UNHCR threatens Iran with suspension of aid for Afghan refugees
Saturday January 15, 11:13 PM AFP
The UN refugee agency threatened to suspend aid for Afghan refugees in Iran unless Tehran stopped their forced repatriation.
"We think that the Iranian authorities have gone too far... we are not going to be instrumental in forced repatriation," United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Ruud Lubbers told AFP on Saturday.
Speaking on a visit to Afghanistan, Lubbers said a tripartite agreement between the UNHCR, Iran and Afghanistan would not be renewed when it expires in three months' time if Iranian authorities "don't improve their behaviour."
Some 375,000 Afghan refugees returned from Iran in 2004, with the UN agency assisting many of them with packages of house-building materials including doors, beams and windows, a small cash stipend and transportation across Afghanistan.
But in recent months fears have mounted that Iranian authorities are exerting undue pressure on Afghan refugees to return home, suspending education and medical care for them and revoking their residence permits so that police who stop them on the street can threaten them with deportation.
Afghan refugees returning home in September told AFP that there was a government-run radio campaign in Iran urging them to return home and threatening them with arrest and legal action if they failed to do so.
"I think that the Iranian authorities sometimes go beyond what they should do in the propaganda as if everybody is obliged to go. It is not good," Lubbers told AFP.
More than two million Afghans fled to Iran as refugees in the years of conflict which followed the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, but many have begun returning home since the fall of the hardline Islamic Taliban regime in late 2001.
However, with living conditions in Afghanistan so basic after 23 years of conflict, many refugees based in Iran are reluctant to return to the war-shattered country fearing to rebuild their lives from scratch.
Lubbers said the first returnees were very patriotic and had returned volutarily, adding: "Why do we hear these stories now? It is because we are entering these people who had good lives there and are not so patriotic and feel more obliged to go."
Since 2002, more than 1,100,000 Afghans have returned from Iran, including some 330,000 Afghans who returned under their own steam without help from the UN.
According to UNHCR, there are still 950,000 Afghans living in the neighbouring country.
However, the Iranian consul in Kabul, Muslim Salatani, told AFP in an interview last year that it was the right time for Afghans to return home.
"The war is over in Afghanistan. The country is at peace. Iran was a second home for the Afghans during the war, but now they should go home to participate in the country's reconstruction," he said.
AP Interview: U.N. refugee chief says American military could ease operations to help penitent Taliban return to Afghanistan
Associated Press / January 15, 2005
Improving security in Afghanistan's most troubled region is boosting the outlook for a reconciliation between former Taliban supporters and the U.S.-backed government of President Hamid Karzai, the head of the U.N. refugee agency said Saturday.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Ruud Lubbers also said that eased-up American military operations could encourage more militants to give up the fight and return from countries such as Pakistan.
"The big shots of the Taliban will of course stay out because they will be imprisoned immediately," Lubbers, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in an interview. "But the more rank-and-file people, normal people, I think there you will see more" willingness to return.
Karzai has dismissed a stubborn Taliban-led insurgency as a minor threat, and repeatedly called for low- and mid-ranking members to make peace and help rebuild Afghanistan after more than two decades of war.
Government officials claim many have since signaled their wish to come back from neighboring countries, and the top U.S. commander here told AP last month that a big repatriation could prompt a cut in his 18,000-strong force. But few appear to have taken the plunge.
Suggesting that could change this year, Lubbers said U.S. military operations, the recent closure of several refugee camps used as sanctuaries by militants and the planned reconciliation drive had improved security "considerably" along the border.
The military is engaged in a winter-long campaign to prevent militants from threatening elections planned for the spring. Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar and al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden remain at large.
Still, U.S. troops are increasingly engaged in rebuilding Afghan security forces and carrying out badly needed reconstruction projects in areas deemed too dangerous by many civilian relief organizations.
Lubbers, who spoke to reporters after talks with Karzai at the end of a four-day visit, suggested that American offensive operations could now become "more selective" to create conditions for more Afghans to return.
"It will be very good to give some chance, some oxygen if you like, to normalcy in these regions (where) people are allowed to come back and are not in an atmosphere any more of confrontation," he said.
Thousands of Taliban supporters fled, many with their entire families, to Pakistan, Iran and other countries when a U.S. bombing campaign drove them from power in late 2001 for harboring bin Laden.
The exodus was just the latest during more than 20 years of fighting in Afghanistan dating back to a communist coup in 1978 and the Soviet invasion a year later.
In all, about three million refugees have returned to Afghanistan since 2001, but only a fraction of those from border provinces such as Zabul and Paktika _ where the hardline militia remain active _ have come back.
Lubbers said another 400,000 refugees would likely return to Afghanistan this year.
However, others wish to stay in Pakistan or Iran because of the difficulty of reclaiming abandoned Afghan homes and land and the lack of jobs or basic services in areas viewed as unsafe by relief organizations.
Many returnees have ended up in booming cities such as Kabul, where nearly a million refugees have prompted a desperate shortage of accommodation.
With the U.N. providing only emergency help and no sign of long-planned government housing projects, the dozens of families living in the capital's war-damaged former Russian cultural center see little hope.
"When I was a farmer, I was carefree as a butterfly," said Dost Mohammed, a man of about 80 originally from Panjshir province, living in a tiny room made of scavenged cement blocks and plastic sacks inside the ruined complex. "Now look what has become of us."
Afghan tribal delegation to discuss amnesty for Taleban with US envoy
AIP – 01.14.05
A delegation of elders from Paktia Province has come to Kabul to discuss the Taleban's return to their homes with the US ambassador.
