Afghan Army Increases to 20,000 Troops
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press / Sun Feb 27, 8:53 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - The number of troops in Afghanistan's new army topped 20,000 Sunday, as the United States steps up training of a force that is supposed to relieve Americans on the front lines against Taliban-led militants.
The 853 soldiers and officers of the 31st Battalion graduated Sunday morning in a joyful ceremony in the capital, Kabul. The Afghan National Army, or ANA, now numbers 20,694 and has another 3,000-4,000 soldiers in training.
"You young people must encourage others to follow you into the Afghan National Army," Gen. Abdullah, a senior Defense Ministry official who goes by one name, told the soldiers. "You are entrusted with the Afghan nation and must go like men to every corner of the country."
A new, multiethnic army is a key provision of international accords on rebuilding a strong Afghan government. The accords were signed in December 2001 after U.S. forces ousted the Taliban for harboring al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
On Sunday, the newest battalion marched for their commanders and trainers on a dusty parade ground in eastern Kabul.
When formalities ended, many soldiers performed a traditional Afghan dance while others festooned their Afghan trainers with plastic and paper flowers and posed for photos in groups drawn from across the country's deep ethnic divides.
France helps train the senior officers, Britain the noncommissioned officers and the United States the regular soldiers. Instructors from other countries, including Romania and Mongolia, train troops on their mainly Soviet-era tanks and artillery.
Several of the new soldiers said they had no fear of joining the battle against insurgents along the rugged Pakistan border.
The Afghan force is intended to replace armed factions tarnished by their role in Afghanistan's brutal civil wars and suspected of involvement in the country's heroin trade. More than 42,000 militiamen have been disarmed under a U.N. program.
The force also is expected to take a growing role in the battle against militants in the country's south and east, often in conjunction with the 17,000-strong U.S. force focused on remote provinces along the Pakistan border.
Recruitment to the new army was initially dogged by desertions and poor pay.
But conditions have improved, and U.S. officials say six battalions will train simultaneously starting next month, up from two at the start of last year, and the force is supposed to reach its full strength of 70,000 by the end of next year.
Lt. Col. Mohammed Zahir, commander of the newest battalion, said his men included ethnic Pashtuns, Hazaras and Tajiks — all ready after 11 weeks of basic training "to fight against al-Qaida, Taliban or any other enemy, foreign or internal."
"This fighting or interference is imposed from beyond our borders and we are ready to meet it head-on," he said.
The U.S. military this month doubled the number of its soldiers embedded with the new army, extending the training effort into the field and letting ANA units call in U.S. airstrikes if they get into trouble.
U.S. military engineers also are building modern barracks around the country to house the new units, many of which are supposed to be in place in time for parliamentary elections expected in midyear. Several battalions already are deployed near the border.
U.S. Col. Robert Jones, a senior trainer, said Zahir's unit could be facing combat within two weeks after undergoing maneuvers to hone skills from mortar targeting to engineering and signaling.
Morale, he said, was extremely high.
"They'll be very disappointed if they don't get an opportunity to go down range and go into a combat zone. They understand what they're trying to do is push bad people out of their country and they're very committed to that," Jones said.
Fraud discovery leads to suspension of disarmament in west Afghanistan
KABUL, Feb. 27 (Xinhua) -- Authorities in Afghanistan have temporarily suspended an ambitious disarmament program in the western Herat province after they found a group of people were involved in fraud and forgery, a UN spokesman said Sunday.
"Demobilization and reintegration have been suspended in Heartuntil at least the beginning of March as the Afghanistan New Beginning Program (ANBP) in Herat has discovered a major fraud involving 300 individuals," Manoel de Almeida e Silva of UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) told journalists here.
These individuals, he added, had forged documents obtained by paying bribes of about 100 US dollars apiece to unknown individuals within the Afghan Militia Force (AMF).
The AMF pertains to irregular armed combatants, numbering some 60,000 and still loyal to different warlords and regional leaders.Under a UN-backed disarmament program known as Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR), the post-war Afghanistan is going to get rid of these foot soldiers while so far over 42,000 have been disarmed.
It is the first time that such deception scheme has been confirmed since the launching of the nationwide ambitious disarmament program in October 2003.
Preliminary investigation indicates that those involved in the forgery within the AMF were aware of the soldiers who were not going to enter the demobilization and reintegration phases.
