Up to 100 dead as cold weather grips the country
KABUL, 10 February (IRIN) - Officials in Kabul have called for better emergency preparedness following the death of up to 100 people from cold weather in isolated rural areas.
More than 60 people are believed to have died of acute respiratory infections, mainly pneumonia and whooping cough in southern, eastern and northern provinces of Afghanistan. On Thursday, the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) would only confirm 25 deaths.
Several hundred people are thought to be stranded because of snow, ice and avalanches in northern areas of the country.
"We are on the alert and have formed an emergency task force composed of government ministries and health aid agencies including the United Nations to try and save the lives of vulnerable Afghans," public health minister, Mohammad Amin Fatemi, told IRIN on Thursday in Kabul.
Fatemi said it was an exceptionally severe winter and most roads to suburbs were closed after heavy snowfalls.
Local reports from Kabul indicate that at least six people have died of cold in a refugee camp in the capital, where the temperature has dropped to minus 18 degrees some nights.
In the southern province of Kandahar at least five people died, three of whom froze to death, following heavy snowfall in the south.
Meanwhile, 28 children died following a measles and whooping cough outbreak in the southern Urozgan and Daykundi provinces in late January.
Most of the preventable deaths were caused by a lack of access to vulnerable communities in winter.
"There is no possibility of going by road, horse or on foot. Aid can only be airlifted," the health minister noted. He said the ministry of defence had provided two helicopters to reach the areas most at risk.
"We have sent a health team to Badakhshan where unconfirmed reports indicate that 30 people and over 300 animals have died due to different diseases caused by cold weather," he noted. Fatemi added that cold weather and low immunisation rates in inaccessible areas are the main reasons for the outbreaks of disease.
Officials in the southern province of Zabul told IRIN that 31 people were known to have died after several days of heavy snow. Ghulam Jelani, security commander of Zabul, said that 13 people died in Shemki, 11 in Shamozi and another seven in Sueree districts. "Some of these people died when their houses collapsed due to the weight of snow," he said.
Jelani said all roads to the affected districts remained closed. "We have contacted the Coalition [US-led forces based in Kandahar] to help us with air transport so we can reach these areas."
Bodies still not recovered one week after Afghan air crash
Thursday February 10, 10:51 PM AFP
The bodies of 104 people on board a crashed Afghan airliner remained on a frozen mountainside a week after the disaster, as bad weather again hampered recovery efforts.
Frustrated NATO-led peacekeeping troops were unable to reach the wreckage of the Kam Air Boeing 737 by helicopter for the third day in a row. The plane came down 30 kilometers (20 miles) east of Kabul
"We have not been able to take off today," Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Poulain, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force, told AFP.
President Hamid Karzai offered his condolences in a statement to the relatives of the Afghan victims and of the 24 foreigners on board.
"May God protect the people of Afghanistan from this kind of tragedy in the future," he added.
He said that four or five Afghan soldiers involved in the recovery operation had been taken to hospital suffering from frostbite and other injuries.
The cause of the accident, which happened during a flight from the western city of Herat to Kabul, is not known.
An investigation committee of Afghan and international members has been unable to reach the site and inspect the crucial flight data and cockpit voice recorders, said committee spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi.
Azimi added that he believed the so-called black boxes would be found since the tail of the airplane, where they are normally located, had been spotted.
Recovery of Afghan Airliner Yet to Begin
Thu Feb 10, 6:55 PM ET By STEPHEN GRAHAM, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - An operation to recover the bodies of 104 people killed in the crash of an Afghan airliner one week ago still has not begun, officials said Thursday, because of days of heavy snow across the mountains of Afghanistan.
The Boeing 737 crashed into a mountaintop 20 miles east of Kabul on Feb. 3 after approaching the capital in a blizzard from the western city of Herat.
Authorities have declared all 96 passengers and eight crew dead, including more than 20 foreigners, in the country's worst air disaster. However, bad weather has allowed only a brief inspection of the crash site.
On Thursday, snow fell steadily from gray skies over the capital, grounding NATO helicopters poised to carry Afghan National Army troops, investigators and engineers to the crash area. The NATO engineers plan to build a helipad nearby.
"The first priority is to get ANA and government investigators to the site," NATO spokeswoman Maj. Karen Tissot Van Patot said. "But there are things beyond our control."
Afghan officials say the cause of the crash remains a mystery and have called in U.S. experts to help investigate. The private airline, Kam Air, says the pilot turned away from Kabul to seek an easier landing in Pakistan, but the plane's flight recorder has yet to be located.
Search helicopters spotted the wreckage lying in deep snow at 10,000 feet on Saturday. But no one has reached the site since NATO soldiers examined the debris Monday, finding human remains but no signs of life.
Officials say it could take weeks to collect the bodies, fueling the frustration of relatives worried about scavenging wolves and looters — and also troubled by rumors that survivors had been spotted.
President Hamid Karzai underlined Thursday that the crash "happened in a way that there was no chance for anyone on board to survive."
Four or five Afghan soldiers were hospitalized for injuries including frostbite suffered during attempts to reach the debris, he said.
Mother: Lost daughter knew Afghan risks
February 8, 2005 Brendan McKenna
Not many Vermonters get a chance to travel halfway around the world for their first job after college, but a fellowship from her first employer, then a two-year job, brought Cristin Gadue to Afghan-istan.
Gadue, 26, of Burlington, died in that country last week when the plane she was traveling in crashed in the mountains outside of Kabul. She knew the trip could be dangerous, but was undeterred and even excited at the prospect, according to her mother, Nancy Murphy of Rutland.
Murphy said her daughter started out close to the bottom, doing clerical work for Management Sciences for Health, a Cambridge, Mass., nongovernmental organization.
But with the assistance of a group of "wonderful mentors" at the company, Murphy said her daughter flourished, picking up skills and helping to write grant proposals for a project in Afghanistan.
So when Gadue was awarded a fellowship that could bring her to any of Management Sciences' sites around the world, Murphy said there was no question in her daughter's mind where she would go.
"In the process of doing the proposal to get the grant to do the work in Afghanistan, doing that, she learned about what was happening there," she said. "There was no other choice in her mind. She wanted to go to Afghanistan."
Gadue made her first trip to Asia in November 2003, spending her first Thanksgiving and Christmas away from home. But she stayed in touch with her family and friends sending missives, whimsically titled "Lost in Afghanistan," both electronically and on paper. "They were amazing letters, she was a wonderful writer," Murphy said. "They really conveyed what the country meant to her."
After her three-month fellowship, Gadue was offered a two-year position reporting her company's work and communicating their efforts to the U.S. Agency for International Development, which was funding Management Science's presence in Afghanistan.
