Pakistani troops arrest 17 militants near Afghan border
MIRAN SHAH, Pakistan (AFP) - Pakistani troops arrested 17 suspects in their latest anti-terrorism operation in a tribal region near the Afghan border, officials said.
Gunship helicopters hovered over the Lwara Mandi area of North Waziristan as troops raided the house of a local tribesman.
Two tribesmen were injured at a nearby security picket when paramilitary troops opened fire at a vehicle after the driver ignored calls to stop for a search, they said on Saturday.
Lwara Mandi is located opposite to Afghanistan (news - web sites)'s troubled eastern province of Khost which is a known hub of Taliban rebels fighting against the US-backed government of President Hamid Karzai.
The nationalities of the suspects were not disclosed.
The operation came after a top Pakistani military commander in charge of the anti-terrorism operation in the semi-autonomous tribal region said this week that foreign "terrorists" were trying to find new hideouts in North Waziristan after being driven away from the neighbouring South Waziristan.
"After losing ground in South Waziristan due to a successful military operation, the foreign terrorists are trying to find new hideouts in... North Waziristan," Lieutenant General Safdar Hussain said Tuesday.
During a series of military operations last year Pakistan's military killed more than 300 foreign and local militants and lost about 200 soldiers in the battles in South Waziristan.
The rugged tribal region is long suspected to be a safe sanctuary for hundreds of Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants who sneaked into Pakistan after the Taliban regime's ouster.
Rights Group Issues Its Annual Report On Afghanistan
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
14 January 2005 -- Independent human rights group, Human Rights Watch (HRW), issued its 2005 human rights report on Afghanistan.
The main points discussed and analyzed in the report were warlordism, presidential election, women’s issues, education and reconstruction.
The report says that some improvements have been achieved by the Afghan administration. Namely, approving a new Afghan Constitution and successful presidential election that took place in October with Karzai as winner. The report also stressed participation of many Afghans including women as a positive fact in rebuilding democracy in the country. Yet, the election process faced problems due to inadequate preparation, report says. The report also points out rise of educational facilities for both males and females although illiteracy still remains problem.
However, the advances are offset by “blossoming Afghan drug economy,” report stresses. Afghanistan became the largest producer of heroin in the world. Rise in drug production and warlordism in the country poses a threat to the democratic development of Afghanistan, according to the HRW.
Human Rights Watch is an independent human rights watchdog that monitors human rights abuses all around the world and summarizes them in their annual reports.
(HRW 2005 Annual Report) - http://www.hrw.org/wr2k5/wr2005.pdf
Hundreds of Taliban could stop uprising
By Sayed Salahuddin January 15, 2005 11:45 AM
KABUL (Reuters) - Hundreds of Taliban fighters could abandon their insurgency in Afghanistan as a result of peace talks under way between local commanders and President Hamid Karzai's government, a provincial governor says.
Three years after U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban from power for harbouring al Qaeda, Karzai and his U.S. backers hope to coax lower-level Taliban fighters back to normal life, leaving senior commanders and al Qaeda leaders isolated.
Tribal chiefs are acting as intermediaries between the Taliban and Karzai's government in the southeastern provinces of Paktia, Khost and Paktika, said Paktia governor Assadullah Wafa.
"We have more than hundreds of Taliban who want to return to their normal lives in Khost, Paktia and Paktika provinces," Wafa told Reuters on Saturday.
In return, the tribal chiefs and local officials want the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, Zalmay Khalilzad, to urge U.S. forces not to harass Taliban members who quit the insurgency, he said.
"The government is talking to them through tribal chiefs and we are demanding Khalilzad use his influence and propose to the American military not to detain or harass those Taliban who plan to stop fighting the government," Wafa said.
He said a regional delegation had travelled to Kabul hoping to meet Khalilzad, but the ambassador was away from the capital. An embassy spokesman said Khalilzad had since left the country.
No Taliban official could immediately be contacted for comment, but Taliban spokesman Abdul Latifi Hakimi told Reuters earlier this week the group was committed to fighting Karzai's government and U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
He said the government was using the issue of talks with the Taliban as propaganda and a way of creating a rift among the militants.
Leaders of the mainstream opposition parties fear that Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun, wants to use the proposed amnesty to strengthen his power base in the Pashtun heartlands of the south and southeast ahead of parliamentary elections due in April.
