Japanese Team Finds Murals Near Destroyed Afghan Buddhas
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
21 July -- Japanese researchers say they have found ancient murals in a cave near Afghanistan's giant Buddha statues that were destroyed by the Taliban.
They say the murals in Bamiyan -- including one with a colorful Buddhist figure -- show Buddhism may have spread further than previously thought.
Shunpei Ishii, a researcher at Japan's National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, said it is the first time such caves have been discovered west of where the Buddha statues once stood.
Ancient Buddhist cave discovered near Bamiyan ruins
Mainichi Daily News / July 21, 2005
A Buddhist cave believed to date back to the 7th or 8th century has been discovered in a site near the Bayimayn ruins in Afghanistan, the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties has announced.
The cave is 3 meters wide, and 2 meters high, and has a depth of 3 meters. Japanese researchers believe the ceiling and insides of the cave were once covered with murals. Although parts of them were destroyed under the rule of the Taliban, a colorful mural on the left side remains.
The cave is located on the west tip of the Bamiyan valley. It is the first time that a Buddhist cave and mural has been discovered in that region.
In addition, researchers said they had found traditional pictures of rows of circles connected with lines and gold patterns. On the rear wall is a mural of three Buddhist figures, and the researchers believe that on the sides were pictures of what were thought to be the Buddha and other Buddhist images.
Researchers said it was possible further work would uncover clearer images in the cave.
"The insides of the cave are covered with earth, so it's possible that even clearer murals will appear," said Kazuya Yamauchi, a member of the research team.
The Bamiyan ruins, situated in the Hindu Kush mountains, represent a Buddhist heritage site that stood along the ancient Silk Road. In March 2001 the Taliban destroyed two major Buddhist statues at the site which stood 38 meters and 55 meters tall.
Chaos at landmark Kabul concert
BBC News / Thursday, 21 July, 2005
The first major concert by a foreign musician in the Afghan capital Kabul since the fall of the Taleban has ended in chaos after the stage collapsed.
The star of the show, Indian singer, Suno Nigam, was unhurt but other musicians were injured, reports say.
The reason for the stage collapse is not known but fans say it may have been caused by the crush of the crowd.
Earlier police beat fans outside who could not get in, despite having tickets, leaving many injured.
The venue was the stadium where the Taleban carried out amputations and executions of those guilty of criminal offences.
Around 10,000 fans from all over Afghanistan had arrived at the stadium by 1700 local time on Wednesday, four hours before the musicians arrived.
Correspondents say that the crowed cheered when the musicians appeared on the stage despite the delay. The excitement with which the Indian musicians were received was unprecedented.
The long-awaited concert was called off after the stage collapse, to the disappointment of the fans.
Some people argued that Afghans "are not yet ready" for such concerts, others were critical of the security forces for failing to maintain order.
"Afghanistan is still far from hosting a great singer like Suno Nigam", one of the fans, 30-year-old Bashir Ahmad, told the BBC.
"The country and its people have spent many years grappling with war and isolation. It is difficult for them to give a proper welcome to foreign musicians."
"Things went wrong", another fan said. "But I hope Suno Nigam doesn't leave the country with bad memories."
The singer had hoped to give a memorable evening to his Afghan fans.
"We Indians like Afghans", he said at the beginning of the concert. "It is the news of insecurity in Afghanistan that prevents Indians from visiting. But on my return, I will tell Indians that Afghanistan is secure and we can feel safe amongst Afghans."
Victim's parents died at hands of Taleban
By Sophie Kirkham / The Times (UK) / July 21, 2005
ONE of the last victims of the London bombings to be named by police was a young Afghan Muslim whose parents were killed by the Taleban.
Ateeque Sharifi, 24, who was living in Hounslow, West London, fled Kabul three years ago to seek refuge in Britain. He was the only male member of his family to escape death at the hands of the Taleban. He died in the explosion set off by bomber Jermaine Lindsay as their Piccadilly Line train approached the station at Russell Square.
Eight months after arriving in Britain, Mr Sharifi enrolled in West Thames College and began mastering the English language, working in his spare time at a take-away pizza restaurant. Most of his wages were sent to Afghanistan to his younger sister who still lives there.
“The deep irony of this tragic event is that Ateeque had left Afghanistan to seek safety in Britain, only to find his fate at the hands of extremists here,” Thalia Marriott, principal of West Thames College, said. Mr Sharifi had been one of the most popular students in the college, she added.
Mr Sharifi had been travelling home after spending the night with friends when he was caught in the blast, it was reported last night in The Independent newspaper.
