Britain doubles funding to battle drugs in Afghanistan
Thursday February 17, 2:14 AM AFP
British Foreign Minister Jack Straw announced that Britain would double its funding to fight war-torn Afghanistan's surging drugs trade.
"We are increasing our contribution to counter-narcotics efforts by 100 percent from 50 million dollars to 100 million," he told a press conference after meeting President Hamid Karzai.
Straw, who was on a one-day visit to the Afghan capital, said the increase in British funding for the fight against drugs would come through in the new financial year beginning April.
"We discussed many issues today including the UK's long-term commitment to this country. We've also discussed the issue of drugs, drugs which blight the lives of far too many people in the UK and across Western Europe," Straw said.
Because Britain was a major source of demand for narcotics, Straw said the country had a responsibility to help scale back poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, which now supplies 87 percent of the world's opium, used to produce heroin.
Half of the money allocated by Britain would be funnelled into alternative livelihoods for 2.3 million farmers, who have pushed drug cultivation up by 64 percent over the last year, according to United Nations figures.
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 strongly involved in anti-drug efforts.
Straw said law enforcement was an important pillar in the fight against poppy cultivation.
But he added: "Unless you are able to provide all farmers with alternative livelihoods, the reality is that they will fall back on poppy cultivation if the only alternative is poverty."
Karzai presented Straw with a counter-narcotics plan drawn up after discussions with the international community, which the British foreign minister described as setting "comprehensive and realistic targets."
Karzai vowed late last year to wage a "jihad" or holy war against the drug trade.
At the press conference at the presidential palace Karzai told reporters, "We are launching our plan today".
The plan outlines eight strategic pillars: institution-building; information campaigns; alternative livelihoods; interdiction and law enforcement; criminal justice; eradication; demand reduction and treatment of addicts; and regional cooperation.
Straw also met his counterpart Abdullah Abdullah as well as Defense Minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak.
Straw said later that Prime Minister Tony Blair had appointed General John McColl as Britain's new special envoy to Afghanistan.
McColl was the first commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force peacekeepers formed in late 2001 after the fall of the Taliban and has tight links with Karzai.
Four Senior Taliban Leaders Accept Amnesty
The Washington Post 02/16/2005
By N.C. Aizenman - Former Officials Who Had Fled to Pakistan Recognize Karzai's Government to Avoid Arrest
KABUL - Four senior Taliban leaders have accepted a reconciliation offer from the Afghan government, a Western official with direct knowledge of the deal said Tuesday.
Under the agreement, which the official said would likely be announced within days, the men recognized the legitimacy of President Hamid Karzai's government in exchange for assurances that they would not face arrest by Afghan or foreign security forces.
The official identified the four as Abdul Hakim Mujahid, formerly the Taliban's envoy to the United Nations; Arsullah Rahmani, the former deputy minister of higher education and a former commander in southeastern Paktika province; Rahmatullah Wahidyar, the former deputy minister of refugees and returnees; and Fawzi, the former charge d'affaires at the Afghan Embassy in Saudi Arabia and then first secretary at the Afghan Embassy in Pakistan. Like many Afghans, Fawzi uses only one name.
All four had fled to neighboring Pakistan after U.S. forces and Afghan militias drove the Taliban from power in late 2001, the official said. Karzai's spokesman, Jawed Ludin, refused to name the former Taliban officials involved but confirmed that they recently accepted the president's offer and are in Kabul.
Twenty-two low-level Taliban members in several provinces have agreed to lay down their arms as part of a similar reconciliation arrangement, said the Western official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the Afghan government has the lead role in the process.
Karzai and U.S. officials have repeatedly stressed that former followers of the Taliban are eligible for such arrangements, with the exception of an estimated 100 to 150 known to have associated with terrorist groups such as al Qaeda or to have committed atrocities during the fundamentalist Islamic militia's brutal rule over much of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.
"By offering protection to some of these forces who were staying outside [Afghanistan] simply because they were fearing to return, we are paving the way for strengthened peace, stability and reconstruction," Ludin said.
However, a second Western official noted that the four senior Taliban leaders who agreed to the deal were moderates who after the Taliban's defeat formed a new political party called Servants of God and had been petitioning the government for recognition ever since.
"This is not a case of 'Oh, hallelujah, a Taliban who has reformed,' " said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid alienating his Afghan counterparts. "These are civilian politicians who, for the last three years, have been hoping someone would agree that it would be useful for people who have been trusted by the Taliban to woo other Taliban to support the peace process."