Wafa declined to identify any of the Taliban he said were willing to stop fighting, but said the group that he was in contact with consisted of both senior and ordinary members of the radical Islamic movement.
U.S.-led troops overthrew the Taliban government in late 2001 after it refused to hand over al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden, the architect of the September 11 attacks on U.S. cities.
The Taliban and their Islamic allies are mostly active in the southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan near the rugged tribal areas along the Pakistan border.
Nearly 1,100 people including civilians, militants, aid workers, and foreign and Afghan troops have been killed in those regions since August 2003, mostly in Taliban-linked raids.
Preparations for Afghan census in final stages
Staff Report Daily Times - Jan 14 2:04 PM
ISLAMABAD: The Government of Pakistan, assisted by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), has almost finished identifying Afghan households in Pakistan for a formal census.
The UNHCR announced on Friday that census teams had finished work in many areas across the country and were finishing surveying remote areas such as South Waziristan, which was the scene of unrest for most of last year.
UNHCR teams are in the middle of distributing nearly 340,000 copies of an information sheet explaining the purpose and procedures for the census, which will be carried out in the second half of February.
“Preparations are going smoothly and we are on track for starting the census in the middle of February,” said Indrika Ratwatte, who is directing the census activities for UNHCR. The census was announced on Tuesday after a meeting in Islamabad between Ruud Lubbers, UN high commissioner for Refugees, and Sardar Yar Muhammad Rind, Pakistani minister for States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON). SAFRON also deals with Afghan refugees.
Although UNHCR has been assisting Afghan refugees in Pakistan for a quarter of a century, there has never been a formal census or registration of all those who fled the fighting in their homeland.
This census will provide UNHCR and the government with details on the refugees’ numbers and background for the first time. This will help develop programmes for dealing with Afghans who remained in Pakistan after the expiration of the repatriation deadline in March 2006.
The government has estimated that there are around 3.2 million Afghans - refugees and others - in Pakistan. The UNHCR estimates that about a million Afghans are in camps and an unknown number live in Pakistani cities.
The census will include all Afghans who arrived in Pakistan since the beginning of December 1979, the year of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. All Afghans must participate and only those included in the census will be eligible to take part in a proposed registration later in the year.
Health warning for Hajj pilgrims
Friday, 14 January, 2005 BBC News
British doctors are warning that Muslims preparing to undertake the pilgrimage to Mecca should be aware of considerable health risks involved.
More than two million people take part in the pilgrimage to Mecca, known as Hajj, each year.
All able-bodied Muslims who can afford to must perform Hajj at least once in their lifetime.
But, warns the British Medical Journal, risks include sunstroke, heat exhaustion and infectious diseases.
This year some 20,000 British Muslims are expected to take part in the annual Islamic ritual which follows a pilgrimage set out by the Prophet Muhammad.
But doctors in the medical journal warn that the five-day pilgrimage and its rituals, due this year to take place in late January, can prove as physically demanding as it is spiritually challenging.
"In view of the very large numbers of people from disparate regions and the hostile climate of the Arabian desert, the chances of disease, particularly in elderly and infirm people, are high," the journal says.
The biggest dangers, the journal says, are heat stroke and heat exhaustion as the ritual requires the pilgrims to travel long distances in desert conditions.
"It is the most complex of Islamic rituals and involves... walking long distances and camping in desert tents, often with only the most basic sanitation."
The doctors recommend travelling by night and, as men on Hajj are prohibited from covering their heads, to carry a good quality white umbrella during the day to deflect heat.
Travelling by night is recommended as a way to avoid the stampedes that are the most common cause of minor injuries during the Hajj season.
Under Saudi law all pilgrims must be vaccinated against meningococcal meningitis before entering the country.
Doctors advising Muslims ahead of departure are urged to ensure they have been vaccinated against Hepatitis A and B and to prescribe anti-malarial tablets.
It also warns that opportunistic barbers offering to shave male pilgrims' heads, also one of the rites of Hajj, often re-use blades, exposing the pilgrims to blood borne infections like HIV, Hepatitis B and C.
Afghanistan - Ramadan 2004 food basket distribution
Source: Life for Relief and Development 14 Jan 2005
LIFE distributed food baskets to a total of 2,750 families(19,250 beneficiaries) in Afghanistan and Pakistan during the month of Ramadan. The distributions took place in Umari and Raghagan Refugee Camps in Pakistan, the Afghani Embassy in Peshawar, and the district of Mardan, where most of the people are living on less than one US dollar per day.
