Pakistani PM in key border talks
BBC News / Sunday, 24 July, 2005
The Afghan and Pakistani governments have announced plans to improve security along their joint border.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said steps would be taken to ensure Afghanistan's forthcoming parliamentary elections passed off peacefully.
The talks in Kabul follow a spate of attacks largely blamed by Afghan officials on militants allegedly sheltering inside Pakistani territory.
It has led to increasingly tense relations between the two countries.
Afghanistan has accused Pakistan of failing to prevent such infiltration.
The BBC's Andrew North in Kabul says the meeting between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Mr Aziz was an attempt to bury the hatchet after weeks of rising tension between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Our correspondent says the two leaders wanted to give the impression that the accusations had now gone, and both were now emphasising their shared interests.
President Karzai said the two countries are like twins joined together, where anything that hurts one also hurts the other.
Mr Aziz insisted his government was taking seriously concerns about the flow of militants across their joint border.
Pakistan now has close to 80,000 troops in its tribal border areas - more than ever, he said.
And they would do whatever they could to safeguard Afghanistan's September elections.
Afghan officials say they want to believe this means real change. But our correspondent says that they remain very sceptical.
They point out that exactly the same happened last year when Pakistani forces helped prevent any serious disruption to the presidential elections.
But, said one, for some reason they were not able to stop a renewed flow of militants into Afghanistan this year.
Our correspondent says this display of unity does not mean a sudden outbreak of trust between the two neighbours, because suspicions run too deep.
The one day of talks were Mr Aziz's first visit to Kabul as prime minister.
Officials said that Sunday's agenda for talks also covered regional and international issues of "mutual concern" including the drugs trade and the enhancement of economic, trade and political ties.
Earlier, President Karzai warmly received Mr Aziz on his arrival at the presidential palace, where a contingent of armed forces presented a guard of honour.
Talking to reporters before his departure, the prime minister said the visit was part of efforts to maintain close ties with Afghanistan.
He said that being a next-door neighbour, Pakistan has always maintained direct contact with Afghanistan.
Pakistan ended support for the Taleban in 2001 and has denied the accusations that Taleban fighters are launching attacks in Afghanistan from safe havens within Pakistan's tribal border areas.
More than 700 people have been killed in attacks by suspected Taleban fighters in eastern and central Afghanistan in recent months.
Mr Aziz said that Pakistan and Afghanistan are bound in cultural, historical, and religious bonds and there was a need to move these friendly relations forward.
Pakistan premier vows efforts to halt infiltration into Afghanistan
July 24, 2005
(Kyodo) _ Pakistan will make extra efforts to prevent the infiltration of Taliban fighters across its border into Afghanistan in the run-up to its neighbor's Sept. 18 parliamentary polls, Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said Sunday.
Aziz, who was on a one-day visit to Kabul, told a joint news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai that his government will do its best to secure the borders during the electoral period to prevent the "flow of people who are undesirable on either side."
Afghanistan has often accused Pakistan of allowing Taliban fighters, who are continuously launching attacks in Afghanistan, to operate from safe havens within Pakistan's tribal border areas.
Pakistan says it has deployed about 75,000 troops along its porous border with Afghanistan to track down al-Qaida and Taliban militants who fled into the region after the ouster of the hard-line regime in late 2001 by a U.S.-led force.
Aziz, who was leading a high-level delegation, including Pakistan's interior and foreign ministers, said his government has agreed with Afghanistan to increase the level of bilateral cooperation.
"We agreed to make the level more seamless cooperation, be it in diplomacy, be it in security, or be it in economic matters," he said.
Aziz also announced another $100 million grant for Afghanistan's reconstruction. Pakistan had already allocated a $100 million grant to be spent in five years, which has already been largely spent.
1 U.S. , 1 enemy killed in firefight near Kandahar
July 24, 2005 COMBINED FORCES COMMAND – AFGHANISTAN COALITION PRESS INFORMATION CENTER
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – A U.S. Soldier was killed today and another wounded when their unit was attacked by 15 to 20 enemies in southwestern Afghanistan .
The attack occurred northeast of Gereshk as Coalition forces patrolled the area.
An interpreter employed by U.S. forces was also wounded in the attack. The wounded U.S. Soldier and the interpreter were transported to Kandahar Airfield for treatment. Both were treated and released.
In returning fire, U.S. and Afghan forces killed one enemy and wounded two others. The two wounded enemies were also transported to Kandahar Airfield for treatment. Their conditions are not known at this time.
The enemy forces fled the scene shortly after attacking the patrol.