The four, all ethnic Pashtuns from Paktika province, could prove useful in that regard, the official added. Despite the Taliban's failure to make good on threats to disrupt the October election, members have launched periodic attacks on foreign and Afghan forces across the country, including along Paktika's border with Pakistan.
Rahmani, in particular, seems determined to persuade his compatriots in the province to give up such tactics, according to the official. "If he had his way, he would be more or less running around Paktika on foot to tell everyone to get down off the mountains and join the post-war process," the official said. "He's waiting to be unleashed."
Now in his sixties, Rahmani was older than most Taliban officials when he joined the movement and already had a national profile as deputy prime minister under the fractious government that preceded the Taliban. "He's a fairly senior religious figure who is highly thought of in Paktika, so he can pull some weight," the official said.
But Nader Nadery, a member of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, argued that the government should have waited until a national accountability system was in place before offering such deals. "If someone is a key figure within the Taliban structure, his relation to the decision-making needs to be investigated to determine how bad he might have been," Nadery said.
Last month, the commission and the U.N. human rights office presented Karzai with a national survey indicating that more than 75 percent of Afghans want those who committed war crimes during more than two decades of conflict brought to justice. In response, Karzai appointed Nadery to a group charged with drafting an accountability process.
Nadery said he worried that Taliban fighters and leaders brought in through the reconciliation process would claim immunity from future prosecution.
Ludin, Karzai's spokesman, conceded that authorities did not know the backgrounds of many of the low-level Taliban fighters who had taken advantage of the government's offer. But if major criminals managed to slip in, they could still be held accountable down the line, Ludin said.
"What we are offering is not a blanket amnesty to people for crimes they have committed," he said. "What we are offering is protection from being arbitrarily taken prisoner by the Afghan government or other forces for people who don't have anything to fear in principle."
Wahid Mojdah, an Afghan court official who worked in the Taliban's Foreign Ministry and knew the four men, said none played a role in the militia's most egregious crimes, which included massacring members of the Hazara ethnic group and publicly stoning women accused of adultery. Nor do the men appear to have had a hand in outlawing a wide range of practices deemed un-Islamic, such as flying kites and listening to music. "They are not extremist men," Mojdah said.
Afghanistan: Land-Mine Problem Tackled With Some Success
By Golnaz Esfandiari
Afghanistan is one of the world’s most heavily land-mined countries, yet it has made progress in recent years in reducing the number of victims. Some 8,000 deminers are involved in Afghanistan’s mine-clearing program, which aims to rid the country of all mines and other unexploded ordinance by 2012. Authorities in western Afghanistan last week detonated nearly 20,000 land mines that were collected from various militia groups. Experts say Afghanistan can set an example in a land-mine-ravaged region.
Prague, 16 February 2005 (RFE/RL) -- There are estimated to be more than 100 million land mines laid in about 70 countries. It is estimated that every 20 minutes someone is killed or injured by a land mine.
Najmuddin lost both his legs some 22 years ago when he drove over an antitank mine in Afghanistan. He is now the director of the International Committee of the Red Cross’s orthopedic center in Kabul, where he assists the victims of land mines. He told RFE/RL that many young Afghans are still injured and killed by land mines laid during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the civil war that followed.
“Most of the people who lose their legs because of mine blasts are young people, but there are also [young] children…[and] there isn’t any war going on in Afghanistan; people who go to the field or children who collect wood, they become victims of such accidents,” Najmuddin said.
But because of mine-clearing operations and programs promoting land-mine awareness, the number of land-mine victims in Afghanistan has fallen significantly in recent years. Afghan authorities estimate that some 800 square kilometers of land is contaminated with land mines and other buried explosives.
Shohab Hakimi is the chairman of the Afghan Campaign to Ban Land Mines and the director of the Mine Detection and Dog Center. “[Before] the number of victims was very high, about 500 to 600 per month, but, as a result of the work of the mine-clearing organizations in Afghanistan, this number has been decreasing every year," he said. "Last year, based on the report we had -- we are talking only about registered cases -- every month about 100 people lost their lives [or were disabled] because of a mine explosion.”
Despite the progress, the country still has one of the highest land-mine casualty rates in the world. Afghan authorities estimate that some 800 square kilometers of land is contaminated with land mines and other buried explosives. There are also reports of use of land mines by militants groups.
Deminers such as Hakimi face a huge task, as the mines have been laid in almost every Afghan province, with most of them in the western, eastern, and southern regions.
Some 15 organizations are currenlty involved in the detection, removal, and destruction of land mines in Afghanistan. In the last decade, some 500 deminers have been killed or injured by land mines.
