Straw meets Afghan president
British Foreign Minister Jack Straw arrived in Afghanistan for talks with President Hamid Karzai and other officials.
It's expected the talks will include new measures to combat the world's largest illegal drugs industry.
Karzai and Straw, who were to meet in the president's palace, planned to announce new details of a crackdown on smugglers and efforts to help farmers switch from opium poppies to legal crops, an Afghan government official said.
The British government has also lined up extra funds for so-called alternative livelihood programmes and plans to appoint a special envoy in Afghanistan to oversee them, the official added.
Britain leads foreign efforts to help Afghanistan fight opium production and trafficking, a trade which has ballooned since US forces ousted the former ruling Taliban in 2001 and is believed to enrich anti-government militants and warlords.
Under pressure from both the United States and Europe, Karzai in December urged Afghans to wage a "holy war" on opium, calling it more urgent than the resistance against Soviet occupation of the 1980s and a national disgrace.
The United Nations estimates that Afghan cultivation of opium, the raw material for heroin, jumped by about two-thirds to a record 320,000 acres last year, accounting for almost 90% of the world's production.
The opium exported was worth about £1.4bn, or 40 % of Afghanistan's gross domestic product, prompting warnings that the country is turning into a "drug-state."
The United States has already increased its spending, allocating £411 million for Afghan counter-drugs programmes this year alone.
Britain's Straw arrives in Afghanistan for anti-drugs talks
Wednesday February 16, 4:22 PM AFP
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw arrived in Afghanistan for a one-day visit to discuss the fight against the war-shattered country's booming drugs trade, an official said.
Straw will meet President Hamid Karzai, his counterpart Abdullah Abdullah as well as defense minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak, foreign ministry spokesman Naweed Ahmad Moez told AFP.
During his stay Straw will discuss bilateral ties, regional issues and terrorism but the main topic will be counternarcotics, Moez said.
The United Nations says Afghanistan supplies nearly 87 per cent of the world's opium and the majority of the heroin consumed in Europe. Drug production rose by 64 percent last year.
"Straw arrived here this morning. He will meet foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah first and in the afternoon he will meet president Karzai," Moez said.
Britain is leading an internationally-backed anti-drugs program in Afghanistan, where Karzai pledged after his inauguration late last year that he would wage "jihad", or holy war on the problem.
Karzai and British Prime Minister Tony Blair discussed the issue during a telephone conversation late Tuesday, according to a statement issued by the presidential palace.
"The president reiterated his rock-solid commitment to rid Afghanistan of the menace of drugs," the statement said.
Both leaders agreed on the need for international aid to provide alternative livelihoods for Afghan communities which stop producing drugs, it added.
"The president also extended an invitation to prime minister Blair to visit Afghanistan at some point in the future," the statement said.
Britain was part of the US-led military coalition that overthrew the hardline Islamic Taliban in late 2001 after the regime refused to hand over Al-Qaeda terror network leader Osama bin Laden.
It has remained engaged in the country and pledged large sums of money towards drug-fighting efforts.
British Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell said during a visit to Kabul in December that he believed Afghanistan could turn the tide on opium production within a year.
Indian foreign minister visits Afghanistan, to head for Pakistan later
Wednesday February 16, 12:12 AM AFP
Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh visited Afghanistan for talks with President Hamid Karzai before he embarks on a historic trip to India's nuclear rival Pakistan.
Singh's visit is aimed at bolstering growing ties and trade between Afghanistan and India, which has been at the forefront of efforts to help rebuild the blitzed country after 25 years of war.
Karzai expressed appreciation for India's contribution to reconstruction and said he hoped it would look favourably on a pipeline project to bring gas from Turkmenistan.
"I realize India is not a major donor country but in Afghanistan, India has been one of the largest contributors," Karzai said in a statement.
Singh also met Defence Minister Rahim Wardak and Public Health Minister Mohammad Amin Fatemi and took part in ceremonies marking the Indian government's extension of support to the Afghan National Army and the Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health in Kabul, the foreign ministry said.
India, along with Iran and Russia, backed Afghanistan's Northern Alliance against the fundamentalist Islamic Taliban.
Since the ousting of the Taliban by US-backed forces in late 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, an Indian government source said recently.
Indian media have reported that Singh would discuss with both countries transit facilities for Indian goods to Afghanistan through Pakistan. Such trade to Afghanistan currently goes via Iran.
However interest is likely to focus on Singh's trip late Tuesday to Islamabad -- the first bilateral visit by an Indian foreign minister to Pakistan in 15 years.
