Seven Killed in Afghanistan Fighting
Thu Mar 24,11:20 AM ET By STEPHEN GRAHAM, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - U.S.-led forces trying to capture a suspected Taliban militant got into a firefight that left seven people dead, including two children and a woman, the military said Thursday.
The suspected militant, Raz Mohammed, and two other insurgents were also killed in the firefight Tuesday in southeastern Paktika province near the Pakistani border, the military said.
"Coalition troops were fired on by Raz Mohammed and other Taliban forces when they attempted to capture Mohammed," the military said in a statement. "During the ensuing firefight, Mohammed and two other enemy insurgents were killed. An Afghan woman and two children also died."
An Afghan helping coalition troops also was killed, the military said. It was unclear if the man was a member of the Afghan security forces or an informer.
Mullah Hakim Latifi, a purported Taliban spokesman, said the clash occurred when U.S. troops surrounded the tents where Mohammed was living in Waza Khwa, an impoverished district on the Pakistani border.
"Mohammed resisted the U.S. forces," Latifi told The Associated Press by satellite telephone from an undisclosed location.
He confirmed the death of Mohammed, who he said was a senior military commander in eastern Laghman province before the Taliban's ouster in 2001. He said Mohammed's wife and six of his children were also killed.
Latifi claimed that eight American soldiers died in the battle, but the American military said none of its soldiers was hurt.
Paktika lies in a swath of Afghan territory along the mountainous Pakistani frontier where a stubborn insurgency has exposed the feeble reach of the government of U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai.
Taliban leaders have threatened a fresh offensive as the harsh Afghan winter wanes, but commanders of the 18,000 overwhelmingly American combat troops in Afghanistan and the separate 8,500-strong NATO security force insist the rebels are weakening.
News of the Paktika clash came a day after the U.S. military said its aircraft killed five suspected Taliban militants near the border in Khost province and also that U.S.-led troops had shot an Afghan boy during a search operation in a village near Asadabad in the eastern province of Kunar.
Afghan leaders have complained repeatedly that U.S. forces use excessive force during search operations and fail to consult with local authorities. U.N. and human rights officials have warned that civilian deaths are playing into the rebels' hands.
On Wednesday, a roadside bomb hit a U.S. Humvee near Kandahar Air Field, but none of the five American soldiers on board was injured, spokeswoman Lt. Cynthia Moore said.
Afghan vote could be most challenging ever, says electoral chief
March 24, 2005
KABUL (AFP) - Elections for Afghanistan's first post-Taliban parliament could be the most challenging the international community has ever helped organise, the man in charge of the polls said.
The September 18 vote will be a huge logistical task, set against a backdrop of potential Taliban violence and intimidation by regional warlords, said Peter Erben, chief electoral officer of the joint UN-Afghan Electoral Management Body.
"We have been having international elections in many different countries, Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor and so forth, but there is no doubt that these elections will be some of the most challenging so far," Erben told a press conference in Kabul on Thursday.
"I believe that these elections will probably be the most challenging that the international community has ever helped with," he added.
Afghanistan has been on a US-backed road to democracy since the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban were ousted by an American-led military operation in late 2001.
The parliamentary vote was originally scheduled for June 2004 alongside Afghanistan's first presidential election but both were delayed due to security and logistical problems.
Hamid Karzai was elected president in October last year and the legislative polls were pushed back to April or May 2005 and then to September.
Erben said organisers would have a tight timeline to oversee the nomination and vetting of up to 10,000 candidates in a precarious security environment. "The greatest challenge is time. We only have six months left to the election," Erben said.
Logistics will be another headache in this war-torn country, where the roads and telecommunications have been bombed back to the Stone Age by a quarter-century of conflict.
"To get all the materials out there, to get people out there to do the training, to see to it that things happen in an orderly fashion is definitely going to be one of our main challenges this year," he said.
With 34 provinces holding simultaneous votes to elect reprensatives for provincial councils and for a 249-seat parliament, 68 separate ballots will have to be printed with pictures of hundreds of candidates on each of them.
Even the relatively simple presidential election was marred by allegations of fraud after electoral staff failed to use indelible ink to mark voters' fingers and prevent multiple voting.
"There are very high expectations this year. The second election is always a very difficult one because people have gotten over the political euphoria of the first," Erben added.
Final phase in Afghan disarmament
By Ian MacWilliam - BBC News, Kabul Thursday, 24 March, 2005
A campaign to disarm tens of thousands of militiamen in Afghanistan has entered the final phase.
The disarmament programme started by the United Nations 18 months ago has already resulted in 45,000 men giving up their guns.
In the final four months, weapons will be collected from the remaining militia units, particularly around Kabul.
Militiamen who hand in their guns are given training to help them settle into civilian life.
Desire to settle
One of the greatest threats to Afghanistan's continued peace is the existence of tens of thousands of armed men in the militias of military commanders around the country.
It is unclear just how many private soldiers there are, but the UN scheme began with the target of disarming 60,000 of them.
It has now collected the guns of over two-thirds of that number.
The UN expected to reach their target by the end of June, a spokesman for the programme said.
Rick Grant said the disarmament teams had also been collecting heavy weapons, such as tanks and rockets, from around the country.
Nearly all heavy weapons still in working or repairable condition were now in the hands of the ministry of defence, he said.
"What we are doing by disarming all these units, is we are guaranteeing the physical security of the country," he said.
"There's no point in having parliamentary elections or writing constitutions or having a president, if, at any time, a private army could roll into town and there could be a coup d'etat or a civil war."
Afghanistan's gun culture makes it one of the most heavily-armed countries in the world, and critics say that many commanders simply have not declared all their weapons.
But even after private militias are dismantled, criminal gangs will also need to be disarmed.
Militiamen who have handed in their guns are given training to help them settle into civilian life.
Many become tailors or shopkeepers, or return to farm their family's smallholdings.
For many, their main desire is simply to get married and settle down after years under arms.
Registration of parliamentary candidates to begin in April
KABUL, Mar. 24, (Pajhwok Afghan News) -- Registration of candidates for the forthcoming parliamentary elections will start on 26 April and continue for three weeks all over Afghanistan, officials announced today.
Peter Erben, a member of the Joint Electoral Management Body told a press conference in Kabul that three weeks would be enough for those who want to nominate themselves as candidates. Sayed Mohammad Azam of the Independent Electoral Commission said that the registration process would continue till May 16.
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA), which will help the Afghan government organize the poll, says the government does not plan to change the electoral law despite the insistence of some political parties and election experts.
The electoral law is currently based on the single non-transferable vote system while a number of political parties have sought the proportional representation system. The he non-transferable vote system is generally considered to be beneficial for independent candidates whereas the proportional representation system is favored by political and minority parties.
