which have claimed dozens of lives, including of two coalition soldiers.
A US soldier was killed and another was injured Tuesday when Taliban militants attacked their unit in Uruzgan's troubled Deh Rawood district.
A Romanian soldier was killed last week in a suspected mine blast in neighbouring Kandahar province, also hit by a wave of renewed attacks by Taliban militants.
More than 18,000 coalition troops, dominated by some 16,000 Americans, are in Afghanistan to help root out the Taliban.
The United States launched the operation to topple the Taliban after the fundamentalist regime refused to hand over Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, architect of the September 11 attacks on Washington and New York.
Afghan drugs kingpin seized by US was untouchable in Afghanistan: experts
Thursday April 28, 11:11 AM AFP
The fact that Afghanistan's police had no role in the recent capture of drug baron Bashir Noorzai in the United States highlights how far the world's largest opium producer still has to go in its fight against narcotics, experts say.
Noorzai was arrested in the United States and charged on Monday with conspiring to import more than 50 million dollars' worth of heroin into the United States and other countries.
The indictment said Noorzai was closely linked to the Taliban regime that US forces helped depose in late 2001 for sheltering members of the Al-Qaeda network behind the September 11 attacks just a few weeks earlier.
Noorzai's network provided explosives, weaponry and manpower to the Taliban in exchange for the protection of its opium crops and heroin infrastructure and drug smuggling routes, it said.
But Afghan authorities admit it would have been difficult for them to lay a hand on a popular figure like Noorzai inside the country because of a lack of evidence.
"He was a very popular drug trafficker but due to a lack of concrete evidence against him, Afghan police could not arrest him," Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal told AFP.
"Afghan police had no role in his arrest."
Noorzai was extremely well-connected in the southern city of Kandahar, which was the spiritual heartland of the Taliban, officials said.
"He has been a member of the Kandahar Provincial Council (of elders and influential people) over the past two-and-a-half years," Mashal said.
Noorzai, who was identified by President George W. Bush last June as one of the world's most wanted drug traffickers, was seized after arriving in the United States by Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials.
With Afghanistan's criminal justice system still at an embryonic stage and many government officials allegedly involved in the country's narcotics trade, which accounts for between 40 to 60 percent of the economy, Noorzai would not have been likely to come to trial here, western officials said.
"Afghanistan's just getting going with a criminal justice system, so you could try to bring someone of that stature to court but he would probably just buy his way out," a western official working on counter-narcotics told AFP.
Noorzai was known to narcotics officers at the "Pablo Escobar of Asia," DEA agent John Gilbride said in New York, referring to the notorious Colombian drug kingpin shot dead by police in 1993.
But a western security source familiar with the drugs business in southern Afghanistan said that although his arrest was "a significant step", there were many other traffickers waiting in line to take his place.
"He controlled a lot of the movements of drugs once they had left southern Afghanistan and he was a major player, but he was not the top man. There are enough people in country that are as big as him and as important," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Afghanistan has trained a crack team of 10 investigators, seven prosecutors and three judges to take on narcotics cases at the Kabul criminal court, and there are plans to extend the jurisdiction of the court so that drug traffickers from around the country could be tried in the Afghan capital.
"The group that has been trained has been taking on low-level cases since February and some of those cases will come to court shortly," the western official said.
However, diplomats said that the United States is still discussing setting up an extradition agreement with Afghanistan that would allow DEA agents to arrest traffickers in the country and then take them to the United States for trial.
Karzai declared a "jihad" or a holy war on drugs shortly after being elected Afghan president in October last year.
In 2004, Afghanistan grew 87 percent of the world's supply of the opium used to make heroin, according to UN reports.
The country saw a 64 percent leap in opium production in 2004 and has also branched into heroin refining over the last year, although provincial officials have made strides in eradicating poppy fields in recent months.
U.S. soldier among dead in Afghan attacks
Wednesday April 27, 4:10 PM
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Taliban fighters ambushed a police chief's convoy in southern Afghanistan, killing four policeman, and a U.S. soldier was killed in a separate ambush, police and the U.S. military said on Wednesday.
