Delay in Afghan parliament election can't be ruled out: official
KABUL, Feb 1 (AFP) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai's spokesman admitted Tuesday that parliamentary elections which are scheduled to be held before the end of May could be delayed.
"I can't rule out, either way, whether it is postponed or if they will stick to the original date -- I'm not sure," presidential spokesman Jawed Ludin told a press conference in Kabul referring to the polls.
Confusion has reigned over the date of the parliamentary, provincial and district elections, particularly in the absence of any firm official statement on the matter.
Electoral authorities had said last year the voting should take place before the end of the Afghan month of Saur -- May 20 in the western calendar. But analysts expect it will be postponed as the authorities have failed to respect a deadline to define electoral boundaries 120 days ahead of the vote.
Canada to take in Afghan refugees from Uzbekistan
TASHKENT, Feb 1 (AFP) - Canada has agreed to take in 237 Afghan refugees who have been struggling to cope in the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan, officials said here on Tuesday.
The 237 were on a list of nearly 400 Afghans in Uzbekistan submitted last year, said Abdul Karim Gul, head of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Uzbekistan.
Another 29 are awaiting a decision and more applications are likely this year, he said.
The latest move by Canada follows its decision last year to take in over 500 Afghan refugees from another former Soviet republic, Kyrgyzstan.
Talks on Afghans in Turkmenistan are also under way, UNHCR officials there have said.
The illegal status of many of Uzbekistans Afghans means that many live in abysmal conditions, observers have said.
Uzbekistan has not signed the United Nations key refugee convention of 1951.
Afghanistan: Relief Groups Criticize Antidrug Program
By Golnaz Esfandiari
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has made eradicating the illegal drug trade a major priority. Afghanistan is the world's biggest producer of opium poppies, which are used to make heroin. A new U.S.-led antidrug effort will focus on eliminating poppy cultivation at the level of the individual farmer. But the emphasis of the plan is generating controversy. International relief organizations say the plan could hurt individual farmers and do little to prevent punish drug traders at middle and higher levels.
Prague, 1 Febraury 2005 (RFE/RL) -- More than 30 international and local organizations have banded together to criticize a U.S.-led antidrug effort that focuses mainly on eradicating opium-poppy cultivation.
In a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the organizations praised the U.S. attention to the problem but said the plan risks destabilizing the country. They say it could impoverish farmers and turn millions of Afghans against their government.
The organizations include CARE, Mercy Corps, and Oxfam. They are urging instead that the United States focus its counternarcotics effort on creating an alternative livelihood for farmers. Paul Barker, the Afghan country director for
CARE, told RFE/RL: "We are not so much opposed to eradication as we are a disproportionate focus on eradication. We accept that there will be some eradication this year, but eradication -- if it is the primary mode of combating narcotics here -- is going to negatively impact the poorest people in the country and do very little to actually get at the core of the problem. The problem really has not been driven by the poor farmers in the fields. It's been driven more by the processors and merchants who sell it further up the chain."
Poppy cultivation has soared since the U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban. The illegal drug trade now accounts for as much as 60 percent of Afghanistan's economy. Last year the number of families involved in poppy cultivation was estimated at over 350,000.
Experts say Afghan farmers grow poppies because they are more profitable than other crops and have greater resistance to poor weather.
The UN says the drug trade -- and not the risk of a resurgent Taliban -- is now the main threat facing Afghanistan
Last month, Karzai announced the equivalent of a war on illegal drugs.
The United States has taken the lead toward this end, pledging some $780 million in 2005. But only a small portion of that money is earmarked for programs to help farmers cultivate legal crops -- and those efforts are centered on only a few provinces. Meanwhile, Barker said poppies are grown in all 34 Afghan provinces. "Unless they have some viable alternative, it doesn't do much for the country to just make poor people get poorer."
"This new American initiative with alternative livelihood funding is targeted only at a few provinces. Whereas poppies [are] now grown in all 34 provinces in Afghanistan. We prefer to see a nationwide program to provide viable alternatives for all poor farmers in Afghanistan, and don't want to provide an incentive for people to grow poppies so that they can then benefit from an alternative livelihoods program," Barker said.
