President Karzai Encourages Blood Donation Initiative for Tsunami Victims
Press release Jan. 8. 2005
Presidential Palace, Kabul – H.E. Hamid Karzai, President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, welcomes the initiative taken by the Afghan people in donating blood to the victims of the South Asian Tsunami.
“I encourage the Afghan people to keep donating blood to this good cause. Solidarity is highly valued in our culture. During the past two decades, the Afghan people experienced war and devastation and relied heavily on international assistance. Today, the Afghan people are pleased to provide assistance to the victims of this tragedy”, the President said this morning.
Released by the Office of the Spokesman to the President -Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
Afghan judge arrested for Kabul bombing
By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL, Jan 8 (Reuters) - Afghan security forces have detained a supreme court judge suspected of being involved in an August car bomb attack that killed 10 people, including three Americans, in the capital Kabul, a court official said on Saturday.
The attack targeted offices used by the private U.S. security firm DynCorp, which provides protection to President Hamid Karzai and gives anti-narcotics training to Afghan police. A supreme court official said the arrest of Judge Naqibullah followed the interrogation of two al Qaeda members detained this month for the bombing.
"The security forces several days ago arrested Naqibullah as an accused over the bombing incident," Wahid Mozhda, a spokesman for the supreme court, told Reuters.
"They said the other two suspects had also said that they had spent a night at Naqibullah's house in Kabul." Naqibullah also served as the head of the preliminary court of a district of Panj Sher province to the northeast of the capital, the official said.
He belonged to a faction of the Mujahideen, or holy warriors, which fought the 1980s Soviet occupation and then the Taliban from the late 1990s, helping U.S.-led forces topple them in 2001.
Security forces said they discovered explosives during a raid on Naqibullah's house, Mozhda said. The Taliban, ousted from power in 2001 for harbouring al Qaeda and its chief, Osama bin Laden, claimed responsibility for the bombing and the suicide attack.
Bin Laden is the architect of Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. cities and his whereabouts remain a mystery, though officials speculate that he is hiding somewhere along the rugged border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Taliban remnants and their al Qaeda allies are mostly active in parts of southern and eastern Afghanistan.
Spanish troops on stabilization mission to Afghanistan
MADRID, Jan. 7 (Xinhua) -- A contingent of 97 Spanish troops Friday flew to Afghanistan where they will take part in tasks related to political stabilization in the Central Asian country.
The military personnel flew on board a Boeing 707 Spanish air force plane, which took off from the Manises military base of the Valencia province in eastern Spain.
The plane will make a stopover in Palma of Mallorca, Spain and fly all the way to Manas in Kyrgyzstan, from where the troops will be flown by C-130 Hercules transport planes to Kabul, capital of Afghanistan.
The contingent will relieve a group of Spanish troops deployed in Afghanistan since last October. Other military contingents of the Iberian country will land in Afghan territory on Jan. 11-14.
All of the Spanish personnel deployed in Afghanistan are integrated in Spain's Aspfor X force. A military spokesman said the Spanish troops will help keep political order, assist local population as well as train the new Afghan national army.
MMA moves motion in NA on Pak-Afghan border clash
By Naveed Ahmad
ISLAMABAD (The News) - The Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) on Friday moved an adjournment motion on a bloody clash between Pakistani and Afghan armed forces in the National Assembly on Friday.
The motion, signed by 14 MMA parliamentarians including Liaquat Baloch, Hafiz Hussain Ahmad, Asadullah Bhutto, Shabir Ahmad Khan, Sahibzada Haroon Rasheed, Qari Gul Rahman, Farid Ahmad Piracha, Mian Mohammad Aslam, Mohammad Hussain Mehnti and Dr Attaur Rahman, was filed according to the Rule 92 of the Rules and Procedures of the National Assembly.
The prime mover of the motion, Liaquat Baloch, observed that Pakistan removed a friendly government in Afghanistan to please the United States. "Indian intelligence agencies in Afghanistan in the garb of diplomats and aid workers are busy conspiring against Pakistan and its policies," he remarked. At the same time, Liaquat Baloch, said the Afghan government is accusing Pakistan of violating its boundary and playing with the international law.
Since widespread anxiety prevails throughout the country, the issue should be discussed in Parliament not only for taking the people into confidence but also to give an effective response, Baloch observed.
Afghan Government Attention Turns to Upcoming Parliamentary Election
8. January 2005
By Camelia Entekhabi-Fard - Eurasianet - As Afghan President Hamid Karzai's new cabinet settles in, the government's attention is focusing on Afghanistan's upcoming parliamentary election. The stability challenges connected with the parliamentary vote are far greater than December's presidential election, observers say.