Erben said 5000 – 10,000 candidates may nominate themselves for 249 seats.
Voters in the presidential elections of last year could cast their votes wherever they wanted but in the parliamentary elections they will have to vote in the constituencies where they registered. Bismillah Bismil, head of the Independent Electoral Commission told Pajhwok Afghan News: "This is also one of the problems ahead of the Commission." He had earlier announced that a one-month voter registration campaign would be launched for those who did not register during the presidential elections or were not eligible then.
Erben said there would be 30,000 polling stations and 5,000 constituencies all over Afghanistan with 1,87,000 staff working on the voting day. Around 4,300 Afghan employees and 425 internationals will be working to enhance public awareness in parts of the country about how to vote.
Regarding participation of Afghan refugees based in Iran and Pakistan, Azam said that it hasn’t been decided how or when to organize the elections for them as it was technically difficult. Though, he added that the government believes the elections should be also organized for the refugees.
Security Council Extends Afghanistan Role
Thu Mar 24,10:43 PM ET By EDITH M. LEDERER, Associated Press Writer
UNITED NATIONS - The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Thursday to extend the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, a show of support for the country's fledgling democratic government and its first post-Taliban parliamentary elections on Sept. 18.
The council called on the U.N. mission to continue to provide electoral support for the elections and urged donors to help finance the ballot quickly. Afghanistan has only $40 million of the total $148 million needed to hold the election, the top U.N. envoy in Afghanistan, Jean Arnault, told the council Tuesday.
The parliamentary elections are supposed to complete a political process agreed to in Bonn, Germany, after U.S. and allied Afghan forces drove out the Taliban in late 2001 for harboring Osama bin Laden.
The council stressed the importance of security for "credible" elections and called on member states to contribute troops and equipment to expand NATO (news - web sites)'s 8,500-strong International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and establish more Provincial Reconstruction Teams in new areas.
U.S. and NATO forces now run about 20 teams, up from just a handful last year, using them to channel millions of dollars in aid. American generals say that help has persuaded many Afghans to reject the Taliban.
The council welcomed the development of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police and the continuing efforts to increase their capabilities "as important steps toward the goal of Afghan security forces providing security and ensuring the rule of law throughout the country."
It called on the Afghan government and U.S. and NATO forces "to continue to address the threat to the security and stability of Afghanistan posed by Al-Qaida operatives, the Taliban and other extremist groups, factional violence among militia forces and criminal activities, in particular violence involving the drug trade."
The council welcomed international efforts to assist in setting up the new Afghan Parliament "and ensure its efficient functioning, which will be critical to the political future of Afghanistan and the steps towards a free and democratic Afghanistan."
Arnault told the council that over 100 Afghan staffers with expertise in different aspects of the legislative process are currently being trained, led by France with support from the U.N. Development Program.
Arnault told the council that delaying the parliamentary elections could have the unintended advantage of diminishing the influence of drug money on the electoral process.
The delay will also allow for more education of voters, candidates and parties, as well as better-trained police and army units. It will give the Afghan government more time "to complete the process of demilitarization that has gained much momentum in recent months," he said.
The resolution recognized "the urgent need" to tackle the illicit drug trade in Afghanistan, the lack of security in some areas, terrorist threats and to disarm and reintegrate Afghan militia forces.
$28 Million Awarded to Build Bridge Between Nations
Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan Coalition Press Information Center (Public Affairs) Press Release - March 24, 2005
KABUL, Afghanistan – A $28 million contract to build a bridge between Afghanistan and Tajikistan was awarded Monday by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Afghanistan Engineer District. The bridge will enable economic development and integration in the region.
“The Afghanistan-Tajikistan Bridge is a start in developing a new form of cross-border cooperation between the countries of Afghanistan and Tajikistan which ultimately will enhance the market economy and democracy of both countries,” said Maj. Don Pincus, the resident engineer for the project.
Expected to carry more than 1,000 vehicles per day between the two countries, the bridge will replace a barge system that can ferry only 50 to 60 cars over the Pyandzh River each day. The ferry doesn’t operate several months of the year due to unsafe water conditions.
The bridge will provide two lanes for vehicles and a pedestrian walkway spanning the river at Sher Khan, Afghanistan, and Niznji Pianj, Tajikistan. It is scheduled to be completed in April 2007.
The contract was awarded to Rizzani de Eccher S.p.A. of Udine, Italy.
A ground-breaking ceremony is planned for May.
RUSSIA, AFGHANISTAN SIGN EXTRADITION TREATY
RIA Novosti - March 23, 2005
MOSCOW, March 23 (RIA Novosti) -Russia's Justice Minister Yuri Chaika and Afghanistan's special envoy to the Russian Federation Ghulam Sakhi Ghairat signed an extradition treaty on Wednesday in Moscow.
The signing took place at a meeting in the Justice Ministry and was attended by representatives from the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Afghani diplomats.
Chaika noted that the treaty is the first extradition and legal assistance document signed by Afghanistan's new leadership. "The signing of, in my view, a very significant treaty took place today. It is directed at the humane treatment of convicts in the countries in which they are serving their sentences," he said.
According to Chaika, 41 Afghani citizens are currently serving time in Russia, most of them - for drug trafficking. "We now have a real legal possibility to extradite these individuals to Afghanistan," Chaika said. According to Ghairat, there are currently no Russian citizens imprisoned in Afghanistan.
U.S. Envoy Praises Afghan Anti-Drug War
By Anne Gearan THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
KABUL, Afghanistan - Weeks after the United States declared Afghanistan on the verge of becoming a narcotic state, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday praised Afghan efforts to clamp down on the heroin trade and Afghan President Hamid Karzai predicted drug production will drop significantly this year.
Without major progress to stem drug production, the drug economy threatens to undermine democratic advances in the formerly militant Islam nation.
Rice also applauded Afghan steps toward democracy, including presidential elections that marked the first time many Afghans had ever cast votes.
Karzai said that the next round of elections, for the country's parliament, will take place in September. That is a delay from the earlier plan to hold them in May, but Karzai rejected any suggestion that the new date marks any backsliding on the march toward democracy.
At a news conference with Rice, Karzai said the delay came at the suggestion of an independent election commission and United Nations advisers.
Rice sounded satisfied with Karzai's commitment to continue reforms and unconcerned about the election delay. "This is a large and complicated country," she said. "It takes a while to do these things."
Karzai described efforts to combat drugs as a journey the country has only just begun. "It's a long-term fight and requires a long-term strategy," he said.
Rice agreed. She noted U.S. assistance in trying to eradicate poppies and did not explicitly refer to the State Department's recent grim assessment.
