Afghan New Year celebrated
Pajhwok Afghan News 03/21/2005 By Zubair Babakarkhail, Ibrahimi and Zahid
KABUL/ MAZAR-E-SHARIF - Afghans celebrated 'Nowroz', the first day of the Afghan Year with great enthusiasm on Monday. Celebrating the occasion was banned under the Taliban.
Traditionally, Afghans attend flag-hoisting ceremonies at their local renowned tombs, hold festivals, plant saplings, provide and serve a special kind of food called 'Haft Miwa' (comprising of seven kinds of fruit) and visit relatives.
Attended by thousands of Kabul residents and some government officials, the celebration in Kabul this morning started with the flag hoisting at the Karta-e-Sakhi tomb on the TV hill led by the Minister of Haj and Islamic Affairs Niamatullah Shahrani.
Though an unfortunate landmine blast near the site wounded a youth, people continued to be hopeful. "The new year arrived with snows and rains. May it be full of peace and security as well," Allah Mohammad, a resident of Kabul told Pajhwok Afghan News from among the Karta-e-Sakhi crowd.
Kabul's hillsides, just turning green were filled with crowds of young boys and girls and families celebrating the holiday.
In Mazar–e Sharif, which traditionally celebrates Naw Roz with great gusto as people throng to the holy site of Hazrat Ali's tomb, vice-president, Ahmad Zia Masoud, led the flag-hoisting ceremony attended by hundreds of thousands of Mazar citizens, foreign and national visitors and tourists.
One thing that drew attention at the ceremony was the unusual absence of the leading Northern Commander, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, who has been recently appointed as Chief of Staff to President Karzai. This was the first time after his return to Afghanistan three years ago that Dostum missed the ceremony. However it must be mentioned that Dostum's father passed away recently.
The ceremony in Mazar this year was also attended by fewer people. Last year, there were around one million people and 6 people were killed and 30 wounded as they were trampled underfoot in the crowd.
People in other provinces celebrated as well.
Afghanistan: Kabul To Create Temporary Chamber Of Parliament
By Ron Synovitz
Afghanistan's long-delayed elections to the lower house of parliament will be held on 18 September. Afghan voters will also elect their provincial assemblies on that day. But more complicated elections for local district councils within each province also are needed to complete the upper house of parliament. Those elections are being put off until a national census is complete and electoral district boundaries are determined. In the meantime, a temporary upper chamber of parliament is being created.
Prague, 21 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Bismillah Bismil, chairman of the Afghan-UN Joint Electoral Management Body, announced on 20 March that a firm date has been set for the country's first post-Taliban legislative elections.
He says the voting will include ballots for Afghanistan's 34 provincial assemblies as well as the "Wolesi Jirga," or People's Assembly -- the lower house of Afghanistan's bicameral parliament.
"The Joint Electoral Management Body, after careful consideration, has decided that the elections for the Wolesi Jirga and provincial assemblies will be held on Sunday, 18 September 2005," Bismil said."That's one reason why this election [for district councils] has been delayed: No one knows what the population is. And then, the districts are divided on the basis of the population. So unless you have reliable statistics, you don't know how many [local district] councils you are going to have, how many representatives [in the upper chamber or parliament] you are going to have, or how many representatives are going to come from a certain province."
But Bismil says it will not be possible this year to conduct more complicated local elections for district councils within each province. "Due to some technical and logistical problems, we cannot hold the district-council elections this year," Bismil said. "It is up to the Wolesi Jirga [to resolve outstanding issues related to] the borders of the districts. And then we shall be able to finalize the dates for the district council elections."
Under the Afghan Constitution, the Afghan president appoints one-third of the members of parliament's upper house -- known as the Mushrano Jirga, or Assembly of Elders. The provincial assemblies and local district councils within each province also elect delegates from among their members.
But the lack of district councils has forced the Joint Electoral Management Board to improvise. It says a temporary upper house will be created so the parliament can function until district elections are held.
Under that system, there will be 51 representatives in the temporary upper house. Each of the 34 provincial assemblies elected in September will send one representative. The remaining 17 seats -- one-third of the total -- will be appointed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Musa Maroofi is a professor of political science and law at Kabul University who helped draft Afghanistan's constitution. He tells RFE/RL that the system for creating a temporary upper house appears to follow the spirit of the constitution:
"The language of the constitution is very clear about this," Maroofi said. "And it says that the president will elect the remaining one-third [of the upper house of parliament] from experienced and knowledgeable people. Now if that one-third comes to 17, then that is the figure. So I think the commission will be very mindful to abide by the letter and spirit of this article."