"She was home for about a month, basically wrapping up her life here. She sold her car and basically did what it takes to make a major move before she went back in April 2004," she said. "It was an extraordinary experience.
"She had absolutely nothing but good to say about the Afghan people and how welcoming they were." And Gadue — Cristi to her friends and family — made quite an impression on the Afghanis and other international aid workers as well. One colleague invited her to a wedding and on another occasion the 26-year-old took part in the Afghan national pastime — a combination of polo and rugby, Murphy said. Through her work, Gadue interacted with everyone from government ministers to domestic staff. Murphy said a memorial service scheduled this week in Kabul is expected to draw upwards of 300 people.
"She had a very adventurous spirit and was very caring," Murphy said. "We both knew it was dangerous, but she felt it was worth doing. She loved the work she was doing.
"Even though I knew it was dangerous, I was more concerned about her being in the wrong place at the wrong time and having some suicide bomber light up the café she was in. I wouldn't have thought that a business trip, and that's in essence what it was, would be the risk." Murphy said she's received an outpouring of support from friends —hers and her daughter's — since she learned of her daughter's death.
"She knew the risks and I knew the risks and unfortunately they came true. But looking back at how happy she was, she truly felt she was in the right place doing the right work," Murphy said. "People are either calling me or e-mailing me from all walks of her life and all walks of my life. I've had people who knew her when she was a baby calling. She had quite an impact on people."
Indian FM to push peace in rare Pakistan visit, trade in Afghanistan
Friday February 11, 9:58 AM AFP
Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh embarks next week on a rare trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan seeking to advance a stuttering peace process with Islamabad and bolster growing ties with Kabul, analysts said.
Singh will meet President Hamid Karzai and Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah on Tuesday before flying south the same day for the first bilateral visit by an Indian foreign minister to Pakistan in more than 15 years, an official said.
The veteran minister is expected to announce steps to try to infuse greater momentum into the two-year peace process.
Security analyst K. Subrahmanyam described both visits as "significant."
"In Kabul, Singh will try to build on the ties India has with Afghanistan. In Pakistan he will try to keep the peace process on track," he said.
India, Iran and Russia backed Afghanistan's Northern Alliance against the former hardline Islamic Taliban regime and has become a major donor of the new power.
Since the ouster of the Taliban by US-backed forces in 2001, India has been helping Afghanistan develop infrastructure, civil aviation, transport, industry, health facilities and educational institutions.
New Delhi may announce more aid during Singh's visit, a government source said.
It is building the Salma Dam project near the western city of Herat, laying power transmission lines from the northern city of Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul and constructing the Zeranj-Delaram road near the Iran-Afghanistan border.
Kulbhushan Warikoo, Central Asian Studies professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said India had been in "the forefront of reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan."
"India is one of the very few countries which has delivered on its promise of 400 million dollars worth of aid," he said.
"There is an important harmony of interests between India and Afghanistan even today given their historical linkages."
Indian media have reported that Singh will discuss transit facilities for Indian goods to Afghanistan through Pakistan with both countries.
Such trade to Afghanistan today goes via Iran.
Subrahmanyam said transit rights would give India-Afghan trade -- currently just 200 million dollars -- a real boost and offer India the "bonus" of relatively cheaper access to energy rich Central Asia.
Peace will top the agenda in Pakistan.
The process was launched in April 2003, shortly after the nuclear-armed rivals pulled back from the brink of war.
India accuses Pakistan of stoking an Islamic insurgency in Indian-Kashmir since 1989, a charge Islamabad denies. Kashmir has been the trigger for two of their three wars since 1947.
With a ceasefire holding since November 2003, officials note a substantial change in relations today even if they say it is unrealistic to expect an early breakthrough.
Negotiations continue and the number of Islamic rebels infiltrating into Indian-Kashmir remains low. In early 2002, India was issuing 30 visas a month to Pakistanis, today the figure is 10,000 and demand as high as 35,000.
C. Uday Bhaskar, head of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, said the "texture of the India-Pakistan relationship has been more positive and definitively more stable," since the peace drive began.
"What you don't have is solutions but the commitment to keep the process on track has not been denied or diluted," Bhaskar said.
"The challenge is to ensure the process is sustained. The means here is more important than the end."
India should be willing to propel the process forward, Bhaskar said.
"On the economic side, we should take some unilateral steps to improve trade for example. There are two economists who are prime ministers in India and Pakistan, the most enabling confluence of leadership on both sides, to take trade forward."
NATO ministers agrees on Afghan expansion, discuss Iraq shortfalls
Friday February 11, 2:39 AM AFP
NATO defense ministers agreed to expand an international peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan, as a US general said more NATO trainers and money were needed for Iraq.
Lieutenant General David Petraeus said only between 90 and 100 NATO trainers have been deployed so far to train Iraqi officers, a "substantial" number of them Americans.
"We've asked for more than what has been provided so far," Petraeus told reporters, adding that pledges were made for more money and people.
NATO defense ministers gathered here for informal talks to discuss the security situation in Iraq and Afghanistan against the backdrop of the January 30 elections in Iraq and a US push for greater European involvement.
But US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld emphasized that NATO was going through a "good period" of cooperation, citing allied action in Afghanistan, Kosovo and even Iraq.
"Everyone does not have to do everything, and indeed it is unlikely everyone will do everything," Rumsfeld said at a news conference here.
On Iraq, he said, NATO countries can train Iraqi forces inside the country, others outside. Or they can contribute to a trust fund to buy equipment needed by the Iraqi security forces, he said.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer earlier announced an agreement to extend the presence of the 8,300-member International Security Assistance Force's to western Afghanistan, increasing the total size of the force by 500.
Lithuania, Spain and Italy agreed to man two new provincial reconstruction teams and take over two others from US forces, he said. Italy and Spain will lead a forward support base as well.
"Our discussion confirmed we have the resources we need to expand ISAF," de Hoop Scheffer.
The informal session had not been expected to produce any decisions on assistance for Iraq, still a sore point in alliance relations nearly two years after a US-led invasion that was vehemently opposed by Germany, France and other allies.
But de Hoop Scheffer said he expected that by a NATO summit February 22 all 26 NATO allies will participate in some form in Iraq, either by training Iraqis or providing funds or equipment.
"It is a mission which has been politically supported by all allies, 26 in total," he said. "We're still building them up, we're not there yet, it's not the 22nd of February."
Petraeus, who is in charge of rebuilding the Iraqi security forces, laid out to the ministers the needs for additional trainers and money for a NATO training mission that allied leaders agreed to last year.
The program initially called for 300 NATO trainers and some 2,000 troops to provide support and security, but has been stunted in part by the refusal of some NATO members to allow their officers to deploy to Iraq, US officials said.
