Afghans, Iran Linked by New Road, Divided by U.S.
Reuters 01/27/2005 By Saeed Haqiqi
ISLAM QALA - The presidents of Afghanistan and Iran opened a new road between their countries on Thursday amid hopes that an increase in trade would improve their uneasy relationship.
Tehran has been unsettled by Afghanistan's close ties to its arch foe the United States, its massive output of drugs and a recent report has even suggested that U.S. special forces have entered Iran from Afghanistan to search for nuclear sites.
Thousands of U.S.-led troops remain in Afghanistan, three years after they helped oust the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime from power for harboring Osama bin Laden, the architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on U.S. cities.
Still, all talk at the official opening of the 122-km (76-mile), $60-million road, paid for by Iran, was of brotherly ties and forging friendship. Most of Afghanistan's imports come through Iran, and the new, paved road should lead to a surge in trade. "Afghanistan belongs to the people of Afghanistan and Iran desires a stable, modern and free Afghanistan," said Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.
"The reconstruction of Afghanistan will first of all benefit the oppressed people of Afghanistan and then its neighboring countries," said Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who was handpicked by Washington to lead the country after the ouster of the Taliban.
The presence of 18,000 U.S. troops, including special forces, in Afghanistan, some of them close to the Iranian border, can be little comfort for Iran's leaders.
Since 2001, Iran has seen U.S. forces enter Afghanistan to its east and then Iraq to its west, and been accused by President Bush of being part of an "axis of evil."
The United States is now piling pressure on the Islamic Republic, accusing it of trying to build a nuclear arsenal, aiding Iraqi insurgents and backing "terrorist" groups. "You look around the world at potential trouble spots, Iran is right at the top of the list," Vice President Dick Cheney said last week.
An article in The New Yorker magazine this month said the United States was launching secret reconnaissance missions in Iran from Afghanistan to help identify potential nuclear, chemical and missile targets.
Iran ridiculed the report from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh and the Pentagon denied it, but the presence of Karzai's burly American bodyguards at the border can only have served as a reminder of the gulf between the neighbors in their relations with the world's strongest military power.
Nevertheless, analysts said Iran and Afghanistan both had too much to lose by letting that get in the way of relations with each other.
"A collection of common interests and fears push Iran and Afghanistan to become friendlier with each other," said Iranian analyst Saeed Leylaz. Iran fears the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, while Kabul fears Tehran might stir up instability inside its borders by assisting Islamic militants, he said.
"Iran tries to avoid any conflict with America in Afghanistan and Afghanistan tries not to harm Iran because of al Qaeda," he said. (Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in TEHRAN)
Iran and Afghanistan sign three cooperation documents
Tehran - Iran and Afghanistan signed three cooperation documents here on Wednesday, emphasizing the need to further develop and expand the two Islamic countries` bilateral ties.
The cooperation documents were signed by the two countries` concerned ministers in the presence of the Islamic Republic of Iran`s President Mohammad Khatami and Afghanistan`s President Hamid Karzai.
The cooperation documents signed on Wednesday include providing electricity for Afghan cities, opening of Dogharoun-Herat Road, and constructing more border police stations. The electricity cooperation document was signed by Iran`s Energy Minister Habibollah Bitaraf and his Afghan counterpart Haaj Mohammad Esmail Khan.
Dogharoun-Herat Road opening pact was signed between the care taker of Iran`s Roads and Transportation Ministry Mohammad Rahmati and Afghanistan`s Public Interests Minister Sohrab-Ali Safari.
The 123 kilometer Dogharoun-herat Road would be officially opened Thursday in a ceremony to be attended by the two countries` presidents. The border police stations pact, too, was signed by Iran`s Interior Minister Abdolvahed Mousavi Lari and his Afghan counterpart Ali-Ahmad Jalali.
Stable Afghanistan meets the regional interests: President Karzai
KABUL, Jan. 27 (Xinhua) -- The durable peace and stability in the post-war Afghanistan would serve regional security, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Thursday when he inaugurated the Dogharoon-Herat road linking Afghanistan and Iran.