"With that information these individuals were able to replace those names of properly disarmed soldiers with the names of other people," Silva stressed.
The Ministry of Defense and officials of ANBP are investigatingthe case, he said.
Afghans Accuse U.S. of Secret Spraying to Kill Poppies
By CARLOTTA GALL The New York Times February 27, 2005
KANAI, Afghanistan - Abdullah, a black-turbaned shepherd, said he was watching over his sheep one night in early February when he heard a plane pass low overhead three times. By morning his eyes were so swollen he could not open them and the sheep around him were dying in convulsions.
Although farmers had noticed a white powder on their crops, they cut grass and clover for their animals and picked spinach to eat anyway. Within hours the animals were severely ill, people here said, and the villagers complained of fevers, skin rashes and bloody diarrhea. The children were particularly affected. A week later, the crops - wheat, vegetables and poppies - were dying, and a dozen dead animals, including newborn lambs, lay tossed in a heap.
The incident on Feb. 3 has left the herders of sheep and goats in this remote mountain area in Helmand Province deeply angered and suspicious. They are convinced that someone is surreptitiously spraying their lands or dusting them with chemicals, presumably in a clandestine effort to eradicate Afghanistan's bumper poppy crop, the world's leading source of opium.
The incident in Kanai was not the first time that Afghan villagers - or Afghan government officials - had complained of what they suspected was nighttime spraying. In November, villagers in Nimla, in Nangarhar Province, said their fields, too, had been laced with chemicals when a plane passed overhead several times during the night.
Afterward, Afghan and foreign officials who investigated returned with samples of tiny gray granules that they said provided evidence that spraying had occurred. Two Western embassies sent samples abroad for analysis but have not yet received the results.
At that time, President Hamid Karzai publicly condemned the spraying. Though it was never clear who was responsible, members of his staff said they suspected the United States or Britain, which together have been leading the struggle to rein in Afghan poppy cultivation, which has reached record levels. Both countries finance outside security firms to train Afghan counternarcotics forces.
President Karzai said his government was not spraying fields and had no knowledge of such activity, and he called in the American and British ambassadors for an explanation. Then, as now, the American and British Embassies denied any involvement.
"There is no credible evidence that aerial spraying has taken place in Helmand," the American Embassy said in a statement this time. "No agency, personnel or contractors associated with the United States government have conducted or been involved in any such activity in Helmand or any other province of Afghanistan."
An Afghan government delegation sent to investigate the latest incident said it found no evidence of aerial spraying. Rather, "a naturally occurring disease" had killed the crops and animals, Lt. Gen. Muhammad Daoud, deputy interior minister for counternarcotics, said in a statement.
Agriculture Ministry officials said the extremely cold weather could have affected the crops. They added, however, that the ministry lacked the technical capacity to analyze samples for chemicals.
But the people in Kanai, neighboring Tanai and at least two other villages are incredulous. For them, there is no doubt that someone sprayed their lands and, despite official denials, they blame the United States, which still controls the skies in Afghanistan.
"They are the ones with the planes," said Abdul Ahmad, brother of the shepherd, Abdullah. Between them, the brothers had lost 200 animals from symptoms that suggested poisoning, he said.
"They went mad, their eyes went blue and they could not eat," he said of their sheep and goats. "Water was coming from their mouths, they were trying to eat their droppings and they were shivering," he said. The animals appeared completely healthy the day before, he said.
"We gave our vote to Karzai so he would bring us help and now he is killing our animals," he said angrily.
While the mystery lingers around who may be responsible for a secret aerial eradication campaign here - or even whether one is actually being carried out - there is no doubt that Afghanistan's booming poppy crop has been an intensifying concern to United States, British and other international officials.
In November, a United Nations report found that more than 300,000 acres in Afghanistan had been planted with poppies and expressed concern that the country was degenerating into a narcostate. American and other officials said they feared the drug trade had insinuated itself into virtually every corner of the Afghan economy and was financing rebels.
Some American officials, particularly those in international narcotics and law enforcement, have for months advocated aerial spraying to gain control of the problem.
Diplomats and other foreign officials involved in agriculture programs and counternarcotics efforts here said there was a discussion in 2004 between American officials and other donors over whether to use aerial eradication to stem poppy cultivation, which expanded 64 percent last year.
In December, the Bush administration presented to Congress a budget request for $152 million for aerial spraying as part of a $776 million aid package for counternarcotics operations in Afghanistan for 2005. In January, it dropped the budget line for aerial spraying because of President Karzai's clear opposition, an American official in Kabul said.