Hakimi said the future continuation of Afghanistan’s mine-clearance program -- one of the world’s largest and most cost-effective -- depends on international aid. “If donor countries [continue to] send financial help to the [demining] program, by 2007 all high-impact areas will be cleared," he said. "By 2012, if aid or money is [still] available, the mines from all medium- and low-level impact areas will be destroyed. We can’t say Afghanistan [will be] mine-free but we can say that we will destroy the effect of mines in areas used by people.”
Afghan authorities say more than $200 million is needed to carry out demining activities in Afghanistan through 2007. Afghanistan is one of the few countries in the region that has joined the Ottawa Convention, which prohibits the use, production, trade, and transfer of antipersonnel land mines. It also requires that stockpiles be destroyed within four years of the treaty coming into force.
Hakimi hopes that Afghanistan is setting an example for other countries in the region. He said land mines continue to have tragic consequences for people long after the battles and the wars have ended, as they remain functional many years after being planted.
“Those [countries] that produce land mines [should know] that their harm is much greater than their utility. They will particularly understand it when the war ends. We understand it now; we say that if we hadn’t had a land-mine problem in Afghanistan we could have gained expertise in something else and helped our people. The [land-mine-producing] countries should understand that the mines they have at their disposal will harm their own people, their own land, and it will take ages [to get rid of them],” Hakimi said.
China, which reportedly has the world’s largest stock of antipersonnel mines, and India and Pakistan, with the fifth- and sixth-largest stockpiles, have not joined the Ottawa Convention. Land mines in Central Asia are a problem in some border regions, where land mines have been placed to prevent illegal border trafficking.
Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are members of the Mine Ban Treaty. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan have not yet joined the agreement.
Iran, which is contaminated with thousands of mines left from the Iran-Iraq War, has not joined the Ottawa Convention. According to the International Campaign Against Land Mines, Iranian officials have condemned land mines as “inhumane weapons” but they view them as a “necessary evil” to protect the country’s borders from drug smugglers and antigovernment terrorist groups.
25 children dead of cold in Nuristan
By Bashir Gwakh
JALALABAD - - Pajhwok Afghan News 02/16/2005 - Blocked roads and shortage of medicines have contributed to the death of 25 children in the eastern province of Nuristan. Officials said on Wednesday that the 25 children had died of cold or related diseases in the last three weeks.
Dr. Alam Shah Safai, an official of the public health department of Nuristan, who came to Jalalabad, told Pajhwok Afghan News that most of the victims were very young or newborn babies.
"The roads connecting Nuristan to other provinces and the capital are blocked due to massive snow and the local hospitals face a shortage of medicines and equipments to treat the children," he said.
He asked the government and aid agencies to air-drop medicines to the area so as to save lives of other children. Officials had earlier reported the death of 100 children due to cold weather and heavy snowfall in different parts of the country.
Afghan refugees' fate discussed
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.
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.
Spain studies more involvement in Afghanistan
MADRID, Feb. 15 (Xinhua) -- Spain is considering the possibility of "meaningfully increasing" its involvement in Afghanistan, a Spanish official said Tuesday. Bernardino Leon, secretary for Foreign Affairs and Latin America, said his government has made a decision on the deployment of troops in Afghanistan.
Leon added that the Spanish government also decided on the presentation of the project for the Alliance of Civilizations within the framework of the United Nations, and contribution to the reconstruction of Iraq. He said the Spanish government has offered to finance and train Iraqi judges, prosecutors, police agents and penitentiary officials.
Afghan defence spokesman denies sale of Russian uranium on black market
Afghanistan Television 02/14/2005
Kabul - An official of the Afghan National Defence Ministry denied claims by Russian defence minister, Mr Sergey Ivanov, who had said that enriched Russian uranium have been sold on the Afghan black markets.
The Russian defence minister had recently made theses remarks at the session of NATO defence ministers in Paris. The Russian defence minister had claimed that containers full of Russian enriched uranium have been sold in Afghanistan's markets.
Bakhtar Information Agency reported that Gen Mohammad Zaher Azimi, spokesman of defence ministry, rejected these claims and added that the Afghan security forces have not encountered such incidents. It is worth mentioning that the Russian defence minister has not made it clear when the incident has taken place. BBC Monitoring
Bush Wants Money for Afghan Law School
Wed Feb 16, 7:57 PM ET By ALAN FRAM, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - President Bush's $81.9 billion request for war and aid to U.S. allies would help start a law school in Afghanistan, improve the issuance of driver's licenses in Ukraine and build water treatment facilities in Jordan, according to administration documents obtained by The Associated Press.
