Afghanistan urges Pakistan to contain militants after US envoy plot
KABUL (AFP) - Afghanistan has urged neighbouring Pakistan to clamp down on militants hiding on its side of the border, a day after Kabul said it had arrested three Pakistanis for plotting to assassinate the US ambassador.
"There are elements on Pakistani soil who train terrorist elements, equip them and send them to Afghanistan. They should be prevented at any cost. As long as they exist, terrorism and insecurity will continue," said President Hamid Karzai's spokesman Jawed Ludin.
Ludin said key leaders of the Taliban Islamic militia, which has waged an insurgency against Afghanistan's current rulers since it was ousted from Kabul, were sheltering in Pakistan.
He questioned how Pakistan's private GEO television had broadcast an interview with a Taliban leader last week, alleging that Osama bin Laden was alive, without the knowledge of the government.
"The leaders of the Taliban regime, especially those who are notorious for manslaughter and terrorism, they are now in Pakistan," Ludin added.
The spokesman said progress had been made in the fight against "terror" between Afghanistan and Pakistan but more needed to be done
"Afghanistan of course is suffering (from terrorism). Our people are dying and our schools are getting burned, our mosques are getting blown up, our clergy, our mullahs are getting assassinated," said Ludin, adding that the problems were worst in areas which bordered Pakistan.
Afghan intelligence officials said Monday they had arrested three Pakistanis armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades who had planned to kill US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad as he toured the eastern province of Laghman to inaugurate reconstruction projects.
The trio were waiting for suicide vests packed with explosives to be shipped from Pakistan but they never arrived, so they were told to carry out the assassination with the weapons they had, officials said.
It was not clear what group, if any, the Pakistanis were linked to.
The alleged bid to kill the US ambassador comes amid a sharp upswing in violence blamed on the Taliban in the southern and eastern provinces which border Pakistan.
More than 60 people, most of them militants, have been killed in southern and southeast Afghanistan in a wave of attacks since the weekend, while six US soldiers have been injured.
Khalilzad, dubbed the "viceroy" of Afghanistan by critics because of his influence on the fledgling government in Kabul, left Afghanistan Monday bound for a new job in Iraq, a day after the alleged assassination bid.
Last week Khalilzad reportedly said there was a good chance that the fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar was hiding in Pakistan, a key ally in the US-led "war on terror".
He accused Islamabad of failing to act against other Taliban chiefs.
Khalilzad came to Afghanistan after the ousting of the fundamentalist Taliban in a US-led campaign in late 2001. He was seen as the power behind President Hamid Karzai, bringing the war-ravaged country through its first post-Taliban presidential election in October.
Pakistan has strongly denied any involvement in the alleged assassination plan.
Arabs and Pakistanis involved in Afghan violence, government claims
Kabul (dpa) - The Afghan presidential spokesman on Tuesday claimed that Arabs and Pakistanis have been involved in recent attacks and violence in the war-torn country.
Speaking at a regular press conference, Jawid Ludin the spokesman told reporters that to fight terrorism, Afghanistan needs Pakistan and visa-a-versa.
"We do need Pakistan and Pakistan needs Afghanistan. We, both Pakistan and Afghanistan, need the rest of the world to join hands together in fight against terrorism,'' Ludin said.
Despite an increase in attacks by insurgents in recent months, Ludin said that security in Afghanistan is much better compared to the past, but violence in some provinces is a matter of concern to the Afghan government.
"We do realize and it is a matter of concern for us that there are some new things emerging. There are more suicide bombers than there were before. In the past we did not have suicide bombers,'' Luding said.
"There are foreign elements that are involved in these attacks, like Arabs and Pakistanis,'' he added.
Ludin also said that Afghanistan and the international community have received cooperation from Pakistan in the fight against terrorism.
"We have done well together (with Pakistan), specially with regards of the al-Qaeda network and initial campaign against terrorism in this region. Afghanistan and the international coalition that is present in Afghanistan have received excellent cooperation from Pakistan,'' Ludin said.
"What we see, however, is a continuation of terrorism in various forms and Afghanistan, of course, is suffering from it. Our people are dying, our schools are getting burnt, our mosques are getting blown up. Our clergy, mullahs, are getting assassinated,'' he said.
On Monday, Colonel James Yonts, the U.S. military spokesman said that there were outside influences behind attacks in Afghanistan, but declined to name a country or organization.
Last Thursday, the outgoing Afghan-born U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Zalmay Khalilzad, also blamed some groups in Pakistan for interfering in the internal affairs of Afghanistan.
After nearly three decades of armed conflict, Afghanistan is scheduled to hold its first parliamentary election on September 18.
The ousted Taliban regime in recent months has accelerated military attacks against Afghan and U.S. troops, mainly in south and southeastern region of the country.
Afghan Officials Stop Assassination Plot
By PAUL HAVEN, Associated Press / June 20, 2005
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan intelligence officials have thwarted a plot to assassinate U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and arrested three Pakistanis, two senior government officials said Monday.
The men, who were armed with rocket propelled grenades and assault rifles, were arrested in the Qarghayi district of Laghman province on Sunday, just 150 feet from where Khalilzad had planned to inaugurate a road with Afghanistan's interior minister, the officials told The Associated Press.