Word of the budget request prompted 31 nonprofit groups, led by CARE International, to sign an open letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Jan. 31 expressing concern over what they considered the excessive emphasis on eradication in the United States administration's counternarcotics strategy in Afghanistan.
"Widespread eradication in 2005 could undermine the economy and devastate already poor families without giving rural development projects sufficient time to provide alternative sources of income," the agencies warned. They called for concentration on interdiction of traffickers and support for farmers instead.
Yet American officials have not ruled out the possible need for aerial eradication and financing, which was included in a supplemental request in February for $82 billion by the Bush administration for Iraq and Afghanistan, an American counternarcotics official in Kabul said.
One option considered by American officials last year was to rent civilian planes and spray the general weed killer Roundup over the provinces of Helmand and Badakhshan, two of the largest producers of poppies in the country, according to one official familiar with the plan.
American military officials in Afghanistan and those with the United States Agency for International Development are also against aerial spraying, foreign officials in Kabul say. Development officials argue that spraying will affect all agriculture and especially the poorest farmers; instead, they advocate alternative livelihood programs for farmers to dissuade them from growing poppies.
The military fears that spraying will turn the population against the government and the American presence in Afghanistan and increase support for insurgents, who remain active in southern Afghanistan.
In fact, the belief that they have been sprayed has angered villagers all the more because the local police came here only 40 days before and destroyed their poppy fields on government orders, a fact that the district police chief, Abdul Hakim Karezwal, confirmed.
The farmers said they had instead planted wheat, which was now yellow and rotting along with the clover, spinach and greens they had also planted. Some farmers kept growing small patches of poppies inside high garden walls, but most of the fields in the village showed shoots of young wheat.
"Karzai lied to us," one farmer, Ahmadullah, said. "He said, 'We will give you assistance,' and he didn't. So we grew poppy to be able to feed our families. Then the president ordered it destroyed and so we destroyed it. And now he is destroying our wheat. What will be left of our lives? They destroyed everything. We will have to abandon the village."
Afghan refugees reluctant to go home
By Ghafar Ali Daily Times
PESHAWAR: Afghan refugees residing in camps and other areas are reluctant to go back to Afghanistan, as they fear their lives are in danger due to the worsening security situation in their home country, revealed a survey conducted by Daily Times.
The Pakistani government recently started a 10 day-long census to ascertain the exact number of Afghan refugees in the country. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) will restart its voluntarily repatriation programme from March 7 this year. Around 2.3 million Afghan refugees have been repatriated under the programme since 2002. “We want to go back to our country but not now because no one is safe there. If the rulers do not feel secure then how can they ensure the people’s security?” Aimal Muhammadzai, an Afghan refugee living in the Regilalma area, told Daily Times. He said he had returned from Laghman, his hometown, two days ago because of the security situation. “Only people who can afford armed guards can live there,” he said.
There were other reasons why refugees could not go back to Afghanistan, he noted. He said there were no business opportunities as many refugees did not have land to build houses or provide education for their children. “My children were born here and are getting their education here.
They are not ready to go to Afghanistan because they feel it is a foreign country,” he said. “Recently when I was in Laghman, there was a dispute between two groups of people over setting up a school. One group favoured the move while the other was opposed to the idea. Even the education ministry officials failed to resolve the issue and I do not see any solution in the near future,” he said. In such a situation, it was very difficult for refugees to return home, he observed. “If the Pakistani government forced us to leave the country we would prefer to settle in the mountainous Tribal Areas bordering Afghanistan instead of returning home,” he said. Refugees were living peacefully in Pakistan and were paying their taxes, he said. “If we create security problems or are found violating the country’s laws then the government should send us home.
If not, we should be allowed to remain here until the Afghan security situation is resolved,” he said. “People in Afghanistan are being looted and dishonoured and until Afghan refugees are provided with security we will not return to our country,” Muhammad Ishaq, who lives in the Kacha Garhi camp near Peshawar, told Daily Times.
Refugees were struggling financially, he said, adding they could neither build their homes nor establish their businesses in Afghanistan. In recent times, dacoits had killed many businessmen in Kabul and had hampered trade activities, he said, adding it was impossible to return in such a situation. Although there were reports of reconstruction in Afghanistan, the Taliban were still abducting foreign engineers which led to many projects being stopped, he said.