Bush is also proposing to build seven provincial hospitals and up to 210 health clinics in Afghanistan, help construct primary schools and border towers in Jordan and provide financing to the Palestinians for home construction, the papers show.
In contrast to materials the administration distributed in 2003 describing how $18.4 billion in reconstruction money for Iraq would be spent, the documents obtained Wednesday provide little detail.
Then, the specifics of Iraqi rebuilding — which included exact amounts for each proposal — touched off widespread criticism in Congress over the planned purchase of items like garbage trucks. At the time, lawmakers complained many programs at home were being cut.
Congress is only beginning to consider Bush's 2006 budget, released last week, which proposes cutting many domestic programs. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said Wednesday that while Congress would try to work quickly on Bush's war request, it might not include all the foreign aid he wanted.
At the very least, the new papers underscore how sharply Bush's foreign aid plans have changed since he initially ran for office in 2000 and expressed disdain for the concept of nation building. The expenditures described in the new documents read like a blueprint of nation building for a range of allies.
"How we've had to budget our resources in the post-9/11 era is different than how we envisioned it pre-9/11," said White House budget office spokesman Chad Kolton, referring to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The documents obtained Wednesday describe $4 billion in proposed spending for American allies, including $700 million of the $950 million Bush proposed to help Indian Ocean countries swamped by the December tsunami.
Of the bill's total, Bush requested $74.9 billion for the Defense Department, mostly for its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It includes $6 billion for intelligence operations.
Of the $4 billion in foreign aid the documents describe, half would go to Afghanistan. That includes $68 million to build 65 schools and seven technical training centers and provide vocational training, women's teaching training and scholarships abroad.
There would also be $285 million to train Afghan police, including providing 532 "embedded" advisers, 34 driving practice ranges and literacy training. Salaries of 62,000 police officers would cost $40 million, while another $74 million would be spent to buy gear, including 6,000 vehicles, four helicopters and fingerprinting equipment.
Other Afghanistan expenditures would include $300 million for the country's electrical system; $82 million for water and farm projects; $66 million to develop private businesses; and $85 million for creating legal and electoral systems.
The papers call the illegal narcotics production in Afghanistan "so serious that it threatens to undermine all of the progress that has been made towards restoring stability and democracy."
"We need to expand and accelerate reconstruction and security to ensure democracy there does not fail," the documents say.
The $200 million for economic and military aid for Jordan would include unspecified funds for school construction, job training, night vision equipment and other gear for border guards
Ukraine, where free elections were held a month ago, would get $60 million that the papers say would be largely aimed at helping President Viktor Yushchenko solidify his victory there so his party can win a parliamentary majority in the scheduled March 2006 elections.
Of that, $19 million would be to improve Ukraine's judicial system and improve the government's image at home. That includes unspecified funds for a "transparent and efficient provision of passports and driver's licenses, which will have an immediate impact on the average citizen," the documents said.
That country would also get $5.5 million for nuclear power safety, $4.5 million to combat AIDS, and unspecified sums for improved coal mine safety, land titling and local news organizations.
The $200 million for Palestinians would include money for promoting trade, boosting agriculture, building schools and community centers, instituting democratic reforms and providing social services.
There is also $27 million for the U.S. Agency for International Development for security and audits in Iraq.
U.S. Lawmakers Block Afghan Drug Funds
Wed Feb 16, 4:54 PM ET AP
WASHINGTON - Three Republican congressmen said Wednesday they will not allow the United States to spend $236.5 million in drug-fighting aid for Afghanistan until the Bush administration drops plans to use what the lawmakers see as outdated and potentially unsafe helicopters.
In a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the lawmakers said "the United States is not providing the best and most effective equipment necessary to wage an effective counternarcotics campaign at this time."
They urged Rice to instead send newer, refurbished UH-1 helicopters that are planned for counternarcotics operations in Colombia, Peru and Pakistan.
The letter was signed by Reps. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., chairman of the House International Relations Committee; Mark Souder, R-Ind., chairman of the panel's drug policy subcommittee; and Mark Kirk, R-Ill.
State Department officials said the letter was being reviewed.
Asked about the helicopters at a House hearing, Rice said she was not familiar with the issue and would look into it.
Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium, the raw material for heroin. U.S. officials fear the drug trade could fund terrorists and undermine efforts to build a stable, democratic government.
