Karzai appeals for foreign investment in 'secure' Afghanistan
February 19, 2005
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AFP) - President Hamid Karzai appealed for foreign support to rebuild Afghanistan's war-battered infrastructure, insisting his country is as secure as others in the region.
"Today Afghanistan is moving with greater speed towards (achieving) security. The people (of Afghanistan) are as secure as our neighbours," Karzai told the opening of a three-day economic forum in the Saudi city of Jeddah on Saturday.
"It (security) is not much of problem for us," he said. "It is the infrastructure that is a problem... which we are working on."
He invited foreign businesses to channel investment into the central Asian country, insisting there were opportunities to make a profit.
"Come and invest in my country... Leave some money (profit) for us, and take the rest," he told the multinational audience in the Red Sea port city.
"Three decades of war has left our infrastructure broken... but our spirit was not," said the Afghan leader in a speech entitled "Rebirth of a nation: Motivating a broken soul".
Karzai also highlighted developments in education following the US-led war that toppled Afghanistan's Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime in 2001.
"Today, our schools are overflowing with students... Over five million children -- boys and girls -- learn with equal opportunities," he said.
One fifth of the state budget went on education in 2004, Karzai said, promising that such investment would continue.
Millions of Afghans went to the polls in the country's first free elections on October 9 last year, handing Karzai a landslide victory.
Pakistan, Afghanistan agree for cooperation with Central Asian States
Pakistan Times Foreign Desk
JEDDAH (Saudi Arabia): Pakistan and Afghanistan on Saturday agreed to further cooperate for development of the region together with the Central Asian States.
This was agreed during a meeting between Pakistan's Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz with Afghan President Hamid Karzai here today.
Both the leaders are in Saudi Arabia attending the Jeddah Economic Forum. They also discussed economic cooperation in the region and the regional situation.
Shaukat Aziz said Pakistan has cordial relations with Afghanistan which will be further promoted with mutual cooperation between the two countries.
Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan gas pipeline was also discussed during the meeting.
Cold kills 128 Afghan children, some given opium to ease pain: minister
Sat Feb 19, 7:50 AM ET Health - AFP
KABUL (AFP) - At least 128 Afghan children have been killed by diseases caused by bitterly cold weather, with some parents feeding their ailing children opium to ease their pain, a minister said.
"One hundred and twenty-eight children have died in the last month and a half. That's the confirmed figure," Health Minister Amin Fatimie told AFP.
"Some parents do not go to the doctors and they administer opium to the kids to stop the cough, and that stops the cough but can also kill them" he said.
Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium, and many parents mired in desperate poverty have few or no other pain killers available.
The minister rejected estimates by the aid agency Catholic Relief Services that up to 1,000 children could have been killed by the freezing weather in the western province of Ghor alone.
"I strongly reject the evaluation made by an aid agency. This is unconfirmed and it only creates panic," he said.
Members of the aid organisation drove and hiked through the snow to 16 villages in one district of the remote western province, and found 80 children had died in those villages alone in the last month, most in the last two weeks.
Afghanistan has one of the highest rates of infant mortality in the world and almost a quarter of infants do not live past the age of five.
According to the minister, lack of education was the cause of many deaths because parents did not know enough about sanitation and health.
"Some parents do not take their children to hospital until their children are already in a coma," he said.
Cold, hungry wolves devour four people
Indo-Asian News Service
Kabul, Feb 18 : Hungry wolves, driven by the freezing cold in the mountains, are invading Afghanistan's villages and have devoured four people in the last two weeks, the official Bakhter News Agency (BNA) reported.
Due to heavy snowfall, wild animals from the mountains are heading towards villages and there have been several reports of hungry wolves attacking people, raising fears of rabies.
"So far, four people have been killed and eaten by wolves and 22 people bitten" in Paktia province bordering Pakistan, where heavy cold and snow have also claimed 80 lives, BNA said.
The deaths of men, women and children were reported from Janikhail, Shahikot, Samkhanai, Arma, Sayed Karam, Ahmad Khail, Zormat, Zadran and Aryub areas. Over 460 head of cattle also perished in the freezing cold and for want of fodder.
Taliban say harsh Afghan winter slows down raids
By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL, Feb 19 (Reuters) - The harsh Afghan winter has limited Taliban attacks against government and foreign troops and the militants are regrouping to resume their raids after the end of cold spell, a Taliban spokesman said on Saturday.
Abdul Latif Hakimi also dismissed reports of Taliban defections to President Hamid Karzai's government, more than three years after U.S.-led forces ended their rule in late 2001.