71 bodies from Afghan plane crash found
KABUL: Seventy-one bodies have been recovered almost a month after an Afghan plane crashed into a mountain near Afghanistan’s capital Kabul and killed all 104 people on board, an official said on Sunday.
“To date 71 bodies have been recovered from the Afghan plane crash,” said General Mohammed Zahir Azimi, spokesman for the defence ministry. The Kam Air Boeing 737 was on a flight from the western city of Herat to the capital Kabul when it hit a 3,300-metre mountain peak and broke into pieces during a snowstorm on February 3. Twenty-four of the victims were foreigners. The recovery has been hampered by Afghanistan’s coldest winter in a decade, which left the crash site buried under metres of snow. afp
Afghan Aid Operation Reaches 400,000 People Isolated by Storms
Feb. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Emergency relief operations in Afghanistan have reached more than 400,000 people isolated by snow storms across the country, the United Nations said.
The World Food Program brought about 3,000 metric tons of food to people in 14 provinces over the past 10 days, the UN said on its Web site, citing a briefing yesterday in the capital, Kabul, by Manoel de Almeida e Silva, a spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.
A continuous assessment exercise is going on throughout the country ``to respond to this very cold and harsh winter in Afghanistan,'' Almeida e Silva said. Three main passes in central Afghanistan were reopened in recent days after they were blocked by snowfalls, he said.
At least 580 people, many of them children, have died as a result of Afghanistan's worst winter in a decade, Agence France- Presse reported from Kabul on Feb. 26. The snowfalls have caused avalanches and the cold has fostered outbreaks of diseases such as flu that have caused deaths mainly among children under five years of age, AFP said.
``Given the difficulty of access and the isolation of some areas, it is very difficult to verify and confirm numbers with any confidence,'' Almeida e Silva said, according to the UN.
At least 300 people have died in the Saghar district of Ghor province in central Afghanistan, AFP cited Ali Khan, the district chief, as saying two days ago.
The U.S.-led military coalition and the international peacekeeping force led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are helping UN agencies and the Afghan government to deliver relief supplies, including using helicopters and cargo planes.
Provinces of Concern
The provinces of Badakhshan and Baghlan in the north and areas in central Afghanistan such as Uruzgan are ``provinces of concern,'' Almeida e Silva said.
Aid convoys being sent into central Afghanistan made progress after Solidarites, the non-government organization in charge of maintaining passes in the region, opened the Shibar, Daga and Aqrabat passes that link central Afghanistan with northern provinces, the UN said.
The aid groups are also preparing for the possibility of floods when the snow melts by bringing in extra food supplies. The World Food Program has pre-positioned 64 metric tons of mixed food in Ghor's Chaghcharan and Dolaina districts, the UN said.
``This country has had to deal with floods in the past,'' Almeida e Silva said. ``But this year, with much greater snow falling, the risks are greater.''
Reduction in Violence
The U.S. military said last week the storms have contributed to a reduction in violence in the country, AFP reported, citing Major Steve Woolman, a U.S. military spokesman, as saying.
The U.S. has 18,000 soldiers in the country hunting fugitives from the Taliban and al-Qaeda. NATO has 8,500 soldiers in the UN-authorized International Security Assistance Force responsible for security in Kabul.
Afghanistan is creating a national army, which has more than 25,000 members, AFP cited Mohammed Zahir Azimi, a Defense Ministry spokesman, as saying yesterday at a graduation ceremony in Kabul for more than 850 new officers and soldiers.
Afghanistan is preparing to hold parliamentary and local elections this year, the second stage of its move toward democracy after the Oct. 9 presidential election that was won by Hamid Karzai. The Taliban were ousted in the U.S.-led war on terrorism in December 2001.
Afghanistan: Press briefing by Manoel de Almeida e Silva, UNAMA Spokesman 27 Feb 2005TALKING POINTS
United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) 27 Feb 2005
Winter: Humanitarian situation assessed in 13 provinces
In the last weeks that we have been covering this story you have heard, here and in other places, the different actions, the concerns, the different risks in different places of the country, the medical teams that were sent whenever passes were open, or if they could go by plane or helicopter, the air drops last week in Ghor, the efforts of the Coalition with the World Food Programme (WFP), and government support, the items from UNICEF and UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), the work of the NGO’s (Non Government Organizations). In sum a whole series of actions that have been going on to respond to this very cold and harsh winter in Afghanistan.
