Eighty Afghans released from US custody in Afghanistan
Monday January 17, 3:56 AM AFP
Eighty Afghan detainees were released from US custody at Bagram air base near Kabul ahead of the Muslim festival of Eid as part of an attempt to bring moderate Taliban supporters in from the cold, officials said.
The 80 prisoners, dressed in blue and grey shalwar kameez and unlaced blue sports shoes, arrived at the Supreme Court in two buses Sunday afternoon from the US detention facility at Bagram and were released after a hearing.
Chief Justice Fazel Hadi Shinwari told the court the prisoners had been held at Bagram, contradicting earlier reports that they had been released from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
"The prisoners are released. They will be given clothes and money by the government and they will go home," Shinwari added.
Supreme court spokesman Waheed Mujda told AFP: "We were initially told that they were released from Guantanamo and now they told us that they are released from Bagram. I was given the wrong information."
Prisoners interviewed outside the court said they had been well treated at Bagram but some complained of torture out in the field and of false arrest.
"I came out of my house to go to work and the Americans stopped me and arrested me," said Shah Halim, 19, from Sarkano district of Kunar province.
"I spent one-and-a-half months in Kunar where they poured cold water on me and tortured me. After that I was taken to Bagram: there it was good and I was not tortured there," he added.
Others complained about being detained on the basis of false information given by fellow Afghans who held grudges against them.
"Our brothers destroy their brothers. The Americans get information from Afghans who have feuds with people and give false reports," Shinwari said.
The US military has come under fire from rights groups for its methods at detention centers in Afghanistan, where at least eight detainees have died since 2002.
Around 400 Taliban and Al-Qaeda suspects are still being held by the US military in Afghanistan. The US military said the release was timed to coincide with the Eid al Adha festival which marks the end of the Muslim Hajj pilgrimage season.
The release was also linked to a wider move by Afghan authorities to offer an amnesty to the foot soldiers of the ousted Taliban regime in return for their agreement to lay down their arms.
"As you know, culturally Eid is a time of forgiveness" Colonel David Lamm, the chief of staff for the US military in Afghanistan, told AFP.
Lamm said the US had "made gestures to the Afghan government that we would participate in this kind of religious event and reciprocate by letting some detainees go."
He said some of the detainees were not seen as high-level threats to the 18,000 strong US-led coalition forces stationed in the country. Some had been arrested because they had been at the scene of attacks on US or Afghan troops.
"President (Hamid) Karzai has indicated on many occasions this notion of a national forgiveness or reconciliation. If that occurs we would suspect that many of the foot-soldier Taliban would be able to come back in and reintegrate with Afghan society and participate in the peaceful democratic political process," Lamm said.
A government source said talks between some Taliban leaders and the government about an arms-for-amnesty deal were continuing.
Karzai and US ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad have indicated that ordinary Taliban who are not linked to Al-Qaeda or wanted for crimes against humanity would be welcome to return home and reintegrate into society.
Assadullah Wafa, the governor of Paktia province, headed a delegation of tribal elders set to meet with Khalilzad about the issue of Taliban reconciliation. The meeting was postponed because Khalilzad was meeting US senators.
"The delegation of elders came to Kabul to speak with the ambassador and hear it themselves, that if the Taliban come back there won't be problems for them," Wafa said.
However, a man claiming to represent the Taliban said there had been no contact with the government.
"There hasn't been any contact between the Taliban and the government," Abdul Latif Hakimi told AFP by telephone from an unknown location.
"The issue of the prisoners released, it was the right of the prisoners to be released, it is not a favor the Americans are doing to us," he added.
A US-led offensive in late 2001 drove the fundamentalist Taliban from power after they refused to hand over Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
Afghanistan says U.S. frees 81 Taliban prisoners
Sunday January 16, 9:10 PM
KABUL (Reuters) - U.S. forces in Afghanistan have freed 81 Taliban prisoners from a jail at the Bagram air base, north of the capital Kabul, the Afghan chief justice says.
An Afghan Supreme Court official said earlier on Sunday the men had been released from the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, but the chief justice said the suspects had never left Afghanistan.