The parliamentary vote is now planned for early spring. The December 7 presidential election, won handily by Karzai, was marked by far less turmoil and violence than many observers had expected. This fact, though, has not seemed to ease concerns about the Afghan government's ability to ensure a stable parliamentary vote.
A January 5 analysis published in the Eslah newspaper said Karzai's political enemies, in particular the warlords who continue to dominate Afghanistan's provinces, view the parliamentary vote as a crucial opportunity for stopping Karzai's political momentum. Accordingly, warlords are mobilizing all forces at their disposal to influence the voting results in their respective regions, hoping to frustrate Karzai's campaign to extend the central government's authority. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Another potential source of turmoil is connected with Karzai's cabinet decisions. The president, a Pashtun, generated hard feelings among the country's sizable Tajik community by excluding several powerful Tajik political leaders from his cabinet, including former defense minister Mohammad Fahim and former education minister Yunus Qanooni. Of the Tajik leaders who were prominent in the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, and who joined Karzai in forming an interim government in 1991, only Dr. Abdullah Abdullah now remains in the president's cabinet, continuing on as foreign minister. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Tension has long simmered between Karzai and Tajik leaders, underscored by Qanooni's candidacy in the presidential election. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. But the cabinet's composition indicates that a full break has occurred between Qanooni and Fahim on the one hand and Karzai on the other. Qanooni reportedly sought his old post as education minister only to be rebuffed by Karzai, a brother of the Tajik leader, Ibrahim Qanooni, told EurasiaNet.
Some observers now believe that inter-ethnic divisions may once again become a major factor in Afghan politics. Qanooni has already announced that he will lead a new Tajik-based political party, called New Afghanistan, which will compete in the parliamentary elections.
In addition to the growing political challenges to Karzai's administration, officials believe that Islamic radical forces are regrouping with the intent of making a renewed push to sow disorder in Afghanistan. Taliban forces have been on the defensive in recent weeks, after suffering a severe public-relations blow over the movement's failure to disrupt the presidential election. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Islamic militant raids are continuing, although in one recent action in southern Zabul Province five Taliban fighters were killed before being repulsed by government troops.
Given Karzai's lagging influence in many provinces, along with the ongoing Taliban insurgency, some experts and politicians in Kabul are suggesting that the parliamentary elections be postponed until the summer. The extra time would give the central government space to improve the quality of its own armed forces while pressing ahead with the disarmament of warlord-controlled military units, thus increasing the odds that stability could be maintained during an election campaign.
In the months leading up to the parliamentary election, Karzai's cabinet will be under pressure to produce tangible economic and social gains. If it doesn't, pro-presidential candidates could suffer at the ballot box.
When he unveiled his cabinet, Karzai portrayed its members as apolitical technocrats dedicated to making immediate improvements for all Afghans, regardless of political affiliation and ethnicity. "The people of Afghanistan have big expectations from all of us, and in your faces I see the desire to realize the hope of the Afghan people for a better Afghanistan," Karzai told his ministers at a December 27 cabinet session.
Despite Karzai's claims about the apolitical nature of the cabinet, some of his lieutenants have strong partisan political ties. For example, one of his vice presidents, Karim Khalili, is the head of the Shi'a-dominated Hizb-i-Wahdat, or Islamic Unity Party. In addition, prominent warlord Ismail Khan, a power-broker of western Herat Province, has been brought to Kabul to serve as energy minister. Some observers believe Karzai brought Khan into the cabinet in order to keep close tabs on him. Militia units loyal to Khan battled with government forces in 2004 for control of Herat.
Camelia Entekhabi-Fard has reported from Afghanistan and Iran for EurasiaNet.
Mobarez's resignation shows the undemocratic policies of the information and culture minister
Arman-e Melli (Kabul daily newspaper) 01/08/2005
Kabul - Because of his differences with [Information and Culture Minister] Mr Makhdum Rahin, Abdol Hamid Mobarez, the deputy minister of information and culture for publication affairs, has resigned. Abdol Hamid Mobarez is a well-known media and cultural personality. He has been serving his compatriots well for a long time.
If performance of the Information and Culture Ministry since the establishment of the interim government is evaluated, one can see that Mr Rahin's democratic achievements, ranging from the law on media to media freedom, have been all made possible with the efficient help of his deputy.
The differences between the minister of information and culture and his deputy surfaced when open roundtable discussions were organized at Mobarez's initiative. Political issues were hotly discussed at the roundtable discussions and the relevant authorities and experts invited by Mobarez offered constructive and healthy criticisms.
According to the Ministry of Information and Culture employees, the minister reduced the powers of his deputy in publication affairs after the roundtable discussions. The employees say: Censorship of the print and non-print media was another important bone of contention between the minister and his deputy. Mr Mobarez was strongly opposed to such a stance.