Aid organizations say if farmers are forced to give up their livelihoods immediately it could force them to sell their land or even members of their families to pay off debts.
Barker said in his opinion a better antidrug program would focus on prosecuting corrupt provincial officials and militia groups involved in the drug trade. "We would prefer to see a much stronger focus on interdiction at the mid-level and higher-level people -- getting at the opium-producing labs and at providing alternative livelihoods to the poor farmers," he said. "Unless they have some viable alternative, it doesn't do much for the country to just make poor people get poorer."
The relief organizations say that drug traffickers should be identified and funds should be devoted to build law enforcement capacity to arrest them and their political protectors.
Taliban split, al-Qaida no longer effective force in Afghanistan: US commander
By ROBERT BURNS
WASHINGTON (AP) - A U.S. military commander says al-Qaida no longer has an effective presence in Afghanistan and that the Taliban leadership is divided, with some members ready to join the political process.
Col. Cardon Crawford, director of operations for the U.S. military command in Afghanistan, made his comments at a breakfast meeting with journalists in which he also lauded increased Pakistani military co-operation in the Afghan border region.
Crawford also said "there's a huge effort" to capture or kill al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, who is believed to be hiding in or near the Afghan-Pakistan border region.
Crawford would not say whether U.S. forces have come close to finding bin Laden, but said his guerrilla group has become less of a threat in Afghanistan. Al-Qaida has "no effective presence" inside Afghanistan now, Crawford said.
He also said there are signs of divisions within the Taliban leadership, and he suggested that the Afghan government is preparing a new plan that would be designed to "widen the fissures" within the Taliban leadership. He declined to provide details.
Some Taliban leaders, he said, "are probably willing - literally and figuratively - to come in out of the cold" and become part of the Afghan political process.
Meanwhile, Crawford said Pakistani troops have recently helped direct U.S. artillery fire into Pakistan, a senior U.S. officer said Tuesday.
"That's a huge step forward," said army Col. Cardon Crawford.
Pakistan has been a key U.S. ally in the war on terrorism, including the hunt for Taliban and al-Qaida figures believed to have found refuge in the border region with Afghanistan. But U.S. combat troops have not operated inside Pakistan, and Crawford indicated that Pakistani collaboration on U.S. artillery strikes into Pakistan from Afghanistan was new.
"The Pakistanis have adjusted our artillery fire into the Pakistani side of the border to go after anti-coalition militia," he said.
Crawford offered limited details about the artillery operations, but stressed that the Pakistani co-operation has been valuable, since there are no U.S. troops on that side of the border.
"A howitzer will shoot, let's say five, six, 10 kilometres. There has to be somebody out there who says, 'Here's the target.' And when the round lands, he'll say 'go left, go right, go up, go down.' "
Pakistanis helping to direct US artillery fire in Afghan border area: official
Tue Feb 1, 2:19 PM ET South Asia - AFP
WASHINGTON (AFP) - US and Pakistani military cooperation along the Afghan border has grown so close that Pakistani forward observers have helped US forces direct artillery fire at rebels operating on the Pakistani side of the border, a US military official said.
"That's a huge step forward," said Colonel Cardon Crawford, director of operations for the US military command in Afghanistan.
Crawford said there are still occasional "dust-ups" between US and Pakistani forces operating along the tense border, but the two militaries have sought to avoid them by working together more closely.
The United States has supplied the Pakistanis with radios to improve cross-border communications, liaison officers are now posted in their respective headquarters, and commanders in the border area meet to work out issues, he said.
"Something I think you'll find interesting is the Pakistanis have adjusted our artillery fire into the Pakistani side of the border to go after any coalition militias," Crawford told defense reporters here.
Since howitzers fire beyond visual range, observers must be placed forward to calibrate their aim.
"There has to be somebody out there who says 'Here's the target' and, when the round lands, he'll say 'Go left,' 'go right,' 'go up,' 'go down,'" Crawford said.
"So what we had were coalition forces firing artillery that was being adjusted by Pakistani force, just along the border area. So we have that level of communication with them," he said.