Forces from Kandahar Airfield searched the area for the enemies. U.S. attack aircraft and helicopters also responded to the scene.
The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin.
General: Hard-Hit Taliban Recruiting Kids
By DANIEL COONEY, Associated Press / Sun Jul 24, 3:26 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Fierce fighting in recent months has devastated the ranks of the Taliban, prompting the rebels to recruit children and force some families to provide one son to fight with them, a U.S. commander said Saturday.
The fighting has fractured the Taliban's command structure, preventing the militants from regrouping, even though there has been an upsurge in violence, Maj. Gen. Jason Kamiya, the U.S. military operational commander in Afghanistan, told The Associated Press in an interview.
Despite the setback — more than 500 rebels have been killed since March — the militants are likely to step up attacks in the lead-up to crucial Sept. 18 legislative elections, he said.
"The Taliban and al-Qaida feel that this is their final chance to impede Afghanistan's progress to ... becoming a nation," Kamiya said. "They will challenge us all the way through Sept. 18."
He said the rebels were desperately trying to recruit new fighters to replace those killed recently, and has even forced families in some areas "to give up one son to fight."
"They have been hit so hard they now have to recruit more fighters. They are recruiting younger and younger fighters: 14, 15 and 16 years-old," Kamiya said. "The enemy is having a hard time keeping its recruit rates up."
While the rebels have long been thought to have children in their ranks, there have been few reports of wide-scale child recruiting by the Taliban — especially of those as young as 14.
Kamiya's comments come two days after the United Nations said that the majority of an estimated 8,000 child soldiers in Afghanistan — mostly in the ranks of private militias now allied to the government — would have been demobilized and enrolled in education programs by the end of this year.
The effort has focused largely on areas outside the country's southern and eastern regions, where the Taliban are strongest.
Afghan officials repeatedly have said that many of the Taliban's fighters come from Islamic boarding schools, or madrassas, in Pakistan. But Kamiya said the Taliban was now getting most of its fresh recruits from inside Afghanistan
He said part of the reason the rebels have suffered such unprecedented losses recently was that they have been caught gathering in large groups three times since April and pounded by airstrikes and ground forces. Some 170 suspected insurgents were killed in a weeklong battle in June in a mountainous militant hideout.
"There is no (rebel) organizational chain of command ... because we have succeeded thus far in disrupting their means to regroup and conduct a coordinated attack," Kamiya said. "They can no longer move around with impunity."
His comments came despite U.S. forces last month suffering their deadliest loss since ousting the Taliban in 2001, when militants ambushed a U.S. Navy SEAL team killing three commandos, and hours later shooting down a special forces helicopter with 16 troops on board. Since March, when the rebels increased their attacks, 45 U.S. troops have been killed.
Hundreds of Afghans also have been slain in recent months in near-daily ambushes, bombings and execution-style killings. The increase in violence has prompted local politicians and international observers to caution that three years of progress toward peace was threatened.
In the latest violence, suspected rebels fatally shot a district judge in southern Kandahar province Saturday, a day after militants killed a local administrator in the same area. Two Afghan election workers were kidnapped by unidentified assailants in northeastern Nuristan province Friday, but released unharmed the next day, officials said.
The violence has prompted the U.S. military to deploy an extra 700 troops to Afghanistan to bolster the 20,000-strong U.S.-led coalition. A separate 8,000-strong NATO-led force is also bringing in 3,000 more troops to boost security ahead of the polls.
Afghan president says open to future diplomatic ties with Israel
By The Associated Press July 24, 2005
Afghan President Hamid Karzai believes progress in the Middle East peace process and Palestinian statehood could augur possible diplomatic relations between Israel and Afghanistan, a newspaper on Sunday quoted him as saying.
"At this stage we do not have relations of any kind with Israel. But let us wait and see what happens in the future. The more the peace process moves forward, the more a new era of possibilities will be created in the area, especially as our Palestinian brothers see a brighter future, as a state and a nation, Afghanistan can weigh relations with Israel," Karzai reportedly told a reporter from the Maariv daily following a lecture in Rome.
Karzai was in the Italian capital as part of a European trip focused on Afghanistan's economic development and other issues.
Israel has diplomatic relations with 163 states, an increase of 71 since the convening of the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991, but no official diplomatic ties with Afghanistan. Maariv quoted Karzai as saying his country was interested in a Middle East peace that would include "the rights of all the sides, peace that takes into account the rights of the Palestinians, and peace that will include the rights of the Israelis."
"I personally hope for peace in this part of the world," Karzai was quoted as saying. "I hope for peace that will keep both peoples happy. Loss of life, whether you are talking about Israelis, Palestinians, Jews or Muslims is terrible. Everyone is a human being," he said.