Paktia Governor Haji Asadollah Wafa told the Afghan Islamic Press [AIP] from Kabul today: "I have come to Kabul with a delegation of representatives from all tribes of Paktia Province to discuss the Taleban issue with the US ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad."
He added: "Zalmay Khalilzad has already assured me that the Taleban could return home and resume their lives and that they would be given amnesty. In this respect, the elders of Paktia Province have come to Kabul to discuss the issue with the US ambassador."
He continued: "The elders of Paktia would like to play mediators' role between the government and the Taleban." Haji Asadollah also told the AIP that President [Hamed] Karzai had also stressed that the Taleban should stop committing crimes and begin a peaceful life in their homes and villages.
About the number of people's representatives in the delegation, the governor said that many people had come to Kabul, but only seven were selected to meet the US ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad.
In reply to a question about the result and success of the talks with the Taleban, Wafa told the AIP: "The process has been positive so far. We believe that all the Taleban will return home, except a few ones. I also believe that the government will give them amnesty in a real way."
It is also worth mentioning that the defence minister of Afghanistan, Gen Abdorrahim Wardak, has also confirmed that talks and negotiations with the Taleban were under way. However, the Taleban have always rejected government's proposals and described the government's claims as sheer propaganda. But there is no doubt certain members of the Taleban have held talks with the government.
Afghan army makes progress training, executing missions
by American Forces Press Service Source: Pentagram, DC (dcmilitary.com) / January 14, 2005
Progress made by the Afghan National Army over the past year has "enabled Afghan institutions to build enduring local, regional and national security, extended the reach of the national government and assisted in Afghanistan's transition to a democratic nation," a U.S. Army spokesman said Monday at a Kabul news conference.
The Afghan army "is well trained, brave and relentless in its execution of missions," Maj. Mark McCann pointed out.
Afghanistan's army, McCann added, helped to set the stage for successful nationwide voting conducted in October, which elected Hamid Karzai as Afghanistan's president.
Today, the Afghan National Army has 21,000 soldiers, McCann noted, which includes about 17,800 trained troops and more than 3,400 still in training. About 4,000 Afghan soldiers are deployed throughout the country performing security tasks, he said, "from combat operations alongside coalition forces, to security operations" at the direction of Afghanistan's minister of defense.
Over the past year, the Afghan Army has helped to quell disagreements among warlords and end fighting among rival militias, McCann said.
The army, McCann said, "is a true national army, representative of all of Afghanistan's major ethnic groups -- Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara, Turkmen and others." This inclusiveness, the major noted, "has been key" to its success.
The Afghan Army also continues to attract recruits, McCann said, noting that 11 new recruiting centers are slated to open in the next few months.
And, last fall's rollout of regional command centers at Kandahar, Heart, Mazar-e-Sharif and Gardez, he said, "extended the reach of the national government throughout all four regions of the country."
By this summer, he said, the Afghan minister of defense "will have grown the troop presence at each regional command to a full 3,000-man brigade, plus the headquarters soldiers."
The disarmament of Afghan militia forces "has been another, critical goal in establishing a safe and secure Afghanistan," McCann said. The Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration program, with Japan as the international community's lead nation, has "achieved more successes these past few months," he said.
The program has led to the disarmament of 31,800 former militia members, McCann said, adding more than 7,800 heavy weapons are now under government control.
Top U.S. commander in Afghanistan says troops levels should remain steady at 18,000
By Charlie Coon, Stars and Stripes European edition, Saturday, January 15, 2005 Saturday, January 15, 2005
GARMISCH, Germany — U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan should remain steady at about 18,000 this year, and troops could be stationed there until they aren’t wanted, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan said Thursday.
Army Lt. Gen. David Barno, commander of Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan, noted that Afghan President Hamid Karzai won the election in October while campaigning on a pro-U.S. military platform.
“[Karzai] told voters, ‘If you vote for me, you are voting for a long-term partnership with the Americans,’” Barno said in an interview with Stars and Stripes. “Now he feels he has a mandate among his people to have a long-term relationship. What that [relationship] is going to look like, I don’t know.”
“We hear all the time that the Afghans are more concerned about the Americans abandoning them than they are about Americans overstaying their welcome.”
He said he didn’t know if the United States would establish permanent military bases in Afghanistan similar to the U.S. garrisons currently in Germany and other European countries. In addition to 18,000 U.S. troops, the Kabul-based International Security Assistance Force of troops, mostly from NATO-member nations, numbers about 8,900.
Barno was in Garmisch this week for a conference among military and diplomatic leaders from Afghanistan, Pakistan and the former Soviet nations to their north.
The United States invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, one month after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, to chase down members of the al-Qaida group, which organized the attack, as well as to topple the Taliban regime that was sympathetic to al-Qaida.
In the past year, the roles of many U.S. troops in Afghanistan have changed, Barno said.
Nineteen provincial reconstruction teams, or PRTs, which include some run by NATO forces, have been established throughout the sprawling nation. The key to their success, Barno said, was that troops have stayed in regions long enough to become known and trusted by the locals.
The teams range in size from 50-500 troops and perform a variety of missions, including construction, meeting with mullahs and elders, intelligence gathering and security. He said the PRTs are light, but not lightweight.
“These are combat forces,” Barno said. “People well know they have artillery and direct-fire capability, and that air power could [arrive] in 20 minutes.
