Italy hostage released in Kabul
Thursday, 9 June, 2005 BBC News
Italian aid worker Clementina Cantoni has been freed nearly a month after being taken hostage in Afghanistan, the Afghan interior ministry has said.
"She has just been released," said a ministry spokesman. "She is fine."
Ms Cantoni, who works for aid agency Care International, was abducted on 16 May by gunmen who forced her out of her car in central Kabul.
She has been in Afghanistan since September 2003, supporting more than 10,000 widows and their children.
Hours before her release was announced, hundreds of schoolgirls in the Afghan capital, Kabul, handed out nearly 3,000 stickers calling for Ms Cantoni to be freed.
No details about her release were immediately provided.
Afghan officials had been in contact with the kidnappers but had refused to say who they were or what demands they had.
Days after her abduction, a video was broadcast on a private TV channel, showing Ms Cantoni wrapped in a blanket, sitting on the floor between two gunmen with weapons pointed at her head.
The Afghan government had criticised the Italian embassy in Kabul for trying to negotiate Ms Cantoni's release with her kidnappers.
Afghans flee army over Taliban and low morale
By Tom Coghlan in Kandahar / The Telegraph (UK) / June 9, 2005
Thousands of soldiers are deserting Afghanistan's new British- and American-trained national army, their morale undermined by poor conditions and the threat from the Taliban.
Since the 205th Afghan National Army corps became the first unit of the new national army to be deployed outside Kabul, joining US forces fighting the Taliban in the south of the country, half of its strength has deserted.
"Between 1,200 and 1,500 have run away since September," said one officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, at the 205th corps base near Kandahar. "Morale is going down fast. Four to six hundred soldiers have deserted in the last two months." The ANA has surprised many Afghans by successfully integrating the country's diverse ethnic factions, all of which were responsible for reciprocal human rights violations in the civil war of the 1990s.
But nationally, of 31,000 men who have been trained for the national army only 20,000 currently remain with their units. In line with plans for a reduction of foreign troop numbers the army is supposed to reach a target strength of 70,000 by 2007.
The army is meanwhile under pressure to shoulder greater responsibility in the battle with the Taliban from a US military that is overstretched globally. The Bush administration hopes to start reducing its presence in the country next year.
Since March Afghan forces have lost dozens of men to roadside ambushes as the Taliban have confounded predictions of their imminent demise and survived the defection of dozens of mid-ranking members.
In Taliban stronghold provinces of Zabul, Uruzgan and Kandahar ANA troops, lacking the training, body armour and firepower of their US counterparts, are vulnerable to attack.
Morale has also been hit by rows over money. Afghanistan has no banking system so soldiers' families must wait for them to return from duty with their wages, which start at £40 a month.
It is a decent wage in Afghanistan but for many soldiers the delay is putting their families at risk of starvation. "Everybody wants to run away," said one sergeant. "We cannot tolerate this."
Retrial of Afghan warlord begins in London
The News International (Pakistan) / June 9, 2005
LONDON: An Afghan warlord and his troops randomly tortured, shot and killed their fellow citizens in an area near Kabul during the 1990s, prosecutors claimed on Wednesday. Opening the retrial of Faryadi Sarwar Zardad, prosecutor James Lewis said between 1991 and 1996, a period of internal conflict in Afghanistan, the warlord and his soldiers set up military checkpoints that were used to steal money and goods from people passing by.
"He and his soldiers wanted to create an atmosphere of fear and terror. He wanted a fearsome reputation for being cruel and merciless at his military checkpoints," Lewis told London’s Old Bailey court. "He and his soldiers used indiscriminate and unwarranted violence. They would beat, wound, torture, shoot and kill innocent civilians."
Zardad, 42, who now lives in London, denies conspiracy to torture and conspiracy to take hostages between Dec 31, 1991, and Sept 30, 1996. He is alleged to have carried out a "cruel and merciless" campaign of fear in the area he controlled outside the Afghan capital Kabul. Zardad, who moved to London in 1998 and was managing a pizza restaurant in the capital when he was arrested, testified at the first trial that he had never tortured anyone and had given orders against torturers.
NATO Debate Boosting Peacekeeping Force
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
9 June 2005 -- NATO defense ministers debated their widening peacekeeping agenda today at a meeting in Brussels.
The ministers looked at plans to boost NATO's peacekeeping force in Afghanistan during the country's September parliamentary elections.
NATO planners are hoping for an extra 3,000 soldiers for the 8,300-strong International Security Assistance Force there.
Hundreds of extra troops would come from Romania, Spain, and the Netherlands. German Defense Minister Peter Struck said Germany was asking its parliament to add to the 2,250 German soldiers already there.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the situation was getting better in Afghanistan, but a recent increase in violence indicated problems were not overcome there.
