Twin bombings kill three in Kabul
BBC News / Monday, 14 November 2005
At least three people have been killed in two car bomb attacks in the Afghan capital, Kabul, police say.
A Nato-led peacekeeper and a suspected suicide bomber were killed and at least four others injured in the first blast in the east of the city, police said.
The second blast was an hour later on the same stretch of road, killing at least one, witnesses said. Reports say a third attack was foiled.
There have been several suicide attacks in Afghanistan this year, two in Kabul.
It is not clear who might have carried it out the latest attacks. The Taleban claimed the most recent suicide bombing in Kabul, in September.
Monday's attacks came on the busy main road between Kabul and the eastern city of Jalalabad. The first was just before 1500 local time.
The nationality of the soldier police say was killed is not clear.
Some reports say the peacekeeper was German, but the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) is not confirming this.
Police say the bomber drove his Toyota Corolla car into Isaf vehicles as they travelled on the road leading from the capital.
"It was a suicide attack... One Isaf soldier has been killed," Mohammad Akbar, a senior area commander, told Reuters.
He said two other Isaf soldiers were among the injured. The route is frequently used by soldiers of the international peacekeeping force and by US-led coalition troops and there are a number of military bases on the road.
The BBC's Andrew North said the road outside the main election compound where the first attack happened was strewn with vehicle parts.
Emergency vehicles were swiftly at the scene. British soldiers cordoned off the blast site.
Smoke could be seen rising from the site of the second attack about 100 metres away and flames from burning vehicles lit up the sky as night fell.
Minutes after the second bomb attack, gunshots rang out at the scene of the first explosion.
Witnesses said troops opened fire on a vehicle as it drove towards them at speed. It is not clear who was driving the vehicle or if anyone was hurt.
The last suicide bombing in Kabul also came on the main road to Jalalabad. At least 12 people were killed and a number of others injured outside an Afghan army base.
Another suicide attack in the capital in May killed three.
A suicide bombing in Kandahar left more than 20 people dead in June.
More than 1,400 people have been killed in violence linked to militants in Afghanistan this year - the worst violence the country has seen since US-led forces ousted the Taleban in late 2001.
Most of the violence has been in the south and east - not in Kabul, where thousands of peacekeepers are stationed.
Taliban reject Afghan peace offer, four killed
November 14, 2005
KABUL (Reuters) - Taliban fighters rejected overtures from Afghan President Hamid Karzai to abandon their insurgency and join a reconciliation process, while officials reported four more killings on Monday in Afghanistan's south and east.
"Jihad and resistance against the American occupiers and its mercenary government is the only way," Abdul Hai Mutmaen, the Taliban's chief spokesman, told Reuters.
"We have the will to fight and that will not decrease at all," he said by satellite telephone from an undisclosed location.
Karzai reiterated a call for the Islamist fighters to lay down arms and rejoin the mainstream during a government-sponsored conference on Saturday to promote national reconciliation.
The growing Afghan National Army is being supported by close to 30,000 troops from a U.S.-led force and NATO-led peacekeepers.
But this year has been one of the worst for violence in Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted from power by U.S.-backed forces in late 2001, after they refused to surrender members of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.
So far in 2005, about 1,100 people have died, including more than 50 U.S. military personnel.
The unrelenting violence claims lives on an almost daily basis in provinces close to the border with Pakistan, and several policemen have been killed in the past few days.
On Monday, officials reported Taliban fighters had killed at least four more people in separate attacks in the south and east.
Two pro-government militiamen were killed by a roadside bomb in Kunar province, while another was killed by a bomb planted at his home in Kandahar on Sunday night and a policemen was killed in Helmand.
Another two other people, including a judge, were wounded by bombs planted at their homes in Kandahar.
(Additional reporting by Zahidullah Zahid in KUNAR)
Ex-Afghan president accuses Pakistan of supporting Taliban
Mon Nov 14,12:38 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - The head of Afghanistan's reconciliation commission accused forces in Pakistan of propping up a deadly insurgency being waged in the name of loyalists of the Taliban government ousted four years ago.