One of the officials — both of whom have intimate knowledge of the investigation — said Afghan television would broadcast a video of the men in custody later Monday. He said the suspects had confessed to the crime and told authorities they were in Afghanistan "to fight jihad," or holy war.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, due to the extreme sensitivity of the intelligence and their positions within the government
Khalilzad canceled his appearance at the road opening at the last minute and was never in danger, the official said. The interior minister, Ali Ahmad Jalali, also canceled his appearance.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul had no immediate comment on the arrests, saying it would release a statement later. Pakistan also had no comment.
The men were arrested by members of the National Security Directorate, Afghanistan's version of the CIA, after a tip that the assassination plot was in the works.
Afghans hold Pakistanis for plot to kill U.S. envoy
June 20, 2005
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan security forces have arrested three Pakistanis for allegedly planning to assassinate the U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan government official said on Monday.
The Pakistanis, who were suspected of being linked to a Pakistani Islamic militant group, were arrested in the eastern province of Laghman on Saturday, the day before Khalilzad made a visit there, said the official, who did not want to be identified.
"They admitted they were there to try to get Khalilzad," he said.
The U.S. embassy said it was preparing a statement but could not immediately comment.
The Afghan official said the three men were caught in the Laghman's Charkhakan district with two AK-47 rifles and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
Khalilzad, who is due to take up a new post as ambassador to Iraq, visited Laghman to inaugurate a new military unit.
The official said it was unclear to which militant group the men belonged. "But we are pretty sure they are linked to a Pakistani militant group, the Taliban or al Qaeda," he said.
Khalilzad, has been outspoken in his criticism of Pakistan in recent days, despite its status as a key ally in the U.S.-led war on terrorism.
In an interview with Afghan television on Friday, he said there was a good chance Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar was hiding in Pakistan and accused Islamabad of failing to act against fugitive Taliban leaders, charges Pakistan called "irresponsible."
Khalilzad said on Thursday he did not believe Omar and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden -- who U.S. officials have long believed to be hiding on the Afghan-Pakistan border -- was in Afghanistan.
In an interview with Time Magazine published on Sunday, Porter Goss, director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency said he has an "excellent" idea where bin Laden was hiding, but he would not be brought to justice until weak links in counterterrorism efforts were strengthened. He did not elaborate.
Pakistan was the main backer of the Taliban government until the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. U.S. forces overthrew the Taliban in late-2001 for failing to hand over bin Laden.
Departing Envoy Says Afghans on Right Path
Khalilzad to Become U.S. Ambassador to Iraq
By N.C. Aizenman Washington Post Staff Writer Monday, June 20, 2005; A09
KABUL, Afghanistan, June 19 -- The occasion was a groundbreaking ceremony for a U.S.-funded bridge, and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad rose to deliver his speech with the casual air of a man who has attended countless such events.
But toward the end of his remarks Saturday, the expression on the face of the gregarious, Afghan-born diplomat became uncharacteristically grave. "The United States' commitment to Afghanistan remains unshakable," he said in Dari, stressing each word for emphasis as the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, looked on.
It seemed an apt time to offer reassurances: On Monday, Khalilzad vacates the post from which he has exercised extraordinary influence over Afghanistan's development to take up the job of U.S. ambassador to Iraq.
He leaves behind a country that by his own description remains at "the fourth kilometer of its 10-kilometer journey" toward a stable democracy.
Three-and-a-half years after the extremist Islamic Taliban government was ousted from power, the country has its first democratically elected president, millions of Afghan girls are enrolled in school, and there are more than 20,000 members of an ethnically integrated national army.
But Khalilzad's departure also comes as Taliban fighters have launched a campaign of almost daily bombings and ambushes in the south and east, scaring aid workers from large swaths of the country and threatening to undermine parliamentary elections scheduled for September. Meanwhile, the ambassador's early policy of accommodating powerful regional warlords in the interest of stability is increasingly coming into question because of their role in Afghanistan's burgeoning heroin trade, which produced nearly 90 percent of the world's supply last year.
At a final news conference Thursday, Khalilzad -- dubbed "the viceroy" by Afghans -- expressed confidence that Afghanistan would succeed despite those challenges and said President Bush tapped him for the Iraq job because of "the belief that Afghanistan is on the right trajectory."
"The key thing is not the person of the ambassador," said Khalilzad, whose nominated successor, Ronald Newman, was an adviser to the previous ambassador to Iraq, John D. Negroponte. "The key is the strategic relationship . . . between the two countries."
Many Afghans are not convinced.
When word of Khalilzad's likely job change surfaced in April, the chief of Afghanistan's Supreme Court, Fazl Hadi Shinwari, sent a letter to Bush pleading with him to keep Khalilzad in his post until the parliamentary elections.
"No one else can work as he has been doing," Shinwari wrote.
And even some Afghans who complained that Khalilzad too often upstaged Karzai say they are sorry to see him go.
The burst of nostalgia is a testament to the unique combination of qualities Khalilzad brought to the assignment when he was first appointed U.S. envoy to Afghanistan in January 2002, and ambassador in November 2003.
A former university professor who has served in the State Department, the Pentagon and the National Security Council, Khalilzad had the connections and influence of a consummate Washington insider.
But his Afghan heritage and work supporting anti-Soviet fighters going back more than two decades afforded him a mastery in Afghan languages and tribal politics that few diplomats manage to acquire by the end of their tours.
Nader Nadery, a member of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, recalled first seeing Khalilzad in action in 2001 at a conference in Bonn at which Afghanistan's disparate opposition groups hammered out a plan for an interim government.