US forces are also conducting air assault training for Pakistani forces, he said.
Nevertheless, Afghan and Pakistani forces traded heavy fire along the border in early January after a Pakistani soldier was killed by a mortar fired from the Afghan side of the border.
Major General Olson, the US ground commander, traveled to Islamabad after the incident to meet with Pakistani generals, Crawford said.
Both sides later attributed the incident to a misunderstanding, and not a sign of increased tension between the two militaries.
Hundreds of fighters, possibly including al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, are believed to have fled to the Pakistani tribal areas after the US-led offensive that toppled the Taliban regime in December 2001.
The Pakistani military has launched a succession of offensives over the past year in the border tribal areas against rebels linked to al-Qaeda.
But so far bin Laden and his top lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahiri have eluded capture despite optimism among US commanders last year that the stepped up Pakistani operations would help flush out the al-Qaeda leadership.
"We certainly continue to look for Bin Laden," Crawford said. "There are forces focused on al-Qaeda top leadership. I guarantee they are working right now."
Crawford said he saw no evidence of an "effective presence" of al-Qaeda within Afghanistan, and that there were signs of splits within the Taliban leadership since last year's elections.
In western Afghanistan, where US and Afghan forces intervened last year to stop an armed confrontation between two regional warlords, the central government has expanded its authority by naming a new governor and setting up border posts on the Iranian frontier, an important source of revenues.
The warlords "are understanding that the way of the gun is gone and the political process is the way to go," Crawford said.
Afghan Parliamentary Elections Face Legal Hurdle
By Amin Tarzi - Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty - January 31, 2005
Afghanistan's parliamentary elections, which were originally slated for June 2004 and have been rescheduled for the month of Saur 1384 in the Afghan calendar (20 April-21 May 2005), may be delayed further because of legal procedural issues.
On 27 January, Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah indicated that parliamentary elections will be delayed until the summer, but an official with the election commission said that a final decision has not been made whether to postpone the polls.
At stake in the upcoming elections are not only members of the Wolesi Jirga (House of the People) of Afghanistan's National Assembly, which the country's constitution recognizes as "the manifestation of the will of its people," but also members of local councils in provincial and district levels, whose functions vis-a-vis other existing administrative structures are yet to fully determined.
Article 11 of the Electoral Law of 27 May states that electoral "boundaries for election members of the Wolesi Jirga, provincial councils, and district councils...shall be designated and announced by the president in a decree no later that 120 days prior to the election."
If for no other reason, unless the current Electoral Law is amended, the election date set for the month of Saur expired on 21 January. The Afghan government is yet to officially announce a later date for the elections or indicate that the current law governing election procedures is going to be changed. International organizations working on the election process in Afghanistan also have indicated that holding the election on time is not impossible, again, without clarifying whether the existing law will be altered or simply ignored.
As of June, Afghanistan was divided administratively into 34 provinces and 360 or so districts, though the boundaries of these districts are not fully defined.
The issue of electoral boundaries is mainly a demographic hurdle. According to the Afghan Constitution, the number of members of the Wolesi Jirga should be "not more than" 250 -- currently set at 249 -- and be "proportionate to the population of each region."
However, in a country which has not had any census since 1979 -- when an incomplete survey was conducted -- demography determines an ethnic or tribal group's power and as such the country's long-term stability and national cohesion.
Ensuring that the electoral boundaries are demarcated according to reliable data, while taking into account local sensitivities, is a perquisite for having a National Assembly that becomes the country's engine for moving it forward as a nation-state. Adversely, if the electoral boundaries are drawn haphazardly and without due concern, the National Assembly in itself could very well become the focal point of division in the already fragmented state.
While it is vital for Afghanistan's development toward a democratic society to have a functioning and independent National Assembly, before it makes any hasty decisions to meet an already delayed deadline, President Hamid Karzai's government and its supporters ought to make sure that the people are empowered to choose candidates whom they know, and not be forced to accept candidates they fear. Likewise, while the boundary issue is being resolved, the powers and responsibilities of the local councils have to be determined by law. Meanwhile, Afghanistan's newly appointed Independent Election Commission ought to begin a review of the candidates and potential candidates as to avoid having warlords and drug lords as Afghanistan's future legislators and local power brokers.