It is expected to be a key step in pushing forward the slow-moving, year-old peace process between the South Asian neighbours.
Instead of dwelling on the dispute over divided Kashmir, Singh may focus on side issues like a planned bus service between each country's zone of the Himalayan territory and Pakistan's upcoming cricket tour of India, analysts said.
During his two-day visit Singh will meet President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and hold formal talks with his counterpart Khurshid Kasuri.
The Indian minister's travels come in a week of shuttle diplomacy in South Asia.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was set to leave Pakistan for Afghanistan late Tuesday while Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi arrived in Pakistan Tuesday for a three-day visit.
Straw said Monday that India and Pakistan had the best chance in two decades to sort out their long-running rivalry. Singh himself said last week that the peace process was gathering speed.
Analysts said it was possible both sides could agree to start the bus service between Srinagar in India's zone of Kashmir and Muzaffarabad on the Pakistani side, and review a proposed gas pipeline from Iran to India via Pakistan.
An Indian media report Tuesday said New Delhi was ready to drop its call for passengers to carry passports on the proposed bus link, removing a key hurdle to the service's launch.
"This was indicated to Islamabad through back channels," The Indian Express reported. Pakistan says the passengers should not have to carry passports.
Singh was expected to discuss cricket as well as politics. Pakistan has rejected the Indian city of Ahmedabad as a Test match venue because of deadly religious riots there in 2002 and the issue has not yet been resolved.
India discusses Afghanistan aid
Tuesday, 15 February, 2005 BBC News
Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh, has met senior Afghan leaders including President Hamid Karzai during a brief visit to Kabul.
They discussed Indian aid to Afghanistan and a possible gas pipeline link from Central Asia to India.
Mr Singh is due in Pakistan later on Tuesday - the first bilateral visit there by an Indian foreign minister for more than 15 years.
The sides are widely expected to take key steps in their peace process.
During his visit to Kabul, Mr Singh also met Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and Defence Minister Rahim Wardak.
President Karzai expressed his appreciation for India's assistance in rebuilding his country.
"I realise India is not a major donor country, but in Afghanistan, India has been one of the largest contributors," he said.
Mr Singh's trip was in some doubt because of bad weather but his plane was finally cleared to land in Kabul.
India is a key supporter of the Northern Alliance that overthrew the Taleban in late 2001 and Delhi has built up a strong presence in Afghanistan since then, offering economic and diplomatic support.
Peace with Pakistan
Mr Singh's visit to Pakistan is part of a peace dialogue that began in 2003. He will meet Pakistan's president, prime minister and foreign minister.
Talks between Mr Singh and his counterpart, Khurshid Kasuri, are expected to focus on a proposed bus service between Srinagar in Indian-administered Kashmir and Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
The pair are also due to discuss the construction of a gas pipeline from Iran to India, through Pakistan.
The BBC's Zaffar Abbas in Islamabad says the talks are taking place amid optimism.
If the talks progress smoothly, Pakistani officials say the two sides may even agree to discuss some kind of restrained regime to reduce the risk of an accidental nuclear war.
Last Friday Mr Singh spoke of an atmosphere in which differences could be resolved.
However, Pakistan stressed on Tuesday that little progress had been made on the long-running Kashmir dispute, despite all the confidence-building.
"We have to underline that the progress on Jammu and Kashmir has not been encouraging," Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan said.
Last month, both sides accused each other of violating a 15-month ceasefire along the Line of Control that divides Kashmir.
Pakistan also opposes Indian plans to construct a dam in the Himalayas, saying it will deprive its own territory of water for agriculture.
India has seen economic issues as a way forward.
On Monday, Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran said in Delhi: "We are prepared to make our neighbours full stakeholders in India's growing economy and economic destiny."
Delhi could perhaps give a green light to the proposed gas pipeline linking India and Iran through Pakistan, though it has fears over security.
The issue of Pakistan's concerns over the use of Ahmedabad in India's Gujarat state - the scene of religious riots in 2002 - as a venue for matches on its upcoming cricket tour will also be discussed, as will the rescheduling of a regional forum postponed this month.
India pulled out of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation meeting in Dhaka, citing security fears in Nepal and Bangladesh.
Afghan King meets Natwar, remembers age-old ties with India
[ANI]: Kabul, Feb.15 : Indian External Affairs Minister K.Natwar Singh called on Afghanistan's King Zahir Shah on Tuesday. Singh, who had initially planned to call off his visit to Afghanistan because of inclement weather and heavy snowfall in that country, was received very warmy by the King.