Afghanistan: Private Kabul Station Offers Country's Answer To MTV
By Ron Synovitz
Young Afghans are enthusiastically tuning in to pop music. Three years after the collapse of the Taliban regime -- which had banned any music it deemed as "un-Islamic" -- the popularity of pop music programs aired by Afghanistan's new private broadcasters is on the rise. Kabul's private Tolo TV has been broadcasting a nightly one-hour music video program for the past five months called "Hop." The format is similar to that of the international music television channel MTV -- with an Afghan twist. But conservative Islamists complain that programs like "Hop" are corrupting Afghan youth.
Prague, 15 February 2005 (RFE/RL) -- In addition to the songs of Western pop music stars like Madonna and Jennifer Lopez, "Hop's" young Afghan hosts also present music videos by Iranian, Turkish, and Indian pop stars.
After just five months on the air, the format is proving to be extremely popular with young Afghans. In fact, according to some audience research, "Hop" is becoming the most watched prime-time television program in Kabul. The one-hour show begins at 7:30 p.m. every night -- immediately following the news on the private station Tolo TV. The pace of the program is fast -- with tight editing and camera angles that are unconventional by the standards of Afghan state television. And the script focuses mainly on music and performers.
Twenty-two-year-old Shakeb Issar is one of the program's three video presenters. Issar had fled with his family to Pakistan in 1996 when the Taliban captured Kabul. He was just 13 at the time. Having returned to his homeland, Issar says he now wants to entertain viewers and motivate young Afghan performers.
"By playing these songs, we would like to motivate our singers and actors to become famous like Western artists such as Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez," he says.
The only female presenter on the show, 22-year-old Shaima Rezayee, stayed in Afghanistan during the five years that the Taliban controlled Kabul. She was forbidden from going to school as a teenager and, in the final years of Taliban rule, was forced to wear an all-encompassing burqa whenever she ventured outside.
Even now, with Afghan women free to study and to work, Rezayee says Afghans often are shocked by her appearance on television and on the streets of Kabul in Western-style clothing. But she makes no apologies."If the Afghans are ready or not, that is really up to the public to decide. It is not up to intellectuals and the academics and the so-called experts." -- Saad Mohseni, Tolo TV founder
"Whenever I go out, some people say some [bad] things," she says. "But there are more who praise it. Especially my family -- and a lot of young people in this country encourage me."
Sayad Suleiman, Tolo TV's news director, told RFE/RL that the station hopes to expand its broadcasts outside of Kabul in the future -- first, into other major cities and eventually to the point that people across all of Afghanistan can receive its programs.
Tolo TV was founded by Afghan entrepreneur Saad Mohseni and his family, who returned to Afghanistan in 2002 after living for 20 years in Australia.
The station's initial startup costs also were supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Like Kabul's private FM station Radio Arman -- which also was created by Mohseni's family with help from USAID -- broadcasts by Tolo TV include a mix of music, entertainment, news, and talks shows that focus on social issues.
Mohseni admits "Hop" has generated angry complaints from Afghans who think it promotes un-Islamic values. But Mohseni says the justification for the program is its popularity.
"If the Afghans are ready or not, that is really up to the public to decide," he says. "It is not up to intellectuals and the academics and the so-called experts. If the public uses these programs with enthusiasm and they are popular, then obviously the public seems to be ready for these types of programs."
One of the most outspoken critics of "Hop" is Fazl Hadi Shinwari, a conservative Islamist who serves as chief justice on the Afghan Supreme Court.
"It will corrupt our society, culture and most importantly, it will take our people away from Islam and destroy our country," he says. "This will make our people accept another culture, and make our country a laughingstock around the world."
Just over a year ago, Shinwari was on the losing side of an attempt to re-implement a ban against state television broadcasts that show female singers. The ban originated with Islamic fundamentalists who ruled Afghanistan during the early 1990s. It was lifted only after the collapse of the Taliban."Anything that is according to our Islamic Shariat is acceptable for us. But if it is not in Shari'a, people will have a hard time accepting it." -- Abdul Rahman Faizi, Kabul resident
A growing number of youth in Kabul appear to be rejecting Shinwari's arguments. Among them is Wahidullah, a young Afghan who counts himself among those who watch "Hop" almost every night.
"Whoever doesn't like this program is being a narrow-minded person," he says. "This program 'Hop' is so interesting for the young generation that a lot of young people are just as interested as I am and want to see even longer episodes."
Older Afghans often are skeptical. Sitting in a Kabul restaurant with a television tuned to "Hop," Kabul resident Abdul Rahman Faizi says the decisions of Islamic leaders continue to be important in Afghan society.