Higher education to be revamped says Minister
Qadam Ali Nikpai
KABUL. Feb. 01, (Pajhwok Afghan News) -- Higher education in Afghanistan is expected to be revamped with international funding of $250 million after donors meet with the Ministry to discuss the Ministry's budget, the Minister for Higher Education Dr Sayed Amri Sha Hasanyar told Pajhwok in an interview. The decision has already been discussed in a cabinet meeting last week.
In his interview with Pajhwok, Dr Hasanyar said the number of university students had increased by ten fold from the 4000 enrolled in the system during the time of the Taliban. It was conceivable that this number would go up to 1 million in ten years with the enrollment of 4 million in schools. To meet this demand the Ministry would have to increase the number of teachers from 2000 to 5000.
Afghanistan, the minister said did not as yet have the necessary modern education system and as different ideologies had dominated the system during the years of war. Compared to education systems elsewhere Afghanistan's was outdated and lacked a proper curriculum, textbooks and administrative system. Basic facilities like laboratories, libraries and internet connections were also lacking.
There was also a mismatch between the academic curriculum and the practice of specific disciplines in Afghanistan. As an example he pointed out the difference between the practices of the agriculture ministry and the syllabus in agricultural universities.
In the first year the ministry will focus on reviewing the curriculum, launching administrative reforms and reconstruction. Its plan for the next five years includes construction of buildings, establishing laboratories and libraries, teaching and recruiting qualified professors and entering into agreements with international universities and expansion of provincial universities in Nangarhar, Balkh, Herat and Kandahar are among the priorities.
A new plan for the higher education is under formation and is considered to be effective in creation of the new system.
Afghanistan national army reaches 19,000 members
KABUL, Feb 1 (AFP) - Afghanistan's fledgling national army trained by US-led coalition forces has reached 19,000 members, the US military said Tuesday.
About 3,400 soldiers are due to join the national army over next few months, the US military said in a statement. The new recruits will be posted at regional corps in northern Mazar-i-Sharif, southern Kandahar, western Herat and Paktia in the east.
The multi-ethnic force is meant to extend the writ of the central government beyond Kabul and replace tens of thousands of private anti-Taliban militias who helped the US to topple the hardline regime.
The first steps to raise an estimated 70,000-strong Afghan army were initiated in mid-2002 after the toppling of the hardline Taliban regime by the US-led forces in late 2001.
The United States, which has some 18,000 troops in Afghanistan in addition to 8,000 NATO troops, has previously said it wanted the force to be raised by 2006.
Reining in powerful warlords and disarming some 100,000 militiamen are among the major challenges facing President Hamid Karzai as he attempts to extend his authority to the provinces. The US-led coalition forces are seeking to pacify the country's south and southeastern border regions where Taliban fugitives are still active.
Uzbek warlords' supporters demand action
By Parwin Faiz
MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Feb. 01, (Pajhwok Afghan News) -- Supporters of General Abdul Rashid Dostum gathered in the northern city of Mazar e Sharif on Monday to demand action against those suspected of organizing the assassination attempt against the Uzbek warlord.
A suicide bomber had attempted to assassinate Dostum as he came out of a mosque in his hometown of Shibergan after Eid prayers on January 20. As Dostum was greeting his followers gathered there, a suicide bomber, prevented by security guards from moving close to the Uzbek leader blew himself up, wounding several people though Dostum himself escaped unhurt.
On Monday a gathering of 1,200 representatives from north and northeastern provinces of Afghanistan met in Mazar-e-Sharif, the capital of Balk province calling on the government and the coalition forces to arrest and prosecute those responsible for the attack. Dostum has had an uneasy relationship with the Karzai government seeking to retain his autonomy and resisting attempts to demobilize his armed forces.
Organized by the People Council of Northern Provinces, the meeting was attended by Dostum's followers, members of his party, the Junbish-e Milli and some representatives of other parties from Faryab, Balkh, Sar-e-Pul, Jowzjan, Samangan, Kunduz, Baghlan and Herat provinces. Condemning the incident representatives called on the government to punish the culprits.