Mr Sharifi counted many British as well as Indians and Pakistanis people among his friends. He attended the mosque close to where he lived with three friends. He had hoped to pursue a career in IT, while following his dream of marrying and raising a family in Britain, his friends said.
Hamid Karzai, the Afghan President, laid flowers outside King’s Cross station yesterday in tribute to Mr Sharifi..
Earlier, he told an audience at Chatham House: “Afghanistan knows better perhaps than any other nation the pain of those families that suffered terrorist atrocity.”
Cautious Karzai spells out his message for Pakistan
By Bronwen Maddox / The Times (UK) / July 21, 2005
SHUT down the worst of Pakistan’s madrassas. If President Karzai of Afghanistan has a single message for Tony Blair, and his neighbour President Musharraf, it is that.
On his visit this week to Britain, Karzai has gone to great lengths, sometimes comical, not to single out Pakistan for blame. He is a close ally of Musharraf and the two speak regularly. Nevertheless, Karzai has found ways of saying clearly that Pakistan-based terrorists are the source of some of his worst problems.
Karzai, speaking over coffee yesterday in his Kensington hotel, was determined to tell an upbeat story. Trade has soared with neighbouring countries. Poppy production will fall next year. Donors have delivered almost all of the money pledged three years ago, and it has been put to good use.
There is little need for more foreign troops. Those in Afghanistan are used mainly for civilian reconstruction, with a bit of security help for the parliamentary and provincial elections scheduled for September.
Compared with Iraq, he suggests, his country is enviable. “Afghanistan is the world’s success story”, he says.
Some of this is convincing. Trade has given Kabul a source of revenue, and a way of showing Afghans that the country is opening up to the world.
If the elections happen on time, the test is whether warlords and drug barons can appropriate them to consolidate their grip on power. Karzai maintains that many candidates have agreed to surrender weapons, and that the national enthusiasm for elections is undermining the old leaders. Perhaps. Afghanistan’s twin vulnerabilities remain: drugs and terrorism. This year there has been an upsurge in violence in the southeast, and the harvesting of a record opium poppy crop.
Karzai was faultlessly polite in not chiding Britain for failing to get a better grip on the drugs crop in the south, the task it has been assigned within the international coalition.
Next year will be better, he says (so do British officials). Karzai has vetoed the US’s preferred tactic of spraying crops from the air. That has proven efficiency, if it is also provocative. But Karzai argues that the damage to livestock and the farms in general is too great. On terrorism, he does not claim to have an answer. He says that “terrorism was there before Iraq, before 9/11, but because it did not reach the West, we did not call it terrorism”.
Now that we do, what should we do about it? “There are some places called madrassas that are not that. They are training camps for terrorists,” he says. “They have to be closed down by all of us.” Pressed on where they are, he says “Pakistan, Afghanistan, wherever” but finally concedes “Yes” to the question “Are some of these in Pakistan?”
Karzai’s reluctance to offend Musharraf is understandable. The two leaders have, in parallel, taken on the Taleban culture embedded in southern Afghanistan and western Pakistan, and the support that it may give to al-Qaeda militants.
Members of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence are known to loathe this change of direction, as well as support for the US and Kabul. Karzai, who has criticised Pakistan in the past for permitting terrorist traffic across the border, hinted at this dissatisfaction with his ally yesterday, saying that “when the attacks stop, then our co-operation (with Pakistan) will be successful”.
A carefully scripted message, then, from a man used to brokering a deal between competing warlords. The question the elections will answer is whether Karzai is President of a liberated country, or simply mayor of the city of Kabul, with uncontrolled wilderness stretching beyond.
Afghan Army hones skills at artillery range
July 21, 2005 Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan Coalition Press Information Center (Public Affairs)
By U.S. Army Sgt. Lynnette M. Jefferson
Office of Security Cooperation—Afghanistan Public Affairs
KABUL , Afghanistan — Afghan National Army soldiers recently conducted artillery live-fire training at the D-30 Howitzer range to improve their proficiency.
More than 120 Afghan soldiers conducted two months of training to prepare for the annual range time.
The D-30 Howitzer, which takes a crew of seven to fire, is a 3.5-ton weapon with a range of over 15,000 meters. It can fire seven to eight rounds per minute.
Afghan Army Capt. Mohammed Mohsin Hamdard, artillery commander for the 4th Combat Support Kandak (Battalion), 3rd Brigade, of the ANA’s 201st Corps, said the range time gave his soldiers the opportunity to reinforce what they learned in school and strengthened their training.