Minutes before Rice and Karzai appeared together, a roadside bombing killed at least five people and wounded 32 in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar about 280 miles away.
Police blamed Taliban-led rebels for the attack, which hit a passing taxi carrying women and children, a roadside restaurant and other bystanders.
Asked about the blast, Karzai denied it was reflective of the current situation in his country. "I believe if you look at the trend, compare us with last year and compare last year and the year before" Afghanistan is now "among the less violent states in this part of the world," he said.
Earlier Thursday, Rice met with women political leaders and writers to note their progress in a society where women were forbidden to show their faces, much less participate in open political debate, just four years ago.
In a March 4 report, the State Department said that more than three years after installing a pro-U.S. government, Afghanistan has been unable to contain opium poppy production and is on the verge of becoming a narcotic state.
Pentagon Sees Antidrug Effort in Afghanistan
By THOM SHANKER March 25, 2005 The New York Times
WASHINGTON, March 24 - The American military will significantly increase its role in halting the production and sale of poppies, opium and heroin in Afghanistan, responding to bumper harvests that far exceed even the most alarming predictions, according to senior Pentagon officials.
The military will support efforts by Afghan and American agencies, rather than lead them. It will move antidrug agents by helicopters and cargo planes and assist in planning missions and uncovering targets in a stepped-up war on the trade and the heavily armed forces that protect it.
Under previous guidelines, the American military in Afghanistan was held back from such missions. The 17,000 American troops were authorized to seize or destroy drugs and drug equipment only if they came across them in the course of traditional military activities to capture or kill insurgents and terrorists.
To support the new effort, the Defense Department is requesting $257 million, more than four times the amount last year, in emergency financing for military assistance to the counternarcotics campaign, in addition to the $15.4 million in the Pentagon's budget for fiscal 2005, which began last Oct. 1.
The official modifications to the guidelines, now being finalized, are aimed at a poppy harvest that rose 64 percent in 2004, making Afghanistan the world's leading source of heroin and opium.
There is wide consensus in the government and the military and among humanitarian organizations that the drug trade now threatens all of America's goals in Afghanistan. Terrorists and insurgents there finance their activities largely with drug revenues, and the trade could undermine the nascent democratic government of President Hamid Karzai, who has called for a holy war against the opium trade.
The United States government has been repeatedly warned about the dangers of letting the Afghan poppy trade flourish, and has been criticized for failing to curb its growth after American forces toppled the Taliban government and routed Al Qaeda fighters in 2001. The Taliban, using often brutal tactics, had greatly suppressed poppy production.
In Congressional testimony last May, for example, Mark L. Schneider, senior vice president of the International Crisis Group, a humanitarian organization operating in Afghanistan, called on the American-led coalition to "state clearly that one of its missions is counternarcotics and helping Afghan government agencies to destroy the Afghan drug-trafficking problem."
He urged the military to change its rules of engagement to make intervention easier, and also urged increased American financing for Afghan governors who pay local forces to eradicate the poppy crop.
Planners at the Pentagon and at the Central Command, which directs coalition military efforts in Afghanistan, acknowledge that the new tasks will force American commanders to accept some risk in the counterinsurgency effort as they divert personnel and equipment from combating terrorists and guerrillas. The next few weeks will be especially telling because insurgents are expected to mount a spring offensive.
For years the military has resisted having its troops take control of attempts to stem drug growth abroad. That resistance continues, and the question of whether to order the military to seek out and destroy laboratories and to hunt down major traffickers is expected to generate debate.
The Drug Enforcement Administration is already conducting missions with Afghan law enforcement officers. The State Department, in coordination with the government in Kabul, is in charge of American efforts to eradicate poppies and pay farmers to cultivate other crops. Britain has been assigned command of the coalition's military counternarcotics mission in Afghanistan.
But Pentagon officials and American military officers express frustration at the results thus far.
"When we started developing this interagency plan, everybody knew the narcotics numbers would be bad," said one senior Pentagon official. But when the Central Intelligence Agency and the United Nations released reports on Afghan poppy cultivation for 2004 - the United Nations said Afghanistan was now responsible for 87 percent of the world's illicit opium production - "they were beyond most people's worst nightmares," the official added.
One military officer who has served in Afghanistan gave a more pointed assessment: "What will be history's judgment on our nation-building mission in Afghanistan if the nation we leave behind is Colombia" of the 1990's?
Up to now, the American military's primary role in the effort involved training Afghan military and police officers, and supplying them with weapons and other equipment. But that has already begun to change in recent weeks.
On March 15 the American military in Afghanistan provided transportation and a security force for 6 D.E.A. officers and 36 Afghan narcotics policemen who raided three laboratories in Nangahar Province. One laboratory was described by officials as a primary source of Afghan opium.
Under the new mission guidance, the Defense Department will provide "transportation, planning assistance, intelligence, targeting packages" to the counternarcotics mission, said one senior Pentagon official.
American troops will also stand by for "in-extremis support," the official said, particularly to defend D.E.A. and Afghan officers who come under attack, and to provide emergency evacuation, the official said.
Pentagon and military officials caution that support for the coalition's overall mission in Afghanistan could become unhinged if American forces are seen eradicating a crop that is the only livelihood for many Afghans, and they stress the importance of allowing Afghan forces to take the lead.
"We know the military is not the best tool for fighting drugs," said one senior Pentagon official. "We have the best troops in the world. We did in days what the Soviets could not do in a decade. But this is not about burning crops or destroying labs. Eventually it is about finding a better option for Afghans who have to feed their families."
Afghanistan creating special court for drug lords
Australian Broadcasting Corporation - Mar 24 12:30 PM
Afghanistan is building up a special court to try traffickers involved in the country's narcotics industry.
Over the last year, Afghanistan has trained three judges, seven prosecutors and a number of investigators for the court, Counter Narcotics Minister Habibullah Qaderi said.
"We plan to train more and more judges because we need a system, we need special judges, special prosecutors and a special court," Mr Qaderi said.
"This process has been started and if we find proof that an individual, whether in the government or out of it, is involved in drugs then he will be tried," he said.
He did not say when the court would be operational.
The United Nations and US government have warned that Afghanistan, the source of 90 per cent of the world's heroin, is teetering on the brink of becoming a "narcotic state".
Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said last month that Afghanistan had a list of senior government officials linked to the drugs industry, which now accounts for between 40 to 60 per cent of Afghanistan's economy.
However, he said the war-shattered country's police force was too embryonic to amass the evidence to try officials involved in drugs.