A resolution issued at the end of the meeting, asked the international community to intensify its fight against terrorism and narcotics and to capture those responsible for the attempt against Dostum.
Three Chinese guest houses closed down on grounds of immorality
By Makia Monir
KABUL, Feb. 01, (Pajhwok Afghan News) -- The Interior Ministry closed down three guest houses in Kabul on Monday night, acting on its decision to shut down and prosecute guest houses serving alcohol or engaged in immoral activities. Alcohol is forbidden under the Afghan Constitution.
The first raids against the guest houses were conducted by the Interior Ministry on Monday night and Ministry officials said they would continue the raids. Abdul Jabar Sabit, a legal advisor in the interior ministry, said these guest houses were run by Chinese. "We found immoral practices in the foreign guest houses and therefore we closed one in Qala-e-Fathullah and two in Wazir Akbar Khan," Sabit told Pajhwok without elaborating further.
Dr Hassamuddin Hamra, head of the Tourism Department in Kabul city, said there are currently 46 guest houses and restaurants registered and licensed in the capital. There were several others which were operating without registration and these were under observation he said. Hamra said that though the action was currently confined to Kabul city, a similar approach was being considered for the provinces.
Hamra said people had also complained about the sale of hard liquor in shops in Kabul. It is illegal to sell liquor and anybody caught would be punished he said.
Mashal, a shopkeeper in Quwa-e-Markaz, praised the government's drive against guest houses that were practicing immoral behavior and serving alcohol and which were being frequented by youth. "The interior ministry has taken this action but I hope it will continue the sweep to eradicate such activities," Mashal said. The government has been receiving complaints of open sale of liquor and practice of prostitution for some time. Religious leaders have also complained about this.
Karzai secures extension for Afghan refugees in Iran
By Mustafa Basharat
KABUL, Jan. 31, (Pajhwok Afghan News) – Iran has agreed to extend the date for the return of Afghan refugees as a result of the talks held during the recent visit of President Hamid Karzai to Iran.
"An agreement on extending the deadline allowing Afghan refugees to stay legally in Iran for one more year was signed by President Hamid Karzai while he was in Tehran on January 25," presidential spokesman, Hamed Elmi, told Pajhwok on Monday.
Refugees with legal documents would be allowed to renew their documents with the permission to stay an additional year granted to them but those lacking any legal documents would be expelled to Afghanistan as soon as they were arrested.
There are still as many as one million Afghans in Iran and the Iranian government has repeatedly asked for their repatriation to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001.
Officials of the Iranian embassy in Kabul said they were not exactly aware of any decision on the extension, but added that the Afghans whose permits had lapsed should renew them. Else the Iranian police would arrest and expel them to Afghanistan they said.
The issue of forcible expulsion of Afghans from Iran has been an issue of contention in recent weeks. The issue came to the fore during the visit of UNHCR Commissioner Rudd Lubbers to the region earlier this month. Lubbers expressed grave concern at the unilateral policy adopted by Iran calling on Teheran to discuss the issue.
Coalition Forces Uncover More Weapons in Afghanistan
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 1, 2005 -- Coalition forces in Afghanistan found six more weapons caches Jan. 30, military officials reported from the Afghan capital of Kabul.
Afghan police found a cache in Kabul province and turned the weapons over to coalition forces. The cache contained two recoilless-rifle rounds, six anti- tank mines, one case of fuses, 29 rocket-propelled-grenade rounds, 94 82 mm mortars, 33 107 mm rockets, 42 cases of 12.7 mm rounds and 97 cases of 23 mm rounds.
In Salerno province, coalition forces found a cache of five 107 mm rockets, 49 anti-personnel mines, and 27 boxes of 14.5 mm ammunition.
Soldiers of the Afghan National Army found a third cache in Shindand province. The cache contained various machine guns, assault rifles, rockets and ammunition. Coalition forces secured the weapons cache.
