Afghan parliamentary polls "likely" in mid-September
05 Mar 2005 08:29:18 GMT By David Brunnstrom
KABUL, March 5 (Reuters) - Afghanistan's long-delayed parliamentary elections are likely to be in mid-September, but district polls will not be possible this year, a source close to the U.N.-Afghan election body said on Saturday.
The Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) presented a document to a meeting of President Hamid Karzai's cabinet last Monday, which mentioned Sept. 17 for the polls, the source, who did not want to be identified, told Reuters.
"That date is still not final," the source said. "We are still debating whether it makes sense to hold them maybe a couple of days before or after that."
While the date still had to be confirmed, the source said mid-September was the "likely" timing and the JEMB could make a formal announcement of at least a broad timetable within days.
"Mid-September is the soonest they could happen," the source said, adding he doubted voting would be delayed much beyond that.
The parliamentary polls were supposed to have been held in tandem with last year's presidential electikns, which were themselves repeatedly delayed amid concerns about security and logistical problems before taking place on Oct. 9.
While Afghanistan has seen a decline in attacks by Taliban guerrillas since the presidenthalÃ¾ elections, which the guerrillas vowed but then failed to disrupt, analysts say the militants and the continued existence of factional militias pose a threat to the more complex parliamentary polls.
The source said organisers had been encouraged by the success of security foRces in protecting the October poll and the additional time was mainly needed for logistical reasons, such as to allow for the hiring of electoral staff, registration of more voters from returned refugees and printing of ballot papers.
DISTRICT POLL DELAY
He said the plan was for Afghanistan's more than 10.5 million voters to elect a 249-seat lower house of parliament and provincial councils, but district council elections supposed to be held at the same time would not be possible this year given politically charged disputes over district boundaries.
"The purpose of elections is to promote stability and there is a sense this is an issue that could disturb things," he said.
Delay in the district polls would mean it would not immediately be possible to create a full-sized upper house, or SEnate, since district councils are supposed to send representatives to the chamber, he said.
The solution proposed to allow parliament to function in the absence of district polls was for Karzai to name only half the representatives he is entitled to appoint to the upper house until the lower-level polls were held, he said.
Government spokesman Jawed Ludin said he was not aware of a date of Sept. 17 being discussed by the Cabinet and reiterated the government wanted the polls held as soon as possible.
But he said it "would live with" the date picked by the JEMB.
NATO, whosd 9,000 peacekeepers and an 18,000-strong U.S.-led force pursuing Islamic militants will help provide security for the elections, has called for the date to be decided as soon as possible.
It has said that if they could not be held by th
Afghanistan: RFE/RL Interviews Former Taliban Involved In Reconciliation Talks
Habibullah Fawzi, a former Taliban diplomat at the Afghan Embassy in Riyadh, is one of four senior former Taliban members who have responded to an amnesty offer by the Afghan government. In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL, he explains his motivations and plans for the future. RFE/RL correspondents Sultan Sarwar and Golnaz Esfandiari report.
Prague, 4 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Habibullah Fawzi, a former Taliban diplomat, says talks between former members of the Taliban militia and the Afghan government aimed at national reconciliation have been going on for two years.
Fawzi says there has been a considerable amount of understanding between the two sides -- without going into details.
"For the higher interests of the country, we think there is a need for a political process in order to reach a mutual understanding between different ethnic groups, based on Islamic principles and Afghan values," Fawzi says. "We want to bring peace, unity, and stability to our country, and we believe that strengthening peace and stability in Afghanistan is not only in the benefit of Afghans, but it is also in the interest of the region and the world."
The Afghan government has called on former Taliban members to join the country's social and political life. The only individuals excluded are those involved with terrorist groups or committing atrocities. The call is supported by the United States. The former Taliban officials distance themselves from militants who are continuing attacks in the southern and eastern regions of the country. They say they are talking to the government in the name of their party -- not as Taliban members.
Fawzi, along with Abdul Hakim Mujahid, a former envoy to the United Nations; Arsullah Rahmani, the former deputy minister of higher education; and Rahmatullah Wahidyar, a former deputy minister of refugees and returnees, are the highest-ranking former Taliban to participate in the talks.
All four fled to Pakistan after U.S. and Afghan forces drove the Taliban from power in late 2001.
The former Taliban officials distance themselves from militants who are continuing attacks in the southern and eastern regions of the country. They say they are talking to the government in the name of their party -- not as Taliban members.
"We talked to the government representing the Khuddam ul Furqan [Servants of the Koran] -- not the Taliban," Fawzi says. "Of course there are some groups who are in favor of military actions, but we believe the majority of people think that for establishing peace and stability in the country conflict and clashes should end."