The other issue that triggered differences was the influence the minister exerted in all areas. Without any respect for the administrative, cultural and publication principles, he imposed all his legitimate and illegitimate demands on the ministry.
One of the ministry employees says: The differences between the minister and the deputy increased and became problematic when the election campaigns of the presidential candidates started. Mr Mobarez wanted the lectures of the candidates to be published in the media, particularly the state-run media, without any censorship. But Mr Sayed Makhdum Rahin, the minister of information and culture, completely disagreed. He exerted his influence and as a democratic gesture only 20 minutes of the candidates' lectures were allowed to be broadcast.
The only achievement of the Ministry of Information and Culture over the past three years was the law on media by which the media obtained freedom for the first time in Afghanistan. It was an initiative of Mr Mobarez. Mr Rahin has only shown interest in the revival of the monasteries.
According to the Information and Culture Ministry employees, the minister has not shown any interest in radio and televisions broadcasts and has not taken any measure to improve the quality of the broadcasts.
They say the minister warmly received only those employees with tip-offs about other employees. He appoints and removes the employees according to those tip-offs. The minister has never appointed qualified and professional staff. Those who were accidentally appointed according to their expertise were soon removed or reappointed in less important positions by the minister.
The transitional period has come to an end and an elected government has been established. As he promised to the president and took the oath of allegiance, the minister is expected to aim his activities at reconstructing the country and institutionalizing democracy. He should put aside his individual desires and by understanding the realities on the ground should appoint as head of the departments those who are professional and committed to freedom, democracy and people's prosperity. There are many people who have such qualifications in the Information and Culture Ministry. But, all of them are unfortunately appointed in less effective departments with very unimportant jobs.
Hope the minister no longer acts according to the gossips and by understanding the human nature appoint cultural personalities to cultural and media bodies. It is a pity if Mr Mobarez is prevented from contributing to institutionalization of democracy and media freedom. BBC Monitoring
Brothers in Alms
By PETER BERGEN – The New York Times 1/8/05 Kabul,
Afghanistan - AROUND the Islamic world it is common currency that Muslims are perpetual victims of Western and Zionist conspiracies. The bill of particulars includes the handling of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Israel's inequitable treatment of the Palestinians, and the deaths of thousands of civilians in Iraq - as a result first of United Nations sanctions after the Persian Gulf war, and more recently of the American occupation. The most articulate spokesman of such views is, of course, Osama bin Laden. Yet when Muslims are suffering, it is usually the West, and often the United States, that takes the lead in helping. For instance, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, Washington mounted its largest covert aid program since Vietnam to help the Afghan resistance; when Somalis were starving in the early 1990's, President George H. W. Bush sent 25,000 American troops to help relief efforts; when Serbs were massacring Bosnian Muslims in the mid-1990's President Bill Clinton (belatedly) directed the United States Air Force to bomb Serbian positions, which led to the Dayton accords. More recently, it was the United States that overthrew the tyrannical government of the Taliban, a regime
recognized only by three Muslim countries: Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates. Other than Turkey, no Muslim nation has sent troops to Afghanistan to help stabilize the poorest country in the Islamic world (a few Muslim states, including Jordan, offered token deployments but were turned down). Now the same pattern - action by Western countries and inertia from Muslim states - can be seen in the efforts to provide relief for those hardest hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami. While 100,000 of the victims are from Aceh, the most Islamic of Indonesia's provinces, Muslim countries are contributing a relative pittance. Oil-rich Saudi Arabia is contributing the most: a paltry $30 million, about the same as what Netherlands is giving and less than one-tenth of the United States contribution. And no Arab governments participated in the conference in Jakarta on Thursday where major donors and aid organizations conferred over reconstruction efforts. This anemic effort on the part of the richest
countries is emblematic of a wider political problem in the Islamic world. For all of the invocations by Muslim leaders of the ummah, or the global community of believers, they typically do little to help their fellow Muslims in times of crisis. Arab leaders and their toothless talking shops like the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic
Conference are excellent at denouncing problems in Palestine and Iraq, but most stood silent as a million died in the war between Iraq and Iran during the 1980's. When President Hafez al-Assad of Syria massacred some 20,000 people after an Islamist uprising in the city of Hama in 1982, there were no expressions of outrage from the Islamic Conference. Egypt routinely tortures political prisoners, untroubled by fears that other Arab leaders will seriously
condemn such actions. Perhaps the generosity of Western countries will spur Islamic states to recognize that invocations of religious Muslim solidarity will do little to feed the millions of Muslims who remain acutely vulnerable to disease and starvation in the aftermath of this enormous natural catastrophe.