Afghan citizens in Chamkani province turned three weapons caches in to coalition forces. The caches contained 16 RPGs, 40 cans of ammunition, two cases of 82 mm mortar round fuses, 26 hand grenades, and 20 anti-personnel mines.
(Based on a Combined Forces Command Afghanistan news release.)
AFGHANISTAN: Focus on public consultation on criminal justice
01 Feb 2005 16:01:10 GMT
KABUL, 1 February (IRIN) - Human rights activists and political analysts have called on government to identify and bring to trial war criminals ahead of parliamentary elections to be held in spring. The calls came after a new survey on criminal justice by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) was released on Saturday.
Sima Samar, the chairwoman of the AIHRC, and Louise Arbour, UN Human Rights Commissioner, presented the results of a national survey on war crimes and human rights abuses to President Hamid Karzai.
The commission concluded that more than 70 percent of Afghans had suffered loss of a loved one or injury over the past two decades of war and that the majority of those questioned urgently wanted to see war criminals brought to justice.
CALLS FOR ACTION
Observers called the document a blueprint for action. "The study is useless without immediate action to identify these criminals to the public," Abdul Hamid Mubarez, former deputy information and culture minister told IRIN.
Mubarez, said the government should assign an authorised commission to review the list of abuses and other available reports in order to begin the process of prosecuting past criminals. "Without justice and the trial of past crimes we cannot bring lasting stability and peace," he added.
The report urged the government to take action to address the abuses of the past, including supporting criminal investigations and prosecutions, arranging for reparations for the victims, as well as vetting public officials to keep perpetrators of abuse out of power.
"Of central importance is the need to address past and present human rights violations so as to ensure that those responsible for egregious abuses do not succeed in wielding power," the UN human rights commissioner said as she launched the study.
But the commissioner was clear that contemporary human rights abuses had to be addressed. "Most human rights issues [in Afghanistan] today are related to the absence of the rule of law, the lack of security and deficiencies in the judicial and legal law enforcement infrastructure. Also several women's issues need to be addressed" Arbour told IRIN following the release of the study.
LACK OF ACTION FUELS IMPUNITY
In the last three years Karzai's government has avoided pursuing suspected war criminals in the interest of national stability. Indeed, many suspects were co-opted into his interim government. Others accused of war crimes remain in powerful positions in the provinces, with their own private armies and links with the flourishing opium trade. But failure to act against such alleged perpetrators has strengthened the culture of impunity in the country, observers say.
Given its violent recent history, stories of serious abuse and mass murder are common in Afghanistan. "We have witnessed several mass killings, slaughter and systematic torture in recent years," Samandar Shah, a shopkeeper in the Jadamaiwand district of Kabul told IRIN.
BLOODY RECENT PAST
Shah said his brother disappeared during the communist era and his son and wife were killed during the subsequent civil war. "I know exactly who killed my family members, the human rights commission should expose these murderers and they should pay [for their crimes].
Under the communists, tens of thousands disappeared into prisons. In 10 years of Soviet occupation, which ended in 1989, more than 1.5 million died and 5 million - a third of the population - were forced to flee Afghanistan as villages across the country were indiscriminately bombed.
The period after the Soviet occupation saw endless faction fighting which is believed to have killed nearly a hundred thousand people in the capital alone. It also destroyed many towns and much of Kabul. The Taliban followed, instituting a repressive fundamentalist rule, waging war against its opponents for seven years.
The AIHRC's report, "A Call for Justice", is based on interviews and focus groups with more than 6,000 Afghans in 32 of 34 provinces, it is the first national public consultation conducted in Afghanistan on what action ordinary people want to see on war criminals. Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran were also consulted.
"Those consulted stressed the urgent need for a break with the past, for an end to ongoing abuses, and for measures designed to bring about justice and the rule of law in Afghanistan," Nader Nadery, an AIHRC commissioner, told IRIN.
The study recommends the establishment of a Special Prosecutors Office to investigate and prosecute mass atrocities and systematic violations of human rights, such as crimes against humanity and war crimes, Nadery added.
Throughout the report, the AIHRC urged the United Nations, the International Criminal Court (ICC) based in the Hague and governments to provide support, technical assistance, and political pressure to ensure the implementation of an appropriate transitional justice strategy in Afghanistan.
