Rocket attack in eastern Afghanistan wounds one
JALABAD, Mar. 10, (Pajhwok Afghan News) -- Two remote controlled rockets hit Jalalabad city, the capital of Nangarhar province, Wednesday morning wounding at least one person and destroying a house, police officials said Thursday. Security officials said that one rocket landed on a rivr bed and resulted in no casualties but the other hit a house in the Qasaba neighborhood.
"Two rockets were launched from the southern direction of the city at 2:00am and the one hit a house but as it didn’t explode there were no losses," Qari Amir Khan Liwal, deputy police chief of Nangarhar, said.
He blamed disruptive people and enemies of the country for the attack. "These people take advantage of darkness of the night and they run away after committing the crime; so it is very difficult to arrest them," Liwal said.
Abdul Saboor whose house was hit by the missile said though the rocket did not explode it damaged their house. "A room of ours collapsed and seriously wounded my father and we have taken him to Peshawar for treatment," Saboor said. Dr Abdul Aziz of Nangarhar public hospital said that they had sent one man who was severely wounded to Peshawar early this morning for treatment.Counter-
Narcotics Ministry welcomes proposal for making poppy legal
KABUL, March 10 (Pajhwok Afghan News) –Afghanistan has welcomed the proposal for legalizing poppy legal to make medically prescribed painkillers. Senlis Council, a Paris-based NGO, had made this suggestion on Wednesday in the fourth International Symposium, on Global Drug Policy organized in Vienna.
The Ministry of Counter-Narcotics announced here on Thursday that it supported the idea of poppy cultivation being made being legal under the control of the government.
Ikramuddin Sarwari, head of the public relation department of the Counter Narcotics Ministry told Pajhowk Afghan News that Counter Narcotics Minister Habibullah Qaderi, who had attended the two-day meeting in Vienna, "welcomed the suggestion and promised to be very helpful."
Senlis Council, which had organized the two day Vienna symposium, had said it was going to conduct a feasibility study in Afghanistan and present its findings in September.
An employee of the Counter Narcotics Ministry who did not want to be identified said that Afghanistan would first need to secure the permission of the UN for sowing the poppy crop. Currently, an internationally-funded poppy eradication program is under way and the government has dispatched teams to destroy existing poppy fields throughout the country. Currently the proposal would be against the prevailing law, the employee of the ministry said.The Constitution prohibits the sowing, smuggling and using of the narcotics and enjoins upon the government to take steps against this.
The employee also said that with the sowing of poppy terrorism would increase in Afghanistan and therefore it would not be good to allow it right now.
Currently Canada, Australia, Turkey, India and Austria are amongst the countries where poppy cultivation is allowed in a controlled environment. Six of these countries secured the mandate for poppy cultivation in 1961 through a UN convention and they can sow poppy in 12,500 acres of land. According to UN report, last year Afghanistan provided 4,200 tons of poppy accounting for 87% of the entire world supply.
Mohammad Mosa Marofi, a lecturer in the Law Faculty of Kabul University also believes that if the new proposal is adopted in Afghanistan, it would be beneficial. He added "Last year smugglers of poppy got millions in profits but the farmers didn't that much". According to him, if the new proposal is adopted, the benefit will go to the farmers, not to smugglers.
Parties reiterate demand for change in electoral laws
KABUL, Mar. 09, (Pajhwok Afghan News) – Several political parties of Afghanistan have called for instituting the proportional representation (PR) system in the forthcoming parliamentary elections of Afghanistan.
In the PR system, each party gets the parliamentary posts according to the proportion of the total votes they secure and people vote for the party rather than individual candidates.
However, in the single non-transferable vote system (SNTV), which is the system currently approved by the electoral law, each candidate is elected through his or her individual votes in a first past the post system. The PR system would give more importance to political parties rather than individual independent candidates.
The Ministry of Justice says 51 parties out of 82 recorded upon their request have been registered so far. Participants of the conference who were representatives of registered and unregistered parties emphasized the need for the PR system.
Abdul Razaq Halimi, deputy head of the Ghurzang-e-Milli Party said members of parliament in the SNTV system would be elected by the force of money and drugs.
Abdul Kabir Ranjbar, former head of the Afghanistan Lawyers Association, said he and along with a group of lawyers suggested the PR system to officials before the constitutional Loya Jirga, but it was not accepted.
Interior Minister denies Taliban involvement in Kandahar protest
KANDAHAR, March 9 (Pajhwok Afghan News) – Interior Minister Ali Ahmed Jalali denied claims by the Kandahar provincial government that the Taliban were involved in Monday's demonstration which resulted in injuries to several people. The Taliban spokesman also denied any involvement in the protest.