"A prosperous, stable and peaceful Afghanistan is not only for the interest of Afghans, but the larger interests of the neighboring countries and region," he told the audience at the ceremony.
Flanked by his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Khatami, he added that the road, which was built with 60 million US dollars by Iran, would enhance trade and economic activities between Afghanistan and its neighbors.
Both the presidents also inaugurated a 132kv power electricity supply post built by Tehran's assistance, which provides electricity for the western Afghan province of Herat.
Iran, as one of the major contributors in rebuilding war- battered Afghanistan among its neighbors, had pledged 500 million US dollars at the donors'conference in Tokyo in 2002.
A bridge connecting Iran's Zahidan to Afghanistan's Nemroz province was opened two months ago. Speaking on the occasion, Iranian President Khatami assured Tehran's further assistance in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. "We support peace and stability in Afghanistan and believe that regional stability links to stability in Afghanistan," Khatami noted.
Technical difficulties might delay parliamentary elections in Afghanistan, foreign minister says
DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) Afghanistan's foreign minister said Thursday that much-anticipated parliamentary elections due to take place in May could be delayed by as much as two months, the closest an Afghan leader has come to acknowledging the country will not stick to its democratic timetable.
Foreign Minister Abdullah said the elections might need to be scheduled after the May 20 deadline because of ``technical preparations,'' but that the country would understand and get behind the vote.
``Even if it is not on time because of technical preparations, which are needed, it will be around one or two months from the original time, during summer time,'' Abdullah told The Associated Press on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. ``This would be okay, and the people would accept that.''
He did not elaborate on what technical preparations are behind the possible delay. Though many observers have suspected the elections would be postponed because of the daunting task of organizing the vote, which is supposed to include ballots for district and provincial assemblies, the government has not yet acknowledged a delay would be necessary.
The French commander of the NATO forces which patrol the capital, Kabul, and the north of the country on Wednesday urged the government to set a date as quickly as possible, saying that a delay into the summer could disrupt military planning.
Adullah said security in his country still grappling with a stubborn Taliban insurgency and a rise in drug-related violence will be adequate in time for the vote.
``I think security-wise the situation has improved and it will improve further,'' he said. ``And the people will support the election. They got behind the presidential elections, and they are even more enthusiastically behind the parliamentary elections.''
Ariane Quentier, a spokeswoman in Kabul for the United Nations, which is helping organize the vote, declined earlier Thursday to comment on a possible delay, saying the date was up to the newly appointed Afghan electoral commission.
Commission chief Bismillah Bismil could not be reached immediately for comment on Abdullah's remarks. Abdullah, once a close aide to slain mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Massood, survived a Cabinet reshuffle in December despite his initial support for President Hamid Karzai's main rival in the election, Yunus Qanooni.
Karzai has urged his new Cabinet, dominated by liberal technocrats rather than warlord and faction leaders, to give up their party affiliations, though it is unclear how many have complied.
In the interview, Abdullah also said he hoped Sunday's election in Iraq would improve the security situation in that country. ``I pray and I hope that the Iraqi elections are a success. It is a very important test for the Iraqis and the international community,'' Abdullah said. ``I have no doubt that if the elections in Iraq are successful they will have a lasting impact on the situation in the country.''
Afghan army soldier opens fire in U.S. base, killing five fellow soldiers
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) An Afghan soldier opened fire inside a U.S. military base Thursday, killing five of his Afghan comrades before another soldier gunned him down to end a bloodbath that a commander attributed to mental problems.
Elsewhere in the troubled south, police killed a suspected Taliban commander and captured his deputy in a shootout. The U.S. military said the soldier attacked fellow Afghan National Army troops early Thursday morning in Helmand province. Another six Afghan soldiers were wounded.
``The soldier who initiated the shooting was returning from guard duty at the time of the incident and, currently, no information is available as to his motives,'' a statement issued by the U.S. military said.