There is something that is also going on because of snowfalls, or sudden drops of temperature. It is a continuous assessment exercise going on throughout the country. The people from the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD), the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) and United Nations agencies, are currently dealing with assessments in 13 provinces, which of course aim at determining the most vulnerable people and what their needs are.
Among the provinces of concern are the mountainous Badakhshan and Baghlan in the North, Nuristan, a little further South, but also isolated provinces such as Dai Kundi, Uruzgan or some areas of Kandahar province - just to name a few.
We have a press release from the World Food Programme (WFP) which gives you new information on what they have been making available following these assessment missions. So far 515 metric tons of food supplies were distributed in Zabul. During the last 10 days WFP distributed almost 3,000 metric tons of food to help over 420,000 people in 14 provinces. This includes 40 metric tons of food airdropped in the last 72 hours in the districts of Tulak and Saghar in Ghor province. Food supplies were further distributed to 7,600 people by the NGO Samander Development Programme (SDP), the local authorities and community leaders. The airdrops were carried out by the Coalition with the support of the Afghan authorities to respond to the deteriorating food situation and the lack of land access to these snowed in districts.
Central Highlands passes reopened
Solidarités, the NGO in charge of the maintenance of three of the main passes in the Central Highlands, tells us that they are now reopen: the Shibar pass, the Daga pass, on the road towards Sari Pul to the North East, and the Aqrabat pass, on the road towards Saighan to the North. In addition, the road to the West to Yakawlang is now usable, although with snow melting, avalanches may block it again any time.
The work has been the result of a very close collaboration between Solidarités and the Afghan authorities in Bamyan, who have jointly worked on ensuring these major axes were cleared for traffic. The Department of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (DoRRD) in Bamyan provided 80 workers and equipment which were paid through the Provincial Emergency Winter Access Fund, established earlier this month.
Solidarités, which is working with local communities and implementing a cash-for-work programme, is working with over 1,800 Afghan workers. All the projects are conducted in collaboration with the Department of Public Works, funded by the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) and supported by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS).
UNOPS, along with the Ministry of Public Works, is also running a snow clearance programme throughout Afghanistan. Of the 25 passes, UNOPS is indicating that only four of them remain closed.
Coordinated provincial mechanism to respond to potential floods
As we approach the end of winter and beginning of spring, the concern now is with the potential for floods happening in the country. This country has had to deal with floods in the past, but this year, with much greater snow falling, the risks are greater. Continuing the ongoing preparations we told you about in our last briefing, yesterday at a teleconference, the Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, Haneef Atmar and the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Ameerah Haq, spoke with the heads of the UNAMA field offices and provided them with guidance and instructions on proceeding with the work in preparation for this flood season.
They will continue a series of assessments under the leadership of the provincial governors, at the local level, in order to identify the areas of risk where this emergency could take place and the local mechanisms to respond to the emergency if it occurs. Also, identify means to prevent and to mitigate the effects of floods if they do happen, as well as to estimate the assistance that will be required for those populations that might be affected with these floods, where and if they occur. And finally to determine what are the stocks of supplies items that are available regionally and provincially. The whole approach of the response at the provincial level will be based on working with local skills as well as giving the consideration of giving jobs in the areas affected.
These inputs will be fed into a working group which is established at the national level in Kabul under the leadership of Vice-President Khalili.
In Ghor, where floods can be a common instance, WFP has pre-positioned 32 metric tons of mixed food for Chaghcharan as well as another 32 metric tons in the district of Dolaina.
Herat ANBP office unearths major fraud involving disarmed soldiers
Afghanistan’s New Beginnings Programme (ANBP) office in Herat has discovered a major fraud involving 300 individuals who were trying to enter the demobilization and reintegration phases.
These individuals had forged documents which were obtained by paying bribes of about USD $100 to unknown individuals within the Afghan Militia Force (AMF). The Ministry of Defence and Afghan National Police are investigating.
Preliminary indications are that this scheme involved individuals within the AMF who were aware of those soldiers who were not going to enter the demobilization and reintegration phases. With that information, these individuals were able to replace those names of properly disarmed soldiers with the names of other people. It should be noted that there are always former soldiers who move straight into civilian life, finding other jobs or have simply walked away from their units.
The fraud was discovered by ANBP caseworkers and verification personnel before anyone had received any real benefit.