"I thought, 'Wow, this guy is really capable of making people come to agreement,' " Nadery recalled. "It wasn't just that he could speak Dari or Pashto, but the way he could find the right words to sway the people between whom he was mediating."
In the years since, Khalilzad has used his negotiating skills to defuse numerous potential crises -- effectively forcing a Tajik warlord, Ismail Khan, to step down as governor of the western province of Herat last August after fighting broke out between Khan and a rival militia leader, for instance. More recently, he persuaded several losing candidates to drop their complaints of fraud in the October presidential election.
But Khalilzad also earned the resentment of various opposition figures, who complained that he had been too overt in supporting Karzai. Meanwhile, Khalilzad's high profile and energetic style often seemed to undermine the president's authority.
"Some of the pronouncements that he would make were things that you would expect to come from a government official, not a foreign representative," said Paul Fishstein, director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, a nonprofit research organization based in Kabul.
At the news conference Thursday, Khalilzad was unapologetic. "I'm here to help," he said. "I'm not a potted plant."
During a brief interview after the bridge ceremony on Saturday, however, he seemed more reflective on his early decision to allow warlords with checkered pasts, such as Khan -- who has been appointed energy minister since his ouster from the governorship of Herat -- and Gen. Abdurrashid Dostum, an Uzbek strongman, to play a role in the formation of the government.
"Of course, I retain the right to change my mind down the road," he said, laughing. But he said that "at this point in time," he still felt it was the right move.
"It allowed for disarmament and reintegration to move forward without it becoming very violent and requiring the use of force," he said, referring to an official disarmament program under which 99 percent of registered strongmen have given up their declared weapons.
Fishstein countered that many former militia leaders retain hidden stockpiles and have only grown in power through profits from the drug trade. "Whether you could have neutralized the warlords back then is not clear," he said. "But it's certainly going to be harder to neutralize them now."
Khalilzad stressed that Afghanistan's setbacks measured up well against the challenge of building a nation from such an ethnically diverse population after years of conflict.
"I'm not saying the process is completed," he said. "But we've done things in terms of achieving those goals that in other places have taken hundreds of years."
Stable Afghanistan needs to be secured - Australia
Mon Jun 20,11:55 PM ET
CANBERRA (Reuters) - The end of Australian peacekeeping missions to East Timor and the Solomon Islands gave Australia's defense forces more flexibility for a deployment back to Afghanistan, Defense Minister Robert Hill said on Tuesday.
New Zealand on June 2 committed 50 Special Air Services forces for a third deployment to Afghanistan and Hill confirmed the Australian government was also considering sending forces to help stabilize the country.
"I think what's been achieved in Afghanistan is tremendous, but it needs to be consolidated," Hill told reporters. "Whether Australia makes another contribution is something cabinet will have to decide in due course."
Australia sent special forces troops and air support for the initial stages of the war on terror in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, but withdrew its forces in 2002 following the fall of the Afghan Taliban regime.
The Australian newspaper has said Australia is considering a force of between 250 and 700 for Afghanistan, along with more civil aid to help Afghanistan's reconstruction. A decision would be made in July.
Australia still has 1,370 defense personnel in and around Iraq, but troop numbers in East Timor have fallen to fewer than 100 from an initial 5,000 in 1999, while only about 40 Australian defense personnel remain in the Solomon Islands.
"So in some ways, there is a little bit more flexibility than there was a year or two ago," Hill said.
An analysis of Australian views on security last week found 58 percent of Australians supported military assistance to the U.S.-led war on terror, while only 14 percent disagreed.
The United States commands an 18,300-strong international force, most of whom are American, fighting Taliban and al Qaeda militants in Afghanistan and hunting their leaders, including al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks.
More than 70 U.S. soldiers have been killed in action and more than 400 wounded in Afghanistan since 2001, while U.S. and Afghan government figures show about 150 insurgents have been killed this year.
U.S.-backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai won a presidential election last October, and parliamentary elections are due to be held in the country on Sept. 18.
Election worker killed in Afghanistan-UN official
21 Jun 2005 12:47:36 GMT
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan June 21 (Reuters) - An Afghan employed by the joint Afghan-U.N. election body was shot dead and another wounded in an ambush on Tuesday in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar, U.N. and Afghan officials said.
Several guerrillas opened fire with assault rifles on the workers' car in the village of Malang Karez in Kandahar's Maiwand district, district chief Khan Agha told Reuters, adding that the man killed was the driver of the car.
The U.N. official said the men were employees of the U.N.-Afghan commission, known as the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), which is organising parliamentary elections due to be held on Sept. 18.
Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi phoned Reuters to claim responsibility for the attack.
A surge in militant violence in recent months, in which hundreds of people have died, has raised concerns about security for the polls.
The worker was only second to be killed in the run up to the election.
Another, from an Afghan non-governmental group involved in educating the public about the vote, was shot dead in early June in troubled Uruzgan province, which is a neighbour of Kandahar.
The election is the next big step in Afghanistan's difficult path to stability.
The United Nations helped organise a presidential election last October. Several election workers were killed in the run-up to that vote but election day was largely peaceful and turnout was high.
However the parliamentary poll will be far more complex and will require a big security operation, not only to prevent rebel violence but also to stop intimidation by regional strongmen vying for power after three decades of conflict.
In all, 2,884 people, 342 of them women, have signed up to run for the 249-seat lower house of parliament, known as the Wolesi Jirga.
