Taliban landmine kills 9 Afghan soldiers
Saturday January 29, 8:21 PM
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A landmine blast has killed nine Afghan soldiers near the border with Pakistan in the bloodiest attack yet on Afghanistan's new army.
A local army commander told Reuters an Afghan border commander was also wounded when the army vehicle hit the mine near the southern town of Spin Boldak on Saturday while travelling towards the Pakistan border.
A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack which he said had killed four soldiers.
The U.S.-trained Afghan army was formed after the overthrow of the Taliban government in late 2001.
Some 18,000 U.S. troops are engaged in the hunt for remnants of the Taliban militia and their al Qaeda allies in Afghanistan, mostly in the Pashtun south and east of the country that provided the radical Islamist movement with the backbone of its support.
The Taliban have vowed to fight on till they expel foreign troops from Afghanistan and defeat Afghan government forces.
U.S-led troops toppled the Taliban government after it refused to hand over al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, architect of the September 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. cities.
Afghanistan Urged to Confront Bloody Past
Sat Jan 29, 1:55 PM ET By STEPHEN GRAHAM, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghanistan's top human rights official urged the country to confront the horrors of its past, saying Saturday that war crimes dating back more than 20 years should be prosecuted and rights abusers should be purged from public office.
In a step toward a national reconciliation drive that the U.S. military hopes will defuse a Taliban-led insurgency, Afghanistan's rights watchdog launched a report calling on the government to meet ordinary Afghans' "desire for justice."
"Proper attention has not been paid to a fundamental element of peace and stability," Sima Samar, chairwoman of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said in a statement. "We at the commission believe that it is impossible to achieve peace without justice."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai welcomed the report and said his new government was obliged to "treat the wounds of the Afghan people."
Some parts of the report "need to be studied very deeply," he said after Samar and the top U.N. rights envoy presented it to him in his Kabul palace. "But generally this report is acceptable and I accept it, and to maintain social justice for the people we will work on it."
Few Afghans escaped suffering during the country's long and complex conflict, from the communist coup of 1978 through Soviet occupation, the fighting between warlords that followed, the rise of the repressive Taliban and the U.S. bombing campaign that toppled Taliban at the end of 2001.
In all, more than a million Afghans are believed to have died, while six million more fled the country to become refugees.
The government-mandated rights commission said that of the thousands of Afghans it consulted last year, 90 percent wanted human rights offenders removed from government posts while 40 percent demanded the prosecution of "notorious perpetrators."
The report recommended that Afghanistan set up a special prosecutor's office similar to one established in Mexico in 2004 and a war crimes tribunal like that used in Bosnia. Both should be up and running within three years.
It also called for government officials to be vetted for their human rights record.
Some observers caution that a public examination of past crimes could inflame dangerous ethnic tensions. Faction leaders who stand accused of responsibility for past atrocities remain powerful.
But others argue that continued impunity for suspects — including warlords who helped the United States drive out the Taliban — is a stain on the international community's efforts to rebuild Afghanistan and is sowing the seeds for future turmoil.
The U.S. military, which is reducing its dependence on militia forces suspected of continuing abuses, is pressing Karzai to kick-start a national reconciliation process to include "non-criminal" Taliban. However, it remains unclear how the U.S.-backed leader will proceed.
Afghanistan still faces violence being waged by remnants of the Taliban regime. A freshly planted land mine exploded as a pickup truck carrying Afghan soldiers passed by Saturday, killing nine soldiers, one of the bloodiest attacks in months. Elsewhere, an Afghan border guard was killed when a gunman opened fire on a car at an illegal checkpoint in the southeast, police said. The gunman also was fatally shot.
Louise Arbour, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the world body would support the effort by the rights commission and called on Afghanistan's international sponsors to provide financial, technical and security support.
Reading the 82-page report, she said she was most struck by "the poignancy of how Afghans were thankful for being asked their opinions for the first time on these issues. That in itself is a very important step. The Afghan government and the international community must not let them down."
Pakistan police grill detained Taliban commanders about Mullah Omar
QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) Alleged Taliban members captured this week in southwestern Pakistan were being interrogated to learn the whereabouts of their fugitive leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, a security official said Saturday.
Police acting on a tip raided several homes in three neighborhoods of Quetta late Thursday and captured as many as 23 Afghan nationals on suspicion of links with the Taliban and al-Qaida.
A security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press on Saturday 17 of the 23 suspects were members of the hardline Taliban regime, which was ousted by U.S.-led military operations in late 2001.
Four of the suspects are former Taliban commanders, including Mohammed Nabi, Aga Mohammed, Mufti Rehmatullah and Abdur Razzaq, the official said. ``We are questioning them to know the whereabouts of Mullah Omar,'' the official said. He gave no other details.
A police investigator, also requesting anonymity, said some of the suspects told them they last saw Mullah Omar in December 2002. The whereabouts of Omar, like Osama bin Laden, remain unknown. Afghan and U.S. officials have said they could be holed up in the mountainous region along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
On Friday, officials said among the detainees were Mullah Ibrahim, former head of police in Kabul, and Mullah Khush Dil, a former deputy governor of Afghanistan's southern Helmand province.
Mullah Hakim Latifi who claims he speaks for the Taliban denied Friday that any leaders had been arrested in Quetta, the capital of southwestern Baluchistan province. Pakistan used to be a key supporter of the Taliban, but it switched sides to support Washington after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
Who's afraid of Rashid Dostum?
By M K Bhadrakumar / Asia Times Online / January 28, 2005
The attempt to assassinate Afghan Uzbek leader Rashid Dostum on January 20 in Shibirghan in the Amu Darya in northern Afghanistan bears all the hallmarks of a political plot.
