Afghanistan: Security Situation Deteriorates During May
By Ron Synovitz
Human Rights Watch is calling for NATO to send more security forces to Afghanistan following a marked deterioration of the security situation throughout May. In the past month, Afghanistan has seen a series of political killings, violent protests, attacks on humanitarian workers, and bombings targeting foreigner civilians and troops. The flare-up is attributed partly to Taliban militants in the southern and eastern parts of the country after a winter lull. But Human Rights Watch is warning about the potential intimidation of candidates and voters ahead of parliamentary elections in September.
Prague, 31 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Afghan officials say the latest violence in Kabul -- a roadside bomb blast yesterday morning on the main road going east from the capital -- was a failed attempt to attack soldiers from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
Seven Afghan civilians nearby were injured by the blast which appears to have been detonated by remote control just seconds after a NATO vehicle passed. District Police Chief Mohammad Akber said the bomb was attached to a bicycle parked near a crowded market.
"It was at nine o'clock in the morning that a bomb placed on a bicycle exploded here at the Bazar wounding seven people -- four people inside a passing taxi and three people passing by this road," Akber said. "We are investigating at the moment."
A Taliban spokesman has claimed responsibility. Taliban attacks in Kabul are not common. But the city has seen periodic rocket attacks and bomb blasts since U.S.-led forces overthrew the fundamentalist Taliban government in late 2001.
Sam Zarifi, a researcher on Afghanistan for Human Rights Watch, said there are concerns about an increase in violence across Afghanistan during May.Taliban attacks in Kabul are not common. But the city has seen periodic rocket attacks and bomb blasts since U.S.-led forces overthrew the fundamentalist Taliban government in late 2001.
"We've seen in the last few weeks an upsurge of violence in Afghanistan," Zarifi said. "We're not quite sure exactly what all the reasons for it are. But with the end of the cold season and with upcoming parliamentary elections, unfortunately, the outlook is that the violence could increase. So it's even more important than before for the United States and its allies -- NATO really, which has taken over responsibility for providing security in Afghanistan -- to step up to the plate (deploy more NATO troops) and to finally fulfill their commitments to Afghanistan."
Just a few months ago, before the spring thaw began in Afghanistan, U.S. military commanders were boasting that the Taliban was practically defeated and no longer posed a threat to the central government. Zarifi said there has been a tendency among U.S. officials to declare Afghanistan a complete success. And he said such declarations are premature.
"It's very clear that as the snows melted in Afghanistan and as the weather cleared up, there is some movement afoot," Zarifi said. "Whether it is for political reasons or economic reasons, the month of May just was a particularly bad month in Afghanistan after several months of relative quiet. The overall outlook for the summer has now been put into doubt."
Zarifi noted that it is not just the number of violent attacks that have been proliferating. He said the types of attacks also are increasing.
"We've seen in May a kidnapping and attempted kidnapping in Kabul of foreigners working there," Zarifi said. "We've seen a suicide bomb attack -- something really rarely seen -- which targeted an internet café where foreigners worked. We've seen protests that really rocked the country -- focusing on the southeast. But protests against the U.S. presence there. And we've seen some factional fighting again in the northern part of the country."
In fact, Zarifi said, factional fighting between local militia commanders could pose the biggest threat to parliamentary elections in much of Afghanistan.
"Because of the nature of parliamentary elections -- because of how intensely local they are and because of the role of the future parliament -- we expect these races to be very competitive in a lot of places in Afghanistan," Zarifi said. "With the presidential elections, there wasn't as much competition. And even then, we had some serious cases of intimidation and efforts to sway the vote one way or the other. We expect this to be much more serious with the parliamentary elections as different groups jockey for power."
Human Rights Watch has noted that at least one parliamentary candidate and former delegate to Afghanistan's recent Loya Jirga has been killed. Akhtar Mohammad Tolwak was killed along with his driver on 11 May while driving in the eastern part of Ghazni Province.