"Anything that is according to our Islamic Shariat is acceptable for us," Faizi says. "But if it is not in Shari'a, people will have a hard time accepting it."
For now, the broadcasts by each of the half-dozen private television stations across Afghanistan are limited to local audiences -- either in Kabul or other Afghan cities. The debate over pop music programs is expected to heat up in the months and years ahead as private stations expand their broadcasting range into provincial regions.
Afghanistan: India Looks To Kabul For Better Ties With All Of Central Asia
By Ron Synovitz
Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran says officials in New Delhi are looking forward to next week’s visit by Afghan President Hamid Karzai that aims to improve diplomatic and economic ties. Saran said after meeting Karzai in Kabul yesterday that New Delhi sees Afghanistan not only as a partner for bilateral trade, but also as an important economic link with all of Central Asia.
Prague, 16 February 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Afghan President Karzai told Indian Foreign Secretary Saran in Kabul yesterday that New Delhi should seriously consider joining a proposed project to build a pipeline for natural gas from Turkmenistan.
The proposal calls for a pipeline passing from eastern Turkmenistan through western Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Energy industry analysts say the project will not be economically feasible unless it also links into the Indian market. Saran reportedly told Karzai that New Delhi is considering the project.
Speaking to reporters aboard his flight out of Kabul yesterday, Saran said New Delhi is interested in the regional impact of improved bilateral ties with Afghanistan. "You should look at Afghanistan as an economic opportunity -- for example, access to Central Asia," Saran said. "There is tremendous potential that remains to be tapped between India and Afghanistan."
Speaking about his talks with Karzai, Saran said Karzai also expressed the desire to bolster relations. "He was looking forward to his visit to India [on 23 February] where he would try and further expand our cooperation in many new areas," he said.
Saran said five Afghan cabinet ministers joined his talks with Karzai. Those officials reportedly included Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah as well as the defense, trade, commerce, public health, and economy ministers.
India was a key supporter of the Afghan forces that overthrew the Taliban regime with U.S. backing. It also has been one of the main regional backers of Karzai's government, pledging aid of about $400 million. But yesterday marked the first time an Indian foreign secretary met directly with an Afghan defense minister in the post-Taliban era.
Saran used the occasion to donate 50 trucks to the new Afghan National Army. He also pledged to accelerate a project to train Afghan diplomats and government officials. Analysts say those moves suggest possible further military and diplomatic cooperation between India and Afghanistan.
Niklas Swanstrom, the director of the Program for Contemporary Silk Road Studies at Uppsala University in Sweden, told RFE/RL there are several reasons why it makes sense for India to seek greater ties with Afghanistan.
"Economic ones -- trade. But also oil, [natural] gas, etc., which is still not reality but could happen. But also, you have a political aspect, which is [combating cross-border] terrorism and controlling [the regional influence of] Pakistan. Pakistan traditionally has a very strong influence over Afghanistan, both positive and negative. If India comes in, it will decrease [Islamabad's] leverage over Afghanistan. [So,] by engaging Central Asia and Afghanistan they will get leverage over political developments in the region -- which means decreasing Pakistan's influence over those states," Swanstrom said.
Saran, in an apparent attempt to sooth concerns in Pakistan about growing Indian-Afghan ties, traveled directly to Islamabad after his talks with Karzai. But several problems need to be dealt with.... Afghanistan's insecurity, Turkmenistan's isolationism, and also the rivalry between Pakistan and India." - Swanstrom
Swanstrom notes that since becoming the Indian foreign secretary last autumn, Saran also has had other meetings on trade issues with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.
"When you talk about trade, [India is] actually interested in including Pakistan in the trade. It's been a very positive development not only with Central Asia and Afghanistan, but also with Pakistan. By [economically] integrating Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, [New Delhi] would potentially tie those economies to India -- which would decrease the incentive of those countries to combat India's interests. And that's tying economy to politics in a very open and clear way," Swanstrom said.
Indeed, in a speech made at the Indian International Center in New Delhi on 14 February, Saran said New Delhi is prepared to invest money in the construction and upgrading of cross-border infrastructure with all of its neighbors. He said the government in New Delhi is prepared "to make our neighbors full stakeholders in India's economic destiny" and create a globally competitive South Asian Economic Community.
But, in a clear reference to Pakistan, Saran said New Delhi also expects its neighbors to stop allowing the use of their territories for cross-border terrorism and other hostile activities against India. Islamabad rejects charges by India that it sponsors cross-border terrorist attacks into Indian-controlled Kashmir.