"They have been released from Bagram," Chief Justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari told reporters. "We will give them clothes and then send them home."
He said U.S. authorities had said they would free their remaining Afghan prisoners.
"There are another 400 Taliban in Bagram and they (the U.S. military) have promised to release all Taliban from Bagram and Guantanamo Bay," he said.
U.S. forces captured hundreds prisoners when it toppled Afghanistan's radical Islamist Taliban government in late 2001 for failing to surrender al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, architect of the September 11 attacks on U.S. cities.
Prisoners deemed to be the greatest security risk were taken bound and shackled to Guantanamo Bay, while others were kept at U.S. bases across Afghanistan.
Accusations of mistreatment of prisoners have dogged U.S. military jails from Iraq, to Afghanistan and its base in Cuba.
"I have very bad memories of the interrogation because they were torturing us," said one of the prisoners released on Sunday, Abdul Manan, 35, from Kunar, in eastern Afghanistan.
"But after the interrogation period was over, everything was alright," he told reporters outside the Supreme Court in Kabul.
"God has given us freedom and we are very happy to be going back to our homes," said another Abdul Aziz
A Taliban spokesman said all Afghan prisoners should be freed.
"All the prisoners under the custody of the Americans either inside or outside Afghanistan, they are innocent people, they are not Taliban," Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi told Reuters by satellite telephone. "The Americans are torturing and harming those innocent people in their jails."
Some 18,000 U.S. troops are still based in Afghanistan engaged in the hunt for al Qaeda and the remnants of the Taliban.
Afghanistan seeks return of aircraft
Warplanes were used to escape to neighboring areas in the Soviet era
By STEPHEN GRAHAM Associated Press Jan. 15, 2005, 11:42PM
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - Twenty-one years ago, Capt. Mohammed Nabi Karinzai roared down the runway in his Soviet-made Su-7 jet for the last time — not for a bombing run against Afghan mujahedeen, but for a dangerous sprint into Western exile.
Karinzai, now in the United States, never returned since that daring flight from then-communist Afghanistan to neighboring Pakistan, except for a brief incursion as part of a guerrilla unit fighting Soviet occupiers in 1984.
With a new government in Kabul trying to rebuild the country and its defenses after more than two decades of warfare — this time with American rather than Soviet assistance — Afghanistan is finally asking for its planes back.
In all, the Afghan Defense Ministry is seeking the return of 26 aircraft — nine helicopters, five bombers, eight fighters, two trainer jets and two transporters. Officials say 19 are in Pakistan and seven in Uzbekistan.
"I believe the reaction of the neighbors will be friendly," Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah said last week. Like many Afghans, Abdullah uses only one name.
Some of the planes, such as Karinzai's Sukhoi fighter-bomber, are believed to have been used for dramatic escapes while others were moved out of the country to save them from destruction.
Most are Russian-built relics of an arsenal including MiG-21 jet fighters and Mi-24 helicopter gunships built up during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s to combat the resistance of the U.S.-backed mujahedeen, or holy warriors.
Some planes were captured and used by all sides during the civil wars that followed Moscow's withdrawal. But U.S. bombing destroyed virtually every plane still airworthy in Afghanistan when it ousted the Taliban three years ago.
The Afghan army has 28 aging helicopters and transport planes kept running with spare parts from cannibalized wrecks that still litter many Afghan airfields. Russia overhauled 11 of the aircraft last year.
It was unclear whether the planes in neighboring countries are in any state to join them.
"The life of some of those planes is almost gone," the Afghan Defense Ministry's Gen. Zaher Mohammed Azimi said.
It also remains to be seen whether they will be of any strategic use to the new Afghanistan. The ministry this month refounded the air corps as part of a U.S.-trained Afghan National Army, supposed to reach 70,000 troops by 2007.
The first objective is to provide airlift for President Hamid Karzai, who travels virtually everywhere — even to the dentist — with the help of U.S. military helicopters.