Since then, ANBP has taken the following action: They have suspended all demobilization and the start of reintegration until at least the beginning of March in Herat; All documents are being checked with the assistance of the Ministry of Defence; Members of the Afghan National Army will be involved in interviewing all suspicious cases.
It seems that the motivation for this fraud has been the growing popularity of reintegration as the disarmament phase nears completion. Many people, AMF or otherwise, want to get involved on what they see is a good deal.
Heavy Weapons collection resumes in Panjshir Valley
As we announced in our last briefing the collection of Heavy Weapons resumed in the Panjshir Valley this past Friday. Fourteen Heavy Weapons were collected bringing the total collected there to 80. There are 110 known to be working or repairable Heavy Weapons in the Valley.
Once again the ANBP is inviting the media to follow along with the team on any day.
Nationally speaking, 8,514 Heavy Weapons have been collected.
As far as disarmament is concerned, the total number of disarmed AMF soldiers stands at 42,039.
DDR process gets an additional USD $28.8 million dollars from Japan
In a significant further boost to the DDR process, the Government of Japan is contributing an additional USD $28.8 million dollars to the ANBP/DDR. The Japanese Government has so far contributed USD $63 million dollars.
The total budget for the DDR project is roughly USD $160 million dollars. Other donors to ANBP include Canada, the United States of America, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.
The ceremony for the signing of the agreement will include the Minister of Defence, General Abdul Rahim Wardak, the Ambassador of Japan, Norihiro Okuda, and the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Ameerah Haq.
The event, open to the media, is being held on Tuesday, March 1st, at 2 p.m. at the Japanese Embassy.
WoMA, UNIFEM hold seminar on female participation for upcoming elections
This coming Wednesday, March 2nd, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA) and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), will be holding a seminar for all registered political parties. The aim of this meeting is to explore and encourage political parties to have female candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Following the meeting there will be a discussion to decide how to end political violence against women and to introduce a commission.
MoWA and UNIFEM are planning to meet every three months, with members of the political parties, to discuss political issues such as the active participation of women in society, women playing a role in the elections, and women playing a role in government.
Members of the media are invited to attend. Again the seminar will take place on March 2nd at 9 a.m. at Kabul Green Hotel.
Female participation in political parties
For the month of March political party members will be receiving training by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in a course called “Political Party Organization and Management”, after which the training focus will be more oriented towards election and campaign skills.
Last Thursday here in Kabul about 50 people, mainly women leaders representing their parties' women's committees participated in a workshop entitled “Female Participation in Political Parties.”
Because the political parties are in the early stages of development, the women have a chance to assure their involvement as decision-makers. This is also the intent of the training sessions.
NDI is taking its training "on the road". This week they will be in Mazar and Kunduz. Next week in Jalalabad.
Martin Battersby, newest member of OCPI team
I would like to introduce our new Public Information Officer. His name is Martin Battersby. Martin has worked for a number of years as a journalist and writer in both Dublin, Ireland and Brussels in Belgium.
He has also worked in Press, Public Information, and Media Development in Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Macedonia.
With Martin’s arrival the team is now complete.
Edward Carwardine, Communication Officer, UNICEF
An estimated 5.3 million Afghan children under the age of five will receive life-saving polio vaccine in a three-day campaign to be launched on 1 March. The National Immunization Days will reach children all over the country as part of a joint Government and UN effort to eradicate polio from Afghanistan.
Led by the Ministry of Public Health, with support from UNICEF and WHO, the National Immunization Day efforts will mobilize more than 35,000 vaccinators, supervisors and monitors in provinces across the nation to deliver the oral vaccine. At the same time children will receive Vitamin A supplements, which help to boost children’s resistance to other childhood diseases. The Vitamin A campaign had been planned for later in the year, but in light of the particularly harsh winter planners decided to bring forward the exercise to afford increased protection to children now.
The cold weather conditions in recent weeks have led to a delay in the National Immunization Days coverage in 61 districts in 19 provinces where access has become restricted by snowfalls. These districts will be covered in an extra round of immunization scheduled for May. Despite the restrictions on access caused by the bad weather, vaccinators still expect to reach 80 per cent of the original target population, which was set at 6.7 million children.
Afghanistan has made steady progress towards the eradication of polio over the last three years. In 2004, there were just four reported cases of polio compared to ten in 2002. The March National Immunization Days are timetabled to coincide with a similar exercise in neighbouring Pakistan in an effort to reduce the chances of cross-border transmission of the virus.