The neighbouring country helped to create the fundamentalist Taliban in the early 1990s and elements in it were still providing militants with weapons to "destroy us", Sebghatullah Mojaddadi told reporters on Monday.
He was responding to a question about his reference at a national reconciliation conference Saturday to "foreign hands" he said were employing and equipping people to carry out attacks in Afghanistan.
"We have not seen any direct military interferences except from our Pakistani brothers," said Mojaddadi, who briefly served as president in 1992.
"I don't know why they have not stopped their inhumane interference in Afghanistan so far," he said.
While Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf might not be directly involved in supporting the militants, other groups such as the country's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency and religious schools were, he said.
"Pakistan or its ISI have given them (militants) plans to implement in Afghanistan, have provided them with weapons and facilities and warned them if they do not do it they will be handed over to Americans as Al-Qaeda," he said.
They also "employ international terrorists (who) pay them, equip them and bring them in to destroy us," he said, adding, "I don't know why. Peace in Afghanistan is also good for them."
Pakistan was one of only three countries which officially recognised the Taliban's ultra-Islamic regime but it turned its back on the hardliners after they were ousted in a US-led invasion in late 2001 for not handing over Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden for the September 11 attacks.
Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attacks, which killed about 3,000 people.
Islamabad is now a key ally in Washington's "war on terror" that includes a force of nearly 20,000 US-led troops hunting down Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.
Some of those militants fled across the border into Pakistan where the military has rounded up many of them. Mojaddadi said most of those arrested were Pakistanis and not Afghans.
Pakistan has said it deployed about 70,000 troops along the border with Afghanistan to stop militants from crossing into its rugged tribal region. Its security forces have also destroyed Al-Qaeda-linked hideouts and training camps.
Taliban loyalists have vowed to overthrow the new government of US-backed President Hamid Karzai and regularly attack officials and security forces.
The violence -- which has claimed about 1,400 lives this year, the highest annual toll since 2001 -- has cast a shadow over a transition to democracy that took another step at the weekend when the results of September's parliamentary elections were finalised.
About 640 Taliban, including former ministers, commanders and ambassadors, have accepted an amnesty offered by the National Independent Commission for Peace and Reconciliation that Mojaddadi heads.
"Those who surrender, we will watch them... we have trusted their commitment," Mojaddadi said.
The commission brought provincial ministers and security chiefs to the capital at the weekend to promote the reconciliation drive.
100 militants reconcile with Afghan govt in Oct
KABUL, Nov. 14 (Xinhuanet) -- Around 100 anti-government militants laid down their weapons and joined the Afghan administration-run peace process last month, spokesman of the US-led coalition troops said Monday.
"In October, approximately 100 former enemy combatants reconciled with their government," James Yonts told journalists.
However, he declined to say if any key Taliban leaders were among them.
Under an amnesty announced to armed opposition in November last year, according to Afghan sources, over 600 Taliban-linked militias have given up the resistance and resumed their normal life.
Head of the reconciliation body Sibghatullah Mujadadi predicted Saturday that the number of Taliban and other opposition fighters resisting Afghan government and US presence would reach 1,000 by the end of the year.
Taliban's chief Mullah Mohammad Omar, whose regime was ousted by US military in late 2001, has termed the amnesty as a ploy to split his fundamentalist movement and called on his supporters to intensify Jihad or "holy war" till the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.
Afghan, Iraqi Leaders To Attend Islam Conference In Vienna
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
14 November 2005 -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani are among the dignitaries expected to attend an international conference on the role of Islam opening today in the Austrian capital Vienna.
The three-day conference, entitled "Islam in a Pluralistic World," is being hosted by Austria's foreign ministry. The meeting's goal is to help strengthen cooperation and understanding between Islamic and non-Islamic cultures.
Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik has said the issue is important to Europe, where a growing number of Muslim citizens are seeking their rightful place in society.
In addition to the Afghan and Iraqi presidents, guests are expected to include former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, Iranian 2003 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi and Egypt's minister for religious affairs Mahmoud Zakzouk.
Senior officials from the Organization of the Islamic Conference and experts from Malaysia, Pakistan, Libya and Lebanon are also expected to attend.
Karzai’s Afghan Protectors
Locals rather than Americans are now providing security for President Karzai, but some wonder if they are up to the task.
By Abdul Baseer Saeed in Kabul (ARR No. 194, 13-Nov-05)
Institute for War & Peace Reporting
Gone are the burly Americans kitted out with M4 rifles with telescopic sights and night-vision goggles who were charged with guarding Afghan president Hamed Karzai. Gone too are the armoured Hummer vehicles prominently parked outside the presidential palace. Even the super-efficient sniffer dogs that patrolled the area menacingly seem to have vanished overnight.
In their place stand Afghan security men, armed only with aged Kalashnikovs. The only dogs around are a pack of mangy animals that cringe at the sight of an approaching visitor.
For the first time since a wave of assassinations hit his government in 2002, Karzai has decided to entrust his safety to an all-Afghan bodyguard unit. The decision to sideline his American security service should earn the president some popularity points at home. But it is not clear whether it will make him any safer.
"These [Afghan] bodyguards have enough equipment and training to provide adequate security for the president," insisted Khaleeq Ahmad, deputy head of the president's press office.
Some sources close to the presidential palace aren’t so sure, noting that DynCorp, the private security contractor hired by the US Department of State under a 50-million-dollar contract seems to have removed vehicles, weapons and other security equipment in addition to its personnel.
DynCorp did not respond to numerous requests for interviews on the subject. But presidential spokesman Mohammad Karim Rahimi reiterated that the Afghan bodyguards had been well trained by DynCorp and had enough equipment to be able to do the job.
“There is no cause for concern,” said Karimi.
DynCorp had been looking after Karzai’s security since late 2002, when he survived an assassination attempt in Kandahar. Earlier in 2002, two prominent members of the then interim government, Vice-President Haji Abdul Qadir and Minister of Aviation and Tourism Abdul Rahman, were assassinated, and Defence Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim narrowly escaped an attempt on his life.
The firm, which is believed to have close ties to the Bush administration, was recently awarded a multi-million dollar contract by the State Department to train and equip the Afghan police force.
The use of Americans to protect the president proved unpopular among Afghans, who saw it yet more confirmation of their view of Karzai as little more than a US puppet.
This resentment was compounded by the aggressive and at times confrontational behaviour of DynCorp employees. One BBC correspondent reported seeing a DynCorp guard slap an Afghan minister, and the State Department was forced to issue a formal rebuke to the firm after a series of such incidents.
Both Karzai’s supporters and detractors see the decision to replace the Americans as an open bid for public support.
"Many times the president was at meetings with tribal elders and other influential people. They would tell him to get rid of the foreign bodyguards. He finally accepted their suggestion," said deputy spokesman Khaleeq.
“By having American bodyguards around him, Karzai created a question in people’s minds about his independence,” said Mohammad Hassan Wolesmal, political analyst and editor of he weekly Jarida-ye-Milli-ye-Afghan (Afghan National Magazine).
“Perhaps in making this decision, Karzai is bowing to the people’s will.”
But others said it would take more than replacing his foreign bodyguards to demonstrate his independence.
"Using foreign bodyguards was an insult to Afghans," said Bashir Ahmad Beijan, deputy head of the Afghanistan National Congress party.
He thinks the damage has already been done. "In our opinion, Karzai can't make a decision anyway," he said. "He does whatever the Americans want him to."
Providing security in Afghanistan remains a difficult task.