It comes at a crucial point in Afghan politics - when "democracy" ought to be taxiing for takeoff. And in that sense it bears comparison to the assassination of Abdul Ali Mazari by the Taliban in March 1995 and that of Ahmad Shah Masoud in September 2001. Hazara unity (and Iranian influence, though temporarily) suffered with Mazari's death, which in turn impacted significantly on the anti-Taliban resistance. Masoud's departure of course turned the tide of recent Afghan history. Dostum's absence would create a political vacuum in northern Afghanistan bordering Central Asia. Who is afraid of Rashid Dostum?
Dostum's own "gut" reaction as he emerged, visibly shaken, from the suicide bomber's reach outside the mosque where he was saying prayers for the Eidul-Azha was: "The investigation has not been completed but personally I think this was the work of terrorists and an al-Qaeda group." Meanwhile, a man who claimed to speak on behalf of the Taliban called Reuters on a satellite phone out of nowhere to claim that the Taliban had carried out the attack to avenge the killing of their fighters in northern provinces during the US intervention in 2001. "We will attack any Afghans who are allies of the Americans or the present government," he apparently rationalized. A local security official in Shibirghan added to the confusion by stating that it was a "plot engineered in Pakistan". Curiously, a spokesman of the Afghan Supreme Court rejected all these theories. He concluded that Dostum's own people staged the attack.
Some theories can be eliminated - some cannot. Clearly, the Taliban would have done something spectacular if their atrophied limbs indeed possessed the muscle to stage such an operation in faraway Shibirghan. Shibirghan is vintage Dostum country. Besides, what could they gain out of it at a time when they are showing unprecedented flexibility to bring on board all conceivable elements who would militate against the US occupation? A gravitation of disenchanted elements that feel sidelined in the present dispensation in Kabul - that is what suits the Taliban at the moment.
Could "an al-Qaeda group", as Dostum suspects, be responsible? Conceivably, Uzbek Islamists allied to al-Qaeda under the leadership of Tohir Yoldashev stood to gain as Dostum's removal could give them access to the Amu Darya. But according to sections of the Western press, the US is manipulating Yoldashev.
Would the US go that far to destabilize Uzbekistan? Would Pakistan be involved? Unlikely, as Pakistan had cordial dealings with Dostum, and he did not threaten Pakistani interests. Would Uzbekistan or Tajikistan or Russia be involved? Out of the question - given Dostum's proven dependability for preserving the stability of the Amu Darya region as a cordon sanitaire between Central Asia and Afghanistan.
Apart from local Shibirghan authorities, the Interior Ministry in Kabul, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led International Security Force and the Americans have dispatched teams to conduct independent investigations. Considering that politics in Afghanistan are largely the byproduct of many major and minor intelligence operations, the incident will probably remain wrapped in mystery. What emerges is that a high of degree of volatility characterizes the Afghan situation.
Dostum himself had just entered what could be the most fascinating phase of his tumultuous career. He has worn the plumes of a rabble-rousing politician. He allowed his militia's disarmament. He doubted the legitimacy of the Afghan presidential elections, but allowed himself to be persuaded by the Americans to partake. He garnered 10% of the votes as a presidential candidate, establishing his leadership over a swath of land stretching from Kunduz province to Faryab. His influence in at least five provinces is widely acknowledged. Most important, he was beginning to talk the idiom of a politician. His metamorphosis was far advanced.
In late November, Dostum publicly raised his political demands. At a meeting with officials of the United Nations and the Afghan Defense Ministry in Shibirghan on November 29, he voiced the grievance that his fighters who had disarmed were yet to be "rewarded" as per understanding: "As we were together with our international friends in tough situations and in fighting international terrorism, we offer our sincere assistance in the reconstruction and in maintaining lasting stability in the country. We want the professionalism and competence of those officers and soldiers who were disarmed to be appreciated."
Soon afterward, large demonstrations were held in Mazar-i-Sharif, Shibirghan and Faryab, where Dostum's followers voiced disappointment over his exclusion from Hamid Karzai's cabinet. They complained that Kabul was ignoring Uzbekis. They criticized that the "English-speaking cabinet" in Kabul was not representative of their country as a number of them (half a dozen of whom hold doctorates from Western universities) were from the Afghan diaspora. They disowned two ethnic Uzbeks in the cabinet.
Dostum's supporters also began criticizing back-room dealings with erstwhile Taliban elements. They said "moderate Taliban" was an oxymoron and the game plan was to marginalize the erstwhile mujahideen politically. The Afghan opposition held a meeting in Kabul on January 11 where issues that were thought to have been "settled" were resurrected - about legitimacy of power, the working of federalism, the current interlude (pending parliamentary elections in May) of rule by presidential decree and so on. The lid was coming off the can of worms.
The Afghan paradox has many faces. First and foremost, Americans succeeded beyond anyone's expectations (including their own, perhaps) in working out the present political contract - browbeating various Afghan protagonists into submission, bullying them when necessary, threatening them if need be, stooping to conquer them by blackmail at times. The triumphalism peaked when such a formidable figure as Ismail Khan, former governor of Herat province, was checkmated through "statecraft". But in the process Afghan polity had become even more brittle. Most Afghan protagonists simply gave way to US pressure tactics, overawed by the imperial might of the superpower. Now, the paradox is that the US has been so utterly successful in putting together a political contract on its absolute terms that it must carry the process forward - something like what the witches would have advised William Shakespeare's Macbeth to do.
As it became clear that Dostum was raising the banner of revolt (within the four walls of democratic opposition), US Ambassador Zilmay Khalilzad rushed to Mazar-i-Sharif. But Dostum is not the only figure in Afghanistan's "democratic opposition" who may need to be pacified. Time will tell. In times of weakness, people like Dostum, or even Ismail Khan, may hunker down. But can it be assumed as their willing, infinite acquiescence?