"Significant progress has been made concerning the establishment of peace and stability in Afghanistan, but as recent violence has shown, we should avoid being overly optimistic and continue to follow the security situation closely," Scheffer said.
The ministers are also discussing a proposal to come to the aid of the African Union with an offer to fly an extra 5,000 African soldiers to provide security in Sudan's war-torn region of Darfur.
Russian defense minister welcomes NATO presence in Afghanistan, praises U.S. antiterrorist tactics
RIA Novosti, Russia
BRUSSELS, June 9 (RIA Novosti) - Russia welcomes NATO presence in Afghanistan and appreciates latest changes in the U.S. antiterrorist tactics, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told reporters on his arrival in Brussels.
"There is no threat of conflicts and cataclysms in the NATO area of responsibility whatsoever - at least, within the Russia-NATO framework. Everything dangerous is outside," this is how he described the reason for NATO to be less focused on its own area of responsibility and stronger oriented on faraway areas like Afghanistan.
"I mean the increase in the presence [of NATO representatives] in Afghanistan - which Russia welcomes in the context of nearing elections in the country - and elsewhere," the Russian minister said.
He also praised the U.S. Department of Defense for changing its antiterrorist tactics: rather than targeting terrorist networks' top executives, the Pentagon has focused its efforts on terrorist lieutenants.
"This is rather effective: any warlord is cornered, if not totally alienated, if there are no lieutenants around him. This rule applies to all terrorist organizations, not only to Arab [ones]," he said.
"Bottom-up support is crucial for warlords," he added.
Afghans hopeful of winning the war against polio
By Robert Birse
PAWAT, Afghanistan, June 9 (Reuters) - Gada Mohammad is a resolute foot soldier in Afghanistan's battle against polio, tramping up remote mountains to search out children and give them their pink vaccine drops.
He might be about to win the war.
Afghanistan looks to be on the verge of eradicating polio, just as a flare-up in another remote corner of the world has led to the crippling children's disease leaping between continents.
The viral disease of the brain and spinal cord, which mainly affects children under 5, can cause irreversible paralysis in a matter of hours. Some cases are fatal.
The World Health Organisation is campaigning to halt the spread of polio around the world by the end of this year.
Afghanistan has been doing its bit. It had 27 polio cases in 2000, four last year and only one so far this year.
"There has been some incredible progress in reducing the number of cases of polio," said Edward Carwardine of the U.N. Children's Fund.
"I think in a few more years we will be able to say Afghanistan is polio-free and that is a major achievement considering Afghanistan's recent history."
While Afghanistan has been making progress, efforts to eradicate the disease worldwide have suffered setbacks in the last two years since Nigeria's northern state of Kano banned immunisation out of fear it could cause sterility or spread HIV/AIDS. Vaccinations resumed after a 10-month ban.
But the virus spread across Africa, crossed the Red Sea into Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and reached Indonesia -- infecting 16 previously polio-free countries in all.
While there still are some families in Afghanistan who are suspicious of the vaccine teams, in general, even in the most conservative regions, communities have backed immunisation.
"We are seeing a lot of support from a wide range of groups promoting the message of vaccination. For example, from the religious leaders who are very powerful advocates," Carwardine said.
In Pawat, farmer Agha Jan said he was well aware of the danger.
"I remember many children got paralysed because of polio when I was a child because there was no vaccine then," Jan said, his baby daughter Bina, who had just got her drops, crying in his arms.
"Remembering that, I'm happy to vaccinate my children. Only two drops will save their lives."
"It doesn't taste good but I don't want to get paralysed," said Bina's brother, 5-year-old Nabi, as some children from nearby homes were brought through the wheat fields by their fathers to get their drops.
"They know the value of vaccination and bring their children," said UNICEF district health officer Hafiza Rasouli.
Gada, his work finished at the Jans' mud-brick house, marked a 12 on the door with pink chalk, showing the number of children he had given drops to. Then he packed his vaccines into a small cooler and prepared to set off up a muddy track into a mist-shrouded side valley of the Panjsher.
"We have many problems getting to some places ... but if we want a polio-free country, we have to do it," he said.
Afghanistan's final victory over polio will be won when immunisation becomes routine and all children get vaccinated at local clinics, not just when there's a drive, Carwardine said.
"We need now to make sure that families understand the importance of not just waiting for a campaign to take place but to make sure their children are immunised shortly after they are born," he said.
"If we can do that, then I think we will see polio eradicated in the very near future."
UNICEF warns of rise in diarrhoea cases as temperature rises
KABUL, 9 Jun 2005 (IRIN) - As summer temperatures rise across Afghanistan, the country’s health officials and the UN Children Fund (UNICEF) warned of an increasing risk of diarrhoeal disease in major cities.
Diarrhoea is a leading cause of death among children in Afghanistan, accounting for more than 50,000 deaths annually amongst those under the age of five and contributing to one of the world’s worst child mortality rates.
