Pakistan Kills Two Al Qaeda Suspects, Arrests 11
March 5, 2005
MIRANSHAH, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani soldiers killed two foreign al Qaeda suspects and arrested 11 people on Saturday in a remote northern village bordering Afghanistan, senior officials said.
The militants were hading in Devgar village in North Waziristan, roughly 185 miles southwest of the capital, Islamabad, a senior official said on condition of anonymity.
"Two foreign militants were killed in the exchange of gunfire with the security forces. Eleven others, including at least three foreigners, were arrested," he said.
It was not immediately known whether any al Qaeda leaders were among the dead or the arrested men.
Witnesses said that troops moved into the small village after midnight and surrounded a mud-and-brick house, where the militants were hiding.
"But the shootout started early in the morning which lasted for more than two hours," one witness said.
"One woman and at least three security personnel also suffered minor wounds," he said.
Another official, who also asked not to be named, said that the two dead al Qaeda suspects appeared to be Arabs.
"The arrested men include two Sudanese and one Qatari national," he added. "The rest are locals."
The arrested men were hand-cuffed and swiftly moved to an undisclosed location for interrogation, witnesses said.
Hundreds of al Qaeda linked militants are believed to be hiding in Pakistan's rugged mountainous region bordering Afghanistan where they enjoy support among the conservative Pashtun tribesmen.
Pakistani security forces have killed and arrested hundreds of militants in the neighboring tribal region of South Waziristan in a spate of operations launched last year.
Officials say that the sustained crackdown forced militants to flee to other areas inside Pakistan as well as to Afghanistan.
But so far, the security forces have found no sign of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden or his deputy Ayman al Zawahri, who some experts say are somewhere in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region.
Pakistan has arrested more than 600 al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban and handed them over to the U.S. authorities since joining the war on terror declared by Waqhington after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
Five Killed in Afghanistan Gunbattle
Sat Mar 5,11:04 AM ET World - AP Asia
KABUL, Afghanistan - A gunbattle between U.S.-led coalition forces and militants in eastern Afghanistan left three militants and two civilians dead, the U.S. military said Saturday.
The clash, which began Wednesday when militants fired on the coalition forces, also left two coalition soldiers and three civilians wounded.
The U.S. military in Afghanistan did not specify where the incident occurred except to say in the country's east, which borders Pakistan. It also did not say how the civilians were caught in the crossfire.
U.S. military officials were not immediately available to clarify the report.
More than three years after the fall of the hardline Taliban regime because of a U.S.-led invasion, about 17,000 U.S. forces are still hunting al-Qaida and Taliban fighters in eastern and southern Afghanistan.
Secretary of State Rice to Visit India, Pakistan Afghanistan
By VOA News 05 March 2005
Diplomatic sources say U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will visit India, Pakistan and Afghanistan for talks expected to focus on regional and international issues.
There has been no official U.S. announcement of the trip.
On Friday, an Indian foreign ministry spokesman told reporters Secretary Rice will arrive in New Delhi on March 16 for talks with Indian officials. The discussions are expected to include Nepal, where King Gyanendra has seized dictatorial powers in an effort to quell a Maoist insurgency.
The announcement of Ms. Rice's trip came as Indian and U.S. officials wrapped up two days of talks in New Delhi on issues related to missile defense. The spokesman said U.S. officials briefed India on the newest developments in the U.S. Missile Defense program.
There are no details on Secretary Rice's scheduled visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Afghanistan drug trade threatening global stability, US says
Sunday March 6, 11:27 AM AFP
Afghanistan's narcotics trade is a major threat to global stability, the US has warned in its annual report on drug trafficking, and the country faces a tough battle to curb the burgeoning trade.
According to the State Department report released Friday, Afghanistan's opium cultivation tripled to an all-time high in 2004 to 206,700 hectares (about 510,000 acres).
The country produced 4,950 tonnes of opium last year, 17 times more than the world's second largest producer Myanmar, it said. The two countries together produce more than 90 percent of the world's opium.
"Afghan poppies, once the mainstay of the Taliban regime, have become the principal source of heroin for the international underworld and potentially help groups opposed to Afghanistan's democratic government," the report said.
The United Nations International Narcotics Control Board has estimated that poppy cultivation rose 64 percent in 2004 to 131,000 hectares. But despite the differing estimates both the US and the INCB agree the country is teetering on the brink of becoming a narco-state.
