Warlord rapes going unchecked in Afghanistan, rights group says
KABUL, March 13 (AFP) - A human rights group Sunday urged Afghanistan to tackle the rampant abuse of power by warlords and militias who are allegedly involved in the widespread rape of women and children. US-based Human Rights Watch said the Afghan government, the United Nations and NATO member states had not done enough to check the power of local strongmen who hold sway outside the capital Kabul.
"Warlords and their troops in many areas have been implicated in widespread rape of women and children, murder, illegal detention, forced displacement, human trafficking and forced marriage," the rights group said ahead of a meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva next week.
"Local military and police forces, even in Kabul, have been involved in arbitrary arrests, kidnapping, extortion, torture, and extrajudicial killings of criminal suspects," it added. Key to tackling the problem and bringing abusers to book is disarming illegal militias and establishing a functioning judiciary and police force, the group said. "Warlords and armed factions, including remaining Taliban forces, dominate most of the country and routinely abuse human rights, particularly the rights of women and girls," it added.
The New York-based group said that the "international community has failed to contribute sufficient troops or resources to adequately address the situation, and basic human rights conditions remain poor in many parts of the country, especially outside of Kabul," it added.
Steps had been taken to tackle the power of warlords by removing Ismael Khan as governor of Herat and by dismissing powerful former defence minister Marshal Mohammed Qasim Fahim, but more needed to be done, Human Rights Watch said. Women had also made progress with widespread participation in the country's first presidential election in October but the country was still threatened by the power of drug kingpins.
"Afghanistan was the largest worldwide producer of opium and heroin in 2004 and drug profits led to continuing insecurity in rural areas, and stifled reconstruction and development efforts, including efforts to improve rule of law," the group said.
The UN Human Rights Commission should raise the number of human rights monitors in the country and deploy more of them to regional centers where they can more robustly monitor human rights abuses, it added. It should also request NATO to immdiately expand its peacekeeping operations so as to provide much-needed security to the western, southern, and southeastern areas of Afghanistan.
The Washington Times 03/12/2005 - James Morrison
The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan is urging Congress to approve $5 billion in additional aid to a country that was shattered by wars and terrorism but now is making major progress toward peace and democracy. Passing the supplemental spending bill "would signal a long-term commitment to Afghanistan," Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told the American Enterprise Institute yesterday.
Mr. Khalilzad urged lawmakers to understand Afghans' fear that the United States will abandon the nation, as it did after the end of Soviet occupation in 1989. The country soon fell into chaos, with battling warlords carving up the nation, until the brutal Taliban regime gained power in 1996 and began sheltering Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network.
Since the United States overthrew the Taliban in 2001 in retaliation for bin Laden's September 11 terrorist attacks, Afghanistan has made steady progress that culminated last year in a free and fair presidential election, the ambassador said.
"Our message is clear. We are proud of Afghanistan's success. We understand their fear of abandonment. ... We will not make that mistake again," he said. Mr. Khalilzad called for a U.S.-Afghan "strategic partnership" that will recognize the South Asian nation as a "land bridge" to the Muslim nations of the former Soviet Union. He said the success of democracy in Afghanistan can serve as a model for those nations still stuck with authoritarian governments.
Mr. Khalilzad said the "appeal of these universal ideas" of democracy, human rights and a free market "is our most powerful weapon in the battle against extremism." "A U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership will facilitate critical access to an area where we are welcomed by its people," he said, noting that the demand for English-language education is "unquenchable."
He noted that the warlords are losing their military power, and many fugitive Taliban members "who do not have blood on their hands" are taking advantage of an amnesty program. "The government has broken the back of warlordism," he said, adding that the election was "a major defeat for the Taliban," which had threatened to disrupt it.
Mr. Khalilzad predicted that Afghanistan "will soon turn the corner on the drug problem." One of the top criticisms of the Afghan government has been its failure to prevent a resurgence in poppy growing after the overthrow of the Taliban. "We have seen Afghanistan largely as a challenge, but we cannot claim victory so easily. ... We need to remain engaged," he said.
Dutch prosecutors accuse two Afghans of war crimes
THE HAGUE - Dutch prosecutors accused two Afghan men on Friday of committing war crimes including torture while they were top officials in the Khad secret police during Communist rule of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Hesamuddin Hesam, 57, and Habibullah Jalalzoy, 58, were arrested late last year after living in the Netherlands for years despite having their asylum applications rejected.
Hesam was head of the Khad military intelligence from 1983 to 1991, while Jalalzoy was Khad chief of interrogation. Prosecutors accused both men of a catalogue of war crimes and human rights abuses including killing and brutal torture.
At a pre-trial hearing in The Hague, prosecutor Fred Teeven named several of their alleged victims, one of whom was shot dead while others were subjected to electric shocks, forced to stay awake for days or sit outside in a tub of cold water. Dutch prosecutors estimate 200,000 political opponents were tortured by the various branches of Afghan intelligence during Communist rule. About 50,000 died.