It said there was ``no evidence'' the attack was the work of militants. The injured were evacuated to the main American base in southern Afghanistan at Kandahar for medical treatment. There was no word on their conditions.
No soldiers from the U.S.-led coalition were wounded in the attack, the statement said. Some 18,000 U.S.-led forces are still hunting al-Qaida and Taliban remnants mainly in southern and eastern Afghanistan.
Gen. Muslim Abed, a senior army commander in Kandahar, said the incident happened in a national army compound within the American base in the town of Girishk, 350 kilometers (220 miles) southwest of the capital, Kabul.
He said the soldier was from Kabul, but didn't know his name. The soldier had ``mental problems,'' Abed said, but he didn't elaborate. ``He just entered a room and opened fire,'' Abed said.
The Defense Ministry said it was investigating. Coalition forces often operate alongside the U.S.-trained Afghan army, which currently has 18,000 soldiers. It plans to recruit and train 70,000.
The army is meant to replace the private militias of warlords that still hold sway in much of the country, which is recovering from 25 years of conflict. A U.N.-sponsored disarmament campaign is working to dismantle the militias.
The captured Taliban commander, Mullah Mohammed Ullah, and his deputy Mullah Mohammed Ghafar were cornered as they traveled by motorbike in a village in Musa Qala district of Helmand province on Wednesday, an official said.
They opened fire when police tried to stop and arrest them, sparking a shootout in which Ullah and one policeman were killed and three other officers wounded, said Mohammed Wali, spokesman for the provincial governor.
Ghafar was wounded and taken into Afghan police custody for questioning. Wali said the two men were Taliban leaders in Musa Qala, and had led an attack on the district chief's office last year that left at least four Afghan soldiers dead. He said they were also behind a bombing in the district that had killed a U.S. soldier and wounded another some months ago.
Afghan police kill Taliban commander, capture deputy in southern province
CHAMAN, Pakistan (AP) Afghan police killed a Taliban commander blamed for attacks on government and American forces and captured his deputy in a shootout in a southern province, an official said Thursday. One policeman died and three others were wounded.
Mullah Mohammed Ullah and his deputy Mullah Mohammed Ghafar were cornered as they traveled by motorbike in a village in Musa Qala district of Helmand province on Wednesday. They opened fire when police tried to stop and arrest them.
The spokesman for the provincial governor, Mohammed Wali, told The Associated Press by telephone from Afghanistan that Ullah was killed and Ghafar was wounded in the shootout. Ghafar was taken into Afghan police custody for questioning.
Wali said that the two men were leaders of the Taliban resistance in Musa Qala, and had led an attack on the district chief's office last year that left at least four Afghan soldiers dead.
He said they were also behind a bombing in the district that had killed a U.S. soldier and wounded another some months ago. Musa Qala lies some 450 kilometers (280 miles) southwest of the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Police confiscated a satellite phone, two AK-47 assault rifles and ``important documents'' from Ghafar, who might be handed over to the U.S. military after Afghan authorities complete their investigation, Wali said.
He did not elaborate on the nature of the documents. Militant supporters of the Taliban regime that was ousted from power by U.S.-led forces three years ago remain active in southern and eastern Afghanistan, although the U.S. military says resistance is declining.
Afghan veteran to return as overall commander of U.S. forces
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) A U.S. general who helped rebuild Afghanistan's army has been named as the next commander of American forces in the country, the U.S. military said Thursday.
Army Maj. Gen. Karl Eikenberry would take up his new post ``probably within the next two to three months,'' said Mark McCann, a military spokesman in the Afghan capital, Kabul. His assignment needs confirmation in the U.S. Senate.
U.S. President George W. Bush nominated Eikenberry for a third star and assignment as commander in Afghanistan, the U.S. Department of Defense said earlier this week.
Eikenberry, currently director of strategic planning for the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii, is to replace Lt. Gen. David Barno, who took charge of the Afghan operation in November 2003.