Afghan officials said on Thursday that giving alternative livelihoods to the 2.3 million farmers who cultivate opium poppies would be key to weaning the economy off its dependence on drugs. -AFP
"Troubled" Afghanistan-Pakistan-Iran triangle may deepen US presence
WASHINGTON (AFP) - Dogged by drug, terrorism and nuclear threats, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran are fast becoming a "troubled triangle" that could deepen US presence in the region, experts told a conference.
The problem is compounded by their strategic interests in each other's backyard, including Iran's strong influence in Afghanistan as Tehran strives to become a nuclear power, leaning toward Russia, China and India to create a strategic counterweight to the United States, they said on Thursday.
Drugs in Afghanistan, the world's biggest producer of opium, is deeply tied to warlords, terrorists and drug mafias within the country.
The drug trade is fuelling Pakistan's booming heroin market and increasing addiction among youths, as well as social ills in Iran, the conference organized by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington was told.
Terrorism is a major problem in the region, with the Afghanistan-Pakistan border a key hideout for the al-Qaeda network, including possibly terror mastermind Osama bin laden.
Aside from being accused by the United States of having a covert nuclear weapons program, Iran has been blamed for backing terror groups in the region.
"Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran are a troubled triangle and the US strategy now is to involve the US government in the region in a way to reduce the troubled nature," said Larry Goodson from the US Army War College.
But while a long term American commitment can help Afghanistan wean itself from drug dependency and boost reconstruction of the war-wrecked nation, and restore democracy to military-led Pakistan, it might fuel greater anti-American sentiment in the region, he warned.
"The US faces, as it does in Iraq, a real conundrum in that we have to stay in order to achieve strategic interest of stabilizing and transforming these troubled regions but our very presence there is going to continue to attract some of the more militant jihadists who want to challenge their conception of the US project for the world," Goodson said.
"Anti-American attitudes are at an all-time high in some areas. We really can't stay and yet we dare not go," he said.
In the first salvo on its global "war on terror," Washington led an invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001 to overthrow the hardline Taliban regime for backing al-Qaeda, which staged the deadly terror attacks on the United States.
Vali Nasr, a professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, said Pakistan and Iran were becoming "uneasy" neighbors amid their controversial nuclear capabilities.
"Iran's nuclear program and Pakistan's proliferation of nuclear technology is an explosive issue and for both countries it is about regime survival," said the expert on political Islam and Shiite doctrine.
Iran's nuclear technology was built on support from Pakistan, before it became a key US ally.
Pakistan admitted this month that its disgraced top scientist A.Q. Khan had supplied Iran with centrifuges, used to enrich uranium for atomic warheads.
"The Pakistan regime can suffer seriously or fall from power if A.Q. Khan's network involved the military," Nasr said. "More recently Pakistan has been accusing Iran of unnecesarily cooperating with the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) on the A.Q. Khan issue."
Pakistan's leaders very much blame Iran for inciting an insurgency in Baluchistan, a huge but sparsely populated province bordering Iran, "which has become an important problem for the Musharraf government."
"Iran is using ethnic tensions to prevent Musharraf from consolidating power and prevent it from consolidating relations with Washington," Nasr said.
If the United States wants to extend its influence from Islamabad through Kabul and further north, he said: "It will require a sustained American presence, long term, in the region."
"The big question is how and what fashion and how long is the United States going to be engaged in this high level way in Pakistan and Afghanistan and a very different way and negative way towards Iraq," Goodson said.
Ayesha Siddiqa, an ex-Pakistani government director of naval research and now a scholar, said "strategically, it will be positive for Pakistan to support a hostile policy towards Iran" although both countries were worried by President George W. Bush's "preemption" doctrine.
The strategy calls for "preventive" military action by the United States and its partners against groups or countries which harbor terrorists and have dangerous weapons.
Pressure on media starting to mount in post-Taliban Afghanistan
OTTAWA (CP) - Pressure on media in Afghanistan is mounting as groups step up criticism of "un-Islamic" content, especially on television, says a U.S.-supported news agency. Broadcast media, particularly, are discovering that post-Taliban freedoms may not be all they had hoped, an assessment by Internews suggests.
While the Taliban's draconian rules were clear - no music, no pictures, no television - there are no longer clear guidelines on what is considered acceptable under Islam. The lack of guidance has given various interest groups wide latitude to choose their own interpretations and repeatedly call for crackdowns on specific media organizations.
The minister for information and culture, Sayed Makhdom Raheen, said he is facing pressure on several fronts, including from extremists who are going to mosques and berating him for not taking action against TV networks.
"We are a nation with deep historical and cultural roots and foreign influence should not meddle with this," said Raheen. "New generations should be brought up on solid Islamic and national culture."
This week, the national Ulema Council, or council of religious scholars, issued a statement criticizing all TV channels broadcasting in Afghanistan, specifically citing the country's own independent channels for censure.
"The Ulema Council asked the government to stop 'immoral and un-Islamic' telecasts and called for a ban on music programs with dances which, they said, were against the Sharia, or Islamic law," said Internews.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari earlier issued a statement calling on TV channels to observe "the principles of Islam" in their program content.
Tolo TV and Afghan TV - both independents - have protested, saying their programs are well within the parameters of Islam, as well as the culture and traditions of Afghanistan.
Internews, which is supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development, said there has also been intimidation of community radio stations in northern Afghanistan.
One incidence of intimidation occurred at the hand of Uzbek strongman Abdul Rasheed Dostum's political wing, the Junbish-e Milli, after a local radio station broadcast a satire during last year's presidential election.
"The continuing pattern of intimidation following every repeat broadcast of a particular program mentioning Dostum makes it important," said Internews. "Satire and humour is not something that all of Afghanistan's leaders appreciate."
Journalists in the northern province of Balkh, a Dostum stronghold, are afraid to go public but have also expressed concerns about censorship. Dostum has since been appointed President Hamid Karzai's chief of staff.
Women’s History Month Celebration at Bagram
Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan Coalition Press Information Center (Public Affairs) Media Advisory - March 24, 2005
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Media representatives are invited to attend a Women’s History Month/International Women’s Day celebration at Bagram on Saturday, March 26.
The Afghan minister of women’s affairs, Massouda Jalal, will be in attendance, along with women from the Coalition forces. Women from the Coalition will speak about struggles of women in the past, struggles of today and the future for women throughout the world.
The women will share a meal with the minister in one of the Bagram dining facilities. Media will be able to participate in the meal.