Meanwhile, UN officials working on a census project to determine the population of Afghanistan have told RFE/RL that their work could take another four to five years.
Maroofi says that until the information is available, nobody knows how many district councils will be in each Afghan province.
"That's one reason why this election [for district councils] has been delayed: No one knows what the population is," Maroofi said. "And then, the districts are divided on the basis of the population. So unless you have reliable statistics, you don't know how many [local district] councils you are going to have, how many representatives [in the upper chamber or parliament] you are going to have, or how many representatives are going to come from a certain province."
One thing is clear, however. The most populous areas of Afghanistan will have relatively fewer representatives in the temporary assembly than the constitution envisages.
For example, as the most populous province in Afghanistan, Kabul should have the greatest number of seats in the Assembly of Elders.
Instead, it will have only one provincial assembly representative -- the same as less populous provinces.
Maroofi suggests that such a system, if made permanent, would violate the constitution. "What is important is that each province and each [district] council is given equal opportunity to have fair elections and send as many representatives as they have a right to send," Maroofi said.
Still, Maroofi says, the need to get a parliamentary system working justifies the creation of a temporary upper house:
"They are trying to first of all get the right statistics for those [electoral] borders, at the district level, to be certain," Maroofi said. "Otherwise, they're going to make a big problem. It can make a crisis. And we're talking about ethnic boundaries as well. Many can complain. In order to prevent the emergence of such complaints and crises, they have to first of all make sure that they have the right [population] statistics and that the inhabitants of each district trust those figures."
More than 10.5 million people will be eligible to vote in the elections for the 249-seat lower house in September. About 50 political parties have registered.
Afghan Election System May Undermine Karzai
In the parliamentary poll set for Sept. 18, voters pick candidates, not parties, which could make it difficult for the president to govern.
By Halima Kazem, Special to The Los Angeles Times
KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghans will go to the polls Sept. 18 to elect their parliament under a system that some experts say could make it difficult for President Hamid Karzai to govern this war-torn nation.
Bismillah Bismil, head of the joint Afghan and United Nations election commission, said Sunday that the election date had been set after consultations with U.N. officials, representatives of political parties and Karzai's administration.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accidentally broke the news of a mid-September poll to reporters when she held a news conference here with Karzai. The Afghan president confirmed Rice's disclosure, but did not give a specific date for the election.
Afghanistan's parliamentary election, originally to be held with the country's presidential vote last October, was postponed because of technical problems, including drawing electoral boundaries and agreeing on an electoral system, officials said.
Analysts questioned the voting method that was finally selected for the parliamentary election, saying it could jeopardize the future of the government. The "single nontransferable vote," or SNTV system, as it is called, allows candidates to register as individuals with or without a party affiliation. Each voter casts one ballot for one candidate. If a province elects three representatives, the top three vote-getters win the seats.
"The meeting of ministers and election officials have decided on the SNTV system because Afghans are familiar with this system," Bismil said in an interview. "It was used in past elections in Afghanistan's history."
Election experts say that in a country with dozens of regional strongmen, a direct voting system will be less representative than a proportional representative system, in which voters select among nationally registered political parties rather than individual candidates.
In the SNTV system, for example, a local commander can win 60% of the votes in a province with five parliamentary seats. The second seat could go to a candidate who receives 25% of the votes. The last three seats would be filled by candidates who shared less than the remaining 15% of the votes.
"When you take a closer look, the SNTV election system doesn't do a good job of converting votes into seats," said Andrew Wilder, country director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, a think tank based in Kabul, the capital.
"With the single nontransferable vote system, the warlords and drug traffickers will do better, and there will be little incentive [for winning candidates] to cooperate" with other members of parliament, said Barnett Rubin, a New York University professor and former consultant to the United Nations on Afghanistan.
Karzai could benefit from the SNTV system because he wouldn't have to contend with powerful political parties, experts say.
He has boasted of being "party-free," a tactic that has won him support among Afghans who remember corrupt pro-communist political parties.