Hakimi telephoned Reuters to say that elusive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had ordered that attacks be stepped up once the snow thawed in the mountains, which usually happens in April.
"I spoke to Amir Ul Mominin (Commander of the Faithful) Omar on the phone today and he said the attacks will restart, and will have to, after the completion of winter," Hakimi said. "The Taliban have enough forces now and we are regrouping to increase the number of fighters and attacks following the winter throughout Afghanistan."
Hakimi said he was speaking from a snow-covered mountaintop in the restive southern province of Zabul. Zabul was one of the main Taliban bastions during their rule until late 2001 and has been a key base for their guerrilla activities since then. Like many other Afghan provinces, Zabul been badly hit by an especially harsh winter that has killed hundreds nationwide.
Dozens of civilians died last month in Zabul and the U.S. military, which is leading an 18,000-strong foreign force pursuing Taliban and allied insurgents, has dropped emergency supplies to snowbound villages in the province.
More than 1,000 people have died in Taliban-linked violence in the past 18 months, but attacks have trailed off since the guerrillas failed to make good their vow to disrupt presidential elections won by Karzai in October.
This has been at least in part due to harsh winter weather and the militants are still seen as a threat to more complex parliamentary polls due later this year.
Hakimi said the winter had hampered operations. "Villages have been cut by snow. There is lack of wheat and firewood. Under such circumstances, it is difficult for us to operate properly."
On Monday, U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said some "senior" Taliban members had taken up a government amnesty offer but he and the government refused to give details.
Wednesday's Washington Post quoted a Western official as saying they included the Taliban's former U.N. envoy, Abdul Hakim Mujahid, two former deputy ministers, Arsullah Rahmani and Rahmatullah Wahidyar, and a former charge d'affaires at the Afghan embassy in Saudi Arabia named Fawzi. It said 22 low-level Taliban members had agreed to lay down their arms.
None are known as senior figures in the Taliban guerrilla campaign and Hakimi dismissed talk of defections. "Karzai and Americans have been speaking about these so-called negotiations for the past 16 months," he said. "Has any Taliban changed sides? No. If the Taliban are in contact with the government, why then are their names not revealed? This is not true; it is psychological warfare aimed at creating rift among the Taliban."
The government has stressed that the amnesty offer does not apply to up to 150 Taliban figures blamed for atrocities during the group's rule, or those linked with al Qaeda.
U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States in 2001. Bin Laden, like Omar, remains at large.
U.S. Doubles Its Troops in Afghan Army
By STEPHEN GRAHAM, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - The U.S. military has doubled the number of its soldiers embedded inside the Afghan army, a spokesman said Sunday, bolstering a force that's supposed to relieve American and NATO troops in warlord-plagued provinces and along the Pakistani border.
A group of 288 U.S. National Guard soldiers arrived in Afghanistan on Friday and Saturday to serve as tactical trainers with the Afghan National Army, joining about 300 already embedded with Afghan units, Maj. Eric Bloom told The Associated Press.
"They have begun the one-week training program before they deploy to the field to meet their (Afghan) counterparts," Bloom said.
Lt. Gen. David Barno, the top commander of American forces in Afghanistan, requested the extra troops to accelerate the training of a 70,000-strong government force designed to tackle renegade faction leaders and remnants of the ousted Taliban.
Meanwhile, a former defense minister for the ousted Taliban regime said that Afghanistan's harshest winter in years is curbing Taliban attacks on U.S. and government forces, insisting the guerrilla campaign will resume once the weather eases.
"We will step up attacks as the weather changes," Mullah Obaidullah Akhund told The Associated Press. "The Taliban movement is active under the leadership of Mullah Mohammad Omar. And Taliban will fight till the last Talib is alive."
Obaidullah, regarded as an associate of the elusive Taliban supreme leader, spoke in a satellite phone call from an undisclosed location. It was not possible to independently verify his identity.
The U.S. military says that three years after the fall of the Taliban the hardline militia's resistance is waning. The military says it is still conducting operations during the traditionally quieter winter months but has reported few contacts with insurgents. Much of the country is immobilized by freezing temperatures and heavy snow.
The bad weather "has slowed us down some, but it hasn't stopped us carrying out security operations," said U.S. spokesman Maj. Steve Wollman. "Helicopters give us a great advantage to get over snow-covered roads."
U.S. and Afghan officials insist that many Taliban have signaled their readiness to make peace. Obaidullah, however, claimed no Taliban representatives has had talks "with invaders."