Hesam's lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld said her client denied the charges and would prove his innocence, adding the defence needed more time to gather evidence and to travel to Afghanistan to interview witnesses. The trial could begin in September.
Jalalzoy's lawyer was not in court, but was quoted in a Dutch newspaper in December as saying his client admitted to having worked for the Khad, but denied knowledge of large-scale torture, saying he tried to stop any mistreatment.
The Netherlands, home to several international courts, secured its first conviction for war crimes in a domestic court in February last year, with a former colonel in the Rwandan army sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail for torture. Hesam applied for asylum in 1992, when Islamic Mujahideen guerrilla forces closed in on Kabul after 14 years of civil war against the Soviet-backed Communist government.
His application was denied but he continued to live with his family in the central Dutch town of Boskoop. Jalalzoy applied for asylum in 1996 but was turned down in 2000 due to his role in the Khad and suspicions of human rights abuses.
MiG tipping, not tension, at US base near Iran
Reuters 03/11/2005 By David Brunnstrom
SHINDAND - Iran and the United States may be in the midst of a war of words over Tehran's nuclear plans, but there is little evidence of the tension at a former Soviet base in Afghanistan, now home to U.S. troops.
The sprawling air base lies close to the border with Iran and life there is so slow that U.S. troops at times resort to "MiG tipping" -- a game that involves standing on the tail of one of the many wrecked Soviet-era planes and tipping its nose up.
"It's a pretty pointless and silly thing to do," said one serviceman. "But there really isn't that much to do around here." American troops established themselves at the windswept base last August after fighting there between rival Afghan factions.
The United States now has a total of a few hundred troops at or near three former Soviet bases in west Afghanistan -- each just 100 km (60 miles) from the Iranian border. U.S. President George W. Bush has called Iran a part of an "axis of evil" and accuses it of seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Analysts say the troops could prove useful to Washington should the tension with Tehran's boil over.
Influential U.S. Senator John McCain fuelled speculation about American plans last month when he said Washington needed permanent bases in Afghanistan to ensure regional security. But the Pentagon dismissed such thinking as premature. The U.S. military says it is in western Afghanistan to maintain security and assist in post-war reconstruction.
Lieutenant-Colonel Phil Bookert, the U.S. commander for western Afghanistan, scoffed at a January New Yorker magazine article that said the United States was running secret spy missions into Iran from Afghanistan to help identify nuclear, chemical and missile targets.
"The U.S. presence in western Afghanistan is for reconstruction and economic development," he said. "We have done no operations along the Iranian border and I have no knowledge of operations along the Iranian border. That is not why we are here... We do reconstruction activities between here and Iran, but we certainly don't cross the border."
Shindand is currently home mainly to U.S. military police, as well as a few army Blackhawk helicopters largely used recently for ferrying supplies and mail and supporting relief operations in snowbound Afghan provinces.
The base has few facilities beyond a recreation tent for troops to watch television and check emails, a tiny shop, a dining area and a gym. The recreation tent is stacked with cheap thillers, crossword books, jigsaw puzzles, a table-tennis table with bats but no ball, and the expectation among soldiers seems to be of many more slow days, rather than drama, ahead.
The troops seem far more interested in Soviet past of the base and the U.S. Cold War victory than any future that might involve Iran. But analysts say the dozens of wrecked Soviet aircraft testify to the strategic value of the giant base built in the 1980s by Moscow, which not only gave it a platform to attack Afghan rebels but extended its air capabilities into the Gulf.
According to U.S.-based think tank Global Security, Shindand is the largest airbase in Afghanistan, bigger even than the main U.S. base at Bagram to the north of Kabul. It has nothing like the same facilities as Bagram, but U.S. troops have repaired damaged runways and gradually patched up huts and cleared ground for more accommodation on a base NATO troops are expected to take over next year.
Bookert, the only U.S. National Guardsman with a brigade command overseas, played down the work, saying the long-term future of Shindand would be as a base for the Afghan military. "In typical U.S. army fashion, we always say that whenever we are sent anywhere we improve our foxhole. And that is just normal improvement that the U.S. army does where ever we go."
Bookert said he did not know how long U.S. forces would remain at Shindand but he understood those in the west would be sent east to help fight insurgents once NATO troops arrived. London-based defence analyst Paul Beaver said he saw no current sign of any move by Washington to build up forces against Iran, but the Afghan bases did provide useful flexibility.
"The Americans are good at options and like to have them," he said. "And Afghanistan is their easiest option in the east." Beaver said the U.S. base at K-2 in neighbouring Uzbekistan -- also Soviet built -- was not ideal given its distance from the sea and potential Uzbek concerns about its use against another country, which is likely to be less of an issue with the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.
At the same time, Beaver saw McCain's call for permanent U.S. bases in Afghanistan as politically, rather policy driven. "There is no indication this is policy yet and it does sound like McCain is just setting out his stall for the next Republican presidential nomination," he said.