"It is no secret that President Karzai doesn't like political parties, but parties are the foundation of a parliamentary system, and the idea of not investing in them is bizarre," said Peter Dimitroff, head of the National Democratic Institute in Afghanistan.
Rubin acknowledged that a large number of Afghans, especially those who had lived through more than 20 years of Soviet occupation, civil war and Taliban rule, "associate parties with divisiveness, foreign agents and violence."
He added: "They think that the stability comes from a government of professional, educated, virtuous, respected people who have no political motivation."
Shabuddin Mahmood, 42, a Kabul resident, agreed: "Every day a new Afghan political party is formed. Many of them are run by former Communist Party leaders, and others are run by commander types. How do we know which party to trust?"
However Karzai might benefit from a lack of political parties, some experts say, he would be hard pressed to reach consensus in the parliament, which would have the power to pass key laws and review his policies.
"Having hundreds of independent parliamentarians to deal with will work against Karzai in building an effective government and lobbying for power in parliament," Dimitroff said.
Analysts also said that political parties could help Karzai secure agreement on issues of national concern.
Afghan president to visit Pakistan Tuesday
ISLAMABAD, March 21 (Xinhuanet) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai will arrive here Tuesday on a two-day visit to Pakistan and the two countries will ink four agreements on cooperation in different fields, Foreign Office spokesman Jalil Abbas Jilani said Monday.
Addressing a weekly news briefing, Jilani said the agreements would be signed after talks between President Karzai and Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.
He added that the two sides would discuss bilateral and regional issues and ways and means to strengthen economic ties.
Karzai will also hold a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Pervez Musharraf and witness the Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad,which falls on Wednesday, said the spokesman.
Patrolling Canadian soldiers fired upon while returning to Kabul base
Mon Mar 21, 1:40 PM ET Canadian Press
KABUL (CP) - No one was injured when a Canadian vehicle was shot at while returning from a patrol in the Afghan capital on the weekend, the military said Monday.
A ballistics expert said the lead vehicle in a convoy of Coyote armoured vehicles was hit by a rifle bullet on Saturday, said a statement. The soldiers did not fire back.
The vehicles, part of NATO's Kabul Multi-National Brigade Reconnaissance Squadron, are based at Camp Julien on the southern edge of the city.
The incident occurred just before sunrise, as the Coyotes were driving home through a ravine east of Kabul.
The crew hatches of the leading vehicle were open, and the crew commander and gunner were observing the road from their cupolas when the bullet hit, said the statement.
"I heard a snap and both the gunner and I saw a large flash (a spark) from an object that struck the front of our turret," said Master Cpl. Kevin Mallot, crew commander of the lead Coyote.
Mallot ordered the driver to "step on it" to clear the area and warned the other vehicles by radio.
The Coyotes continued along their planned route before stopping briefly to confirm no one was injured and to inspect the turret.
Mallot said there was a half-centimetre groove in the paint where the bullet struck.
NATO forces are investigating.
Karzai inaugurates work on U.S.-sponsored university as Afghans mark new year
The Associated Press 03/21/2005
KABUL - President Hamid Karzai on Monday inaugurated the construction of a U.S.-sponsored university as Afghanistan celebrated the beginning of a new year.
The private American University of Afghanistan is to open in 2006, providing courses for 1,100 undergraduates in subjects including management, communications, and liberal arts. All courses are to be taught in English.
Karzai and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad shoveled earth into the foundations at a site off the Darulaman Road in west Kabul, surrounded by ruined buildings left over from Afghanistan's long wars.
U.S. army engineers have already begun building a perimeter wall.
Karzai thanked the United States, Afghanistan's main donor, and urged his country to emulate nations such as South Korea which he said owed their development to education.
"They had experts, but Afghanistan does not," Karzai said. "We should understand the value of this university.
"Unless this country, this people has its own doctors, diplomats or engineers, it cannot develop."
The U.S. Agency for International Development said it would provide an undisclosed sum toward startup and initial operating costs. Private donors including an Afghan mobile phone company are also involved.
The courses are to be open to students from Afghanistan and the region, the agency said. Extra English tuition will also be provided to help students prepare for classes.
Earlier, Karzai planted a tree to promote a reforestation drive and watched a parade in Kabul's main sports stadium, including a band from the country's new army, sports teams and a group of farmers from north of Kabul, an area devastated during Afghanistan's long wars.