"We consider jihad is the only way to force them leave our country. We will fight with them. Dialogue is not a solution," he said.
With both the United States and Britain considering a long-term "strategic partnership" with Afghanistan, it is unclear just when the new Afghan force will allow foreign troops to begin reducing their expensive deployment here since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001.
Starting in March, six battalions are to be trained simultaneously with the aim of having the entire force ready by December 2006, nine months earlier than originally planned, officials told AP earlier this month.
Barno has suggested that the American contingent of 17,000 could be trimmed this year if a reconciliation drive with Taliban followers takes off, though there is scant evidence that it is producing results.
However, U.S. commanders insist the new troops are proving excellent allies in combat operations against militants near the Pakistani borders and that the multiethnic army is accepted by villagers in the Pashtun-dominated south, where the Taliban drew their main strength.
Bloom said the new arrivals are being schooled on the communications equipment used to call in air strikes from U.S. warplanes. The course also includes advise on driving on the country's dangerous roads and introductions to Afghan military etiquette and Dari, one of Afghanistan's two main languages.
About 16 trainers are assigned to each new Afghan battalion, helping with their 14-week basic training and staying on as mentors to their officers when they are deployed.
Bloom said the number of American trainers would increase again this summer, when control of the more than 1,200-strong multinational task force in charge of the training passes from the 76th Brigade of the Indiana National Guard to a Florida unit.
U.S. military says investigating killings of Afghans
KABUL, Feb 19 (Reuters) - The U.S. military is investigating the shooting deaths of two Afghans by U.S. troops in the west of the country earlier this month, a spokesman said on Saturday.
Friday's New York Times said several U.S. soldiers were under investigation in connection with the Feb. 11 incident outside the U.S. base at Shindand in western Afghanistan's Farah province.
The paper quoted the base commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Ashton Hayes, as saying the victims were ordinary villagers, not Taliban or al Qaeda suspects, and compensation of $2,000 had been paid to their families.
A spokesman for the U.S. military in Kabul confirmed the incident was under investigation. "This incident has happened; coalition forces were involved," said Major Steve Wollman. "It is under investigation."
Wollman also confirmed that payments had been made to the victims' families, but said this was "not an admission of guilt or an admission of wrongdoing".
He said he did not have details of the soldiers involved, but the probe would cover them and the chain of command. "It will be a formal investigation into the entire situation," he said.
The Times quoted witnesses and local officials as saying the two villagers, named Naib and Rasul and both aged 22, were shot by two American soldiers as they fled across a field where they had been cutting firewood.
It said two witnesses said two U.S. Special Forces soldiers then approached Naib, who was still alive, and shot him dead at close range. U.S. troops have had a base at the old Soviet airfield at Shindand and the Times quoted the local district chief as saying that said the deaths could stir up animosity in the area, a strategic region that borders Iran.
The paper quoted Hayes as saying his battalion was in a "very serious security situation" at the time of the shooting, but he had seen no evidence of Taliban or Al Qaeda activity.
The incident appeared to be a fresh embarrassment for the U.S. military and news of it came even as American Civil Liberties Union made public army files on Friday about fresh cases of abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The files showed that U.S troops in Afghanistan had posed for photos of mock executions with hooded and bound prisoners, but other pictures depicting abuse were destroyed to avert another public embarrassment after the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal surfaced in April 2004.
One file said senior Psychological Operations officers had seen U.S. Special Forces troops commit indiscriminate assaults on civilians in May 2004 in two Afghan villages, but an investigation was closed because villagers could not be interviewed as they lived in a high-threat area.
Rights groups have criticised the U.S. government's failure to hold personnel accountable for up to six Afghan deaths in U.S. military custody in Afghanistan since U.S. forces invaded the country in 2001 and overthrew the radical Taliban regime.
This month the U.S. military dismissed concerns expressed by a U.N. rights investigator about allegations of prisoner abuse, saying an internal investigation, which has yet to be made public, had found that detainees were treated humanely.
Karzai praises Iran's assisstance to Afghanistan
Sunday, February 20, 2005 IranMania.com
LONDON, Feb 20 (IranMania) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday praised Iran`s assistance to reconstruct his war-torn country.
Addressing the 6th Annual Jeddah Economic Forum, he said that Iran played an important role in reconstruction of Afghanistan`s economic infrastructure.
He said that establishment of several connection routes in the war-stricken country was part of the Iranian assistance.
He called on foreign investors to pay visit to Afghanistan and pave the way for investment in the country.