“Today, the soldiers are doing exercises to increase their level of readiness. They are improving what they already know,” he said. “We are soldiers and we need to learn more about our profession and we want to learn modern technology.”
On the range were experienced ANA soldiers as well as soldiers who had not previously conducted live-fire training. ANA Pvt. Said Rahman said the training was important to him because it helps him serve his country. “This is my first time firing. I have had a lot of training and classes to prepare for today,” he said. “I am happy that I am able to put what I learned to use today. I feel great to get all this training.”
Pvt. Rahimullah Yousa Zai, who also fired at this range last year, said the live-fire exercise puts all of the classroom work to use. “It helps us a lot. We want to learn more and more,” he said.
Conducting live-fire training is important for the ANA, said U.S. Army Maj. Curtis W. Faulk, the kandak’s senior embedded training mentor.
“This is refresher training for the majority of the soldiers here today. For the past few months, they have practiced crew drills, weapons maintenance and safety. Today they will get the chance to practice firing,” Faulk said. “In order to hone their skills and keep these skills intact, it’s good for them to practice.”
Faulk stressed the importance of maintaining the soldiers’ professional skills. While live-fire training is normally conducted annually, “we like to shoot as often as we can,” Faulk said. “In school, they give you the basics. The more they practice, the more professional they become.”
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Arnie Marquart, senior mentor for the 3rd Brigade, said it is important to get the soldiers to the firing range. “They are getting hands-on experience in addition to what they learned in the classroom environment,” he said. Marquart noted that when the ANA soldiers are not able to conduct live-fire crew drills, they still practice the drills.
Although the kandak’s primary mission is artillery, its soldiers are also used in support of many different missions throughout Afghanistan , such as presidential details and security patrols.
“This kandak plays a large role in ensuring the stability and security of Afghanistan ,” said Marquart. “They are prepared to deploy to support their country at any time. This training gave them the opportunity to strengthen their skills.”
1 enemy killed, 1 injured during attack near Qalat
July 21, 2005 Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan Coalition Press Information Center (Public Affairs)
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – One enemy combatant was killed, another wounded and two others escaped after attacking an Afghan and U.S. patrol with small arms and rocket propelled grenades near Qalat yesterday.
No Afghan or U.S. forces were killed or wounded in the attack.
The wounded enemy combatant was medevaced to Kandahar and is currently in stable condition.
The attack occurred southwest of Qalat as the unit was conducting security patrols in that area. The enemy combatants, who were on motorcycles, attacked the patrol but then quickly fled. Coalition forces chased the individuals killing one and wounding the other but were unable to capture the remaining two. A search is underway for the two other individuals who escaped.
“For those who refuse to take part in the Government of Afghanistan’s reconciliation program and continue to resist being part of a peaceful future, face either being killed or captured,” said Lt. Col. Jerry O’Hara, Combined Joint Task Force 76 spokesperson.
Afghans tell of US prison ordeals
By Kate Clark / BBC News, Afghanistan / Thursday, 21 July, 2005
"At first, they took all our clothes off and told us to stand up. When they were interrogating me, I was naked."
Haji Mirza Mohammed was arrested from his home and accused of working with the Taleban in the autumn of 2004.
He was taken to the nearby infantry base of the US-led coalition at Gardez in south-east Afghanistan.
"For four days, I had my hands cuffed behind me," he says. "They stopped giving me food and I wasn't allowed to sleep."
Haji Mirza's testimony forms part of a new set of allegations of abuses at coalition bases in Afghanistan.
Former detainees have told the BBC they were deprived of sleep and food, put in stress positions and beaten.
A former interpreter has said he witnessed interrogators withholding water as a punishment and using sexual taunts to try to break down prisoners.
A US military spokesman in Afghanistan said he could not deny abuses had taken place, but allegations of misconduct were taken seriously.
At the end of April, the post of United Nations special expert on human rights in Afghanistan was discontinued.
The final incumbent, the Nobel Peace Prize-nominated law professor, Cherif Bassiouni, told the BBC he believed he lost his job after criticising US detention facilities in Afghanistan.
American officials said the country's human rights situation had improved.
According to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, conditions at the coalition's two main prisons at Bagram and Kandahar have improved in recent months, but it is still receiving many complaints about the temporary holding facilities at bases like Gardez, where Haji Mirza was taken.
Another former detainee at the Gardez base, Jannat Gul, said he was forced into a kneeling position in the middle of a room, surrounded by four or five American interrogators.
"They said, 'don't sit back on your heels, don't look to the side'. They were beating me, telling me bad things. They ordered me to stay kneeling until the morning. I was three nights without sleep and then the last night, I had to kneel until morning."