“No one is confused that those units don’t have a lot of capability. Our air power allows us to work platoon-sized, 40-man groups all over the country, very small groups instead of 100-man or 800-man groups,” he said.
That quick-strike capability lets the U.S. military cover a country about the size of Iraq, with about the same population as Iraq, with 18,000 troops instead of 10 times that number, he said.
When Karzai was elected in October, an 800-soldier battalion from the 82nd Airborne Division was brought into Afghanistan for several weeks to provide additional security.
The election went off fairly smooth, and while Barno said it’s possible that reinforcement troops could be brought in to help secure local and regional elections in the spring, he expected those elections to succeed as well.
“Whatever opinion people had before [Oct. 9, when Karzai was elected president], the enemy had no impact on the election,” Barno said. “The security situation continues to improve.
“There are going to be setbacks, but there is no reason they can’t have the next elections on time from a security standpoint.”
Other goals of the Karzai government, in which the U.S. troops would continue playing a role, include the stripping of power of local warlords and diminishing the booming poppy trade. Poppy plants are used to make heroin.
American forces will continue to support Afghan troops fighting the drug war by providing close-air support and medical evacuations, Barno said, but are not scheduled to become involved in eradicating the poppy fields.
A New Anthem for Afghanistan
The new song, written in Pashtu, pays tribute to the country’s unity and diversity.
By Wahidullah Amani (ARR No. 157, 14-Jan-05) Institute for War & Peace Reporting
Afghanistan may soon have a new national anthem, with words calling for national unity while noting the nation’s ethnic diversity. But as in the past, the language in which the anthem is sung has become a matter of dispute.
The current anthem, performed at official government ceremonies, dates back to the mid- Nineties and the mujahedin regime of former president Burhanuddin Rabbani. Its lyrics, considered by some more pan-Islamic than national, are in Dari, one of the country’s official languages and spoken by over 30 per cent of the population, including Tajiks, Hazaras and other ethnic groups.
Afghanistan’s first national anthem, used during the rule of King Amanullah in the late Twenties, was sung in Pashtu to western-style parade music. There was no national anthem during King Habibullah’s nine-month regime in 1929, and in the subsequent reign of King Mohammed Nadir Shah until 1933, Pashtu lyrics were sung to martial music. While King Mohammad Zaher Shah was in power between 1933 and 1973, the anthem consisted of music without words.
The constitution approved by a Loya Jirga or grand assembly in early 2004 requires that the anthem be performed in Pashtu, another of the country’s official languages and the one used by the country’s majority ethnic group, the Pashtuns.
The Constitution also requires that the anthem include the names of the country’s major ethic groups and contain the words “Allah hu Akbar” (God is Great).
Disagreements over which language to use for the national anthem nearly derailed the Constitutional Loya Jirga, and some of the delegates who attended are still unhappy with the decision.
Former presidential candidate Abdul Hafiz Mansur, editor of the Payam-e-Mujahed, Voice of the Mujahedin, newspaper, was among the delegates who opposed the Loya Jirga’s decision at the time, and still says he would prefer the new anthem to be sung in both Pashtu and Dari, or simply have no lyrics at all.
“There were many Loya Jirga members who didn’t like it,” said Mansur, whose newspaper represents the view of Jamiat-e-Islami, a former mujahedin faction whose stronghold is in the mainly Tajik northeast. “In my opinion, [the new anthem] is a problem and will remain a problem. It should be in both languages.”
Rahnaward Zaryab, a member of the ethnically diverse, 40-member culture and information ministry council that chose the national anthem, told IWPR that the ministry received more than a hundred poems in a variety of languages after it announced the competition in last spring. There is currently a worldwide contest under way to set the words to music.
The first verse of the proposed anthem is the same as the one used in the Seventies during the regime of former President Daoud. They were written by the famed Pashtun post Abdul Rauf Benawa and remained in use until Rabbani came to power in 1992.
Habibullah Rafi, a member of the Afghanistan Academy of Scientists and a political analyst, composed the remainder of the lyrics.
Here are the lyrics to the proposed anthem:
So long as there is the earth and the sky, So long as the world endures; So long as there is life in the world, So long as a single Afghan breathes, There will be this Afghanistan.
Whether we are Hazara or Baluch, Pashai or Nuristani, Uzbek or Turkmen, Pashtun or Tajik, Whatever ethnicity we are from, We are all Afghans. And children of one homeland.
Our chant is freedom, peace and reconstruction, development, and progress toward success. This is our sacred call – God is Great! God is Great!
Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, a former presidential candidate and former deputy head of the Ittihad-e-Islami faction under the fundamentalist Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, said he could live with either the proposed anthem or the one used during the Rabbani regime.
"It was ratified in the constitutional Loya Jirga that the verses of national anthem should be in Pashto, and I accept that," said Ahmadzai, a Pashtun. "The anthem played in Dari is also acceptable for me; it's an Islamic anthem."
But Mahmood Shah, 48, a Pashtun in Kabul, said, “The mujahedin government’s national anthem didn’t belong to all of Afghanistan, even though there were holy words in it. It was like a party’s anthem, not a national anthem”.
He told IWPR he believed the new anthem better reflects the modern realities of Afghanistan.
"We as citizens should try to do what the poem says regarding unity and development,” said Mahmood Shah.
The proposed anthem must now be approved by President Hamed Karzai and his cabinet.
Wahidullah Amani is a staff reporter for IWPR in Kabul.