Petraeus said 159 trainers were needed to stand up staff and war colleges for the Iraqi military.
Iraqi and US officials have decided to move ahead with the creation of the staff and war colleges without waiting for new facilities to be completed at an Iraqi training base southeast of Baghdad, he said.
The new schools will be set up instead inside Baghdad's fortified green zone, reducing the requirement for extra security forces, Petraeus said.
US officials said they have sensed a greater willingness on the part of the Europeans to do more since the Iraqi elections.
"The elections were commented on by practically every minister who talked on the NATO training mission in Iraq, and clearly have been as heartening to them as to those of us in the country frankly," he said.
"Beyond that there were a number of new pledges of additional monies for various trust funds involved with the NATO training mission, and also additional pledges of people," he said.
Six or seven NATO countries have offered to provide help for the Iraqi security forces, and another half dozen nations were considering a contribution, US officials said.
Help could come in the form of training Iraqi forces inside or outside Iraq or through a special trust fund set up to fund such projects, they said.
The US push comes ahead of President George W. Bush's February 22 summit visit to Brussels, where he will meet NATO and EU counterparts in what Washington hopes will be a symbolic closing of the Iraq war chapter.
A sign of the warming mood is that France hosted this year's meeting for the first time since it withdrew from the alliance's military structures in 1966.
"NATO is at home in France," French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said in opening the meeting in this city on the French Riviera.
Security was tight with a heavy police presence in the streets, low-flying helicopters patrolling the waterfront and a French warship visible in the Mediterranean.
AFGHANISTAN: Focus on local efforts to reduce opium cultivation
10 Feb 2005 15:21:11 GMT
NANGAHAR, 10 February (IRIN) - The streets and bazaar in Khogyani, a town in the eastern province of Nangarhar, are empty these days. Scattered groups of young men idle away the hours playing cards while others stare into space outside their mud-brick houses.
Khogyani, which was once one of the chief opium-producing districts in the entire eastern region, seems to have fallen on hard times. The reason is that most local farmers have heeded the president's call to desist from opium production and have turned away from the lucrative plant in order to grow other crops. On hectare after hectare of fields surrounding the town, the red of poppy has given way to green shoots of spring wheat.
"We obeyed [President Hamid] Karzai's orders and we will not cultivate poppy this year, but lets see if he is firm on his promises to the nation," Sadookhan, a 55-year-old peasant farmer in Khogyani, told IRIN.
ALTERNATIVES TO GROWING POPPY
Instead, Sadookhan has signed up for a food-for-work initiative organised by the World Food Programme (WFP) to learn how to cultivate alternatives to the poppy. "I will be paid in wheat and will also harvest wheat this year," said Sadookhan.
Other WFP sponsored schemes in the region involve training local people to grow fruit trees.
"Last year only a few people attended our nursery training but with the ban on poppy cultivation the demand is very high and we cannot meet demand," Mohammad Tahir, a project officer of the local aid agency Hewad told IRIN. It was Hewad that implemented a WFP nursery project in the nearby village of Nemla.
Karzai has tried various tactics to wean Afghans off the crop. At his inauguration late last year he appealed to national and religious pride, held out the carrot of international aid and the stick of crop destruction in an effort to persuade hundreds of village and tribal leaders to curb poppy cultivation voluntarily.
Last year Afghanistan provided more than 80 percent of the world's illicit opium, with a record number of farmers cultivating the poppies the drug is derived from. There is a serious lack of alternative livelihoods in rural areas and it's hard to see the example of Khogyani catching on.
But officials in Jalalabad, the provincial capital of Nangarhar, said they hoped to lead the nation by example and expected to see a significant reduction in poppy cultivation this year.
"Many farmers are not cultivating poppy and others have destroyed the [poppy] crop themselves after the decision of Nangarhar elders," Haji Din Mohammad, Nangarhar governor, told IRIN in the provincial capital, Jalalabad.
ECONOMIC IMPACT OF OBEYING THE LAW
Turning away from poppy cultivation will have an impact on the entire economy of the region, local businessmen say. Ahmad Sabour is a 25-year-old shopkeeper who used to sell electricity produced by his Chinese-made generator.
"Last year people used to pay 500 Afs [US $10] per month but now at night the entire village is dark and no one wants electricity," he said.
For the farmers themselves, the financial losses incurred by this leap of faith will be even worse. Sabour earned around 250,000 Afs (US $45,000) last year from his poppy crop but he will be lucky to net $200 from turning his land over to wheat.
"With last year's money, I could pay for the school for my children and save some with a view to starting some other trade, like a small shop," said Sabour.
Other farmers interviewed by IRIN said that poppy eradication programmes in the province had indicated the government was serious about reducing the crop and that it was better to grow something that would yield a small profit rather than go with poppy and then have all the crop destroyed later in the year.
Officials in Kabul are happy to see such developments in places like Nangahar but insist they will not be sustainable unless rural jobs and infrastructure are boosted.
"We have to think carefully about alternative livelihoods. Either we find jobs for those cultivating opium or we will try to manage the water better and help them with irrigation so that the cost of growing something else comes down," Habibullah Qaderi, minister for counter narcotics, told IRIN in Kabul.
"We have proposed to government 19 programmes to address alternative livelihoods. If they are funded and take place this year, I think there will be no poppies and no tension," Din Mohammad noted.
FOREIGN ASSISTANCE TO DEVELOP ALTERNATIVES
Din Mohammad said that after talks in the capital, Kabul, with the US and British ambassadors and foreign donors, they were satisfied that alternative livelihoods would be provided for farmers.
"The people of Nangarhar prove that they are firm in their decision [to refrain from growing poppies] and hope the international community is serious in their assistance and promises for the poor farmers," he said.
The governor was quick to add that the decision had been a difficult one to make, as tens of thousands of people in the province were jobless with few roads, clinics, schools. Farmers said that wheat cultivation alone, given the primitive methods available, would not be enough to sustain them and their families.
The reduction in cultivation in Nangahar followed a series of pledges of support by international donors but so far not much has been achieved. Temporary job creation has been introduced in the southern province of Helmand, where 9,000 people are employed in canal clearance - key to improving irrigation.
In Nangarhar, Din Mohammad said the US Agency for International Development (USAID) would soon start some projects. The UK Department for International Development (DFID) is planning to start a similar work project in another big opium producing region, the northeastern province of Badakhshan.
But Din Mohammad said US distribution of 500 mt of wheat seeds in Nangarhar, barely enough for less than 10 percent of farmers, was clearly inadequate.
"This year is very sensitive, the central government and the international community should not lose the trust of people by going back on decisions to help us and show their seriousness in terms of assistance. We are doing our bit and it is hurting us, donors must do there bit," he emphasised.