There have been a few positive signs in recent days. Spurred by criticism, Saudi state-run television organized a telethon this week that raised private pledges of more than $75 million, and the Islamic Development Bank has pledged $500 million. Much remains to be done, however. The Persian Gulf countries that are
reaping a bonanza from record oil prices should send a meaningful percentage of those windfall profits to their fellow Muslims devastated by the tsunami, rather than lining the pockets of their ruling families. After all, zakat, the giving of charity, is one of the five pillars of Islam. Peter Bergen is a fellow of the New America Foundation and an
adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.
UNHCR High Commissioner to visit Afghanistan next week
Source: UN High Commissioner for Refugees / January 7, 2005 - This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond - to whom quoted text may be attributed - at the press briefing, on 7 January 2005, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers leaves next week for a four-day visit to Afghanistan, where he is scheduled to meet with President Hamid Karzai and several ministers of the newly-appointed Afghan Cabinet. The High Commissioner will be discussing ways that the reconstruction process in Afghanistan can be sustained in order to encourage more Afghan refugees to return home and ensure their successful, long-term reintegration.
The High Commissioner will travel to the western city of Herat to meet the new provincial Governor and visit a nearby village where UNHCR has been running a shelter-building programme for Afghan families recently returned to the country. He will be talking with some of these families about the challenges they faced upon their return. Lubbers will also meet the governor of Kandahar province and go to an IDP camp where UNHCR is providing assistance for some 50,000 Afghans displaced within their own country.
The High Commissioner will stop in Islamabad en route to Kabul and is scheduled to hold talks with the Pakistani Prime Minister and several other high-ranking officials dealing with refugee issues. Despite the return of more than 3.5 million Afghans since the start of UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme in 2002, an estimated 1.8 million Afghans still live in Pakistan and just under 1 million are in Iran. During his tour of the region, the High Commissioner will focus on the need to find solutions for this longstanding refugee situation and to develop new approaches to managing population movements within the region.
US offers Rewards for Al-Qaida Kingpins
ISLAMABAD (The News) - The United States on Friday advertised rewards in Pakistan’s top daily for information leading to the capture of 14 al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, including Osama bin Laden and Mulla Omar.
The half-page advertisement in daily Jang, placed by the US Embassy in Islamabad, features mugshots of the wanted men and said anyone giving details to a special email address or hotlines would remain anonymous.
The United States has offered up to $ 25 million each for 9/11 mastermind Osama and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, while Taliban chief Mulla Omar has a $ 10 million price on his head.
The US embassy said in a statement that the ad was the first in a series appearing in newspapers and on radio and television, and part of what it called the ongoing war against terrorism. It was designed to promote awareness of the US Rewards for Justice programme and to "urge people to bring some of the most-wanted international terrorists to justice".
The other suspects in the US advertisement each carry a reward of $ 5 million for "terrorist" activities such as making explosives, training and methods of using poison for terror attacks. They include Midhat Mursi Al-Sayid ‘Umar’, SaifAl-Adel, Anas Al-Liby, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, Mustafa Mohammed Fadhil, Ali Sayyid Muhamed Mustafa al-Bakri, Ahmed Mohamed Hamed Ali, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, Muhsin Musa Matwalli Atwah and Adnan G El Shukrijumah. Similar ads have appeared in publications as far-ranging as The New York Times, Paris Match, Germany’s Die Welt, Pravda in Russia and the Egyptian paper Al Hayat, the embassy said.
A Star is Born
IWPR By Sohaila Mohseni
Fourteen-year-old Marina Gulbahari defies the odds by gaining rave reviews in her first movie and defies convention by deciding to pursue a film career. Kabul - The discovery of Marina Gulbahari, 14, who has become the star of a major international film, reads like the script of a Hollywood movie.
Marina, then 11, was begging outside a hotel in Kabul when she was spotted by Afghan film director Sediq Barmak. "Barmak asked me to take part in a public poetry recital," she recalled, sitting in an unheated hotel in the city centre. "It was a very sentimental piece, very moving and halfway through, I found myself thinking about two of my elder sisters who were killed by a rocket during the Soviet invasion.
"It was very emotional. I lost control and tears started rolling down my cheeks. I think it was because of this that Barmak offered me the part." Marina went on to star in "Osama", a film in which she portrays a 12-year-old girl forced to masquerade as a boy called Osama, in order to work to save her widowed mother and grandmother from starvation, when women under the Taleban were banned from working and even appearing outside their home unless accompanied by a male member of the family.
The film went on to win numerous international awards in 2003, including three at the Cannes Film Festival and a Golden Globe as the best foreign-language entry.
Osama's success also meant that Marina can afford to pay for her education and support her family. Since making the film, Marina has appeared in two more features as well as in five shorts.
Her decision to pursue an acting career is a brave one in a country still living in the shadow of the Taleban-era. Even now, Marina said she sometimes has to contend with a barrage of abuse when she walks through some parts of her neighbourhood.