Three years after the ousting of the Taliban, the drugs trade now accounts for between 40 to 60 percent of the war-torn country's economy. With poor roads and a barely functioning power grid there are few other money-making alternatives.
In addition to the lack of alternative livelihoods for farmers, the national government's limited law enforcement capacity as it builds up its army and police is a further problem, the US report said.
Although the top government officials were not thought to be linked to the drugs trade, at a provincial and district level many officials were tainted.
"Involvement ranges from direct participation in the criminal enterprise, to benefiting financially from taxation or other revenue streams generated by the drug trade," it added.
President Hamid Karzai came to office in October pledging to wage "a holy war" on the drugs trade and has begun reforming the police and judicial system to take on the traffickers.
However, the US report pointed out that although the government has officially condemned the illicit drug trade, it "does not have sufficient power throughout the national territory to suppress it."
Interior Minister Ali Ahmed Jalali admitted on Thursday that the government had a list of officials involved in the drugs trade which it had shared with the world community, but did not have enough evidence to arrest or prosecute them.
Money is set to pour into Afghanistan in the coming year. Washington has finally taken an interest in its 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.
The scale of the problem however means that "poppy cultivation is likely to continue until responsible governmental authority is established throughout the country and until rural poverty levels can be reduced via provision of alternative livelihoods and increased rural incomes," the US report said.
Development agencies including CARE and Oxfam International have warned that if the government -- backed by the US and the UK -- pushes too hard to eradicate poppy crops without sufficiently emphasising rural development, the end result could be instability.
Michael Kleinman of CARE Afghanistan said the country must focus on development in tandem with stronger law enforcement to hunt drug barons -- whose livelihoods depend on opium as much as the farmers do.
"The only way you tackle opium is to target the traffickers, warlords and corrupt government officials who control the drug trade and who represent the real threat to Afghanistan," he said.
Include Afghanistan in SAARC: Dr Abdullah
SHANTANU NANDAN SHARMA TIMES NEWS NETWORK[ SUNDAY, MARCH 06, 2005 01:00:12 AM]
NEW DELHI: Former Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Dr Farooq Abdullah has called for an expansion of SAARC to make its presence felt globally. While talking to ET, he said that Afghanistan and Myanmar should be incorporated into this regional body.
“Already, there have been some initiatives to accommodate Afghanistan in SAARC. And why not? Myanmar and Afghanistan do qualify to be SAARC members immediately. Later on, some former Soviet Union states can also be incorporated.”
In fact, the activities of the SAARC have hit an all-time low in the past few years and things have never been so bad in its 20 years of existence.
Several South Asian experts and policy makers have even questioned the relevance of the bloc. Dr Abdullah, however, said that SAARC has relevance in today’s world as world trade moves in rhythm with regional trade blocs.
Said Dr Abdullah, “ASEAN has already proved to be an effective trade bloc. Look, what has been happening in Europe. The integration of a common market in Europe has given it a much wider scope to develop. Why should South Asian states remain as silent spectators? It’s the time to work together and share the prosperity.”
SAARC meets have often been overshadowed by the Indo-Pak imbroglio. Also, the intra-region trade mechanism has failed to live up to expectations.
First Female Afghan Governor Ready for Challenge
By David Brunnstrom
KABUL (Reuters) - Habiba Sorabi knows she has her work cut out as the first woman ever to govern an Afghan province.
Among the tasks she has to look forward to are a tricky reform of local government, the rebuilding of war-shattered infrastructure, decisions on the fate of Afghanistan's most famous historical site, and even turning the ominously named City of Screams into a tourist attraction.
It is as well then that the 47-year-old former minister of women's affairs is not shy of a challenge, having campaigned for women's rights in refugee camps and run underground schools for girls during the hard-line Taliban regime.
She sees her appointment last week to run the historic central province of Bamiyan as a golden opportunity to raise the profile of women and encourage respect for constitutionally enshrined women's rights that are still a long way from becoming a reality.
"We have to change the minds of the people," she said told Reuters at the weekend in the modest government apartment at a run-down Soviet-built complex in Kabul she shares with her husband and three children.
Sorabi turned down President Hamid Karzai's offer of an ambassadorship abroad to take the Bamiyan job. "I didn't want to be far away from my country," she said.
She said her ambition was to help create a better life for Afghans and her new job would help: "I think it will open the door for other women," she said.
Sorabi knows she faces a huge task to bring prosperity to one of Afghanistan's poorest provinces, but says it is all about good management and dismisses any thoughts of nervousness.