During the meeting, the King was in a reminiscent mood and described the long association between the Afghan royal family with the Nehru-Gandhi family as being memorable.
Recalling the first state visit of Jawaharlal Nehru to Afghanistan over four decades ago, King Zahir Shah said it was a historic moment in the sense that women of the Afghan royal family came out of the palace without their traditional burquas, as they saw Nehru as a brother, and not as a leader of one of the largest democracies of the world.
The King also recalled his association with former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The meeting lasted for about 30-minutes.
Karzai Tells Blair He Fully Committed to Drugs Fight
Tue Feb 15,11:46 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai told British Prime Minister Tony Blair Tuesday he remained fully committed to ridding Afghanistan of the menace of illicit drugs.
An Afghan government statement said Blair called Karzai on Tuesday evening ahead of a visit to Kabul by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw who will discuss a counter-narcotics plan for Afghanistan for this year.
Karzai told Blair of progress in reducing poppy cultivation in many areas of Afghanistan recently, the statement said.
"The President reiterated his rock-solid commitment to rid Afghanistan of the menace of drugs," it said, adding that both men agreed on the need for international assistance, especially to provide alternative livelihoods to opium-growing communities.
The statement said Karzai also invited Blair to visit Afghanistan for the first time "at some point in the future."
Britain has been a key ally of Karzai's government since U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban regime in late 2001 and is the lead nation in an international effort to cut a massive surge in opium and heroin production since then.
Afghanistan is the world's leading producer of opium and its derivative heroin and the United Nations has said drug exports, much of which end up in Europe, now account for more than 60 percent of the economy.
Diplomats and aid workers have reported a marked drop in poppy planting this year but say this may be due to producers hoarding stocks until prices recover following a glut.
While saying his government is determined to wipe out the drug business, Karzai has yet to commit to concrete measures in the form of the counter-narcotics plan Straw will discuss with Karzai Wednesday.
The Afghan government has warned that aggressive moves to destroy opium fields, such as aerial spraying favored by the United States, would strip many farmers of their livelihoods and risk feeding violent insurgency.
Britain has said the strategy must be multi-faceted, including provision of alternative livelihoods for farmers, drug seizures and arrests of top figures involved in the trade.
Earlier this month, the Afghan government rejected remarks by Antonio Maria Costa, head of the U.N. Organization for Drugs and Crime, who said that aid from international donors should be rescinded if drug crops were not eradicated.
Kabul Hopes India Will Look "Favourably" at Pipeline Project
KABUL, Feb 16 Asia Pulse - Afghanistan today hoped that India would look "favourably" at the oil pipeline project from Turkmenistan, which is to pass through this war-ravaged nation.
During a meeting with External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh, who was on a day-long visit here, Afghan President Hamid Karzai "expressed hope that India will look favourably at the pipeline project going through Afghanistan from Turkmenistan," a statement from the Afghan leader's office said.
"The project has significant economic benefit to Afghanistan and the region," Karzai said.
The statement said that Singh's visit focussed on promoting bilateral trade and investment.
U.S. Accelerates Training of Afghan Army
Tue Feb 15, 2:47 PM ET By STEPHEN GRAHAM, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - As the United States accelerates its training of Afghanistan's fledgling army, the nation's defense minister has revealed a list of high-tech weaponry he says his nation needs to defend itself.
Defense Minister Rahim Wardak told The Associated Press his requests include Apache helicopter gunships and A-10 ground attack planes, which the more than 1,000 American trainers embedded with the new Afghan army can currently call in from U.S. bases in an emergency.
He would also like U.S. forces to help create and train Afghan commando, engineer and intelligence units. Transport planes and armored vehicles would also help, Wardak said, and predicted a positive response from Washington.
"Once we improve our capabilities, I think we will be good enough to deal with any sort of internal threat," including Islamic militants, drug smugglers and warlords, Wardak said. "We think if we take more of the burden of security it will be much more economical — in terms of money and human life — for the coalition and NATO."
But Wardak and Col. Bob Sharp, a senior official in the U.S.-led coalition, also said Washington and Kabul are considering a long-term security relationship that may include continued American bases.
The office of Lt. Gen. David Barno, the overall commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul had no comment.
Three years after a devastating air campaign drove out the former ruling Taliban for harboring Osama bin Laden, the U.S. military still has 17,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. Swaths of the countryside remain under the influence of militants or warlords resisting the authority of President Hamid Karzai.