An Italian aid worker for CARE International has been a hostage since she was abducted from her car in central Kabul on 16 May. Earlier in May, armed men failed in their attempts to kidnap three foreign World Bank employees under similar circumstances in Kabul.
Periodic rocket attacks against foreign military bases in Kabul and Kandahar have continued after a lull during the winter.
At least 11 Afghan employees of a Washington-based agricultural firm were shot and killed by suspected Taliban fighters in Zabul Province during the last two weeks.
Human Rights Watch has called on the United States to lead efforts to speed the deployment of additional international security forces to remote Afghan provinces. The group also says there needs to be more international human rights monitors and election monitors for the parliamentary elections.
SAS accused of
killing Afghan civilians
PM stands by SAS over Afghanistan deaths
June 1, 2005 - 1:15PM The Age
Prime Minister John Howard has stood by the SAS in the wake of claims Australian soldiers killed civilians in Afghanistan.
Time Magazine reported the actions of an Australian Special Air Service Regiment patrol triggered a battle in which 11 tribesmen were killed and 16 wounded during the war on terrorism in Afghanistan in 2002.
One soldier in the six-man patrol was disciplined for souveniring a turban and gun from a dead villager.
Claims and counter-claims within the patrol led the patrol's leader - who told the magazine he believed the incident was covered up - to quit the army.
Defence force chief General Peter Cosgrove has stood by the patrol's action, but said he would seek more details about the claims of theft.
Mr Howard told reporters he retained great confidence and admiration for the men of the SAS.
"I think the SAS is a fantastic unit of the Australian defence forces," Mr Howard said.
"We expect these incredibly well-trained and able men to undertake life-endangering missions in our name and on our behalf.
"Inevitably when you get into a dangerous situation people have to take action to defend themselves.
"Nothing I have heard about this alters the fundamental fact that they took proper action consistent with the laws of war to defend themselves in anticipation of physical danger or death.
"Every Australian would defend totally their right to do that."
Gen Cosgrove told a Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday night an investigation had found the patrol's actions to be in line with the SAS's rules of engagement.
"Some internal aspects ... were investigated fully at the time and appropriate disciplinary action was initiated," Gen Cosgrove said.
But he said it was not appropriate to reveal the detail of the investigation or its results.
Opposition defence spokesman Robert McClelland said the public had a right to know about the allegations and what was being done to address them.
But Opposition Leader Kim Beazley, who has visited Afghanistan to inspect SAS operations, said the regiment had a reputation for not over-reacting and ensuring civilians did not get caught up in battles.
"(They would) be precise, not just simply lay firepower about the place and be merciful and absolutely check any contact to make sure that the contact wasn't inadvertently going to be an innocent," Mr Beazley said.
Defence Minister Robert Hill said he would wait for Gen Cosgrove's report and expected disciplinary action would be taken if there was any improper behaviour.
"But my experience is that our special forces are both very effective and professional," Senator Hill said.
Senator Hill said he was surprised by Time's claim villagers who lost family members in the fighting were offered compensation by the soldiers.
"It would be extraordinary for that to occur and it not to be reported up the chain," he said.
Forces seize 2 1/2 tons of opium in raid Afghanistan's largest 'drug bazaar'
Associated Press / May 31, 2005
Afghan security forces seized 2 1/2 tons of opium in a raid on the country's biggest drugs market on the border with Pakistan, but hundreds of smugglers who were there escaped across the frontier, officials said Tuesday.
About 250 kilograms (55 pounds) of heroin and 3.5 tons of chemicals used to process opium into heroin were also seized in the raid Saturday on the "drugs bazaar" in Bahram Shah village in southern Helmand province, said Gen. Mohammed Daoud, deputy interior minister for counternarcotics.
The market is used by up to 1,000 traffickers of opium and heroin every day and is on smuggling routes to Pakistan and Iran, the Ministry of Interior said in a statement. It said the bazaar had not been targeted before because it was considered too remote and too well protected.
The market is only 80 meters (yards) from the border with Pakistan and all the smugglers fled as security forces raided it. No one was arrested, Daoud said at a press conference in the capital, Kabul.