"In any kind of work there can be problems -- not only for women, but for men too," she said. "But if we manage things properly, then we can solve the problems."
Sorabi says her priorities will be to rebuild the war-devastated provincial capital and to create a prosperous future for the province based on tourism.
Bamiyan is home to what in 2001 became Afghanistan's most famous historical icons -- two giant stone Buddhas, which had stood for 1,600 years before being blown up by the Taliban, shocking the world to the extent of their religious intolerance.
Sorabi said the future of the statues, reduced to rubble in their giant sandstone niches overlooking the town, still had to be decided and she would defer to experts from the U.N. cultural organization UNESCO.
"For the rebuilding, restoring, or rehabilitation of the Buddhas, someone professional should decide about this," she said, but stressed that tourism would be a major focus.
"There should be a lot of work done because tourism will be the major income for Bamiyan and show the future of Afghanistan and the picture of Afghanistan to other people of the world."
She aims to see Shahr-i-Gholghola, or the City of Screams, which overlooks the Buddhas, restored to a tourist attraction.
First though, the haunting hilltop ruin named after a 13th Century massacre by Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan needs to be cleared of countless mines sown by Soviet invaders in the 1980s.
To get tourists to Bamiyan, today a rough though spectacular eight-hour drive from Kabul, Sorabi says roads will have to be rebuilt, and investment is also needed in hotels.
She is hoping that much of the money will come from donors overseas as the central government simply did not have the funds.
Sorabi, picked from an all-female short list, admits it will be easier for her in Bamiyan than in other parts of Afghanistan.
She is an ethnic Hazara, who form the majority of Bamiyan's people and are known for their greater acceptance of women's rights. The Hazaras were especially persecuted by the Taliban.
Sorabi said women still faced an uphill battle to ensure their rights in a male-dominated society where attitudes were ingrained by culture and tradition.
She said she had benefited from the strong support of her family and Karzai's Western-backed government, but women as a whole needed more help, especially in educational opportunities.
She said religious teachers in mosques had a role to play and could, for example, start by taking a stand against widespread violence again women and by offering advice on family planning.
"Of course we will reach our goal," Sorabi said, "but we need a little bit more time."
A portrait of Afghan women, by Afghan women
By Rebecca Ostriker | March 6, 2005 Boston Globe
On the Afghan city street, the demure-looking young woman covers her head with a scarf. She's surrounded by a crowd of men. ''Is it written in the holy Koran that a woman cannot show her face?" she asks one of them.
Yes, he says, delivering a mini-lecture. ''Only her close relatives can see her face, hands, and feet. According to Sharia law, it is forbidden to see anything else."
''No, it's not true," she replies, eliciting laughs of amazement from some around her. ''Any person who is that ignorant is beyond comprehension." She's smiling, unafraid.
She is Mehria Azizi, and her conversation is captured in ''Afghanistan Unveiled," a documentary that screens on Tuesday as part of the Museum of Fine Arts' celebration of International Women's Day.
Azizi did more than just stand in front of the camera, though. She was part of a team of 14 young Afghan women who, in 2002, joined a one-of-a-kind training project in Kabul to become video journalists -- the first female journalists trained in Afghanistan in more than a decade, since before the Taliban took power and imposed harsh prohibitions on women's activities.
Led by French director Brigitte Brault, the fledgling filmmakers, some still in their teens, traveled across Afghanistan interviewing women about the oppression they'd experienced and the effects of the US military campaign that ousted the Taliban from power.
The resulting footage is compelling: In one city, silent women covered head-to-toe in white chadors sit at the side of the road like ghosts, or a work of modern art. In Bamiyan, the mountainous region where the Taliban destroyed giant Buddha statues, an old woman from an ethnic minority group tells of a Taliban-led massacre; her people now struggle to survive living in caves. ''We didn't have time to count the dead," she says.
Juxtaposed with the painful realities of the rural women's lives is the exhilaration the journalists, who appear on camera, feel at their own newfound liberty. Most of them had never been outside Kabul before or been able to study or pursue careers. One laughs with excitement at simply riding a horse. The filmmaking experience proves transformative: Several of them are now working full time as journalists. As one says in the film, ''It is my responsibility to show all these difficulties to everyone. It's my responsibility, I have to do it."
''Afghanistan Unveiled" aired last fall on PBS. For screening information at the MFA, call 617-369-3306 or visit www.mfa.org/film.
LENS LEGEND: The Coolidge Corner Theatre has named renowned cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (''Apocalypse Now," ''The Last Emperor") this year's winner of its Coolidge Award. To celebrate, the theater is hosting a month of screenings and seminars leading up to the award ceremony on April 6.