Afghanistan`s future economic strategy will focus on exporting fruits, Karzai said.
The three-day Jeddah Economic Forum kicked off on Saturday attended by experts, officials and intellectuals from 18 countries.
Iran`s Ambassador to Riyadh Hossein Sadeqi and Economic Attache Hamid Zadboum were among those who participated at the forum.
AFGHANISTAN TO BE SURROUNDED BY SECURITY BELTS
MOSCOW, February 18 (RIA Novosti) - Russia is planning to adopt a special program to combat drug traffic from Afghanistan and Central Asia, Russian Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov said.
"In light of the expected 'drug tsunami,' Russia will adopt a special program to counteract the drug threat from Afghanistan and Central Asia," Mr. Ivanov said at a collegium session on drug turnover control.
Mr. Ivanov noted that last year, Afghanistan produced over 4,200 metric tons of row opium (equivalent to approximately 400 metric tons of heroin), which amounted to two thirds of the opium drug production in the world.
According to Mr. Ivanov, 2005 will see a further increase of drug production in Afghanistan. Mr. Ivanov spoke about the necessity of combating the problem on an international scale and the formation of "security belts" around Afghanistan.
On the whole, the expansion of drug traffic is dangerous for Russia's national security, Mr. Ivanov said. He also noted the connection of the drug business with terrorism and illegal weapon turnover.
"It's highly important to break the economic base of the drug business. Last year saw the first advances in the fight against the legalization of illegal income from drug turnover," Mr. Ivanov said.
Support for Afghanistan’s reconstruction to continue
JEDDAH: Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz has said that Pakistan will continue cooperation for the reconstruction of Afghanistan and both countries will jointly fight terrorism and extremism. He expressed these views in a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on the sidelines of the Jeddah Economic Forum on Saturday. The two leaders discussed Pakistan-Afghanistan relations, regional and international issues, the war against terror and establishment of peace in Afghanistan. Aziz said Pakistan and Afghanistan would launch joint efforts against terrorism and extremism. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said improved relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan would benefit both countries. Karzai thanked Aziz for Pakistan’s support. online
Afghanistan to raise its own Air Force by next year
Kabul, Feb 20 (UNI) Afghanistan plans to increase the strength of its army to 70,000 personnel by 2006 from about 20,000 at present and will raise its own Air Force by next year in an attempt to gradually take over the security of the war-ravaged country, Afghanistan Defence Minister Gen Abdurrahim Wardak said.
The Army--Afghan National Army (ANA)--will have representation from all ethnic groups and will include people from all ideologies to make it truly representative, Gen Wardak told UNI here.
''It will be an ethnically-balanced army. The idea is to make it truly representative so that all the people in the country are able to contribute to the country's security...We are trying to make it more balanced and operationally cohesive,'' he said.
Asked whether there was a move to involve 'moderate Taliban' in the national reconstruction process, the Defence Minister said the process had not actually started.
To a question on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, the Defence Minister said they were ''certainly'' on the move ''back and forth'' and very elusive even though the activities of Taliban and Al Qaida had declined over the past two years.
Gen Wardak said there was now more cooperation from Pakistan against terrorism and consequently, the situation was much better.
He said there was a proposal that the US led-International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) would gradually handle security outside Kabul also, where some warlords have started becoming active. This would be started sometime in March-April.
Presently, the ISAF, the multi-national force with Turkey as its current leader, is incharge of security operations in Kabul.
The entire 'Golkhana complex' housing the President's Palace and the residence of former King Zahir Shah, is also being protected by the ISAF. ISAF personnel, maialy from the US and Britain, are incharge of the personal security of President Hamid Karzai and King Zahir Shah.
Afghan and Iraqi women’s delegation will visit US
WASHINGTON: The Bush administration has invited women’s delegations from Afghainstan and Iraq to the annual international Women’s Day celebrations.
Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Ms Paula Dobriansky and Senior Coordinator for International Women's Issues Ms Charlotte Ponticelli will host the two high-level delegations of women leaders in New York and Washington from February 28 to March 11.
In New York, the delegations will attend the plenary sessions of the 49th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, while in Washington, the delegations will attend events marking International Women's Day on March 8, participate in training workshops and meet administration officials, members of Congress, and the press. Ms Massouda Jalal, Afghan Minister of Women's Affairs and a presidential candidate in the October 2004 Afghanistan elections, and Ms Narmin Othman, Iraqi Minister of State for Women's Affairs, will head the two delegations. staff report
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