Maj. Gen. Craig Weston, the U.S. officer responsible for the new army, said Monday that Afghan officials were discussing which aircraft "fit their missions for the future."
Afghan police force reaches 53,000
KABUL, Jan. 16 (Xinhuanet) -- The target of the Afghanistan government to have a 62,000-strong police force by 2006 is nearly reached as the Afghanistan National Police (ANP) has been strengthened to 53,000, acting spokesperson of UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) Arean Quentier said Sunday.
"Today there are 53,000 police officers in the Afghan National Police. Of these 32,000 have been newly trained and the others are former policemen," she told journalists at a news briefing here.
The post-war central Asian state would have 62,000 strong police force by the end of 2006.
Germany and the United States as the lead nations in rebuilding ANP have been assisting the post-war nation to meet the target on stipulated time.
With the support of the United States and allies, the post-war Afghanistan has already established 21,000 troops of a 70,000-strong Afghan National Army (ANA) agreed upon in the historic Bonn agreement signed in late 2001.
Collection of heavy weapons collection continues apace in Afghanistan
UN News Centre
16 January 2005 – Former fighters in Afghanistan are continuing to turn in their weapons at a “high rate,” a spokesman for the United Nations mission in the country (UNAMA) said today.
Over 34,000 military personnel have so far laid down their arms, Ariane Quentier told reporters in Kabul. More than 8,100 working or repairable heavy weapons have been collected and placed in secure compounds.
While the UN is able to document everything collected, “what is less precise and changing, is the final number of heavy weapons in the country, as we keep finding more heavy weapons, and we are far beyond the initial estimates that were initially given by the Ministry of Defence when the collection exercise began, an estimate slightly above 4,000 heavy weapons,” she said.
Meanwhile, in a development that bodes well for Afghanistan's gender equality – which was virtually non-existent during Taliban misrule – the Voice of Afghan Women radio is slated to be re-launched next week.
According to Ms. Quentier, tough topics will be tackled. “The 11 female journalists and technicians who operate the radio station will not only broadcast informative programmes on health, education, women's rights and family matters, but they will also tackle sensitive cultural issues such as divorce, forced marriages and honour killings.”
The Voice of Afghan Women's Association first launched the radio station in March 2003 with the help of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). But because the antenna was too small, the radio could only broadcast to a small area in Kabul. It eventually went off air in November 2003. Since then the German Development Service has provided it with a powerful new transmitter, which paved the way for the anticipated re-broadcast.
Rainfall may signal beginning of the end to three-year drought in Afghanistan
By Kevin Dougherty, Stars and Stripes Mideast edition, Sunday, January 16, 2005
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Recent rains in Afghanistan have some people wondering if the drought that has bedeviled the nation for years is ending.
In the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, about 3¼ inches of rain fell in Kandahar over a two-day period, said Air Force Staff Sgt. Wes Brogan, a meteorologist with the 25th Air Support Operational Squadron. The rest of the week saw traces of precipitation.
“We got hit with a massive low-pressure system that stalled out over Afghanistan,” said Brogan, who is assigned to Kandahar Air Base. “It passed really slowly, and it took a long time to move out.”
Rainfall for December was four times the normal amount for the month.
More rain and snow fell last week in southern and eastern Afghanistan, the region hardest hit by the seven-year drought. Out to the west, the city of Herat got dumped with about 6 inches of snow Thursday.
Military forecasters in Afghanistan have asked the Air Force Combat Climatology Center in Asheville, N.C., whether all this precipitation means the end of the drought. They at least want to know if wetter days are ahead, beyond the coming rainy season, which is typically March and April.
The late-December storm hit “pretty much everywhere, but I think we got the worst of it,” said Air Force Capt. Jodi Bergan, commander of the Kandahar weather unit.
North of Kandahar Air Base, the Tamak River rose so high the water was nearly touching the bottom of the main bridge leading into town.
Meanwhile, near Kabul, rainwater filled some smaller streams that are usually bone-dry this time of year.
Afghans say “this is a sign from God,” said Khoshhal Murad, a United Nations interpreter in Kabul.