The attacks were the latest in a wave of rebel violence since the end of a winter lull.
The police chief of Deshu district in Helmand province, Shadi Khan, said he survived Tuesday's attack near the Pakistani border but four of his men were killed. Two Taliban fighters were also killed in the clash, he said.
"I lost four of my bodyguards and two others went missing. We killed two Taliban," Khan said.
A Taliban spokesman, Abdul Latif Hakimi, confirmed the ambush but said no Taliban were killed. The two policemen captured in the fighting were executed, he said.
In a separate incident also on Tuesday, a U.S. patrol was ambushed in Uruzgan province and one soldier was killed, the U.S. military said in a statement. There were no other casualties in the attack, it said.
About 18,300 U.S.-led forces, most of them Americans, are in Afghanistan battling militants and hunting for their leaders.
U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban government in late 2001 after it refused to hand over al Qaeda chief, Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the September 11 attacks on U.S. cities.
Taliban fighters have waged an insurgency since then, especially in the south and east, but they failed to disrupt a landmark October presidential election won by U.S.-backed Hamid Karzai.
Taliban attacks tailed off during the winter, leading to speculation they might be running out of recruits and resources, but the violence has picked up again in recent weeks.
Rebels raided a district headquarters in neighbouring Kandahar province at the weekend, killing two policemen. Four guerrillas were killed.
A Romanian member of the U.S.-led international force hunting militants was killed in a weekend blast in another part of Kandahar and two U.S. soldiers and two government men were wounded in a weekend attack in Uruzgan province.
Seventeen Hezb-e-Islami militants surrender in Afghanistan
Friday April 29, 03:56 PM
KHOST, Afghanistan (AFP) - Seventeen members of the Hezb-e-Islami militant group have laid down their arms and surrendered to Afghan authorities in the southeast of the country, an official said.
However, it was unclear if any members of the militant organisation would be eligible for a government amnesty offered to the Taliban.
The Hezb-e-Islami is led by former Afghan prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who is on the United States' most wanted list of terror suspects.
"Seventeen commanders of Hezb-e-Islami from different districts of Paktia and Khost provinces returned from Pakistan and joined the political process," Merajudeen Patan, Khost Governor, told reporters at a press conference on Thursday.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai offered an amnesty to rank and file Taliban fighters last year and said all but a hardcore of 150 militants wanted for human rights violations would be able to rejoin the political process.
Mahmood Khan, a 51-year-old commander from Samkay district of Paktia province who headed the group of 17 militants, said he was hoping to play an active role in rebuilding Afghanistan.
"We returned to Afghanistan to participate in the reconstruction process of the country," Khan said.
He said that he had remained in exile in Pakistan since the collapse of the Taliban in 2001 because he was afraid of being arrested by US-led forces.
"We have never participated in attacks against coalition forces or the Afghan government but we were afraid someone would give false information about us to the US and we would be arrested," Khan told AFP.
Khan said the group had not had any contact with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in the last three years.
Merajudeen Patan also confirmed that Malim Jan, a Taliban commander alleged to have organised attacks against Afghan and US-led forces, had surrendered to US troops.
"Malim Jan is now with coalition forces in Chapman Base," he told AFP.
In addition, three middle ranking Taliban joined the reconciliation process in the Zarmat district of Paktia earlier this week.
Hayo Gull Sleman Khel, chief of Paktia Police, named the three as; Mullah Ahmad Shah, district officer of Zarmat in the Taliban regime; Mullah Nawab, head of the Zarmat Madrasa; and a third, Mullah Hamidullah.
He said the trio were well-known in Zarmat, a hotbed for Taliban attacks, and were involved in recent strikes on coalition forces.
Defections resulting from the amnesty have gathered momentum in recent weeks with the surrender of significant figures.
Habib-ur Rehman, who headed the criminal investigation department at the ministry of interior under the Taliban, handed himself over on April 21 and this followed the surrender of two Taliban commanders a day earlier.