“So far we have had two occasions of rising diarrhoea diseases among children. One was in late May and recently we had 600 cases in different hospitals of the country,” doctor Abdullah Fahim, a senior advisor to the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH), told IRIN in the capital, Kabul, on Thursday.
Around 700 children under the age of five die every day in Afghanistan due to preventable diseases and 70 Afghan mothers die every day through complications in pregnancy and childbirth, Fahim added.
He said lack of resources and trained medical personnel, along with low levels of awareness and cultural factors, were the main reasons for the alarming figures in a country trying to recover from nearly three decades of conflict.
According to UNICEF, a new information and education campaign is expected to be launched by MOPH next week to address the issue of poor hygiene practices, one of the major causes of transmission of diarrhoeal disease.
With 70 percent of Afghanistan’s urban populations not having access to adequate sanitation, UNICEF said, combined with high summer temperatures and dense population, city dwellers are at particular risk of contracting diarrhoeal disease at this time of year. Children are especially vulnerable, as dehydration caused by diarrhoeal disease can be fatal.
“The most frightening thing is that it is a preventable disease. Very simple household hygiene practices can actually prevent children from contracting diarrhoeal disease and prevent the risk of severe dehydration and ultimately death amongst children,” Edward Carwardine, a UNICEF spokesman in Kabul, told IRIN.
Carwardine said the new campaign, which involved radio advertising and face-to-face education, undertaken in schools and through home visits, would focus on the core message that “a healthy family prevents diarrhoea”.
“An estimated 500,000 people living in 18 district of Kabul will be targeted by the campaign in its first phase,” the UNICEF official said, adding that the cities of Jalalabad, Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif would be covered by similar campaigns in the near future.
Afghan troops arrest suspected Taliban commander responsible for bomb attacks
Associated Press / June 9, 2005
Security forces arrested a suspected Taliban commander in southern Afghanistan allegedly responsible for roadside bomb attacks against Afghan and U.S.-led coalition troops, while fighting in the region left two suspected insurgents dead, an Afghan army commander said Thursday.
Mullah Abdul Razak was handed over to coalition forces after being caught traveling in a taxi when troops at a checkpoint recognized his face from a list of photographs of wanted suspects, army commander Gen. Muslim Amid said.
Razak is the alleged Taliban leader in Arghandab district, just north of Kandahar, the main city in southern Afghanistan and a former rebel stronghold, he said.
The suspected insurgent commander was caught Wednesday in possession of so-called night-letters, threatening to kill villagers if they cooperate with President Hamid Karzai's U.S.-backed government.
"He is a key figure in the Taliban and responsible for terrorist activities," Amid said without elaborating.
Two men named Mullah Abdul Razak held senior positions in the Taliban regime before it was ousted in 2001. One was the police chief of the capital, Kabul, while the other was the interior minister. Neither has been caught, but Amid said it did not appear that either was the arrested man.
The army commander said a second suspected Taliban member was also handed over to coalition forces after being captured Wednesday just west of Kandahar as he was trying to fire rockets at the city.
U.S. spokesman Lt. Col. Jerry O'Hara said he could not comment on the individual cases of detainees, including whether they had even been taken into coalition custody.
The two dead suspected insurgents were shot in Shah Wali Kot district, just north of Kandahar, also on Wednesday after attacking Afghan army troops patrolling the area, Amid said.
After a winter lull, loyalists to the ousted Taliban regime and other militants have ramped up their insurgency with bombings and other attacks. But security forces have hit back hard, killing more than 200 suspected rebels since March, according to U.S. and Afghan officials.
Trade in Afghan south seen hurt by anti-drug drive
By Sayed Salahuddin
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, June 9 (Reuters) - Bomb blasts, rebel ambushes and raids are all too common in southern Afghanistan but traders say it is not the fear of violence that is hurting business but a government drive to stamp out opium.
Southern Afghanistan is one of the main poppy growing areas in the world's biggest producer of opium, the raw material for heroin, but in recent months government anti-drug forces have been tying to cut down poppies and disrupt the trade.
"There is less money around these days and less trade and business mostly because of the campaign against drugs," says Agha Gul Sherzad who runs the biggest mobile phone shop in Kandahar city, the main city in the Afghan south.
Under pressure from the international community that says Afghanistan risks becoming a "narco-state", teams have been out in the south and east, destroying fields and opium refineries and seizing tonnes of drugs and chemicals needed to make heroin.
Impoverished farmers have lost income from their poppy fields but traders say big-spending drug traffickers have also been hit, and that is hurting business.
Business people in Kandahar say value of property has fallen, less vehicles are being imported and the reconstruction of places such as hotels has slowed, apparently all because there is less drug money in circulation.
"I don't mean that trade has come to a standstill, but we can notice that it has slowed down because the tap of illegal money has been largely blocked," said car dealer Haji Nazik.