When the Taliban were in power, Murad said, some of its leaders grew so frustrated by the drought they randomly rounded up dozens of people, drove them into the desert and demanded they pray for rain. It didn’t come.
“You can’t force people to pray,” Murad said. “They should have gone out in the desert themselves.”
Murad said his father told him this is the most rain he has seen in more than 30 years. Another Afghan in Kandahar heard it was the most rain in nearly 100 years, though such claims are impossible to substantiate because of inadequate record-keeping.
As recently as October, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network predicted the drought would continue and that serious food and water shortages would result. The network receives funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development.
By his own recollection, Murad said it’s been at least a decade since so much rain fell in so little a time.
Some Afghans, a somewhat superstitious lot, blame the drought on the Taliban, which seized power in September 1996. People soon grew unhappy with the hard-line religious government and, consequently, Allah was unhappy, Murad said.
The recent success of the presidential election has turned frowns into smiles, he added.
“In the last 10 years,” Murad said, “there was very little or no rain, and that was because of the Taliban. Absolutely. Everybody connects [the drought] to the Taliban.”
Taleban insist their jihad continue to be an armed struggle
By Abdul Qadir Monsef in Kabul and Said Zabuli in Kandahar
KABUL and KANDAHAR, Jan. 16, (Pajhwok Afghan News) -- The spokesman for the Taleban, Mufti Latifullah Hakimi has once again insisted that their jihad against the Americans and the Afghan government continues to be an armed struggle, and anyone claiming otherwise, is not representing the true struggle.
His comments were directly in response to an interview with the governor of southern Paktia province, Asadullah Wafa, who in an interview with Pajhwok Afghan News January 16, claimed that a high number of the Taleban operating in Khost, Paktia and Paktika provinces were ready to lay down their weapons and return to normal life.
Governor Wafa added that following his initiatives, forty tribal elders are working towards bridging communication between the Afghan government and the Taleban. "The tribal elders are given assurances by the Taleban that they will lay down their weapons if the reconciliation efforts continue successfully," he added.
But Hakimi, in a phone interview, called the claims of the governor unfounded and said: "It's not possible that the brave Mujahid people of Paktia will take such a step."
Hakimi claimed that out of 100,000 Taleban fighters, 18 groups operate in Sharana, the provincial center of Paktika, and none of the fighters have held talks with either the Americans or the Afghan government.
He said Americans look down upon Afghans and that is why no reconciliation is possible. Hakimi adds: "For us, laying down weapons before the Americans is like paying homage to idols."
But some tribal elders in Kandahar province expressed their happiness in interviews with Pajhwok, about the talks between the government and the Taleban in Paktia province. Haji Lal Mohammad, a resident of Balakarz village in Kandahar city, said: "It is a good to see peace prevailing over fighting."
He says that if the clashes between the government and the Taleban go on, there will be no security, and guerrilla fighting will continue. The Taleban will kill people in the name of the government, and the government will kill people in the name of terrorism and Al-Qaeda's. He added: "Now we see that innocent people are imprisoned and killed."
Haji Bashir Ahmad, another resident of Kandahar province hopes that the Taleban in southwestern region follow the example of the Taleban in Paktia province and hold peace talks with the government.
He says: "I very much hope that the Taleban in our area also show readiness for reconciliation." He blames the authorities in southeastern regions for not trying to prepare the Taleban ready for peace talks.
President Hamid Karzai and the US ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad have offered an amnesty for those Taleban who stop fighting the government, and have assured them that if they cut their links with the untamed Taleban commanders and Al-Qaeda, they can return to their normal lives like their other Afghan fellow-citizens.
People in northern Afghanistan part with their heavy weapons reluctantly after disarmament program commences
By Ahmad Khaled Moahed
Panjshir, Jan 16, (Pajhwok Afghan News) -- People sat along the road side as they watched the convoy of armored vehicles trundle out of Dalang Sang village in northern Panjshir province, as the transfer of the heavy weaponry, under the 'New Beginnings Program' was completed on the 12th of January.