Three years after the ousting of the Taliban by a US-led international coalition force, the remnants of the regime are still waging a guerrilla insurgency in the south and southeast of the country.
Afghanistan may become haven for Al Qaeda, says Karzai
Daily Times - Apr 28 4:37 PM
KABUL: President Hamid Karzai on Thursday appealed for a long-term partnership with the United States, warning that Afghanistan could slide back into the anarchy that made it a haven for Al Qaeda unless international aid is sustained. Karzai renewed his appeal at a military parade marking the 13th anniversary of the triumph of US-backed rebels over Afghanistan’s former Soviet-backed government _ a victory quickly spoiled as rival factions plunged the country into civil war. “Our nation has seen very bad days in the past 20 years,” Karzai said in a speech before foreign diplomats and former mujahideen rebel leaders. “To avoid facing the same thing again, we need long-term assistance. We want an undertaking and a guarantee of help from the international community and America.” Afghan and US officials say they’re discussing a long-term “strategic partnership” covering military, political and economic ties. Ministers say the talks are in their infancy, and it remains unclear if a deal would include permanent American military bases in Afghanistan. ap
Afghan parliament to decide on proposed security partnership with US: Karzai
KABUL, April 28 (Xinhua) -- The upcoming Afghan parliament would take decision on the proposed plan of long-term security partnership with the United States, President Hamid Karzai announced Thursday.
"In order to ensure durable security in Afghanistan and not to re-migrate our people, we are considering the issue of establishing long-term partnership with the United States and submit it to the coming parliament for approval," Karzai told the nation on the 13th anniversary of Mujahideen or resistance groups' victory in Afghanistan.
The first-ever post-Taliban parliament is the only authority to take decision on the proposed plan, said Karzai. Afghanistan needs international support especially from the United States to overcome the post-war challenges and stand on its feet, he added.
"To avoid repeating past miseries, to deter foreign interference and to achieve these goals we need international guarantee and want to have international guarantee," Karzai noted while referring to Afghanistan's over two decades of war, displacement and destruction.
After the fall of Moscow-backed regime 13 years ago and induction of Mujahideen-led administration, a bloody factional fighting erupted among several armed groups over power in the capital city which left more than 50,000 dead and some 200,000 homeless.
Karzai, who came to power with US support following the fall of Taliban regime in late 2001 at a joint press conference with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld early this month, disclosed that he favors permanent American presence in the post-Taliban central Asian state.
Stinger seized in Kabul
Pajhwok Afghan News 04/28/2005 By Mustafa Besharat and Zainab Mohammadi
KABUL - Security officials recovered a Stinger missile from the fifth district, west of Kabul city, on the eve of the anniversary of mujahideen's victory.
In a chat with this news agency, an official at the security headquarters here said on Thursday the missile was seized from Afshar (Kota Sangi). Afghanistan is awash with Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, which the United States had supplied in bulk to different jihadi outfits then engaged in a prolonged war with invading Soviet forces.
The security official told Pajhwok Afghan News by phone that foes of the Karzai government wanted to fire the missile to disrupt the celebration of the mujideen's victory. He added the elements, who wanted to fire the rocket, escaped from the scene in a private car. Police were looking for the culprits, he concluded.
Pakistan to avoid towns near Afghan border for England tour
Thursday April 28, 5:26 PM
KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistan will avoid scheduling matches against England in Peshawar and Quetta, cities close to the Afghan border, later this year, Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) sources said on Thursday.
England are due to tour Pakistan from October 25 to play three tests, five one-day internationals and two three-day tour games.
The board has provisionally scheduled the tests for Karachi, Lahore and Faisalabad, with two one-dayers in Karachi and two in Lahore, a PCB source said.
The north western city of Peshawar has not hosted visiting teams since the September 11 attacks amid security concerns.
Quetta, in the south west, boasts a recently completed cricket stadium but the city has seen a surge in violence in recent months by autonomy-seeking tribal militants.