Jannat Gul says he was punched and kicked. At one point, he says, he was told to lie down.
"They picked me up by my neck and said, 'we're going to kill you unless you confess what you did'."
As he describes his experiences, a couple of phrases in English are scattered among the Persian - "put your arms up" is one. The other is, "shut the **** up".
"I'm a farmer," says Jannat Gul, showing his calloused hands.
"I'm not a member of al-Qaeda. Ask the Americans why I was held for 16 months. When they released me, they just said, 'we're very sorry'. That's all they said. If there is such a thing as human rights, I want to ask for my rights."
Another Afghan who has made allegations about interrogation practices at the infantry bases is a former interpreter with the US military.
Wahidullah - which is not his real name - speaks with a southern American accent picked up from the soldiers.
He uses swear words and military slang, like PUC (persons under control, i.e. detainees) and hooch (tent).
He says he saw detainees given different punishments if they refused to speak.
"PUCs would be told to stand for six hours or forced to kneel on a two-by-four piece of wood for three hours with no water."
He alleges that a detainee at the Asadabad base died after not being given enough water in hot weather over a four-day period.
"He was a young boy, he was strong and he spent three days in the detainee facilities. At that time, it was a mud room with no window."
Wahidullah says he came the next morning and saw the detainee lying on the ground, his hands still cuffed and with spit around his mouth.
"I told the guard he had died and he said, 'no he's just acting'. But when he checked the guy, he found he was dead. They told all the people he'd had a heart attack."
When the BBC put these allegations to the spokesman for the US military in Afghanistan, Col Jim Yonts, he said he did not know if "those things exactly happened", but he had no information to suggest they had.
When asked whether sleep, food or water deprivation or the use of stress positions was permitted, he said he could not discuss the details of an interrogation.
"All I can say is we do not condone the mistreatment of detainees and, as you have seen, we've taken appropriate action when allegations have proved true."
On the specific question of withholding water as a punishment, he said: "Whether or not they're provided with food and water, the key point is we treat them humanely, based on humane law."
He also said it had to be remembered who was in detention.
"They're not normal criminals. They're enemy combatants based on their actions against the Afghan people or US service members."
UNHCR assists 200,000 Afghan refugees to return home from Pakistan
KABUL, July 21 (Xinhua) -- The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has assisted over 200,000 Afghan refugees to return home from Pakistan this year, a statement of the body said Thursday.
"The 200,000 Afghans who have received UNHCR assistance to go home from Pakistan so far this year is the largest number from a single country anywhere in the world in 2005," the handout added.
Pakistan and Iran, the two immediate neighboring countries of Afghanistan have hosted over five million Afghan displaced over the past two and half decades of war and civil strife in the war-battered land.
Since the collapse of Taliban regime in late 2001 more than 3.5million Afghan refugees have been voluntarily repatriated with over 2.5 million of whom from Pakistan.
Afghans wishing to return home receive travel grant ranging between 3 US dollars and 34 US dollars depending on the distance to their destination plus a 12 US dollars per person grant to help them re-establish in their homeland.
More than 750,000 refugees returned home from Pakistan and Iran last year.
The remaining 1.5 million Afghan refugees living in the neighboring countries are expected to return home with UNHCR assistance by the end of 2006. Enditem
Afghan President Karzai Due in Italy
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
21 July 2005 -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai begins a visit to Italy today for talks with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and other officials.
Karzai was scheduled to meet his Italian counterpart, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, today before meeting Berlusconi on Friday.
Karzai is coming from London, where he held talks with Prime Minister Tony Blair and joined in discussions with Muslim leaders following the July 7 London bombings.
On Wednesday, Karzai told a leading British research institute (Chatham House) that terrorism will not stop unless, he said, governments stop using extremism as an instrument of policy.
Two killed in grenade attack on Pakistan mosque near Afghanistan
July 21, 2005
ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Two Islamic preachers were killed and four others wounded in a hand grenade attack against a mosque in a Pakistani tribal district bordering Afghanistan, officials said.
Unknown attackers threw the grenade into a mosque in the Khabianga village of the Kurram agency tribal district, some 260 kilometres (160 miles) west of Islamabad, local administration official Basir Khan Wazir told AFP on Thursday.
Two members of the Tableeghi Jamaat (Preaching Party) died on the spot, while four people were seriously hurt and taken to hospital, he said.
Authorities had detained some 15 Afghan refugee suspects in the area as part of their investigation into the attack.