"It was bad when 'Osama' first came out in 2003," she said. "Young boys were the worst. They would shout some very insulting remarks and it had an effect on me.
"I became very dispirited and started having regrets about taking the part but when the film started winning awards I realised I had been right. Gradually I grew stronger."
Marina was born in 1990 and lived with her five surviving sisters and two brothers in a very poor district of Kabul, where her father ran a cassette stall until it was closed by the Taleban.
In order to help feed the family, she and one of her brothers would beg in the city centre. Now circumstances have improved. She has received cash awards from several countries including 4,000 US dollars from Korea; 1,000 from Japan and 5,000 from Iran - enough to buy a 10,000-dollar house in a better part of the capital.
Marina also travelled to Tajikistan, where she has been offered more film work. Afghan president, Hamed Karzai, has invited her to the presidential palace and she also received an invitation from US First Lady Laura Bush to visit America.
"My brother and I were to have gone in November," said Marina, "but at the last minute it was cancelled. They said it was because my brother couldn't speak English."
Now Marina wants to pursue her twin ambitions. "I would like to carry on my education and become a good doctor. I want to help the poor in the same way as I was helped.
"And I would like to carry on film-making. When I first went on the set I was very nervous. I was always afraid of any mullahs because I didn't realise they were actors.
"Gradually I became more relaxed and now I love it. One day I would like a leading role." Her decision, she says, has upset a few people, "People have asked my father to stop me because they don't approve."
And some close relatives have ceased all contact with her family because of one scene in Osama where Marina appears in a public baths with a group of boys. Marina has no regrets. "The best day of [my] life was when the Taleban fell," she said. "We lived in poverty and like all girls in Afghanistan I was deprived of education. The second best was getting a film role. "If the Taleban had been in power I might still be outside the hotel begging." Sohaila Mohseni is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.
Detritus of War Keeps Claiming New Victims
IPS 01/08/2005 By Katherine Stapp
NEW YORK - For the first time, many more civilians are being killed and maimed in Afghanistan by dud munitions than by landmines, which were more or less outlawed in 1999 but linger around the world as the wreckage of earlier wars.
A study published in Friday's British Medical Journal says that the biggest problem is now unexploded ordnance (UXO) -- incidentally, much easier and cheaper to get rid of than landmines -- which includes grenades, bombs, mortar shells, and cluster munitions that fail to detonate on impact.
Using data collected by the United Nations Mine Action Centre and the International Committee of the Red Cross, researchers discovered that in fact, the casualty ratio had precisely "flipped" in recent years. As the proportion of injuries from UXO went from 37 percent in 1997 to 57 percent in 2002, the proportion of injuries from landmines fell correspondingly from 57 percent to 36 percent.
And these numbers only tell part of the story, said one of the two lead researchers, Dr. Oleg Bilukha of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States.
"The real casualties are at least twice as much, maybe more," he told IPS. "For example, deaths represent only 7 percent, while in other countries (burdened with landmines and other UXO) we know that they are 30 to 50 percent of casualties."
In essence, if the victim didn't live long enough to make it to the nearest clinic, their death went unreported. Tragically, nearly half of the injuries from dud munitions were among children, mostly boys, who had been playing or tampering with the explosives.
Most of the landmines in Afghanistan are left over from the decade-long Soviet occupation of the 1980s, but watchdog groups say that newer UXO accumulated during the U.S. invasion to oust the Taliban regime in October 2001.
According to Human Rights Watch, "cluster bombs played a role throughout the U.S. air campaign. In the first week alone, Air Force B-1 bombers reportedly dropped fifty CBU-87s, containing 10,100 bomblets, in five missions."
Bilukha was cautious in explaining the rising toll in Afghanistan, noting that the numbers started shifting before the U.S. air attacks and that the available data is too limited to map specific battle areas to specific injuries. But he hoped the study would inform policy debates about how to modify these munitions to make them less dangerous to civilians.
"Should we make (cluster and other munitions) more noticeable, so people will not stumble over them, or less noticeable, so children will not pick them up? This is the question we are posing," he said.
In November 2003, dozens of humanitarian groups from 42 countries joined together at The Hague in the Netherlands to urge a global moratorium on the use, production and trade of cluster munitions, which scatter hundreds of "bomblets" and are responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians worldwide.
They hoped to convince governments who had signed the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), a 1980 treaty banning the most inhumane and indiscriminate weapons, to ratify a new protocol on UXOs.
Just over a year later, the Cluster Munitions Coalition says that the lack of progress has "called into question the usefulness of the CCW" treaty itself. In an irate closing statement at the CCW's annual meeting last fall, Coalition delegates complained that a session of military experts tasked with addressing the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions was adjourned after just half an hour.