Government will formulate Afghan repatriation policy
* 300,000 nationals returned to Afghanistan in 2004
By Anjum Gill Daily Times - Jan 15 3:12 PM
LAHORE: The federal government will formulate a policy document to repatriate Afghans, registered as well as non-registered, living in Pakistan since the 1979 Afghan war, sources told Daily Times on Saturday.
Sources said that the Interior Ministry would meet on January 17 to chalk out a policy to send back Afghan nationals. The Home Department, Foreign Ministry, Ministry of State and Frontier Regions and the Law Ministry will attend the meeting.
Sources said that Afghans involved with the Taliban and Al Qaeda had disguised themselves as refugees after the crackdown in Afghanistan. They said that some of these miscreants, arrested during operations in Afghan camps, would be filtered through the process of repatriation. They added that a number of fundamentalist organisations had recruited Afghans settled in Pakistan, who were involved in robberies, weapons sale and drugs trafficking.
The repatriation of Afghan nationals started in 2002 and over 300,000 were returned home from Pakistan in 2004 under the UN Refugee Agency’s voluntary repatriation programme.
Around 173,000 Afghans who passed through the UNHCR departure centres in 2004 came from the North West Frontier Province, 83,000 from Balochistan, 33,000 from Sindh and 30,000 from Punjab. Around 184,000 were living outside established refugee camps, while 135,000 came from within the camps.
Nearly 1.6 million Afghans returned home from Pakistan during 2002 because of the removal of the Taliban government. Most of the unregistered Afghans living in Punjab have their own houses in Lahore.
UN official visits Afghanistan in bid to solve refugee problem
U.N. News Service
13 January 2005 - The head of the United Nations refugee agency is in Afghanistan holding talks with members of the new Government in the capital, Kabul, and visiting his agency's operations in the provinces as part of an effort to solve the problem of an estimated 3 million Afghans still living in exile in Pakistan and Iran.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHC) Ruud Lubbers, on a four-day visit to the war-ravaged country, has already met with the Ministers for Refugees, Rural Rehabilitation, the Economy and Foreign Affairs and is due to see President Hamid Karzai on Saturday, agency spokesman Tim Irwin told a news briefing in Kabul today.
Bad weather forced Mr. Lubbers to postpone until tomorrow a flight to the southern city of Kandahar for talks with the provincial governor and a visit to a camp for internally displaced persons (IDP) run by UNHCR. He will also see an income generation project in operation.
Today he is visiting UNHCR operations in Parwan province. More than 3.5 million Afghan refugees have returned home since the start of the voluntary repatriation programme in 2002 following decades of occupation and civil war in their country. UNHCR believes just under 1 million Afghans now remain in Iran, and another million are still living in refugee camps in Pakistan. An unknown but substantial number are also living in cities across the country.
A War on Drugs, Or a War On Farmers?
Wall Street Journal 01/14/2005 By Barnett R. Rubin and Omar Zakhilwal
Two days after his inauguration as Afghanistan's first popularly elected president, Hamid Karzai gave an impassioned speech to officials and community leaders from all over the country. The drug trade, he said, posed a greater threat to Afghanistan than the Soviet invasion, civil war, or foreign interference. Yet while the Karzai government is determined to eliminate narcotics, it is resisting U.S. pressure for a massive crop eradication effort.
As the chancellor of Kabul University, former finance minister Ashraf Ghani, recently wrote, "Today, many Afghans believe that it is not drugs, but an ill- conceived war on drugs that threatens their economy and nascent democracy."
Last November, after a still-unidentified aircraft sprayed herbicide on opium poppy (and everything else, including children) in villages of eastern Afghanistan, President Karzai called in the ambassadors of the U.S. and U.K. to protest. Both countries denied involvement. Since then, under pressure from Mr. Karzai, U.S. allies, and the U.S. military, the administration is considering reallocating the $152 million already programmed for aerial eradication. That would be a change in the right direction, if the administration adds these funds to the $120 million it had allocated to alternative livelihoods for rural communities, a mere 15% of a total program of $778 million.
The administration's program not only has lopsided priorities; it is a threat to U.S. objectives and the stability of Afghanistan. It focuses resources on the wrong end of the value chain, the raw material. The program's "five pillars" (eradication, interdiction, law enforcement, alternative livelihoods, and public information) contain no provision for macro-economic support as part of a plan to wipe out the largest sector of one of the poorest economies.
Eradication, the largest part of the program (38%) attacks farmers who voted for President Karzai and sometimes provide intelligence to U.S. forces. Eradication would take place while the country tries to carry out parliamentary and provincial elections.
It is hard to find Afghans who support this strategy, but we have found one group that does: drug traffickers. Strangely enough for a Republican administration, the administration's anti-drug policy tries to use force against the profit motive, rather than use the profit motive to support policy. The result is the enrichment of traffickers, warlords and terrorists at the expense of poor farmers.
The Afghan opium economy involves three groups: poor farmers, who use cash from opium futures contracts to feed their families over the winter; landowners and traders, who rent land and provide loans against the future harvest; and protectors, including officials, warlords and terror groups, who oversee the trade and export. In the latter two groups are major smugglers and officials. The latter group, not farmers, threatens Afghanistan.
Final demand for this addictive product varies little with price. But the demand by middlemen is highly elastic, as opiates, raw or refined, have a shelf-life of years. From his discussions with farmers in Eastern Afghanistan, one of the authors (Zakhilwal) found that poor farmers have sold off their stocks to buy necessities, while those with adequate wealth have hoarded half of the 2004 harvest and about 30% from 2003. Mid-level traders have stored 80% of the 2004 opium for resale at higher prices.