Kurram, a usually-quiet tribal district, borders Afghanistan and the rugged North Waziristan tribal zone, where Pakistani troops are hunting Al-Qaeda linked militants and where Taliban forces killed 17 in a clash on Sunday.
Pakistan, a key ally in the US "war on terror", has deployed about 70,000 troops along its border with southeastern Afghanistan to track down foreign militants in the region.
Taliban attacks in the Afghan southeast have surged in recent months ahead of Afghanistan's landmark parliamentary elections in September.
Al-Qaeda and Taliban members fled to the deeply-religious region after the Taliban regime was toppled in late 2001 by US-led forces.
In a series of operations since last year, Pakistani forces have destroyed hideouts and training camps of militants linked to Al-Qaeda and killed hundreds of rebels, officials say. About 250 Pakistani soldiers have also been killed.
US launches adverts on rewards for bin Laden's capture in Afghanistan
Wed Jul 20, 7:53 PM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States launched a media advertisement blitz in Afghanistan on multimillion-dollar rewards offered for the capture of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and other militant leaders.
The State Department said the three-month campaign was "to increase awareness of financial rewards being offered for information leading to the apprehension of wanted terrorists."
The radio and television advertisements were launched under the department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security's "Rewards for Justice Program."
They announced the rewards for bin Laden as well as his deputy Ayman Al Zawahiri and Islamic militant group Taliban chief Mullah Omar and other militant leaders.
The United States has offered up to 25 million dollars each for bin Laden and his deputy al-Zawahiri, while Mullah Omar has a 10 million dollar price on his head.
The adverts "remind the Afghans that these men are not only enemies of Afghanistan, but also of the world, and that in recent years, terrorists have been responsible for the murders of large numbers of their citizens," a State Department statement said.
In addition to the advertisements, matchbooks and posters of the Rewards for Justice Program are being distributed throughout Afghanistan, it said.
They feature photos of the three men as well as other "most wanted terrorists."
Since its inception in 1984, the Rewards for Justice Program has paid more than 57 million dollars to 43 people who have provided information that led to the capture or death of those wanted or prevented acts of international terrorism, the statement said.
8 Detainees Leave Guantanamo Bay Prison
Associated Press / Thu Jul 21, 4:25 AM ET
WASHINGTON - Eight more detainees have been released or transferred to other countries from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, the Defense Department said.
The announcement Wednesday said one detainee was released to Sudan, two to Afghanistan, three to Saudi Arabia, one to Jordan and that one prisoner was transferred to the government Spain for further proceedings.
It said the departures bring to 242 the number who have been released or transferred from the facility in Cuba, leaving approximately 510 imprisoned there.
The announcement said the latest releases included three detainees found no longer to be enemy combatants by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal. One was released to Sudan, one to Saudi Arabia and one to Jordan.
In addition, three detainees were recommended for release by the Administrative Review Board — two to Afghanistan and one to Saudi Arabia.
The Pentagon said it would provide no further details "because of operational and security considerations."
The people held at Guantanamo are mostly Afghans, Pakistanis and others captured after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. They were labeled "enemy combatants," which the Bush administration decided did not afford them status as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions. Only a few have been charged with any crime.
A three-officer board generally decides whether the prisoners remain enough of a threat to justify keeping them at Guantanamo. Their home governments and families are allowed some input, but they are not afforded legal representation. Each prisoner can be released, transferred to his home government or kept in detention.
Islamic parties call rallies against mass arrests in Pakistan
Thu Jul 21, 5:16 AM ET
ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Pakistani fundamentalist Muslim parties called for a national day of protest against the police raids on suspected militants that they labelled part of a global conspiracy against Islam.
The six-party Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) alliance urged followers to rally outside local mosques after the weekly congregations on the Muslim day of prayer, its senior leader Liaquat Baloch told AFP on Thursday.
The raids that have led to more than 200 arrests came under international pressure on Pakistan to crack down on militants and to search for a possible mastermind of the London 7 attacks that killed 56 people and wounded 700.
But Muslim leaders have stressed that most Islamic schools teach a moderate version of Islam and condemned the continuing crackdown against religious figures and media outlets said to be preaching hatred.
"We strongly condemn the London bombings, and the rallies have been convened to denounce the July 7 attacks and the subsequent arrests by the military regime, which wants to fulfill its own secular agenda," Baloch said.
"Prayer leaders in their sermons will condemn the bombings in London and the indiscriminate arrests in Pakistan in the garb of (searching for the perpetrators of the) London attacks," he said.
Security officals told AFP they would send officers to mosques on Friday to monitor whether any clerics would call for militant action following the wave of arrests and interrogations.