Al-Qaida militants raise fears of Taliban resurgence
Declan Walsh in Islamabad Monday June 20, 2005 The Guardian
Fears of a bloody Taliban resurgence, bolstered by newly arrived al-Qaida militants, are mounting in southern Afghanistan amid a string of Iraq-style attacks, assassinations and a steadily rising US death toll.
Yesterday the Taliban claimed to have killed a district police chief, Nanai Khan, and seven of at least 31 officers being held hostage since an ambush last week in Kandahar province.
In the neighbouring pro- vince of Helmand, between 15 and 20 insurgents were killed in US air strikes yesterday after a joint patrol of US and Afghan troops came under attack, the US military said. The airstrikes were launched after the patrol was pinned down by small-arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire. Hours earlier a rocket exploded near an American special forces base in Kandahar city. No casualties were reported.
Afghanistan is fast becoming the forgotten eastern front of President Bush's "war on terror". Twenty-nine US soldiers have died since early March, about a fifth of the entire death toll including the Taliban offensive in 2001.
Although a helicopter crash claimed 15 of the recent casualties, attacks on US and Afghan forces have become increasingly deadly, a trend that officials link to a renewed collaboration with al-Qaida.
This month a bomb ripped through a mosque in central Kandahar, killing 20 people including the Kabul police chief. The victims were attending the funeral of a pro-government mullah who had been assassinated a few days earlier.
Last week another suicide bomber wounded four US soldiers in Kandahar. Until recently, suicide bombings were rare in Afghanistan.
The defence minister, Abdul Rahim Wardak, said the two bombers were part of a group of six Arab militants who had slipped into the country over the past three weeks. "It looks like al-Qaida ... may have changed their tactics, not only to concentrate on Iraq but also on Afghanistan," he told the Associated Press.
The Taliban insurgency has dogged the 18,000-strong US force in Afghanistan and its 10,000 allies from Britain and other, mainly Nato, countries.
But Afghan security forces, aid workers and civilians have borne the brunt of the violence.
A Taliban spokesman, Abdul Latif Hakimi, taunted the government to collect the body of Mr Khan. "They said his crime was high so he should be executed," he told Reuters. The statement could not be verified and Mr Hakimi has made unreliable claims in the past.
Predictions of a Taliban collapse, made by US commanders after last October's peace ful presidential election, look increasingly hollow.
Insurgents were carrying out the same number of attacks as this time last year but with greater effectiveness, said Christian Willach of Anso, an aid agency security group.
"Last week they attacked one southern district and held it for a few hours. That never happened before," he said.
An increase in targeted assassinations, usually of "soft" targets, marks another tactical shift. On Saturday night gunmen in Helmand, killed three civilians - a judge, an intelligence worker and a civil servant, according to a spokesman for the governor.
But senior US officers and Afghan officials insist the insurgency is under pressure. Last April the former combined forces commander, Lieutenant General David Barno, predicted that a government amnesty offer would split the leadership.
The US claims to have killed more than 150 Taliban this year and yesterday the Afghan national army said it had captured a Taliban intelligence chief in Ghazni province.
But the violent surge bodes ominously for September's parliamentary elections, said Mr Willach. Voter intimidation, especially in the southern belt, was likely. "Insurgents may try to influence voters in favour of ex-Taliban candidates," he said.
4 injured in explosions near Salerno
June 20, 2005 Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan Coalition Press Information Center (Public Affairs)
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Three U.S. service members and an Afghan National Army Soldier were wounded June 19 by improvised explosive devices in separate explosions north of Salerno in Khost Province .
All four were treated and released.
The ANA Soldier was wounded in the first attack 13 kilometers north of Salerno while the U.S. service members were wounded in the second attack 40 kilometers northwest of Salerno .
A third, unexploded IED was found near the location of the first attack. The U.S. service members were conducting routine security patrols, and the ANA Soldier was with a convoy supporting ongoing operations.
“This cowardly attack by terrorists illustrates their desperation to drag Afghanistan backwards instead of toward a better future,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jerry O’Hara, Combined Joint Task Force-76 spokesperson. “Our service members are working alongside Afghans to bring this nation peace and prosperity.”
Afghan National Army and Coalition forces are investigating both attacks.
U.S. pursues militants in Afghanistan
By David Brunnstrom Mon Jun 20,10:39 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - The U.S. military said it was pursuing a group of hardcore militants in southern Afghanistan on Monday after killing up to 20 in air strikes the previous day, while officials reported 21 more deaths in fresh clashes.
Meanwhile an Afghan government official said Afghan security forces had arrested three suspected Pakistani militants at the weekend for planning to assassinate the U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the future U.S. envoy in Iraq.
In separate attacks elsewhere in the troubled south bordering Pakistan, the U.S. military said six of its soldiers were slightly wounded by roadside bombs in the provinces of Khost and Paktia on Sunday.
The incidents were part of a surge in militant-related violence in recent months that has killed hundreds of people and raised concerns about security for Sept. 18 parliamentary polls.
The U.S. military said it killed 15 to 20 militants in air strikes on Sunday Helmand province, after U.S. and Afghan troops came under fire from small-arms and rocket-propelled grenades.
U.S. spokesman Colonel Jim Yonts said U.S. and Afghan forces pursued a remaining group of up to 10 militants overnight and were trying to assess why they had chosen to stand and fight on Sunday, as they normally avoided contact when faced with superior U.S. firepower.