Traders welcomed U.S. calls for crop eradication. After three massive harvests, prices had fallen from $600 to $90 per kilo, but after announcement of eradication they jumped to $400. Prices settled back to $300 for current sales, but futures prices went to $400 for delivery in two months and $500 for three months. Traders are confident that by April 2005 the price will reach $1,000 per kilo. Then they will sell. The higher price will signal that it is profitable to grow opium in remote areas with lower yields, leading to the migration, not elimination, of the crop, as in the Andes.
Sustained efforts against those high on the value chain, however, would be far more effective. Destruction of laboratories and stocks, and disruption of wholesale markets would lead to panic sell-offs, lowering prices and exposing product to interdiction. It would also lower the price paid to farmers, sending the right market signal for next year's planting.
But while interdiction, not eradication, is therefore the right focus for law enforcement, it too will backfire without actual -- not just promised -- economic development. Rural communities need alternatives to the credit, employment and cash incomes that opium provides. U.S. and Afghan officials have launched development efforts in opium- growing provinces, but many are on the margin of survival. They cannot shift their economic activities based on tiny handouts or vague promises.
Some of the poor in rural communities have migrated to Pakistan, saying they cannot survive in Afghanistan without opium. An attack on the farmers' livelihoods will lead some to flee and others to fight. It will then be too late for either the government or international aid providers to enter their villages to promote alternative livelihoods.
The narcotics industry now equals 60% of legal economic activity. It produces the country's main export. Without macroeconomic support to sustain effective demand and the balance of payments, the currency will crash, prices will soar, and the urban population will suffer along with the rural communities. Such conditions would be as unpropitious for stabilizing the country as the entrenchment of the narco-economy.
Counter-narcotics must start by helping those whose political support the government and the U.S. need. This requires far more aid to rural communities and a program of support to effective demand and the balance of payments. Law enforcement should attack the real enemies of our effort at the top of the drug trade. This will send the right market and political signals. Using force against the interest of our allies and the laws of the market risks undoing the good we have done.
Afghanistan's Media Renaissance
After decades of supression, a new, vibrant media is making its presence felt in Afghanistan.
By Abubaker Saddique / Newsline (Pakistan) / January 2005 issue
Half way between the western Afghan city of Herat and the Iranian border, in the dusty village of Ghoryan, the Afghan media is going through a reincarnation. Returning after two decades of exile in neighbouring Iran, Jamshid Nekjoo Azizi and his photographer friend, Hafizullah Haqdost, cobble together a television station with 7,000 dollars from their own money. With a borrowed VHS video camera, some cheap video cassette recorders and CD players and a rebuilt transmitter, they are now beaming three hours of broadcasting into 500 homes around Ghoryan. "We had an onslaught of Iranian TV broadcasts so we tried to create our own station as we were not receiving any transmissions from the central TV station in Kabul or the regional station in Herat," says Azizi.
Earlier this year, in recognition of their efforts, an international media development organisation, Internews, helped them establish an FM radio station called Nadaye Sulh or the voice for peace. "Within our coverage area we have 100 per cent listenership but we have a long way to go. We need equipment and lots of training," says Haqdost. Around 20 enthusiastic students work on volunteer basis at the station with no renumeration.
Radio Nadaye Sulh is part of an Internews-managed and United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded network of 15 independent community and commercial FM radio stations across Afghanistan. The network is expected to grow to 45 stations by the summer of 2005.
This network is just one success story in the struggle of many eager Afghans and some international organisations to establish a vibrant and independent media in the new Afghanistan. Most Afghan journalists are overly optimistic about the success of such efforts. "In December 2001, after the fall of the Taliban, we started from absolute zero. Since then media development has been unparalleled in our history," says veteran Afghan journalist Habibullah Rafie. "The involvement of international actors in the post-war media development in our country is a good omen," he said, adding that although initially after the fall of the Taliban, it was the factional press associated with the victorious Northern Alliance that stormed the capital, but that has gradually changed.
Today, close to 300 publications are registered with the ministry of culture. With a large chunk operating from Kabul, most Afghan cities and towns have their own modest publications often in the form of magazines. Catering to a wide variety of tastes, these publications include dailies, weeklies, bi-weeklies, monthlies and quarterlies.
While some of them are mouthpieces of political parties and military factions, such as the Payam-e Mujahid and Afghan Millat, which are associated with Jammiat Islami and the Afghan Millat political party, others like the weekly Killid are more neutral and are often funded by international donors since the Afghan print media is a long way from financial independence. As only three out of 10 Afghans can read and write, circulation at best reaches a few thousand copies, while the lack of efficient distribution networks further limits readership. A vast number of Afghan publications are bilingual appearing in the two national languages, Dari and Pashto.
Afghanistan is still steeped in a radio culture as the majority of the population, particularly in the remote rural regions, depend on radio for news and information. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and many other international stations broadcasting in Afghan languages provided the only reliable sources of news and information during the country's 25 year conflict. Most Afghans still rely on these radio broadcasts which led to stations such as the BBC, which is now broadcasting in 16 Afghan cities, to dramatically expand their programming, providing quality broadcasts around the clock.