The way out of the impasse would be an inclusive approach that allows a truly broad-based government. But that would mean loosening of the American grip. Democratic pluralism requires power-sharing and a genuine willingness to share power. Does the US want to see that happen in Afghanistan?
The US "lone ranger" approach poses problems for regional powers too. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov summed that up in a speech at the Council of Foreign Affairs in New York on January 13: "The first presidential election in that country, the victory of Karzai and the inauguration of a new cabinet of ministers are a new, important step toward implementing the Bonn Agreement. At the same time, we believe that a number of prominent and widely popular leaders of the ethnic minorities could also have been seated in the new government, because inside the government they would have been more useful than remaining in the opposition. Along with that, we consider it as dangerous the pattern of inviting the so-called moderate Taliban. I don't believe that Taliban can be 'moderate', or 'radical'. I don't believe in such divisions."
The parliamentary elections could lead to a political accommodation of various shades of opinion - such as Dostum's. But elections cannot be held until such time as their outcome can be ensured. That means rule by decree in the interim. Dostum has a point: what does he do if he were conclusively to bid farewell to arms?
M K Bhadrakumar is a former Indian career diplomat who has served in Islamabad, Kabul, Tashkent and Moscow.
Rampant graft among IMF concerns in Afghanistan
Friday January 28, 11:59 AM AFP
The IMF has expressed concern over "widespread" graft, increasing drug activities and lack of transparency in Afghanistan, in an annual review of the economy.
The International Monetary Fund said such concerns might undermine the business environment picking up after the country's first presidential elections last year following 20 years of civil war.
The IMF said "notwithstanding progress made so far, much remains to be done with respect to improving governance."
Directors of the IMF executive board "regretted indications that widespread corruption, the rise in drug activities, and the lack of transparency in many areas may have undermined the business environment," the report said.
But the IMF pointed out that Afghanistan, still battling an insurgency in the south where the ousted Taliban militia remains active, had successfully implemented a one-year Fund-monitored program expiring in March.
The country, which relies on donor funds, had kept its commitments for fiscal discipline and management, IMF said.
"Overall, the authorities have successfully implemented this program," which focuses on "capacity building and establishing basic economic underpinnings for many of government reforms," it said.
But the report cautioned that the government was not making progress in the battle to halt opium farming, which generates about 2.8 billion dollars in revenue and is equivalent to about 60 percent of non-drug Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Afghanistan is the world's leading producer of opium, used to make heroin.
President Hamid Karzai, who won elections in October after serving two years as the US-picked interim leader, is facing an uphill battle trying to wean the economy from drug dependence.
Karzai said earlier this month he was considering an amnesty for drug traffickers, many of whom allegedly hold senior government positions and are making millions of dollars from the opium trade.
Separately, the World Bank said Thursday it had approved a 27 million doilar grant to strengthen the administrative functions of Karzai's government.
It will support ongoing work to improve public procurement, financial management and accountability systems, a Bank statement said.
Jean Mazurelle, World Bank Country Manager for Afghanistan, said although the government had taken substantive measures to build an effective public administration, it faced "enormous challenges."
They include "improving security throughout the country, re-establishing national unity, developing institutions capable of formulating and implementing policies, and reaching out to provinces to collect revenues and deliver services."
The IMF said Afghanistan's GDP growth had been relatively strong, albeit from a very low base, and had slowed over the past 18 months, due primarily to the negative impact of adverse weather on farm production.
Growth remained strong in the other sectors, especially in construction and services, which continued to benefit from a buoyant aid-related, and possibly opium-related, demand.
The IMF projected GDP growth at eight percent in 2004/05, compared with 16 percent in 2003/04 and 29 percent in 2002/03.
Afghan transit goods to India
By Our Reporter Dawn
ISLAMABAD, Jan 29: Afghan goods in transit to India registered a growth of 43.13 per cent during the first-half (July-December) of the current fiscal year, over the same period last year.
Official figures compiled by the Central Board of Revenue showed that the Afghan goods in transit to India through Torkham and Chaman ports stood at $17.992 million during the period under review, as against $12.57 million during the same period last year.
The goods in transit to India included fresh fruits, dry fruits, hing, cumin seed and zeera.
On the other hand, imports from Afghanistan to Pakistan stood at Rs2.360 million during the first-half, as against Rs1.539 billion during the same period last year, showing an increase of 53.3 per cent.
Pakistan imports vegetables, fresh fruits, dry fruits, seeds, country drugs, spices, timber, scrap, etc.
Afghanistan's war crimes must be prosecuted
KABUL (AFP) - Those suspected of war crimes in Afghanistan, including key officials in the country's former administrations, must be prosecuted if stability is to be achieved, top UN and Afghan rights officials said.
"Unfortunately, proper attention has not been paid to a fundamental element of peace and stability since the beginning of Afghanistans transition process. That element is the realisation of justice in Afghanistan," said chair of Afghanistan's independent human rights commission Sima Samar said in a statement on Saturday.
"The people are of the opinion that continued impunity has given the perpetrators the opportunity to commit further abuses with no fear of prosecution", the statement said.
"We at the commission believe that it is impossible to achieve peace without justice", added Samar as the commission was to launch a survey titled "A Call for Justice".
In the survey of 6,000 people, 90 percent of participants "requested the removal of human rights violators from public office" and 40 percent asked for the "prosecution of notorious perpetrators".
The statement was released ahead of an official ceremony at the presidential palace in Kabul where the commission announced the key findings of the survey in the presence of President Hamid Karzai and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour.