But the re-emergence of the central government and the expansion of both the U.S.-trained Afghan National Army and NATO-led security forces in Afghanistan are easing the burden on the American military, which claims that Taliban-led insurgents are a waning threat.
The Afghan national army had been expected to reach its full strength of 70,000, including 43,000 ground troops, by September 2007.
But Sharp, the British chief of staff of the Office of Military Cooperation, which coordinates the training, told AP that the number of Afghan battalions being trained simultaneously is going up to six in March, and that the increase will allow the force to reach full strength by the end of 2006.
With the graduation of 709 trainee soldiers and officers Sunday, the army numbers almost 20,000 soldiers, already more than a match for the factional militias they are supposed to replace under a U.N.-sponsored disarmament campaign.
Sharp and Wardak said they didn't know when the Pentagon might decide to reduce its presence in Afghanistan, though Barno has suggested it could happen this year if Taliban fighters sign up for a planned amnesty.
"The more ANA (Afghan National Army) we get on the ground, wearing their green berets with their very high reputation, the easier we've found it is to stabilize the country and put an Afghan face on it," Sharp said.
Wardak said it was too early to say how long the United States would maintain air bases in Afghanistan, which borders Iran, Pakistan and China, as well as oil-rich Central Asia. The country's first post-Taliban parliament would also have to approve any security pacts with the United States or anyone else.
"It's all in an ideas stage," Wardak said.
Sharp, however, was less circumspect.
"I don't know the answer to this question, but I would say: Are there going to be American bases in Afghanistan permanently? It is a moderate Islamic state perfectly positioned within the region — a nice counterbalance to Iraq perhaps," he said. "I would think there would be interest in that."
Afghanistan praises Pakistan's help in war on terror
KABUL, Feb 15 (AFP) - Afghanistan on Tuesday hailed Pakistan's help in combating terror attacks along their rugged border after months of complaints that Islamabad was not doing enough.
"Definitely the Pakistan government has taken positive and effective steps in this regard which are significant in eradication of terrorism," President Hamid Karzai's spokesman Jawed Ludin told a news conference.
"Without cooperation at the governments level, I think any fight inside the (two) countries will have no results," he said, responding to a question on cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan in curbing an ongoing insurgency by remnants of the ousted Taliban regime.
Afghan officials have in the past complained that militants linked to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda cross from Pakistan to carry out attacks against Afghan and foreign forces.
Merajuddin Pathan, the governor of the southeastern province of Khost, said on Monday that a large number of Taliban and Al-Qaeda activists were using the neighbouring tribal areas in Pakistan for attacks in his province.
"We are aware that in Miranshah there are Arabs -- hundreds of them," the governor told reporters in Kabul, referring to a Pakistani border town. "They fire rockets from that side of the border on Afghanistan."
Pakistan, a key ally in Washington's so-called war on terror, has deployed thousands of troops and paramilitary soldiers in its border areas to purge them of Al-Qaeda suspects and Taliban fugitives.
Its forces have also fought pitched battles with militants who are thought to have crossed into the tribal region from Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban in late 2001.
Pakistan has already captured some 600 alleged Al-Qaeda supporters including some major operatives. Most have been handed to the United States and are believed to be detained at the US military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
Judging war crimes remains thorny issue for Afghans
By VICTORIA BURNETT Special to The Globe and Mail Tuesday, February 15, 2005 - Page A15
KABUL -- Abdul Wahid was 14 years old when he last saw his father.
It was late one afternoon in 1978 when a group of Communist intelligence agents roared up to Mr. Wahid's childhood home in Russian-made jeeps. They drove off with his father and uncle.
"We ran crying after the jeeps, but they told us they would bring him back soon," said Mr. Wahid, a mustachioed man with a sweet demeanour.
A few months later, Mr. Wahid's uncle returned to their village in the province of Logar, southwest of Kabul. He had been accused of colluding with the mujahedeen, who were fighting Communist rule. He had been jailed, brutally beaten and then released.
His father was not so lucky. He was executed at Pul-i-Charki jail, where the Communists eventually killed about 12,000 people, according to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.
"The kids used to taunt us: 'Your father has been made into soap. Now we wash our clothes with him,' " Mr. Wahid said, referring to a popular myth about what happened to the bodies of political prisoners.
Three years after a U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban regime and ended Afghanistan's 23-year war, the country is beginning to tackle the question of how to deal with the horrors of its past.