In August, 2004, 12 people were killed when DynCorp’s offices in Kabul were bombed, and a month later Karzai escaped yet another assassination attempt, this time in Gardez, during his presidential election campaign.
Now, all but a handful of the 300 DynCorp staff who protected Karzai for three years have left the country, taking their equipment with them. And while their duties included training their Afghan replacements, many fear the new guards may not be up to scratch.
“I am not 100 per cent sure that the Afghan bodyguards will protect Karzai in critical situations,” said Fazel Rahman Oria, political analyst and editor of Payam, a bi-monthly magazine.
The switch to an all-Afghan service has its own special challenges in a country as full of ethnic, tribal and political tensions as Afghanistan. Sources at the palace say that the guards were selected from among all of Afghanistan’s ethnic groups, and there are some who think this may be a mistake.
“Karzai should have chosen his bodyguards from among his own tribesmen,” said Wolesmal. “Otherwise he may have someone among his guards who could be a threat to him."
He pointed to the case of Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi, who was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards in 1984.
Khaleeq refused to divulge the number of Afghan bodyguards protecting the president, citing security considerations, but media reports put the number at approximately 600.
The switch to Afghan guards will undoubtedly save some money. DynCorp’s security personnel were part of the foreign elite which earns large salaries and leads what Afghans consider an inordinately privileged lifestyle. The Afghan guards will receive only a fraction of the pay and will not require housing allowances, security expenses or per diems.
The public are also happy about the departure of Karzai's American bodyguards, although they are slow to forgive Karzai his long dependence on them.
"Whenever Karzai talked about freedom…, I just laughed and said to myself, ‘who’s that standing behind you?’” said Gul Ahmad, 65, a resident of Kabul.
"I have never heard from my forefathers of any president being protected by soldiers from another country."
Abdul Baseer Saeed is an IWPR reporter in Kabul.
No overland access to Afghanistan for India: Aziz
Daily Times (Pakistan) / November 14, 2005
ON BOARD PM’S PLANE: Despite Afghanistan’s entry into SAARC, Pakistan will continue with its policy of denying India overland access to Afghanistan because that policy is linked to the broad matrix of India-Pakistan relations, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz told the media on his return flight from Dhaka. “India can send goods via Karachi; that facility already exists. But the overland route needs progress on certain core issue,” he said. Afghanistan can, however, use the overland route to send goods to India, which it is already doing. At his bilateral meeting with Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, Mr Aziz proposed some concrete steps that could indicate progress on the issue of Kashmir. These included demilitarisation in the region, a soft Line of Control and self-government for the Kashmiris in Jammu and Kashmir. As Mr Aziz repeatedly stated to the media during the conference, these steps would show progress on Kashmir. When Daily Times asked him if the linkage of issues with Kashmir meant that Pakistan was going back to its original position of an integrated dialogue rather than the composite framework that had been the basis of the process since the January 6, 2004, Islamabad Declaration, Mr Aziz said the linkage was only to the extent of full trade ties with India, the issue of transit facility and investment. “Pakistan remains committed to the composite process on all other issues that make up the various baskets under the Islamabad Declaration,” he said. When Daily Times approached some senior officials of the Foreign Office to find out whether this crystallised position on Kashmir being pivotal for movement on trade transit and investment indicated a hardening of the Pakistani stance, they said this was in keeping with what Pakistan had been expecting since the normalisation process began. On the Indian side, Singh and earlier Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran made clear that India would not even think of demilitarising until it faced the prospect of terrorism. Indian officials told Daily Times that the issue of self-government was already taken care of and there had been elections in Kashmir. ejaz haider
Woman editor wants to head Afghan parliament
Monday November 14, 7:52 PM
KABUL (Reuters) - Having won a seat in Afghanistan's new parliament, Shukria Barakzai says she now aims to lead it.
The 33-year-old mother of three girls campaigned for the legislative elections in September saying women should try to change the country's male-dominated Muslim society by stepping out of the shadows to fight for their rights.