"With the betterment of our police status, the prosecution system, the justice and judicial reforms ... Afghanistan is going towards a society dependent on social justice and human rights," Karzai said.
Human rights activists have repeatedly stressed the need for prosecution of some well-known perpetrators. The issue is to be raised again ahead of the parliamentary elections which will be held by the end of the spring or during the summer, as some could try to stand as candidates.
"It is vital for Afghanistan to continue to make bold strikes in the area of Human Rights. Of central importance is the need to address past and present human rights violations so as to ensure that those responsible ... do not succeed in yielding power," Arbour said.
War crimes were perpetrated by all factions under the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation, the civil war in the mid-1990s and during the Taliban regime, and included mass rapes, large-scale massacres, disappearances and summary executions, as well as the indiscriminate bombing of civilians, right officials said.
"Afghan and foreign forces committed crimes against humanity and serious war crimes", the advocacy group the Afghanistan Justice Project (AJP), wrote in a report on war crimes in October.
Documenting some of these acts, the AJP mentioned among others, former Karzai defense minister Mohammad Qassim Fahim and vice-minister of defense Abdul Rachid Dostamas as possibly being implicated in these crimes.
Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, leader of the Ittihad-i Islami party, is also mentioned, as well as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of the banned Hezb-i Islami party which is considered a terrorist group by the United States.
AP Interview: U.N. official sees drop in Afghan opium cultivation
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) Afghanistan could see an important fall in opium cultivation this year, the top U.N. counter-narcotics official said Saturday, partly because of a U.S.-sponsored crackdown on the world's largest illegal drug industry.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai's call for a ``holy war'' on drugs and police campaigns to eradicate opium poppy crops appear to have persuaded many farmers to sow their fields with legal crops, Antonio Maria Costa told The Associated Press.
``The information we have from different sources ... shows that the effort is significant and the impact on the actual surface under cultivation could be important,'' Costa said in an interview in the Afghan capital.
Costa, executive director of the Vienna-based United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, declined to forecast how much the reduction would be in a crop which last year supplied about 90 percent of the world's opium, the raw material for heroin.
Afghan and Western officials in Kabul have estimated that cultivation could fall by 30 percent to 70 percent from a record 131,000 hectares (323,701 acres) in 2004, though some observers warn that production may simply have shifted to more remote areas. The United Nations values the opium trade in Afghanistan at US$2.8 billion ( 2.15 billion), or more than 60 percent of 2003 gross domestic product.
US BASE IN UZBEKISTAN WILL EXIST UNTIL US CONTINGENT IS PRESENT IN AFGHANISTAN
TASHKENT, January 29 (RIA Novosti's Abu-Ali Niyamzatov) - The base in Khanabad will exist until the US contingent is present in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov told journalists. "If the US contingent is withdrawn from Afghanistan the base will become useless," he said.
According to him, transport and sanitary planes to carry cargoes and wounded soldiers are deployed at this base. "This base is necessary because the US contingent in Afghanistan is solving difficult tasks," the President stressed.
"The mission of the US troops in Afghanistan is very serious and I have all grounds to claim this," Islam Karimov emphasized. "We are interested in peace and order in Afghanistan and the revival of the Afghanistan which existed before the deployment of the Soviet troops in 1979," he said.
"Afghanistan will be restored when its people start producing bread and other foodstuffs instead of drugs. Afghans are a worthy nation and they deserve good and peaceful life. This is the purpose of our policy," the Uzbek leader added.
International aid should be tied to anti-drug measures in Afghanistan: UN
(AFP) 29 January 2005
KABUL - International aid to Afghanistan should be decreased if the country does not curb drug production, the executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Antonio Maria Costa said Saturday.
“I want the international financial lenders to introduce a negative pledge in their lending ... so that the resources will be made available (only) if there is a pledge that no opium will be cultivated in the district in the village in the province,” Costa told AFP.
Costa is on a four-day visit to Kabul to discuss that country’s opium trade with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
He said his measures would make it possible “to put an end to (assistance) programs” if drug production does not cease.
“I will be campaigning for the introduction of a negative pledge ... so that the programs can come to an end if indeed the evils of trade and the evils of cultivation are not curtailed.”
According to a survey last year opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan reached an unprecedented level of approximately 130,000 hectares.
Although bad weather and plant diseases have significantly reduced the opium yield, the total output was about 4,200 tons, making it the second largest opium harvest in Afghanistan’s history, the statement said.
With this, Afghanistan’s share in the global opiate market has further increased, now accounting for about 87 percent of the world’s illicit opium production, it said.
Costa, who also met with senior government ministers, heads of UN agencies and representatives of donor countries, leaves Kabul Sunday and will be in Colombia next week.
independent newspaper 1/29/05
Kabul (Eqtedar-e Melli) - The ban on the non-governmental weekly Payam-e Hambastagi, published in Herat, was one of last week's stories that raised concern among the people involved with the press and institutions defending the freedom of speech.
According to Abdorrazaq Ahmadi, the editor-in-chief of the weekly, government officials banned issue No 34 of Payam-e Hambastagi which used to be printed in the [government] printing house. He said that the publication of some articles critical of Herat governor and the province's courts was the reason behind the ban.
Expressing unawareness of the ban, Herat Governor Sayed Mohammad Khairkhwah said: Any publication that is not acting against the media law can be printed in Herat. The weekly is said to belong to the Shura-ye Eslami-ye Hambastagi-ye Mardom-e Afghanistan [Islamic Solidarity Council of Afghanistan's People] led by Esmail Khan, the incumbent minister of energy and water.
Officials of the Ministry of Information and Culture have not officially commented on the issue. Banning a publication without any legal basis is an unacceptable violation of the freedom of speech.