Interior Ministry wants security around Afghan diplomats
Staff Report Daily Times
ISLAMABAD: The Interior Ministry has expressed distress over inadequate security measures around residences of Afghan diplomats in various cities of Pakistan and has directed the authorities in the four provinces and the district administration of the federal capital to take appropriate measures for the diplomats’ protection.
The ministry passed these instructions in view of correspondence from Afghan Embassy diplomats to the foreign affairs ministry, in which the diplomats expressed reservations regarding their security and maintained that they had received death threats from unidentified persons, sources told Daily Times. According to the correspondence, the miscreants who made the death threats wanted the Afghan government to stop its military operation against Al Qaeda remnants.
The ministry also expressed disapproval for the withdrawal of police officials from the premises of the Afghan Embassy and the residences of the embassy staff residing in Islamabad, sources said. The ministry directed the district administration to make foolproof security arrangements at the embassy and official residences in order to avert a serious security incident.
Stable Afghanistan good for all: Shaukat
The News International, Pakistan
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said on Tuesday an economically strong, politically stable and vibrant Afghanistan is good for its people and neighbours.
"Pakistan’s economic, trade, social and historic relations with Afghanistan would be widened and deepened," Shaukat Aziz said here while talking to Hedayat Amin Arsala, Afghan Minister for Commerce and Chief Advisor to President of Afghanistan.
Shaukat said the government was taking a number of steps to facilitate and enhance trade with Afghanistan and the trade between two countries was likely to cross $1 billion. Mentioning the steps being taken by Pakistan to facilitate trade between the two countries, he said: "We are increasing the trading points up to 10 at the border area that would be equipped with modern equipment to expedite clearance of goods."
Shaukat said Pakistan was focusing on the development of infrastructure, provision of road links and better communication facilities from Gwadar to border areas to facilitate Afghan trade. He said, "We want to provide preferential, low cost and hassle free access to Afghanistan."
A number of proposals and new initiatives to enhance the commercial and trade ties between the two countries were also discussed. Joint Economic Commission meeting of both the countries would be held in the second week of this month to finalise these proposals.
Hedayat Amin Arsala said the Afghan government was considering to set up an Industrial Estate in Afghanistan. Shaukat said that Pakistani investors would be willing to invest in Afghanistan if infrastructure and security was provided by the Afghan government. Afghan minister thanked the Government of Pakistan for facilitating trade to Afghanistan. Appreciating the economic policies and reforms in Pakistan, he said that it would provide a good model for Afghanistan.
Hedayat Amin Arsala also called on Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri at the Foreign Office. The foreign minister felicitated Arsala on his appointment as Afghanistan’s Minister for Commerce.
Remains of second-to-last Jew in Afghanistan flown to Uzbekistan on journey to Israel
February 1, 2005 Associated Press
The remains of the second-to-last Jew in Afghanistan were flown Tuesday to Uzbekistan, the first stop on a journey to Israel where the body will be buried, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.
Ishaq Levin, caretaker of Afghanistan's only functioning synagogue, died at about age 80 in the Afghan capital on Jan. 18, apparently of natural causes, ending a bitter feud with the only other survivor of a once-thriving Jewish community.
A Red Cross aircraft took Levin's body to the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, where it was to be handed over to Israeli Embassy officials, said Jean-Nicolas Marti, deputy head of the Red Cross delegation in Afghanistan.
It was unclear when the body would be flown on to Israel.
Levin's relatives approached the Red Cross in Tel Aviv and asked for help in bringing his body to Israel, Marti said.
Marti said bureaucracy and infrequent flights between Tashkent and Tel Aviv had held up the transfer. Afghanistan and Israel have no diplomatic relations.
Levin's death halved Kabul's tiny Jewish community, leaving just 45-year-old Zebulon Simentov, who was Levin's neighbor in the downtown synagogue.
Afghanistan's Jewish community numbered as many as 40,000 in the late 19th century, after Persian Jews fled forced conversion in neighboring Iran. But by the mid-20th century, only about 5,000 remained, and most emigrated after Israel's creation in 1948.