Over 4000 residents had staged a demonstration in protest against the kidnapping of several small children in the area. The protest had turned violent damaging government property and vehicles and forcing security forces to fire in the air to bring the situation under control. The Governor's office had later claimed that the protest was stage-managed by the Taliban and that several member of the Taliban were arrested. Kandahar residents and participants in the protest had however denied this saying it was only ordinary people protesting against government inaction.
In a press conference in Kandahar on Wednesday Jalali denied that the Taliban or Jaishul Muslimeen had any hand in the protest. In addition, Lutfullah Hakim, the spokesman of Taliban told Pajhwok Afghan News on Wednesday that they were not involved in the protest held on Monday and that he considered it the right of each Afghan to protest for his right. "During our seven years of government no child was kidnapped but now its is on its peak" he added
Officials in Kandahar had claimed on Tuesday that in the protest against child kidnapping there was a group of Taliban involved. Khalid Pashtoon, the spokesman of Kandahar governor had told Pajhwok that they had arrested some gunmen related to Taliban. "The gunmen were related to Jaishul Muslimeen a group separated from Taliban and its leader was Atiqullah Agha" he had said.
According to sources and security officials there were almost 4000 people in the protest armed with sticks, stones and knives shouting slogans against child kidnapping. According to the source, when they reached the office of the Governor, they stoned it, breaking windows. They then started stoning the vehicles of the coalition forces, and the latter resorted to firing in the air to control the situation.
Jalali said the people of Kandahar were noble people and would not let the Jaishul Muslimeen interfere in their work. "We have met different government officials and tribal leaders during our two-day trip and will give the report to the president" he said Child kidnapping in Kandahar has increased in the last few months..
Afghan Demonstrations Test Warlords-Turned-Administrators
RFE/RL 03/09/2005 By Amin Tarzi
Demonstrations rocked two of Afghanistan's five largest cities on 7 March -- Kandahar in the south and Mazar-e Sharif in the north. While the reasons behind these protests varied and the central government's response to them was markedly different, one factor connects the incidents: the presence of former warlords acting as governors of the two provinces.
According to a statement by the Afghan Interior Ministry on 7 March, Kandahar residents took to the streets in protest over "security issues and child kidnapping." The central government made a quick and high-level response to the incident, sending Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali to Kandahar on 8 March. An Interior Ministry spokesman said President Hamid Karzai is very concerned about recent abductions and overall insecurity in Kandahar and dispatched Jalali to personally investigate the situation.
The demonstrations, in which people chanted slogans against the United States and in support of the ousted Taliban regime, must have had a deja vu effect in Kabul's circles of power. After all, it was popular disgust with insecurity in Kandahar that propelled the Taliban onto the political scene in 1994. The Taliban later became instruments of foreign powers and international terrorist organizations, but their initial popularity stemmed from their ability to stop kidnappings, rapes and assaults on civilians by warlords or gangs who exploited the lack of security provided by the central government.
Demonstrators in Mazar-e Sharif, the administrative capital of Balkh Province, were demanding the resignation of Balkh Governor Ata Mohammad Nur and the dismissal of Sayyed Habib, the head of the community section of Balkh's health department. The protesters claimed that Nur has usurped people's land and that the health department has fired doctors without legitimate cause.
It remains unclear whether Kabul has intervened in or commented on the demonstrations in Mazar-e Sharif. Certainly, no high-level investigative team has been dispatched to the north.
Nur, called "the founder of democracy" by state-owned Balkh Television, said in an interview on 7 March that the protesters were "stupid people" who misused democracy and had come to Mazar-e Sharif from neighboring provinces. Nur also dismissed the charges that he has taken people's land and claimed the dismissed doctors were lazy.
"I will not let anyone take their pushcarts to the streets and impose their wishes on me by staging rallies. This cannot happen. If they have documents, I ask them to come to me. I am sure the crimes of those who have organized the demonstration will be revealed one day," Nur added.
Back in Kandahar, the security situation -- particularly the kidnapping of children for ransom or sexual assault -- has been deteriorating. According to a BBC report from Kandahar, an average of one child is kidnapped per week. There are fears, however, that the real number is much higher as some parents do not to report kidnappings for fear of reprisals or out of shame if their child has been a victim of sexual assault.
Kandahar's worsening security may be linked to an array of issues, such as the increasing dominance of drug lords in the province; lack of resources devoted to personal security as the hunt for neo-Taliban militants continues; and the shifting of focus by some groups from militancy to criminality.
However, both Balkh and Kandahar provinces are governed by former warlords who have been absorbed into the government structure, but who have remained in the same geographical area over which they exercised power through their private militias.