"I don't see any physical manifestation on the ground of the Americans trying to pressure Iran. I think for the moment this issue of permanent Afghan bases is just something still being talked about in the rarefied atmosphere of Washington," he said.
RFE/RL INTERVIEWS FORMER TALIBAN INVOLVED IN RECONCILIATION TALKS
By Sultan Sarwar and Golnaz Esfandiari
Habibullah Fawzi, a former Taliban diplomat at the Afghan Embassy in Riyadh, told RFE/RL in an exclusive interview on 3 March that talks between former members of the Taliban militia and the Afghan government aimed at national reconciliation have been going on for two years.
Fawzi says there has been a considerable amount of understanding between the two sides -- without going into details. "For the higher interests of the country, we think there is a need for a political process in order to reach a mutual understanding between different ethnic groups, based on Islamic principles and Afghan values," Fawzi says. "We want to bring peace, unity, and stability to our country, and we believe that strengthening peace and stability in Afghanistan is not only in the benefit of Afghans, but it is also in the interest of the region and the world."
The Afghan government has called on former Taliban members to join the country's social and political life. The only individuals excluded are those involved with terrorist groups or committing atrocities. The call is supported by the United States.
Fawzi, along with Abdul Hakim Mujahed, a former envoy to the United Nations; Arsallah Rahmani, the former deputy minister of higher education; and Rahmatullah Wahidyar, a former deputy minister of refugees and returnees, are the highest-ranking former Taliban to participate in the talks.
All four fled to Pakistan after U.S. and Afghan forces drove the Taliban from power in late 2001. the former Taliban officials distance themselves from militants who are continuing attacks in the southern and eastern regions of the country. They say they are talking to the government in the name of their party -- not as Taliban members.
"We talked to the government representing the Khuddam al-Furqan [Servants of the Koran] -- not the Taliban," Fawzi says (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 25 February 2005). He indicated that the group was established in 1967. "Of course there are some groups who are in favor of military actions, but we believe the majority of people think that for establishing peace and stability in the country conflict and clashes should end."
The ousted Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and his supporters have condemned the talks as a plot and say they will continue their fight against foreign forces and the Afghan government. Fawzi tells RFE/RL that the four share the Hamid Karzai government's vision of peace and stability.
"We believe that Afghanistan is an Islamic country and the desire of the people should be reflected in the government, we want the representatives of public to join the government, so that a national Islamic government is formed, the representatives of people should be chosen according to their will, their demands should be fulfilled," Fawzi says. "And there should be an end to the atmosphere of intimidation, lack of confidence, and fear.... Instead of people being harmed under different names, effective steps must be taken to solve their problems. Regarding his views on women's rights, Fawzi said that whatever rights Islam has afforded to women should be implemented, citing women's right to education.
Reports of the talks have met with mixed reactions by the general population, though several Afghans interviewed by RFE/RL expressed hope the move would put an end to the fighting and boost reconstruction efforts.
U.S. COMMANDER EXPECTS WEAKER TALIBAN SPRING OFFENSIVE
By Ron Synovitz RFE-RL
A senior commander of U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan says fugitive Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and his inner circle have lost their direct control over most Taliban fighters.
U.S. Major General Eric Olson says Taliban militants now lack cohesion and are a fading force in the southern and southeastern Afghan provinces that have been their strongholds in recent years. "It seems very clear to us," Olson said, "given the disjointed and uncoordinated effort that the Taliban has been able to launch, that those type of leaders -- [and] Mullah Omar specifically -- are not exercising effective command and control over Taliban operations in Afghanistan."
Just last month, Olson had warned U.S. policymakers against reducing the number of troops in Afghanistan. He had argued that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda continue to pose a grave security threat. But at a Kabul news conference on 7 March, Olson said he sees a "dramatic decrease" in the number of Taliban attacks in Afghanistan. Still, he says, the U.S.-led coalition forces are preparing operations against what has come to be known in Afghanistan as an annual spring offensive. "There has been an increase in Taliban and enemy activity in the spring [compared to the winter months]. And we anticipate that the enemy has the intention of trying to raise the level of activity this spring."
One reason Olson is confident of a weaker Taliban offensive this spring is an amnesty that Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government is offering to rank-and-file Taliban fighters (see feature above and news items below).
Olson says about 30 mid-level Taliban fighters already have surrendered their weapons to coalition forces under the offer. He says that since laying down their arms, all 30 have been allowed to return to their villages without facing prosecution or imprisonment. He says one has even been allowed to serve on his local police force.
Ian Kemp is an independent defense analyst based in London. He says the dwindling number of die-hard Taliban fighters is just one reason why fewer Taliban attacks are expected in the coming months.