Thousands of Afghans also visited shrines and family graves on the first day of the Afghan year 1384, while children took part in kite-fighting competitions.
The day appeared to have passed peacefully, despite intelligence reports suggesting militants planned to attack festivities.
However, there was a reminder of the country's brutal past and enduring dangers when one young man stepped on a land mine on a hill in Kabul, losing both of his feet.
Afghan Gov't Predicts High Economic Growth
Tuesday March 22, 1:21 PM Asia Pulse
KABUL, March 22 Asia Pulse - The Ministry of Economy is optimistic about the rate of growth for Afghanistan in the forthcoming fiscal year, predicting an 11 per cent growth rate.
However businesses operating in Afghanistan feel the country has a long way to go before it can meet this target. They point to the absence of a friendly business environment and laws, lack of electricity, shortage of land, expensive customs tariffs and an absence of security.
Ghulam Nabi Farahi, an official in the Ministry of Trade said next year would hopefully see a huge growth in the economy.
However, Ibrahim Amil, head of the Iranian Izogam Gulbahar construction company in Kabul, said: "the situation in Afghanistan is really bad."
According to him, the biggest problem for economic growth in Afghanistan is the lack of electricity.
However Afghan Investment Support Agency (AISA,) which is registering investors in Afghanistan, feels differently.
"Investment in the next year will show a considerable increase," the agency's Shakib Noori told Pajhwok Afghan News.
He argues that the reason for the predicted increase is an improvement in security, new commercial and customs laws, an improvement in the supply of electricity and the construction of industrial parks.
During the past year, 1,722 companies, most of them Afghan, were registered, Noori said. Most of these companies work in the construction industry and agriculture.
Thanks to information sharing by AISA and preparedness of a better ground for investment, the number of foreign companies registered in the last year (2004-2005) was 266 higher than the previous year (2003-2004) Noori said.
Sulaiman Fatemi, an official with AISA, said that US$867 million had been invested by foreign and Afghan investors in Afghanistan since October 2003 and that had provided jobs for more than 1000 people.
Saifuddin Saihon, professor of economics in the Faculty of Law at Kabul University, however said that though some bureaucratic problems related to securing trading licenses and attracting foreign investment had been removed, more needed to be done.
He agreed with the traders saying that problems of security, marketing, electricity and bureaucracy should be dealt with.
Farahi of the Ministry of Trade said that one of the main programs for growth of the economy would focus on raising the amount of domestic production, giving loans to traders and creating insurance programs. He said the past year had been a very successful year for economic growth of the country.
"The level of exports increased by 100 per cent," he said, adding that Afghan carpets and dried and fresh fruits were the main exports of the country.
The United Nations had estimated that 60 per cent of Afghanistan's domestic income was from opium production last year.
(Pajhwok Afghan News)
Afghan Education Ministry Seeks US$490 MLN for Development
Tuesday March 22, 1:25 PM Asia Pulse
KABUL, March 22 Asia Pulse - The Education Ministry has sought US$490 million for its development plans for the year 2005-2006. The Ministry has already been allocated $118.75 million for its routine budget for the operating expenses of the Ministry.
The Finance Ministry had announced the operating budget in a press conference here last week. The development budget of all ministries is yet to be announced and will be decide in consultation with donor countries which are to fund it in entirety.
According to Mohammad Azam Karbalai the head of the planning department of the Education ministry, the development budget for the year 2004-2005 was $277 million, $125 million of which was promised by donors.
Karbalai told Pajhwok Afghan News on Sunday that many NGOs including JAICA of Japan, UNICEF and UNESCO had promised them funds for the 2005-2006 budget.
The Education Ministry's development plan includes building schools, training teachers, printing books, teaching materials and providing literacy education.
Karbalai said the Ministry's plan was yet to be approved by the Finance Ministry. He said the development plan would be unveiled in a press conference on April 6th.
(Pajhwok Afghan News)
Embedded Training Teams Making History
Combined Forces Command Coalition Press Information Center (Public Affairs) Press Release - March 21, 2005
By Capt. Mirtha Villarreal / 136th Regional Training Institute
KABUL, Afghanistan -- For the first time in the history of the Afghanistan National Army, an embedded training team will work with its Kandak from the first day of training.