"Some of the more progressive governments -- Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, New Zealand -- are starting to see that this is a problem, and made statements at the CCW," said Thomas Nash of Mines Action Canada.
"But the main holders of these weapons -- the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom -- have taken some measures that may be commendable but are not enough to stop the problem."
"It is very difficult to influence these countries, as we've seen in the landmine campaign," he said. "They have significant geopolitical security needs, and they are insulated against public opinion in many ways. The first step is to establish an international norm."
Nash said it was critical to assemble hard statistics demonstrating the extent of the problem -- like Bilukha's study, and an even more comprehensive global survey of the impact of cluster munitions due for release in March.
"When we go to the CCW, governments have said for years that the data is not there, that 'we're not convinced it's a humanitarian problem', so studies that add to the body of knowledge will really help," he said.
A Pentagon spokesman in Kabul told IPS that while the Coalition forces do not have any policy specifically designed to protect civilians, they do coordinate closely with the United Nations Mine Action Center (UNMACA) in the country.
"Mines and UXOs in Afghanistan are a huge problem, given two plus decades of conflict," said Maj. Mark McCann. "Known hazard areas are marked by UNMACA clearance teams. There is a detailed process of general and technical surveys to identify hazard areas and prioritise them for clearance."
So far, U.N. experts, local NGOs and privately contracted firms have cleared 2.8 million explosive devices, including mines and UXOs, from 320 million square metres of land. But at least 815 million sq metres must still be cleared to ensure the safe return of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people and refugees.
Bob Gannon, programme manager for a U.S. State Department-funded clearance programme in the country, believes that most of the UXO dates back to the Soviet era.
"I've been here three years and seen my share of horrible accidents," he said. "One big problem is that the value on scrap metal is quite high so children are sent out to collect it, and a lot turns out to be UXO."
Gannon's company, Ronco, destroyed 1.6 million UXO just last year, mostly tank ammunition, shells and projectiles. The Afghan government and U.N. Development Programme are now in the midst of a countrywide survey to assess the scope of the contamination and come up with a timetable for remediation.
"Cluster munitions is one problem, but it is actually a small part of the global ERW (explosive remnants of war) problem," concluded Nash of Mines Action Canada. "This is fundamentally about societal capacity and poverty -- we need to build up structures in affected countries to deal with the problem."
Sui gas pipeline blown up
By Saleem Shahid – DAWN (Pak)
QUETTA, Jan 7: At least two people, a Frontier Corps soldier and a civilian girl, were killed and many others injured when a gas pipeline blew up and caught fire during a gun battle between armed men and law-enforcement personnel in the Sui township on Friday night.
"Dozens of rockets and mortar shells were fired from both sides during the two-hour clash," the sources said. A rocket hit the 16-inch diameter pipeline supplying raw gas from the field to the compressor plant, official sources said, adding that the main compressor and purification unit were safe.
"The purification plant and all other installations of the Sui gas field are safe," a senior officer of the plant told Dawn on telephone from Sui. The gas supply was not affected, the sources said.
It is learnt that the assailants started firing rocket and mortar shells in Lundi area, some 3kms from the Sui Township, at around 8:45p.m., hitting a pipeline supplying gas to the main compressor plant. The pipeline caught fire which was controlled by stopping the supply of gas from the main field.
Personnel of Frontier Corps protecting pipelines and other installations returned fire. Rockets, mortar shells and other heavy weapons were used in the cross-fire which continued far over one hour.
The firing stopped at around 9:50p.m., but started again at around 10:35p.m. and continued till 11:45p.m. A minor girl and one soldier of the Frontier Corps were killed and many others were injured.
"Yes, two persons including a girl were killed in the firing," provincial Home Secretary Aftab Jamal told Dawn, adding that the firing had stopped and the fire in the pipeline had been brought under control. He said that many official vehicles were damaged.
A senior officer of the Sui administration said that the supply of gas from main plant was not stopped to any area of the country. "Gas supply is continuing to all areas of the country," DEO Sui M. Akbar said. He said that a hotel close to a petrol pump was also hit in the rocket attack.
Delhi, Tehran close to gas pipeline deal
The News Int.(Pak)
NEW DELHI: India and Iran are close to finalising a $3 billion pipeline deal that would bring Iranian gas to India through Pakistan, India’s petroleum minister said on Friday.
"We really are very close to an agreement," Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar told Dow Jones Newswires in an interview. "A technical and commercial delegation (from Iran) will visit India Feb 14 to continue the discussions."
Aiyar said the pipeline, which would carry gas from Iran’s giant South Pars field, would "fill a huge gap in supplying gas to India" but declined to comment on how the three countries would participate in the project.
Aiyar also didn’t disclose if India and Pakistan had held separate talks on the issue. "All I care about is getting the gas," he said, "everything should come together" when he (Aiyar) makes an official visit to Tehran in June.