He said he did not know whether this meant the guerrillas were trying to protect a significant target in the area, which is about 87 km (55 miles) northwest of the town of Girishk and about 550 km (330 miles) southwest of Kabul.
"But for some reason they needed to defend the area," he said. "When you see forces like that stand and fight, there is usually a good reason.
"We have taken the fight to them, we have not disengaged. The situation is ongoing and as far as we know there have been no coalition casualties."
U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban government in late 2001 after it refused to hand over al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
ELUSIVE AL QAEDA LEADERS
For the past three and a half years, bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman Al-Zawahri, have remained at large, along with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.
U.S. officials have long said the believe bin Laden is hiding along the rugged Afghan-Pakistani border, but ambassador Khalilzad said last week he did not believe bin Laden or Omar were in Afghanistan.
Khalilzad said there was a good chance Omar was hiding in Pakistan and accused Islamabad of failing to act against fugitive Taliban leaders, charges Pakistan called "irresponsible."
An Afghan government official, who did not want to be identified, said the Pakistanis arrested for the alleged plot against Khalilzad were suspected of being linked to a Pakistani Islamic militant group.
He said they were arrested in the eastern province of Laghman on Saturday, the day before Khalilzad made a visit there.
The presidential palace provided Reuters with a brief videotape showing three young men who identified themselves as Morad Khan, Zahid, the son of Omar Said, and Gul Alem.
They appeared to be in their late teens or early 20s and all said they were from the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, which is close to Afghan border.
The official said it was unclear to which militant group the men belonged, but added: "We are pretty sure they are linked to a Pakistani militant group, the Taliban or al Qaeda."
Pakistan was the main backer of the Taliban government until the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
It joined the U.S.-led war on terrorism in 2001, but U.S. and Afghan officials have repeatedly complained that Taliban guerrillas have continued to find sanctuary in Pakistan.
Afghan officials said that at least 18 Taliban guerrillas and three people from the government side, including a district chief, were killed in overnight clashes in Helmand and neighboring Zabul province.
Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi said 11 from the government side had been killed and only one guerrilla wounded.
Yonts told a news briefing foreign militants were coming to Afghanistan to carry out attacks to try to hinder the elections, but they would not be successful.
"Those elections will happen on the 18th of September," he said. "These acts of terrorism will not impede that. The Afghan people will not let that happen."
CRISIS PROFILE: Afghanistan still the ‘sick man’ of Asia
Source: AlertNet / By Alex Whiting / June 20, 20005
LONDON (AlertNet) - Devastated by decades of conflict and hard hit by natural disasters, Afghanistan is now the poorest country in Asia. Millions remain dependent on aid, even as insecurity and lawlessness put vast swathes of the country out of reach of humanitarian workers.
Millions of dollars have been pumped into Afghanistan since 2001 when U.S.-led forces toppled the extremist Taliban regime, but most Afghans still live in dire poverty. They face a daily reality of poor healthcare and sanitation, chronic hunger and the constant danger of landmines. Education remains a luxury for most children.
Meanwhile, Afghans remain the world’s largest refugee group after the Palestinians.
The World Food Programme estimates that at least 6.5 million people out of a population of between 21 and 26 million are dependent on food aid, and there is a very real risk of famine.
Poor living conditions, healthcare and diet mean that Afghanistan has one of the lowest life expectancies in the world - just 44.5 years. A fifth of children die before they reach the age of five.
The international community has promised Afghanistan nearly $13 billion in aid since 2002. Almost $3.1 billion has been set aside for humanitarian needs, including helping refugees return and resettle, while the government says most of the rest is being spent on security.
Refugees – how many are there and where are they?
About two million Afghans are now living abroad, most of them in Iran and Pakistan. Another 3.5 million have moved back to Afghanistan since 2001.
Some were able to return to their communities and rebuild their lives, but about 40 per cent ended up in Kabul where they have no roots or family.
Some 185,000 people are registered in camps run by the United Nations. Most are in Kabul and Zhare Dasht in the southeast.
No one knows exactly how many internally displaced people there are in Afghanistan, either living with friends and family or trying to survive in the open. In Kabul, an estimated 500,000 people are homeless or living in makeshift accommodation.
On the brink of a health crisis
Health statistics speak for themselves. Only 40 per cent of Afghan children are vaccinated against major diseases, and just 25 per cent of the population has access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. There is just one doctor per 6,000 people, and one nurse per 2,500 people.
Poor living conditions and little or no healthcare have led to some grim statistics:
- A fifth of children die before they reach the age of five.
- Some 72,000 new cases of tuberculosis are reported every year. Women account for most TB deaths.
- Epidemics are frequent, including cholera, Congo-Crimea haemorrhagic fever, measles, meningitis, pertussis and malaria.
- Outbreaks of scurvy have also been reported.
More optimistically, Afghanistan looks to be on the verge of eradicating polio, even as efforts to stamp out the disease worldwide suffer setbacks. Thanks to vaccination efforts, only one case of polio had been reported in 2005 as of mid-June, compared with 27 in 2000.
Afghans live with the constant danger of landmines, the legacy of decades of conflict that began with an invasion by troops of the former Soviet Union in 1979.
Between five and seven million landmines and large quantities of unexploded ordnance exist throughout the countryside and alongside roads. Up to 100 people are killed or wounded by mines and unexploded ordnance every month, the United Nations says.