The spokesman for the ministry of defense, Gen. Zaher Azimi said the process was delayed by a month due to "technical problems" and that the program will also be extended to the rest of the provinces. The transfer of heavy weapons started operating on January 9th in the Dalan Sang village of Shotal district, Panjshir province.
The district governor of Shotal, Gulab Shah Khan, said 10 tanks and four DC artilleries were transferred to the 2nd division of Jabalsaraj, which is the second temporary center for storing heavy weapons from Parwan, Kapisa and Panjshir provinces.
However he did not seem happy about the disarmament process in Panjshir province, and told Pajhwok Afghan News: "We support the heavy weapons cantonment any way."
He said that they had acquired the weapons during the war against the Soviet invasion after suffering long sacrifices, and we kept the weapons honestly at our houses.
People queued along the road to watch as the parked armored vehicles at Dalan Sang village were loaded onto heavy duty trucks owned by the private firm of Mahmoodzai, and the defense ministry. But reporters say the residents were prevented from being interviewed.
Thirty-five year-old, Abdul Rehman who watched the trucks being loaded, said the people were unhappy because they felt that they are losing all their privileges and added that people in Panjshir were very much dependent on their weapons.
The weapons were transferred to Panjshir from the capital Kabul by the late Ahmad Shah Massoud, to hide away from other jihadi factions during the civil war.
PAKISTANI TROOPS CONTINUE SEARCH FOR FOREIGN MILITANTS ON THE BORDER WITH AFGHANISTAN
Russian Information Agency Novosti - Jan 16 4:36 AM
ISLAMABAD, January 16 (RIA Novosti, Yevgeniy Pakhomov) - Pakistani army conducted yesterday a large-scale search for foreign militants in the autonomous region of North Waisiristan (named after a local Pushtu tribe - editor's note) near the border with Afghanistan.
According to Pakistani Army spokesperson, 15 people have been detained.
The spokesperson said that the operation had started in one of the districts of North Waisiristan after the authorities had received information about the location of foreign militants. He refused to specify whether foreigners were among the detainees.
"The investigation has only started. The authorities currently interrogate the detainees in connection to their participation in terrorist activities," he said.
The military operation commenced in the morning near the town of Loramandi. Several hundred soldiers supported by combat helicopters combed through the town and surrounding terrain. No casualties among government troops were reported.
The North Waisiristan is part of the so-called Territory of independent Tribes (the territory is an administrative part of a North-West frontier with capital Peshavar), governed by Pushtu tribal leaders. It borders with South Waisiristan where Pakistani military has been conducting an anti-terrorist operation for several months. Pakistani authorities believe that thousands of foreign Taliban movement fighters found refuge here. Washington also suspects that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Omar, who both escaped capture or death after the beginning of the anti-terrorist operation in the wake of September 11, 2003 terrorist acts in the United States, might be hiding in the region.
Refuge of Osama Bin Laden in China Afghan border
India Daily Sonia Chopra, Special Correspondent January 17, 2005
Where is the safest area for Bin Laden to survive? Well you may think it will be the Pakistan Afghan border. But that is really most unsafe because that is where people think he is and American forces are looking for him.
You may then think it has to be Pakistan itself. Well that cannot be true with Musharraf fighting the Al-Queda every day.
Some say it is Kashmir then. Well at anytime both, India and Pakistan may decide to comb all of Kashmir and even allow the American Special Forces to join them.
Then where is it that he can hide so well and occasionally stir the world with some audiotapes?
There are places in Afghan and Pakistan that borders with China. That is one area where no one is really looking. It is a small strip of land between Tajikistan and Pakistan and the land terrain such that is difficult to find any one. The Wakhan Corridor from Afghanistan to China is an ideal place for Osama Bin Laden to hide specially within Chinese territory.
There are rumors in the Kashgar market that China may have struck a deal with Osama. In exchange of safe refuge in Wakhan Corridore in China,
Al-Queda will never strike China. China categorically denies any such rumor.
Strategically it may be the ideal place of hiding because the American forces will definitely not venture into Chinese territory without advanced notice to China. Also, the terrain is worse than Afghanistan itself.