In addition to the projected 45 Internews community stations, the state- run Radio Afghanistan has 17 stations. Owned and managed by the business savvy young Australian-Afghan Mohsini brothers, Arman FM is the country's most successful commercial pop station. Starting in late 2003, the station soon captured the imagination of Kabul's four million people. Attracting around 80 per cent of the city's listenership, it's still the most popular station in the capital. Every week the station receives thousands of letters, while mobile phone networks crashed during its call-in shows. "We wanted to provide alternatives to the public. Our aim was to target the younger generation and we have been extremely successful," says Saad Mohsini, director Arman FM. The station is now extending its network to six major cities across Afghanistan.
By contrast, the development of television in Afghanistan has been slow. According to most estimates, only one- third of the Afghan population has access to television, while all attempts at reforming the state-owned Afghan television have been abandoned. Many in the ministry of culture and information now believe that privatisation might be the last resort for white elephants such as Afghan TV and the Bakhtar news agency, another subsidiary of the information ministry. With USAID funding, Arman FM has started Afghanistan's first independent commercial TV channel, Tolo TV, in early October, although its success has yet to be ascertained.
Media pundits believe that sustainability is the key challenge facing the nascent Afghan media sector. Says an international media consultant, "We not only had to create media outlets, we also have to create a media market." Compared to neighbouring countries, press freedom in Afghanistan has improved, but much more needs to be done to provide a lasting enabling environment to the media sector. Although international journalists often face little intimidation, scores of Afghan journalists have been threatened and victimised by various warlords and militia commanders.
According to young Afghan journalist, Muhammad Nabi Tadbeer, compared to the Taliban era, the Afghan media has undergone momentous growth but its ultimate success hinges on political stability. "Over the past century we have had cycles of relative stability and development, but any development has always been destroyed by conflict and turmoil."
Women of Kabul take the wheel in brave new drive for sexual equality
The Independent, UK 01/15/2005 By Nick Meo
Kabul - Kabul's chaotic roads are used to plodding camel-carts, smoke-belching lorries, and four-by-fours packed with armed men threatening road rage. Now they have a new, and for Afghan motorists, truly exotic sight: women drivers.
A few brave females have shed their burqas to venture into the driving seat - for decades here the ultimate preserve of the macho Afghan male - thanks to the tuition of a mechanic-turned-instructor who has opened the city's first driving school for women. Delawar Mamozai struck upon the revolutionary idea of teaching women to drive several years ago, and after teaching just one woman in the first five years of his venture he has had a flood of students in the past few months.
"It's not easy for women to learn how to drive in Kabul," he admitted in his grubby classroom, filled with dismembered engine parts and road signs pinned to the walls as teaching aids. "They feel embarrassed and shy when they start, and get a lot of whistles. People shout at them and drivers try to block the cars with their own vehicles. It takes some courage for a woman to go out on the roads the first time."
Mr Mamozai proudly shows off a certificate he grants after 36 hours tuition, with a slot for the student's name, after Mr or Ms. He has taught about 60 women to drive in the past six months, ignoring the taunts of disgruntled male friends who believe women should not be allowed to drive themselves.
He said: "The police came round and asked us not to teach ladies when we started. But we obtained a certificate from the head of the traffic department giving us permission and the police have left us alone since. Of course, we have to ask ladies not to wear their burqas, but most of them are modern-minded so that is not a problem."
One of his proud students is Hosria Jalalzada, a librarian in her fifties, who is now encouraging her son to take driving lessons. She said: "There are a lot of women in Afghanistan who are interested in driving but they are not allowed to by their husbands or their families. It is not only driving cars; women would like to like to be pilots as well."
Mrs Jalalzada said she had not encountered much hostility from male motorists, unlike some of the younger students, although she admitted she gets a lot of stares. She has developed a poor view of her fellow Afghan motorist. "They are terribly dangerous, driving too fast, going the wrong way up one-way streets and round roundabouts, and ignoring traffic lights and signals," she said. "Men are reckless drivers; women are much better, we are careful and obey the rules."
Mr Mamozai agreed that he faced an uphill struggle to inculcate some road sense into some of the wildest learner- drivers on the planet. He said: "In Afghanistan, everybody drives their own way, unfortunately, and there are a lot of accidents." His driving school is playing its bit in improving things but the instructor said the official driving test system did not help.
"About 90 to 95 per cent of my students are awarded our school's certificate, then they have to sit the government test. But driving skills don't count for very much. By that stage, it is mainly a matter of paying bribes. We have heard of people who have been given a certificate without sitting in a car, or visiting a government office. They just send somebody with the baksheesh to an official."
Tons of heroine from Afghanistan inundate Russia
Hundreds of people die in Chechnya, although the drugs from Afghanistan kill up to 70,000 Russians every year - Pravda (Russia) / January 13, 2005
It is an open secret that Afghanistan is the source of drugs for the whole world. Millions of Afghanis are seriously involved in the drug trafficking business there. Poppy plantations take up to 60 thousand hectares of land. Western satellites are watching the "agricultural production" in Afghanistan from space: Afghanis supposedly produced 400 tons of heroine in 2004. A quarter of this lethal harvest - 100 tons - is meant for Russia. Heroine arrives in Russia in big Kamaz trucks. Afghan drugs pose a much bigger threat to Russia than the invasion of Chechen guerrillas, for example. Hundreds of people die in Chechnya, although the drugs from Afghanistan kill up to 70,000 Russians every year.
Afghanistan is Russia's closest neighbor in the south. Afghanistan's mountainous border on the republic of Tajikistan stretches for 1,300 kilometers. Russian border guards were defending this line for ten years, but the Tajik authorities were not very happy about it. President of Tajikistan stated once that he disliked the idea of foreign military men defending the borders of his state. Russia is currently withdrawing its border guards from Tajikistan, according to a special agreement signed between the two countries.