The ousted Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and his supporters have condemned the talks as a plot and say they will continue their fight against foreign forces and the Afghan government.
Fawzi tells RFE/RL that the four share the Hamid Karzai government's vision of peace and stability.
"We believe that Afghanistan is an Islamic country and the desire of the people should be reflected in the government, we want the representatives of public to join the government, so that a national Islamic government is formed, the representatives of peopleshould be chosen according to their will, their demands should be fulfilled," Fawzi says. "And there should be an end to the atmosphere of intimidation, lack of confidence, and fear.... Instead of people being harmed under different names, effective steps must be taken to solve their problems.
Reports of the talks have met with mixed reactions by the general population, though several Afghans interviewed by RFE/RL expressed hope the move would put an end to the fighting and boost reconstruction efforts.
Bomb attack injures U.S.-led coalition soldier in eastern Afghanistan
Friday March 4, 9:18 PM Associated Press
A homemade bomb exploded near a convoy of vehicles in eastern Afghanistan, wounding a soldier of the U.S.-led coalition, the U.S. military said Friday.
The soldier suffered minor injuries in Thursday's blast in Kunar province and was transported to a coalition base at the provincial capital Asadabad for treatment.
The military said in a statement that the incident was under investigation. The soldier was not identified.
About 17,000 U.S. soldiers are hunting al-Qaida and Taliban militants in eastern and southern Afghanistan.
Four 'Well-Known' Neo-Taliban Members Reportedly Arrested In Southern Afghanistan
Daily Afghan Report / March 3, 2005 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi said on 2 March that Afghan security forces have detained four members of the neo-Taliban in Oruzgan Province, AFP reported. "The arrested men are well-known members of the Taliban," Azimi added. He identified the men as Mullah Nazir, Raqib Akhund, Obidullah, and Nader. Azimi did not provide more information about the arrestees. AT
Four international experts appointed by UN envoy to help run Afghan legislative elections
UN News Centre
3 March 2005 – The senior United Nations envoy for Afghanistan today appointed four international electoral experts to serve on the commission charged with preparing and conducting the country's national legislative and district polls scheduled for later this year.
Jean Arnault, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan, announced that Canada's Alison Redford, Australia's Julian Type, India's Noor Mohammad and Ray Kennedy of the United States have been selected to sit on the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB).
The JEMB is comprised of the four officials – each one has extensive experience in helping to organize elections in foreign countries – and the nine-member Afghan Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). After the elections are held, the IEC will assume full responsibility for the running of future elections in Afghanistan.
Mr. Arnault has also appointed Peter Erben as the IEC's Chief Electoral Officer, his spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva told reporters in the Afghan capital of Kabul.
West's anti-drug strategy fails to tackle Afghan opium problem
Fri Mar 4,12:01 AM ET South Asia - AFP
KABUL (AFP) - Opium production in Afghanistan hit near-record levels last year because the US-backed eradication strategy ignores the plight of poor farmers who cannot afford to stop growing poppies, analysts say.
The eyes of the world were also focused on the country's first presidential polls last October and on the threat posed by militants from the ousted Taliban regime, rather than on narcotics, according to experts.
Meanwhile Afghanistan's opium crop quietly swelled to levels near those last seen under the Islamic regime, prompting a warning from the UN's drugs body this week that the country is now poised to become a state built on narcotics.
Despite President Hamid Karzai's pledge to wage a "holy war" on drugs, and an influx of millions of aid dollars, poppy output rose from 3,200 tonnes in 2003 to 4,200 tonnes in 2004, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) said.
The United States, backed by Britain, partly justified its overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 on the grounds of the regime's involvement in drugs, and wants an aggressive programme of eradicating opium poppies.
However humanitarian organisations say eradication won't work unless Afghanistan's 2.3 million farmers are given time to make an alternative living from growing other crops.
Rural communities which are too poor to worry about the subtleties of the debate kept on growing poppies because they are hardy, drought-resistant and easy to transport, analysts say.
"Often opium is simply a survival-coping strategy for poor farmers. It is the money they use to survive the winter and gives them access to credit and land," Michael Kleinman of CARE Afghanistan told AFP.
CARE was one of 31 non-governmental organisations which wrote to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in January urging America to reconsider its emphasis on eradication, saying it could destabilise Afghanistan.
Washington has finally taken an interest in Afghanistan's drugs problem after three years of focusing on the "war on terror", pledging 780 million dollars. Britain doubled its funding for the coming year to 100 million.
But only a fraction of the US funds will be spent on rural development. Both the US and Britain have denied accusations they secretly sprayed crops in major opium-growing areas.