LIVING WITHOUT POPPY
In front of the Afghan National Army (ANA) recruitment centre in Nangarhar hundreds of young men, mostly former poppy growers, line up to join the new fledging US-supported force. While hundreds have been recruited, officials said 4,000 more are on the standby list because of high demand. ANA officials in Nangarhar said very few people had taken any interest in the past. Clearly potential recruits had previously been busy in the opium industry.
"Almost every eligible man in our village have come here to join the army as there is no poppy anymore," Sayed Zuhak, an ex-poppy grower, told IRIN as he stood in the queue waiting for an ANA interview.
The decision to stop growing opium is likely to have other short-term repercussions, local people said. Officials warned the decision would create tension as many people had already borrowed cash against future opium production.
"There is a strong possibility of mass displacement, clashes or killings because there is no poppy to pay the loans back," Din Mohammad warned. He called on government to create a fund to settle loans taken out by prospective opium growers.
"We also need small loans for farmers as it is very difficult to get any profit from just growing wheat."
In Helmand several serious disputes over opium poppy loans have taken place this year. According to officials in Helmand, people have to sell their land or leave the area in fear of the dealers who have lent cash to poor farmers against future harvests. Others have used the product itself as currency and now have no way of settling the debt.
"I borrowed 20 kg of opium to pay as dowry for my wedding as required by tradition, last year, but this year with no poppy I don't know how to pay the loan back," Mohammad Wali, a 25-year-old peasant farmer, told IRIN in Nad-e-Ali district of Helmand province.
U.S.-Israel Helicopter Plan Raises Concern
Thu Feb 10, 1:40 PM ET By KEN GUGGENHEIM, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - The government says it intends to buy 14 used military helicopters from Israel to support drug eradication in Afghanistan (news - web sites), raising concerns in Congress of an outcry in the Islamic world.
Many Muslims view Israel with hostility and most Islamic countries, including Afghanistan, do not have diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.
Afghanistan is the world's leading producer of opium, the raw material for heroin. U.S. officials have been concerned that its booming drug trade could undermine attempts to bring stability to a country that has served as the refuge for Osama bin Laden.
The House International Relations Committee has temporarily blocked the purchase while it seeks more information.
In a statement, Republican committee staff said the State Department would find it impossible "to counter possible false and unfounded rumors from our radical Islamic enemies about the source and purpose of these helicopters in this region of the world."
The State Department, through a spokesperson, declined to comment, saying the helicopter issue was still being discussed with Congress.
In documents submitted to Congress last week, the department said the 14 U.S.-made B-212 helicopters would not bear foreign markings and they would be owned by the State Department. It said it had considered leasing the helicopters, but buying them was "the most viable and cost-effective option."
Rep. Mark Souder (news, bio, voting record), who heads the House Government Reform Committee's drug policy panel, said the purchase from Israel could complicate the drug fight for the Afghan government.
"We are at the very least viewed as partners with the government," said Souder, R-Ind. "We don't need to make life any more difficult in what is arguably the toughest neighborhood and the toughest country in the world for anybody to get order in."
Souder and other Republican lawmakers have criticized what they see as inadequate U.S. efforts to stop opium production in Afghanistan. He said the plan to buy used, older helicopters instead of new ones reflects a "second-class" approach to the drug fight.
The U.S. government has a close relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, but there have been tensions over drug programs. The State Department wanted to use spray planes to eradicate opium crops, but Karzai rejected this, fearing the spraying would harm villagers.
Details of the helicopter purchase emerged as the State Department informed lawmakers in writing of how it intended to spend $312.5 million previously approved by Congress for Afghan drug eradication.
Responding to questions from the International Relations Committee about whether foreign governments were involved in helicopter purchases, the department responded, "The intent is to procure the 14 B-212 helicopters now owned by the government of Israel, with the sale being brokered by a United States firm, IJB and Associates."
The choppers were manufactured by Bell Helicopters and have been in storage for two years, the State Department said. It did not give the age or price of the vehicles.
Though helicopters initially had been sought to provide security for the spray planes, they are also needed in manual eradication campaigns to transport and protect workers in drug fields.
An aide to Sen. Patrick Leahy (news, bio, voting record), D-Vt., Tim Rieser, said his main questions are whether buying the Israeli helicopters is cost-effective and whether safeguards are being taken to protect the helicopters and their crews. He said he is less concerned about the helicopters being purchased from Israel.
Czech anti-drug project starts in Afghanistan
PRAGUE, Feb. 9 (Xinhua) -- A joint Czech-Afghan project Breaking the Circle, which is to modernize the center for drug- addicts in Kabul and improve their treatment, was launched in the past days in Kabul, head of the organizing Podane ruce association, Jindrich Voboril said Wednesday.
The EU set aside about eight million crowns (about 340,000 dollars) for the anti-drug project. "We bought an on-line computer, which the doctors will use to acquire information material for drug-addicts. They have had only 30 years old books until now," Voboril said. Also a generator to produce electricity was purchased for the facility.
The project's main part will be launched in the spring. A new building worth 1.6 million crowns (about 68,000 dollars) will be constructed to house therapy sessions and workshops for former opium addicts and illegal opium producers. The old building will continue to be used for lodgings.
the inmates are to earn their living doing traditional trades, such as the production of carpets, jewelry and leather clothes. " We of course plan to bring to Kabul professional literature as well as medicine. We will invite 17 Afghan anti-drug specialists to seminars in the Czech Republic, Italy and Britain," Voboril said.
Perhaps some 30 percent of the Afghan population are opium addicts, many of whom do not realize that opium is harmful. The mental therapy center in Kabul with 60 beds is the only facility in the country where drug-addicts may be treated.
Isolation, pride could see Panjsher left behind
By Jon Hemming
BAZARAK, Afghanistan, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Its high peaks and proudly independent people protected Afghanistan's Panjsher Valley from the Soviets and the Taliban, but this very isolation and pride could see it left behind in the race for development.
The men of the valley were the vanguard of the mujahideen forces who helped U.S.-led troops topple the Taliban as punishment for protecting al Qaeda after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Now they feel they are owed a reward.
"We helped the Americans get rid of the Taliban, but what did we get in return?" asked former mujahideen fighter, Mirbaba, voicing the resentment felt by many ethnic Tajiks in the north for the majority ethnic Pashtuns of the south.
"In the south, they supported the Taliban and al Qaeda," he said. "They kill U.S. and Afghan soldiers and make drugs -- and they get all the aid."
The rusting hulks of tanks and armoured vehicles litter the side of the dusty potholed road that snakes along the valley northwest of Kabul between steep cliffs ideal for ambushes.