PCB director of operations Saleem Altaf said: "We've sent a letter to the ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board) Chairman David Morgan proposing tentative venues for the matches but the itinerary is yet to be finalised.
"So far, they have not raised any concerns about any venue."
West Indies and Australia refused to tour Pakistan in 2002 because of security concerns. The New Zealanders returned home in May that year without playing a test after a suicide bomb attack outside their Karachi hotel killed 14 people.
New Zealand and South Africa declined to play in Karachi and Peshawar in 2003. The Indian team last year also declined to play a test in Karachi although it did play one-dayers there and in Peshawar.
England last toured Pakistan in 2000-1, winning their first ever test series on Pakistan soil 1-0.
Laura Bush found Afghanistan "very encouraging"
Wednesday April 27, 3:28 PM AFP
First Lady Laura Bush told NBC's Jay Lenno that the progress she saw during her secret and lightning trip to Afghanistan on March 30 was "very encouraging," especially regarding the advances women are making free of the repression of the Taliban.
"It's very, very encouraging when you saw the people of Afghanistan lined up to vote," she said in an appearance on The Tonight Show sporting a cream colored trouser-suit and an apparently new hair style Lenno called "short'n sassy."
Bush said Afghani President Hamid Karzai told her a story exemplifying the courage of a group of Afghani women who refused to leave a line outside a polling station even when they came under rocket fire.
"The men all ran and the women said 'we're not going to run, we want to vote,'" the First Lady said referring to the comments Karzai made. "So then the men, of course, came back and joined them and they voted," she added.
Laura Bush said she visited a dormitory for 800 women built with US help at Kabul University to provide women a safe place to live in away from home while they train to be teachers.
"They can stay in the dorm and then they go back after six months' training to their villages and try to train other teachers. It's actually a cascading effect: to try to educate the country as fast as they possibly can educate it," she added.
She said she was very pleased to see Afghan women living free of the repressive Taliban regime -- which was overthrown in a US-led military invasion of the country in late 2001. "I didn't see any women in burkas" -- the mandatory, black veil covering the entire face women wore under the Taliban regime.
Bush said American women "stand in solidarity with the women of Afghanistan."
"It's hard for us to even imagine a country where girls are denied an education or where women can't even leave their homes to go to work or to do anything else without a male escort," said the wife of US President George W. Bush.
"And so it was an honor to be able to bring the best wishes of American women to the women of Afghanistan," she added.
AFGHANISTAN-PAKISTAN: Ethnic bias hinders decision to return
29 Apr 2005 10:36:13 GMT
KARACHI, 29 April (IRIN) - Haji Juma Khan, a refugee of over 20 years in Pakistan, has yet to decide whether to return to his homeland in northern Afghanistan or not, worried that his Pashtoon ethnicity might prove a barrier for him and his family's future.
"For us having Pashtoon origin, even though we speak Dari, it's pretty difficult to survive in a non-Pashtoon area," the community elder told IRIN in the Zia Colony community of some 150 Pashtoon families in the southern port city of Karachi.
Some people in the Toi Mast village of the Qaiser district of northern Afghan province of Faryab, which has a majority of non-Pashtoon minority groups of Uzbek and Tajik origin, were not open to providing Pashtoons land ownership rights, he claimed, noting: "They don't allow us to run businesses. Instead they openly condemn us for having the same origin as that of the Taliban."
Following the demise of the Taliban, a largely Pashtoon-based regime, in December 2001, many Pashtoons who form a minority in the north, have expressed concern about returning, worried of possible discrimination they might face at the hands of the majority ethnic groups living in the area.
According to Gul Aqa Adel, an official from the office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and facilitator for a recent nine-member delegation from the Afghan Return Commission Working Group (RCWG) - comprising members of various political and ethnic factions in northern Afghanistan, UN bodies and government officials - ethnic and kinship ties form a vital link for Afghan communities.
An integrated approach to resolve such problems based on ethnicity was vital to the refugees, the Afghan government and community leaders like Khan who are now deciding their future, she told IRIN.