In the past, the province's new governor pretended to be defending freedom and claimed to promote civil liberties in Herat. It is not clear why he has lost his temper and mercilessly ordered the ban on a publication that was in the last stages of printing in the printing house. The problem does not seem to be with Mr Khairkhwah, the governor of Herat. The problem is with the governorship in Herat Province. A strange spell has been cast on it. Anyone occupying it [the seat of the governor] turns into an inflexible person who cannot tolerate the slightest criticism and uses force against his opponents.
When Esmail Khan was Herat governor, his treatment of the press and civil institutions was much criticized inside and outside the country. His successor, Mr Khairkhwah, seems to be following Esmail Khan's footsteps.
Pakistan: Comprehensive Afghan census to begin in February
ISLAMABAD, 28 January (IRIN) - The first comprehensive census of more than a million Afghans living in Pakistan is to begin on 20 February, authorities told IRIN on Thursday. In preparation, census staff have almost completed the mapping of areas where Afghans are believed to be residing across the country.
"The census teams have finished the work of identifying locations of Afghan households in many areas, like in the provinces of Sindh and NWFP [North West Frontier Province], while in Punjab, over 95 percent of the mapping has been done," Dr Imran Zeb, director at the office of the Chief Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees (CCAR), told IRIN in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.
The Pakistani government and the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) earlier this month announced that a census of all Afghans living in the country would soon take place. The survey will include all Afghans who arrived in Pakistan since December 1979, when the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan began.
The proposed census, according to the CCAR official, would be the most comprehensive survey of its kind, and provide vital information to help Islamabad and UNHCR in the development of long term solutions to the issue of large numbers of Afghans still in Pakistan more than three years after the end of civil war and the Taliban regime.
UNHCR has been assisting the voluntary repatriation of Afghans since 2002 under a tripartite agreement between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the refugee agency, which runs till March 2006. In the past three years, UNHCR has assisted nearly 2.3 million Afghans to return from Pakistan and anticipates a further 400,000 will repatriate during 2005.
"The basic thing is that we are not looking just at the actual number of Afghans, but we need to know when and where they came from and what they are currently doing in Pakistan. Only then can we be in a position to formulate any future policy about Afghans living here," Zeb explained.
The census teams would record the gender, ethnicity, address and the source of livelihood of those Afghans surveyed. They will also record when Afghans arrived in Pakistan and whether or not they intend to return to Afghanistan by the end of the voluntary repatriation programme. UNHCR teams have distributed nearly 340,000 copies of an information leaflet to Afghans, explaining the purpose of the census.
But some observers are questioning how thorough the census process is likely to be. "The teams would only count the members of a family present at home at the time of the census team's visit. And there is no way to count those absent - the Afghan refugee population is highly mobile," Nasreen Ghufran, a political analyst, told IRIN from Peshawar, capital of NWFP province, and home to the majority of Afghans in the country. "It is extremely difficult to carry out a census of such a dispersed population in just 10 days," Ghufran cautioned.
Another area of concern is the fact that many Afghans have managed to obtain Pakistani passports and identity cards. "Unless there is any effective way to check the fake identities, it is not going to give a true picture of the [Afghan] refugee population in Pakistan and would be only a cosmetic exercise unable to serve the purpose," the analyst said.
The Pakistani government estimates more than three million Afghans are still living in Pakistan, with more than one million living in UNHCR-administered camps mainly in the provinces of Balochisatn and NWFP.
Top World Leaders to Address Jeddah Economic Forum
by P.K. Abdul Ghafour Arab News January 28, 2005
JEDDAH, 28 January 2005 — Prominent international figures including the presidents of Nigeria, Afghanistan and Senegal and the prime ministers of Pakistan and Malaysia will address the Jeddah Economic Forum scheduled for Feb. 19-21.
Other distinguished speakers are Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Suzan Mubarak, the first lady of Egypt, Francesco Frangialli, secretary-general of World Tourism Organization, and Prashant Sahni, CEO of Tecnovate eSolutions.
A number of Saudi ministers and officials including Prince Turki Al-Faisal, ambassador to Britain, Prince Sultan ibn Salman, secretary-general of Supreme Commission for Tourism, Labor Minister Dr. Ghazi Al-Gosaibi, State Minister Abdullah Alireza and Commerce and Industry Minister Hashem Yamani will also address the annual event.
"This year's forum will focus on creating a vision for sustainable development building on previous theories that took a purely economic approach emphasizing hard dimensions such as the availability of capital and the adequacy of infrastructure," said Jeddah Marketing Board (JMB), its organizer.
"This year we will adopt a more holistic methodology, covering the softer social dimension with a focus on concepts such as capacity building and expansion of social capital and discussing how institutions of learning, production, regulation and social welfare all fit together and support socio-economic development," the JMB said in a mission statement.
The three-day event, to be held at the Jeddah Hilton, will attract more than 2,000 delegates from within and outside the Kingdom. "The forum will discuss national, regional and international economic issues and highlight the achievements of countries that have pursued strategies for human resource development as a prerequisite for sustainable growth," JEF 2005 Chairman Amr Enany said.
The forum will debate success stories in countries like Ireland, Singapore, Dubai, Jordan, Morocco and Egypt, aside from those of local businessmen. Registration of delegates is already open. The delegate fee is $1,500 for men and $750 for women.
"First organized in 2000, the JEF has become the region's strategic think tank focusing on local, regional and economic and social issues," Enany said. London Business School is the academic partner of the event for the second year.
The forum has seen active participation of women speakers and delegates for the past four years. This year's female speakers include Haifa Jamalullail, dean of Effat College in Jeddah, and Wahi Loqman, professor of law at King Abdul Aziz University.