China has a sizable Islamic population in that area. The policy Beijing followed before nine eleven terrorism was to have a good relationship with Al-Queda and Talibans. In late 2001, the policy changed with Pakistan making a U-turn on relations with the Taliban and Al-Queda.
China is always very worried about Islamic and Jehadist insurgencies these areas. They used to work with Pakistan, Taliban and Al-Queda to keep their Muslim population happy. But now interestingly, the terror attacks in China are comparatively negligible while they are on rise in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere. It cannot be true that all of a sudden the Chinese territory became so calm and quiet.
One possible interpretation is that Osama Bin Laden received a safe refuge with Chinese knowledge. China may not be providing the refuge. They are just keeping quiet knowing very well he is in Wakhan Corridor.
It is also possible that Pakistan Military including Musharraf knows that he is there and is keeping quiet about it.
42 Nepalis stranded in Kabul hotel
Himalayan News Service Kathmandu, January 16:
More than 40 Nepali workers are stranded in a hotel in Kabul for the past four weeks after they were denied the work they had been promised by a woman who took them to the country illegally via New Delhi.
Ishwori Ale, a Sikkimese woman, who does not have a registered manpower agency in Nepal, had taken the 42 youths to Kabul promising jobs as security guards for $1,900 a month. The woman, who had been living in a rented house at Sorakhutte, Kathmandu, is absconding. About a dozen youths had filed a complaint against her after they returned home before Dashain. Hari Thapa, a retired Royal Nepalese Army officer who is currently working as a security supervisor at the World Security Initiative (WSI) in Kabul, told this daily over telephone that the youths are stranded at the Holiday Guest House, Kolalapusta, Street-3 in Kabul, for the past one month.
“Their visa expired on January 11. They are pennyless, some of them are sick and most of them have no clothes to change,” Thapa said. He said the youths have to pay about $6,000 to the hotel. “I saw them cooking food in a cauldron in the hotel compound after the hotel refused to provide them food,” Thapa said. Thapa said the woman is currently in Kabul looking for work for the youths in other security companies for $700 to 800 per month, which, according to him, is two times less than what other Nepali security guards earn there. He said the hotel has threatened to hand them over to the police.
Villagers Flee Intimidation
Jan. 15, 2005
By Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi - Mazar-e-Sharif (IWPR) - More than 200 villagers from rural areas in the northern province of Faryab have fled their homes and sought refuge in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, claiming they have been persecuted by a local commander.
The villagers say that after they voted for President Hamed Karzai in last October's election, their homes were looted and they were subjected to extortion by Najib, a local commander.
Najib supported defeated candidate General Abdul Rashid Dostum, whose support is strongest in northern Afghanistan. In addition, they claim that Najib has illegally imprisoned at least 20 of their children.
Although many women and children have returned to their villages in the Gorziwan district, at least 60 men have remained in Mazar-e-Sharif, saying their lives would be in danger if they went home.
Najib has denied all the allegations. "I have no armed men and I am not a commander," he said. ""I have not imprisoned anyone, nor have I said a word to anybody about voting for Karzai. It is all untrue."
But Mohammad Nazarbay, one of the villagers who fled, tells a different story.
"The pressure from commander Najib started building after the election, because we didn't vote for Dostum," he said. "We were regarded as his opponents, and every day they came demanding money.
"Then Najib's armed men came to my house, looted everything and threatened to kill me. One of them told me that the next day I should buy him a Kalashnikov [rifle].
"But they had taken everything. How could I buy him a gun? I had no choice but to leave that night". Nazarbay also said he had heard that his two sons, ages 12 and 14, had been seized in his place and thrown into Najib's private prison.
"All I want is my children released unharmed," he said. Another alleged victim, Haji Nabi, 65, said he had been pressured by Najib after voting for Karzai. "Najib has taken our properties and ordered every villager to buy him a Kalashnikov," he said.
Pointing to his Haj form, the permit required to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, Haji Nabi said, "I had the form and I'd put some money away for the journey, and this man stole my savings and threatened me.