In Jerusalem, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Israel hoped it could have "normal and correct diplomatic relations with all countries in the Asian continent" and saw "no reason why such relations couldn't develop."
"We have good relations with many Asian countries and we hope it will not be long before the remainder also establish diplomatic relations with Israel," Regev said.
Journalist Jailed for a Year in Kabul Feels Abandoned by U.S. as He Seeks Ways to Survive
By CARLOTTA GALL The New York Times Published: July 24, 2005
KABUL, Afghanistan, July 19 - On visitors day at Kabul's once-notorious Pul-i-Charkhi prison, there is one inmate who stands out from the Afghans, wearing blue shades and an American T-shirt. It is Edward Caraballo, 43, an independent filmmaker from the Bronx, who was one of the three Americans found guilty last year by a Kabul court of running a private jail and torturing hostages.
"I usually wear Afghan clothes," he said during the visit earlier this month, referring to the baggy shirt and pants that is the local dress. "But today is the Fourth of July, so I put on my T-shirt in honor of my country."
A year ago this month, Afghan security forces raided a residential house here in the Afghan capital and arrested three Americans: Jonathan K. Idema, 48, known as Jack, a former member of the Special Forces and the ringleader of the group; Brent Bennett, 28, an Army-trained forward air controller; and Mr. Caraballo.
The security personnel said they found a number of Afghans detained in the house and signs of interrogations. The Americans were shown little mercy by the Afghan authorities or their American counterparts in Afghanistan and were sentenced to 8 to 10 years in prison. The terms were later reduced by an appeals court judge; Mr. Caraballo is now serving a two-year sentence.
A year after their arrests, as their case nears its final appeal before the Afghan Supreme Court, the three Americans are chafing for freedom, living among more than a thousand Afghan and foreign prisoners, including some members of Al Qaeda.
They receive a weekly visit from a United States Embassy official - often an Afghan staff member who brings them mail and mineral water - and the occasional journalist.
"I feel abandoned by my own government," said Mr. Caraballo, a four-time Emmy award winner, who had followed Mr. Idema and Mr. Bennett to Afghanistan for a documentary on their hunt for terrorists.
Caught up with them in the raid, Mr. Caraballo says he was swept into prison and put on trial, despite his status as a journalist.
Neither Washington nor any professional organizations have taken up his case.
Now, after a year in detention, and in a bid to win his freedom, he is seeking to separate himself from Mr. Idema, whom Washington has said is neither a member of the American military nor an undercover antiterrorist operative, as he has claimed. In April, Mr. Caraballo succeeded in moving to Block 1, a compound for less dangerous criminals that stands slightly separate from the main Soviet-built prison on the eastern outskirts of Kabul where the others remain.
He now has his own cell. "I moved to be on my own, really, to express the fact that I am not part of Jack's group," he said in a recent interview in the prison grounds. "I came to Afghanistan as a filmmaker to document this group."
Mr. Idema wanted a journalist to document his mission, he said. "I wanted to see the state of affairs in Afghanistan and what the U.S. influence was here, so it seemed like a perfect match," he said.
Former colleagues have suggested that Mr. Caraballo was hired by Mr. Idema to make the film about him, and therefore had crossed the line between being an independent filmmaker and a member of Mr. Idema's team.
But Mr. Caraballo said he was acting like any journalist embedded with a military unit, eating with the unit and using the military's transportation but maintaining editorial control over his film.
He said that although he had been hired by Mr. Idema in the past for editing and Web site work, that was not the case on this project. He paid for his own flight to Afghanistan, he said, using money that one of the three major American broadcast networks had supplied as an "investment in the project." He would not name the network.
He does not deny that the interrogations took place, but he said he was not present for many of them and was not ultimately responsible for what went on. "It was not my job to decide if the techniques were proper or improper," he said. "It's my job to report it, and to let the world decide on what the imagery represents."
Missing home and his 3-year-old daughter, Mr. Caraballo is focusing his efforts on surviving in the volatile atmosphere of an Afghan prison.
He converted to Islam to gain the acceptance of the Afghan inmates, who would not eat or sit with him.
He was given his own cell, for his own safety, but he makes a point of showing his face and making friends. He teaches English to a few inmates and guards.
He has even made peace with an Arab inmate in his block who he said was one of the Qaeda members who started a riot in December, seizing weapons from the guards and trying to break into the Americans' cell to kill them.
The Afghans have surprised him. "They all love Bush, because he liberated their country," he said, "and they all say Osama bin Laden is Bush's friend," suggesting that in their minds there is a conspiracy that allows Al Qaeda's leader to remain at large.