Nur formerly commanded Military Corps No. 7, which in 2002 and 2003 battled forces loyal to General Abdul Rashid Dostum's Junbish-e Melli-ye Islami party in northern Afghanistan. Karzai appointed Nur as Balkh governor in August 2004, apparently in exchange for his agreeing to hand over some of the heavy weapons in his possession (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 August 2004). Nur's militia, though officially dismantled, continues to be the main force in Balkh.
Gul Agha Sherzai served as Kandahar governor from late 2001 until August 2003, when in an effort to improve security there and reduce the power of local warlords, Karzai replaced him with Mohammad Yusof Pashtun. Sherzai was called to Kabul to serve as minister of urban development, but reportedly rejected the offer and remains idle. Under Pashtun's administration, the overall security situation in Kandahar took at sharp turn for the better. However, in the latest Afghan cabinet reshuffle in December 2004, Sherzai was reappointed as governor of Kandahar with an added, albeit symbolic, portfolio of minister adviser to Karzai (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 December 2004).
So far, the most successful transformation of a former warlord to a central government administrator has been the case of Mohammad Ismail Khan, who ruled the western Herat Province until his dismissal and later appointment in December as energy minister (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 22 January 2005). Ismail Khan not only no longer rules Herat, but he has proven to be a good administrator in Kabul.
In the absence of any clear-cut method to disenfranchise warlords, commanders and their like, the best way to absorb them into Afghanistan's central administrative system seems to be to remove them from their geographical zones of power. The situation in Balkh and certainly in Kandahar suggests that leaving local strongmen in their strongholds does not lead to better security in those regions.
AFGHANISTAN: Child kidnapping alarming in the south - rights activist
KANDAHAR, 10 March (IRIN) - Government officials and human rights activists have been alarmed at the increasing number of child kidnappings in the southern Kandahar province after several kidnapped children were allegedly killed when their parents failed to meet ransom demands.
Thousands of people rallied in Kandahar on Sunday calling for action to arrest and prosecute the kidnappers. “We are deeply concerned about an increase in child kidnapping in the southern region,” Shamsuddin Tanweer, the head of child rights in the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) southern region office, told IRIN in Kandahar. According to local media reports in Kandahar, one child is kidnapped per week in the region on average. There are fears that the actual number of kidnappings is higher, as many parents do not report the disappearance of their children, fearing reprisals.
Sunday’s protest turned violent when protesters tried to approach the governor’s residence and stoned police who tried to prevent them doing so. “At least five Afghan policemen and one protester were injured when the demonstrators became violent,” Gen. Mohammad Salim Ihsas, chief of security in the province, told IRIN. Protesters threw stones, but when they tried to climb over police vehicles to approach the governor's residence police fired into the air, Ihsas added.
Protesters IRIN interviewed were angry no measures had been taken against child abductions in the Kandahar region. “They kidnap our children and send us their body parts and we are just watching it,” an unidentified protester told IRIN. He said the kidnappers demanded large amounts of money and sent the chopped fingers of a kidnapped child to show they were serious. “No child has so far been returned,” he noted.
Child kidnapping is still a serious issue in many parts of Afghanistan. According to officials at the interior ministry in Kabul, at least 200 children were kidnapped during 2004. The problem existed in the northern province of Mazar-e Sharif, the northeastern province of Kunduz, Takhar and Badakhshan and now it is becoming an issue in the south, government officials said in Kabul after Sunday’s protest.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai also expressed serious concern on the issue of child kidnapping on Tuesday as he addressed a gathering on International Women’s Day.
The president said terrorists and anti-government elements were behind these acts. Karzai assigned Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali to Kandahar to look into the issue closely. “One horrible method that terrorists have used is to kidnap our children from the streets. This is a heinous crime and it is the government's responsibility to fight this crime and ensure the safety of its people,” said Karzai.
The UN's children's agency UNICEF said it was also working to eradicate the problem. “UNICEF shares the concerns of ordinary Afghan people at every reported case of child abduction, kidnapping or trafficking,” Edward Carwardine, a UNICEF spokesman, told IRIN in the capital Kabul.
Recognising that much work remains to be done in fostering the rule of Law in Afghanistan, and in introducing the necessary legal protection for children, UNICEF is working closely with the government and other partners as part of a National Plan of Action to combat child trafficking, he added. A recent Afghanistan national human development report recognised that children made up the most vulnerable sector of society. The report noted that 20 percent of children die before the age of five and that more than 300,000 children may have perished during the conflict.
Truth Commission proposed for Afghanistan
A truth and reconciliation commission has been proposed for Afghanistan in order to probe into past gross violations of human rights and to prevent such practices in the future.