The Jeddah Economic Forum has become one of the Middle East's most important annual gatherings of world leaders, government officials, prominent businessmen, financiers, economic strategists, academics and other influential figures.
Last year it brought to Jeddah such distinguished speakers as Queen Rania of Jordan, former US President Bill Clinton, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan and former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed.
Don’t Rush the Exit Plan
H. Kissinger and G. Schultz – The Australian
THE debate on Iraq is taking a new turn. The Iraq election scheduled for Sunday, only recently viewed as a culmination, is described as inaugurating a civil war. The timing and the voting arrangements have become controversial.
All of this is a way of foreshadowing a demand for an exit strategy, by which many critics mean some sort of explicit time limit on the US effort. We reject this counsel. The implications of the term "exit strategy" must be clearly understood; there must be no fudging of consequences. The essential prerequisite for an acceptable exit strategy is a sustainable outcome, not an arbitrary time limit. For the outcome in Iraq will shape the next decade of American foreign policy.
A debacle would usher in a series of convulsions in the region as radicals and fundamentalists reach for dominance with the wind seemingly at their backs. Wherever there are significant Muslim populations, radical elements will be emboldened. As the rest of the world relates to this reality, its sense of direction will be impaired by the demonstration of American confusion in Iraq. A precipitate American withdrawal is almost certain to cause a civil war that would dwarf Yugoslavia's, and it will be compounded as neighbours escalate their current involvement into full-scale intervention.
Desirable outcomes are not achieved solely by avoiding the consequences of failure. They require a workable strategy: the application of resources to an achievable objective. With Sunday's election, the issues in Iraq turn increasingly political. We owe it to ourselves to become clear about what outcome is compatible with our values and global security. And we owe it to the Iraqis to provide an outcome that can further their capacity to shape their future.
The mechanical part of success is relatively easy to define. It is the establishment of a government in Iraq considered sufficiently legitimate by the Iraqi people to permit the recruitment of an army able and willing to defend its institutions. That goal cannot be expedited by an arbitrary deadline that is, above all, likely to confuse ally and adversary. The political and military efforts cannot be separated. Training an army in a political vacuum has been proven to be insufficient. If we cannot carry out both the political and military tasks, we will not be able to accomplish either.
But what is such a government? Optimists and idealists posit that a full panoply of Western democratic institutions can be created in a time frame the American political process will sustain. Reality is likely to disappoint these expectations. Iraq is a society riven by centuries of religious and ethnic conflicts with little or no experience with representative institutions.
The challenge is to define political objectives that, even when falling short of the maximum goal, nevertheless represent significant progress and enlist support across the various ethnic groups. Sunday's election should therefore be interpreted as the first phase of a political evolution from military occupation to political legitimacy.
Optimists also argue that, since the Shia comprise about 60 per cent of the population and the Kurds another 15 to 20 per cent, and since neither wants Sunni domination, a democratic majority exists almost automatically. In that view, the Iraqi Shia leaders have come to appreciate the benefits of democratisation and the secular state by witnessing the consequences of their absence under Iran's Shia theocracy.
A pluralistic Shia-led society would indeed be a happy outcome. But we must take care not to base policy on the wish becoming the father of the thought. If a democratic process is to unify Iraq peacefully, a great deal depends on how the Shia majority defines majority rule. So far the subtle Shia leaders, hardened by having survived decades of Saddam's tyranny, have taken pains not to clarify their goals.
They have insisted on early elections – indeed, the date of January 30 was established on the basis of a near-ultimatum by the most eminent Shia leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. The Shia have also urged voting procedures based on national candidate lists, which work against federal and regional political institutions.
An absolutist application of majority rule would make it difficult to achieve political legitimacy. The Kurdish minority and the Sunni portion of the country would be in permanent opposition.
Western democracy developed in homogeneous societies; minorities found majority rule acceptable because they had a prospect of becoming majorities, and majorities were restrained in the exercise of their power by their temporary status and by judicially enforced minority guarantees. Such an equation does not operate where minority status is permanently established by religious affiliation and compounded by ethnic differences and decades of brutal dictatorship.
Majority rule in such circumstances is perceived as an alternative version of the oppression of the weak by the powerful. Political scientists may debate the degree to which the numerical advantage makes a moral difference; it neither preoccupies nor consoles permanent minorities. In multi-ethnic societies, minority rights must be protected by structural and constitutional safeguards. Federalism mitigates the scope for potential arbitrariness of the numerical majority and defines autonomy on a specific range of issues.
The reaction to Sunni intransigent brutality and the relative Shia quiet must not tempt us into identifying Iraqi legitimacy with unchecked Shia rule. A thoughtful American policy will not mortgage itself to one side in a religious conflict fervently conducted for 1000 years.
The Constituent Assembly emerging from the elections will be sovereign to some extent. But America's continuing leverage should be focused on four key objectives: (1) to prevent any group from using the political process to establish the kind of dominance previously enjoyed by the Sunnis; (2) to prevent any area from slipping into Taliban conditions as havens and recruitment centres for terrorists; (3) to keep Shia government from turning into theocracy, Iranian or indigenous; (4) to leave scope for regional autonomy within the Iraqi nation.
The US has every interest in conducting a dialogue with all parties to encourage the emergence of a secular leadership of nationalists and regional representatives. The outcome of constitution-building should be a federation, with emphasis on regional autonomy. Any group pushing its claims beyond these limits should be brought to understand the consequences of a break-up of the Iraqi state into its constituent elements, including: an Iranian-dominated South; an Islamist-Saddam Sunni centre; and invasion of the Kurdish region by its neighbours.