Media who wish to attend the event are asked to meet at the Bagram gate at 11:15 a.m Saturday. Please RSVP by 7 p.m. Friday via e-mail to Staff Sgt. Rick Scavetta at: firstname.lastname@example.org
A high-tech school opens in the capital Kabul
KAUBL, March 24th (Pajhwok Afghan News) -- A high-tech school ‘Solai’ or peace built with a budget of US$ 520,000 was inaugurated Thursday in a district of Kabul by the Ms Handie, the daughter of the former Afghan King Amir Amanullah Khan. The money donated by Italian school children and Ms Handie was built in 1.5 Acres with 18 class rooms, one kitchen and a playground.
During an opening ceremony speech an official from the Italian Embassy in Kabul, Father Guiseppe Moretti said the school will be a reality of the symbol of peace. "I like this country and I would like to do more to help."
He said although the school is built with foreign aid Afghan teachers will have the role of teaching honesty to students. Babrak Khan Babakarkhail, a village chief said:” The land for the school was donated by his tribal people."
Afghan, Pakistani women activists honored
SF Chronicle Staff Writer
The moment they heard that the tyrannical Taliban rulers had fallen, the women of Afghanistan rejoiced, recalls Razia Naimi. "Women came out of their houses, there were celebrations in the streets, because of liberty regained," Naimi said Monday through a translator.
She had been an engineer and government official, but when the puritanical Taliban came to power, all Afghan women were forced to stay at home and cover themselves head to toe with burkhas, or risk death. During most of the Taliban rule, she had "no job, no salary."
Since the Taliban were driven from power by U.S. and international forces in 2002, Afghan girls have returned to schools, young women can attend universities, and educated women like Naimi are once again active in public affairs.
She is working with groups seeking peace between the nation's warring factions and encouraging exiled Afghans to return and rebuild their nation. "We are working very hard to reconstruct our country," she said.
Naimi was one of four women activists -- two Afghan and two Pakistani -- who are visiting Bozeman on a U.S. State Department-sponsored trip, designed to promote democracy and equal protection under the law for women.
Their visit to Bozeman, hosted by the local nonprofit Montana Center for International Visitors, included meetings with local women who started the Montana Connection for Afghan Women after Sept. 11.
Gail Weingart, MCAW president, said it raises money for grassroots, non-governmental organizations that help Afghan women and children and educates the public about their plight.
Weingart said they'd learned over lunch that while things have improved greatly for women since the Taliban's ouster, girls as young as 9 are still married off to elderly men when families have no money or must repay a debt.
In honor of Navruz, the Afghan new year's day, the visitors and several local women gathered Monday at the city tree nursery, on the edge of Sunset Hills Cemetery, to dedicate a tree to the women of Afghanistan. When the weather warms, the 12-foot honey locust will be replanted in the city's North Meadows Park.
Nigar Khaliz, director of an Afghan women's development association in Jalalabad, was one of about 175 women elected, along with hundreds of male delegates, to the national assemblies that chose an interim president and wrote a constitution. "My goal is to see women's rights in my country restored to them," Khaliz said.
Nusrat Yasmin, a Pakistani lawyer, works with human rights groups for the welfare of women. Her group represents women too poor to hire attorneys, including women forced by poverty to work for drug traffickers.
The people of Bozeman had been "very kind, very loving, very caring," Yasmin said. Faiza Hameed, a Pakistani lawyer who won election to represent her district, said she is working to improve education, health and job opportunities for women. Naimi expressed thanks to the citizens of Bozeman for making their new year's celebration one that would "be a memorable day for all of us -- forever."
Document suggests bin Laden escaped at Tora Bora
Military brief appears to contradict past Pentagon statements
From Mike Mount
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A document from the U.S. military appears to contradict the Pentagon's previous statements that it does not know whether al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden escaped U.S. forces at Tora Bora in Afghanistan in December 2001.
The legal document, which summarizes evidence against a terror suspect in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, states the prisoner "assisted in the escape of Usama Bin Laden from Tora Bora."
There is no date or time frame given.
Originally released after a Freedom of Information Act request by The Associated Press, the document is now on the Pentagon Web site. Who wrote it and what level of information that person had is unclear.
The document is dated December 14, 2004. It is part of what the U.S. military calls Combatant Status Review Boards, a process to determine whether a detainee is an enemy combatant and should continue to be held or if he should be released.
Pentagon officials would not discuss the information in the document and the numerous others released with it, saying the statements were generated from classified information.
Neither the prisoner's name or nationality was disclosed. In the document, he is said to be associated with al Qaeda and the Taliban, and is described as having had bodyguards at one point, indicating he may have been of some importance.
The document also says the detainee was a commander for bin Laden during the Afghan fight against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, and at some point called for a jihad, or holy war, against the United States.
Other evidence cited against the detainee states the person organized at least one rocket attack against U.S. troops and supported others.
The December 2001 siege of Tora Bora, aimed at killing or capturing bin Laden, has been hotly debated. U.S. military commanders have repeatedly said they didn't know if bin Laden was in the region or if he got away.
At a Pentagon news conference during the 2001 manhunt, Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem told reporters: "I'm not sure how close we ever really have been. We have narrowed it down to an area. Indicators were there, and now indicators are not there. So maybe he still is here, maybe he was killed, or maybe he's left."
The matter surfaced again during the 2004 presidential campaign. (Full story)
Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry repeatedly asserted that President Bush let bin Laden escape by using Afghan forces instead of American troops against al Qaeda in Tora Bora.
In an October 2004 opinion article in The New York Times, Gen. Tommy Franks wrote, "We don't know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001. Some intelligence sources said he was; others indicated he was in Pakistan at the time."
Franks was the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan at the time.
"Tora Bora was teeming with Taliban and Qaeda operatives ... but Mr. bin Laden was never within our grasp," wrote Franks, who retired in 2003 and backed Bush in the election.
Afghans seethe over child kidnapping scourge
Fri Mar 25, 2005 04:08 AM GMT By Ismail Sameen
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - The Afghan teenager's headless body was found in the desert outside Kandahar on a cold morning in early March.
His name was Naqibullah and he was 13, the latest known victim of a spate of child kidnapping that has stirred fear and anger in Afghanistan.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal said 150 children had been abducted in the past year, although he reckoned 100 had been rescued and as many kidnappers caught. Police believe many cases go unreported.
People fear their children are being trafficked abroad to supply paedophiles or for body parts for transplant surgery, or to be sold as slaves.
Sometimes children are stolen as part of a family feud, or for ransom, or for sexual abuse by their abductors.
Haji Bismillah doesn't cry as he recounts how his son, Naqibullah, disappeared on the way to the bazaar on February 25.
Soon after, Bismillah got a note demanding $10,000. One of Naqibullah's fingers was in the envelope.
Bismillah is jobless but he borrowed from relatives. Nine days after making the drop as instructed in a village north of Kandahar, police called to say Naqibullah's body had been found.