This is one of the recommendations contained in the resolutions presented before the international workshop on rebuilding of Afghanistan concluded at a local hotel the other day. Department of International Relations, KU and Hanns Seidel Foundation, Islamabad jointly organised the two-day moot.
The resolution asked the Independent Human Rights Commission of Afghanistan to constitute the truth and reconciliation commission to unleash a process of integration for bringing into national fold all the armed resistance groups of the land-locked nation.
The workshop called upon the Afghan government to conduct a proactive diplomatic campaign to highlight their needs before the international community. It further called that multi-national institutions should be established to ensure peace and stability in the war-torn country.
The resolution asked Afghanistan to extensively work on improving trade relations with all its neighbours especially Pakistan and Iran. Pakistan should also work towards improving trade relations with Afghanistan by rethinking and revitalising the Afghan Transit and Trade Agreement and reduce bureaucratic hurdles in the way for better trade relations.
Use Afghan Opium Crops to Make Morphine, NGO Says
Reuters 03/09/2005 By Francois Murphy
VIENNA - Opium from Afghanistan, the world's biggest source of heroin, should instead be used to legally produce morphine and codeine, a drugs think tank said on Wednesday in a suggestion cautiously endorsed by Afghanistan.
The Senlis Council, a Paris-based non-governmental organization (NGO) said it was launching a feasibility study into licensed opium production in Afghanistan to counter a global shortage of the painkillers.
"There is a huge shortage of those essential medicines in the world -- morphine and codeine -- and Afghanistan has certainly the expertise to be one of the producers of morphine and codeine in the face of this huge shortage," Emmanuel Reinert, head of the Senlis Council, told reporters.
Reinert said the shortage of morphine and codeine amounted to roughly 10,000 tons of opium equivalent a year, while Afghanistan produces roughly 4,000 tons a year.
"For the moment, Afghanistan relies heavily on opium poppy cultivation for survival. Our solution would allow farmers to carry on producing opium for the legitimate and useful legal market instead of the illicit trade in heroin," he added.
Afghanistan's Minister of Counter Narcotics, Habibullah Qaderi, cautiously supported the proposal. "We will not have any objection provided this idea helps Afghanistan and the international community," Qaderi told the news conference.
Afghanistan's opium cultivation reached a record high in 2004, the United Nations drugs office said last year, warning that the country was at risk of becoming a "narco-state."
The study's findings will be presented in September. If they suggested the idea should be implemented, the council would launch one or two pilot projects in Afghanistan, he said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government has refused to allow U.S. forces to destroy opium crops by spraying them from the air, which would destroy the livelihoods of farmers in a country where opium is thought to be 60 percent of the economy.
Instead, Karzai has asked foreign donors to focus their anti-drugs efforts on helping Afghanistan promote alternative crops and set up law enforcement bodies to catch and prosecute drug warlords.
MacAndrews launches door-to-door service to/from Afghanistan
Container shipping line, MacAndrews has launched door-to-door services to and from Afghanistan for shippers based in North America, Europe, the Middle East or the India sub-continent.
The shipping line is promoting Port Qasim in Pakistan as the most efficient cargo gateway for Afghanistan, and has established a network of through-transport services that connect to its EPIC, Indamex and Swahili Express container shipping services, all of which make regular scheduled calls at Pakistan's main port.
MacAndrews now offers efficient onward connections to and from hubs in Kabul, Jalalabad and Khandahar over Port Qasim. The company is optimistic that the services will satisfy an increasing demand for regular and dependable cargo movement services to the region. The line is able to accommodate aid, security forces and commercial cargo.
From Port Qasim, transit times are around eight days to Kabul and six days to Jalalabad and Khandahar (after completion of transit formalities with Pakistani customs). MacAndrews is routing cargo for Kabul and Jalalabad via Peshawar, whilst cargo in transit to Khandahar will cross the border at Chaman.
"With the international community continuing to pledge billions of dollars in aid for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of infrastructure in Afghanistan, major cargo flows into the country are evident," said Jim Robb, general manager, Indian Trades. "Pakistan has been a gateway for Afghan imports and exports for more than half-a-century, and whilst the regime in Afghanistan appears to support the idea of forging multiple trading routes rather than depending on one, we believe that Port Qasim offers the most efficient gateway for international trade."
He added that the future opening of Afghanistan's borders will give landlocked countries in Central Asia the opportunity to take advantage of the transit corridors to access the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf through Pakistani ports. "Ironing out the barriers to developing these routes will help change trade directions and accelerate Afghanistan's reconstruction as it grows into a major trade hub between Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia."