In addition to the regular vaccination campaigns, health officials continue to urge families to have their children immunized as part of routine health care. Recent diseases outbreaks such as whooping cough and measles in some parts of Afghanistan are easily preventable through routine immunization – however, while immunization campaigns reach large numbers of children routine, vaccination levels are under 50 per cent in some parts of the country.
Afghanistan’s National Immunization Days are supported with financial contributions from the Governments of Japan, USAID and Rotary International.
UNFPA Supports Training on Ultrasound
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Country Office in Afghanistan is facilitating a training programme on Ultrasound focusing on obstetric and gynecological diagnosis in Kabul.
Mr. Patric Nielsen, a medical Sonographer from Australia has volunteered to come to facilitate the training course, whose visit to Afghanistan is sponsored by the Sonologists Association of Australia. The training programme, which started on Wednesday 16 February 2005 in Rabia-e-Balkhi Hospital, will last four weeks and approximately 20 participants from different hospitals of Kabul City including Malalay Maternity Hospital, Khairkhana 102 Beds Hospital and Rabia-e-Balkhi Hospital are attending this training.
"In addition, St. Vincent Hospital in Sydney has donated one sonograph machine from its own use and it is on its way to Afghanistan. The Sonologist Association is also exploring possibilities to train few potential sonologists from Afghanistan in Australia", said Patric Nielsen.
UNFPA Provides IT Equipment for the Family Planning Directorate of the MoPH
The UNFPA Country Office in Afghanistan handed over some Information Technology (IT) equipment to the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) last Wednesday, 23 February 2005.
During the handover ceremony that was organized at the MoPH on this occasion, His Excellency Dr. Nadera Hayat, the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Public Health, and Mr. Athanase Nzokirishaka, the Representative of the UNFPA Country Office Afghanistan in Kabul signed and exchanged the handover documents.
The equipment includes Desktop and Laptop Computers, Color Printer, Scanner, Digital Camera, Photocopy Machine, Multimedia Projector, Flash Desks, stabilizers, UPS and Overhead Projector with a total cost of USD $9,713.00 that will be used by the Family Planning Directorate of the Ministry of Public Health in carrying out their family planning related activities under the Reproductive Health Management Project.
It is worth mentioning that provision of the above mentioned equipments is a part of the activities planned under the Reproductive Health Management Project that is currently being implemented by the Family Planning Directorate with the financial and technical support of UNFPA.
Questions & Answers:
Question: Can we have an estimate of the number of people who have died from the weather?
Spokesman: We have looked into this, but given the difficulty of access and the isolation of some areas, it is very difficult to verify and confirm numbers with any confidence.
Question: When do you think you will see an end to polio? And secondly, how do you think you will reach all these children?
Edward Carwardine, UNICEF Communication Officer: The government and UNICEF are hoping that this year is the year when there will be no knew cases in polio. We have been very close in the last couple of years, with only four cases reported last year. We continue to hope that this will be the year that we break the transmission. Of course it will depend on the number of children who are vaccinated and the continued efforts throughout the year to get their newborn children vaccinated against polio. In terms of access, there will be 61 districts that we won’t be able to access in 19 provinces including Ghor province, some part of the south as well as the northeast because of the problems associated with the weather. But those provinces will be targeted in May in an additional round of immunization which is been added in this year specifically to target those provinces this time. That’s what we did last year as it was the same difficulties we faces last March and we added extra rounds to catch up later in the spring when those areas become more accessible.
Question: Can we have an indication as to the total number of weapons collected from the soldiers and the location of where the heavy weapons are stored in the Panjshir Valley? How about the status of the ammunition survey?
Spokesman: With regards to the status of the survey on ammunition, we do not have a number as this is an ongoing process. Once ANBP has these statistics, they will be given out. So far, the number of weapons collected from soldiers that have disarmed is around 28,000. As previously indicated, there is a difference between number of weapons collected and the number of soldiers that have been disarmed. This is because some weapons were operated by more than one man.
[Following the briefing the spokesman said that Heavy Weapons collected in the Panjshir Valley are transported to Jabalussaraj, between Kabul and the Panjshir Valley. Once there they are securely held in a compound under the protection of the Afghan National Army.]
Question: Can we have a response to the criticisms levied in the ICG report, that despite the implementation of DDR, warlords still have power?