AFP Interview: Taliban down but not out, coalition general says
Saturday March 5, 4:18 PM AFP
Afghanistan's Taliban insurgents are "down but not out" after failing to mount any significant attacks in recent months, the acting head of the US-led coalition said.
British Major General Peter Gilchrist, who is leading the 18,000-strong force in the absence of its American commander Lieutenant General David Barno, told AFP in an interview that the ousted regime's hierarchy had fragmented.
"There have been attacks, we have had several, but they are not coordinated, they are not structured in the way they used to be," Gilchrist said.
Two US soldiers have died in combat since the New Year compared to nine in the same period a year earlier. Although the worst winter in over a decade accounted for part of the lull, Gilchrist said the Taliban's command structure was unravelling.
"A year ago we were seeing large groups coming in and trying to attack us, and now you see smaller groups and you don't see any coordination between groups," he said.
"You don't see that there is a command structure able to coordinate and achieve anything of any major significance."
Taliban militants have been waging a bloody rebellion in the south and southeast since the fundamentalist Islamic militia was ejected from power by a US-led invasion in late 2001.
But their failure to live up to their pledge to derail Afghanistan's first presidential election last October had "done them a lot of psychological damage," Gilchrist said.
"I think they are less trustworthy of each other, and there are signs that there are a large number of them that would like to find a way to come home and to reintegrate back into society," he added.
President Hamid Karzai's government has recently been in talks with senior officials from the former regime, which incurred Washington's wrath when it failed to surrender Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden after 9/11.
Karzai has said his government will offer an arms-for-amnesty deal to all but around 150 of the most hardened Taliban war criminals and those with links to Al-Qaeda.
"We hope that the government will be in a position to announce something in the relatively near future, where we can start a process where we can try to reintegrate these people into society," Gilchrist said.
He added that when large numbers of Taliban rank-and-file members -- said by US military officials to number around 1,000 -- start laying down their arms, it would "cause a major disruption to the command chain".
"We can expect quite a lot of foot soldiers who are trying to find their way back and currently have nothing better to do... than to fight, would like to come home and will do if they thought it was safe," he said.
There have also been "clear signs" that former Taliban leaders who fled to neighbouring Pakistan in late 2001 wanted to come back and resume a normal life in Afghanistan, Gilchrist said.
Former Taliban foreign minister Wakeel Ahmed Mutawakel is now in Kabul and is playing a key role in efforts to persuade former colleagues to take up the government's olive branch.
However Gilchrist scotched speculation that former Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is now on Washington's most-wanted list of terror suspects, would be among those to come in from the cold.
"I can't actually see that he has any wriggle-room... because he has put himself so far the other side of the law," he said.
The general added that a small Taliban hard core would "continue to run an insurgency" despite the carrot and stick effect of the amnesty offer and the coalition's military operations.
"They will continue to attack softer targets and will probably try to achieve some sort of demonstration, some sort of spectacular," he said.
Former Taliban Approach Governor In Southern Afghanistan
Daily Afghan Report / March 3, 2005 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
Gol Agha Sherzai, Kandahar Province governor and minister adviser to President Karzai, has claimed that he is in contact with former Taliban members, "Cheragh" reported on 1 March. "As the governor of Kandahar Province, I have begun talks with the Taliban and some of them have shown preparedness" to accept the government's reconciliation offer, Sherzai said. A neo-Taliban spokesman, Latifullah Hakimi, rejected Sherzai's claims as propaganda aimed at creating a rift in the ranks of the militia, "Cheragh" reported, citing the Hindukosh News Agency. Hakimi warned that the neo-Taliban will step up their attacks soon. It is expected that subversive activities by the militants will escalate as the weather becomes warmer. AT
Foreigner arrested at Kabul airport, suspected plotting terrorist attacks, Afghan official says
Friday March 4, 11:49 PM AP
Afghan military intelligence agents arrested a foreign national at Kabul airport this week, and they suspect he was plotting a terrorist attack, the defense ministry spokesman said Friday.
Spokesman Gen. Mohammed Zahir Azim said the foreigner had been walking in a prohibited area of the airport and investigators believe he was doing reconnoissance for an attack.
Azim declined to give any more details, including the suspect's name and nationality.
Afghan state television reported that the arrest was made Monday.
A spokesperson for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Fore _ which patrols Kabul and has a presence at the city's airport _ said the force was not involved in the arrest and had no information about it.