In a new survey, the AIHRC asked 6,000 Afghans their views on tribunals, truth commissions, compensation and amnesty. The commission called for the government to commit publicly to redressing war crimes sooner rather than later, to begin a series of monuments honouring those who have been victims of abuse and to vet rigorously the rights records of candidates for public office.
The question of transitional justice is more complicated in Afghanistan than in other countries emerging from conflict, human-rights experts and diplomats say. Different regimes abused different groups during the various phases of the long war. Nearly 70 per cent of those questioned in the AIHRC survey said they or an immediate family member had been a victim.
"Here you have a series of aggressors. At one time or another, everyone has been a victim and a perpetrator," a Western diplomat in Kabul said.
Between 1978 and 1992, the Soviet-backed Communist government executed thousands of political activists and Soviet planes bombed villages indiscriminately. The mujahedeen groups that defeated the Communists then fought for four bitter years over control of Kabul, killing, raping and beggaring thousands of civilians.
Their anarchy was replaced by the repressive order of the Taliban, which forced women behind veils, banned music, outlawed kite-flying and forbade men to shave.
According to the AIHRC survey, the majority of Afghans want violators brought to justice and nearly half want war-crimes trials immediately. Yet opinion remains divided as to whether Afghanistan is ready to confront its past.
Some diplomats, government officials and political experts argue that the state is not yet strong enough to take on many of the warlords accused of rights abuses, who still control powerful militias. If challenged now, they might destabilize the country and resist disarmament.
"The society is not really prepared to confront this issue at this point," said Barnett Rubin, an expert on Afghanistan who is director of studies at the Center on International Co-operation at New York University. "It doesn't have the institutions."
The United Nations and the government recently decided against publishing a compilation of human-rights abuses.
Instead, the report was presented privately to President Hamid Karzai by Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, during a visit two weeks ago.
Diplomats and officials familiar with the UN policy debate said officials were concerned about stability and about the safety of its staff, after the kidnapping of three employees in October.
They also worried that the report would be seized on as a basis for screening candidates for the parliamentary election later this year.
On the other hand, some rights advocates argue that by taking on those with records of abuse, the government could make Afghanistan more stable.
Afghan amnesty offer excludes Mullah Omar, Hekmatyar: pres. spokesman
KABUL, Feb. 15 (Xinhua) -- The amnesty offer announced for the armed Afghan opposition groups would not be applicable to elusive Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar and former Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a presidential spokesman said Tuesday.
"Those Afghans who have not committed crimes can take advantage from the amnesty and return home but the people will not accept Mullah Omar and Hekmatyar," Jawed Ludin told reporters here at a news briefing. His comments came just a day after the confirmation of a Taliban delegation in Kabul for talks with government for reconciliation.
US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told journalists Monday that a group of Taliban would soon switch side to give the ongoing peace process in the post-war nation a boost. He also rejected any negotiations with Hekmatyar, saying the former prime minister was misleading Afghans and should be brought to justice.
Ludin also confirmed the presence of a Taliban delegation in the capital but declined to identify them by adding "Some Taliban are here and they would talk to the press whenever they want."
In a bid to bolster security in the country and subdue the Taliban-related militancy in the mountainous south, southeast and eastern provinces, the Afghan administration has offered amnesty last year for the armed militiamen but Mullah Omar and Hekmatyar have condemned it as plot.
Both of the fugitive men have time and again repeated their opposition to the US-dominated foreign forces presence in Afghanistan by vowing to fight for the foreigners' withdrawal from the country.
Taliban reject reports of negotiations, government non-committal
By Mohammad Younus Mehrin
KABUL, Feb. 15, (Pajhwok Afghan News) – The Taliban on Tuesday refuted claims that it is engaged in negotiations with the government, while the government adopted a non-committal stance on the issue. The American ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, had said on Monday that negotiations with the Taliban had yielded good results with more expected in the near future.
President Karzai's spokesman, Javid Ludin, however, said the remarks reflected the personal views of the US envoy. Ludin did not rule out talks with those who were not directly responsible for war crimes, but said the government would never talk to people like Mullah Omar and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar whose hands, he said, were covered with blood.
Lutfullah Hakimi, a spokesman for the Taliban, told Pajhwok Afghan News in a telephonic conversation that the reports of talks were all baseless rumors. He challenged the government to name any Taliban members who were negotiating.
"Anybody who is talking with the Americans is just bowing down before them," Hakimi said, adding that he had just had a meeting with Mullah Omar who described the reports of negotiations as a conspiracy.