When asked if the government had asked for cooperation from Pakistani security forces to arrest the smugglers, he said a framework for such requests was still being hammered out between Kabul and Islamabad.
Daoud said the raid highlighted the government's resolve in cracking down on the drugs trade, after President Hamid Karzai's administration came under fire for its record in fighting the burgeoning narcotics industry.
He showed a video of the raid by members of the new and secretive Afghan Special Narcotics Force. Dozens of officers, with guns at the ready and scarfs wrapped around their faces to hide their identities, drove into the desert town on the back of Toyota pickup trucks.
But there was no fighting because all the smugglers had fled and the video then cut to a shot of a small fire, which was the seized drugs being destroyed, the deputy minister said.
Afghanistan last year produced nearly 90 percent of the world's opium, sparking warnings it is fast becoming a dangerous "narco-state" less than four years after the U.S.-led invasion ended its role as a haven for al-Qaida.
"The government of Afghanistan is determined to remove the shame of drugs and to take action against those involved in the processing and trafficking of drugs," counternarcotics minister Habibullah Qaderi said in a statement.
The government says figures over the past three years _ since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban _ show police are now confiscating larger amounts of opium, from 3 tons in 2002 to more than 135 tons in 2004, and 50 tons so far this year.
The United States, Britain and other countries are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into an anti-drug campaign. The cash is being used to train police units to destroy laboratories, arrest smugglers and destroy opium crops, as well as to fund projects to help farmers grow legal crops.
NATO forces take over west Afghan duty from U.S.
By Seed Haqiqi / May 31, 2005
HERAT, Afghanistan (Reuters) - NATO troops took command of security and reconstruction efforts in western Afghanistan from U.S. forces on Tuesday under a plan that will likely soon put NATO forces into insurgent hot spots.
NATO took charge of civilian-military Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) in Herat and Farah provinces which have seen factional and other violence, but not Taliban attacks that have plagued the southern and eastern parts of the country.
"It is ... ISAF's first critical step into the western region of Afghanistan, which will allow ISAF to more effectively support the upcoming ... elections," said Lieutenant General Ethem Erdagi, commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
Parliamentary elections in September are Afghanistan's next big step on a rocky road to stability.
ISAF is a peace-keeping force that numbers about 8,000 troops from 47 NATO and non-NATO countries. NATO took command of ISAF in 2003, its first mission outside its Europe-Atlantic area of operation.
The United States leads a separate international force of 18,300, most of them Americans, fighting Taliban insurgents and hunting for Osama bin Laden and other militants in the south and east.
The Provincial Reconstruction Teams are at the heart of the international community's efforts in Afghanistan. Small groups of civilians and military personnel working in the provinces, the teams are meant to provide security for aid and reconstruction.
Several hundred Italian troops are taking over the PRT in Herat while in Farah, to the south, U.S. troops will play a lead role but under ISAF command, the force said. Both provinces are on the Iranian border.
ISAF troops will set up teams in two other western provinces - troops from Lithuania in Ghor province and Spaniards in Badghis.
NATO will then command nine PRT teams, all in the relatively secure north and west.
But it is also due to take over teams from U.S. troops in the much more volatile south and east.
Britain takes command of ISAF next year and there have been reports of plans for British troops to take over two U.S. PRTs in the south but no announcement has been made. A British embassy official declined to comment.
Taliban attacks have been common in Kandahar, and other southern and eastern provinces, since U.S.-led forces ousted the hardline Islamic militia in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.
International community hopes that a winter lull meant the guerrillas were being choked of resources and recruits have been dashed by a series of bloody clashes and bomb attacks in recent weeks, mostly in the south and east.
Scores of insurgents have been killed, the U.S. military says. Dozens of government men and nine members of the U.S-led force, eight of them American, have also died in combat since late March.
NATO troops are meant to take over southern PRTs in the third phase of a four-phase plan, an ISAF spokesman said.