Bismillah's relatives didn't let him see the boy.
"I don't know if the kidnappers cut off his head or animals had eaten him. The body was in a very bad condition," he said.
Other children have just disappeared.
Abdul Mannan, a farmer and father of seven from Kandahar's Marouf district, said his seven-year-old son went missing eight months ago while playing outside his home.
"I searched for him a lot, but in vain. I even went to Chaman and Quetta (in Pakistan) to find him. Now I have lost hope.
"I have not registered the case with police. It is useless."
General Fateh Khan, security chief in Spin Boldak, an Afghan border truck-stop on the main road to Pakistan, said his men caught two child kidnappers in July and three in December.
"Kidnappings take place either for ransom or for their body parts," he told Reuters.
"Most of the kidnappings are just for money. They demand ransom and sometimes even if a ransom is paid, they still kill the child."
He also knows that many parents despair of informing the police.
SAFER UNDER THE TALIBAN?
In the capital, Kabul, there have been dozens of child kidnappings and cases of trafficking.
President Hamid Karzai issued a decree in July last year ordering the death penalty for child killers and for anyone removing the organs of kidnapped children.
Gullali Hamkar, a Kandahari woman who heads the Allawoddin Orphanage in Kabul, becomes impassioned on the subject of child kidnappers.
"When they die, how will they answer God?" she asks.
Anger boiled over in Kandahar after Naqibullah's body was found.
About 1,000 demonstrators converged on the residence of Governor Gul Agha Sherzai. Guards fired into the air to disperse the protesters after they threw stones and looked set to storm the building.
Protesters shouted that life was safer under the Taliban, a stinging message to Karzai, who won last October's presidential election thanks partly to hope that he would bring stability after decades of conflict.
While U.S. forces and NATO peacekeepers have succeeded in dampening a Taliban-inspired insurgency over the past six months, ordinary Afghans still live in fear of rampant crime.
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch delivered a damning assessment this month.
"Local military and police forces, even in Kabul, have been involved in arbitrary arrests, kidnapping, extortion, torture and extrajudicial killings of criminal suspects," it said.
Naqibullah's kidnappers were similarly dismissive of law and order in the new Afghanistan.
"Sherzai and the government cannot do anything. Just bring $10,000," they said in their ransom note.
A year earlier, shopkeeper Juma Gull got a similar message after his five-year-old boy, also called Naqibullah, was abducted.
"We aren't afraid of Karzai, we aren't afraid of Sherzai," the kidnappers said in their note. They threatened to kill the boy unless a 200,000 afghanis ransom was paid.
The kidnappers also said they had their own hospital, perhaps indicating they cut out organs from victims, Gull said.
Gull also borrowed to pay, but he was luckier than Bismillah. The kidnappers plied the boy with alcohol and dumped him in a village outside Kandahar.
But the kidnappers had cut off one of the boy's fingers and a toe. He is still traumatised.
As a stranger enters his mud-walled home, the boy runs to hide in the folds of his father's traditional baggy shirt.
"He will kill me, he will kill me," Naqibullah whimpered before his father explained that the stranger with a camera was a journalist.
The last time Naqibullah saw a camera, one of his kidnappers took a photograph of his mutilated right hand and left foot.
Pak continues to play spoilsport in aid for Afghanistan
Mar. 24, 2005 India Daily - Mar 24 1:54 PM
Pakistan has been resisting permitting transit rights to Indian goods to reach to Afghanistan market.Junior minister for external affairs Rao Inderjit Singh here told the Rajya Sabha that "both India and the Afghanistan have been pressing Pakistan to give the transit access for the Indian goods in rebuilding Afghanistan but without success so far." He, however, ruled out the possibility of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh broaching the issue with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf coming here in April to watch a one-day Indo-Pak cricket match. "If there are talks, they would be about cricket and not this," the Minister said in response to a supplementary by BJP member and former External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha. Rao said Dr Manmohan Singh had broached the subject with Musharraf during their meeting in New York last year. He said India would continue its efforts to persuade Pakistan as its good going to Kabul through Pakistan would save a lot of time and money. Today, Afghanistan gets the second highest aid to the tune of US $500 million from India but this has to be routed from the Gujarat ports through Iran by the sea route which brings down the aid to $300 to 400 million, the Minister said. India has committed US $ 500 millon over the period of 2002-08 for reconstruction of Afghanistan. Just because Pakistan is not allowing transit facility, India is assisting Iran in building a port on its land for facilitating faster movement of goods to Afghanistan. A consortium of IRCON, Ashok Leyland and Rites has been set up for building the port, the Minister said. Among the commitments made to Afghanistan is construction of a Parliament building in Kabul as also undertake, in partnership with Afghan government, projects in a wide range of sectors, including power, roads, agriculture, industry, telecommunications, information and broadcasting, health and education, the Minister said. He also disclosed that the government-owned Indian Airlines would commence its operations to and from Kabul from March 31.
AFGHANISTAN-PAKISTAN: Karachi Afghans reluctant to repatriate
24 Mar 2005 16:36:07 GMT
KARACHI, 24 March (IRIN) - For 63-year-old Gul Bibi, returning to her homeland couldn't be more natural. Arriving in the southern port city of Karachi 20 years earlier, she now hopes to start her life anew with her children in Afghanistan's northern Konduz province.
"I believe in God. I believe our future will be brighter in Afghanistan," the mother of nine and widow told IRIN outside her simple mud-brick home in Jadeed, a multi-ethnic makeshift community of 30,000 Afghans in the dusty Gadap township of Karachi.
But most Afghans in Pakistan's largest city don't share her optimism. "When there is complete stability then I will return," Abdul Manan, a 95-year-old Pashtun elder, told IRIN outside Jadeed's local mosque, citing a lack of jobs and instability as the primary impediments to his return.
His peers nodded in agreement. "Most people are not ready to return," Haji Ashoor Baig, another long-time Jadeed resident and Uzbek elder added. "Right now I don't have any plans to go back. There are no jobs for my children. What will we do if we go there?" he asked.
Such sentiment is telling and indicative of what most Afghans in Pakistan's bustling former capital are thinking. Those who wanted to return have done so, with those remaining still waiting to see what happens.
"Most of the Afghans in Karachi today are taking 'a wait-and-see' approach towards developments in their homeland," Kazuhiro Kaneko, head of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Karachi, told IRIN.
Although the vast majority of Afghans in Pakistan today – estimated at over 2 million – live in refugee camps, many still live in large urban areas of the country, including Karachi.
Earlier government estimates put their numbers in the city at some 500,000, with UNHCR assisting 250,000 to return following the launch of its voluntary repatriation programme in March 2002. However, following a UNHCR and government census in February yet to be released, that number has been revised downwards.