The MMA in a statement late Wednesday lashed out at President Pervez Musharraf, a general who assumed power in a coup in 1999, for what it said were the arrests of hundreds of students, teachers and journalists.
They also charged that police had mistreated female students in madrassas in Islamabad during raids on Tuesday night.
"The Musharraf regime, which called itself a champion of women rights, is fighting the enemies' war against its own citizens and has now reached to the limits where its hands were disgracing the girl students of religious seminaries by snatching their headscarves," it said.
"General Pervez Musharraf has resumed the crackdown on religious seminaries and arrests of Islamic scholars and students to please Washington and London," the MMA said in a statement that called for protests "to condemn the global conspiracy against Islam."
Baloch demanded an impartial investigation into the London attacks, in which three of the four suspected bombers were Britons of Pakistani origin who had recently spent time in the country.
"We strongly condemn terrorism and we want a dialogue between Islam and the West to find a permanent solution to rid the world of this menace," he said, calling for an international effort to eradicate the "root cause of terrorism."
Baloch denied involvement of madrassas in terrorism and blamed Western countries who trained Islamic militants in Pakistan to fight Soviet forces in Afghanistan during the country's 1979-1989 occupation.
He said Western agencies had "recruited Muslims of Arab, American and British origin and trained them to fight against the Russian invasion of Afghanistan."
"They were not trained in madrassas, the whole world knows who trained them. Those who trained these young men did not forecast what would happen to this large force of leaderless militants after the defeat of Russians."
To Many, Talk of a Crackdown in Pakistan Seems Hollow
The New York Times / Published: July 20, 2005 By SOMINI SENGUPTA and DAVID ROHDE
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, July 19 - Three and a half years ago, in a speech that crystallized a post-Sept. 11 turnaround, President Pervez Musharraf vowed to eradicate extremism in his country. "We will take strict action against any Pakistani who is involved in terrorism inside the country or abroad," he said.
That was Pakistan, Jan. 12, 2002.
This week, evidence that three of the four London bombing suspects had visited Pakistan for up to three months last year has thrown new light on old facts.
Despite government promises and denials, radical groups continue to operate in Pakistan. Religious schools, or madrasas, still indoctrinate and recruit would-be militants to fight abroad. Several leaders and members of these extremist groups, arrested in 2002, are back on the street. Militant training camps remain; one Western diplomat said they have just "changed addresses."
Now, Pakistani officials have answered the London attacks with an investigation into any potential links here and calls for a fresh crackdown on militant groups. But the question arises whether the new steps will be any more effective in snuffing out extremism than efforts past.
On Monday, an editorial in The Daily Times, an English-language newspaper, asked in a headline: "Is Pakistan Still a Launch-Pad for Terrorism?"
If the London bombing suspects did arrive here seeking contacts with extremists, they may not have been the only ones, American and Pakistani officials say.
Another young Briton of Pakistani descent, Zeeshan Siddique, was arrested on his visit here last May. He is being investigated for ties to radical Islamist groups and bomb plots in London. A journal kept by Mr. Siddique includes a March 6, 2005, entry, in which he laments that one of his contacts is "chickening out." A week later, he learned that "wagon is now called off." British officials are trying to discern whether "wagon" refers to a planned attack.
"It's an embarrassment to say the least," said a close confidante of General Musharraf, referring to potential Pakistani connections to the London attack.
On Tuesday, a leader of the country's Islamist political alliance announced that the police had detained one of the group's senior aides for questioning about the London bombings. In the heart of Islamabad, the capital, the police raided two mosques, setting off protests by hundreds of angry religious students wielding sticks.
On the record, officials caution against jumping to conclusions about Pakistan's role in the London attacks. They vehemently deny the existence of training camps. They say madrasa reform has begun and will be speeded up. They point out that militant groups have been officially banned, and that hundreds of Pakistani troops have died confronting Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in tribal areas near the Afghan border.
"Visiting Pakistan does not mean there is a connection to the bombing," the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Naeem Khan, said Tuesday. "President Musharraf has repeatedly stated we will not let extremism and terrorism flourish in Pakistan. There is a total commitment on the part of the government of Pakistan. You have to do it step by step."
But diplomats, analysts and even some religious leaders concede that the words have lacked teeth. Off a narrow alley in Lahore's ancient walled city, one pro-government religious leader said that, bans aside, some groups are quietly allowed to function.
"What they were doing, they are doing still," said the leader, Ajmal Qadri, the head of a seminary inspired by the austere Deobandi sect. "They are recruiting people. They are having missions in Kashmir. Their training is still going on. Officially they are banned. Actually they are working."