The delegation's aim is to update potential returnees about conditions in their places of origin, alleviating some of the many questions people like Khan obviously have.
But many potential returnees remain cautious. "Some of our fellows have recently visited the area to assess the situation for repatriation," the 55-year-old community leader explained.
"But the central government still has no writ there and regional warlords hold much of the control and collect taxes forcefully from the poor and those who are not so influential," he said, in the courtyard of Zia Colony's local mosque, the venue for his recent meeting with the visiting Afghan delegation.
One important part of the decision-making process was UNHCR's Facilitated Group Returns (FGR) programme to Afghanistan, aimed at removing some of the basic hurdles preventing repatriation.
Initiated in 2003 to support the voluntary return of Afghans, under the programme, refugee groups hailing from one particular place inside Afghanistan are identified from among the refugee community in Pakistan, with the refugee agency helping to remove their concerns.
Since the start of the FGR programme, around 20,000 Afghans have returned to their homeland. During 2003-2004, some 540 Afghan families from Pakistan's industrial hub, Karachi, repatriated under the initiative.
Over 1,700 families in 22 groups of ethnic Pashtoons, Uzbeks, Turkmen and Arab-origin Afghans, however, remain pending with the agency for a variety of reasons, including issues related to land occupation, shelter, employment and the provision of social services.
"The UN refugee agency does try to assist itself, or through other partners inside Afghanistan that require small investment like tube wells for water supply, schooling, health units or some assistance towards housing and shelter," Jack Redden, a UNHCR spokesman, told IRIN.
However, Redden noted that the agency was not in a position to solve land, property and large infrastructure development issues given most of the group returns involve such hurdles. "That is beyond our capacity and it comes under the government's mandate," he clarified.
Members from the visiting Afghan delegation from the five northern provinces of Afghanistan agreed.
"But the people have to know they can't get everything by sitting here [in Pakistan]. Property rights and all the other things will move ahead once they get back there and struggle for that as the government authorities are there to help them in whatever possible way they can," Shuja-ud-Din Khan, an official from Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, told IRIN.
UNHCR's voluntary repatriation assistance programme runs under a tripartite agreement between the UN refugee agency and the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan and is set to expire by March 2006. The three parties are expected to meet in the second week of May to discuss the scenario beyond that agreement for the estimated 3 million Afghans still living in Pakistan today.
T.H.Y. And Other Turkish Air Companies Will Soon Start Flights To Afghanistan
ANKARA - Turkish Minister of Transportation Binali Yildirim has remarked today (Tuesday) that Turkish Airlines and other private Turkish air companies will soon start flights to Afghanistan.
Afghani President's Senior Advisor and Trade Minister Hidayet Amin Arsala is in Ankara for a meeting of the Turkey-Afghanistan Joint Economic Commission. Arsala met Yildirim at Yildirim's office.
Answering AA's questions, Yildirim stated that Turkey is active in Afghanistan to assist the reconstruction efforts there. ''Our businessmen and businesswomen are either working themselves or in cooperation with American business community in Afghanistan,'' said Yildirim.
''Afghanistan's Airlines has begun direct flights to Istanbul and Ankara recently. We are working on flights from Turkey to Afghanistan. Turkish Airlines (THY) and a few other Turkish private air companies will have flights to and from Afghanistan soon,'' told Yildirim.
Yildirim indicated that an agreement on Land Transportation with Afghanistan will also be signed. ''The Turkish Council of Ministers made a decision to improve ties with Afghanistan. Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA) will be very active in Afghanistan. We will help the Afghani people in health and education related matters,'' commented Yildirim.
Afghan teachers' strike keeps 70,000 out of school
KABUL, April 26 (Reuters) - Nearly 70,000 children have been locked out of school in western Afghanistan because their teachers have gone on strike for more pay, a provincial governor said on Tuesday.
Improving the education system, largely neglected during years of war and Taliban rule, is a top priority for the new government but funding is a chronic problem.