Details were still being worked out between NATO leaders and member countries and no date had been set. Eventually, NATO is envisaged taking responsibility for the whole country, he said.
But the expansion of NATO was not expected to signal the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
"They've just signed their strategic partnership," a diplomat in Kabul said, referring to a pact that lets U.S. forces use their Afghan bases indefinitely while ensuring its long-term security.
"I don't think there's any suggestion of the Americans withdrawing," the diplomat said.
6 to 9 insurgents believed dead after attack along border
May 31, 2005 Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan Coalition Press Information Center (Public Affairs)
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Initial reports indicate up to nine insurgents were killed May 30 during three near-simultaneous attacks against Afghan and Coalition positions along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
No Afghan or Coalition forces were injured or killed as a result of the attacks.
Afghan and Coalition forces reported three adjacent positions near the border coming under attack by small-arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire. Coalition aircraft responded to the scene and, in conjunction with ground forces, pursued the attackers, killing a suspected six to nine insurgents.
“Insurgent forces continue to try and disrupt the Afghan and Coalition efforts to ensure a safe and secure future for Afghanistan,” said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. James G. Champion, Combined Joint Task Force-76’s deputy commanding general for operations. “We sent a clear message that we will repel their efforts. The insurgents do not want peace and prosperity to come to Afghanistan; they only wish to return to the tyrannical, oppressive days of the Taliban. The people of Afghanistan, on the other hand, have made it very clear that they want a better and brighter future for themselves and for their children.”
Almost 100 Afghan NGOs launch 'code of conduct'
Tue May 31, 3:13 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Nearly 100 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in Afghanistan said they have launched a "code of conduct" in a bid to boost transparency in financial matters.
The 88 Afghan and international NGOs pledged to do a better job of "explaining the way in which they work, to inform the population on the way of which they use their funds, and to show the benefit that their actions bring to the Afghan people".
The NGO code of conduct is aimed at silencing criticism levelled at them in recent months from Afghanistan's government and President Hamid Karzai, who denounced "the corruption" of NGOs.
"We developed this code of conduct to help the population, the media and the Afghan government to check our work, because we must work more to build confidence and to improve information to build Afghanistan's future together", an joint statement by the NGOs said.
The signatories to the declaration said they hoped the "the code of conduct for Afghanistan will make it possible to reduce confusion and misunderstandings between the Afghan people and the NGO community".
The code stipulates in particular that NGOs must inform and answer the questions of the population about their mission, their manner of working and their establishment
They must also explain the way in which they use their financial resources, the projects they are carrying out and report on the way they treat their Afghan employees and the communities for which they work.
"We commit ourselves doing all that is in our capacity to make it possible the Afghan population to communicate with NGOs easily and in a transparent and effective way", the statement said.
In a statement on Tuesday, the UN secretary-general's special representative in Afghanistan, France's Jean Arnault, said he was pleased with the adoption of the code which "sets up very demanding criteria for NGOs and the whole of the actors of the international assistance".
"There is no doubt that the reconstruction effort needs more transparency and accountability, from everyone," Arnault said.
The Afghan government plans to adopt a bill aimed at better controlling the activity of the nearly 2,300 NGOs and 337 international organizations registered in the country.
Afghan foreign minister briefs Canadian officials on security situation
Tue May 31, 5:16 PM ET
OTTAWA (AFP) - Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah briefed Canadian officials on the security situation in his country ahead of a planned expansion of Canada's military mission in August.
Abdullah said there will be a time when Afghanistan will be able to take control of its own security, but he declined to put a time line on such a goal.
"Through (Canada's) support, a lot has changed in the capital. It has changed for the better," Abdullah said.
"There will be a time, of course, in the coming years that Afghanistan will be able to deal with security matters on its own, but to give you a sort of time frame, that might not be possible," he added.
Canada will deploy its 250-member provincial reconstruction team in the southern city of Kandahar in August in its first mission outside the capital Kabul.