Spokesman: I haven’t seen the report, although I have read a number of stories by your colleagues on this. But what I have read, the focus seems to be on the fact that the illegal militias also need to be disarmed. In other words there is a whole segment that is armed that needs to be disarmed. This is what I saw in the media coverage of the ICG report. We believe that DDR has a very clear scope and this is the militia forces under the umbrella of the Minister of Defense (MoD). And that has a given number of soldiers and officers and we are nearing the end of this and it has been successful. Apart from that, you have another segment of people who are organized in militias – illegal militias as they do not fall under the umbrella of the Minister of Defense. They are very diverse – many are small and some are bigger and the way they are organized is not as structured as the militia under the MoD and we all agree that they also need to benefit from disarmament and for some time now all partners who currently deal with DDR have worked on this. I do not have at this moment, precise information on how this will happen but I can confirm that this is a topic of great interest and that it has been pursued for some time and let’s hope that action will be possible in the near future.
Question: How will the illegal militias be tackled?
Spokesman: I do not have a program to announce on how this question of the illegal militia will be tackled. This is because they have a variety of structures, large numbers and sometimes very small groups. Moreover, they are sometimes linked as a group through loyalties to different commanders. They are not as structured as the regular militia under the umbrella as the MOD. So it is most likely that they will be approached in a different way than the DDR as approached today in Afghanistan.
Workshop on Afghanistan
By Our Reporter Dawn
KARACHI, Feb 27: A two-day international workshop on the challenge of rebuilding in Afghanistan will begin here on Wednesday to deliberate on the situation arising out of the collapse of the Taliban regime and the formation of a new security and political paradigm which the West is trying to implant in that country under the umbrella of the UN and the NATO.
Organized by the International Relations department of Karachi University under its programme on peace studies and conflict resolution, in collaboration with the Hans Seidel Foundation, Islamabad, about 10 Afghan scholars will attend the workshop that would focus on several questions about the issues of reconstruction, political stabilization and security in that war-torn country.
This would be the first time that so many Afghan scholars would gather in Pakistan to express views on their country's transformation in the post-Taliban era. Eminent scholars from home and abroad would attempt to give analytical presentation on what were the important aspects of the Afghan power politics, rebuilding and reconstruction, interests of regional and extra-regional powers in Afghanistan and their role in country's reconstruction, and impediments in realizing that objective.
The participants will also discuss the impact of 9/11 and linkages between the Afghan crisis and international terrorism, how the issues of war lordism, disarmament, poppy growing, drug money, ethnicity, refugees and women would affect the task of rebuilding Afghanistan.
It will be an interesting exercise to get to know about attempts to give a constitution and a stable representative government and how war lordism in ethnically dominated tribal society had fared so far.
PESHAWAR: 'Afghanistan a good market for Pushto films'
By Our Correspondent Dawn
PESHAWAR, Feb 27: There is a vast market for Pushto films in Afghanistan. This was stated by office-bearers of the Pushto Filmmakers Association at a news conference here on Sunday.
Referring to the popularity of Pushto films among Afghans, Arshad Khan of the association, who was accompanied by director Shah Jehan, Muzaffar Khan said that most of the film-goers in Peshawar came from Kabul and Jalalabad.
Arshad Khan urged the government to take up the issue with the authorities in Kabul so that they could exhibit their films in cinema halls there. They rejected assertions that Pushto films contained objectionable scenes, and said that people could watch them with their families.
Lauding the MMA government's decision of banning the screening of vulgar films in cinemas, they said the move had improved the quality of films. "The cinemas are regaining their past glory," said Arshad Khan.
People now liked action films with good music and powerful script, he said. Arshad Khan said that good photography and outdoor locations were also helping to popularise Pushto films.
"Most of the recent releases were shot in scenic places of Swat, Naran and Kaghan," he said. Arshad Khan said that taking a cue from the success of Pushto films, veteran producers of Urdu films, Sangeeta and Iqbal Kashmiri, were also making Pushto films.
He said they wanted government's assistance in establishing modern studios in the NWFP because the filmmakers had to go to Lahore to record music and dialogues which increased the budget of films.
It cost four million rupees to produce a Pushto film besides a host of taxes, he said. A cinema owner paid Rs700,000 as tax to the government annually, and a producer paid Rs25,000 to the censor board for each film, but they got no incentive from the government, the office-bearer of the filmmakers association said.
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