"There's less investment compared with the winter and before the launch of the operation against drugs. A lack of security linked to the Taliban or fighting is not the main cause of it," he added.
Government officials responsible for the economy were not immediately available for comment but the illegal narcotics trade is known to dominate Afghanistan's economy, accounting for 60 percent of its gross domestic product.
Poppy production has soared since U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban government in late 2001. More than 80 percent of the world's of heroin is believed to come from Afghanistan. The Taliban had cracked down on opium.
A U.S. State Department report released in March described Afghan heroin production as an "enormous threat to world stability". More than 350,000 families - roughly 10 percent of the population - are believed to be dependent on opium production.
Much of the trade in the south is believed to be under the control of powerful figures some of whom are also widely believed to have a hand in the drugs business.
The government fears that a sweeping eradication drive could fuel an insurgency in south and east where Taliban insurgents and their militant allies are most active, and is keen for help to ensure farmers have an alternative way to make a living.
But some people in Kandahar already see a link between a recent increase in violence, attributed to Taliban insurgents, and the anti-drug drive that has coincided with it.
Residents and some provincial officials say drug runners trying to protect their business are behind at least some of the violence.
Several people and police involved in the anti-drug campaign have been killed in ambushes blamed on Taliban rebels.
"The drug runners and the other people involved in the drugs business fuel the fighting and contribute to the violence. We have seen examples of it recently," Nazik said.
Afghan President authorizes body to eliminate violence against women
KABUL, June 9 (Xinhua) -- Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai in an attempt to further ensure women's rights in his conservative post-war nation, has authorized a ministerial task force obliged to eliminate violence against women, a UN spokesperson said Thursday.
"President Karzai signed a decree Monday that will authorize the creation of a new Inter-Ministerial Task Force to eliminate violence against women," spokesperson of UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Ariane Quantier told newsmen here.
The step has been taken in the backdrop of increasing violence against women such as forced marriage, child marriage and beating women especially in Afghanistan's rural areas.
Dozens of women and girls, according to media reports, have committed self-immolation due to home differences, husbands' beating and in-laws violations since last year.
"This move enacts a major recommendation arising from a workshop led by the Ministry of Women Affairs and supported by a women aid agency UNIFEM (UN Development Fund for Women) and government of Italy in November 2004," the spokesperson noted.
The Task Force's members, she said, would include high ranking representatives from Supreme Court, Attorney General's office, Women Affairs Ministry, Justice Ministry, Interior Ministry, Foreign Ministry, Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Health and Human Rights Commission.
The Afghan President has earlier empowered women to assume key posts in government and contest the presidential and parliamentary elections in the country where it was a dream and even unthinkable for women during Taliban's reign which collapsed three and a half years ago. Enditem
Afghanistan's first woman governor
By Paul Anderson / BBC News, Bamiyan Thursday, 9 June, 2005
Afghanistan's former women's minister is settling into her new job as the country's first female governor.
Habiba Sarabi was appointed by President Karzai to run the province of Bamiyan. Many observers argue the move was to demonstrate his country's commitment to women's rights.
For many Afghans used to men running the structures of power, the appointment has required a huge leap of faith and imagination.
Bamiyan is well-known for the destruction of two giant statues of Buddha, but the new governor faces a host of other big challenges.
Opportunities for women
Carrying to the provinces the reforms she initiated as women's minister in the capital is at the heart of her mission.
When she visited the village of Ishteran, all its residents had gathered for a rare exercise in democracy - the election of new village councils or shuras, both male and female.
In this forgotten pocket of rural Afghanistan, a visit by the governor is a first and elders at the village extended their fullest welcome.
"This is a kind of good opportunity for women, and people will not say no for women, that you can't do this job or that job," she said in the car on the way there.
"Women will be encouraged to work in any position."
The mechanics of the election in Ishteran were not immediately clear to all, but villagers applied themselves with purpose. There is $60,000 in development aid at stake.
Traditionally women in such communities have very little say in running their own affairs, all the more so when large amounts of aid are involved.
But today, with the support of Bamiyan's new governor, women in Ishteran and villages like it are voting in new councils.
That will give them the right to influence the decisions which are taken.
On schools, water, animal husbandry, on job start-up schemes, the basics which will give the villagers a future.
"We're very happy," says one villager, a woman. "We're illiterate and backward. We've never had a shura before.
"Usually it is the men who take all the decisions, but this makes us more equal and gives us new opportunities."
But the responsibilities of governor stretch beyond that - to opportunities for all.
Her challenge is to harness the province's natural beauty and turn that into income.
"Bamiyan has the biggest potential for tourism - the historical heritage, the nature," Habiba Sarabi says.
I ask her if she thinks the Buddhist civilisation is the biggest attraction?
When the Taleban destroyed Bamiyan's two giant Buddhas, they destroyed one of the few reasons people have to travel to the province. Not, though, for one French tourist, Michel.