ANA soldiers are trained in Kandaks, battalion-sized elements of 800 soldiers, then sent on missions throughout Afghanistan. The ETT, made up of Coalition soldiers, mentors and trains the Kandak in actual military operations.
Until now the members of an ETT met their Kandak for the first time on graduation day at the Kabul Military Training Center. They would then transport the Kandak to their assigned duty station.
ETTs now have the opportunity to build trust and bond with the ANA soldiers much earlier. More importantly, an ETT has a hand in its Kandak’s basic training, where in the past training had to be conducted in the field after basic training.
“Being here from the beginning makes a difference in that we have the opportunity to help not only the new recruits but the leadership,” Maj. James A. Hanks said. “We can insure that the leadership (noncommissioned officers and officers) understands their role and start the process of having them assume the responsibility and accountability of that role.”
Soldiers processed into the 35th Kandak come from provinces across Afghanistan. They arrived early in March in civilian clothing. Some of the clothing was western, some was traditional; most wore a combination of both in a visual representation of the changes taking place in Afghanistan.
Ages are difficult to discern as there is no birth registry in Afghanistan nor a national identification process. The ETT members look on in amazement as some new recruits appear to be in their early teens and others could be grandparents.
The motley crew quickly transforms into a military unit. Soldiers are issued uniforms, boots, and a sleeping mat. The ANA training cadre instructs the soldiers in proper wear of their uniform. It’s the first pair of boots for some soldiers who must be taught how to tie shoe laces.
Marching commands, rank identification, and equipment familiarization take up much of the first week. The literacy rate among the new recruits is about 30 percent, which means instruction must be hands-on and repetitive, as study materials are limited and not particularly useful.
March 17 marked the end of the first week of training for Kandak 35. Already in this Kandak, the number of soldiers qualifying on their weapons in the first week has increased from the past.
“If this is any indicator of future performance due to the ETT presence, the ETTs will help the ANA operate as a more cohesive and disciplined military organization,” Hanks said.
U.N. says disarmament of private Afghan militias a big step
Source: Deutsche Presse Agentur (DPA) - March 21, 2005 By Imtiaz Gul
Kabul (dpa) - U.N. officials say the inclusion of controversial warlords in the Afghan government and the disarmament of some 44,000 militiamen marked a significant step in the drive to rid the country of private armies and weapons.
A spokesman for the U.N.-backed disarmament and weapons collection effort, known as Afghanistan's New Beginnings Programme (ANBP), says the controversial political appointments of militia leaders has eased the process of disarming.
"Obviously, politics played a great role in the Disarmament Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme and we had commanders such as General Abdul Rashid Dostum and Mohammad Atta, who were reluctant to let their soldiers go through the process,'' ANBP spokesman Rick Grant told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
Uzbek warlord Dostum and Atta had remained locked in fierce battles until President Hamid Karzai replaced the former with latter, to run the affairs of the northern province of Balk as governor.
Atta had been commander of former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani's Jamiat-e-Islami movement during the U.S.-backed jihad against Soviet forces during the late 1980s.
Dostum was appointed to a newly-created military post in Kabul in February. His elevation to the senior post and the inclusion in the cabinet of Ismail Khan, ex-governor of western Herat province, triggered resentment and anger both within and outside Afghanistan.
"We needed to disarm all the private soldiers and commanders because they represented a potential threat to the country,'' Grant said. He added that after initial reluctance all "high-level commanders eventually let their soldiers enter ANBP and that has changed everything''.
The official looked impressed by the programme's performance over the past year, saying, "we are very close to saying that Afghanistan is clear of all working or repairable heavy weapons''.
"It is very interesting that with the beginning of the New Year, called Nauros, the ANBP is going down the road very successfully,'' he said.
For the welfare of former militiamen, Grant said they would be part of a reintegration programme aimed to support them in beginning new careers in any field. "The aim is to make sure that the soldiers will never go back to military life, but run a successful life as civilians and to help build Afghanistan.''
Under the programme, former fighters are not only given training in fields such as tailoring or carpentry, but also some initial seed money and instruction for their business if needed.
Most of Afghanistan's 25,000 National Army soldiers are semi-literate and that has made the trainers work harder. "Certainly they don't know the way of living a normal life without any skill or knowledge,'' Grant regretted.