Neither Soviet troops, occupying Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, nor the Taliban militia, in power from 1996 until late 2001 penetrated far into the Panjsher.
Two days before the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, the legendary Panjsheri commander Ahmad Shah Masood was assassinated by al Qaeda militants allied to the Taliban.
Soon mujahideen forces found the world's biggest military power seeking their aid to overthrow the Taliban.
"The people of the Panjsher were the first to help the international coalition to fight the Taliban, they believe they should be the first to be helped, but we have received very little," said Mohammad Wasil, governor of the province.
"It is like we were the best student and now we have been sent to the back of the class," he said.
GUNS AND ROADS
Many Panjsheris feel they have been marginalised since Afghanistan's first presidential election in October.
Of 48,000 registered voters in the ethnically Tajik Panjsher, only 367 voted for the U.S.-backed winner Hamid Karzai, who is from the traditionally dominant Pashtun ethnic group. Pashtuns, mostly in the south, formed the backbone of Taliban support.
While there are still a number of Tajiks in the government, Pashtuns control the key ministries of defence and interior.
The United Nations and many aid organisations have been frustrated by the slowness of the Panjsheris to give up the weapons that served them so well in the past. The Panjsheris argue that they fear further loss of influence.
The Panjsher is last area of Afghanistan to have significant numbers of heavy weapons in the hands of local militia forces. While most fighters elsewhere have been disarmed, some 3,000 mujahideen in the valley have yet to be demobilised.
And while programmes to build roads, schools and hospitals financed by international donors are springing up all over Afghanistan, reconstruction and development in the Panjsher has been slow to get off the ground.
"The international community isn't going to go in there until they disarm," said Peter Babbington, acting head of the U.N.'s Afghanistan New Beginning Programme that oversees disarmament. "It is time for them to catch up.
"They all recognise it has to be done, but you have got to overcome local reluctance," said Babbington.
The Panjsheris last month began to hand in heavy weapons -- tanks, artillery and even four Scud missiles -- but the process was halted after two cranes and a lorry were burned and three explosive devices were found on other trucks.
The U.N. disarmament programme has so far collected 62 of the 110 heavy weapons thought to be in the Panjsher, but it now needs a new haulage contractor willing to take away the rest.
Distrust of outsiders has been a survival skill for Panjsheris for generations.
"They survived because they were obstinate, but now they are falling into the trap that if they continue in that fashion, they will be left behind," said Babbington.
Locals want the international community to take the first step.
"First they should do something for us to show they are sincere," said Mirbaba, a mujahideen fighter for 15 years. "Then we will help them by disarming." Other men standing with him as he warmed himself over a stove nodded in agreement.
Their chief concern was to have a new road that would bring trade and better access to health care and the outside world.
Work to clear mines for a road to the head of the valley has already begun, but the government has yet to award a contract for the second phase of construction -- a paved road into the Panjsher.
Locals suspect a deliberate delay. The reason may be more mundane.
"The problem with the Panjsher is they have become isolated. They are only just beginning to realise they won't get a new road unless they enter the disarmament process," said Babbington. "Their view is put the road in and then we'll enter the process."
The U.N. department working with the government on the road project says there are no delays.
Locals are not convinced.
"The government thinks it has to direct aid to the south because otherwise people there might cause trouble again," said Mirbaba. "If that is the case, we can cause trouble here too."
Tripartite body meets on 22nd
By Qudssia Akhlaque (Dawn)
ISLAMABAD, Feb 10: The Pak-Afghan-US Tripartite Commission will meet here on Feb 22 to take up pressing operational and border security issues, including recent skirmishes along the Pak-Afghan border, it is learnt.
The one-day meeting of the commission will take place at the ministry of defence in Rawalpindi.
The military-dominant commission is jointly headed by Pakistan's Director Military Operations Maj-Gen Yusaf, US Lt-Gen Barno and a Lt-Gen from Afghanistan.
Issues pertaining to security along the Pak-Afghan border, including border violations and intelligence as well as military-related matters, would be discussed at the meeting, sources told Dawn on Thursday.
"The talks will focus on improving the security situation along the border by addressing coordination issues among the intelligence agencies and checking infiltration from both sides," these sources added.
According to insiders, Pakistan would underline the need for Afghanistan to do more and also call on the US government to extend more security assistance for the counter-terrorism operations along the rugged tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.
"Pakistan will push for a measure of equality and matching efforts to secure the border," a well-placed source said.
While Pakistan has 665 checkpoints along its side of the 600km stretch of the Durand Line, the coalition forces and Afghan National Army put together have only 69 posts along the Afghan side.
In an unparalleled military operation to support the US pursuit of Al Qaeda members, Pakistan has deployed 75,000 troops along the Durand Line that is again in stark contrast to the 25,000-troop strength on the turbulent Afghan side, say sources. However, military strategists maintain that with 249 unfrequented routes along the Durand Line stretch of 1,040Km, it is not possible to seal the entire border even with this troop strength.
The decision to set up the commission was taken at the highest political level in April 2003.
Pakistan taking steps to facilitate Afghan transit trade: Salman Shah
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is focusing on the development of infrastructure, provision of road links and better communication facilities from Gwadar to border areas to facilitate Afghan trade, said Dr. Salman Shah, advisor to Prime Minister on Finance and Revenue here Thursday.
He said “we want to provide preferential, low cost and hassle free access to Afghanistan through infrastructure development and lot of proposals will be discussed in the JMC in this regard”.
Speaking at the inauguration session of 4th session of Pak-Afghan Joint Economic Commission (JEC) he said, high priority for stability and economic development of Afghanistan, adding, “ We have always been staunch supporters of the initiative of international community for reconstruction of Afghanistan.”
As a result of the government’s firm commitment and concerted efforts to facilitate and enhance trade with Afghanistan, the trade between two countries is likely to cross $1 billion in near future, he maintained.
Advisor said Pakistani investors are keen to invest in the proposed Industrial Estate in Afghanistan as well as in the border areas of Pakistan.
Dr. Salman Shah said with fast growing and modern means of communication and construction of motorways, horizons of information technology are expanding rapidly. “Pakistan is well placed to play a significant role in export of goods and services to of the world community at much competitive rates”, he said.
He added that Pakistan offers most attractive terms in the priority areas of corporate farming, information technology, oil and gas and small and medium enterprises. “Joint Ministerial Commissions (JMCs) are always a source of augmenting bilateral cooperation, fuelling economic activity, cementing economic relationship, resolving problems and exploring new areas of cooperation, he added.
Dr. Salman expressed the hope that this JMC would help reviewing progress on implementation status of already agreed decisions of the previous JMC.