The team, which includes diplomats, development officers, civilian police and military forces, will aim to extend the authority of the Afghan government in and around Kandahar within 18 months.
Sixteen Taliban, four Afghan police killed in attacks
Tue May 31, 3:14 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - US-led warplanes and troops killed up to nine suspected Taliban after repelling a wave of militant attacks, while four Afghan police and seven rebels died during an assault on a police station, officials said.
The attacks all happened on Monday in the south of war-ravaged Afghanistan, a region still regarded as a hotbed of activity by the ousted Islamic hardline regime, which is launching a renewed onslaught on US and Afghan targets.
The US-led military said no Afghan or coalition troops were killed or wounded in a series of attacks on Monday by the insurgents at Barmal in Paktika province, a coalition press statement said.
"Initial reports indicate up to nine insurgents were killed May 30 during three near-simultaneous attacks against Afghan and coalition positions along the Afghan-Pakistan border," the statement said.
The positions came under attack by small-arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire, it said.
"Coalition aircraft responded to the scene and, in conjunction with ground forces, pursued the attackers, killing a suspected six to nine insurgents," the statement said.
It did not say who had carried out the attack.
But previous incidents have been blamed on remnants of the Taliban, toppled by a US-led invasion in late 2001 for failing to hand over Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
More than 18,000 coalition troops, including about 16,000 US forces, are in Afghanistan hunting Taliban rebels who are still waging a guerrilla-style insurgency.
Meanwhile, four police and another seven suspected Taliban died on Monday when militants attacked a police headquarters in the Arghandab district of Zabul province, officials said earlier Tuesday.
Seven police officers were wounded and three guerrillas were also captured in the incident, interior ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal told AFP.
"The district police headquarters came under attack and four police were martyred and seven were wounded. The building was partially damaged," Mashal said.
"Seven enemy elements were also killed and three Taliban armed men were arrested," he added.
In Jildiq, another district in the province, rebels also set fire to a police vehicle Monday but no casualties were reported, the spokesman said.
Men on a motorcycle torched tents used as primary school classrooms in the southern province of Ghazni on Monday. No one claimed responsibility for the attack but similar incidents have been blamed on the Taliban.
The attacks came on the same day as the militia claimed responsibility for twin blasts in the capital Kabul aimed at NATO-led peacekeeping forces.
Seven Afghan civilians were wounded when a bicycle bomb detonated near a passing vehicle of the International Security Assistance Force while a rocket was fired at the contingent's base in Kabul but caused no casualties.
Security has deteriorated in Afghanistan in recent months, with the kidnapping of an Italian aid worker in Kabul earlier this month raising fears amongst the thousands of foreigners in the country.
New Zealand commando troops sent back to Afghanistan ahead of elections
Wednesday June 1, 9:00 AM AP
New Zealand commando troops will return to Afghanistan for operations against Taliban and al-Qaida insurgents ahead of elections there later this year, the government said Wednesday.
About 50 elite Special Air Service commandos will "specialize in long-range reconnaissance and 'direct action missions,'" said Defense Minister Mark Burton.
The six-month deployment will be the third rotation of New Zealand SAS soldiers to Afghanistan, he said.
Prime Minister Helen Clark said that efforts to improve security were essential for the credibility of Afghan parliamentary and provincial elections scheduled for September.
"Failure to stabilize Afghanistan would have consequences for the campaign against terrorism," Clark said in a statement.
"The Taliban and elements sympathetic to al-Qaida continue to provide resistance to the Afghan authorities and to the multinational force mandated by the United Nations," she said.
Burton said the SAS soldiers would be commanded by a New Zealand officer and will operate alongside other nations' special forces.
Two U.S. military airplanes contracted to transport the men to Afghanistan landed at the Whenuapai military air base near the northern city of Auckland Wednesday.
The SAS commandos were honored last December with a citation from U.S. President George W. Bush for their involvement in the war in Afghanistan.
The latest dispatch of SAS troops follows the recent extension of the deployment of the 120-strong New Zealand-led Provincial Reconstruction Team for another year in the central Afghan province of Bamiyan.