Efforts to demine swathes of the country have been hindered by constant security threats since Taliban rebels and other militants see aid workers – including deminers – as bolstering the U.S.-backed government.
The rural-urban divide
The humanitarian situation in the larger cities of Kabul, Muzar-e Sharif and Heart has improved since 2001 as foreign funds have poured in to rebuild vital infrastructure. In Kabul, where a lot of aid agencies have opened offices, businesses have sprung up to cater to the new expatriate community.
But in rural areas reconstruction is slow and the humanitarian situation remains dire. Few Afghans outside the cities have access to clean water, employment, healthcare or schools.
Work has been severely hampered by ongoing conflict. The government has little control beyond the capital and militant violence continues.
The worst of the fighting is in the south and east of the country where the Taliban and their allies continue to fight NATO-led troops. But even in the north and west of the country there is infighting between local commanders over power and land.
Aid is not reaching the most needy areas
Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous countries for aid agencies to work in, especially in the south and east. Aid workers not only have to avoid the fighting between the Taleban and NATO-led forces, but they are increasingly being targeted themselves.
The Taliban claims aid agencies are working for U.S. interests, and are therefore legitimate targets – a stance that has produced a catalogue of abductions and deadly attacks across the country.
In response, many international agencies have withdrawn from Afghanistan altogether. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which had worked in Afghanistan since 1980, withdrew in 2004 after five of its staff were killed.
MSF has strongly criticised the U.S.-led coalition for using humanitarian aid to build support for its military and political aims, thereby making aid agencies a bigger target for militants.
In the south, aid agencies are only able to work in the city of Kandahar. Staff who do travel to the surrounding countryside are escorted by armed guards and avoid staying overnight.
Aid workers are also being targeted by groups that are disenchanted with the Western influence in the country and say progress is too slow.
President Hamid Karzai warned in June 2005 that violence would get worse in the run-up to parliamentary elections in September. He suggested that Taliban guerrillas and their allies would be behind the violence.
But it’s not just fighting that’s stopping aid
Most of Afghanistan’s roads have been destroyed. And many of the most vulnerable communities live in inaccessible mountain regions, which are often cut off by heavy snow during the winter.
The World Food Programme transports food as far as possible by truck, but it has to rely on camels, donkeys and people to carry it the remaining distance to remote villages. Regions on the Tajik and Chinese borders have been particularly difficult to reach, often requiring cross border operations.
Earthquakes, flood and drought are a problem too
Every year an estimated 400,000 Afghans are affected by natural disasters. And many farmers have still not recovered from a severe drought that killed 70 per cent of the country’s livestock three years ago.
Flash floods, landslides, earthquakes, extreme cold and locust attacks are also frequent and often cause widespread crop damage and food insecurity.
Heavy snows frequently isolate large areas of the country during the winter. Then between April and August every year, melting snow and the rainy season together cause major flooding in the central highlands.
Landless Afghans living in dry river basins can become victims of flash floods, and entire communities living on hillsides in the highlands are frequently swept downhill by landslides.
In June 2005, there were nine separate floods in just one week that caused extensive damage to people’s homes and crops.
Criminal gangs pose increasing risk to aid workers
GENEVA, June 20 (Reuters) - Aid workers are being increasingly targeted by criminals and armed civilians in areas of conflict and urgently need better security training and equipment, humanitarian agencies said on Monday.
Although the number of aid workers killed each year has remained relatively stable, "perceptions of insecurity and victimisation" appear to be on the rise amongst humanitarian officials, they added.
"While much is made of the deliberate targeting of humanitarian and development actors by armed groups and warring factions, by far the biggest risk emerges from the threat of criminal violence," the agencies in a report.
Entitled "No Relief: Surveying the Effects of Gun Violence on Humanitarian and Development Personnel", the report is by the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue and the Small Arms Survey, both Geneva-based, and involves interviews with more than 2,000 people working for 17 agencies in nearly 100 countries.
Some 100 aid workers deployed by the United Nations and other agencies met violent deaths between July 2003 and July 2004.
Almost one in five participants in the survey reported having been involved in a security incident ranging from assault to kidnapping to sexual violence in the previous six months.
The occupied Palestinian territories, Uganda and Iraq appear to be "the most dangerous places to work", it added.
It urged governments to clamp down on handguns and other small weapons, which are rife in hotspots such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Nepal.
The report called on donors and agencies to "quickly adopt concrete measures to better protect their staff".
U.S. should 'close or clean up' Guantanamo-Clinton
June 20, 2005
LONDON (Reuters) - Former President Bill Clinton has said the United States should either "close down or clean up" the Guantanamo Bay prison for foreign terrorism suspects.
In an interview with the Financial Times published on Monday, Clinton said American or British troops would be at much greater risk if they had a reputation for abusing people.
"Well, it either needs to be closed down or cleaned up," Clinton said when asked whether the camp on Cuba should close.
"It's time that there are no more stories coming out of there about people being abused." The prison, set up after the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan in response to the attacks of Sept. 11 2001, has become increasingly controversial in recent months. Some U.S. lawmakers have condemned the way detainees are treated at the prison.
"If we get a reputation for abusing people, it puts our own soldiers much more at risk," Clinton said.
Former detainees have alleged they were abused or tortured at the prison. U.S. authorities have insisted they do not use torture and describe Guantanamo as safe and humane.
The Pentagon has said it holds about 520 men at Guantanamo. Many have been held for more than three years while only four have been charged. Most were detained in Afghanistan.