In Europe, MacAndrews has been offering door-to-door intermodal solutions to its customers for over thirty years. Traditionally an intra-European regional container shipping line, MacAndrews began to expand from its core European services in 2003 when it started offering a service between Europe, the Middle East and India / Pakistan, buying slots from the EPIC Consortium. Last year, the company joined the Indamex Consortium to offer a service between the Indian sub-continent, Middle East and the US East Coast, where it operates the 3,600 TEU Indamex Colorado.
Afghan refugees returning to their home land say their land has been seized
KUNDUZ, Pajhwok Afghan News March 9, 2005 --Around fifty refuges returning from Pakistan to their home province of Takhar in northern Kunduz, some after 15 years, turned outside the offices of the human rights commission on Tuesday March 8th, claiming that powerful militiamen have been occupying their land and refusing to return whats legally theirs.
The residents from Qolabad village of Darqad district claim that they have documentation to prove property ownership, dating back to fifty years. But they say they cannot dare ask for the return of their properties because of fear of powerful figures. Most of the refugees have returned home after 15 to 20 years of immigration.
Thirty-two year-old, Wazir Rahman, who returned from Pakistan 8 months ago with his family of thirteen, spoke to Pajhwok Afghan News: "We cannot complain to any one. They have forcefully taken our properties and even occupied our land that we owned fifty- years ago. If we are not looked after, it is better to go back to Pakistan. We had a better standard of living there, and now we can barely earn AFA 50 a day."
Rahman said that they had taken their grievance up with the Takhar police department, but he said those who have seized their land, are in the process of preparing false documents for the land ownership by offering bribes.
Another returnee, 65 year-old Mohamad Akhan, says he had to provide for 15 members of his family including two sons. "As Afghans, we voted for Hamid Karzai in the presidential elections, but if he is unjust, we will boycott the parliamentary elections, and leave Afghanistan."
Some of these protesters claim that their land is forcibly bought from them for a low price and they are warned to leave the area. But Qari Mohammad Kabir Marzban, governor of Takhar province claims that these people had never lived in Takahr province but that they moved from an area of Bajaur Agency of Pakistan and have newly settled here.
But Governor Marzban, speaking in a phone interview with Pajhwok Afghan News said that these people had to migrate during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and they have returned now. If they have documents of ownership, there is no problem.
As the protesters have come to the human rights commission regional office, and asked for justice in one voice, the commission authorities have promised an investigation.
The head of the human rights office, Shamsuddin Hamedi in Kunduz province told Pajhwok:" We will soon dispatch a team that will comprise of different groups dealing with human rights, to monitor and record their complaints and if necessary take legal action."
Recently around 400 families have returned to Takhar province from Pakistan, claiming that their properties have been seized by local powerful figures. They have said that if the properties are returned, they will boycott the parliamentary elections.
‘If I don't take bribes, my children will die of hunger,’ says Afghan government employee
KABUL, Mar. 09, (Pajhwok Afghan News) -- The Afghan ministry of finance says the government does not have any money to offer salary increases to government employees who complain that their wages are too low. The Afghan government figures suggest that there are 350,000 government employees.
A government employee, who did not want to be named, speaking to Pajhwok Afghan News claimed that his salary was too low: "My monthly salary is AFA 1,700 and this covers the expenses for three days, for my family of five."
He said one of the reasons why government officers take bribes is because of the low salaries. "If I don't take bribes, my children will die of hunger."
Aziz Shams, a spokesman for the ministry of finance admits that government officers take bribes because of their low salaries.
"The ministry of finance has no specific schedule to increase the salaries of government employees'," he said. He said the administrative reforms commission is responsible for increasing salaries for professional government employees.
"The program for administrative reforms is created within the government framework which will determine salaries of the government employees according to their qualification and professional experience." Most employees complain about the varying salary scales set by the government.
Zabiullah, an employee of the transport ministry in an interview with Pajhwok, said: "What kind of justice is this that a minister gets a salary more than AFA 60,000 and we get AFA 2,000. If a minister is a government employee, so are we."
The finance ministry press office says the salary scale of a government employee starts at AFA 2,000, and increasing to AFA 5,000, depending on their rank. Ministers and deputies working for the government get a salary of AFA 60,000 and an additional allowance of AFA 30,000 for their food.
The administrative reforms commission which was established two years ago began screening government officials based on a new criteria of employment, they then re-appointed 22,000 out of the 350,000 government employees to different ministries.
According to Mohammad Anwar Rahmani, the head of the coordination administrative reforms commission, the key positions in each ministry is announced, and a salary scale is proposed based on their qualifications and experience. A salary of a low ranking government employee is fixed by the commission at AFA 4,000 and a high ranking employees will earn AFA 11,000. Some economic experts say the levels of government salaries are unjust. They think that if prices are not controlled, salary increases are meaningless.