According to Simentov, the last eight or nine families left after the 1979 Soviet invasion. But Levin _ the synagogue's shamash, or caretaker _ stayed on, even through the repressive rule of the Taliban.
Simentov and Levin had feuded for years, blaming each other for arrests and beatings at the hands of the Taliban as well as the loss of the synagogue's only Torah.
Police have said the scroll was in the hands of a former Taliban minister now believed to be incarcerated in the American military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Authorities expect tribal elder accused of harboring militants to surrender this week
February 1, 2005 Associated Press
A Pakistani tribal elder accused of harboring foreign militants in a remote region near Afghanistan is expected to surrender to authorities this week, a senior security official said.
Baitullah Mehsud, a militant leader who belongs to the Mehsud tribe, has been on the run since October when Pakistani troops deployed in the South Waziristan tribal region started hunting for him following reports that he was behind rocket attacks against government forces.
On Tuesday, a 21 members of the Mehsud tribe met with Syed Iftikhar Hussain Shah, the governor of North West Frontier Province, and promised that the fugitive elder would lay down arms this week.
They asked Shah to pardon Mehsud for his "past mistakes" and promised that he would "not indulge in anti-state activities in the future," said Brig. Mahmood Shah, chief of security for the tribal regions of northwestern Pakistan.
He said the militant leader was expected to surrender to authorities this week in Wana, the main town in South Waziristan.
Shah said the Mehsud tribe also signed an agreement with the provincial government during the meeting with the governor, promising that none of its members will shelter foreign militants.
South Waziristan has been the scene of a series of bloody military operations this year aimed at wiping out foreign militants _ including Arabs, Central Asians and Afghans _ and local sympathizers.
Pakistan has also offered amnesty to foreign fugitives, but none have accepted it.
Iran to hold 1st trade exhibition in Afghanistan
Tehran Times Economic Desk
TEHRAN – The first trade exhibition of the construction materials and power plant installations and equipments will be held in Kabul the capital city of Afghanistan on February 28, running until March 4, Davoud Kashefi, head of the exhibition executive headquarters said on Monday at a press meeting.
Supported by Iran’s Ministry of Energy as well as Afghanistan’s ministries of commerce, energy, transportation, and industries, the exhibition will be held with the cooperation of private sectors of the two countries, Kashefi said.
He explained that about 50 Iranian companies have announced their readiness to take part in the exhibition, adding, companies from Turkey, France, Russia, Swiss, Austria, Germany, Denmark, and Afghanistan will also participate in it.
The exhibition will be held at the aim of Iran’s accessibility to the market of Afghanistan’s construction materials, he said, explaining that through this exhibition Iran’s private sector, while assisting reconstruction of certain parts of Afghanistan, intends to establish opportunities for presence of the Iranian products in the country and thereby the international markets of the construction materials.
Given the 30 million population of Afghanistan, the country requires construction of at least 500,000 residential units per annum, thus the importance of maintaining this market becomes more highlighted, Kashefi stated.
He added that concerning presence of other countries including China in the construction projects of Afghanistan, Iran’s private sector should launch its activities in the country as soon as possible otherwise it will lose it.
Meanwhile, Abdul-Hadi Farhang, the commerce manager of Afghan companies welcomed presence of the Iranian companies in the said exhibition, stating that people and officials of his country attach much importance to the construction and road-building issue due to its effect on commerce.
Pointing out to the presence of the European companies in the exhibition, he explained that Afghan officials are more willing to expand cooperation with Iran’s private sector, since cooperation with the European countries on construction and commerce is not economized because of high level of the transportation costs.
On the sidelines of the exhibition, technical commissions of experts from Afghanistan and other countries, as well as many of the projects’ tenders will be held, he noted.
Jahangir Soltani, the managing director of Iranian Naft Jahan Co. who is in charge of holding the exhibition as representative of Iran’s private sector also said that Afghanistan requires holding such exhibitions and definitely they will be held more extensively in the future, adding, religious and cultural commonalities between the two countries are among advantages of having trade relations with Afghanistan.
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