Results announced over the weekend confirmed Barakzai, a women's magazine editor, had secured one of the 68 seats reserved for women in the 249-seat lower house of parliament, the Wolesi Jirga.
"I want to create a cultural revolution in Afghanistan by trying to become the chairperson of the parliament," Barakzai, who ran a secret school for girls in her Kabul home during the Taliban rule, said in an interview.
The hardline Taliban government, which forced women to live in virtual segregation, was overthrown by U.S.-led forces in 2001 after its leaders refused to hand over al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, the architect of Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. cities.
However admirable her ambition, Barakzai's chances of chairing the new assembly, when it convenes for the first time next month, appear slim.
She could well be up against former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, Yunus Qanuni, who was runner up to President Hamid Karzai in last year's presidential election, and Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, a former commander who has the support of Afghanistan's ethnic Shi'ite Hazara minority.
Although the elections were fought on a non-party basis, analysts reckon those three heavy-hitters between them control some 100 seats in the assembly.
Several former commanders of military factions, three former Taliban officials and several ex-communists were among those who won seats in the new parliament, besides a clutch of women activists.
If she got the job, Barakzai, whose magazine is called "Women's Mirror", says she would forego all privileges.
Her trump card, Barakzai said, was that unlike the men she is untainted by involvement in years of civil war, when tens of thousands of Afghans were killed after the fall of communist regime in the 1990s.
"I have the confidence that I will win for my good reputation, record and good understanding of the society," she said.
"If a woman becomes the chairperson of the parliament that will show the good aspect of change in Afghanistan."
Barakzai says she will work for national unity in a country riven by tribal and ethnic divisions, its reconstruction and for the rights of people, particularly women.
Articulate and educated, Barakzai speaks the country's two main languages, Pashto and Dari.
But she also speaks English, French, Russian and Urdu and unlike most Afghans, she is aware of international and local laws.
Another woman ready to take on the men in parliament will be Malalai Joya, a young activist who rose to prominence during a 2003 constitutional conference when she stood up and denounced old faction commanders as war criminals who should be tried.
The best-known woman in government is Masooda Jalal, who ran against Karzai in last October's presidential race, before being chosen by him as minister for women's affairs.
US completes Taliban inquiry
Ireland Online / November 14, 2005
A US military inquiry has been completed and will be released soon into television footage purportedly showing Americn troops burning the bodies of two dead Taliban fighters.
Cremation of corpses is banned under Islam and the alleged act sparked outrage in Afghanistan and the government demanded those responsible be punished.
The U.S. military launched an inquiry into the alleged desecration, which was recorded on video last month by a freelance journalist with the US troops in volatile southern Afghanistan.
“This report has been completed,” said US military spokesman Col. James Yonts.
A separate probe by the Afghan Defence Ministry has also been completed and its conclusions will also be released soon, he said.
The spokesman said investigators from both sides co-ordinated their separate probes, often interviewing witnesses together.
News of the alleged desecration sparked warnings of a possible anti-American backlash in Afghanistan, but there have been no demonstrations so far.
EU examines 'CIA prison' claims
BBC News / Monday, 14 November 2005
The European Commission is to make a statement to MEPs on the alleged existence of secret CIA detention centres in certain European states.
Allegations emerged in the US press earlier this month that US secret services had flown terror suspects to countries including Poland and Romania.
The claims have been denied by all sides, but the US Senate has demanded a report from its intelligence chief.
The European Parliament will debate the Commission's statement later on Monday.
In Italy, a separate investigation has already led to a court ordering the arrest of 21 suspected CIA agents accused of helping to kidnap a Muslim cleric in 2003.
There has also been concern in Spain about the alleged use of island airports by so-called CIA "plane prisons".
According to the Washington Post newspaper, the CIA has had jails in Europe and Asia. The centres - known as "black sites" - were allegedly set up in the wake of the 11 September attacks on the US in 2001.