Saifuddin Saihoon, an economist told Pajhwok in a phone interview: "If the government does not control prices, the salary increases are meaningless. The government should give its employees the coupons to solve their problems and to keep the prices stable."
KYRGYZSTAN: Afghan refugees seek third-country resettlement
ALMATY, 10 March (IRIN) - Life has been hard on Saliha Azizullah. Arriving in Kazakhstan nine months earlier from her native Afghanistan, she had hoped for a better life in Central Asia's largest nation - only to have that dream turn into a nightmare.
"All I wanted was a better future for my children," the 35-year-old told IRIN in her simple two-room, Soviet style flat, in the Kazakh commercial capital, Almaty.
She recalled in vivid detail how her husband, a prison guard under former Afghan prime minister Bulbuddin Hekmatyar, had repeatedly been beaten and tortured due to his former employment, as was she on occasion, prompting them to move north to Kazakhstan.
But unlike her, her husband never quite recovered from the ordeal; a torment that drove him to jump from their sixth floor flat; the same flat she now shares alone with her four young children.
"I can't go back to Afghanistan. It's not safe there and I have no job or money," she exclaimed crying: "I want to leave. I want to go to another country."
According to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), she is not alone. Of the 660 Afghan refugees currently living in Kazakhstan today, the vast majority regard third-country resettlement as their primary hope.
"What they want is a better future in a Western country. They want third-country resettlement because they think their future here is very limited," former UNHCR protection officer, Roka Kudo, in Almaty, told IRIN.
Testament to that is the low number of Afghans in Kazakhstan interested in returning to their homeland. Since the collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001, millions of Afghans have repatriated from Pakistan and Iran, the largest host countries to the Afghan diaspora, while returns from the former Soviet republic have been minimal.
"The vast majority of Afghans in the country do not want to return," Kudo said, adding, however, their door was always open to assist those who wished to. In 2002, 15 people repatriated, followed by another 15 people in 2003, he explained.
But while the desire to return is limited, so too is the desire to remain in Kazakhstan. Although those Afghans recognised by the Kazakh government enjoy legal status in the country, the lack of a national law dedicated to refugees presents problems. Current legislation lacks any provision for their rights or any specific obligations on the part of the state, nor does it provide for refugee determination status procedures through which they should be recognised.
"Many of them have legal status as refugees which provides them with certain legal protection, but still there are problems," Eugeniy Zhovtis, director of Kazakhstan's International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, told IRIN. "Most of them are living with a temporary residency permit which is extended," the activist said, noting, however, their status was unclear and questions remained as to how the government would deal with them.
Most Afghans in Kazakhstan, unlike Saliha, have lived in the country for years, primarily in Almaty or in the southern city of Chimkent. Many in fact, were students during the time of the Soviet Union, speak Russian and have lost touch with their former homeland long ago.
Vastok Ahmadulla is one such example. Originally from Kabul and arriving in 1991, he studied at the University of Dushanbe before finally settling in Almaty. Since gaining Kazakh citizenship in 1998, the 42-year-old ethnic Tajik has spearheaded efforts to assist Afghan refugees in his adopted country as president of the Afghan Diaspora Fund.
"Jobs and housing are the primary problems faced by Afghans in the country," Ahmadulla offered, an issue reiterated again and again by Afghans on the street.
In fact, employment opportunities for the group remain non-existent, with most Afghans, including former doctors and teachers, having no choice but to work in local bazaars to sustain themselves.
"I came here because of the war...I don't work now," Mohammad Hashim, a former mechanic from Kabul, told IRIN, whose son works in a local market earning just enough to pay the US $300 monthly rent.
"Kazakhstan has been my home for 13 years....It's hard for me to get a job because I don't have a residency permit and my age," the 50-year-old father-of-six explained from the door of his flat in the city's western district of Aksai, the primary home to Almaty's Afghan community.
But with housing costs at a premium, and employment opportunities nearly non-existent, his options are limited. Forced into living in a crowded two-roomed flat, but concerned about possible eviction, he has taken to hiding four of his children in the bathroom when the landlord drops by.
Like most Afghans in Kazakhstan, he dreams of a secure life in another country - but not Afghanistan. "The life I have to lead is inhumane. How long can I bare to hide my children in the bathroom? I want to live my life with dignity just like you," he asserted. Such sentiment was echoed by 29-year-old Farzana Sidiki.
Recently divorced, the mother-of-two relies on the goodwill of relatives and members of the Afghan community to sustain herself and her family. "I have problems feeding my children, education and paying the rent" she said, conceding her ultimate dream was resettlement in Canada.
