<>Afghan, Iraq laws link Islam and democracy
By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor / November 15, 2005
VIENNA (Reuters) - The presidents of Afghanistan and Iraq told a conference on Islam and pluralism on Tuesday that their countries' new constitutions proved democracy, civil rights and women's equality were compatible with the Koran.
Presidents Hamid Karzai and Jalal Talabani were among several Muslim leaders at the gathering urging Westerners to stop linking their religion with violence just because a tiny minority misused Islam's name to justify terror.
Austria, the European Union's leading skeptic about the possible European Union membership of mostly Muslim Turkey, organized the three-day conference ahead of its EU presidency starting in January.
"In Afghanistan today, we have a progressive constitution that is based on Islam ... and guarantees the fundamental and equal rights of men and women," Karzai said.
He said this was reflected by the fact that female candidates won more than the 25 percent of seats reserved for them in the September 18 parliamentary election.
"Afghanistan is both a poor and a deeply religious country, but our poverty and our religiosity are not a hindrance to democracy or pluralism," he said.
Talabani described Iraq's new constitution as a guarantee of civil liberties based on Islam, adding: "We cannot have any laws not in keeping with the tenets of Islam and of democracy."
But the violence racking his country overshadowed all else. "Our people face a barbaric terrorism perpetrated by al Qaeda, a war of extermination against the Shias," he said.
"They also describe the Kurds as traitors and they are determined to kill everyone setting out on our democratic path."
Both the Afghan and the Iraqi constitutions were written with the help of international legal experts after U.S.-backed military action toppled dictatorships in those countries.
WOMEN STILL SUFFER
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried stressed Washington's view that Islam and democracy were compatible.
"There are some in Europe and some in my own country who still make that claim, and there are some purveyors of political fanaticism in the Muslim world who also claim that democracy is foreign to Islam," he said, adding he could not understand this.
"The history of the past 20 years shows that there is no cultural determinism and that democracy belongs to all cultures and peoples. From Poland to the Philippines, to Portugal, to Israel, to Iraq, Afghanistan and one day to Iran and beyond, democracy has and will take root."
While she saw no contradiction between Islam and human rights, Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi said many Muslim countries denied these rights to their citizens, especially women.
"Women's rights are a common problem in all Islamic countries," she told the conference opening session on Monday evening. "In the 21st century, there are still some countries that say a woman's life is worth half that of a man."
"Today many governments hide behind the shield of Islam to justify tyranny by presenting a false and distorted interpretation of Islam," she said.
Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami politely chided the organizers of the conference called "Islam in a Pluralistic World" for focusing only on how the Muslim faith had to adapt to changing times.
"Many Christians have an especially radical (negative) approach to pluralism as some Muslims do -- both are mistaken," he said.
Afghan, Iraqi Presidents Condemn Islamic Extremists
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
15 November 2005 -- The presidents of Afghanistan and Iraq today condemned Islamic extremists for practicing and promoting "the politics of violence," saying that such extremism is harming the perception of Islam.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani made their remarks on the second day of an international conference called "Islam in a Pluralistic World" being held in Vienna.
Talabani said Islam is facing a "disfigurement" by what he said are small groups of radicals who have "lost" the meaning of their religion. He described such exremists as "un- Islamic," calling them "deceivers" belonging to "suicide cults" that operate with an ideology opposed to authentic Islamic values.
Karzai said "terrorists" who use the name of Islam to justify acts, which lead to human suffering, are "unworthy of the name human."
The three-day conference, hosted by the Austrian Foreign Ministry, brings together Islamic and other religious scholars, politicians and activists to discuss the role of Islam in the modern world.
U.S. service member killed, another wounded in IED strike near Gayan
November 15, 2005
Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan Coalition Press Information Center (Public Affairs)
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – A U.S. service member was killed by an improvised explosive device near the Pakistan border southeast of Gayan today.
Another U.S. service member, two Afghan Security Forces members and an Afghan civilian were injured in the explosion.
The unit was conducting offensive operations to prevent enemy activity in the area when the device detonated. They were traveling in an up-armored high-mobility, multi-purpose, wheeled vehicle when this occurred.
Those injured were evacuated by air to a nearby forward operating base for treatment. All are currently in stable condition.
“Our deepest sympathies go out to the family and friends of our fallen comrade,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Iuniasolua Savusa, Combined Joint Task Force-76 command sergeant major. “It is a terrible toll. These devices injure not only Coalition forces trying to keep peace and ensure the safety of the Afghan people but the Afghan people as well. We strive daily to ensure that these devices do not harm our forces or innocent civilians. Our medical professionals are doing everything they can to ensure that those wounded in the attack receive only the best care.”