The agreement is virtually opening the border. Certain governmental structures of Tajikistan are supposedly linked with the drug trafficking business. Russian military men in Tajikistan are like a bone of contention for the republic at this point: it is difficult to establish a local control over the drug business. Needless to say that official spokespeople for the Tajik government strongly reject any rumors or affirmations about it.
Eighty or ninety percent of the Afghan heroine will be delivered to Russia anyway. Russian border guards were doing their best to cut the drug trafficking channels, but it is impossible to control all paths in the mountains. Tajik border guards will not be able to accomplish the goal either. Thousands of local paupers make real or potential drug traffickers.
News reports often say that couriers transport drugs in very small quantities, trying to hide them in special secret pockets, even in their own stomachs and rectums. As a matter of fact they deliver drugs to Russia in trucks, trains, vehicles and planes.
Russian special services have recently arrested a criminal group in the Moscow region. It became known that the criminals were delivering the average of 500 kilograms of heroine to Russia on a monthly basis. The leader of the group, Ibragim Kamolov, was a respectable entrepreneur: he invested his money in shops, restaurants and cafes.
Four hundred kilograms of heroine cost millions of dollars. It goes without saying that nobody would dare to put such money at risk. As long as tons of heroine are trafficked in Russia, it would be logical to presume that its owners are certain in the success of their business.
Experts say that Russian special services withdraw the maximum of 15-20 percent of "imported drugs" a year. The drug mafia has established a stable sales market in Russia. About 70 percent of drug addicts in Russia are addicted to heroine and have no hope to become heroine-free.
The British authorities pay Afghan peasants for turning poppy plantations into cornfields. Farmers take the money, sow grains, but continue growing poppy anyway. According to experts' estimates, poppy is 30 times more profitable than wheat and 40 times more profitable than cotton.
It goes without saying that it is impossible to reform the drug-based economy within a year or so, not to mention the Afghani psychology. Talibs, for example, used to think that the export of drugs was a form of struggle with infidels.
There is only one way out for Russia: one should toughen the control in the country. The drug trafficking infrastructure is working perfectly, though. Russian special services are more interested in good reports rather than in the destruction of the whole drug trafficking system.
Pakistan tribal movement could become big insurgency - Reuters
01/14/2005 By Zeeshan Haider
ISLAMABAD - A tribal movement for greater political and economic rights in a strategic Pakistani province has the potential to explode into a major insurgency unless the government offers concessions, commentators say.
Ethnic nationalists in Pakistan's resource-rich but poverty-stricken Baluchistan have been waging a low-level battle against central rule for decades, involving mostly ineffective small-scale bombings and rocket attacks.
But this month has seen a surge in activity, culminating in a bloody attack on Tuesday that has cut off supplies from the country's main gas field for days, disrupting industry and raising doubts about the government's ability to maintain order.
The clashes killed as many as 18 people and forced the government to rush in additional troops to protect the vital gas fields. "These attacks show that there is a lot of discontent among Baluchis," said Rahimullah Yusufzai, a newspaper editor and expert on tribal affairs. "It shows Baluch youth are again ready to take up arms and fight for their rights."
Sparsely populated Baluchistan is home to reserves of natural gas and oil that provide for most of Pakistan's needs. It is also the site a key infrastructure development project, the Gawadar sea port, which is being built with the help of China.
The exploitation of resources by the Pakistani government has long been opposed by Baluchis who argue they are not reaping the benefits. They fear projects like Gawadar will also benefit other ethnic groups more than Baluchis.
The resentment dates back to the creation of Pakistan in 1947 and the region has seen several armed conflicts with the federal government, including a bloody insurgency in the 1970s that was brutally crushed by the military.
Baluchi militants say the attack on the gas fields was retaliation for the rape of a doctor in Baluchistan last month which they blamed on security forces. they have also been worried by plans to build at least three more military bases in the province, which they see as evidence of plans to tighten rather than relax central control.
Sanaullah Baluch, a spokesman of the Baluchistan National Party, a legal group that says it has no links to the militants but shares their aims, said natural resources, ports, shipping and security should be controlled by the provincial government. "We oppose cantonments, we oppose the federal government sending troops. We oppose colonial policies," he said.
Analysts say the nationalists have been further alienated from the political mainstream under the military-led government of President Pervez Musharraf since 1999.
Nationalists had shared power with civilian governments in the 1990s but were effectively sidelined after pro-military groups forged a coalition with an Islamic alliance to control the provincial assembly.
Evidence of deteriorating security came in May when three Chinese technicians working on the Gawadar port project were killed by a bomb claimed by Baluch nationalists.
Baluchistan has also seen a series of attacks in recent months by Islamic extremists furious at Musharraf's support for the U.S.-led war on terror and moves toward peace with India.
But experts say chances are remote of cooperation between Islamic militants and left-leaning Baluch nationalists. Musharraf has been incensed by the recent nationalist attacks and warned he was willing to resort to force if necessary. "It isn't the 1970s when you can hit and run and hide in the mountains," he told the Baluchi militants. "This time you won't even know what hit you."
Yet analysts said Musharraf could not afford to resort to force, with the military stretched chasing Islamic militants in the northwest and needed for security against neighbouring India.
The Friday Times weekly said Musharraf needed instead to find ways to accommodate Baluchi representatives in national politics, a view echoed by commentator Ayaz Amir in the Dawn newspaper.