Hospital staff threaten to resign unless their colleagues are given their jobs back
JALALABAD, Mar. 10, (Pajhwok Afghan News) -- Eighty workers of a district hospital in Nangarhar province warned on Thursday to stop working over the government's dismissal of dozens of fellow workers.
Eighty hospital workers from eastern Nangarhar province said they would resign from their jobs over the unfair dismissal of their colleagues. They say the government has cut down the number of beds in the hospital from 50 to 30, and dismissed 50 out of the 80 hospital staff.
They demanded that the government re-employed the physicians, nurses and technicians who were dismissed. They further demanded that their salaries be back-dated for the last four months and re-install the 80 bed hospital.
A doctor speaking on behalf of the hospital said that they decided to cut down on the number of staff and beds to benefit the people rather than their own benefit.
"Our region has a population of 300,000 and if the beds are cut down to 30 with 30 personnel that will not be effective at all," Dr Pachakhail told Pajhwok Afghan News.
However Dr Fazl Mohammad Ibrahimi, the head of the public health department of Nangarhar, said that it was the right of the workers to ask for their salaries, but the government didn’t have enough money to pay them at the moment. "But we need to pay them for two months salary and not four."
Regarding the job cuts and minimizing the hospital's beds, Ibrahimi said: "This has been ordered according to a new administrative ruling from the central government but we will try and prevent this happening because the people of Ghani Khail need it."
Though officials of the public health ministry say they are unaware of these developments in Ghani Khail district, they confirm that the ministry has worked out a policy to cut down the number of staff at the hospital and improve their working conditions.
Girls Kung Fu team to be launched in Helmand
HELMAND, Mar. 10, (Pajhwok Afghan News) -- Twelve girls from the southwestern province of Helmand are preparing to launch an all girls Kung Fu Twa team in the provinces, Thursday.
Sultana Amini, the team leader, who is an employee of the provincial government of Herat told Pajhwok Afghan News that the twelve girls, four of whom, have returned from Iran or Pakistan want to practice in the game.
"I have talked to the head of the provincial sports department, Ghulam Ghaus Dawari, and the girls' school will provide a space for the girls to begin exercising and practicing their sport,” Ms Amini said.
Ghaus Dawari, chief of sports of Helmand, said it was a good move to have introduced girls to the sport, but there was lack of equipment. "The big problem now is to find the equipment and I have talked to the Provincial Reconstruction Team who promises us to help," Dawari said.
A former beautician and florist in Iran, the team leader is eager to get a team of girl’s together and provincial teams to eventually compete against each other.
"We can find the money and hire a coach for the girls; we initiated this move in order to encourage the girls," Amini added. But Amini has found it a great struggle.
She said nobody has helped them yet and that there were some people against girls taking part in sport activities. This is the first team of women to take part in games in Helmand province.
Rice to Visit Asian Leaders Next Week
WASHINGTON (AP) - North Korean nuclear ambitions will be a central topic when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meets Asian leaders next week. Rice will travel to China, Japan and South Korea and will also visit India, Pakistan and Afghanistan before returning to Washington. The State Department did not give a detailed schedule, nor say which leaders Rice will see in each country.
China is anchoring the stalled six-way effort to deter North Korea from building a nuclear weapon. North Korea has refused to return to the talks for now.
Rice "will review with our partners our diplomatic efforts to convene the next round of six-party talks," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Wednesday.
The trip will also highlight reconstruction and democratic progress in Afghanistan and what Boucher described as the United States' "long-term engagement with Pakistan."
The Bush administration considers Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf one of its most important allies in the fight against terrorism and admires his leadership in guiding his country away from Islamic fundamentalism. Musharraf has resisted international pressure to step down as the country's Army chief, however.
The United States wants Musharraf to quit the Army and move his country further toward democracy, but has put little public pressure on him recently.
Pakistani tribesmen agree to sell heavy weapons in disarmament drive
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) - Tribesmen in Pakistan's restive southwest have agreed to sell their heavy weapons to the government as part of an effort to keep arms out of the hands of militants, clan leaders said.
"We have decided to hand over our heavy weapons to the authorities at the market price," tribal elder Masood Khan told reporters in Wana, the main town in the rugged South Waziristan area where troops are hunting for Al-Qaeda-linked fighters. The government last week said it would seize the weapons if they were not sold.
Members of the dominant Mehsud tribe agreed to the buy-back after holding a Jirga, or tribal assembly, as the deadline for accepting the offer ended Thursday.
Tribesmen will be allowed to keep some small arms for personal protection, officials said, but anti-aircraft guns, missiles, mortars, rocket launchers, landmines, hand-grenades, light machineguns and assault rifles have to be given up. The tribal belt was flooded with thousands of heavy weapons worth millions of dollars during the 1979-89 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
US officials believe Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden and other key militants have been sheltering somewhere along the mountainous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001.