"The young people all want to learn English here," he said. "They want to become Westernized. The top three requests I get at every corner are - No. 3: do I have any American cigarettes? No. 2: do I have an American magazine for them? And the top request is: 'Please take me to America.' "
He keeps a journal, writing in a thick blue notebook in tiny script, detailing his days and charting his mood swings on a graph that looks like a heart monitor. When he feels down, he pulls out a file of letters from home and rereads them.
He praises the guards and prison commanders for treating him well. "I try to make it easy for them and they for me," he said.
He seems to have won them over. "He's an innocent man, and a good man," said Gen. Zaher Zaheruddin, commander of Pul-i-Charkhi prison.
"He's a journalist," the general added. "You should put pressure on the American government to take him out of here."
Washington Insider Takes on Envoy Role
By SALLY BUZBEE, Associated Press Writer Sat Jul 23, 4:23 PM ET
BAGHDAD, Iraq - He is virtually unknown to most Americans. Yet since the day of the Sept. 11 attacks, Zalmay Khalilzad has handled some of his country's most-delicate diplomatic assignments.
Now, the man known at the White House and CIA as just "Zal" takes on his biggest challenge — running America's relations with Iraq. As he does, Khalilzad may be forced to scale back the high profile he held as ambassador to Afghanistan, where he met the Afghan president so often that some believed he virtually ran the place.
But Khalilzad, who started his new job Saturday at meetings with Iraq's president and prime minister, shows no signs of shrinking from sight.
"Iraq is different than Afghanistan, and Afghanistan is different from Iraq — but I am the same person," Khalilzad said just before heading to Baghdad. "I know the Iraqi leaders and they know me ... If they need my help, I'm going to be available no matter what time it is of the day."
Apparent proof of his words came Saturday, when Iraqi President Jalal Talabani greeted him as "our old, dear friend" then closed the meeting with a warm embrace.
In one sign Khalilzad has few plans to give up control, he takes the Iraq job even while retaining his title as President Bush's special envoy to Afghanistan — in effect, making him the point person on America's two top overseas hot spots.
Yet Iraq is definitely different, with a new government sensitive on the topic of U.S. military occupation and political influence. Already this week, one prominent Iraqi Kurd accused U.S. officials of interfering in the constitution-drafting process.
"I think he knows Iraq isn't Afghanistan and that his profile has to be different," said Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Nevertheless, Khalilzad already has pushed hard on the constitution, calling its completion by an Aug. 15 deadline vital. He also plans to plunge into another sensitive topic — talks over eventually reducing U.S. military forces here.
"When to start reduction will be something that will be condition-driven, and we will get agreement with the Iraqis. I look forward to starting those discussions," he said recently in Washington.
Another priority will be improving U.S. reconstruction aid, now widely viewed as lagging and leaving Iraqis demoralized.
"My approach will be to under-promise and over-deliver," Khalilzad said Saturday.
It is Khalilzad's closeness to Bush, to Vice President Dick Cheney and to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that many view as the source of his influence.
He worked under Cheney when Cheney was defense secretary for the first President Bush, then served as the second Bush administration' transition head at the Pentagon. After that, Khalilzad moved to the White House's National Security Council — the inner circle of foreign policy advisers to the president.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Khalilzad — born in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif — was the only policy-maker of Afghan heritage, or even much expertise, inside the White House.
During the war to oust the Taliban, Khalilzad worked closely with the Pentagon.
He never shied from offering his opinions, earning a reputation as the true power behind U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai. The two usually met several times a week, often for private lunches in the presidential palace or to walk in its gardens.
Khalilzad's influence was on view last October when crucial presidential elections were threatened by Karzai's rivals' decision to boycott the vote. The U.S. ambassador raced around Kabul, meeting each politician individually until he successfully convinced each to drop the protest.
Such prominence brought security threats: Afghan intelligence agents said they scuttled a plot to assassinate Khalilzad in June — just the latest in a string of attempts, U.S. officials say.
Even while busy with Afghanistan, Khalilzad had a hand in Iraq.
Before the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in March 2003, Khalilzad was a special envoy to the Iraqi opposition and held a key prewar meeting with opposition leaders in Kurdistan.
One of the trickiest issues he will face now is coordinating U.S. diplomatic and aid efforts with U.S. military actions in Iraq.
In Afghanistan, Khalilzad had good relations with the military, said Cordesman.
"He has studied military tactics and counterinsurgency operations, but I don't think this is someone who sees himself as a commander," Cordesman said. "This is someone who sees himself as a stimulator."
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