"My young son was beaten so badly that he is now on death's door. He [Najib] then put him in his jail and I have no idea what has happened to him," he said.
Another villager, Mohammad Juma, said, "All my goods were looted. He even took my house and converted it into a military base with all his armed men living there."
Azizurrahman Rasikh, of the Afghan Organisation for Human Rights and the Environment said, "The abduction and imprisonment of children is a clear violation of rights."
He said some of the children detained had now been released. "The interior ministry has ordered the Faryab administration to hand back properties to their owners," he added. "Some villagers have decided to return home and settle their disputes locally."
The province's deputy governor, Sayed Ahmad Sayed, said he had heard about residents fleeing, "but because they did not come to me with their problems I did not know the reason.
"I don't know whether Najib is involved, but we are trying to get a clear picture of what has been happening. Then we can decide what action to take."
IWPR staff reporter in Mazar-e-Sharif.
Children Paying for Mothers' Crimes
Sohalial Mohseni 1/15/05
Kabul (IWPR) - Karima, 30, has been in the Kabul detention centre for five months, awaiting trial on a charge of bigamy. But she is not the only one suffering for her alleged crime. Living with her in the detention centre are her three daughters aged 11, eight and four.
"I have been a very bad mother," said Karima. "What way is this to bring up children? Obviously prison will damage their lives."
In prisons across Afghanistan, women either accused or convicted of crimes are incarcerated along their children. Sometimes, the women prefer to have their children with them to provide some level of care. But often, with other family members unwilling to support the youngsters, these mothers have no other choice.
Karima's eldest daughter said that for the past five months, she and her sisters have been attending a kindergarten outside the prison. They leave at early each morning and are brought back at three in the afternoon. "But it's horrible," the 11-year-old said. "Other children make jokes about us and ridicule our mother."
At the Pul-e-Charkhi prison just outside Kabul, Torpaikai, 27, a former health service worker, is serving two 10-year sentences for murdering her husband. With her in jail are her three children: a son, 11, and two daughters, six and four.
She and her children share one large room with ten other women and their children. "I had to keep them with me because there was no one else to care for them," she said. "But they shouldn't be here. Why should they be punished for my crime?"
Another woman, Zakia, is serving a 10-year sentence for killing a man. She brought her four children with her to prison. While behind bars, Zakia's two-year-old daughter died.
"It was a terrible time for all of us," she said. "Children in prison have no lives. There is no school for them. All they see are the prison walls." According to official figures, there are 26 women in Pul-e-Charkhi, along with 52 children ranging in age from newborn babies to 11-year-olds.
Lieutenant-General Abdul Islam Bakhshi, the man in charge of the Afghan prison system, said there are 168 women and an unknown number of children in other prisons. There have been some attempts to assist women prisoners in the past.
Soraya, the director of Neda-ye-Zan (Women's Voice), a non-government group in Herat province, described a six-month programme in Kabul that was paid for by the French government. "We were paying the prisoners 15 [US] dollars a month," she said. "We also gave them food and other essentials but this stopped when the project ended," she said.
"But we are hoping to start again this year, and to introduce tailoring and embroidery courses for the women with entertainment and educational facilities for children."
Soraya said conditions in some of the provincial prisons were better than those in Kabul. In Herat, for example, "powdered milk, biscuits, soothers, talcum powder and hygiene products are distributed to the mothers," she said. "There is a newly-constructed shower block, and food is plentiful and nourishing."
Whatever the conditions are, however, Soraya believes prison is no place for children. "All they learn is the crueller side of life," she said. Parwiz Ahang of the International Committee for Human Rights finds the situation unacceptable.
"It is a breach of children's rights and against accepted international standards," he said. "Children grow mentally and physically. They need health care, education and sports facilities." He said it was pressure from his organisation that finally that led to children in the Kabul detention centre being allowed to attend kindergarten.
"The problem has to be confronted at provincial prisons where no such facilities are available," he said. "We are hoping to address this, and other issues, when we meet the justice ministry."
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