"Certainly since the fall of Afghanistan to the U.S.-led coalition more than three years ago, there has been a constant attrition of the Taliban forces," Kemp said. "The second factor is the improvement in the security situation as a result of greater coordination – or greater cooperation -- between the U.S.-led coalition operating in Afghanistan and the Pakistan security forces."
Kemp explains that Pakistan's efforts on its side of the border during the past year have seriously hampered the ability of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda to organize attacks in Afghanistan: "This has always been a major concern," Kemp said, "that the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda have been able to slip across the border from
Afghanistan into Pakistan, use that as a sanctuary, regroup duringthe winter months, and then move back into Afghanistan for the spring offensive. But what we've seen over the past year or so is much greater efforts on the part of the Pakistan army and other Pakistan security forces in cooperating with the United States in combating terrorism."
Kemp says he thinks U.S. and NATO efforts to build up the Afghan National Army also have created conditions that encourage Taliban fighters to quit the insurgency against Karzai's government. "The U.S. strategy has always been to build up the strength of the Afghan security forces themselves," Kemp said. "This is a slow process which involves the recruitment of Afghan soldiers and then the training across the rank structure from the private soldier to, actually, the generals commanding these forces. This is clearly paying dividends. And it also allows the local people to see that the Afghans are taking a greater responsibility for their own security. General Olson and other senior U.S. commanders would point
to this as being one of the big successes."
But not all experts are convinced of General Olson's expectations for the coming spring. Wahid Mojhdah is a former member of the Taliban regime and the author of a book about that regime. He told RFE/RL recently that the Taliban remains dangerous for some of the same reasons that Olson sees as signs of coalition success. "They are operating in a very similar way to Al-Qaeda," Mojhdah said, "meaning they have no central command structure and the different groups in each region work [independently of each other]. Therefore, the Taliban is more dangerous because it is not clear where there will be an attack or where their [next] operation will be. It is because they've grown weaker [in numbers] that they have had to change their guerrilla war tactics. And as time goes by, it is possible that they will become even weaker [in numbers]. But this doesn't mean they will be less dangerous. It is possible that despair will turn them [increasingly] to actions like the suicide attacks we already have witnessed in a few cases."
Nearly 1,100 people have been killed as a result of Taliban-linked violence since late 2003. They include militants, foreign troops, Afghan civilians, aid workers, and government employees.
FORMER TALIBAN MINISTER INVOLVED IN AFGHAN RECONCILIATION EFFORTS, WHILE COMMENTARY REJECTS SUCH EFFORTS
Mullah Wakil Ahmad Mutawakkil, the former foreign minister of the ousted Taliban regime, is playing a key role in the Afghan government's reconciliation efforts with members of the former regime, AFP reported on 1 March. Afghan presidential spokesman Jawed Ludin told a news conference in Kabul on 1 March that members of the Taliban regime who have come for talks with the government "are of course in consultation" with Mutawakkil. "I can say that [Mutawakkil] is in Kabul for a long time now," Ludin said, and he is "under supervision."
Reports of efforts to include some Taliban members in a future administration have circulated since October 2003, when Mutawakkil was released from U.S. custody (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 4 March, and 25 October 2004). An October 2004 report from Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran suggested that Mutawakkil intends to form a new political party. However, Ludin told reporters that Kabul is not negotiating "with a party, a movement, or a side."
Meanwhile, Major General Solaymankhayl, security commander for the southeastern Paktiya Province, said that talks with former Taliban officials have been "80 percent successful," Kabul daily "Erada" reported on 8 March. Solaymankhayl said that reconciliatory negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban were initiated by former governor of Paktiya, Hakim Taniwal, and have been continued by the province's current governor, Asadullah Wafa.
Solaymankhayl did not elaborate on what 80 percent success means. In January, Wafa said that elders from Paktiya were mediating between the Taliban and Kabul, and in February, four former Taliban officials, all from Paktiya, announced that they will cooperate with the Afghan government (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 January 2005).
In an editorial on 7 March, the Herat biweekly "Payam-e Hambastagi" warned that negotiations with former Taliban officials will undermine peace and security in Afghanistan. The editorial said that some political parties in the country believe that Kabul's decision to negotiate with the Taliban is a "kind of political blackmail by Pakistan."
The editorial also criticized Kabul's lack of transparency in not keeping the public informed about the negotiations, writing that Afghans first learned of them from "U.S. officials" regarding the issue. The commentary adds that Kabul "has formally recognized" the Taliban and "has ignored their crimes against humanity and their non-Islamic acts."
"Payam-e Hambastagi" warns that, if former Taliban members begin to join the Afghan government, "they will undermine peace and the people's confidence in the government." The issue of reconciliation with most members of the Taliban was raised by President Hamid Karzai in a speech in April 2003 and has been discussed by U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad since April 2004 and more recently by Afghan officials. RFE-RL
Voluntary repatriation program from Pakistan started for Afghan refugees
PESHAWAR, Mar. 12, (Pajhwok Afghan News) -- More than 90 Afghan families have returned home from Pakistan since the new repatriation program launched by the United Nations on Monday. The repatriation had earlier been stopped during winter.