Barno's term has seen the 18,000-strong U.S.-led coalition shift its focus from the so-far fruitless search for top fugitives, including al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden and Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, toward operations in support of the new Afghan government.
Eikenberry served from Sept. 2002 to Sept. 2003 as the head of the U.S. military's office for military cooperation, which is charged with establishing the Afghan National Army. The Afghan army currently numbers around 18,000 and is expected to reach its full strength of 70,000 in 2007.
50 kilos of heroin, opium seized on Tajik-Afghan border
DUSHANBE, Jan 27 (AFP) - Tajik police and Russian patrol seized Thursday over 50 kilograms (120 pounds) of heroin and opium on Tajikistan's border with Afghanistan, officials said.
'An Afghan smuggler carried three bags of drugs, including 21 kilograms of heroin,' Russian border guards told AFP, adding that it was this year's first major haul. Tajikistan's border with Afghanistan, which is 1,340-kilometers (830-miles) long, has been policed jointly by Tajik and Russian troops.
But Russia recently decided to withdraw its 11,000 strong contingent, prompting the United States to boost its financial assistance to the cash-strapped Tajik police force. Last year Tajik authorities and Russian border guards seized a total of over eight tonnes of drugs, including 4.8 tonnes of heroin.
CENTRAL ASIA: UN counter-terrorism meeting
ANKARA, 27 January (IRIN) - The fourth special meeting of the Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC) of the UN Security Council took place in the Kazakh commercial capital, Almaty, on Wednesday and Thursday, with the participation of dozens of international and regional organisations, Kazakh foreign ministry spokesman, Ilyas Omarov, told IRIN from Almaty.
"Terrorism doesn't have borders," Omarov said, noting that the main point discussed at the meeting was elaboration of a unified plan of action on combating terrorism. The event served as a platform for exchanging current views, so that member states come to a common position on the threat, he said.
The CTC was established after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks and is made up of all 15 members of the Security Council. The CTC monitors the implementation of a UN resolution aimed at fighting terrorism and tries to increase the capacity of member nations to do so.
The problem of terrorism is a major issue in the Central Asian region and this meeting should have an impact on regional countries, Omarov said. The Almaty meeting looked at the elimination of illegal financing of terrorist groups, the activities of the regional counter-terrorism centre, fighting illegal arms and drugs trade, and boosting cooperation among national and international counter-terrorism bodies.
Regional analysts welcomed the move by the UN counter-terrorism body. "All the member states should look at the issue of solidarity as terrorism is causing more and more problems on the international level, while efforts to counter it mainly remain on the national level," Erlan Karin, head of the Almaty-based Centre on Anti-terrorism Programmes, a local think-tank, told IRIN from the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek.
"It's part of a continuous UN effort to counter international terrorist activities," Sergey Andreyev, an Oxford-based analyst, told IRIN. "Central Asia is bordering some rather troublesome countries in the region and it has been subjected to terrorist attacks in the past. Terrorism is becoming an increasing threat to internal and regional security in the region," Andreyev said.
Dozen wounded in Kabul restaurant blast
Pajhwok Afghan News 01/27/2005 By Najib Khilwatgar
KABUL - Fourteen people were wounded in a popular downtown restaurant of Kabul on Thursday when a gas cylinder exploded during lunchtime. Doctors in Istiqlal hospital say that 14 persons injured in the blast had been admitted to the hospital for treatment.
"Their condition is good though at the moment they are admitted in the intensive care unit," Toryalai, a doctor of the hospital told Pajhwok. He added that some of the victims were customers and the rest were restaurant workers.
However, Ali Joya, manager of Rose Restaurant in Shar-e-Naw, said only seven restaurant employees were wounded in the explosion of the calendar in kitchen and that the blast was so strong that it shattered some windows of the restaurant. She claimed that none of the customers was injured.
Rose Restaurant is one of the well-known Afghan restaurants in the city center frequented by foreigners and well-off Afghans.
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