The peculiar geopolitical environment in the region, advisor to Prime Minister said, demands of both countries to explore mutual interest and devise strategy to exploit the new situation for larger benefit of the both countries’ masses would culminate positive results. Salam Shah at the occasion said, “This JMC is of crucial importance at this critical juncture of history because we need to identify specific areas of cooperation.”
He said smuggling has distortionary impact on smooth flow of trade, adding, there must be joint efforts from both countries to counter this menace.
Dr Salman Shah said Pakistan has most modern system of training in various fields and Afghan government is looking for capacity building of its governance.
Pakistan is a vibrant and growing economy which offers ample opportunities of trade and investment, he said adding, Afghanistan traders and investors could capitalize on buoyant Pakistan economy.
“On the one hand Pakistan is a land of opportunities and on the other hand for Afghanistan it is a source of hassle free provision of goods and services at most competitive rates because of geographical proximity. Our mutual cooperation can do miracles for common man of the region”, he added.
He assured the Afghan delegation that government would do all out effort to strengthen brotherly relationship between two countries. “Our bilateral cooperation will provide ample space to our traders and investors to perform even better in a fast changing and competitive international environment, he added. Finance Minister of Afghanistan Dr. Anwar ul Haq Ahadi in his opening remarks said existing mutual brotherly relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan will flourish with the passage of time.
He said, “we are extremely indebted for Pakistan’s all out support during crucial time of the Afghan people. Pakistan stood with us in the hour of need and helped us extensively after the end of war.”
He hailed Pakistan’s offer of $100 million dollar assistance including $10 million cash for Afghanistan. Dr. Anwar said they had identified a number of projects including Torkhum, Jalalabad road, Transit Trade to expand cooperation between the two countries. —APP
Afghan minister seeks Pakistani investment
LAHORE: Hedayat Amin Arsala, Afghan minister for trade and commerce, has said the Afghan government would extend its full support to those Pakistani businessmen interested in setting up their industries in Afghanistan. Talking to Mian Misbahur Rehman, president Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) here on Thursday, he said that economic situation in Afghanistan is quite conducive at the moment and it is high time that the Pakistani businessmen should avail this opportunity. Sohail Lashari, senior vice president LCCI, vice president Sheikh Mohammad Arshad and executive committee member Mian Nauman Kabir also attended the meeting. LCCI President said that in a bid to promote trade with Afghanistan, the Lahore chamber is planning to hold a single country exhibition of Pakistani products in Kabul in April this year. In a separate statement, Mian Misbahur Rehman president LCCI, Sohail Lashari and Sheikh Mohammad Arshad members also hailed signing of the Free Trade Agreement between Pakistan and Sri Lanka. —Staff Report
Pakistan seeks US help to stop alleged arms smuggling from Afghanistan
Thu Feb 10, 4:30 AM ET
KARACHI (AFP) - Pakistan has approached US coalition forces in Afghanistan to stop the alleged smuggling of arms into its unstable southwest, which has been hit by a low-level tribal rebellion, an official said.
Arms and drugs have flowed into the region from across the border and Soviet-era weapons had been used in attacks on key installations, Owais Ghani, the governor of Baluchistan province, told reporters late Wednesday.
"We have raised the issue with the American officials asking for their help to fight weapons and narcotics inflow into Pakistan," Ghani said.
"Soviet-made arms had been used in the Sui attack, which indicates that arms were being smuggled into Baluchistan from Afghanistan."
Rocket attacks on Pakistan's biggest natural gasfield at Sui in Baluchistan left eight people dead and sparked the recent flare-up of violence.
Bombs and rockets targeting railway tracks, government installations and natural gas facilities have been exploding almost daily in Baluchistan, the biggest and the poorest of Pakistan's four provinces.
Tribesmen are demanding a greater share of the region's natural resources as well as increased political rights.
The governor insisted that there was no insurgency in the province and that the acts of "terrorism" were carried out by a a very small group.
He said Pakistan had sought US help because the central government in Afghanistan did not have much control over the country.
Pakistan's 2,400-kilometer (1,500-mile) border with Afghanistan is used by smugglers to sneak in arms and narcotics.
Mostly Soviet-era weapons which fell into the hands of different renegade groups in Afghanistan are smuggled into Pakistan and make lucrative profits, Pakistani security officials have said.
The weapons include machineguns, multiple-barrel rocket launchers and mortars.
Hundreds of rockets were fired at the Sui gas field, causing damage running into millions of dollars and forcing the central government to hand over security in the area to regular and paramilitary forces.
Time running out for Afghan asylum-seekers in Germany
BERLIN (AFP) - Political refugees who fled Afghanistan before the fall of the Taliban regime more than three years ago can no longer count on asylum in Germany, according to a court ruling.
The administrative court in Kassel, central Germany, decided on Thursday that members of the Northern Alliance no longer have anything to fear in Afghanistan.
The Northern Alliance forces helped the United States and its other allies to oust the Taliban in late 2001.
However the court ruled that members of the Communist party, which supported the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, would still be in danger if they return home.
More than 70,000 Afghan refugees are living in Germany, although 8,000 of them do not have the status of refugees but are allowed to stay for the time being.
A legal freeze on sending the refugees back home, agreed by interior ministers from Germany's 16 states, runs out at the end of April.
Violence is rife among Afghanistan's many ethnic and tribal groups.
Many areas outside the capital Kabul remain unstable despite elections there last year, and violence linked to the heroin trade abounds as the war-torn country is by far the world's biggest producer of illegal opium.
Afghan Poll Date Depends on Creating Voting Districts, UN Says
Feb. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Afghanistan's government won't set a date for parliamentary and local elections until voting districts are established, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said.
``There is no earliest date'' for the elections, Ariane Quentier, said yesterday at a briefing in the capital, Kabul, according to the UN Web site. The election will take place ``according to the electoral law, 120 days after the district boundaries have been announced by presidential decree.''
The voting system still has to be approved and the registration of voters completed, Quentier said. Under the election law, allocation of seats in the lower house of the national assembly must be completed 90 days before the poll.
Afghanistan's move to democracy began with last October's first direct presidential election, won by Hamid Karzai, who served as interim president after the Taliban regime was ousted in December 2001. The UN said last month national elections were scheduled to take place between April 21 and May 21.
``Maybe we were a little too optimistic believing that things could be done fast,'' Quentier said. ``It is just one step after the other.''
The Independent Electoral Commission, appointed by Karzai on Jan. 19, is working to resolve the outstanding issues, Quentier said. ``It takes time,'' she said. ``It is a complex process.''
The registration process has been complicated because people have turned 18 years of age since the Oct. 9 presidential poll, more refugees have returned to the country and the voting rights for nomadic tribes need to be addressed, Quentier said.