Moderate quake shakes Pakistan, Afghanistan; no reports of damage
June 20, 2005
ISLAMABAD (AFX) - A moderate earthquake measuring 5.3 on the Richter scale shook northern Pakistan and northwestern Afghanistan today but there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage, an official said.
The quake was felt at 7:33 am in Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier province, and in the mountainous Chitral valley, a seismological department official told Agence France-Presse.
The epicentre of the earthquake was about 400 kilometres northwest of the capital Islamabad in Afghanistan's Hindu Kush mountains, he said.
Guilty plea for money transfers
Pizzeria owner sent funds to Pakistan and Afghanistan
Henry K. Lee / San Francisco Chronicle / Monday, June 20, 2005
A Hayward pizzeria owner has pleaded guilty to charges that he illegally transferred nearly $1 million to people in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Some of the money went to a bounty hunter and former U.S. Army special forces member named Jonathan "Jack" Idema, who is serving five years in prison for torturing Afghan detainees, Virginia Kice, regional spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Sunday.
Idema, a former Green Beret, claimed to Afghan officials that he was working with the American government to hunt down al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. U.S. military authorities have denied any involvement with Idema, who is being held by Afghan authorities at Pul-e Charkhi prison near Kabul.
Noor Alocozy, 41, a native of Afghanistan, said Sunday that he didn't know Idema and never investigated the source or recipient of any of the funds that people transferred through his company, Noor Transfer Money.
"Good people, bad people give me money. It's not my business," he said in an interview at Liberty Pizza on West A Street in Hayward, nestled in a small strip mall a stone's throw from Interstate 880. "I do not know who takes the money."
Alocozy ran the money-exchange business, known as a hawala in the Middle East, from July 2002 to October 2003. Hawalas are fairly common in the Bay Area, but their informal nature often makes it difficult for authorities to confirm their legitimacy.
On May 20, Alocozy admitted to U.S. District Judge D. Lowell Jensen in Oakland that he transferred nearly $1 million to people in "Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere" without a license, court records show. He will be sentenced Aug. 26 on a federal charge of operating an unlicensed money- transfer business.
Court papers did not specify the amounts sent abroad or the individuals who received money sent by Alocozy.
But Kice said, "We uncovered receipts or documents indicating that (Alocozy) had conducted transactions for (Idema), and (Alocozy) readily admitted it."
Alocozy's attorney, Stephen Shaiken of San Francisco, said his client never knew who received the money. Shaiken noted that Alocozy wasn't convicted of money laundering but of operating a money transmitting business without a state license and without registering with the U.S. Department of Treasury.
"Obviously, any unlicensed business -- or licensed -- that transmits to that part of the world is going to be looked at," Shaiken said. "But if you don't know what the receiver does when they get the money, how is that different than doing it through Western Union?"
Alocozy said he didn't realize he needed a state license until he received a letter from the Bank of America telling him that he wasn't in compliance. He shut down the money-transmitting operation in October 2003.
Kice said authorities had developed a "money trail" showing that, in some cases, money being moved through unlicensed businesses such as Alocozy's pizzeria "support activities that are potentially problematic."
Alocozy is the second person to face such charges in federal court in the East Bay, where there is a sizable Afghan population, especially in Fremont's Little Kabul neighborhood.
Eltaib Yousif, 41, of Castro Valley was indicted May 11 on charges that he transferred more than $1.5 million outside the country from September 2001 to November 2003 without a license. The investigation of Yousif, who has pleaded not guilty, began after San Francisco Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents received a tip from New York authorities about suspicious deposits being made into accounts at several Citibank branches there and in the Bay Area, authorities said.
The USA Patriot Act of 2001 enhanced the ability of federal officials to combat the international movement of funds through unlicensed money services businesses, Kice said.
Since the act's passage, investigators have arrested 140 people nationwide for allegedly participating in unlicensed hawalas and seized $25.5 million in funds they said were intended for militants or terrorists.
Afghan women start to pump iron, shape up in battle for rights
Tue Jun 21, 1:41 AM ET
HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP) - They don't wear lycra and some keep their headscarves on while they work out, but the Shafaq Women's Bodybuilding Club represents a small revolution for women in the conservative western Afghan city of Herat.
"I always wished for freedom. When I come to this club by my own choice I feel I am free and independent," says 25-year-old Masooda, who works out there.
When Masooda goes to lift weights and run at the club, far more is at stake than a smaller waistline and bigger biceps in a country where average female life expectancy is 44 and a woman dies in childbirth every half-hour, she explains.
"It is a struggle to change the thoughts of women, to bring them out of houses and make them meet other female friends, know about their rights and fight for them," she adds.
The Shafaq club is one of three fitness clubs which have opened for women in Herat in recent months, the first of their kind in the country where four years ago under the Taliban regime women were not allowed to work, study or leave the house without an all-covering burqa.
In western Herat, liberation for women has come slowly, as former city governor and mujahedin fighter Ismael Khan ruled the city with an iron fist until he was ousted last September, and held conservative views on women.
Even after the fall of the hardline Islamic Taliban in 2001, Nazifa Sidiq, 27, had to exercise in secret. Her group of seven women who used to meet to train together were busted by the authorities and ordered to stop in 2002.
"At the beginning I used to have problems with my husband when I exercised. I kept explaining to him that I exercised with other women, not men and it was not un-Islamic, and eventually I got through to him," Sidiq says.