"There are over 100,000 Afghans in Karachi today," Kaneko estimated. "Of these, we expect 40,000 to 50,000 will return this year."
Most Afghans in the city, who unlike those living in refugee camps have not received UNHCR assistance, work as cheap, unskilled labourers. With limited job prospects, they remain concerned over what awaits them should they return, underscoring what the UN and others have long maintained: for return to be sustainable, further investment in Afghanistan's long-term reconstruction and security will be needed.
In short, despite the large numbers that have returned, as well as the significant developments that have occurred inside the country, UNHCR acknowledges that voluntary repatriation is not yet a viable, durable solution for all Afghans in Pakistan.
"Most people want to go, but want for things to improve inside the country," Mohammad Dawood, a 25-year-old Afghan student and pharmacy worker in Jadeed, told IRIN.
According to UNHCR, since the start of its voluntary repatriation effort in March 2002, some 2.2 million Afghans have returned to their homeland. Some 384,032 refugees opted to repatriate in 2004 with UNHCR assistance, in contrast to the previous year's 343,074.
But while 2002 was marked by an unprecedented number of returns, with UNHCR helping nearly 1.6 million Afghans return from Pakistan, the guiding principle over the past two years has been gradualism, keeping in mind the limited absorption capacity of the country.
In March, some 1,000 Afghans from Karachi may return, Kaneko believed, noting he expected 7,000 to 8,000 would return each month in April, May, June and July.
"Repatriation is very much dependent on the weather," the seasoned UN official explained. "But we are here to facilitate the voluntary repatriation of all who wish to do so."
Meanwhile, back in Jadeed, where over one-third of the community's population has already left, the debate to return or not continues.
Gul Bibi's son Zulmai tries to share his mother's optimism but worries about how they will rebuild their lives and their home. "I heard people are paid more in Afghanistan," the 25-year-old carpet weaver, who currently earns less than US $50 a month to support his family, told IRIN hopefully.
But for 28-year-old Asadullah, another carpet weaver from the northern province of Jowzjan, returning to Afghanistan with his two wives seems more unlikely than ever. "After 22 years, Pakistan is the only home I have ever known. There is no job for me there," he asserted.
Opposition at every turn
By Syed Saleem Shahzad / Asia Times Online / March 23, 2005
KARACHI - Two years ago, Pakistan's military establishment pieced together a system of statecraft that was a mixture of military and civil governance. This policy now lies in tatters, and the ruling military establishment is desperately trying to patch it up.
Amid these developments, the anti-US movement, which had been lying low, is becoming more organized at a time when Pakistan is cooperating with the United States on several regional and international fronts.
The launch of a series of "million marches" last Sunday, calls for strikes, countrywide demonstrations and a standoff in troubled Balochistan province, all add to the problems of President General Pervez Musharraf.
Balochistan boils again
Pakistan forces are locked in a standoff with militiamen of the Bugti tribe in Dera Bugti in Balochistan province, after an earlier battle that left scores of security personnel and tribesmen dead. Hundreds of Pakistani forces are apparently under siege.
Balochistan has seen unrest since the beginning of the year when tribesmen attacked key gas installations at Sui, in the heart of the Bugti tribal area. The tribesmen claim a greater portion of the region's natural wealth.
Balochistan is geographically the largest of Pakistan's provinces, but population-wise it is the smallest. However, the province is endowed with some of the world's richest reserves of natural energy (gas, oil, coal); minerals (gold, copper), and it has strategic mountainous borders and passes adjoining Iran and Afghanistan on the west and miles of precious maritime coast stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea in the south.
Even as politicians attempt to solve the problem through dialogue, increased military action seems inevitable in the volatile region.
Re-emergence of Islamists
Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, leader of the opposition Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf; the president of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), a coalition of opposition religious political parties, Qazi Hussain Ahmed; and leader of the opposition, Fazalur Rehman, could never have thought in their wildest imagination that on Sunday, when the Taliban resistance is lying low in Afghanistan and the Iraq issue is old, merely the pro-US policies of Musharraf could draw probably the largest crowd in the history of Pakistan, with people spread along a 3.5-kilometer stretch in Karachi.
This was the first in a series of five "million marches" organized by the MMA in major cities aimed at mobilizing public opinion against government policies and US intervention in the affairs of Pakistan.
"We will continue the struggle against Pervez Musharraf until he is ousted from power," Rehman said at the rally. "Musharraf is playing into the hands of America and distorting the Islamic identity of Pakistan."
The whole of Karachi had been decorated with posters three days before last weekend's march, inviting them to attend the gathering. "Musharraf says the veil and the beard [present] a regressive picture ... He says in my whole family there is only one man with beard ... He says those who do not like to see women running in shorts should shut their eyes and TV sets," some of the posters read.
On the other hand, "Musharraf says do not play around with the enemy otherwise he will pull out our eyes ... if the Balochi are brave, we are also brave, to boot out this Western stooge, join the million march," the posters continued.
The theme of the march was so conservative on religious issues that the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy, which had earlier agreed to attend the meet, backed out and announced that it could not join with the MMA on such issues.
Khan, who once charmed the Western press with his cricketing and playboy image and whom Musharraf and his wife once termed as their favorite personality - he was courted to give Musharraf's government credibility - added his weight to the religious forces in the country.
"I do not believe in any enlightened moderation which separates us from our ideological saga. Had this been a destination, what was the need to get a separation from India [in 1947]. Pakistan is an Islamic state and will continue to be an Islamic state," Khan told the cheering crowd.
This successful Islamist opposition march in Karachi has put in motion the wheels for more such marches, strikes and demonstrations.
In the National Assembly, the government was defeated twice in trying to pass bills. Despite one of the largest federal cabinets in the history of the country, there is a long queue for ministry positions within the ruling coalition. These people have formed a group, and to show their strength they boycotted assembly proceedings - which has given the opposition parties a chance to call the shots in the assembly. The helpless government openly announced a political "bribe" (development funds) of Rs2.5 million (US$42,000) for those who are punctual at assembly proceedings.
The government is also under fire over its "accountability" program against corruption. A coalition partner in the government and incumbent minister of Northern Areas and Kashmir affairs, Faisal Saleh Hayat has finally had his bail canceled by the Supreme Court in a loan default case - the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had refused to take any action. He is still a minister.
Former minister Salma Ahmed has dramatically been put behind bars by the NAB in a case that is still under litigation and the court has yet to make a decision. The case revolves around a book written by the 75-year-old former minister that boldly exposes many top names of the country (including a former navy chief).