There were mixed reactions to the news from ordinary people and experts. Nur-ul-Haq Ulomi, leader of the Hezbi-Muttahid-e-Milli party said the negotiations of the Taliban members indicated their weakness and implied that their military power had waned. Ulomi said that if the ordinary members of the Taliban repented their past crimes it would be good but that the more senior leaders would create problems.
Mohammad Qaseem, a defense ministry official in the northern province of Balkh, said the citizens of Mazar-e-Sharif city were unhappy with reports of the Taliban members joining the government. However he welcomed the move if it would put an end to fighting and bring complete peace in the country.
A resident of the southern province of Kandahar, a former Taliban stronghold, said security would improve if the Taliban joined the government. "I am sure that the concerns about the lack of security will disappear with the reconciliation of the Taliban," he told Pajhwok.
However, Shafiqa Lakankhailm, a female worker of the government bank in the western city of Herat, opposed any deal with the Taliban, saying they needed to be brought to justice instead. "Karzai must not broker deals with criminals," she said.
Iran wants railway line to Pakistan through Afghanistan
By Ahmad Ehsan Sarwaryar
HERAT, Feb. 15, (Pajhwok Afghan News) -- Iran plans to construct a railway line linking Iran with Pakistan through Afghanistan, a step that will connect Afghanistan to the international market.
The proposal to construct a railway line from Turbat e Jam in Iran to Pakistan through Afghanistan was discussed in a meeting of Iranian and Afghan officials in the Western city of Herat on Monday. Senior officials from Iran’s Ministry of Finance were in Afghanistan to discuss the financial details of the project.
Mohammad Ullah Afzali, a spokesperson for the Herat governor told Pajhwok Afghan News: "the 207-km railway starts from Sangan area of Iran to Pakistan through the border city of Islam Qala in Herat."
On the importance of the project for Afghanistan, Herat Governor, Sayed Mohammad Khairkhwa, told Pajhwok: "This project will have an extraordinary importance in terms of our economy and we are ready to cooperate in every way on the proposal"
Norway set to send more special forces to Afghanistan
OSLO, Norway (AP) Norway is prepared to send a new contingent of special forces to Afghanistan to support the U.S.-led operation Enduring Freedom, the foreign minister announced Tuesday.
``Norway recently received a request from the United States to provide special forces for that operation,'' Foreign Minister Jan Petersen told lawmakers in parliament. ``The government's intention is to give a positive answer, and aims to provide the contribution for up to six months.''
It would be the third time Norway, a NATO member, sent special forces to Afghanistan under U.S. command. The military has declined to reveal their exact number or duties in the interest of security.
Petersen said it was still necessary to support the American-led effort because the al-Qaida terror network is still operating in border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
``That is a threat both to President (Hamid) Karzai's government and against the stabilization effort by NATO,'' the foreign minister said. ``And it is a global threat.''
The Nordic country of 4.6 million people already has a contingent of about 280 troops serving in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
The Norwegian presence includes reconstruction engineers, staff officers, an airport fire and rescue unit and the main contingent of 180 troops assisting police with security in and around the Afghan capital of Kabul.
Dismissed army officers to get a year’s salary as redundancy payment
By Ezatullah Zawab
JALALABAD, Feb. 15, (Pajhwok Afghan News) -- The Ministry of Defense has started paying a year’s salary to army officers who were retrenched as part of the Ministry’s redundancy program.
Jan Mohammad, an official of the Defense Ministry in the eastern zone, said that the total amount to be paid in the zone was 90 million Afs ($1.8 million). Mohammed said the Ministry would also implement a scheme for the reemployment of those officers who were tested and found to possess the necessary skills.
The dismissed officers have frequently staged demonstrations in Kabul and Nangarhar for their rights. Mohammad Akram, one of the dismissed officers who will now receive the payment of one year’s salary told Pajhwok Afghan News: "the one-year salary will not only solve my economic problems but will also enable me to start a small business."
Afghan refugees' fate discussed
Wednesday, 16 February, 2005, 07:24 GMT By Andrew North BBC News, Kabul
Officials from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan are holding talks in Brussels on managing the movement of refugees to and from Afghanistan.
The meeting is being organised by the European Commission and United Nations high commissioner for refugees.
At least five million Afghans fled their homes, mostly to Iran and Pakistan, during decades of conflict.
The UNHCR has helped organise the return of more than 3.5m refugees in the past three years.