In addition to the food distribution to poor families, other food distribution events took place at LIFE's ORPHAN HIGH SCHOOLS in Laghman and Jalalabad. 1,100 families of the orphan students and teachers received Ramadan Food Packages. These two schools provide education to more than 1,000 orphans.
Kline encouraged by trip to Afghanistan
FREDERIC J. FROMMER Associated Press Fri, Jan. 14, 2005
WASHINGTON - Rep. John Kline said Friday he was encouraged by what he saw and learned during a one-day trip to Afghanistan on his way to Iraq with four other House members, including Georgia's Jim Marshall.
"It was very heartening to see what's going on in Afghanistan," said Kline, R-Minn., in a telephone interview from Jordan.
"It's one of the poorest nations on earth, it's been ravaged by all these years of war, and in some places it looks like walking on the moon. But you can see business coming back. There were little stalls on the streets of Kabul selling oranges and all matter of produce. There's activity going on."
Kline, a member of the House Armed Service Committee, and the four other House members spent the previous day in Pakistan, and will spend the weekend visiting Iraq.
Afghanistan is still recovering from more than a quarter-century of warfare, and its army is struggling to cope with a stubborn Taliban insurgency.
But Kline, a Marine Corps veteran, said that U.S. soldiers are training a "first-class Army that's gaining the respect of the Afghan people all over the country, and kind of serving as a uniting force over there."
"It seemed to me that the progress that's being made is terrific," he added.
Kline and the other lawmakers - Texas Republicans John Carter and Mike Burgess, Georgia Democrat Marshall and Florida Democrat Kendrick Meek - met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Karzai told the group he is focused on eliminating the drug traffic trade in the country, Kline said.
"He was also very eloquent in thanking the people of the United States," Kline said, adding that Karzai expressed concern that Americans might not recognize the gratitude Afghans feel toward the United States.
"It was touching that he made those comments," Kline said. "I pledged to him to carry that message every chance."
Kline said that when he returns to Washington, he will review the funding situation in Afghanistan.
"Right now, it looks like we're getting a pretty good bang for the buck," he said.
The group also met with officials in Pakistan earlier in the week. Kline said he was encouraged by the cross-border cooperation of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States.
The lawmakers head to Iraq Saturday, where they will meet with U.S. troops and generals.
"Part of the focus will be on how the Iraqis are doing in providing for their own security," Kline said.
'They beat me from all sides'
Friday January 14, 2005 The Guardian
A German car salesman says that a year ago he was kidnapped in Europe, beaten and flown to a US-controlled jail in Afghanistan. Now the German government is collecting evidence to back up his story. James Meek hears Khaled el-Masri's account of life in America's secret offshore prison network
A man is walking alone along a mountain path in the darkness. He is carrying a suitcase. He seems frightened, tired and confused. He has long hair and a long beard, but they are untidy, as if he did not grow them voluntarily. He turns a bend and meets three men carrying Kalashnikovs.
The man shows them his passport. It indicates that he is a German citizen, born in Lebanon, called Khaled el-Masri. Using poor English, he tells them that he does not know where he is. They tell him that he is on the Albanian border, close to Serbia and Macedonia, and that he is there illegally since he doesn't have an Albanian stamp in his passport.
The story that el-Masri tells them by way of explanation, on this evening in late May 2004, is extraordinary: a story of how an unemployed German car salesman from the town of Ulm went on a New Year's holiday to Macedonia, was seized by Macedonian police at the border, held incommunicado for weeks without charge, then beaten, stripped, shackled and blindfolded and flown to a jail in Afghanistan, run by Afghans but controlled by Americans. Five months after first being seized, he says, still with no explanation or charge, he was flown back to Europe and dumped in an unknown country which turned out to be Albania.
What really happened? With no way to prove his story, el-Masri's account remains in the balance, a terrifying snapshot of America's "war on terror". It is certain that he returned home to Ulm from Albania in May 2004, and that he was taken off a bus from Germany at the Macedonian border on New Year's Eve 2003. The only person who has offered a clear explanation for what happened in the five months in between is el-Masri himself. Yet that may change.