"The teachers have issued a resolution as part of their protest -- an increase in salaries, the issue of (ration) coupons and the establishment of a teachers' township," said Assadullah Falah, the governor of Farah province on the border with Iran.
Classes have stopped in about 130 schools, for both boys and girls, for a week. The province's 1,238 teachers say they will not go back to work unless their demands, especially the pay rise, are met, but the education ministry has ruled out an increase, Falah said.
Average salaries for government employees are at most $60 a month in Afghanistan which relies heavily on foreign aid. Nearly half the government's annual budget of $580 million budget comes from aid, government officials say. Girls were banned from school during the rule of the deeply conservative Taliban, who were driven from power by U.S.-led forces in late 2001.
Shops demolished as part of Kabul city clean up plan
Pajhwok Afghan News 04/27/2005 By Zarghona Salehi
KABUL - Efforts to clean up the chaos caused by years of war are underway in Kabul, with the city's municipality demolishing 400 shops last week.
Once considered one of the most beautiful capital cities, Kabul bore the brunt of fighting with different groups bombarding the capital in a bid to gain control of the seat of power. Apart from the 400 shops the municipality also took away 250 shipping containers which are used as shops.
The ongoing demolition is the second phase of the plans to clean up the city. Nearly 3000 shops and containers were demolishes in the first phase. Shah Mahmood Ameri the chief of the 16th municipality region of Kabul told Pajhwok Afghan News on Wednesday "We destroyed the shops according to the decision taken by the President and security officials"
Illegal mining of coal in Kulfgan district of Takhar province
Pajhwok Afghan News 04/26/2005 By Rohullah Arman
KUNDUZ – Illegal mining of coal continues in the northern province of Takhar despite directions to the provincial government to put an end to it, according to Engineer Mohammed Ali Madad, director of government coal enterprise of northeast zone.
Madad told Pajhwok Afghan News that though they sent a formal application to the Governor's office in Takhar to stop illegal mining from the coal mine in Kizistan of Kulfgan district of Takhar province, the illegal mining continued.
Madad, who was heading a delegation of three investigating the illegal mining handed over three persons to the governor's office saying they were engaged in the illegal activity. He told Pajhwok Afghan News,"as long as a new law is not made for mining coal from the coal mine by the ministry of mines and industries, nobody can mine the coal. Those do so will be punished and the coal confiscated."
Provincial officials however said they were doing their best to identify and arrest those involved. Engineer Mir Mohammed Sediq the Minister of Mines and Industries had earlier told Pajhwok Afghan News that after the war started in Afghanistan, the mines went out of the control of the government, with most of them coming under the control of local commanders.
The Minister had said that five coal mines, one ruby mine in Badakhshan and two mines in Nangarhar were controlled by government. More than 300 mines including mines of gas, aluminum, bronze, gold, coal, etc are there in Afghanistan.
The Gazistan coal mine of Kulfgan district of Takhar province is situated 100 kms from the center of Takhar province. Locals say they have seen people engaged in illegal mining.
Mohammed Ullah from Kulfgan said that he himself has seen coal being extracted from the mine in recent days. "Although we have not heard about the decree of the government we have seen people extracting the coal and selling it in the market."
But Mohammed Kabir Mirzaban the governor of Takhar province said that it was not impossible that illegal mining would take place since the government did not have full control over that area. He added that they would continue to follow the case. The police chief of Takhar province Mohammed Akram said they were investigating the case.
He told Pajhwok Afghan News: "although we have no reports in the last days about the illegal extraction from the coal mine, we are still trying to identify the people and arrest them."
How the new voice of Afghan youth has made conservatives hopping mad
By Nick Meo in Kabul The Independent – UK 27 April 2005
With his spiky hair, ripped jeans and beaming grin, the music show presenter Shakeb Isaar makes an unlikely corrupter of youth. The front man for daily youth show Hop has become Afghanistan's first celebrity television presenter. Everywhere he goes he is mobbed by crowds, although the fan mail is punctuated with death threats from al-Qa'ida.