On Friday, Aiyar sealed India’s first big gas deal with his Iranian counterpart Bijan Namdar Zanghaneh on the sidelines of an Asian ministers’ oil meeting in New Delhi. According to agreement with India will buy from Iran 7.5 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas a year over 25 years.
Aiyar said in a statement: "The Gas Authority of India Limited and Indian Oil Corp have signed an agreement with the National Iranian Gas Export Corp on Friday to import 7.5 million tonnes of LNG for 25 years."
Zanghaneh confirmed the agreement but neither minister gave details of the pricing formula. India had been pushing for a fixed-term/fixed-price contract similar to a deal it has with Qatar, but Iran had signalled unwillingness to agree such terms. "We have come to a good deal. In the present circumstances, it is a good deal," said Gas Authority of India Limited chairman Prashanto Banerjee.
The statement also said India’s state-run Oil and Natural gas Corp’s overseas arm has entered into an agreement with the National Iranian Oil Company to take a 20 per cent stake in Iran’s Yadavaran field and an unspecified stake in the Jufeyr field. "It was agreed to further the mutual cooperation between the two countries in the hydrocarbon sector in a big way," said the Indian government statement.
Aiyar said the Iranian oil minister had invited more Indian investments in his country. "The Iranian side further offered to the Indian companies the opportunities for investments for producing fertilisers, ethylene, methanol, ammonia and other things in Iran," he added.
Growing India-Iran Relations: Complicated for Some, Challenging for Pakistan
By Pramit Mitra - South Asia Tribune
WASHINGTON, January 6: A breakthrough moment in India-Iran relations came on Jan 26, 2003, when President Mohammed Khatami took the podium as the chief guest at India’s Republic Day parade — an honor reserved for New Delhi’s most trusted friends. Both countries signed the “New Delhi Declaration” promising to expand trade.
Since then, bilateral relations have progressed gradually, driven by a mutual desire to expand trade links, especially in oil and natural gas, and a common strategic outlook in Afghanistan and Central Asia. There is also limited but growing cooperation in military and security affairs, much to the consternation of Pakistan.
But the more interesting question is India’s role in the event the nuclear crisis in Iran reaches some kind of showdown. India’s growing ties with Israel and warm relations with the United States only add to the complication.
Economic Cooperation: Ties with India are part of Tehran’s “Looking East” policy to enlarge economic relations in East Asia. New Delhi looks at Iran as an entryway to the Persian Gulf and Central Asian markets and a source of oil and natural gas for meeting its growing needs. India, on the other hand, is a good partner for infrastructure development projects. Bilateral trade in 2003–2004 was $1.18 billion, up from $913 million in 2002–2003, according to Indian Trade Ministry figures.
Energy Cooperation: India’s growing appetite for new energy sources and reliance on foreign sources to fulfill that demand makes Iran an attractive partner. Homegrown sources currently provide 70 percent of India’s energy needs, but imports are expected to grow substantially as consumption rises. According to US Department of Energy figures, India already is the world’s sixth-largest consumer of energy resources.
Its energy consumption will rise to 27.1 quadrillion BTUs by 2025, up from 12.7 in 2000—the largest expected increase in energy use after China. With plenty of domestic coal reserves but not enough oil and gas reserves, India’s policymakers are increasingly looking at alternatives to fulfill this energy shortfall. Not surprisingly, energy security is beginning to play an important role in foreign policy deliberations in New Delhi.
Even with the new reserves discovered in the past few years, India's domestic natural gas supply is not likely to keep pace with demand, and the country will have to import much of its natural gas, either via pipeline or as liquefied natural gas (LNG). This is where Iran fits in: the Persian Gulf nation is OPEC’s second-largest oil producer and sits on 10 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves. In addition, it also has the world’s second-largest natural gas reserves.
The Coming India-China Tussle over Oil: India is not the only country that views Iran as an attractive source for its energy needs. China imports the bulk of its crude oil from the Middle East (50.9 percent), out of which Iran makes up 13.6 percent, second only to Saudi Arabia. At present, Chinese experts view the United States as a competitor for oil and natural gas sources, but they are also keeping an eye on India as it starts catching up with its bigger neighbor.
Iran, with its immense resources, will be at the center of this tussle. The thaw in India-Iran relations has allowed Indian companies to make some inroads into Iran. Recently, Indian Oil Corp., a state-run company, reached an agreement with the Iranian firm Petropars to develop a gas block in the gigantic South Pars gas field, which holds the largest reserves in the world.
Gas Pipeline Project Still in Limbo: A project worth approximately $4.16 billion to ship gas through a pipeline from Iran’s South Pars fields to India, via Pakistan, has been talked about for years. While Pakistani authorities have assured both Iran and India that it will not interfere in the delivery of gas to India and would guarantee the security of the project, decades of mistrust between India and Pakistan and the threat of Pakistani extremists damaging the pipeline have kept the scheme in its early stages.