"The dangers do exist," he says, "but you follow the advice of friends scrupulously and it is worth coming.
"Honestly, I really don't feel the dangers here are any greater than say going out and buying bread."
But the presence of foreign troops testifies to the potential for trouble in the months and years ahead.
Members of Bamiyan's foreign security and reconstruction force from New Zealand say the greatest threat to security in the province has been criminal activity - not anti-coalition militias such as the Taleban, although they are prepared for any such threat.
In a country of continuing turbulence, Bamiyan sits in its own political and security microclimate.
Afghanistan's explosion in opium production and associated crime, militant activity, even political instability have largely passed it by.
And for that, the people here are grateful.
But so too has large-scale reconstruction and that, they say here, is storing up problems for the future.
"We don't have roads. We don't have electricity," one man said.
"They don't have any projects for us to work on. There is no work here because it is a peaceful place. In Kandahar, a lot of construction is going on, but not with us."
'Tough and difficult'
Back at the governor's residence, supplicants line the corridors with an awesome range of requests and complaints.
This is how business is done in Afghanistan.
Only the governor has the clout to make things happen, from acquiring land for returning refugees to sorting out identity papers and resolving often violent disputes between neighbours.
The honeymoon for Afghanistan's first female governor is over, so how has it been so far?
"It was very difficult. It is tough and difficult, but we have to go ahead," Habiba Sarabi says.
Does she feel the weight of responsibility as Afghanistan's first female governor?
"Yeah, if someone in my position would be a man it would be more easy for them to be accepted as a governor."
There are mountains to climb, higher than they would be for men, but there are gifted women in Afghanistan emerging from the destruction and intolerance that is all around.
Habiba Sarabi seems to be one of them.
Girl With Heart Defect Gets New Chance
By MISHA SAVIC, Associated Press / June 9, 2005
NEW YORK - Growing up in the slums of Kabul and suffering from a life-threatening heart defect, 11-year-old Vasila Hossaini feared time for her was running out. That was last year. Today, she's full of energy, soaking up the atmosphere of New York after donations brought her from Afghanistan and helped pay for lifesaving heart surgery.
"I got a new life," Vasila said Wednesday. "I am not going to die."
At a gathering with some of her benefactors at an apartment, Vasila said she's thrilled she can now walk, dance and play without the pain and fatigue that once made her feel doomed.
The hopelessness began to fade when Vasila was discovered in Kabul by two independent filmmakers from the United States, Stacia Teele and Ed Robbins.
They saw Vasila as exceptionally spirited and talented when they met her at an international educational project called the Mobile Mini Circus for Children, which entertains and educates traumatized children through performances, workshops and training.
Vasila's performances there as a singer and dancer despite her crippling ailment inspired Teele and Robbins to make the documentary "Vasila's Heart," which was broadcast on ABC's "Nightline" in March. Donations poured in to Project Kids Worldwide, which raised $35,000 needed for Vasila's trip and the operation.
Her heart defect, which allowed unoxygenated blood to circulate through her body, was corrected surgically on May 17.
"I am so happy she is rescued now. I know she'll live," said Vasila's father, Arman Hossaini, 39, who accompanied her to New York.
After being hosted in New York by Teele and members of the Afghan-American community, the father and daughter are to return home on June 21, back to their single-room home in a war-scarred building that they share with a half-dozen other impoverished families.
"But after saving a life, you are responsible for that life," said Teele, who is now trying to raise more money to enable Arman Hossaini, now unemployed, to start a small business back in Kabul.
If all goes well, "we could have enough money to be able to move to a better part of Kabul that actually has a school," said Arman Hossaini.
Vasila's plans are more ambitious.
"I want to become a doctor, a heart surgeon," she said. "Good people have helped me and I want to help others when I grow up."
On the Net:
Project Kids Worldwide: www.projectkidsworldwide.org
Information about "Vasila's Heart": www.advocatesforafghanistan.net
Healing Afghanistan's war scars
By Nick Bryant / BBC correspondent, Afghanistan Wednesday, 8 June, 2005
Cradled in the arms of a US special forces soldier, a fragile young girl is levered on to a Black Hawk helicopter, an American "ambulance of the sky" bristling with machine guns and operated by gun-toting medics.
Her body is listless and wan; her face wracked by confusion rather than contorted in pain.
She is wearing a crimson dress, painstakingly embroidered with shimmering green thread.
But the eye is drawn constantly to the bandage wrapped around her injured foot, which by now is drenched in blood.
A medic crouches over her, looking anxiously at his wristwatch. She has lost so much blood that he struggles to find a pulse.
Her name is Kamila, and she is eight years old, possibly 10. She has just stepped on a landmine and she is clinging to life.
The flight to the American field hospital at Camp Salerno, a US base within artillery range of the Pakistan border, takes 20 minutes.