90 families from the four provinces of Pakistan entered Afghanistan through Torkham and Chaman, the two border cities. Torkham is in the Eastern province of Nangarhar province and Chaman is in the southern province of Kandahar.
Haris Khan of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) told Pajhwok Afghan News on Saturday that they had provided financial help to more than 90 families during the past four days to return to Afghanistan voluntarily.
He said many refugees were still not aware of resumption of the volunteer repatriation program, and therefore the number of people returning so far was small. Another official said the cold weather and blocked roads in many areas were also reasons for the low numbers of repatriation.
Dr Sasha, a UNCHR official in Peshawar, told Pajhwok that they give $3 - $4 to each returnee in addition to $12 for foodstuff. According to a tripartite agreement among UNHCR, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Afghan refugees should leave Pakistan by March 2006. The United Nations estimate that some 400,000 refugees will return to Afghanistan during 2005. Experts however believe many refugees will continue to stay on in Pakistan even after the March 2006 deadline.
For Afghan women, biology is tragic
Seattle Post-Intelligencer 03/11/2005 By Erin Solaro
BAGRAM AIR FIELD - Afghanistan -- In war, wrote Carl von Clausewitz in "On War," everything is simple. But simple things become very difficult. In Afghanistan, everything is hard. Existence is war for survival. Terrain and climate, poverty and isolation, religion and history have made this a society based upon family, clan and tribe -- based upon them because, under such conditions, only small, cohesive units survive, and only to the extent that they remain cohesive. Their ways are brutal because isolation breeds brutality, because brutality feeds on isolation, and also because far too often, brutality works.
In the mountains of Afghanistan, as in the deserts of Araby, it doesn't pay to trust. The people of Afghanistan are weary, some weary enough even to try the 21st century. But to make it into the world, they need to develop something they've never had before.
Trust. The kind of trust that makes society more than a collection of feuding factions. The kind of trust that has less to do with elections held and aid disbursed and the standard indices of progress -- how we Americans do love our standard indices of progress -- than with the people of Afghanistan learning to trust each other. Such nation-building trust, I am convinced, can take root only when men and women learn to trust one another as equals and begin to redeem their civilization together as equals.
That will be hard. Death gets in the way. According to the CIA World Fact Book, the average Afghan woman has 6.78 children. According to a nurse in the Salang District Clinic, Parwan Province, she currently sees one or two maternal deaths per hundred births. But that was what she saw: an average lifetime risk of dying in childbirth between 6.78 and 13.56 percent. Elsewhere in the same district, it could be considerably worse. Afghanistan's birth rate is 47.27 per thousand people. In the district of Shekh Ali, also in Parwan Province, the elders said their first need was for a clinic. One or two hundred of their women died every year in childbirth. I asked them how many children they had and what the district population was. They said the district had about 70,000 people and that while men normally had only one wife, 15 or 16 children was the norm. That means between 100 and 200 maternal deaths per 3,308.9 live births.
Two questions came to me. Do you mean one wife at a time? How many wives does it take to produce those children? Do the math. What are the odds that she will survive all those births? Worse than the odds against U.S. combat soldiers during WW II. Or if you favor a more standard index, the U.S. maternal mortality rate is about 7.5 women per hundred thousand births.
But I did not ask those questions. I could only think that if they had any feeling at all, their manhood must lay heavy upon them. As it must have lain heavy upon our own ancestors, before the advent of antiseptic surgery, reliable contraception and safe abortion.
In driving back to Bagram along the Ghorban Road, I spent four hours passing the wreckage of the Russian War -- unintended memorials silently screaming, This is what happened here -- I could not but look upon the women and their daughters, working in the fields, somewhat differently.
I realized that to be female in Afghanistan is to live under sentence of death. It was then that I understood (but did not condone) the emphasis on daughters marrying virgin, to proclaiming it a matter of honor and pride to kill (it is never called murder) a daughter who wasn't. When your daughter, if fertile, will have many children, you want her and her children provided for. The future of the clan, the tribe, requires it. But if she is likely to lose her child, and even more likely to be killed or maimed in childbed, you want her at least to be mourned. And if she is unmarried and pregnant, at least she is killed by her family, not cast off by strangers to die. Such daughters dishonor their families by giving their lives to men who do not value them.
As for the men squatting like gargoyles by the side of the road while the women worked: When you can expect your wife to die, and your children, and your neighbor's wives and children, what point is there in getting too attached? What point is there to learn to recognize and honor and enjoy their full humanity?
Slowly, as Afghanistan begins to emerge from centuries of backwardness filtered through two decades of lunatic war and oppression, women begin to take their rightful place, and in more places than the big cities. I was thrilled in Wardak Province to see women with their burqas thrown back, talking to men in public and to learn that they will soon have women police. I was thrilled in a clinic in Gazhni Province when a woman in a burqa demanded to speak with me, her eyes lighting up with the contact, or on a staircase at the Ministry of Education when two women in burkas grabbed my hand and the hands of the female soldiers. These, too, are indices of progress.