The electoral system of a single non-transferable vote is also being challenged by some political parties that favor more proportional representation, she said.
Afghanistan needs at least $120 million from international donors to help the country hold the parliamentary and local elections this year, UN envoy Jean Arnault said last month.
The cost of the polls will increase by $30 million if the estimated 3 million Afghan refugees living in neighboring Pakistan and Iran take part, Arnault told the Security Council.
Two decades of civil war and drought in Afghanistan produced the world's largest refugee population of 3.5 million people, most of whom fled to Pakistan and Iran. Afghans have returned to the country under a UN program since 2001.
About 850,000 Afghan refugees voted in Pakistan and Iran in the Oct. 9 presidential election.
Karzai, 46, won the election with 55.5 percent of the vote. About 8 million of the 10.5 registered Afghan voters took part.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization said yesterday it will expand its peacekeeping force in Afghanistan by about 900 soldiers to boost security for the elections.
The troops will join about 8,500 soldiers from the 26-nation NATO already in Afghanistan, allowing the force to extend control beyond the area surrounding Kabul, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said after a meeting of alliance defense ministers in Nice, France.
The move will restore the NATO force in Afghanistan to the 10,000-strong peak reached in October.
The U.S. has 18,000 soldiers in Afghanistan hunting fugitives from the ousted Taliban regime and the al-Qaeda terrorist network. The Afghan National Army, created since 2001, has more than 21,000 soldiers, 17,800 of them trained and 3,400 still in training, the U.S. military command said last month.
The national police force will have 37,000 officers by April, an increase from 32,000 personnel now serving, Arnault said in his report to the Security Council.
Suspects Named In Attack On Afghan Warlord
Daily Afghan Report - Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty - February 9, 2005
Four suspects have been identified in connection with the failed 20 January assassination attempt on General Abdul Rashid Dostum, Pajhwak News Agency reported on 8 February. An Afghan government source told Pajhwak on condition of anonymity that two Afghans, an Arab, and a Pakistani organized the suicide attack against Dostum. According to the source, authorities are searching for the suspects. One suicide bomber was killed and 20 other people were injured as a result of the attack in Sheberghan, capital of Jowzjan Province, but Dostum escaped unharmed. Immediately after the attack, Dostum blamed Al-Qaeda, although the neo-Taliban subsequently claimed responsibility for the act. The official investigative team dispatched by Kabul has yet to comment on the case (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 January 2005). AT
UN grounds plane after Afghan Jet crash
Pakistan Times - February 10, 2005
KABUL (Afghanistan): The United Nations has grounded a sister plane to the airliner which ploughed into an mountainside killing all 104 people on board in Afghanistan’s worst air accident, an official said Wednesday.
UN Humanitarian Air Services, which can be used only by staff from the world body and aid agencies, said it was suspending operations by a Boeing 737 hired from the same firm as the Kam Air 737 which crashed Thursday.
“It is a precautionary measure until we find the causes of the accident, to reassure our clients,” said an official from the air service in Kabul, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The UN and the Kam Air 737s were both chartered from Phoenix, a United Arab Emirates-based leasing company.
Passengers stuck in Dubai
Meanwhile dozens of passengers were stuck in Dubai after Kam Air cancelled several flights since Friday, witnesses said. Along with the Afghan national airline Ariana, the UN and Kam Air are the only carriers linking the city with Kabul.
Kam Air, Afghanistan’s first private airline, denied having technical or logistical problems. “We have enough planes to operate but the weather is getting worse,” deputy chief Feda Mohammad Fadawi said. Asked if Kam Air was scared of running aircraft after the crash, he replied: “No, we are not scared but we don’t want to risk our flights.”
The Kam Air 737 hit a 3,300-metre (9,900-feet) mountain on Thursday and broke into fragments after hitting snowstorms during a domestic flight from the western city of Herat to Kabul.
A committee of international and Afghan representatives set up to investigate the disaster confirmed late Tuesday that all 96 passengers and eight crew members died.
Twenty-four of the victims were foreigners. The US National Transportation Safety Board said it had sent a five-member team to help the probe because the plane was manufactured in the United States.
Work on pipeline to begin this year: minister
Dawn (Pakistan) / February 10, 2005 issue
ISLAMABAD, Feb 9: Pakistan would soon issue tenders to begin work on one of the three trans-national pipelines for natural gas import in 2005 to meet its growing energy requirements and to achieve a higher economic growth.
"A decision (to select one of the three pipelines) would be taken shortly and tenders would be issued and work would be started within 2005," Federal Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Amanullah Khan Jadoon said here on Wednesday.
Speaking at a news conference, the minister said a decision would soon be taken that which of the three pipelines - from Iran, Turkmenistan or Qatar - should be constructed first. Pakistan, he said, might have to construct another pipeline in later years.
Asked to comment on the Indian cabinet's decision to begin negotiations for gas pipeline projects, Mr Jadoon said he was not aware of that but Pakistan would welcome if India joined any pipeline project because it would make the project economically more viable.
He said he would accompany Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz during his visit to Iran at the end of this month to discuss the pipeline project.
The minister said the oil minister of Qatar was also due to visit Pakistan this month to discuss the possibility of laying a gas pipeline, while the oil minister of Turkmenistan would visit Islamabad in March to discuss the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Iran gas pipeline.
The minister said the government was preparing a 10-year plan to meet future energy requirements as the country would start facing gas shortages from 2010. The government, he said, also planned to increase the number of drilling of oil and gas wells to 75 per year.
Responding to a question, Mr Jadoon said that Turkmenistan had not yet submitted an audit report about the volume of Daulatabad gas reserves from where it wanted to export gas through the TAP gas pipeline project.
He, however, said that Turkmenistan had informed that it would submit a verification of gas reserves within 15 days. Once the Daulatabad gas field certification was available, the steering committee on the TAP project would meet to discuss its technical aspects.
Mr Jadoon said the Asian Development Bank had not yet submitted its study to the government of Pakistan that as to which of the three pipeline projects was more feasible and should be started first.
Speaking about the recent increase in consumer gas prices, the minister said the government had no other option in view of the perpetual increase of POL products in the international market.
He said the government was not in a position to lose more revenues after having sustained a loss of about Rs40 billion by not passing on the increase in oil and gas prices to consumers.
He said under agreements with foreign exploration companies, the wellhead prices were linked with international prices and had the government not increased the consumer prices, sovereign guarantees given to exploration companies would have been frustrated. He said the government was still providing a subsidy of Rs7.9 billion to domestic consumers and Rs15 billion to the fertilizer sector.