Some 18,000 U.S.-led coalition forces and the 8,500 strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have provided security in Afghanistan's capital since the ouster of the radical Taliban regime in December 2001. dpa ig blg
Local bazaars bring bargain shopping to American troops in Afghanistan
By Kent Harris, Stars and Stripes - Mideast edition, Saturday, March 19, 2005
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan — Once every week, U.S. servicemembers get a chance to browse through local merchandise without crossing the perimeter fence.
Friday is bazaar day at American compounds in Bagram and Kabul. Dozens of local merchants set up stalls at designated spots with the goal of separating Americans from their dollars. In return, the vendors offer carpets, scarves, jewelry, swords, knives and various items made from wood, brass and stone.
Sgt. 1st Class Napoleon Cunningham, a soldier from Babenhausen, Germany, said he’s been in country only about three weeks.
“I’ve been here every week that I’ve been [at Bagram],” he said, motioning to the nearby stalls that were somewhat hidden under a series of plastic covers designed to keep out most of the rain.
He was the one shopping, but his wife, Michaela, back in Germany was the one benefiting.
“It’s basically all for her,” he said of the bag in his hand. “Except for the movies.”
Yes, the movies. The DVDs, featuring hundreds of options from American television and cinema, obviously aren’t of Afghan origin. Some of those around the bazaar say the DVDs are probably from Pakistan.
Some are pretty good copies, buyers say. Others aren’t. But because it costs just a few dollars to get DVDs that sometimes feature four or five movies — including some still making first runs in the States — not many customers seem to be complaining.
“I haven’t tried mine yet,” Chief Warrant Officer 3 Rogel Pagaduan said. He was referring to DVDs he had bought a week earlier. This week, he paid $10 each for three blankets.
“I think it’s a pretty good deal,” he said.
But maybe not as good as the one Capt. Peter Santos said he got. He purchased five carved wooden chests — each personally engraved with a name — for much less than he would have paid in Germany.
“I’m going to come and pick them up in two weeks,” he said. “I got one for each member of my family.”
Many purchases come after some haggling. The buyers often end up paying more than they would if they were in a village off base, but those kinds of shopping opportunities come rarely, if ever. The sellers admit they’re making more off the troops than they could off base.
“I can sell more here,” said Ayatollah Noure, who was offering a variety of locally made carpets. He characterized business as “not bad.”
He said some of the carpets he sells take a month to make. Some take three months. Like many merchants, he spends about half the week selling wares at different coalition military compounds around the region.
Maj. John Tammes said the bazaar is a good deal for merchants, servicemembers and local villages. Merchants pay the equivalent of about $180 each time they come on base. The military puts that money into a local bank before using it to fund a variety of local projects.
He said there are 133 total slots for merchants at Bagram, with most limited to selling their goods every two weeks. They often line up their trucks on Thursday afternoons outside the gate to get a good spot for the next day.
Staff Sgt. Clint Kramer said a group of soldiers at Bagram takes a look at the merchandise before it goes on sale.
“We walk through to make sure they aren’t selling merchandise that’s prohibited and not going to clear customs,” he said.
Even those responsible for checking items get a chance to buy.
“There’s a lot of good junk out there,” said Spc. Don Henry, a member of Kramer’s customs crew.
Stars and Stripes is a Department of Defense-authorized daily newspaper distributed overseas for the U.S. military community.
Pakistan tribesmen 'besiege army'
Monday, 21 March, 2005 BBC News
More than 300 troops remain surrounded in Pakistan's Balochistan province, four days after clashes in which at least 23 people died, officials say.
The paramilitary troops are encircled by about 5,000 armed tribesmen in the remote town of Dera Bugti, provincial governor Owais Ghani told the BBC.
There is no independent confirmation of official claims, as Dera Bugti has been cut off since last Thursday's violence.
Tribesmen in Balochistan are demanding greater political and economic rights.
They also blame army members for raping a local doctor.
The troops besieged at their base in Dera Bugti are from the Frontier Corps - the main paramilitary force policing the province's tribal areas, Mr Ghani told BBC Urdu Online.
Those under siege include the local administration chief, Samad Lasi, he added.
Mr Lasi also spoke to the BBC by satellite telephone, saying Dera Bugti was extremely tense and that most of the civilian population had left.
Tension rose in the area over the weekend after authorities confirmed that a murder case had been registered against the Bugti tribal chief, Nawab Akbar Bugti.