Speaking about the proposed pipeline project through Afghanistan, Swanstrom said he thinks the plan does not have much chance of being realized. "I still think it's a long shot," he said. "But nevertheless, the fact that they are talking about it and trying to deal with it is a positive development. But several problems need to be dealt with. First of all, there's Afghanistan's insecurity, Turkmenistan's isolationism, and also the rivalry between Pakistan and India. And then there are also Pakistan's own energy problems. Pakistan needs literally everything that comes by them."
Still, Swanstrom said that a separate plan to build a natural-gas pipeline directly from Iran to a regional hub in southern Pakistan would not hurt the proposed Afghan route. In fact, he said the Iranian project could make the Afghan route more economically feasible if the two separate pipelines link into the same regional distribution network.
Afghan aid worker found dead
A local United Nations worker has been killed by robbers in northern Afghanistan who then buried the body in and aid agency compound, according to Afghan authorities.
Afghan police dug out the body of the UN World Food Programme worker on Wednesday, two days after he was murdered, Deputy Governor Sayed Ahmad Sayyid of Faryab province said.
Four people have been arrested over the killing in Maymana, the capital of north western Faryab province, he added.
He said that all four were believed to have been killed by theives.
World Food Programme spokesman Maarten Roest said the murder was a "very regrettable event" and the organisation was saddened by the loss of a staff member.
But he added that the attack was understood to be unrelated to his work with the aid agency.
Faryab, 400km northwest of Kabul, is one of the powerbases of Uzbek commander general Abd al-Rashid Dostum, who escaped an assassination attempt last month.
Sarhad Chamber of Commerce & Industry to Hold Afghan Trade Fair
Thursday February 17, 9:29 AM Asia Pulse
PESHAWAR, Feb 17 Asia Pulse - Sarhad Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SCCI) is going to hold 2nd Rebuild Afghanistan Trade Fair (RATF)-2005 in the month of May to promote trade with Afghanistan. This was announced by Ghulam Sarwar Khan Mohmand, a former president of SCCI and chairman, RATF committee while talking to newsmen here on February 16.
He said that the delegation during stay in Afghanistan, besides meeting president of Afghan Chamber of Commerce & Industry would also meet Afghan Commerce Minister Hidayat Amin Arsala.
For this purpose, he said that SCCI is going to make arrangements like previous exhibition held in 2003 and attended by more than 3,000 businessmen from Afghanistan. He said that like previous event Afghan businessmen would once again be accorded warm welcome at Torkham border.
In response to a question, he said during previous exhibitions memorandum of understanding (MoUs) worth US$220 million were signed and this year they are expecting to double the figure. Regarding the implementation of the MoUs, he said that agreements signed for export of tobacco and oil refineries have been fulfilled.
Efforts to improve access to justice in rural areas
KABUL - 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 on Wednesday. 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.
Observance of Afghan women's rights improves, but backlash always threatens
UN - Source: United Nations News Service - February 14, 2005
Since Afghanistan's Taliban Government fell in 2001, Afghan women have "made historic gains, with the support of the international community," but their participation in public life has been circumscribed by the continuing lack of security and reformers had to be careful not to stir up the traditional hostility to women's advancement, a new United Nations report says.
A report from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Economic and Social Council's (ECOSOC) Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) says after the fall of the Taliban government "women came to the fore of the political life in the country and contributed to the new constitution, which clearly affirms equality between men and women."
On the other hand, progress has been uneven from region to region and the volatile security situation limits women's participation in public life and their access to education, health care and the working world, he says.
The ability of the Government to cope with these issues is still developing "and the focus on gender mainstreaming in all line ministries will require a more comprehensive strategy by the Government," as well as continuous funding and coordinated support from the international community, he says.
Mr. Annan cautions, however, that "the history of Afghanistan has repeatedly shown that efforts to strengthen women's status inherently carry the danger of a backlash." Staying the course would require serious engagement and political will on the part of national and international actors and on the ability of Afghan women themselves to hold the Government and the international community accountable for their commitments.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) should urgently fulfil its pledge to expand the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) outside the capital Kabul and draw up special measures to protect women leaders and their families in particular and women in general.
Among the Government's tasks were to "prohibit the confinement of women in the custody of private individuals; release women prisoners held in State detention centres for actions that do not constitute crimes under Afghan law; and provide them with adequate support for reintegration into their communities."
16th anniversary of Soviet troops pullout from Afghanistan
Pakistan News Tribune - Feb 16 3:46 PM
MOSCOW, February 17 (Online): Russia on Tuesday marks the 16th anniversary of withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan.