The name and unit of the deceased service member is being withheld pending notification of next of kin.
Police Blame Al-Qaida for Suicide Blasts in Kabul
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
15 November 2005 -- Afghan police have blamed al-Qaida militants for two suicide bombings in the capital Kabul and raised the death toll to at least eight, excluding the attackers.
In each incident, attackers rammed a car carrying explosives into a vehicle belonging to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, the ISAF.
Police say six bodies were found lying in a ditch after the second blast. An ISAF spokesman said the bodies were believed to be those of Afghans.
A German soldier, part of the peacekeeping force, and an Afghan child were also killed in the blasts.
Police say the bodies of the two attackers appeared to be those of Arabs.
ISAF troops opened fire on a car speeding towards the scene of one of the explosions, fearing it was another suicide attack, killing at least two.
Meanwhile, the United Nations has told its staff in Kabul to stay home or in their offices today.
Afghanistan: The war with no end
By Justin Huggler / The Independent (UK) / Published: 15 November 2005
British troops have come under attack in Kabul and Nato forces were targeted in two co-ordinated suicide car bombings in which at least four people died.
The attacks took place as ministers revealed that units are preparing to extend Britain's role in Afghanistan when it takes command of the international peacekeeping operation next year.
John Reid, the Secretary of State for Defence, told Parliament that Britain faced a "prolonged" involvement in the country. But MPs warned last night that British troops faced being mired in a long-term military commitment to a country in the grip of a growing insurgency.
They insisted yesterday's extension of Britain's role in Afghanistan, four years after troops first arrived, also reflected the size of the task facing coalition forces in Iraq.
Fears for Afghanistan's future emerged in the wake of suggestions, by the British and Iraqi governments, that British troops could begin pulling out of Iraq by the end of next year. For British troops, however, yesterday's violence in Kabul was a taste of what they will face next year when they deploy to the turbulent province of Helmand as part of a move by Nato to take over security in the Taliban heartlands.
At least four people were killed in the attacks, including one German soldier and an Afghan child, but the implications of the attacks were far wider. The insurgency that has been worsening while the world's attention has been focused on Iraq has now reached Kabul.
Mr Reid said British troops had to open fire to defend their camp in Kabul against "unauthorised entry". Few further details emerged, but Mr Reid said British troops were not targeted in the car bombings.
A German soldier died when the Nato vehicle he was travelling in was rammed by a Toyota Corolla stuffed with explosives just after 3pm local time. Two German soldiers and three Afghan civilians were wounded.
An hour later, another Nato vehicle was rammed in a near-identical attack on the same road. Three Afghan civilians were killed, including a young boy, and two Greek soldiers were wounded. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks.
"We have plans for more of the same," Mullah Dadullah, a top-ranking Taliban commander, said by satellite phone from an undisclosed location.
The insurgency in Afghanistan has been largely confined to the Pashtun area in the south and east. Until now, British troops have operated in Kabul and the north, where international forces have been largely welcomed by Afghans who suffered persecution under Taliban rule.
But in the south there is widespread support for the insurgency and opposition to any Western presence in Afghanistan. Helmand in particular is notorious even among Afghans for the ferocity of its tribesmen. British troops are moving into the province under a plan for the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) to take over security in the area. And it was no coincidence that yesterday's attacks specifically targeted Isaf troops in Kabul.
The message from the Taliban was clear: this is what is waiting for Isaf in the south. But the message was also that the Taliban can now strike in Kabul, which until now has been an oasis of stability largely unaffected by the insurgency.
Kabul is home to 3,000 foreigners, most working for NGOs, who live in an city that often seems utterly disconnected from the rest of the country. Replete with bars and expensive restaurants that sell alcohol to foreigners, but not Afghans, Kabul even boasts two designer boutiques for women's clothes. Yesterday another Afghanistan came crashing up against that world. Both car bombings came on the Jalalabad Road, which has long been the scene of the most serious attacks in Kabul.
There was a suicide bombing on that road in September, and there have been countless improvised bombs hidden along it - partly it is because there are several Western and Afghan military bases, and the UN's headquarters, on it. The road runs through a Pashtun suburb of Kabul where the Pashtun Taliban can operate freely. The fact that so senior a commander has claimed responsibility for the attacks is a sure sign the Taliban are stepping up their actions. Known as Dadullah-I-Leng, or Dadullah the Lame, he is known for his part in massacres of Hazara Shias, which have been described as attempted genocide.