On the front of his seminary still hangs the signboard of the armed faction of his own group, Jamiat-ul-Mujahedeen. Mr. Qadri insists his group is not involved in armed campaigns anywhere.
He said he admired General Musharraf's principles of stamping out extremist activity. He also recognized that there was no use coming down too hard on religious radicals with a large following, and he did not expect anything terribly onerous after the London bombings.
A case in point: The former leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hafiz Saeed, was arrested shortly after General Musharraf's speech in January 2002 and released on the order of a Lahore court a year later. He has renounced his ties to the militant wing and spawned a new political party called Jamaat-ud-Daawa, with 137 madrasas under its wing. Through a spokesman, Mr. Saeed refused to be interviewed by a woman journalist.
Since General Musharraf first vowed the crackdown, a familiar pattern has played out. A brazen attack is followed by a widely publicized response. Groups are banned. Militants are arrested.
"That's the usual pattern, they go after them, then after two months they relax," said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a military analyst in Lahore. "That gives these groups some breathing space so they can survive."
For years, a central question has been how to handle the militant groups unleashed 25 years ago by the Pakistani military, with American backing, first to wage war in Afghanistan and then in India. Today, even General Musharraf's backers acknowledge that training camps continue to be used by groups favored by the government to fight Indian forces in Kashmir.
Aides close to General Musharraf warned that a sweeping assault on all militant groups could cause an open insurgency. "We don't want to have an Iraq-like or Afghanistan-like situation in Pakistan," said one close adviser. "It will be bad for Pakistan and bad for the U.S."
Government officials continue to make the argument that they made three years ago: that the best way to contain extremism is to co-opt some Islamist groups, particularly those that enjoy popular support for fighting Indian forces, and isolate others.
Opponents of General Musharraf, on the other hand, have argued for years that the government simply does not realize that the good jihadi/bad jihadi strategy does not work: Once they leave training camps, militants cannot be so easily directed.
General Musharraf's backers in the West, who also acknowledge that the training camps still function, counsel patience, even as they express frustration with the slow pace of change.
"I don't think they can say, 'Damn it, we're resolved and now those groups are gone,' " one Western diplomat said. "There's a question of how aggressive they're going to be."
At the same time, they say, to back away from General Musharraf's government would be counterproductive. "For us to say, 'You're part of the problem and not part of the solution' and pack up and leave would be catastrophic," the diplomat added.
On Monday the president, in a speech to a youth group, called for a "jihad" against extremism and promised a robust crackdown on militant organizations and the madrasas that fuel them. Last week, he scolded his police chiefs for not doing enough to enforce a ban against militant groups, ordering them to defy interference from Pakistan's notorious military intelligence agency. It was an implicit acknowledgment of a long-running complaint: After militants are arrested, the police say, the intelligence agency then orders some to be freed.
The leaders of the religious groups have staunchly opposed General Musharraf's proposed interference in their affairs.
"Banning religious organizations is not the solution," said Qari Habibur Rahman, head of Sipah-e-Sahaba in Faisalabad, which was banned by President Musharraf in 2002. "They have banned such organizations and have seen the results as well."
Muhammad Yahya Mujahid, 44, a spokesman for Mr. Saeed's group, seemed none too bothered about the president's latest promises. "I can't imagine a Pakistan government crackdown on an organization that is permitted under the law," he said.
U.S., Russia descend into mutual mistrust
Divisions threaten anti-terror efforts Anna Badkhen, San Francisco Chronicle / Thursday, July 21, 2005
St. Petersburg, Russia -- Growing disputes between the United States and Russia are threatening to significantly chill the once warm relations between the two countries. They also may seriously undercut a major front in the U.S. war on terrorism.
The new fault lines lie in the rugged terrain of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, two former Soviet republics in Central Asia that the Pentagon has been using as launching pads for military and humanitarian operations in Afghanistan.
This month, the Kremlin -- backed by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, an Asian alliance presided over by Russia and China -- said the United States should set a pullout date from the Central Asian bases, where approximately 2,000 American troops have been stationed for nearly four years.
Russia's demand angered the Bush administration, which does not want to lose its toehold in a region it considers pivotal to its anti-terrorism efforts and crucial to maintaining a presence close to its Cold War-era archenemy.
Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, accused Russia and China of "bullying" Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan into cutting off access to U. S. troops. And Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy, rejected any timetable for a withdrawal in an interview with the Washington Post last week, saying that the U.S. military operates based on "circumstances'' and not "dates.''