It is one of eight international units charged with expanding the influence of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government outside the capital Kabul.
The New Zealand troops will operate there until September 2006.
CORRECTED-Many killed, hurt in blast at Afghan mosque-police
01 Jun 2005 05:09:53 GMT Source: Reuters
In KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, story headlined "Many killed, hurt in blast at Afghan mosque-police" please read in first paragraph ....on Wednesday.... instead of ....on Tuesday. (Correcting day).
A corrected story follows.
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, June 1 (Reuters) - A blast at a mosque in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on Wednesday killed many people, a police official said.
"Many people have been killed and wounded," the policeman said. The cause of the blast was not immediately known.
Mourners had gathered at the mosque to offer condolences for a senior anti-Taliban cleric gunned down on Sunday, residents said.
Life, limb or sight: patients helped across Afghanistan
May 31, 2005 Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan Coalition Press Information Center (Public Affairs)
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Four Afghans were medically evacuated to U.S. medical facilities May 29 as Coalition medical personnel continued to provide assistance to those in need.
An Afghan National Army soldier, who suffered a gunshot wound to the thigh in a non-combat injury, was medevaced from Qalat to Kandahar. A 16-year-old Afghan was evacuated to Salerno also with a non-combat related injury and was treated and released. A landmine victim with a partially amputated lower left leg was evacuated from Fire Base Cobra to Bagram Airfield, where he is in stable condition, and an Afghan working on the Ring Road project was caught in a flash flood and had to be evacuated after suffering hypothermia. He was reported in stable condition at Bagram.
The Ring Road is a road-construction project designed to connect Afghanistan’s major cities with modern highways.
During May Coalition forces flew 48 medevac missions that provided health care to 57 Afghan patients.
Circus at last comes to Afghan capital
By Kim Barker / Chicago Tribune / May 31, 2005
The circus tent is ripped, and the ropes are frayed. Trapeze artists balance on rickety boards and seem slightly nervous. Tightrope walkers sway only 4 feet off the ground.
This is a sad circus. But for the boys and the men in the audience, such details do not matter. With wide eyes, they watch the performers. They laugh at the clowns' slapstick antics and clap when the announcer tells them to do so.
"I have never seen this before, not even on television," says Abdul Manan, 58, sitting in a plastic chair in the front row. "I cannot wait to see what will happen next."
For the first time that anyone can remember, Afghans can see such a circus in Kabul. It is pitched near the stadium where the Taliban regime once cut off the hands of thieves. To call it even a half-ring circus would be a stretch, but still, this circus represents the return of entertainment after decades of conflict.
Sure, there is the Kabul Zoo. Movies play in downtown theaters. There are Afghan television channels, cricket matches and soccer games. There are gyms, a golf course and at least one pool hall. But this is a traveling circus, with trapeze artists, human pretzels and a knife thrower.
This is exotic.
"I've come here more than 20 times," says Sayed Abasin, 23, a taxi driver. "It's the only thing to do in Kabul."
"It's not a sin to come here, is it?" asks Nematullah, 20, an soldier who uses one name, as many Afghans do.
Step right up: A girl lies on a bed of glass, while another performer steps on her. A slightly older girl lights a cigarette with her feet, which are contorted over her back. A man dresses up as a frog and hops around. Another man rides a tall unicycle. A woman pedals a tiny bike on a wobbly tightrope. A boy does a headstand on a man's head.
Some performers wear matching sequin outfits, and at least two dress up as clowns, with dots of white paint on their cheeks. None of the female performers cover their hair, unlike the women in the streets of Kabul. A tightrope walker swills liquid from a vodka bottle as he stumbles along the rope.
A pricey $1
About $1--expensive by Afghan standards--will buy two hours of such entertainment.
"Get tickets," the announcer blares over scratchy speakers. "Hurry up. We have performers from Tajikistan. We have Indian performers. We have Pakistan performers."