There are also other proposals on the table, including laying a deep-water pipeline skirting southern Pakistan, which would be more expensive but less vulnerable to political problems. Talks during a December visit to India by Iranian deputy minister of foreign affairs Ali Majedi and the recent thaw in relations between India and Pakistan offers a slight hope that a breakthrough may be on the horizon, but no concrete details have been agreed upon.
Iran Seeking Enhanced Political Ties with India and China: The traumatic events of 9/11 have reshaped the political environment in the Middle East and South Asia and have forged new alignments. After being branded as part of the “Axis of Evil” by President George W. Bush, the government of President Khatami is looking east to find friends and break its isolation, while India sees a partner in Iran with common interests in the region.
Though India will continue to seek Iran’s help to fulfill its energy needs, both countries will seek to limit Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan, cooperate on securing sea lanes in the Persian Gulf, and formulate a common strategy for Central Asia. For instance, India is helping Iran to develop the Chahbahar port.
A major new alliance is also developing between Iran and China, driven again by China’s inexhaustible craving for oil and gas. China, which holds veto power at the UN Security Council, could be more useful for Tehran in the event of trouble with Washington. In November 2004, the two countries signed a preliminary accord worth $70–$100 billion by which China will buy Iranian oil and gas and help build up Iran’s Yadavaran oil field near the Iraqi border. Earlier this year, China decided to buy $20 billion in liquefied natural gas from Iran over the next 25 years. China, in turn, is sending manufactured goods to Iran including computer systems, household appliances, and cars.
India-Iran Military Relations are Limited but Growing: Indian policymakers tend to downplay military relations with Iran, but the “strategic relations” with Tehran also have an important military dimension. The two countries conducted a joint naval exercise in March 2003, perhaps motivated by the US naval presence in the Persian Gulf.
Iran is seeking India’s help to service it’s naval and air force equipment, including Mig-29 jets. India, with its own fleet of Russian military equipment (the bulk of its air force is composed of Mig fighters, for instance), has developed impressive capabilities to repair and improve the original design to suit its needs over the years.
According to a recent CSIS report, Iran’s Developing Military Capabilities, Iran sought India’s help in developing batteries for its submarines, which are more suitable for the warm waters of the Gulf than those supplied by Russia. China, however, is selling far more military hardware (especially missile technologies) to Iran than India.
On the nuclear issue, India is very cautious to keep its distance from Iran for fear of upsetting foreign policy hawks in Washington, although it has claimed it has helped Tehran with generating nuclear energy.
Third Country Concerns: Growing ties between India and Iran raise a number of interesting questions, given India’s good relations with Israel and the United States. Israel is keeping a cautious eye on this budding relationship and will keep quiet as long as the connection does not become overtly military in nature. Tel Aviv certainly does not want an Iran with a strong naval and air presence capable of striking Israeli interests.
Pakistan, for whom Iran was a critically important ally in the time of the Shah, has had increasingly troubled relations in the past decade, with Iran backing Pakistan’s opponents on the Afghan political scene and implicated in sectarian violence inside Pakistan.
Good relations between India and Iran leave Pakistan feeling “isolated and surrounded.” Pakistan has worked hard to expand its own trade with Iran to counteract India’s perceived efforts to outflank it.
The Islamic extremist groups that have been most troublesome for Pakistan’s president Pervez Musharraf, including those implicated in the assassination attempts against him, are overwhelmingly Sunni. Provided the political risk issues could be resolved, a gas pipeline through Pakistan into India could assist both in stabilizing Pakistan-Iran relations and in building constituencies for India-Pakistan peace.
Strategic Questions for the United States: The United States has said relatively little about India-Iran relations. The growing economic ties are moving in the opposite direction from Washington’s continuing effort to isolate the Tehran regime but are not likely to draw much US response. India has not spoken out about other issues that trouble the United States in Iran, such as its policy in Iraq or trafficking of illicit goods and narcotics.
Iran’s nuclear program, however, is another story. For the United States, preventing a nuclear Iran is likely to be a major foreign policy goal for the foreseeable future. India would undoubtedly prefer not to have additional nuclear powers in the region, but has until now not had to, and not wanted to, do anything about this issue.
India and the United States have been gradually identifying ways they can cooperate in preventing the further spread of nuclear technology as part of their next steps in strategic partnership. But India will be reluctant to participate publicly in nonproliferation efforts aimed at Iran, and these may become an increasingly important issue for the United States. Reconciling these different priorities between the United States and India will be a challenge.
This article was published by the writer in the South Asia Monitor, a publication of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a distinguished think tank of Washington, DC
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