One of the main failures of the Taliban's insurgency has been its inability to attract support among other ethnic communities.
Britain seeks counter-insurgency coalition for Afghanistan
Tue Nov 15, 3:23 AM ET
LONDON (AFP) - Britain is looking to create a coalition to combat growing Al-Qaeda and Taliban insurgency in southern Afghanistan following the partial withdrawal of US troops.
Talks to create a counter-insurgency force were taking place with a number of countries, including Australia, Canada and New Zealand, ahead of a scheduled meeting of NATO members in Brussels next month, The Guardian said.
British Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram told parliament Monday that elite paratroopers and attack helicopter units were to begin training in readiness for possible operations in the lawless southern province of Helmand.
Logistics specialists will also be going to the region in the coming weeks to prepare the ground for a possible deployment next year, he added.
Ingram stopped short of committing to a figure, however, and insisted: "These necessary measures are prudent military preparations for a possible future deployment. They do not mean that these units or capabilities will be committed to southern Afghanistan in 2006.
"No final decisions have yet been made."
But The Guardian said as many as 2,000 extra British troops were expected to be sent to Afghanistan in early 2006, boosting the country's contingent there to about 4,800.
Discussions about a counter-insurgency coalition were part of the preparations, it added.
"The debate is not whether, but to what extent these troops will get into counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics," an unnamed military source was reported as saying.
"We are not talking war fighting. But there is potential for armed conflict in some areas. The reality is that there are warlords, drug traffickers, Al-Qaida, Al-Qaida wannabes and Taliban," the source added.
Britain takes over NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan in May next year.
Defence Secretary John Reid said earlier this year that he was looking into establishing a Britain-led provincial reconstruction team in Helmand.
According to The Guardian, the talks are aimed at resolving the overall size of the force, where they will operate and their mandate.
Critics, however, said that in the face of growing insurgency, Britain should seek an exit strategy from Afghanistan and expressed concern at Reid's comments Monday that there was "no question" of withdrawal in the near future.
In the latest round of violence, one German soldier and three Afghans, including a woman and a child, were killed Monday in two suicide car bombings apparently targeting ISAF troops.
Labour member of Parliament Bob Marshall-Andrews told the Independent: "Afghanistan could present a longer-term than Iraq -- it's slipping back into anarchy.
"We're in very great danger of being mired for the long term in a country that must resolve its own affairs."
NATO military backs command deal for Afghanistan
By Mark John
BRUSSELS, Nov 14 (Reuters) - NATO's top military authority has agreed to proposals for closer cooperation in Afghanistan between its ISAF peacekeeping force and the U.S.-led coalition fighting insurgents, NATO sources said on Monday.
The agreement, which still needs political backing, is a step towards ending a dispute sparked last year when France, Germany and others rejected a U.S. proposal for an outright merger of the two forces under overall NATO command.
"This is a very important step, but not the final step," said a NATO official who requested anonymity, adding that NATO envoys still had to approve the proposal agreed late on Friday by countries in the alliance's Military Committee.
NATO took over command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in 2003, two years after U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban government.
NATO's plan to expand southwards next year from bases in the capital Kabul will require better coordination between it and U.S.-led forces entrenched in combat with Taliban guerrillas in the south and east.
Underlining the continued dangers, a German ISAF soldier was one of at least three people killed in two car bomb attacks by Taliban fighters in Kabul on Monday, officials said.
Paris, Berlin and others insist the security patrols and other peacekeeping tasks carried out by ISAF must be kept distinct from the more dangerous counter-insurgency work handled largely by the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).
The compromise plan would create a single chain of command for all operations under an ISAF commander, but with a deputy officer who would answer to the OEF for counter-insurgency work.
The arrangement is intended to allow for better coordination of foreign military operations, while meeting European requests that peacekeeping and counter-insurgency work remain distinct.
If agreed, the plan would mean U.S. forces continuing to bear the brunt of the violent insurgency, although some ISAF members such as Britain have insisted that the NATO-led force must be ready for direct combat if necessary.
NATO's 9,000-strong ISAF peacekeeping force is present in the relatively stable north, west and in the capital Kabul. The push to the south will bring its numbers up to 15,000 by early next year, with further expansion to the east also planned.
The proposals by the Military Committee also include advice on toughening the so-called "rules of engagement" -- the rules governing how soldiers can respond in any given situation -- for those troops being sent into more dangerous territory.