For most of human history, biology was not just destiny. It was tragedy. For women and for men. It need not be that way any longer. Anywhere.
NGO uses picture books to teach children in Afghanistan
Japan Today 03/12/2005 By Hiromi Yasui
JALALABAD — Picture books featuring Afghan folklore and made by a Japanese nongovernmental organization for educational purposes are becoming popular with children in Afghanistan. About a hundred children aged up to 12 visit a community library in Jalalabad, some 130 kilometers east of Kabul, every day.
It is operated by the Shanti Volunteer Association of Tokyo. "It's nice to go to school but my pleasure is to come here every day," said 12-year-old Marina. She has memorized stories in some books while listening to a library staff member reading them and volunteers to tell the tales when other children are around. Virtually all picture books disappeared in Afghanistan due to prolonged domestic strife and the former Taliban regime's stringent policy against photographs and pictures.
"Parents could not go to school because of the long war," said Nabizada, deputy director of the national library in the capital, Kabul. "Their moral sense has been ruined. Picture books are important since they teach children morals on behalf of their parents."
In its volunteer effort, Shanti initially brought picture books from neighboring Iran and pasted stories translated into the local Pashto language. But some Afghans balked at the books due to the difference in religious sects and cultures.
So the Japanese association decided to make picture books containing local folklore that Afghan children know well and could be accepted by the community. But it ran into a number of difficulties. There was no printing company capable of binding books in Afghanistan, so the association filed an order with a printer in Pakistan. It cost the association about $5,700 to print a thousand copies of a single work. It has so far put out 13 works.
Many people in Jalalabad have not seen picture books. Some parents asked the association if the picture books ran counter to the Islamic religion that bans idolatry. "We stop distribution of books if someone says the women depicted in them look sexy," said Eri Yamamoto, a 30-year-old association staffer in Jalalabad.
"In order to have our picture books made useful for education, we must convince residents that we are not being pushy," Yamamoto said. "It's important for us to establish trust with them." The association passes out picture books to schools and its staff offers teachers, who are not used to handling them, advice on their use. It plans to publish 10 stories in the form of picture books and picture-card shows.
CENTRAL ASIA: Weekly news wrap
ANKARA, 11 March (IRIN) - Protests continued in southern Kyrgystan this week against what demonstrators said was a flawed parliamentary poll on 27 February. Thousands of opposition supporters demanded President Askar Akayev resign as they protested over alleged election violations, local media reported. The protests began a week ago after opposition candidates alleged widespread fraud in the polls. The vote was criticised by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as falling short of democratic standards.
About 1,000 people rallied on Wednesday in front of the regional government building in the provincial city of Jalal-Abad, which had been occupied by more than 100 protesters for a sixth day, said Orozaly Karasartov, spokesman for the regional administration. The protesters refuse to recognise their candidate's election defeat, saying it was a result of fraud and they demanded he be allowed to stand in the 13 March run-offs.
About 1,000 people also protested in front of the district administration in the town of Ozgon, 20 km southwest of Jalal-Abad calling for Akayev to resign and demanding free elections, according to police and human rights activists. About 400 people demonstrated in front of the regional administration building in the provincial capital of Osh on Wednesday, also demanding Akayev's removal from power, said the coalition of civic groups for Democracy and Civil Society.
On Tuesday, the OSCE's Bishkek office criticised the protesters for occupying government buildings and blocking roads. ``The election shortcomings may not be a reason for occupying government buildings and blocking roads," OSCE Ambassador, Markus Muller, said in a statement.
While Tajik opposition leaders, like their Kyrgyz counterparts, complained bitterly about voting irregularities in the parliamentary poll there, also held on 27 February, efforts to protest the results petered out this week. In the days immediately following the vote - which according to OSCE monitors featured ballot-stuffing and other improprieties - leaders of the main opposition political parties tried to organise public protests and a parliamentary boycott.
But the call to protest has not been heeded by the Tajik public. An article on the Eurasianet news website attributes the apathy to the fact that the country is still recovering from the effects of the 1992-97 civil war and that an overwhelming majority appear anxious to avoid any type of disturbance that could provoke political violence.
In other developments, regional border sensitivities were highlighted this week with reports of the arrest and detention of a Kazkh police officer by Uzbek border guards. The incident happened on 4 March, according to the press service of the Kazakh interior ministry. Police Captain Ayan Bekenbetov intervened in a dispute between Uzbek border guards and two women on the border. The Uzbeks allegedly "strayed four metres into the Republic of Kazakhstan" and forcibly escorted the Kazkh policeman across the border where he was placed under arrest for 24 hours.
Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf, making the first visit by a Pakistani head of state for almost a decade, was in Central Asia this week. Musharraf arrived in Uzbekistan on Saturday, where he signed an agreement on joint efforts to fight international terrorism. During talks in Tashkent, Musharraf and Uzbek President Islam Karimov discussed efforts to hunt down militants in Waziristan on the Pakistani border with Afghanistan.
Musharraf went on to met Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev on Monday in the capital, Bishkek, to discuss electricity exports to Pakistan, cooperation in education and the reconstruction of post-war Afghanistan, said Akayev's spokesman Abdil Seghizbayev.
On Tuesday, the two leaders signed three agreements and a joint statement on cooperation, exemption of visas for diplomatic and official passport holders, education, as well as cooperation between state news agencies. Pakistan has long expressed interest in building road and rail links with the energy-rich countries of Central Asia, though plans to build a pipeline to carry gas from Turkmenistan has been on hold due to instability in nearby Afghanistan.
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has been sacking government officials again. On Monday, Niyazov signed a decree dismissing Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov from the post of deputy prime minister, the presidential press service told Interfax. Earlier, at a cabinet meeting, he criticised the Foreign Ministry for lack of consistency and a principled approach to the tasks it is facing. Niyazov demanded that Meredov show a more responsible attitude to the criticism and dismissed him from the post of deputy prime minister.
Missing girls found in Kandahar
KABUL, Mar. 12, (Pajhwok Afghan News) -- Two girls who disappeared from their house in Kabul's Khair Khana area three days ago, were located by the police in the Southern province of Kandahar, both having apparently eloped with young men.
Both girls were arrested by the Kandahar police. Kandahar security chief, Gen. Mohammad Salim Ehsas, told Pajhwok Afghan News on Saturday: "The police also arrested two boys with these two girls."
The two sisters, 18-year old Nasrin and 14-year old Nasima, disappeared on Tuesday evening from their houses in Porjha-e-Jadid area of Khairkhana. Their mother then claimed that they had disappeared while fetching water and the family had suggested they may have been kidnapped.
Ehsas said they arrested two youth, Hashmatullah and Ahmad Zia along with the two girls near the Herat bus station in Kandahar city when they were setting off to Iran. He added that the boys had not kidnapped the girls but the girls had eloped with the boys of their own will. The Interior ministry also confirmed the arrests and said that all those arrested would be brought to Kabul soon for questioning.
After the Taliban
Reviewed by Peter Bergen Sunday, March 13, 2005;
AFGHANISTAN - The Mirage of Peace By Chris Johnson and Jolyon Leslie Zed. 237 pp. Paperback, $22.50 REVOLUTION UNENDING - Afghanistan, 1979 to the Present By Gilles Dorronsoro. Translated from the French by John King Columbia Univ. 370 pp. $29.50
The conventional wisdom about Afghanistan today goes something like this: President Hamid Karzai is only the mayor of Kabul; the Taliban are resurgent; the cabinet is dominated by Tajik members of the Northern Alliance; warlords control much of the country; beset by political violence, Afghanistan is becoming a Colombia-style narco-state.
The conventional wisdom, however, is about a year past its sell-by date. Karzai is a genuinely popular leader who won 55 percent of the votes in Afghanistan's October presidential contest, against more than a dozen other candidates in a reasonably fair election -- arguably a greater margin of victory than President Bush won against just one main challenger in 2004. The Taliban, the Islamist fanatics who ruled the country and harbored Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, are spent as an effective military force, which their inability to disrupt the Afghan elections clearly demonstrated. Neighboring Pakistan suffers far more from political violence than Afghanistan. And Karzai has proven a deft politician who has edged out the warlords or "promoted" them to politically irrelevant positions. (Take Karzai's former defense minister, Marshal Mohammed Fahim, who is now without a job; the potentate of western Afghanistan, Ismail Khan, has lost the key governorship of Herat and received instead the consolation prize of the Ministry of Energy.)
Meanwhile, in the new cabinet announced in January, the only significant holdover from the Northern Alliance is Foreign Minister Abdullah, whose qualifications for the job are unmatched. Indeed, a third of the officials in the Afghan cabinet have PhDs. And the government's campaign to stamp out drug trafficking has met with unexpected success. This year's poppy crop has been cut by as much as 70 percent in Afghanistan's three key opium-growing provinces, according to a report in this newspaper in February. All of the above developments happened after the two books under review here were completed, which might explain why both volumes are more pessimistic about the future of Afghanistan than is warranted by events on the ground -- not least that some 3 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan in the past couple of years.
Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries in the world, could not survive without international aid. Indeed, aid plays the same role for the Afghan state that oil does for Saudi Arabia. Afghanistan: The Mirage of Peace -- by Chris Johnson and Jolyon Leslie, two veteran aid officials -- is a welcome addition simply because it has so much to say about the role of aid in the Afghan political economy. The book is also sharp as sociological analysis, with telling descriptions of the way Islam is woven into every facet of Afghan life and explanations of both the paramount importance of honor in Afghan society and the key role of "solidarity groups," which are based on village and tribe. The authors also acutely observe that "often the international community has talked of women's rights [in Afghanistan] as if someone could just flick a switch and bring them into being."