About 30 detainees, considered major terrorism suspects, were held by the CIA at the "black sites", the paper said.
At least 70 other detainees have since been handed over to intelligence services in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Afghanistan and other countries, the paper said.
The Washington Post named Afghanistan and Thailand as hosts of secret jails, which are now said to have closed. Thailand has issued a denial.
Demand for answers
Both Poland - a new EU member - and EU candidate Romania have denied the claims that they hosted secret prisons for the CIA.
Austrian MEP Hannes Swoboda has been pressing the European Commission to provide some answers - whether there is clear evidence of the prisons; whether member states reacted positively to US requests and whether any prisons still exist.
He said evidence they did exist "would be a bombshell".
"The Commission would be obliged to do everything possible to bring them away, or to abolish them, or whatever to give a clear signal to all the governments that this is unacceptable," he told the BBC's World Today programme.
"It is very important to get to the truth."
US refuses to rule out use of torture
Herald Sun (Australia)
From correspondents in Washington / 14nov05
THE White House has refused to rule out the use of torture in an effort to prevent a major terrorist attack, arguing the war on terror could present a "difficult dilemma" and the US administration was duty-bound to protect the American people.
The comment, by US national security adviser Stephen Hadley, came amid heated national debate about whether the CIA and other US intelligence agencies should be authorised to use tough interrogation techniques to extract from terror suspects information that may help prevent future assaults.
The US Senate voted 90-9 early last month to attach an amendment to a defence spending bill that would prohibit "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment of detainees in US custody. But the White House has threatened to veto the measure authored by Republican Senator John McCain and has lobbied senators to have the language removed or modified to allow an exemption for the Central Intelligence Agency.
During a trip to Panama earlier this month, President George W. Bush said that Americans "do not torture."
However, appearing on CNN's "Late Edition" program, Mr Hadley elaborated on the policy, making clear the White House could see situations where the promise not to torture might not apply.
"The President has said that we are going to do whatever we do in accordance with the law," the national security adviser said. "But... you see the dilemma. What happens if on September 7th of 2001, we had gotten one of the hijackers and based on information associated with that arrest, believed that within four days, there's going to be a devastating attack on the United States?"
He insisted that it was "a difficult dilemma to know what to do in that circumstance to both discharge our responsibility to protect the American people from terrorist attack, and follow the president's guidance of staying within the confines of law."
Mr Hadley also pointed to the possibility of a compromise with the Senate on the McCain amendment, saying the White House was holding consultations with congressional leaders about the issue and hoped to be able to come up "with some kind of a common approach that will allow us to both safeguard the country and deal with the president's guidance that we do not torture."
Same Old Song Over National Anthem
Even the author of the lyrics intended to unify the country admits they may be divisive.
By Wahidullah Amani in Kabul (ARR No. 194, 13-Nov-05)
Institute for War & Peace Reporting
Abdul Bari Jahani does not like the words to Afghanistan’s new national anthem, as he fears they could accentuate political and ethnic fault-lines and sow discord.
Jahani should know - he wrote the lyrics.
Jahani, an Afghan American now working for the Pashto service of Voice of America in Washington, is the latest in a string of writers who have tried to satisfy the constitutional prescription for the national anthem.
According to the constitution , the anthem must be in the Pashto language, must contain the words “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) and should list the country’s major ethnic groups.
Each of these points is a political landmine.
The language issue almost derailed the Constitutional Loya Jirga in 2003. A compromise was eventually reached. and a commission instituted to begin the search for a proper text. President Hamed Karzai approved one version early in 2005 only to reject it a few weeks later. Then the whole process went back to the drawing board.
Now a new version is under consideration, even though its author says he is dissatisfied with it.
"To be frank, I think it’s a problem with the constitution,” said Jahani. “When a government calls itself an Islamic republic, then it should respect Islamic virtues. The words ‘Allahu Akbar’ belong in mosques, not accompanied by music and trumpets.”