That is a lie, because this is the Pak-Asia Circus, and the performers are only from Pakistan. At the circus, though, such lies are forgiven. They are even expected.
This circus is competing for business with another show next door. At that show, other performers from Pakistan gun the engines of a car and a motorcycle, which they then drive around and around inside a wooden structure resembling a wide silo. This show is also popular, but it has been coming to Kabul for the past four years.
More people line up for the circus tent because they have never before seen the things inside.
"This is fun for us because before there was only darkness," said Haji Amin Mohammad Tarai, who helped bring the circus from Pakistan to Afghanistan.
This circus also spent eight months in the southeastern town of Khost, and then 40 days in the northern town of Mazar-e Sharif. In early May, the show came to Kabul.
About 350 boys and men come on a Thursday afternoon, part of the Afghan weekend. Only 120 pay. Boys climb over and under the fence, and police officers and army soldiers never pay.
They all sit in plastic chairs around the small circus ring or in crooked wooden bleachers, which look as if they might collapse. The men wear blue police hats, green army berets, beaded caps and large turbans. There are no women in the audience, because much of life in Afghanistan is still segregated by sex.
While here, the boys and men escape their problems.
Hussain, 8, forgets his job as a dishwasher. He stops thinking about having to earn money for his family because his father is dead. He grins when he stares at the swinging trapeze, which he saw once before, when he sold plastic bags in Pakistan and the circus came to town.
"When I see this, I become happy," Hussain says.
Soldier Dost Mohammad, 22, puts aside the stress of army life, including that he sleeps in his boots because something trouble might happen. He forgets that he has not seen his family in months.
"It takes your mind off your bothers," he says.
Squabble with 2 wives
And Manan, a government clerk, stops thinking about the fight he had that morning with his two wives. Kind of.
"One," he says, lighting a cigarette as the performers do back flips. "One wife would be good."
The audience members watch the trapeze artists studiously, as if memorizing the movements. Their heads move back and forth as one. They laugh when a trapeze artist pokes his head out of the hole at the top of the circus tent. They laugh when the performers drop from the trapeze swing to the net below.
Some stay for the whole show. Others stay only as long as is needed.
"My problem is finished," Manan says. After the trapeze act, he stands up to go home.
The dangers of being
OPINION By Lawrence A. Uzzell / The Christian Science Monitor from the
Despite Mr. Karimov's efforts to block journalists from the sites of the massacres in
The Andijon atrocities follow years of repression that have increasingly alienated the Karimov regime from its own people. The regime makes no serious effort to distinguish between Islamic extremists and moderates, imprisoning thousands on trumped-up charges of "terrorist" activity. Karimov's secret police are champion users of torture in investigative proceedings - reportedly including the torture of foreign captives delivered by the CIA.
Last month the Forum 18 News Service published its latest survey of religious freedom in
Last autumn saw a new surge of prosecutions of Protestants, Rotar found. The regime continues to "see any informal group of Muslims as a potential terrorist organization and sentence its members to lengthy prison terms. It is clear that the majority of Muslims arrested after the terrorist attacks in March and April 2004 were 'guilty' only of meeting to read the Koran and talk about God," he reported.
That would be a dramatic change from what happened last summer. As required by US human rights law, the State Department cut aid to Uzbekistan by $18 million. Within weeks, the Pentagon gave Karimov a new infusion of $21 million.
Unlike Ukraine, Uzbekistan offers no plausible scenario in the near future for genuine freedom. Karimov's successor might be a member of the current elite, or a leader of a powerful regional clan, or a Taliban-style Islamic extremist; the longer Karimov continues to crush all opposition via brute force, the more likely it will be the latter.
Washington need not take radical steps to bring down this hated despot, but it should be putting him at arm's length. Both he and other dictators - and their victims - need to see that the US does not remain best friends with those who torture and murder their own people.
• Lawrence A. Uzzell is president of International Religious Freedom Watch, an independent research center that investigates state-enforced religious conformity. He spent seven years in Russia monitoring religious freedom in the former Soviet Republics.
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