Pakistani authorities say Mr Bugti was behind an attack on a paramilitary convoy last Thursday that led to the clashes between tribesmen and troops.
Mr Bugti denies his men attacked the convoy, saying the clashes were deliberately instigated by security forces as a pretext for launching a military operation in the area.
He is one of the leading tribal chiefs in Balochistan who are pressing for greater political autonomy and a greater share of the revenue from the province's gas reserves.
The Bugtis say that attacks by government forces on Dera Bugti last week left over 50 dead, mostly civilians. The government denies attacking civilians and says the figures are exaggerated.
The clashes are the most serious since eight people were killed in several days of fighting in and around strategically important gas fields in the area in January.
Those clashes were sparked by the rape of a doctor, which Bugti tribesmen blame on an officer in the security forces.
Since then the army has moved extra forces into the area.
In the past two months tribal fighters have staged small-scale but almost daily attacks, hitting the security forces and the province's rail, power and communications infrastructure.
Afghanistan aid operation kicks off as floods kill nearly 200
Monday March 21, 7:55 PM AFP
US military helicopters airlifted stranded families to safety and aid agencies distributed vital food after devastating floods in Afghanistan left nearly 200 people dead.
Torrents of snowmelt and fierce rains caused rivers to burst their banks in many parts of the poverty-stricken country, washing away mosques and livestock and leaving thousands of people homeless.
In one of the worst hit areas, the Deh Rawood district of southcentral Uruzgan province, the US-led coalition helped relief efforts as unarmed aid workers have difficulty operating in the Taliban-infested region.
Homes on a river island began to collapse as water surged through and trapped families were ferried across the waters by twin-rotor Chinook helicopters, the US military said in a statement Monday.
The helicopters also brought water, blankets, shovels and pick axes to a makeshift relief camp set up near the river.
"After the supplies got on the ground, the US forces took a step back," Captain John Williams said, adding that the district chief and the provincial governor had then taken charge.
Officials said Sunday that the floods had killed 115 people in Uruzgan and a further 76 in the western province of Farah.
The Afghan Interior Ministry also reported widespread damage in northern Balkh, Jawzjan and Panjshir provinces, eastern Laghman and southern Nimroz.
In western Afghanistan, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Food Program have been shipping supplies from the main city of Herat out to the worst affected parts of Farah.
"We sent 25 metric tons of food to Farah from Herat last week, which should cover the needs of 5,000 people for two weeks. Distribution will start Tuesday," Maarten Roest of the World Food Program told AFP.
UNHCR is also distributing blankets, plastic sheeting and groundmats, soap and cooking sets to flood-hit areas across the country, using the US military to ferry supplies in the south, Tim Irwin of the refugee agency said.
Afghanistan has suffered its worst winter for a decade after seven years of drought and has little infrastructure to cope with flood waters being brought on by spring weather.
At least 580 people died from disease, avalanches and road accidents during the cold spell, officials and aid agencies say, and many more are feared dead in remote parts of the country.
Afghan minister seeks aid in war on heroin
By Jimmy Burns and Saleha Way in London March 22 2005 02:00
The international commu-nity must continue to fund alternative development programmes in Afghanistan if the war on heroin and terrorism there is to succeed, Lieutenant General Mohammad Daud Daud, the country's deputy interior minister, said yesterday.
"This is not just a national problem, it is an international one ... Our message is clear. We can see the poverty of our farmers and the responsibility there is to provide them with additional crops and finance," Lt Gen Daud, who has special responsibility for combating drugs, said during a visit to the UK.
According to Lt Gen Daud, preliminary surveys suggest there will be a reduction of between 30 and 90 per cent in the amount of land being used to grow poppies in the coming months.
He suggested that the internationally backed eradication programme was beginning to show positive results after Afghanistan's opium crop reached 4,200 tonnes in 2004, the largest annual figure since the end of Taliban rule. But with this year's harvest still ongoing and the absence of more definitive data on eradication awaiting more reliable United Nations estimates later this year, UK officials yesterday pointed more cautiously to figures of 40 tonnes being seized over the last month, and 75 tonnes over the last year.
"We believe there is a window of opportunity for turning the tide and there are some encouraging signs but we need to wait for more reliable statistics," a Foreign Office spokesman said.