Treatment in Peshawar, Pakistan, her only other realistic option, would have taken eight hours by land - a journey she would likely not have survived.
For landmine victims, speed of treatment is essential. Yet two-thirds of Afghans do not have access to adequate healthcare.
Rushed inside the hospital, where the Stars and Stripes hangs proudly above the operating table, Kamila is sedated, offered more oxygen and given an urgent transfusion.
Masked and gloved, Dr Sloane Guy examines the wound.
A lanky North Carolinian in his late 30s with a lilting southern accent and an air of imperturbability, he joined the army because his parents could not afford to put him through medical school.
Nowadays, almost 90% of his patients are Afghans.
He makes a quick diagnosis, almost by rote. Kamila's mangled foot cannot be saved.
He takes out an electric saw, presses it against her bloody flesh and begins cutting at the skin.
The sound is excruciating. Dr Guy operates on about three landmine victims a month, which often involves performing the same macabre routine.
"A local hospital would have done some kind of amputation," he says, as he wraps bandages around the stump.
"But she would not have got a transfusion and she very well could have died from this."
When Kamila wakes up she comes to realise that she will have to confront life without her right foot.
Fighting back tears, she tells the medics how she has no friends and that her only joy in life came from chasing mountain goats.
Four days later, we fly by US helicopter to her village.
Its mountainous terrain and proximity to Pakistan have made it one of the most dangerous places in the country and it forms part of the blurred frontier in America's ongoing fight against al-Qaeda and the remnants of the Taleban.
We run into the Special Forces soldier who helped Kamila on to the helicopter. He offers more fragments of her story.
She has nine brothers and sisters and both her parents are dead.
Her family is in terrible debt and the main source of income comes from her elder brother, who serves in the Afghan National Army.
The cost of getting Kamila medical treatment in Pakistan would have been equivalent to three years of his income.
The US soldiers have had a whip round and raised hundreds of dollars. But it is nowhere near enough to cancel the family's debts.
The landmine which damaged her limb could have been planted at any stage over the past 30 years but may well have been laid recently as part of an ongoing tribal dispute.
Each month, 100 people are killed or injured by landmines in Afghanistan, an estimated 50% of them children.
In the past year, 100m square metres of contaminated landscape has been cleared.
But at least 700m square metres remain littered with mines and unexploded ordnance.
According to the United Nations, which is leading the clearance effort, it will take seven more years to complete the task.
The last time we see Kamila is in Khost, the regional capital, at a dilapidated local hospital.
A barrel-chested doctor with a booming voice and dense black beard is towering over her. "Do you feel any pain in your legs?" he shouts.
"No," mumbles Kamila.
"Your leg is injured but you will be able to walk soon," he barks. "Then you can go to school and look forward to the future."
Kamila looks mystified - and then tries to sleep.
Election candidates in south Afghanistan withdraw nominations
KABUL, June 9 (Xinhua) -- Several candidates in the southern Afghan province of Ghazni have withdrawn their candidature following complaints about their relations with electoral office staffers, a local media reported Thursday.
Under the election law, candidates having relatives in the election office in their respective constituencies cannot contest the polls. Afghanistan is scheduled to begin Parliamentary elections scheduled for Sept. 18.
A female candidate Arifa Madadi, whose five family members are working in the election office, said she was unaware about the condition.
On the other hand, an official of the election office in the Ghazni city rejected the accusation that they had not provided prior information to candidates about the law, and said all the contestants had already been informed about the law but some of them deliberately ignored the terms and conditions.
Another provincial council aspirant, Juma Khan, also complained he was not told about the conditions before his registration.
An official at the Ghazni election office said on condition of anonymity that of the 124 candidates in the field, relatives of 14 were working in the election office.
Ghazni has 11 parliamentary and 19 provincial council seats. Women have been allocated three and five seats in parliament and the provincial council respectively.
The 26-day nomination period ended on May 26 has attracted 6,000 persons to register for the upcoming parliamentary election scheduled for Sept. 18. Some 2,915 Afghans offered their nominations for the 249-seat Wolesi Jirga or lower house, and 3,170 persons for 420-seat provincial councils.
Provincial councils through a separate procedure would elect the 102 member of Mushrano Jirga or upper house later after the inauguration of Wolesi Jirga.
The challenging time from June 4 to June 9 allows anyone to present the challenge against any candidates that are believed not qualified for the election. Enditem
Two held in US over al-Qaeda camp
BBC News / Thursday, 9 June, 2005
A Pakistani-American and his son have been arrested in the US after the son admitted attending an al-Qaeda training camp in Pakistan, officials say.
They say that Umer Hayat and his son Hamid are now being questioned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the Californian capital, Sacramento.
Hamid Hayat has allegedly confessed to planning attacks on US institutions.
They are now being held on charges of lying to the authorities and violating the terms of their visas.