Pakistan's military said its troops killed 303 militants in 42 operations last year, destroying hideouts and training camps run by foreign Al-Qaeda militants. Security forces put their losses at 202 dead and 467 injured in battles in the tribal region.
Iran 'given Pakistan centrifuges'
Pakistan has confirmed that the former head of its nuclear weapons programme, AQ Khan, gave centrifuges for enriching uranium to Iran. It is the first time Pakistani officials have publicised details of what nuclear materials the disgraced scientist passed on to Iran.
Information minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told the BBC's Urdu service that "a few" centrifuges were involved. Iran is under international pressure over its nuclear ambitions.
The Pakistani information minister stated again on Thursday that his government had no knowledge of Dr Khan's activities. Last month he dismissed reports that the US was probing whether Dr Khan had sold nuclear secrets to Arab nations.
European countries and the UN recently joined the US in criticising Iran for allegedly not keeping a pledge to suspend uranium enrichment activities. UN atomic energy agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei said this month that the "ball is very much in Iran's court to come clean".
The US accuses Iran of cynically pursuing nuclear weapons, but Tehran insists its programme is peaceful. The US has called Dr Khan the "biggest proliferator" of nuclear technology. He shocked Pakistan early last year when he went on television and confessed to leaking nuclear secrets.
He said he took full responsibility for proliferating nuclear weapons to Iran, Libya and North Korea. Dr Khan had held the post of scientific adviser since retiring as head of the country's top nuclear facility in 2001 but was sacked after his confession. He has been held under virtual house since his confession.
Although the government has passed on information about his former activities to the UN's International Atomic Energy Authority, it will not let any foreign officials interview him.
India Delivers 50 New Trucks to Afghan National Army
By Master Sgt. D. Keith Johnson, USA - Special to American Forces Press Service
KABUL, Afghanistan, March 9, 2005 – Balloons were tied to brand-new trucks aligned into an L-shape, ready to be driven away. But salesmen weren’t haggling with customers trying to make deals.
U.S. Army Maj. Scott Stewart points to the signature block for Baz Mohammed Jawhari of the Afghan Ministry of Defense as U.S. Col. Len Shartzer and Indian military attache Gen. Nair Balakrishnah look on. Stewart and Shartzer are assigned to the Office of Military Cooperation - Afghanistan. Photo by Master Sgt. D. Keith Johnson, USA
The government of India turned over the keys to 50 4-and-a-half-ton trucks donated to Afghanistan in a recent ceremony at the Afghan National Army’s 1st Brigade, 201st Corps, motor pool at the Presidential Palace here. The new trucks are the latest installment of vehicles donated by the Indian government to the rebuilding of Afghanistan.
India’s foreign minister, Natwar Singh, symbolically turned over the keys to all of the trucks to Abdul Rahim Wardak, Afghanistan’s defense minister. “The successes of the Afghan National Army could not have been possible without the help and cooperation of many nations,” said Wardak. “Today we are seeing a very good example of such cooperation from a country (with) which Afghanistan enjoys historic and very deep-rooted ties of friendship and cooperation.”
To conclude the ceremony, transfer documents were signed by Baz Mohammed Jawhari of the Afghan Ministry of Defense, Indian defense attache Gen. Nair Balakrishnah and U.S. Army Col. Len Shartzer from the Office of Military Cooperation - Afghanistan.
The delivery brings the total to 285 vehicles out of a pledged 300. Fifteen ambulances are scheduled for delivery in the next few months to complete the donation.
“India has been an excellent partner providing support to Afghanistan, and these efforts are very much appreciated,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. David Braxton, director of logistics operations at the Office of Military Cooperation - Afghanistan, the facilitator of the ceremony.
At the Bonn Agreement in March 2002, governments were asked to support the rebuilding of Afghanistan. The government of India decided to support Afghanistan by donating the 300 vehicles. The deliveries started in June 2003. In addition to the 50 trucks donated at the ceremony, India already has delivered 100 2-and-a-half-ton trucks, 120 jeeps and 15 ambulances.
The vehicles, produced by various Indian vehicle manufacturers, are all brand-new, although they are slightly different from their Indian counterparts. The donated vehicles all have the steering wheels on the left side. Indian vehicles, as part of the British influence from years past, usually are driven from the right side.
International donations are important to the future of Afghanistan, and of the Afghan National Army, a point not lost on Wardak. “It has been a very generous gesture and a good example of regional cooperation,” he said. “We are looking forward to further cooperation with the friendly government of India.”
(Army Reserve Master Sgt. D. Keith Johnson is assigned to the Office of Military Cooperation-Afghanistan.)
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