"If one fortieth of the ... flexibility shown towards India were shown towards the Baluch people, Baluchistan would be Pakistan's most peaceful province," he said.
Struggle for mastery in Asia
By Martin Walker Jan. 14. 2005-01-15
WASHINGTON (United Press International) - Over the past 13 years since BP and Chevron began drilling in the Caspian basin after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the term "the new Great Game" became popular to describe the discreet tussles between Moscow and the West over the massive oil and gas reserves of this region, newly opened to Western exploration.
Much of the struggle took place over pipelines, and the Western companies sought to break the Russian stranglehold on the delivery system by which the oil and gas of Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan could reach Western markets.
The Americans, it must be said, were quite as foolish as the Russians. By far the easiest route to access the energy supplies of the Caspian Basin would have been through Iran, which had a sophisticated pipeline network that ran most of the way to the Caspian, and the oil loading facilities in the Gulf. But American politics prevented such a logical solution. The West finally won, by routing a new pipeline from the Caspian Sea through Georgia.
This modern version of the Great Game should henceforth be known as the Little Game, because it pales into insignificance beside the new Great Game that is unfolding in Asia, as China and India start to compete for the energy supplies they will need to sustain their great spurts in growth.
Last Friday, Subir Raha, chairman of Oil and Natural Gas, announced that the company was buying a fifth of Iran's giant Yadavaran oilfield and was also in the market to buy assets of Yukos, the Russian energy giant stripped from jailed tycoon Mikhail Khodorkhovsky. The Indian company had already invested nearly $2 billion in buying a 20 percent share of the Sakhalin-1 field in Siberia, run by Exxon-Mobil.
India has $10 billion to spend on exploring for oil and securing supplies over the next three years, Raha said. India has to import over two-thirds of the oil it uses - although the UK-based Cairns group announced a new oil strike in Rajastan this week.
India this week signed a $40 billion deal with Iran to import liquefied natural gas and join in developing three Iranian oilfields. Indian Oil, the biggest refiner in the country, is to build a liquefied natural gas plant with Petropars, a unit of National Iranian Oil, capable of producing 9 million tons a year. Another company, Indian Oil and GAIL (India), a gas supplier, is to import 7.5 million metric tons of LNG from Iran for 25 years.
The announcement in New Delhi came hard on the heels of reports that the giant China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) is planning a $13 billion takeover offer for Unocal, the U.S.-based group that held talks with the Taliban regime of Afghanistan (before the 9/11 attacks) about the prospects of a pipeline to bring Asian oil to India.
Japan is also deeply involved in this same race for the energy of Asia. Indeed, it was this Great Game that helped doom Khodorkhovsky, although his political ambitions may have been decisive in persuading the Kremlin to move against him. The Kremlin had decided to build a new pipeline that would take Siberian oil to Japan. Yukos had wanted to extend the pipeline to sell the oil to China. But nervous of giving China too much access to its vulnerable Siberian resources, the Kremlin decided that Japan was the more useful customer - and was reminded just how strategic its oil supplies were, even when they were in the hands of Yukos and the private sector.
China is also in the market for some or all of the Yukos assets, whether they are for sale direct (unlikely) or whether the only way into the deal is to buy into Sibneft, the company that seems to be the Kremlin's favored conduit for the Yukos reserves. Whatever the fate of Yukos, the Kremlin must be delighted at this now open rivalry between India and China for the oil.
With China growing at 8 percent a year, and India growing slightly more slowly, the hunger of these two Asian countries, who between them account for over 40 percent of the global population, has been a factor in driving up the oil price over the past year. And the pace of exploration, development and deal-making is intensifying. Pakistan sent a delegation this week to Turkmenistan, a former Soviet Republic with a population of 5 million, and the world's fifth-largest natural gas reserves.
The geopolitics of oil and gas and pipelines can promote harmony as well as rivalry. Pakistan and Turkmenistan have signed a Memorandum of Understanding on a multi-billion-dollar gas pipeline through Afghanistan that could eventually end in India, in what would be a major breakthrough in Indo-Pakistan relations.
For the moment, there is enough oil and gas to go round, but as the growth of India and China increase their appetites, and rising prosperity means more private cars that need gasoline, the pressure on supplies, and the competition, is going to sharpen.
"India, panicked over future oil supply, went after international oil assets competing directly with China," was how India Daily reported the moves by the country's big energy companies this week.
And geography may give India an advantage, and leave China with a problem. All of China's oil imports currently come by sea, mainly from the Persian Gulf, which means they pass through the Indian Ocean, which India is in a position to dominate. China's plans for a land pipeline from Central Asia (at a cost estimated to be as high as $12 billion) give only relative security. In the event of real tension or hostilities, land pipelines are vulnerable to sabotage, air strike or missile attack.
One of the classic histories of the 19th century diplomacy between the great powers (by the Oxford historian A. J. P. Taylor) was titled "The Struggle for Mastery in Europe." For the 21st century, the Struggle for Mastery in Asia already seems to be under way.
Antiques discovered in Afghanistan
Thursday January 13, 2005 (1315 PST) Pakistan News Service Pak Tribune
KABUL, January 14 (Online): Information and Culture officials of Balkh province have said that they have discovered several antiques with the help of French archaeologists in Zarkar Sapia district.
According to BBC, Information and Culture officials of Balkh province have said that 35 boxes of different historical items were found during digging.
The head of Information and Culture officials of Balkh province told BBC that a mummy was also discovered.
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