The father and son were arrested in their home town of Lodi, 60kms (38 miles) south of Sacramento.
Relatives deny that either man has been involved in any kind of terrorism.
They say that Hamid Hayat is more interested in cricket than politics.
But the FBI affidavit quotes him as telling agents that he attended an al-Qaeda training camp in Pakistan for about six months in 2003 and 2004.
"Hamid further stated that he and others at the camp were being trained on how to kill Americans," the affidavit said.
"Hamid advised that he specifically requested to come to the United States to carry out his jihad mission," the document said.
The affidavit says that potential targets included hospitals and large food stores.
The affidavit further quotes 22-year-old Hayat as saying that photos of President Bush and other American political figures were pasted onto targets during weapons training.
It says that at the end of training, participants were given the opportunity to choose the nation where their attacks would be carried out.
Umer Hayat is accused of lying about his son's involvement in terrorism.
At least two other Muslims from Lodi have also have been detained on immigration violations.
Correspondents say that the US has launched numerous terrorism prosecutions since the September 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre, although many of these cases have fizzled out.
'Kandahar' Star's Memoir Captures Life Before And After Soviet Occupation
Golnaz Esfandiari - Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
Nelofer Pazira, the star of the internationally acclaimed film "Kandahar," has just published her memoirs of life in Afghanistan before and after the Soviet occupation. The book, titled "A Bed Of Red Flowers: In Search Of My Afghanistan," has been well received in Pazira's adopted home country of Canada, and will be published in the United States in the fall. In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL, Pazira recounts her memories of growing up in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan.
Prague, 8 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Many people first found out about Nelofer Pazira from the 2001 movie "Kandahar," a fictionalized account of her search for a childhood friend during the Taliban's rule of Afghanistan.
Her new book takes readers to a different Afghanistan -- the country as it was before the rule of the hard-line group.
Her memoir, Pazira says, is an attempt to break through stereotypes about the war-ravaged country to show the true face of Afghanistan.
"There are two images that always appear together in the press and elsewhere -- a woman who has no will or power and who is forced to live behind a burqa, or a man who is violent and loves to fight, like the pictures of bearded Taliban members. People think that the whole history of Afghanistan can be summarized in these two images. So I decided to break [this cliche] and try to explain that each country has its own shortcomings, and each country has good and bad times," Pazira says.
Pazira was born in 1973 into a prosperous family in the Afghan capital Kabul. She says her best memories of prewar Afghanistan are picnics to celebrate the Norouz new year holiday, and family trips to Mazar-e Sharif and other parts of the country.
During those years, she said, Afghans still felt hope about the future.
But all that changed in 1978 -- the year, she says, that her childhood ended.
Just before the Soviet invasion the following year, a number of Pazira's relatives -- including her father, a respected doctor -- was imprisoned by the Communist regime then in power.
She describes her worst memories of those days.
"I was seeing my father behind prison bars for the first time, and at the time I didn't understand what his crime was. But I couldn't be with my father, and I was asking myself, why should my father be in prison? What sin has he committed? And when I got older and realized that his only crime was that he didn't want to belong to a political party, that he was put in prison because he criticized the government, my hatred of power-hungry people grew," Pazira says.
Things only grew worse under the 10-year Soviet occupation. Afghanistan became a police state and the center of a bloody war between Soviet troops and the mujahedin.
Pazira's only comfort at that time was her best friend, Dyana. The two girls read poetry together, and threw stones at Soviet tanks.
During those years, many Afghans decided to leave their country in search of a better future. For a while, Pazira's father, deeply attached to Afghanistan, refused to emigrate -- until the day Pazira's brother was pressured into military service.
"My brother, who had just turned 14, came home wearing a military uniform. And this made my father -- who was very much against military issues -- decide that he couldn't stay in Afghanistan any longer," Pazira says.
After a decade of war and conflict, Pazira and her family finally escaped from Afghanistan across the mountains into Pakistan. They eventually settled in Canada, where Pazira began work as a journalist.
Throughout those years, Pazira and her friend Dyana remained close, writing letters back and forth. But in 1998, Dyana's letters abruptly stopped.
Pazira returned to Afghanistan to search for her -- the story that provided the setting for "Kandahar."
Pazira eventually discovered that Dyana had committed suicide. Her life under the Taliban had become unbearable.
Pazira has since set up a charity in memory of her friend. The Dyana Afghan Women's Fund helps women in Kandahar, the former stronghold of the Taliban.
In her book, Pazira also recounts her trip in 2004 to Moscow, where she met some ghosts of the past -- Russian soldiers and pilots who had been deployed in Afghanistan.
Pazira says she was sometimes surprised by the stories of the people she had always viewed as occupiers.
"A Russian pilot told me that he has nightmares every night, and that his nightmares are about the exact things that happened when they were in Afghanistan. Another soldier told me about how Afghans had killed a number of his friends. They never thought of themselves as occupiers. Even now many of them say it was not an occupation. They say: 'We came to help defend the democratic government of Afghanistan,'" Pazira says.