Responding to another question, the minister said on one litre of petrol being sold at Rs42.39, the government was charging a PDL of Rs9.30 per litre, 15 per cent GST (Rs5.53) and 88 paisa excise duty. In addition, oil marketing companies have their own margin of transportation cost from port to other parts of the country.
Falling rock crushes relief vehicle driver as deadly freeze sweeps Afghanistan
By AMIR SHAH
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) A huge rock loosened by rain and snow tumbled onto an aid group's vehicle, killing the Afghan driver and injuring three foreigners, officials said Thursday, as freezing weather and disease left about 60 people dead throughout the country.
The rock crushed the vehicle after tumbling down a mountainside Wednesday in the deep gorge that connects Kabul with eastern Nangarhar province, striking the vehicle near the village of Sufi Khel, said Abdul Hanan, an official with the Afghan Highway Police.
``The snow and rain made the ground soft and loosened the rock,'' Hanan said.
Mohammed Fariq Waqfi, head of the Coordination for Humanitarian Assistance, said the driver died at the scene. A Pakistani man suffered a broken arm while two Australian women were less seriously hurt, he said. All were brought to Kabul for treatment.
Afghans say this year's snowfall is the heaviest in years, a boon for a country plagued by drought but a serious hazard in its mainly mountainous territory. Officials said more than a meter (more than three feet) of fresh snow was lying in many areas, cutting off villages and blocking passes.
The harsh weather is also preventing the recovery of bodies from an Afghan airliner which crashed into a mountain during a snowstorm last week, killing all 104 people on board.
In the heart of the Hindu Kush range, four people died in an avalanche near Bamiyan city on Tuesday, said Ghulam Saki, a police official. In neighboring Ghor province, about 30 people have died of a virulent lung infection blamed on the cold conditions, said Deputy Gov. Keramuddin Rezazada.
Further south, officials in Zabul and Uruzgan province said a total of 24 people, mainly children and the elderly, had died because of the cold. Wazir Mohammed, the mayor of Shinkay district in Zabul, said blocked roads and scarce supplies meant wheat prices had more than tripled.
Mohammed said the cold had driven wolves down from the mountains and that a pack had attacked two men near a village in the district, injuring them seriously before a crowd drove them off. The mayor of Sorie district said he heard that a man was killed by a wolf on Tuesday, but had no details.
Zabul's deputy governor, Pir Mohammed, said he had appealed to Kabul and the U.S. military to help. ``The people are in a terrible position. They didn't expect this and didn't stock up properly,'' he said.
Home Essentials Opens Office in Kabul, Afghanistan
Press Release Home Essentials
Wednesday February 9, 3:48 pm ET
HONG KONG--(MARKET WIRE)--Feb 9, 2005 -- Hong Kong-based Home Essentials, the largest furniture rental company outside the US, announced it has opened an office in Kabul, Afghanistan. With this move, Home Essentials becomes the first furniture leasing operation to have a direct presence in the country.
Home Essentials will offer a comprehensive turnkey service to foreign companies, embassies, non-governmental organizations, business owners, and expatriate workers to help them get situated in Afghanistan. In addition to wholesale furniture programs, Home Essentials will offer short-term and long-term leasing arrangements for office and residential furniture.
Home Essentials has already been awarded contracts for such entities as Her Majesty's Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Crown Agents (of the UK). Christopher Exline, founder and president of Home Essentials, said recently, "Entering the Kabul market not only represents a major step forward for our company, it vividly affirms the improving market conditions for business in Kabul. This investment would not have occurred unless the Afghani government had followed through on pledges to expedite reform and create a climate conducive to business."
Consistent with other new market entries, Home Essentials will invest approximately $1,000,000 USD into Afghanistan over a two-year period, and management intends to employ 50 locals within the first year.
Afghanistan augments the growing presence of Home Essentials in the Middle East. Kabul joins other locations in Dubai and Baghdad. According to Chris Exline, "The Middle East's receptivity to the Home Essentials concept accelerated our expansion plans throughout the region. More importantly, we have a deep bench of qualified managers ready to assume the reins of new locations."
About Home Essentials
Founded in 1997, Home Essentials is the largest furniture rental company outside the US. The company has offices in Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai and Baghdad and Kabul. Home Essentials provides furniture leasing and sales to meet the furnishing needs of expatriates, landlords, developers and service apartment operators worldwide. Visit the company Website at www.homeessentials.org.
UN expert on human rights in Afghanistan ends country visit
Source: United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) 10 Feb 2005
The Independent Expert of the Commission on Human Rights on the Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan issued the following statement today:
The Independent Expert of the Commission on Human Rights on the Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan, M. Cherif Bassiouni, concluded on 6 February 2005 his second official mission to Afghanistan. During the course of his mission, he met with Government officials, representatives of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the United Nations system, non-governmental organizations as well as members of the diplomatic and donor communities. He visited the prisons of Pol-e-Charkhi and of the Logar district, where he also met with local authorities and representatives.
The Independent Expert welcomes the achievements made since his last mission in August 2004, including the release by the Government of the Shiberghan prisoners from Pol-e-Charkhi. The Independent Expert also welcomes progress in the political and national human rights capacity areas but emphasizes that greater efforts should be made towards better respect of international human rights standards.
The areas where primary focus in terms of strengthening should be made are the institutions responsible for the rule of law including the justice system, the police and the prison system. The treatment and conditions of detention fall well below international standards. Increased problems related to drug cultivation and corruption impact negatively on the realization of a number of human rights. Other concerns relate to the rights of women, the abduction of children and child trafficking. The Independent Expert expresses concern about women's and other vulnerable groups' access to justice, as well as at the potential for human rights abuses to be committed in the context of the so-called customary system of justice. Continuing violence against women, especially in the domestic context, must be addressed.
The Independent Expert is gravely concerned at allegations of arrest, detention and mistreatment committed by foreign forces in Afghanistan. The Independent Expert is particularly concerned at allegations of possible torture having been committed in this context.
Another element of serious concern is the tendency to multiply special units in the Afghan national law enforcement security apparatus, which seem to operate outside the framework of established legal control. The Independent Expert expresses particular concern at allegations of torture and mistreatment reported to have occurred in this context.
The Independent Expert emphasizes the need for the main actors in Afghanistan to build upon the achievements of the political transition through the establishment of a comprehensive strategic plan to establish an environment conducive to the enjoyment of human rights. Three interlinked elements will need to be addressed, in all their dimensions: justice and the rule of law, narcotics and corruption. The Independent Expert welcomes recent developments towards a strategy for transitional justice or post conflict justice, including the Government's acceptance of the report by the AIHRC in the context of the recent visit to Afghanistan of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour.
The Independent Expert will present a report on his mission to the Commission on Human Rights at its sixty-first session, in April 2005.
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