Ex-Afghan wrestler opens 'hospital'
STEPHEN GRAHAM / Associated Press March 3, 2005
KABUL, Afghanistan - Sitting cross-legged in the gloom of a tiny shop, a shoeshine boy gasped as the bones in his left arm crunched back into position in the powerful hands of Jan Agha, proprietor of Kabul's "Wrestler's Hospital."
A visit to Agha's grimy store in the capital's bird market is the choice for many Afghans with minor fractures, dislocations or sprains. It's faster and cheaper than a hospital, and those who come here seem unfazed by the hulking caregiver's admitted lack of orthopedic training.
"The hospital takes ages, and the wrestler is so experienced, so he's the man," said Rafiq, a 21-year-old who had his swollen elbow daubed in cold egg and bandaged Wednesday. He injured it in a run-in with an impatient traffic cop.
The young man handed Agha 20 Afghanis - about 47 cents - for his five-minute diagnosis and treatment and happily pronounced himself mended.
"Now I can get back to work," he said.
Agha said his skills were handed down through several generations of butchers in his family - "the leg of a sheep is just the same" - and honed on about 15 patients a day.
Even a French military officer chose Agha's "quick fix" for a damaged ankle and was astounded at the results, he said, flashing the dog-eared calling card of a Capt. Mouillefarine.
Sometimes, those injured in car wrecks are brought in, but Agha said he sent them to the hospital if they had open fractures.
The fact that Agha is a former Afghan wrestling champion is incidental, but a central part of his local fame. Three framed photos of a youthful Agha in a wrestling singlet clutching medals and flexing his muscles adorn the room.
He said he competed in three Olympic Games - Tokyo in 1964, Mexico City in 1968 and Munich in 1972 - and still keeps a pair of decorated weights in his shop to work out when business slows.
Agha said he gave up wrestling during the civil war that devastated the capital in the 1980s, but hoped to start coaching again as Afghanistan's post-Taliban recovery encourages young Afghans to take up sports.
But on Wednesday afternoon, he was treating two young soccer players for injuries to their toes and fingers. "I waited four days, but it just hasn't got better, so I decided to come to the wrestler's hospital," said 16-year-old Ramin.
And later, Agha saw a grimacing woman in sunglasses and high heels who had slipped and injured her calf in the muddy street while out shopping. A curtain was hastily put up to shield her, and Agha set to work, applying pressure and a thick homemade ointment of egg yolk, salt and spices to her leg.
"Don't show your leg or you're going to hell," murmured the woman's female companion.
"Maybe we're all going to hell anyway," said the sobbing patient, who gave her name as Nafiza.
After some gentle haggling, Agha accepted 14 Afghanis - 33 cents - for his work and advised his patient to put a hot brick on her leg overnight.
"I'm a humble man and I have seven people to support in my family," he said with a broad smile, as a mouse popped up from behind a cushion under his elbow. "But the poor can come here for free."
NGO helps fill Afghan education void after barren Taliban years
By HIROMI YASUI The Japan Times: March 5, 2005
JALALABAD, Afghanistan (Kyodo) Picture books featuring Afghan folklore and made by a Japanese nongovernmental organization for educational purposes are reportedly becoming popular with children in Afghanistan.
Afghan girls are read picture books made by a Japanese nongovernmental organization featuring local folklore at a community library in Jalalabad.
About 100 children aged up to 12 visit a community library in Jalalabad, some 130 km east of Kabul, every day.
It is run by the Shanti Volunteer Association of Tokyo.
Virtually all picture books disappeared in Afghanistan amid the nation's prolonged domestic strife and the former Taliban regime's stringent policy against photographs and pictures.
"Parents could not go to school because of the long war," said Nabizada, deputy director of Kabul's national library. "Their moral sense has been ruined. Picture books are important since they teach children morals on behalf of their parents."
Shanti initially brought picture books from Iran and pasted stories translated into the local Pashto language. But some Afghans balked at them due to the difference in religious sects and cultures.
So the NGO decided to make picture books containing local folklore that Afghan children know well and could be accepted by the community.
There was no printing company capable of binding books in Afghanistan, so the group had the work done in Pakistan. It cost about $5,700 to print 1,000 copies of a single work. The NGO has so far put out 13 works.
Many people in Jalalabad have not seen picture books. Some parents asked the association if the books ran counter to the Islamic ban on idolatry.
"We stop distributing books if (someone) says the women depicted in them look sexy," said group member Eri Yamamoto, 30, in Jalalabad.
"In order for our picture books to be useful for education, we must convince the people that we are not being pushy," Yamamoto said. "It's important for us to establish trust with them."