Shakeb, 22, is one of the talents driving a television revolution in a land where viewers were used to nothing more exciting than folk singers and speeches by government ministers.
The channel behind this revolution is Tolo TV, the country's first private station, which went live in Kabul in October with a mix of entertainment and investigative journalism the like of which Afghans had never seen before.
The formula has been a success; the station has beaten its state rival in the ratings war to grab 80 per cent of the viewers. But it has also provoked fury among conservatives.
The station is the brainchild of three sons of an Afghan diplomat who grew up in Australia. Saad Mohseni, a former investment banker now living in Kabul, said: "We wanted to do what we could to reunite the country."
The output on the station is eclectic. On a cooking programme guests stress useful tips, such as always wash your hands. There are a number of sports shown, including women's tennis, which was denounced as pornographic by the conservatives.A satire programme is planned that will include a sketch on Charles' marriage to Camilla - Afghans were baffled that the prince didn't marry a woman younger than him.
There's even an art house movie night, featuring such films as The Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa's classic tale of a village terrorised by bandits.
"Japan had a civil war like us," Mr Mohseni said. "Films like this have resonance in Afghanistan. We showed the Bosnian war film No Man's Land a few days ago."
However, the show that has made the most fuss is Hop. The shows are popular with a young generation hungry for entertainment. Thousands of them vote by SMS every week for their favourite singer on Hop's sister programme, Top 10.
By Western standards it's pretty tame. Any hint of cleavage or gyrations by the Bollywood and Uzbek dancers is cut and the station would not dare show Afghan women dancing.
However, Hop has been condemned by the conservative establishment. Fazl-e Hadi Shinwari, the chief justice, branded Shakeb a corrupter of youth.
The presenter does not feel intimidated. "That's nothing," he said. "The Taliban and al-Qa'ida have said they will kill me. But I don't care. This is the new Afghanistan and they are not a part of it."
Mr Mohseni believes the conservatives feel threatened by a youth culture they don't understand. He said: "Look at the demographics of this country, it has one of the youngest populations in the world. The old conservatives fear becoming irrelevant. A few years down the line and they will have lost most of their power."
The station is particularly proud of its investigative journalism, which is starting to ask questions of Afghanistan's elite.
The channel has aired programmes on paedophilia, the power of the warlords, illegal logging, miners stealing from a state-run emerald mine and the return of the Taliban.
Tolo TV's investigators got their first real scalps this month when two junior ministers were jailed for corruption in a scandal over ripping off pilgrims to the Haj after the station had doggedly followed the story.
Mr Mohseni said the journalists love nothing better than making waves. "It takes courage to do this kind of thing," he said. "We have to be careful."
The risk is real enough for the Tolo TV studio to be behind a blast barrier and to employ a small army of armed guards.
Jahid Mohseni, who works as a lawyer in Australia, said the station enjoys the furore over its youth shows. But it is the journalism that they are really proud of.
He said: "The style in Afghanistan has been to go to minister's press conferences and listen attentively, but we want to cover the real stories - the ones that other people won't."
Afghan team wins medals in international competition in traditional wrestling
Pajhwok Afghan News 04/26/2005 By Frozan Danish
KABUL - The Afghan Korish team won one silver medal and two bronze medals in an international competition held in Uzbekistan where 19 countries participated.
Korish is a traditional Afghan sport and a federation was formed in 2003 to promote the sport. It was formed by Saeed Mohmood Zia Dushti the deputy of the national Olympic Committee of Afghanistan.
According to Dushti, the international tournament was held in Termiz city close to the Afghan-Uzbek border from April 21 to April 23. He told Pajhwok Afghan News that Hikamt Ullah Hakimi won a silver medal in 75 kgs weight and Mohammed Asif and Abdul Fatah won bronze medals in the weight categories of 85 kgs and 75 kgs respectively.
He added that last year players under 20 participated in the international youth Korish tournament in Uzbekistan and they got a silver medal and the second position in the tournament.