It all starts tomorrow night at 7 with a new print of Bernardo Bertolucci's ''Last Tango in Paris," followed on March 14 by Bertolucci's ''The Conformist." The latter has to be worth an award all by itself: When Storaro catches striped shadows sliding over the dancing body of Stefania Sandrelli, or light in the forest as Dominique Sanda is trapped and taken down like a frightened deer, it's unforgettable. For the full lineup of events, visit www.coolidge.org.
SHORT TAKES: With the video diary ''Tomorrow and Tomorrow," Algerian-born filmmaker Dominique Cabrera offered an intimate look at her own life; with the black comedy ''The Milk of Human Kindness," she spins a fictional tale of a woman fleeing hers. Cabrera comes to the Harvard Film Archive to present the films on Tuesday and Friday, respectively. For information, call 617-495-4700 or visit www.harvardfilmarchive.org.
Penelope Cruz has her Giulietta Masina moment in Sergio Castellitto's ''Don't Move." Cruz has been earning raves for her performance as a desperately poor woman who is raped by a doctor, then becomes his mistress. On Saturday, the award-winning Italian drama has its local premiere as the opening-night attraction in an international film series called ''Things We Do for Love . . . and Lust" at the Studio Cinema in Belmont. Belmont World Film sponsors the series. For more, visit www.belmontworldfilm.org.
Heroin Cheap and Easy in Remote Afghan North
Sat Mar 5, 8:56 PM ET By Angie Ramos
FAIZABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - One gram of heroin for $6.
"And it's high-grade," smiles bleary eyed Abdul, 35, after taking a whiff of the white granules from the plastic pack he scored easily in the muddy back streets of Faizabad's main market.
In war-battered Afghanistan, finding heroin -- a derivative of opium, the country's main cash crop -- is both cheap and easy.
Outside Afghanistan, the street price of heroin produced in remote provinces like Badakhshan, of which Faizabad is the capital, can range from $100-$300 per gram.
Profit margins like that help explain why, more than three years after U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban, Afghanistan is again the world's leading producer of opium and heroin.
According to U.N. estimates, drug exports, much of which end up in Europe, account for more than 60 percent of Afghanistan's economy. A U.N. report this month warned that record levels of illicit drug production threatened the country's stability.
The consequences are not only felt in the countries to which most Afghan heroin is exported. Experts warn that addiction, and production, is rising in places such as Badakhshan, a mountainous northern province bordering Tajikistan on a notorious drug-smuggling route to Central Asia and Europe.
There are no statistics on the number of heroin laboratories in the province, but the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says it appears to be rising fast.
"Unless we deal with it now, Afghanistan will face a major drug-addiction or drug-use problem," said Doris Buddenberg, head of UNODC in Kabul.
One alarming trend is addiction among Afghan women, and their children, who use heroin as a cheap alternative to painkillers.
"It gave me relief from my headache for about one or two hours ... but I didn't realize that that relief came with more pain," said Paree Naaz, 34, who was hooked on heroin for a year until she sought help from a local medical worker.
Her husband and 10-year-old son were also addicts.
There are no official statistics on drug addiction in Badakhshan, but the numbers are high enough to prompt one local NGO to set up a detox center where men, and sometimes women, voluntarily check themselves in for a month-long treatment.
WAITING FOR SNOWS TO MELT
The UNODC's Opium Survey for 2004 found the area under opium poppy cultivation in Badakhshan has almost doubled since 2002 to more than 15,000 hectares (37,500 acres), making it the third largest producer in the country.
Despite threats of eradication, many poppy farmers in Badakhshan are now waiting for the snows to melt by the end of March to usher in this year's planting season.
"I know it's illegal, but what can a person do when he's hungry, his family's hungry?" said poppy farmer Abdul Raouf, 45.
"They can rob or kill people to survive; we plant poppies."
Over the past four years Raouf has earned about $2,000 a year from his opium harvest, enough to feed not only his wife and three children but many other relatives too.
President Hamid Karzai has declared a jihad, or holy war, against drugs. Last month he unveiled a plan to beef up anti-narcotics forces, improve the justice system to enable prosecution of traffickers and run a "credible targeted and verified eradication campaign." While the government is resisting U.S. pressures for aerial spraying of poppy crops, which it fears could enrage whole swathes of the countryside and endanger health, some on the front line of the war on drugs say that too much focus on any form of eradication could backfire.