Russia responded to Myers' comments by saying, in a Foreign Ministry statement, that it is "bewildered by the comments" of the top U.S. general.
In a further sign of estrangement, Russia announced plans to conduct its first joint military exercises with China -- a hint to the United States that Russia has "other geopolitical options," said Anatol Lieven, an expert on Russia and U.S. foreign policy at the New America think tank in Washington, D.C.
Early in his first term, President Bush said he had developed a special relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he called "my friend. " And as recently as 2003, Bush called Russia "a country in which democracy and freedom and rule of law thrive."
But "both sides see the other differently now," said Michael McFaul, a Russia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. Bush has grown more suspicious of Putin, McFaul said, mainly because of "democratic backsliding" in Russia, "which cuts against the grain of (Bush's) liberty doctrine," and also because "the Russians are not delivering much on other aspects of the relationship."
After Sept. 11, 2001, Russia positioned itself as a major ally of the United States, supporting the war in Afghanistan and even, according to some reports, sharing military intelligence with Washington. In return, the Bush administration muted its criticism of the war in Chechnya and declining political freedoms in Russia. But as military operations in Afghanistan wound down after the initial assault and the United States began preparing for the war in Iraq, which Russia opposed, the mutual goodwill began to wane. The clash over the American military presence in Central Asia came after a string of setbacks in U.S.-Russian relations, including actions by the Kremlin to quash opposition voices, alleged human rights abuses in Chechnya, the dispute over Ukraine's 2004 presidential election and Moscow's assistance to Iran in building a nuclear facility that the United States fears may be used to make nuclear weapons.
"Russia did a lot in Afghanistan in the beginning, but not much since," McFaul said. "I think that many consider Russia a liability ... because of how unstable things still are in and around Chechnya."
Disappointment with the relationship has been mounting in the Kremlin as well, analysts say.
Bush's repeated promises to help Russia join the World Trade Organization and lift the punitive 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, which curbed trade with the former Soviet Union, have so far yielded no results, undercutting Putin's drive to boost his country's economy by opening the Russian market to Western investment.
Recent popular uprisings in the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine have caused alarm in Russia, which believes they were orchestrated by Washington, said Nikolas Gvosdev, a Russia expert at the Nixon Center in Washington.
"Putin seems to think ... that forces in the State Department (and) Congress ... are working to use 'flower revolutions' not to advance democracy but to pursue American geopolitical objectives -- and even to try and affect the 2008 (presidential) elections in Russia itself," Gvosdev said.
Putin is also frustrated that the West doesn't really see the war in Chechnya, which is now in its 12th year, as another front in the global war on terror.
Russia felt snubbed again last week when Congress invited Leonid Nevzlin, a major shareholder of Russia's embattled Yukos oil giant, to speak about Russia's jailing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed Yukos owner and an opposition sponsor. A Kremlin official said the U.S. refusal to extradite Nevzlin -- who resides in Israel and is wanted in Russia on charges of organizing a double murder, fraud and tax evasion -- jeopardized relations between Putin and Bush, RIA Novosti news agency reported.
All this has translated into a growing mistrust of the United States. Almost half of the respondents in a May poll of 6,000 listeners by Ekho Moskvy radio saw the United States as hostile to Russia.
It is not clear, however, how far Washington and Moscow are willing to distance themselves from each other, said Lieven.
"I don't necessarily think that we're in a period of drastic decline in the relationship," he said. "It will be a long, long chess game in which there won't be any clear decisions."
Washington needs Russia to secure the former Soviet Union's enormous, poorly guarded nuclear arsenal to prevent terrorists from getting their hands on weapons of mass destruction. The United States also hopes that Putin can play a mediating role between the West and nations such as North Korea, Iran and Syria. American companies also want to exploit Russia's rich oil and gas fields.
Similarly, having Bush on his side is important for Putin.
In addition to pursuing more favorable trade status and membership in the World Trade Organization, Russia hopes the United States can prevent Georgia from sending troops to that country's pro-Russian secessionist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Lieven said. The Kremlin also hopes Washington can slow Ukraine's entry into NATO. Until the "Orange Revolution" last year, Ukraine had been seen as a crucial pro-Kremlin buffer between Russia and the West.
But Gvosdev said the time when the White House was prepared to overlook Russia's human rights abuses and imperial tendencies for the sake of partnership in the war against terror is over.
"Rhetorically, yes -- Russia is an important partner," Gvosdev said. "Effectively, though, I think we are returning to a pre-9/11 situation where each major actor in the international system ... evaluates cooperation with other partners on a case-by-case basis."
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