A calibrated American policy would seek to split that part of the Sunni community eager to conduct a normal life from the part that is fighting to re-establish Sunni control. The US needs to continue building an Iraqi army, which, under conditions of Sunni insurrection, will be increasingly composed of Shia recruits – thus producing an unwinnable situation for the Sunni rejectionists. But it should not cross the line into replacing Sunni dictatorship with Shia theocracy. It is a fine line, but the success of Iraq policy may depend on the ability to walk it.
Desirable political objectives will remain theoretical until adequate security is established in Iraq. In an atmosphere of political assassination, wholesale murder and brigandage, when the road from Baghdad to its international airport is the scene of daily terrorist or criminal incidents, no government will long be able to sustain public confidence.
Training, equipping and motivating effective Iraqi armed forces are preconditions to all the other efforts. Yet no matter how well trained and equipped, that army will not fight except for a government in which it has confidence. This vicious circle needs to be broken.
It is axiomatic that guerillas win if they do not lose. And in Iraq, the guerillas are not losing, at least in the Sunni region, at least not visibly. A successful strategy needs to answer these questions: Are we waging "one war" in which military and political efforts are mutually reinforcing? Are the institutions guiding and monitoring these tasks sufficiently co-ordinated?
Are we striving for complete security along major communication lines and in and between major towns, in accordance with the maxim that complete security in 70 per cent of the country is better than 70 per cent security in 100 per cent of the country – because fully secure areas can be models and magnets for those who are suffering in insecure places?
Are we designing a policy that can produce results for the people and prevent civil strife for control of the state and its oil revenues? Are we maintaining domestic American public support so that staged surges of extreme violence do not break the public's confidence at a time when the enemy may, in fact, be on the verge of failure? And are we gaining international understanding and willingness to play a constructive role in what is a global threat to peace and security?
An exit strategy based on performance, not artificial time limits, will judge progress by the ability to produce positive answers to these questions. In the immediate future, a significant portion of the anti-insurrection effort will have to be carried out by the US. A premature shift from combat operations to training missions may create a gap that permits the insurrection to rally its potential. But as Iraqi forces increase in number and capability, and as the political construction proceeds after the election, a realistic exit strategy will emerge.
There is no magic formula for a quick non-catastrophic exit. But there is now an opportunity for an outcome that will mark a significant step forward in the war against terrorism, in the transformation of the Middle East, and toward a more peaceful and democratic world order.
Henry Kissinger, chairman of Kissinger Associates, was US secretary of state from 1973 to 1977. George Shultz, distinguished fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, was secretary of state from 1982 to 1989.
Islamic extremists trash Pakistani TV offices after Peres interview
KARACHI (AFP) - Islamic extremists ransacked the offices of a private Pakistani television channel the day after it broadcast an interview with Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres, police said.
A Geo television official said the incident appeared to be a reaction to an interview in which Peres called on Pakistan to establish diplomatic contacts with Tel Aviv. "We don't yet know the reasons behind the attack, but we suspect it could be a reaction to Mr Peres' interview," Geo TV chief Imran Aslam told AFP on Saturday.
In the interview Peres urged Islamabad to establish contact with Tel Aviv. "There is no shame in peace, we should reach full normalisation," Peres said in the interview. Pakistan is a strong backer of the Palestinians' right to an independent state and does not recognise the state of Israel. Islamist parties in overwhelmingly Muslim Pakistan have frequently warned the government against establishing any contacts with the Jewish state.
"Last Jew" in Kabul finds Muslim friend to share synagogue
Sat Jan 29, 1:28 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Zebulon Simentov, 45, says he is the only Jew left in Afghanistan since the death of his neighbour Ishaq Levin and now feels so lonely that he shares the small synagogue where he lives in Kabul with a Muslim friend.
It is difficult to check his claim, but nobody in Kabul was able to name any other living descendants of Abraham. On the other hand, many people knew Zebulon Simentov and Ishaq Levin, who died on January 18 of old age and diabetes at the age of 80.
Now "I am the only Jew in Afghanistan, we all know each other, so we would know if there were others," said Simentov, wearing a long Afghan tunic and a kippa, the traditional Jewish skullcap.
Levin and Simentov were both born in Herat, the main city in western Afghanistan, where a small Jewish community stayed put even after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
"I knew him since I was 13, our houses were facing each other," said Simentov.
Around 25 years ago life in Herat started to become difficult.
"The mudjahedin militias started bothering us. We sold our shop ... and we came to Kabul," he said.
"They were asking for money," he said, stressing that it was not a question of religion.
The Simentov family, which ran a grocery and traded in carpets and skins, then left western Afghanistan for Kabul, like Levin's family.
During the 1979-89 Soviet occupation, about 40 Jewish families still lived in Kabul, according to Simentov. The civil war between mujahedin factions which followed (1992-96) and then the fundamentalist Islamic Taliban regime drove out those who had remained.
At the start of the civil war in 1992, Simentov tied the knot in an "arranged marriage" to a Turkmenistan Jew. He left and returned, alone, in 1998 under the Taliban.
According to Simentov, for his part, Levin always remained in Kabul, letting his four children and wife, expecting a fifth, depart for Israel.
"I said 'let's go to Israel, I will help you'. He said 'No, I want to stay here'," Simentov recalled.
The two men started to live together in the small synagogue on Flower Street, which is filled with shops selling flowers and traditional clothing, which finds a ready market among the foreigners working here.
Under the prayer room, on the ground floor of the building where only the iron guardrail evokes the Star of David, lived Levin, already an old man.
On the other side of the central patio, on the floor, lived his fellow tenant Simenov, who then was in the business of exporting antiquities and Afghan products.
An argument about a copy of the Torah, the Jewish sacred texts, poisoned their relationship.