Until recently she still wore an all-covering blue burqa on her way to work at the fitness club but now she walks there with only a black headscarf to cover her hair and her face on view.
She says that being able to exercise has made her more willing to push the boundaries of tradition.
"Now I have gone back to school after a 13-year gap because of my marriage. I am more aware of my rights," she adds.
Since President Hamid Karzai appointed a new governor of western Afghanistan's largest city in September, Herat has experienced an outburst of new activities for women -- jobs, driving schools, and now gyms.
"It is the first time ever we have had female bodybuilding clubs in Afghanistan," says Saeed Mahmood Zia Dashti, the deputy director of Afghan Olympic Committee which sent two female athletes to Athens last year.
In Afghanistan, sport has long been taboo for women who are still widely expected to be demure and not venture widely outside the home.
"I think this is a big step towards the advancement of women, I cannot express how happy I am. Women should come out of their homes and participate in social activities," 36-year-old Zahra Noori, manager of the Shafaq Club, tells AFP.
The Herat gym, which has 32 members, is part of a nascent fitness trend as women start going to gyms and practicing martial arts, which were popular among a handful of Afghan girls when the Soviets controlled Afghanistan.
"In the past six months we have registered four women clubs -- three bodybuilding and one karate club," says Zia Ul-Haq, deputy director of Herat's Olympic sports department.
The Women Activities Social Service Association (WASSA) has helped the establishment of the women's fitness clubs in cooperation with humanitarian organisation Christian Aid.
Engineer Shah Agha, the head of the association's sub-office in Herat, says "our office works to enhance women's ability at all levels including education and sports which are important".
Agha said that two years ago it was not even possible for his office to sponsor a women's radio station in Herat without receiving threats from local intelligence officials, but now they can safely fund sports clubs.
"I could not believe that one day I would be able to go to a club and exercise but now I come with my mother," said 15-year-old Freshta.
In this western city, which lies near the Iranian border and for long before the Taliban had a more liberal tradition than southern and eastern Afghanistan, some residents are enthusiastic.
"If I had a daughter and trusted the club, I would have sent her to exercise. It is good for health and women should exercise," says 55-year-old Ghulam Sakhi, who runs a grocery shop in the city
But others are less enthusiastic and worries about what the neighbours would say trump health concerns.
"In our conservative, traditional society when women practice bodybuilding they start to create problems for their families because people start to finger point at the family and the girl and talk about them," says 22-year-old Waheed Azizi, a student of the science and technology faculty of Herat university.
Floods kill more than 50 in Afghanistan
Tuesday June 21, 9:09 PM
(Kyodo) _ More than 50 people have died and hundreds of houses have been destroyed in floods in eastern and northeastern Afghanistan, Rural Development Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar said Tuesday.
The weeklong floods caused by heavy rain and melting snow have hit 12 provinces and rendered thousands homeless, the minister said.
He said that nearly 2,000 houses in 100 villages have been destroyed, more than 4,000 livestock have died and 113 kilometers of roads have been washed away.
Afghanistan experienced its worst winter in a decade this year and rivers are overflowing because of the melting snow, the minister said.
Reports in neighboring Pakistan said the Kabul River, which flows into Pakistan to join the Indus at Attock about 75 km from Rawalpindi, was also in flood and threatening to overflow into several smaller cities along its banks.
AFGHANISTAN: UN sending emergency assistance to Badakhshan flood victims
20 Jun 2005 19:07:11 GMT
KABUL, 20 June (IRIN) - Aid organisations in Afghanistan are rushing emergency assistance to devastated areas of Badakhshan province in the northeast of the country, following heavy flooding which killed at least 50 people and destroyed more than 1,000 homes in several villages on Friday, according to the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD).
The MRRD said that flash floods had hit the provinces of Badakhshan, Takhar, Sar-e-Pul, Faryab, Jozjan and Smanagan on Thursday and Friday but that Badakhshan suffered the most.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported that both food and non-food emergency supplies, including tents and blankets, had been dispatched to Faizabad the provincial capital of Badakhshan over the past two days.
The MRRD has also airlifted 1,000 tents and 4,000 blankets for further distribution, officials said on Monday. Furthermore, a total of 88 mt of World Food Programme (WFP) assistance including wheat, oil, salt and pulses sufficient for nearly 9,000 people is on its way to reach 1,450 households in flood-affected areas.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has also sent aid packages out, including 1,100 family kits and other non-food items to the disaster area.
The shipments follow a joint assessment of affected areas carried out over the weekend by three teams, two of which travelled by helicopter throughout the province, WFP officials said. The teams reported widespread destruction in at least 65 villages. Thousand of livestock had been killed, nearly 28,000 trees destroyed and over 658 hectares of land laid waste by the storm, said WFP officials.
"Badakhshan is one of the most remote and poverty-stricken provinces in Afghanistan. The flood will have a devastating effect on people who already live with a great deal of food insecurity," said WFP Afghanistan representative Charles Vincent.
WFP is working to clear and rebuild roads covered in heavy mud to allow food agency trucks through with non-food items such as blankets, tarpaulins and tents from Faizabad airport to affected families in outlying villages.
"The hard work in Badakhshan has only just begun. Once the initial emergency aid has been delivered, WFP and partners will also be working hard to rehabilitate lost infrastructure. There are roads, canals and bridges to be rebuilt," said Vincent.
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