Former Pakistani cricket captain and former top bureaucrat Javed Burki, who happens to be Imran Khan's first cousin, has been targeted by the NAB, even though the courts have taken no action against him.
Many observers view these events as political victimization through the NAB.
Anti-Musharraf sentiment has been stoked by the case of one Dr Shazia, who was raped in Sui in Balochistan recently, setting off ongoing protests there. Unconfirmed reports say the perpetrator was a military captain close to the ruling generals. No action has been taken and Dr Shazia and her husband have departed unexpectedly for the United Kingdom. Musharraf has not helped his cause by besmirching Dr Shazia's character.
In effect, Musharraf now has only one constituency - the army. Other forces are gathering against him.
Syed Saleem Shahzadis Bureau Chief, Pakistan, Asia Times Online.
More tension in southern Pakistan
Thursday, 24 March, 2005 BBC News
Three people were injured during clashes with security forces on Wednesday in the Pakistani province of Balochistan, police say.
The incident took place in the Gawadar area when officials tried to confiscate Iranian goods from a bus.
Police say that led to angry crowds throwing stones and the security forces firing in the air and using tear gas.
Meanwhile 300 paramilitary troops remain encircled by hundreds of armed tribals in the town of Dera Bugti. Remote area
Police say that order was only restored when the seized goods were returned to the passengers after several hours of protests.
Locals say the goods comprised basic daily use items belonging to local people travelling on the bus.
The BBC's Azizullah Khan in Quetta says that many people in the area depend on Iranian goods, because Pakistani goods cannot reach this remote area which is a long distance from major cities.
Our correspondent says that transporters have called a strike - supported by all political parties in the area - to protest against the police action.
Meanwhile a two member delegation sent by the prime minister to try and resolve the stand off at Dera Bugti has left Islamabad.
The delegation's visit follows on from a similar trip to the area made by a 15 member parliamentary party made up of government and opposition members.
They are reported to be presenting their report to parliament shortly.
Tribal chief Akbar Bugti told visiting legislators he had no compromise offer.
Mr Bugti is at the forefront of a tribal campaign to win political autonomy and a greater share of revenue from the south-western province's gas reserves.
United States pledges $200,000 for reforestation of Afghanistan
Ambassador Khalilzad urges Afghan youth to protect environment
Source: United States Department of State 22 Mar 2005
U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad announced a $200,000 U.S. pledge to the Afghan Conservation Corps to support a program to reforest Afghanistan, according to a statement from the embassy in Kabul March 21.
Following is the text of the embassy statement:
US Pledges $200,000 To Kabul Greening Week
Millions more to go to national reforestation
Kabul March 21, 2004 - US Ambassador and Special Presidential Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad today announced that the United States had pledged $200,000 to the Afghan Conservation Corps (ACC) in support of Kabul Greening Week. The Ambassador also announced his support for President Bush's recent request to the US Congress for an additional $10 million for reforestation in Afghanistan. The Ambassador made the announcement at a tree planting ceremony held in front of Eid Gah Mosque at which President Karzai, and other dignitaries planted trees.
In addition to these funds, the Ambassador said that Senator Hilary Clinton (D-NY) had launched a campaign for a Green Afghanistan. The program will add 80,000 trees to Afghan forests by developing family-owned orchards, nurseries, and forestry businesses. Combined Forces Command Afghanistan (CFC-A) has also agreed to contribute 150,000 tree saplings to the Ministry of Defense for planting this spring.
"I call on the youth of Afghanistan to take an interest in your country's environment, and get involved in the greening of Afghanistan," said Ambassador Khalilzad. "As the youth grow into a population of free men and women, we hope that the trees they pant and nurture will grow with them."
USDA to donate soybean oil to Afghanistan
Source: Government of the United States of America 18 Mar 2005
WASHINGTON, March 18, 2005 - The U.S. Department of Agriculture today announced that it will donate 23,000 metric tons of crude degummed soybean oil to the government of Afghanistan.
The government of Afghanistan will sell the soybean oil in Pakistan and use the proceeds to finance rural development activities. Areas of focus are expected to include improving the long term institutional capacity of the Ministry of Higher Education and the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Food in agricultural education, agricultural extension, applied agricultural research, animal health and disease surveillance and eradication, agribusiness and market formation, rural finance, water management, integrated pest management, trade capacity building, agricultural investment, and natural resource conservation.
The donation will be made under the USDA's Food for Progress program, administered by the Foreign Agricultural Service. The supply period for this donation is fiscal year 2005.
Earthquake of slight intensity felt in Afghanistan
Press Trust of India New Delhi, March 25, 2005|08:25 IST
An earthquake of slight intensity was felt in the Hindukush mountain ranges in Afghanistan on Thursday night, the Meteorological department said.
The quake, measuring 4.8 on the Richter scale, was recorded at 2234 IST. Its epicentre was at 36 degree North latitude and 71 degree East longitude, the met department said.
Navistar awarded contract to make vehicles for Afghanistan military
The Trucker - Mar 24 3:08 PM
WARRENVILLE, Ill. -- Navistar International Corp. has been awarded a U.S. Army contract for up to $467 million to supply vehicles to the Afghanistan military for rebuilding and peacekeeping operations, company officials announced March 8.
Under the three-year deal, Navistar subsidiary International Truck and Engine Corp. will provide more than 1,800 trucks valued at $311 million to the Afghan National Army. Later orders could boost the total to 2,781 vehicles worth $467 million, firm officials said.
The deal is part of the company's strategy to leverage its commercial truck business to pursue military contracts, said Daniel Ustian, Navistar president and CEO. The company makes International trucks, school buses and diesel engines for pickup trucks, vans and sport utility vehicles. The vehicles for the Afghan military will be built on the same platform as Navistar's existing 7000 series of International trucks. Mid-range diesel engines for the order will be made at the company's assembly plant in Melrose Park, Ill. Truck cabs will be built at its Springfield, Ohio, plant while final assembly will be done at a facility in Garland, Texas. The first shipment of 374 vehicles, worth $61.8 million, is expected to go out in the second half of this year.
The company also has contracts to supply more than 1,000 buses and trucks to the U.S. government for Iraq reconstruction efforts.
-- The Trucker Staff
Tillman Center to open in Afghanistan
Mar. 24, 2005 12:00 AM Arizona Republic, AZ
The United Service Organizations (USO) and the NFL will open the Pat Tillman USO Center in Afghanistan in the next week. The NFL donated $250,000 to the USO for the construction of the Tillman Center, located at Bagram Air Base near Kabul and named in honor of Tillman, the former Arizona State and Cardinals player who, as an Army Ranger, was killed during combat operations in Afghanistan in April 2004.
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