It has been seen as a big success story, but it is also causing a few new problems.
Stepping up pressure
The UN refugee agency wants to make sure that the funds continue to flow to allow the remainder of the refugees to return home.
But it is all voluntary, and the UNHCR is concerned about the fate of the Afghans who want to remain in Iran and Pakistan.
Iran, in particular, has been stepping up the pressure for Afghans on its territory to go back.
Afghanistan also has a problem in absorbing so many of its citizens in such a short time when the country is only beginning to recover from the decades of war.
Thousands of returning refugees have not gone to their homes, which in many cases are destroyed, but to Kabul and other cities, hoping to find work.
It is putting massive pressure on already strained infrastructure and in many cases these returnees are living in appalling conditions, exposed to the harsh Afghan winter.
Kabul, a city in rebuilding mode
[ANI]: Kabul, Feb.15 : Afghanistan's war ravaged capital of Kabul is a city that appears to be on the mend.
With nearly three decades of destruction and mayhem in its past, thanks to the political shenanigans of the rugged country's warlords and unscrupulous politicians, Kabul now presents itself as a city where its people and leaders want change in right earnest, a change for the better and a change that reflects its modernity.
Engulfed in snow and battered by inclement weather over the past few days, the Afghan people haven't stopped their activities to make the city beautiful.
Cranes can be seen lining the streets to reconstruct heavily damaged buildings, buildings ravaged by bombs and rockets since 1979.
The rivalries among the warlords, however, show no signs of abatement, and this is most starkly visible by the amount of security patrolling this city nestled between snowed in mountains.
That the rule of the radical Taliban, that dominated the Afghan landscape for five years (1996-2001), is over came out loud and clear to this correspondent, who made a rare visit to the Afghan capital when the Taliban was at its height in terms of power and pelf.
Afghan women today walk the streets of the city without care or fear, where once they were coerced into staying indoors and in burqas, besides not being allowed to go to school.
Males and females now travel the streets to their places of work. There is particularly an atmosphere of comfort and peace following the first ever election of a president in the first week of October 2004.
Yes indeed, Kabul is on the mend after years of ravage.
Efforts to improve access to justice in rural areas
KABUL, 15 February (IRIN) - A new multi-million dollar project will promote public access to justice in rural areas of Afghanistan. According to officials at the Italian Embassy in the capital, Kabul, the initiative is to promote access to justice in selected districts of the country in the framework of human rights protection. The project aims to benefit from the traditional and communal justice systems that currently operate in remote areas of the post-conflict country.
"The project will strengthen civil society and prepare the people to understand what they are entitled to and what they can request," Ambassador Jolanda Brunetti, the government of Italy's special coordinator for the Justice Programme, told IRIN after the project was launched in Kabul. Italy is the lead nation in the programme.
"We are trying to harmonise the activities of the courts of elders that already exist in the countryside and districts, with the formal justice system," she added.
With low literacy rates and after decades of war, there is little or no legal awareness in rural areas. At the same time, the crumbling Afghan judicial system is too poor to reach people.
According to Brunetti, 80 percent of justice in Afghanistan is administered informally. "If the Justice Programme in Afghanistan were only to focus on developing the formal justice sector, we would be marginalised in our efforts and our achievements."
The 6 million euro project will run for 30 months in up to 60 districts of Afghanistan. It is funded by the European Commission (EC), with a 5 million euro contribution from Rome.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) will implement the project, in close partnership with Afghan judicial institutions, to deliver awareness programmes and extend infrastructure development to more remote areas.
"The public awareness campaign will increase the judicial literacy of the population and inform them of what their expectations should be from justice," Karen Jorgensen, UNDP Country Director, told IRIN.
The EC/UNDP project addresses community needs by creating both the institutional capacity to deliver justice services, as well as the community capacity to seek and demand justice services, she explained.
The awareness programme includes an education component that targets families, women and children in communities where informal justice has traditionally been administered, she added.
Samander Ali, a resident of the northern Baghlan province, told IRIN that people lacked even basic legal awareness in remote districts. Ali pointed to a government decree in 2002 which banned taxation of farmers by local commanders, but the practice still continued. "People think it is the right of a commander to tax them a tenth of their harvest every year," he noted.
Ali, a civil servant, added that the absence of police, judges or public institutions meant that the law rested with traditional tribal councils which were unelected, uninformed and very conservative in outlook.
Legal experts in Kabul say there is a great need to strengthen the district and provincial legal services before any legal public awareness campaigns.