Simentov said Levin denounced him to the Taliban, accusing him of wanting to sell abroad the synagogue Torah which he believed was valuable.
Levin had several years ago told an AFP journalist that his fellow tenant tried to send him away.
According to Simentov, the two men were briefly arrested by the Taliban who kept the Torah. But they both remained in the synagogue, and argued over who was in charge of taking care of it.
Now alone, Simentov does not intend to leave and envisages continuing to divide his time between Israel, where his wife and children live, and Afghanistan.
"I am used to this place... I have no choice," he said, referring to his financial difficulties.
"If the situation gets better, other Jews will come."
But Levin is dead and Simenov, despite everything, misses the old man.
"We were like the muscle and the bone," he said.
Feeling lonely, Simentov found a new fellow tenant in Mohammed Amir, 25, a Muslim guard of one of the two Jewish cemeteries in Kabul.
"Because he was alone, he asked me to live with him," said Amir, wearing a black tunic, Muslim skullcap and sporting a trimmed beard, adding it was a provisional arrangement.
"I have known them for 20 years ... it has nothing to do with Islam. I am a Muslim in my heart. He has his religion and I have mine."
Eyewitness: Pakistan tribals speak out
By Haroon Rashid BBC News, Balochistan Saturday, 29 January, 2005
Not many people in Pakistan know the origins of the word Sui.
But everyone in Pakistan knows it's the place where their natural gas supplies come from.
The local people are from the Bugti tribe. For them, the gas installation in this small sandy settlement is the "sacred cow that gives them milk".
The start of the New Year did not augur well for Sui's 30,000 population. A rape was reported.
It might have merited a few lines in the local newspapers. But this was a reported gang rape of a female doctor working in the local hospital.
The news sparked one of the bloodiest conflicts in the gas plant's 52-year-old history.
Local Bugti tribesmen accuse an army captain and other soldiers from the Defence Security Group (DSG) - stationed in Sui to protect the gas plant - of the rape.
The doctor was reported to be popular among the Bugtis. Her dishonour sent shockwaves almost across the whole Bugti tribe. The result was five days of bloody clashes between the angry tribesmen and the DSG.
Eight people, including three soldiers, lost their lives.
"The rape angered us a lot. How can we allow rape and other wrongs in our midst? It is completely unacceptable," says white-bearded Haji Sabzal Khan of Sui.
"But we did not target the plant. This must be clear."
The Bugtis are well aware of the importance of the gas installations for them and the rest of the country.
"Gas pipelines run hundreds of miles from our area to Karachi. We could easily target them. But we did not. We have been the protectors of the gas for the last 52 years," Haji Sabzal says, raising his voice.
This then, has become something of a propaganda battle between the Bugti tribesmen and the federal authorities who say the tribes were trying to attack the gas plant.
"The official version is completely a pack of lies," says the chief of Bugti tribe, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti.
"It was never touched during three previous Baloch insurgencies so how can it be hit now," Nawab Bugti says, while sipping green tea in his residence, about 50km (30 miles) north of Sui in his native Dera Bugti town.
Hundreds of armed Bugti volunteers have thronged the Dera Bugti area since the start of conflict in Sui. They say they are there to protect their leader against any possible military operation.
There is hardly a Bugti you can find in Sui who has anything to say against their chief.
A 45-minute drive from Dera Bugti to Sui on a metalled road takes you through a unique landscape, a mix of strange white, yellow and light brown mountains.
From here Pakistan's growing energy needs have been met through natural gas for the past five decades.
On the way, a number of newly-established paramilitary check posts indicate that all is not well. All vehicles are stopped and occupants thoroughly searched.
In Sui, the general feelings is that almost all Bugtis can easily be absorbed into the plant's labour force. People with a decent livelihood in transport, for example, are itching for better paid work at the plant.
One such character is 30-year-old driver Hafeezullah Haideri.
He owns a relatively new Toyota pickup: "I earn 800 or 900 rupees ($15) a day - sometimes not even that because of an accident or damage to the vehicle. I deserve work in the plant," he argues.
"You can see the landscape here - it's a completely dry, arid area. We can't do anything else here - no agriculture, nothing."
"It is a huge factory. It can employ 16,000 -17,000 people. We demand only what is our right. Nothing more, nothing less."
Outside the main gate of the Sui plant are dozens of slum-like structures. These are protest camps set up by different groups of unemployed Bugtis.
The camps, as well as the main Sui market, were lying deserted when we visited the place a few days after the violent clashes.
"Most of the people left for safer places to avoid getting caught in the cross fire," local Ali Murad says.
With reports of more military reinforcements reaching the town, tension was still in the air. Alert paramilitary troops were out on the Sui streets, looking out for any potential trouble-makers.
In this small town, no one knew what awaits them. They were all complaining about their supply of drinking water from the Sui plant being cut off and labourers not being allowed to return to work.
Some said official reports that the plant had been damaged in the fighting were not true.
Haji Sabzal says the government was exaggerating the damage to the plant so that public opinion would be sympathetic to any military operation against the tribesmen.
The tight official control of the media over what could be seen of the plant damage has cast doubt over the episode.
All eyes in Sui are now focused on the official inquiry into the gang rape case.
But no one in Sui or Dera Bugti is ready to accept the impartiality of the investigations.
"We have little faith in DNA or other tests if carried out by the government. For us to be satisfied, the accused will have to take a walk on fire," says Wadera Mohammad Bakhsh.
That's a reference to the tribal judicial custom whereby accused walk on hot coals in bare feet. Their guilt is determined by the damage to their flesh.
However, there is little doubt that the reasons behind the violent clashes at Sui go further than the allegations of rape.
Years of economic deprivation, growing feelings against law enforcement agencies and tribal pride have all played their part.
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