The requirement that major ethnic groups should be listed is also wrong-headed, he insisted.
Afghanistan is an uneasy mix of peoples with historical and religious differences that run close to the bone. Pashtuns are in the majority, but share power and position with Tajiks, Hazara, Uzbeks, Turkmen and a host of other, smaller groups, each with their own concerns and grievances.
The constitution lists 14 major ethnic groups, all of which had to find a place in the new anthem.
“I originally submitted a poem with nine ethnic groups in it,” said Jahani. “They asked me to add five more, and I did so. This is in fact not a poem, but a list of tribes.”
But even this long list is likely to irritate those who feel their group has been left out.
Afghanistan’s small Hindu community, for example, do not get a mention. Anarkali, who represented the Hindus at the Constitutional Loya Jirga, protested that they were being ignored.
"If the national anthem is approved and the names of the other peoples are in it, but not the Hindus and Sikhs, we will not accept it. But we are sure it will be imposed on us anyway,” she told IWPR. “This is religious sectarianism.”
Not so, said Shah Zaman Wraiz Stanikzai, head of the publications department at the Ministry of Information and Culture and a member of the 45-person commission tasked with choosing the text for the new anthem. According to Stanikzai, Hindus and Sikhs are not included in the anthem because they are not mentioned in the constitution.
No matter what new objections are raised, Stanikzai believes this final version of the anthem will pass muster.
“There can be no more changes,” he insisted. “We have finished our work and the minister of information and culture has given instructions to the group charged with composing the music.”
Some suspect that all the bickering is actually a deliberate ploy to prevent the country from ever approving a new anthem.
According to Jahani, the present national anthem, which dates from the presidency of Berhanuddin Rabban in the early Nineties, is popular with the mujahedin commanders who fought against the Soviets. Its lyrics are in Dari and refer back to the anti-communist jihad, glorifying the contribution the commanders made to keeping Afghanistan free.
Many of these warlords are now discredited in the country, and are blamed by a large swathe of the population for the violence and destruction of the civil war years that followed the end of communist rule in 1992. But they still wield a great deal of power, as witnessed by their success in Afghanistan’s recent parliamentary elections.
Jahani, along with Habibullah Rafi, the author of the previously rejected version, says it is the influence of these strongmen that is keeping the old anthem in place.
Mohammad Hassan Wolesmal, the editor of the weekly Jarida-ye-Milli-ye-Afghan (Afghan National Magazine), said the recurring drama over the anthem is just another sign that the Karzai administration is incapable of making decisions.
"Wasting excessive amounts of time on the composition of the national anthem indicates the weakness of President Karzai's government," he said.
Wahidullah Amani is an IWPR reporter in Kabul.Cannabis Next Target in War on Drugs
Farmers in the north are up in arms over a government programme to stamp out marijuana.
By Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi in Mazar-e-Sharif (ARR No. 194, 13-Nov-05)
Institute for War & Peace Reporting
Marijuana-growing is an old and venerable occupation in the northern province of Balkh. The province is famous for “shirak”, a high-quality hashish made by experts and marketed inside Afghanistan. Friday nights are traditional shirak-party nights, where relaxing with a pipe or a bong and some local is a normal pastime. The drug is illegal, but its use is so widespread that the authorities have traditionally turned a blind eye.
Now all of that is changing, in the face of a determined government effort to stamp out narcotics.
Since the fall of the Taleban in 2001, surging cultivation of opium poppies, from which heroin is produced, has led western governments to warn that Afghanistan is in danger of becoming a narco-state. According to a United Nations report released last year, some 90 per cent of the world’s heroin originates in Afghanistan.
To combat drug production, the international community has been generously funding major eradication programmes. The United States alone has pledged 780 million US dollars to the counter-narcotics effort in Afghanistan, and other countries, most prominently Britain, are contributing funds and troops to assist in the campaign.