"How can we ensure access to a justice system that does not exist or is very poor?" Abdul Kabir Ranjbar, a professor of law and head of the Lawyers' Union of Afghanistan, asked IRIN. "Even in Kabul the legal system is terribly poor and people do not have access to justice," he added.
Meanwhile, officials at the Ministry of Justice say that, due to severe technical and financial problems, legal services in the country do not operate very well.
"For example, no provincial or district prosecution office has any means of transport, communications or equipment, or up-to-date training," Abdul Halim Samadi, deputy attorney-general, told IRIN.
Despite these challenges, aid bodies at the Afghan Justice Programme believe that with the new initiative they will be able to develop structures and capacities to deliver justice where it is needed - at the level of the individual citizen.
USDA announces $125 million in international assistance under food for progress
Source: Government of the United States of America 14 Feb 2005
WASHINGTON, Feb. 14, 2005 - Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns today announced plans for $125 million in international food assistance under the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food for Progress program for fiscal year 2005. The commodity donations will benefit 16 countries in Africa, Asia (including Central Asia), Latin America and the Middle East.
"America will continue to answer the call of those in need around the world as part of a long tradition of sharing our agricultural abundance with others," Johanns said. "This food aid program supports economic reforms and development that can help lift people out of poverty and lead to more productive, open, entrepreneurial societies."
The Food for Progress allocations announced today include more than 300,000 metric tons of U.S. wheat and flour, corn, rice, soy products, vegetable oils, beans and other commodities that will be purchased on the U.S. market and donated by USDA. The commodities will go to nonprofit organizations and the United Nations World Food Program to support agricultural and rural development projects, while helping to address food shortages. The development projects are funded by sales of the donated U.S. commodities within the recipient countries.
In Afghanistan, for example, the U.S. donation to Mercy Corps will benefit around 30,000 farmers and their families by funding plant nurseries, irrigation improvements and research to revive fruit and nut production. In the West African country of Niger, Catholic Relief Services will assist 1,500 sesame producers, mainly women, and up to 100,000 people overall by promoting private sector production, processing and marketing. In Honduras, Zamorano will use sales proceeds from the U.S. rice to fund university scholarships for agriculture and rural studies for disadvantaged youth.
Selection criteria for this year's projects emphasized the following objectives: helping countries fill food and nutritional gaps; assisting countries with trade-capacity building and other economic and market transitions under trade agreements; and helping countries recover from conflicts.
For each announced donation, detailed agreements must still be negotiated. In the coming weeks, decisions will be made on additional fiscal 2005 Food for Progress donations that will be funded under P.L. 480, Title I, for foreign governments and nonprofit organizations. The Food for Progress Act of 1985 provides for USDA donations of agricultural commodities to developing countries and emerging democracies to encourage economic or agricultural reforms that foster free enterprise.
USDA also provides foreign food assistance through the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, and through Section 416(b) of the Agricultural Act of 1949. Last year, under its fiscal 2004 food assistance programs, USDA supplied more than 1 million metric tons of U.S. food aid commodities valued at $375 million to about 80 countries around the world.
A list of today's Food for Progress allocations follows.
Afghan avalanche kills 10
The Australian From correspondents in Kabul February 16, 2005
AT least 10 people were killed and 17 others injured when an avalanche hit a village in the Panjshir valley north of the Afghan capital, an official said today.
The avalanche yesterday struck Dar-e-Noor, a remote district in the Panjshir valley, trapping 13 members of a family in their mud-brick house, provincial Culture and Information Department head Mohammad Alam Izadyar said.
"Ten people - all members of one family were killed - and three others were rescued but were wounded," he said.
He said 14 other villagers were injured in a neighbouring house when they were trapped by the same avalanche.
Izadyar called for emergency support for affected areas in Panjshir where he said dozens of families were still threatened by potential avalanches.
The valley, squeezed between the Hindu Kush mountains some 120km north of Kabul, was the stronghold of Ahmad Shah Masood, the assassinated leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance which helped the US oust the Taliban in late 2001.
The latest snowfalls, the heaviest in several years, have claimed dozens of lives over the past weeks.
On Saturday six people died after an avalanche on a pass on a northern highway and Public Health Minister Mohammad Amin Fatemi today said at least 95 people had died due to the recent harsh winter weather.
This year's snowfalls were welcomed by the drought-hit country's farmers but have threatened tens of thousands of refugees who still live in crushing poverty in refugee camps.
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