The German authorities are now taking his allegations very seriously. They are subjecting a sample from el-Masri's hair to radioisotope analysis, which can reveal, down to a particular country, the source of a person's food and drink over a period of time. Discussions are also under way about bringing to Germany two men whom el-Masri has identified as being with him in the Afghan prison, and who were also subsequently released. The fact that the German authorities do regard Ulm as an area of potentially dangerous radical Islamic activity - a number of premises were raided and alleged Islamic activists were arrested on Wednesday - only emphasises the concern that Germany has over the el-Masri case.
So far the US authorities have neither confirmed nor denied el-Masri's story, although German investigators first requested information about the case in autumn. The FBI office in the US embassy in Berlin did not return calls yesterday.
On Tuesday the Guardian was the first European news organisation to interview el-Masri, at the Ulm offices of his lawyer, Manfred Gnjidic. In a conversation lasting more than four hours, el-Masri conveyed a powerful impression of sincerity: if his story is not true, he must be an actor of genius. He broke down in sobs as he described the moment he was abducted by masked men and put on a plane, excused himself to vomit as he recalled the filthy water he was given to drink in jail, and brightened as he described the hours before his return to Germany. Often he would pick up a pen and sketch the layout of a room or building.
If true, the abduction would add to our understanding of a pattern of US behaviour frightening in its implications both for America and for the rest of the world. The former director of the CIA, George Tenet, told the US 9/11 Commission last year that even before September 11 the US had abducted more than 70 foreigners it considered terrorists - a process Washington has declared legal under the label "extraordinary rendition".
An investigation by the Washington Post last year suggested that the US held 9,000 people overseas in an archipelago of known prisons (such as Abu Ghraib in Iraq) and unknown ones run by the Pentagon, the CIA or other organisations. But this figure does not include others "rendered" to third-party governments who then act as subcontractors for Washington, enabling the US to effectively torture detainees while technically denying that it carries out torture.
El-Masri's ordeal began, he says, when he decided to escape, for one week over New Year, the stress of living in a single room in Ulm as the unemployed father of a family of six. On a friend's recommendation he bought a cheap bus ticket to Skopje, capital of Macedonia, intending to find a hotel when he got there.
The bus left the borders of the EU and crossed Serbia without incident. Then, at the Macedonian border, at 3pm, el-Masri was called off the bus. Now 41, he has lived in Germany for 20 years, the last 10 as a citizen. "I didn't feel bad," he says. "I just thought it was a mistake."
He was taken to a room with a table and chairs where four men whom he took to be Slavic searched his luggage and questioned him in poor English, asking him about links to Islamic organisations. Several hours later, flanked by armed police, he was driven to a city he assumes was Skopje and escorted to the hotel room where he was to spend the next few weeks. "I asked if I was arrested," says el-Masri. "They said: 'Can you see handcuffs?'"
El-Masri was kept prisoner in the room for 23 days; Macedonian civilian police were constantly present, and he was subject to repeated interrogations about his links to Islamic organisations - he says he has none - and about the mosque in Ulm where he worships.
After about 10 days, a Macedonian Mr Nice appeared. "He said it was taking a long time, too much time - let's make an end to it, and let's make a deal. 'We have to say you are a member of al-Qaida ... then we'll put you on a plane and take you back to Germany.' I refused, naturally. It would have been suicide to sign."
But el-Masri was accused of having been to a terror training camp in Jalalabad, of having a fake passport, and being in reality a citizen of Egypt. On the evening of January 23, he was handcuffed, blindfolded, put in a car and told he was going to Germany. He was driven to a place where he heard the sound of a plane, then heard the voice of one of the Macedonians saying he would have a medical examination.
"I heard the door being closed," says el-Masri. "And then they beat me from all sides, from everywhere, with hands and feet. With knives or scissors they took away my clothes. In silence. The beating, I think, was just to humiliate me, to hurt me, to make me afraid, to make me silent. They stripped me naked. I was terrified. They tried to take off my pants. I tried to stop them so they beat me again. And when I was naked I heard a camera." El-Masri breaks down as he recalls the moment when the men carried out an intrusive anal search.
He was dressed in a nappy, a short-sleeved, short-legged suit and a belt. His feet were shackled and his hands were chained to the belt. His ears were plugged and ear defenders placed over them and a clip put on his nose. A hood was put over his blindfold. With his arms raised painfully high behind his back, he was driven to an aircraft where he was thrown down on to a bare metal floor, chained and bound, and given an injection. He was dimly aware of a landing and takeoff and a second injection before the plane landed again and he was put into the boot of a car.