On February 15, 1989 at 10:30 am the commander of the 40th army General-Lieutenant Boris Gromov was the last to cross the bridge over the Amu-Darya River dividing the USSR and Afghanistan.
Thus the 10-year undeclared war that claimed the lives of some 15,000 Soviet military and at least 100,000 Afghans was ended. Tens of thousands of people on both sides became disabled. According to the Boyevoye Bratstvo (Combat Brotherhood) all-Russian movement of veterans of local wars and military conflicts, more than 700,000 Russians went thought the Afghan war.
On Tuesday, on the occasion of the 16th anniversary of Russian troops' pullout from Afghanistan, the laying of wreaths and flowers at the Unknown Soldier's Tomb and other places linked with the memory of the killed will be held.
Itar-Tass St. Petersburg correspondent Yelena Viyugina reports that over 5,000 Afghan war veterans are living in the city on the Neva River, over 300,000 did not return to their home city from the "undeclared war."
The wreaths-laying ceremony will be held at the Serafimovskoye memorial cemetery, the largest St. Petersburg burial site of the killed in the war. A solemn ceremony and memorial service will be held at the Heroes Alley in the city. On the initiative of the Afghanvet organisation and with support if the city administration the alley has been united in a single complex with the Kursk nuclear-powered submarine memorial.
A memory meeting will gather Afghan war veterans at Glory Avenue near the memorial to soldiers who fought in Afghanistan. Members of the recently founded union Spetsnaz-Memory and Glory will also come here. The union intends to build a monument to fighters and commanders of the elite special task force group.
Parties differ on electoral system
Pajhwok Afghan News 02/16/2005
KABUL - Seventeen political parties have asked for 70% of the 249 seats in Parliament to be reserved for candidates of political parties with the remaining 30% of the seats reserved for independent candidates. Others however are opposed to the idea.
After a two-day discussion by the National Democratic Advisory Commission comprising of 35 political parties earlier this month, 17 parties had asked for changes to the electoral law before the parliamentary election.
Wasil Rahimi, leader of the Afghanistan-e-Wahed party, said the request, if implemented, would pave the way for more political parties to make their way to parliament. Rahimi claimed that elections to the two Loya Jirgas were under the influence of local governments. "In order to prevent such fraud, I think it will be fairer to have 30% of the seats reserved for independent candidates and 70 percent for political parties," Rahimi told Pajhwok.
Bashir Bizhan, deputy leader of the Kungara-e-Milli Afghanistan party is doubtful about this proposal saying that a proportional representation system would be more acceptable. Bizhan said every party should present a list of candidates and the number of candidates from the list could be elected in accordance with the number of votes polled by the party.
Habibullah Rafi, political analyst based in Kabul, believes that the parties should first make their policies known to the public because people still don't know about them.
"Some of the parties which were established during the 'decade of democracy' (commonly accepted term for the 1960s under King Zahir Shah) are illegal because of their affiliation with foreigners," Rafi told Pajhwok.
Dr Firozuddin Firoz, former deputy minister of public health, backs the suggestion of the 17 parties and believes that the more parties that are there in the parliament the bigger the parliament will be. "At present, we need a more open political atmosphere and that can be achieved by a wider participation of political parties in the parliament," he noted.
Taliban claim Mulla Omar is alive
By our correspondent The News International, Pakistan
PESHAWAR: Former Taliban defence minister Mulla Obaidullah on Wednesday rejected reports that a body recovered in Zabul province was that of Mulla Mohammad Omar.
Speaking to The News from an unknown location, he said Mulla Omar was alive and safe. "I am in touch with him and he is alright. It is part of a propaganda against the Taliban and is aimed at demoralizing our fighters and supporters," he stressed.
Earlier, there were reports that the body of man resembling Mulla Omar had been found on a hillside in Sraghar Mountain in Surkhakan in Zabul province. However, Afghan authorities in Zabul and Kabul were reluctant to make claim that Mulla Omar was dead.
Mulla Obaidullah, who is head of the Taliban military council, argued that the Taliban would not abandon Mulla Omar’s body on a hillside in case he died. According to Mulla Obaidullah, another piece of propaganda against Taliban was regarding negotiations with the Hamid Karzai government and the US.
Denying any such move, he said the Taliban would never talk to the Karzai government or the US as doing so would be negation of their "Jihad." He said the "Jihad" would continue until eviction of all foreign troops from Afghanistan. "Nobody is representing the Taliban at any level in talks with the Karzai regime.
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