"Usually it has a short-term effect, it drives the prices up for opium, and thus provides the kind of perverse incentive to increased cultivation in the next planting season," said Buddenberg, citing 2001, when poppy cultivation fell to a low of 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres) after a Taliban ban.
The next year, after the fall of the harsh regime, production soared to 74,000 hectares (185,000 acres) and last year's UN survey showed 131,000 hectares (327,000 acres) were planted with poppies by no less than 10 percent of the country's population.
The UN says the solution lies in a long-term development package that includes alternative crops, ensuring a market for those crops, building roads and proper irrigation systems and instituting health and education support.
It also urges consumer countries to put a lid on the demand for opium and heroin.
"As long as demand for heroin worldwide continues, and in some countries continue to increase, there will be production," said Buddenberg. "The profit margins on this kind of business are just very high so many people will be tempted and will take the risk to do this kind of business."
Meanwhile, for some Afghans, heroin has become a lifeline.
"If the anxiety attacks do come back, I may have to use heroin again because nothing else works," said farmer Mohammad Sadiq, 28, as he struggles to detox at Faizabad treatment center.
Afghanistan gets rid of heavy arms in Panjshir
KABUL, March 6 (Xinhuanet) - Afghanistan has completed the cantonment of heavy weapons in the Panjshir valley, the former stronghold of late Afghan guerrilla commander Ahmad Shah Masoud and anti-Taliban fighters, a UN spokesman said here Sunday.
"The collection of heavy weapons in the Panjshir valley is concluded on Friday with collection of 115 pieces in total," said spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva.
Panjshir, 150 km north of Kabul had served as the main stronghold of late Afghan guerrilla commander Ahmad Shah Masoud during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1980s and later thecampaign against fundamentalist Taliban regime which was toppled in late 2001.
"They have all been deactivated and are now in a secure compound in Jabul Saraj," Manoel added.
So far 8,630 heavy weapons have been collected across the country and the process will continue in the future, according to the spokesman.
Over 200 pieces of heavy weapons have been held in the ShindandDistrict, Herat province, and Kunduz province, which have beeen regarded as significant areas for storing heavy weapons.
"Collection in both regions will begin within the next two weeks," he noted.
Under a UN-backed Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration(DDR) program launched in October 2003, over 42,000 former combatants have been disarmed.
Iran, Afghanistan keen to expand cooperation
TEHRAN (IRNA) -- Minister of economy Safdar Hosseini and Afghan minister of economy Anvar al-Haq Ahadi in the first meeting of the joint economic commission on Saturday underlined expansion of collaboration and trade exchanges.
In the meeting, Hosseini said that over the past three years, extensive cooperation has been going on between the two countries within the framework of Iran's participation in Afghanistan's reconstruction.
"We attempt to have a positive role in reinforcing Afghanistan's economic and cultural infrastructures," he added.
He referred to implementation of major projects such as Dugharun-Herat road, Milak bridge, water and power projects, agricultural and telecommunications projects, construction of medical centers, providing technical as well as professional and cultural training in Afghanistan prove the firm determination of Iran to assist Afghans.
Turning to the growing trend of mutual trade exchanges in recent years, he put the annual value of such exchanges at 260 million dollars.
"As representatives of government we are committed to prepare the required legal grounds for promoting such moves and eliminating the obstacles.
"Necessary steps will be taken in the upcoming meeting in Tehran to sign an investment agreement, according to which both countries will proceed with joint economic activities and investment projects with more confidence," he added.
The minister pointed to the implementation of Aryan Bank in Kabul as a first basic step towards giving momentum to bilateral trade and economic relations.
Safdar Hosseini referred to the great potentials of both countries and urged that they should be used to the optimum.
Besides he noted that it should be taken into view that the relief aid granted to Afghanistan cannot be permanent.
"Iranian and Afghan officials should struggle to consolidate further cooperation. We expect the Afghan government to facilitate implementation of various projects by issuing the required licenses to prompt foreign investment in the country," he concluded.
Ahadi, for his part, referred to the mutual historical relations and said that over the past three years, Iran has helped Afghanistan by participating in the country's reconstruction.
He referred to the favorable economic and political relations between the two states which contribute to the regional political stability and said that Iran has pledged to allocate 150 million dollars of non-return relief to Afghanistan over five years.
The Afghan minister said that in line with its promises, Iran has already implemented several major projects in Afghanistan.
The two ministers agreed to sign an agreement on Sunday.
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