The campaign has so far yielded modest results. While a great deal of land has been taken out of poppy cultivation in some provinces, higher yields in other regions have kept production fairly steady, according to international studies.
One of the provinces where production has risen is Balkh. Officials estimate that poppy production here has tripled in recent years, and the regional administration is under pressure to show some results. That has led to the all-out war against all illicit drugs, including the cannabis plant.
"We are taking action as a sign to farmers that we have started our campaign, and that in future the cultivation of poppies and marijuana will be prohibited in this province,” said Shair Jan Durrani, spokesman for the police headquarters in Balkh.
Responsibility for the eradication campaign, he said, has been given to the local police force, “Our police have been given the equipment necessary to completely wipe out poppy and marijuana farmlands.”
Marijuana is an easy target for officials determined to show their commitment to drug eradication. Since poppies are not now in season, zealous counter-narcotics forces can expend their energy on cannabis, which is harvested from October to December.
Farmers say cultivating cannabis has several advantages over opium poppies. It is easier to grow and store than the poppy plant, which is labour intensive and requires a trained workforce. Cannabis has a shorter growing season, and compressed hashish is quite compact and can be easily shipped. Cannabis also uses less irrigation water, an important consideration in Afghanistan’s drought-plagued climate.
It is also easier to gather. “When it’s time to harvest marijuana, we just cut the plants and store them in a dry place. After that, we shake the plants so the seeds fall off,” said Mohammad Nazar, a farmer in Balkh. “We don’t need to hire workers, like we do for poppies, so marijuana is much cheaper.”
Although they earn only one-quarter of what they would make growing poppies, some farmers have until now preferred to cultivate cannabis not only because of lower labour costs, but also because they believed they ran less risk of being prosecuted.
“We didn’t think it was illegal,” claims Mohammad Jan, 55, a farmer in Balkh province whose cannabis fields have been destroyed. “The government was only eradicating poppies in past years.”
Particularly irksome to Mohammad Jan and other farmers is the fact that the government waited until October, when they were harvesting, to start destroying the plant.
“We’ve lost a year’s work,” complained Mohammad Jan. “If the government had given us warning, we wouldn’t have planted marijuana. This has completely destroyed our lives.”
Farmers say they cannot support their families if they grow legitimate crops.
“If I take my annual yield of wheat to market and sell it, I make barely enough for one week’s outgoings,” said Fazel Rahman, a farmer in the Chahar Bolak district of Balkh. “We are not allowed to plant poppies or cannabis, but the government is not helping us find other seeds to plant. So we have to leave the country in order to earn our bread.
“I have never planted poppies, because I’m afraid to - the government is destroying the poppy fields. So I planted marijuana on one or two acres instead. The money I make is enough to support my family and me for a year. Now the government has destroyed our marijuana fields, and winter is coming. We have no income to live on.”
General Mohammad Daoud, the deputy interior minister who is the senior police officer in charge of counter-narcotics work, said the government will not tolerate the cultivation of any narcotic plants. Daoud took a trip to Balkh in mid-October, presumably to signal the government’s renewed commitment to drug eradication in the province.
“The government is determined to prohibit the sowing of seeds for poppy or marijuana plants as a first step,” he said. “If anyone does cultivate these plants, his fields will be destroyed. Finally, the government is going to stop the trafficking of narcotics.”
According to Counter-Narcotics Minister Habibullah Qaderi, Balkh follows close behind Kandahar and Helmand for poppy cultivation, so the government in Kabul is going to bring increased pressure to bear on local officials.
"Due to the increased poppy cultivation in Balkh, the government is going to send a team to talk to the provincial governor so as to draw a plant to put a stop to it,” he said.
But Qaderi insisted that the government is also sensitive to the plight of farmers, “This team has financial and technical resources, and in addition to eradication they will take note of the needs of farmers and will act to solve their problems.”
Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi is an IWPR reporter in Mazar-e-Sharif.
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