Stretching her wings
Teenager who moved from Afghanistan to Hanover is enjoying her new way of life
BY JUAN ANTONIO LIZAMA RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER Mar 5, 2005
Khawar Alidost grew up in a world of constant wars, a world without education, a world where women were so oppressed that they were forbidden to laugh.
That was her life in Afghanistan.
"It was hard for me to live in such a place because I wanted to be independent, and I wanted to get more education," Alidost said.
How things change.
Today, Alidost is a 16-year-old junior at Atlee High School in Hanover County.
Her independent spirit is no longer bound. She laughs whenever she likes. She walks freely, enjoying opportunities in a world that has blossomed before her.
Afghanistan has been beset by wars for more than two decades. Alidost recalled how families, including hers, had to move from place to place to avoid being captured or killed. "I could hear explosions," she said. "It was a frightening time for me."
When the insurgent Taliban faction took power in 1996, repression intensified, especially for women. They were forced to dress from head to toe and wear veils over their faces. They were banned from working outside the home, using cosmetics, laughing out loud, wearing bright colors, attending schools.
Because Alidost was a child, she had more freedom than older girls and women. She could play games outside with friends. She could attend weddings. She could go to a mosque to practice Islam and learn from the Koran.
But virtually all other education had been taken from her. She had started school at 6, but two years later, the Taliban had taken power and closed all schools. Boys received a religious education, but for girls and women even that kind of training was limited.
The Taliban regime was ousted in 2001, but for many, the damage had already been done. According to UNICEF, a United Nation's children's rights advocacy organization, about 85 percent of the Afghan population has never had a formal education. In 2002, 8 percent of school-age girls attended school. For boys, that figure was 32 percent, according to UNICEF.
Alidost's family fled to Pakistan. There, her father had a hard time finding a job because he didn't speak the language.
Sponsored by two Hanover churches, Alidost and her family of nine came to Hanover two years ago, seeking a better life. Her father works at a supermarket and her mother at a restaurant.
Three of Alidost's siblings are still in school. Her 7-year-old sister Rabia and 10-year-old brother Bismillah attend Pearson's Corner Elementary School. Her brother Rohullah, 14, goes to Chickahominy Middle School.
There are only a few other transplanted Afghans here. Catholic Diocese of Richmond's Refugee and Immigration Services estimates that about 35 Afghan families a total of about 140 people -- live in the Richmond area.
Dedicated to school work
Alidost cannot turn back time and make up for those lost years of education, but she is dedicated to school work now. It was exciting to be back in school, she said, her voice rising with enthusiasm as her eyes beamed.
It has also been a struggle. English is not the only new thing she has to master. She is working hard to learn history, math and computer concepts. She had to acquire good study habits.
"I didn't go to school for a very long time," she said, "and when I started school here, I start from ninth grade, and it's very high-level. And understanding English is very hard."
Alidost said she studied six to seven hours every day when she started high school.
"I didn't do anything else," she said. "I just studied for all my subjects."
That included core subjects, keyboarding and her favorite: computer-education classes.
Teachers and guidance counselors said that when Alidost arrived at Atlee she was in a shell, from which she has been slowly emerging.
"She was really determined and hard-working," said Wanda Fisher, the school's director of guidance. "She wasn't really comfortable speaking. Since then, she has blossomed. There is an air of confidence. She speaks up."
Cat Latcovich, a U.S. history teacher, said Alidost comes to her for extra help with test reviews, definitions of words or specifics about a project topic.
A different perspective
"In the beginning she was very bashful about coming up for help," Latcovich said, "but I think she has realized that she has to because I can't necessarily tell if she doesn't understand a word that would change the entire meaning.
"I think she might have to compensate for her lack of education beforehand, but she makes up for it with her work ethic."
Latcovich said Alidost brings a different perspective to her courses and contributes unexpected comments to class discussions.
On one occasion, students were discussing women's rights. Latcovich recalled that Alidost said God "made the man and woman the same, and it's society that has created the gender differences."
Most students rated her comments as the best of the discussion, Latcovich said, and that gave Alidost a confidence boost.
Sarah Taylor, who teaches English as a second language, said Alidost is passing the state Standards of Learning, uses English creatively and academically, and may soon move beyond the ESL class.
Typical of 16-year-olds, Alidost is exploring her options. She has not decided on a college or major. She said she hopes eventually to return to Afghanistan and use her education to help her people in some way.
Maintaining her native cultural traditions is also important. She performs traditional dances and likes to eat home-cooked meals. She has yet to develop a taste for a lot of American dishes, she said.
But she is absorbing other aspects of the culture.
"I like the modern part and the independence of doing what you want to do," she said. "I have very high opportunities here. You can go to college any time, and I think that's one of the best parts."
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