Earlier, in an interview with the FT, Lt Gen Daud painted an upbeat picture of his government's new offensive on Afghanistan's rampant opium trade. He said police and the Afghan special counter-narcotics force, trained by UK special forces, were closing down heroin producing laboratories as well as intercepting the trade in opium poppies.
However, he described the situation as "difficult", warning that farmers would easily switch back to cultivating opium if tough law enforcement was not accompanied by sufficient financial incentives and the country's economic regeneration.
With a British general election likely to take place in May, the UK government has been anxious to retain a prominent role in Afghanistan's battle against narcotics. The opposition Conservative party in the UK has pointed to Afghanistan as the source of more than 90 per cent of the heroin sold on British streets as evidence that the government's war on drugs is failing.
Custom revenues from Herat increases this year
Pajhwok Afghan News 03/21/2005 By Khalida Khursand
HERAT - Custom revenues from the western border province of Herat increased by 38% in the past year according to customs officials.
Abdul Azim Rahimi, head of the customs department of Herat, said that the provincial customs revenue collection increased by 859 million Afs from 2.225 billions Afs to 3.084 billions Afs. He said this was possible due to tighter border security.
Herat's border towns of Tor Ghundai and Islam Qala Afghanistan to Turkmenistan and Iran have yielded a large customs revenue giving Herat the distinction of a revenue rich province.
Zia-ul-Haq, head of the department of finance in Herat, said that all customs revenues were transferred to Kabul this year while in the past, under the former Governor Ismael Khan, "a part of the revenues were transferred to the central government."
‘70% Afghan narcotics move through Pakistan’
Daily Times - Pakistan Staff Report
ISLAMABAD: Around 70 percent of narcotics manufactured in Afghanistan are either smuggled to or transited through Pakistan, Major General Nadeem Ahmad, Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) director general, told Daily Times on Monday.
He said this after the inauguration of an international expert roundtable conference organised by the ANF under the Paris Pact Initiative. The Paris Pact Initiative was launched as an immediate outcome of the Ministerial Conference on Drug Routes from Central Asia to Europe, held in Paris in May 2003. The director general revealed that currently an area of over 131,000 hectares was under poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. The total yield was estimated at 4,200 tonnes, which could produce 360 metric tonnes of heroine, he added.
He said because of the continuous efforts of the government and the ANF, the international community had realised that Pakistan was the worst sufferer from the inflow of narcotics from Afghanistan.
He said after the ouster of the Taliban, poppy cultivation has reached a record high. He said the conference would suggest ways and means to control the inflow of huge quantity of drugs into Pakistan.
The director general said international experts would also look into the weaknesses of the monitoring system and would make their suggestions. He added that international donor agencies would be asked to help Pakistan control that menace. The countries participating in the conference are: Afghanistan, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iran, India, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Luxemburg, Norway, Netherlands, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom and the United States.
Besides, delegates from the European Commission, Interpol, Europol, Economic Cooperation Organisation, United Nations Office of Drugs and Crimes and the Narcotics Affairs Section of the US Embassy are also taking part in the two-day conference.
Speaking at the inauguration ceremony, Ghaus Bux Mahar, federal narcotics control minister, said opium production in Afghanistan had broken all previous records. He said the area of poppy cultivation jumped from 80,000 hectares in 2003 to 206,700 hectares in 2004. “Most narcotics manufactured in Afghanistan find their way through the 2,500 kilometre-long porous border into Pakistan and from here they are sent to European counties via Iran and Persian Gulf,” he added.
He said the operation of the ANF was thinly spread because of manpower constraints. He stressed upon the international community to come forward and help Pakistan continue the fight against narcotics.
He informed the participants that around four million drug addicts lived in Pakistan, of which 500,000 were chronic heroin users and 60,000 to 100,000 were intravenous drug users. The ANF director general gave an overview of the drug situation in the region and insight into ANF activities. He said in 2004 the total area under poppy cultivation in Pakistan was 6,694 hectares out of which 78 percent had been eradicated.
He claimed that during 2004, around 7,783 kg of heroin, 679 kg of opium and 57,111 kg of hashish had been seized by the ANF. He stated that assets worth over $69 million belonging to drug barons were frozen and there was no enlisted heroin laboratory on Pakistani soil. The conference is scheduled to conclude today (Tuesday) after preparation of unanimous recommendations.
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