EU decides to quadruple assistance to Pakistan
Daily Times 4/28/05
LUXEMBOURG: The European Union (EU) on Wednesday announced to quadruple its economic assistance to Pakistan, following talks between Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri and the EU Troika.
The EU troika comprising Foreign Minister of Luxembourg Jean Asselborn, EU High Representative for Common and Security Policy Javier Solana and Commissioner for External Relations for EU Ms Benita Ferrero-Waldner. Foreign Minister Kasuri thanked the EU for quadrupling the assistance and pointed to the issues of related to GSP plus and anti-dumping duties on bed-linen.
The commission proposed to hold an anti-dumping investigation meeting in Dubai, shortly and the proposal will be considered by the Ministry of Commerce. The EU offered assistance for education and development particularly in the NWFP and Balochistan, the details of which would be worked out between Pakistan and the commission, subsequently. This year’s troika is the first high-level interaction with the EU since the upgradation of relations between Pakistan and the EU, after the ratification of the Third Generation Agreement, in September 2004. The discussions during this year’s troika meeting focused on the EU-Pakistan relations, world peace and security issues, regional security, strategic issues and the reform of the United Nations.
Kasuri also raised the mistreatment to Senator Maulana Sami-ul-Haq during his visit as part of the parliamentary delegation to the EU and lodged a strong protest. He said that he was also writing a letter to the current President of the Council, Jean Asselborn, to take up this matter and to ensure that such incidents did not recur.
The foreign minister also took note of the story reported in the press of an incident which took place at the London’s Heathrow Airport on the departure of Senator Sami-ul-Haq. He said Pakistan was a pluralistic society. He said there was a clear distinction between religious political parties of Pakistan and the Taliban, stating that religio-political parties in Pakistan have been participating in elections and in the democratic process in the Indo-Pak Subcontinent for the last one hundred years, starting from the electoral reforms of 1909, 1919 and 1935.
Kasuri said, in the past the US and countries of Europe supported the Taliban as they brought peace and stopped drugs. Later, because of their policies towards women, education and culture, they were isolated internationally.
The President of the Council, Jean Asselborn, regretting the incident, promised to take this up with the concerned members and the President of the EU Parliament. Kasuri has also invited Jean Asselborn to visit Pakistan, which he accepted.
On the Indo-Pak dialogue, the EU has expressed satisfaction on recent developments and praised President Pervez Musharraf. The foreign minister said there could not be a lasting peace in the region unless there was a resolution of the Kashmir dispute.
Regarding the Iranian nuclear issue, which was raised by the EU, he informed that Pakistan was extremely concerned as Iran was a neighbour and brotherly country, and Pakistan wanted a peaceful negotiated solution to be arrived at, through negotiations. He said the issue between Iran and the EU, needed to take into account the international rights and obligations of all parties.
The foreign minister reiterated Pakistan’s principled position on the expansion of the Security Council, which should only be in the non-permanent category to make it more representative, and stressed that this issue should be by consensus without any artificial deadlines. The EU agreed that the issue of the expansion of the Security Council was very complex, including in Europe, and suggested that movement should be made on other issues of UN reform on which there was general agreement.
The meeting with the troika was helpful in the process of developing a format that would enable Pakistan and the EU to remain in constant contact with each other on important global and bilateral issues.
With the Join Commission meetings envisaged under the Third Generation Agreement, frequent contacts both at the working level and the political leadership would ensue. This would provide both Pakistan and the EU to move their relationship to a more solid basis and to further evolve contacts into a diverse range of areas. The EU has offered to hold a high level meeting in Brussels, shortly, to hold preliminary discussions on the implementation of the Third Generation Agreement and to discuss a variety of subjects, including negotiations on the Readmission Agreement.
The last troika meeting was held at Islamabad on February 18, 2004 in which the EU delegation was led by the Irish Foreign Minister, Brian Cowen, in his capacity as the President of the Council. This delegation included Minister Bernard Bot, representing the Dutch Presidency and Commissioner Patten representing the European Commission.
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