But as a work of political analysis, Afghanistan is often tone-deaf or simply wrong. "The liberal state," the authors declare, "has not in most parts of the world brought economic success." Come again? And the book reads in part like an apologia for the Taliban. The authors suggest that the U.S.-led war against the Taliban after the Sept. 11 attacks did not have the support of the United Nations, which, they write, passed a resolution "far short of an explicit authorization for the use of force." In fact, on Sept. 12, 2001, the Security Council passed an unusually forceful and unambiguous resolution "to combat by all means . . . terrorist acts" and to recognize its members' "inherent right of individual or collective self-defence." At one point, the authors call the "notion that the Taliban movement could be swept away by US military might" a case of "wishful thinking." Tell that to Mullah Omar. And bizarrely they write, "it remains to be seen if the successors to the Taliban are as adept in dealing with their international interlocutors." Since the Taliban were international pariahs recognized by only three countries, this is a pretty low bar.
The authors can be similarly myopic about what Taliban rule meant for those under their thumb. The book correctly emphasizes that the Taliban brought security to Afghanistan -- "For the first time in many years, it was possible to travel the roads at any time of the day or night without being held up by gunmen" -- and, in an excellent chapter on Afghanistan's drug trade, point out that opium production late in the Taliban's reign "fell to almost zero in areas under Taliban control." But Afghanistan is a selective history that barely mentions or simply ignores the fact that the Taliban and al Qaeda entered into an ideological and military alliance. It's also blind to the Taliban's spectacular acts of cultural vandalism, such as the destruction of the giant Buddhist statues in Bamiyan -- an act condemned by Muslims around the world.
For an authoritative account of modern Afghan history, we must turn instead to Gilles Dorronsoro's Revolution Unending. Deftly translated from the French by John King, it explains that conflict between the various ethnic groups in Afghanistan was never inevitable. It "was not 'ethnicities' that made war," Dorronsoro writes, "but political organisations with ideological objectives." To underline that point, Dorronsoro, a French political scientist, closely examines the emergence of the jihadist parties in Afghanistan as a counterweight to the country's communists in the late 1970s. The party that did the most to stir up ethnic conflict in Afghanistan was Hezb-i-Islami, which received the largest sum of U.S. aid during the 1980s jihad against the Soviet occupation. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Islamist warlord who led the party, went on to become prime minister of Afghanistan during the mid-1990s -- a period during which he shelled Kabul on a daily basis, attacks that by 1996 "would claim 40,000 lives" and "destroy much of the capital, which till then had been intact."
Popular revulsion against warlords like Hekmatyar helped the Taliban, a band of Islamist Pashtun students that seized Kabul in 1996. The "Taliban, in common with rural Pashtuns in general, particularly detested the urban culture which it saw as anti-Islamic," Dorronsoro shrewdly observes. "The Taliban's seizure of power was among other things a class struggle, in which the urban bourgeoisie were for the moment the losers." It was for this reason that Taliban rule was often the harshest in the big cities. For women, this was especially true: "The imposition of the burqa [the garment that covers women from head to toe] . . . mainly affected the educated class, particularly in Kabul, where it had been in disuse for a generation."
Now that the Taliban are largely defeated, Dorronsoro concludes, the United States must remain engaged in the country. "Failure in Afghanistan would have significant consequences for America as a power," he writes, "and thus the issues involved in this interminable war extend far beyond the destiny of Afghanistan itself." In 1989, the United States closed its embassy in Afghanistan and essentially washed its hands of the country after the Afghans delivered a death blow to the slowly expiring Soviet corpse. A little more than a decade later, Afghanistan visited the United States in a manner that few could have predicted. It can't be permitted to happen again.
Peter Bergen is a fellow at the New America Foundation, an adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins University and the author of "Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden."
Afghanistan finalizing annual budget
KABUL, March 10 (Pajhwok Afghan News) – The Finance Ministry is in the process of finalizing the annual budget for the year 2005-2006. Announcing this in a press conference on Thursday, Finance Minister Anwar ul Haq Ahadi said the government would finalise the budget by the end of this month.
The Ministeries, he said, had demanded $6 billion which is equivalent to 288 billion Afs for their annual budget for the year 2005-2006. The annual budget in the year 2004-2005 was $5 billion Afs of which $4.38 billion is the development budget.
According to Ahadi, United States has already allocated $2.4 billion for the development budget of Afghanistan. Ahadi said "United States is the first country which specified a big amount of money for the budget"
He also added after United States, the UK, the European Union, Japan and Germany are in the list of donors of the development budget. (Story reported by Pajhwok Staffer Mustafa Basharat)
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