Pazira says she finally found some relief from her own haunting memories after talking to couples in Russia who had lost their sons in Afghanistan.
"Their 20-year-old or 22-year-old son had been killed in Afghanistan, and they weren't even able to see the body. They were shown only a coffin. They said that at the time, they were proud their son had been martyred in the name of his country, or in the name of democracy. But one woman told me, 'When the war started in Chechnya, I told my husband it was all a political game. We didn't lose our son for the improvement of society and the life of others; we lost him because of the political games of a handful of people looking to gain power," Pazira says.
"A Bed Of Red Flowers" is the latest book that has emerged on Western markets about Afghanistan's troubled recent history. Khaled Hosseini, the author of one such novel, "The Kite Runner," has described Pazira's work as "a haunting diary of the tragedies that have plagued Pazira's nation over the past 30 years."
Negotiations to Free Italian Hostage Said To Close to Conclusion
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
8 June 2005 -- Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini today said an Italian aid worker (eds: woman) kidnapped last month in Afghanistan is alive and in good health.
Speaking on Italian television, Fini gave few details but said Italian authorities know the hostage, Clementina Cantoni, is "well."
Afghan Interior Ministry spokesperson, Lutfullah Mashal, speaking during the press conference today in Kabul said that process of negotiations with the kidnappers is positive although he refused to comment more on the details of negotiations.
"We hope that this issue will be concluded peacefully very soon," Mashal said. "Last week and this week we have not talked, our negotiators and intermediaries have not talked with Clementina directly, but the kidnappers have not complained of her health problems or any other problem, and they have assured us that Clementina is well, fine and healthy."
International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) spokeswoman, Major Karen Tissot van Patot said today that "It is with sorrow and ongoing concern that ISAF marks the passage of the third week in the hostage situation involving Miss Clementina Cantoni. ISAF continues to support the efforts of the Ministry of Interior and the Italian embassy to facilitate her release as soon as possible."
Cantoni, 32, was abducted by armed men on May 16 while being driven to her home in Kabul. She was working for CARE International on a project helping Afghan widows and their families.
Fini said the motive for Cantoni's abduction "had nothing to do with terrorism or politics." He gave no details.
Afghan officials say Cantoni was likely seized by a criminal gang.
Horse OX-USA Inc. Brings New Sport to the U.S.
'Ox Game' Introduces Americans to Afghani Culture and is a Favorite of U.S. Soldiers Overseas
Press Release Source: Horse OX-USA Inc. Thursday June 9, 8:15 am ET
ONTARIO, Calif., June 9 /PRNewswire/ -- Horse OX-USA Inc. has announced the American debut of 'Ox Game' - a horseback sport that has been a favorite in Afghanistan for over two thousand years - as well as a favorite of U.S. soldiers based overseas. The American debut of Ox Game is the dream-come-true of Sonny Amin, who for 25 years has wanted to bring the sport to his new home in America and to see it played in every American city. Ox Game's American debut is scheduled for Sunday, June 12, 2005, 11:30 am, at 7330 Jurupa Road and Camino Real in Riverside, California.
Horse OX-USA projects that this very old - but new to the U.S. - horseback sport will be adopted into American horse sports and move through America like "wildfire." Amin notes, "There was a song called 'Wildfire' about a horse, and it was very magical - and so is Ox Game. Ox Game's destiny was to come to America, no doubt about it."
Amin says that Ox Game will prove to be an all-American horse sport and become an American sports favorite quickly. He believes this is because Ox Game features every aspect of what Americans want to see in sports: It is exciting, fast-moving, very aggressive, and at the same time "art in motion."
Spectators of Ox Game can watch expert riders/players as they play Ox Game on beautiful, well-trained and agile horses. Amin observes that spectators are often spellbound watching players fighting aggressively for the prize - a heavy, burlap, tailed object that serves as a substitute for the real goat that was used in the game for two thousand years. In addition, the horses seem to be as competitive as the horsemen; they appear to want to see their rider seize the prize. Says Amin, "Seeing those beautiful animals tangled together at times, along with their riders, keeps you on the edge of your seat - all great sports have that effect on us."
The rules of Ox Game have been Americanized and are similar to a combination of basketball and football rules. Amin commented, "The game rules are easily understood, but don't blink your eyes or you might miss the moment! This game is way beyond fast-moving. To say this game is exciting is indeed an understatement. It's thrilling, and you will love it!"
Don't miss Ox Game's premiere performance: Once again, the "Ox Game Exhibition" will be held on Sunday, June 12, 2005, 11:30 am, at 7330 Jurupa Road, Riverside, California, prior to the annual Jurupa Rodeo.
"Come see for yourself, and be a part of horse sports history in the making," concluded Amin.
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