El-Masri arrived in what he later found to be his cell by being pushed violently against the wall, thrown to the floor, having feet placed on his head and his back and having his chains removed. The cell was to be his home for the next four months. From the graffiti on the wall - in Arabic script, but not Arabic - and the Afghan dress of the guards, he deduced that he was in Afghanistan. There was nothing in the cell except a blanket, a filthy plastic mat and a bottle of tainted water so vile that the memory of it makes him literally gag.
El-Masri soon discovered that the prison, though technically Afghan, was run from behind the scenes by the US. His first encounter with an American was with a masked individual who spoke English with what el-Masri believes was an American accent. He had a Palestinian translator. The American took a blood sample and photographed el-Masri naked again.
"I asked him if I could have fresh water," said el-Masri. "And he said: 'It's not our problem, it's a problem of the Afghan people.' I said: 'Afghanistan doesn't have planes to kidnap people in Europe and bring them here, so it's not the problem of the Afghan people.'"
By whispering through the door, and exchanging messages on pieces of toilet paper, el-Masri found out a few details about his fellow prisoners: two Saudi brothers of Pakistani origin who had been imprisoned for two years, two Tanzanians, a Pakistani, a Yemeni, and several Afghans. (Mr Gnjidic says two of the prisoners have been traced but he didn't want to identify them for fear of putting their lives at risk.)
El-Masri says the first of many interrogations was carried out by a masked man with a south Lebanese accent, with seven or eight silent observers in black masks listening in. "He said: 'Do you know where you are?' And I answered: 'Yes, I know, I'm in Kabul.' So he said: 'It's a country without laws. And nobody knows that you are here. Do you know what this means?'"
Repeatedly, he would be asked the same questions, challenging his identity, accusing him of attending terrorist training camps. Some of the interrogators, el-Masri believes, were American.
After about a month, el-Masri met two unmasked Americans who other prisoners referred to as "the Doctor" and "the Boss". The Doctor was a tall, pale man in his 60s with grey collar-length hair. The Boss was younger, with red hair and blue eyes, about 5ft 10in, and wore glasses. Then, in March, el-Masri and the other prisoners began a hunger strike. After 27 days of starvation, he was taken in chains one night to meet the Americans and a senior Afghan. Near to hysteria, el-Masri said they had to let him go, put him before a US court, let him speak to somebody from the German government, or watch him starve to death.
The Boss told him he had to get Washington's permission to help him, but was clearly angry, saying: "He shouldn't be here. He's in the wrong place." "I had the impression that the Doctor thought I wasn't guilty, and had sent a report saying so even after the second interrogation," says el-Masri. Yet he was taken back to his cell, where he continued his hunger strike. Conditions in the cell improved, with a bed and a new carpet, but he was barely able to move. On the 37th day he was force fed chocolate-flavoured nutrients through a tube stuffed up his nose. El-Masri began to eat again and the Americans brought him fresh water and promised that he would be released within three weeks.
They brought a native German speaker to the prison. "I asked him: 'Are you from the German authorities?' He said: 'I do not want to answer that question.' When I asked him if the German authorities knew that I was there, he answered: 'I can't answer this question.'" (Hofmann, the prosecutor, says the German security services do not admit to any knowledge of an agent visiting el-Masri in prison.)
It was to be more than a week before el-Masri finally got out of the prison; the German told him one of the obstacles to his speedy release was the Americans' determination not to leave any evidence that he had ever been there. He was flown to Albania in what he thinks was a small passenger jet, blindfolded and in plastic handcuffs.
When el-Masri got back to Ulm, he found his wife and four children had disappeared. They had returned to Lebanon. He traced them, brought them back, and told his wife his story.
"It was a crime, it was humiliating, and it was inhuman, although I think that in Afghanistan I was treated better than the other prisoners. Somebody in the prison told me that before I came somebody died under torture. Those responsible have to take responsibility, and should be held to account."
Hofmann and his investigative team now have two tasks: to find evidence supporting or disproving el-Masri's story and, if they can show it is true, to work out who to charge with kidnapping. But how do you charge a government? "For the moment," says Hofmann, "I have to believe the story, because there is no evidence that it is not true."
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