A source close to the discussions in the committee said the plan set out a minimum level of engagement that would be asked of contributing forces.
"It gives us everything we need to do the job," said the source, who declined to be named.
Under the expansion plan, British, Dutch and Canadian troops are due to lead NATO's move into the south, while Germany would take over in the north. Italy and Spain already have set up bases in the west.
Portugal to downgrade military presence in Afghanistan
LISBON, Nov. 14 (Xinhuanet) -- Portugal will downgrade its military presence in Afghanistan as a result of a "tight budget," Defence Minister Luis Amado said on Monday.
Amado, who was on an inspection tour of Portuguese troops in the Afghan capital Kabul, said "given the difficulties our countryfaces, we have to think of where we can deploy our resources over the next year, which will have a tight budget."
The Lusa news agency also quoted the defense chief as indicating that Portugal would make the decision when its 196 troops being deployed in Afghanistan would end their mission after August 2006.
The downgrade of the mission would be taken into consideration in light of the changes to deployments in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Portuguese troops once numbered 300 and 289 respectively, according to the report.
Portugal puts the cost of its mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina at 60 million euros (72 million dollars) in 2005.
But Amado vowed to maintain the mission in Afghanistan. "We will certainly maintain a presence here," he said, adding "it is impossible to withdraw from international forces here in the coming years."
In August, Portugal sent a contingent of 130 troops and a C-130military transport aircraft to Afghanistan to boost its forces as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
Most of the Portuguese soldiers are stationed at the Kabul airport, where they are carrying out surveillance operations. Enditem
NASA Confirms Gas, Minieral Reserves In Afghanistan
KABUL, Nov 15 [Asia Pulse] - The US-based National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has confirmed the existence of gas reserves in northern and southwestern Afghan regions.
The NASA also hinted at the existence of copper and gold reserves in the central Logar province and fuel reserves near Amo River, a senior official claimed on Monday.
Afghan Mines and Industries Minister Mir Mohammad Siddique told a news conference here: "We were earlier unaware of the natural gas, copper and fuel reserves discovered by NASA." An agreement on exploring these reserves involving US$17 million was signed between the Afghan mines minister and former US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad in Kabul last year.
The NASA launched its work of exploring the natural resources by taking aerial pictures of the mines. The minister said the US agency had provided him a map showing Afghanistan's different mines.
He added there were gas mines in Balkh, Faryab, Badghis and Jawzjan, Farah and Helmand while copper and gold reserves were found in Logar. He said the exploration had shown fuel reserves on both sides of Amo River.
Siddiqui continued the government wanted to buy modern equipment for excavating the sites. "We have contacted the Asian Development Bank, which has pledged to give us funds for the purchase of modern excavation tools." The government planned to hand over the mines to private companies, he said, revealing the US$33 billion copper reserves in Logar would be leased out to a firm.
Also, there are mines of precious stones in Afghanistan and the US has promised to help in their excavation and cutting.
(Pajhwok Afghan News)
Hope for Kabul
By K. Oanh Ha / San Jose Mercury News / November 15, 2005
Afghanistan needs more foreign investment to further its reconstruction and help it fight its war on opium poppies, Afghan Ambassador to the United States Said Tayeb Jawad told a Bay Area audience on Monday.
Four years after the Taliban government was ousted by the United States and its allies, Afghanistan is a ``huge opportunity'' for private investors willing to leap into the South Asian country, said Jawad, speaking at a luncheon hosted by Stanford University's Freeman Spogli Institute of International Studies.
``More investments in Afghanistan will enable us to stand on our own feet faster,'' Jawad said. ``The emergence of a stable Afghanistan is important for the region and for global security.''
Jawad is midway through a weeklong road show in three U.S. states to ``raise the awareness of Afghanistan,'' he said. He has met with Afghan-American communities in Los Angeles, Orange County and the Bay Area to drum up support and investment. Sunday, Jawad met with about 300 local Afghan-Americans at a Fremont hotel. He'll visit Ohio and Florida next, where he's been invited to speak at universities.
Given money, expertise
In his meetings with Afghan-Americans, Jawad stresses there's a role for them in Afghanistan, adding many have already taken their money and expertise to the country.
``People in Afghanistan know they can't build the country by themselves. We lack qualified Afghans in the country for jobs that require expertise,'' he said. ``They see Afghan-Americans as a bridge between Afghanistan and the developing world.''
Jawad himself is a former Afghan exile who left the country in 1980, after the Soviet invasion. A lawyer, he lived in the Bay Area and received his master's degree in business administration from San Francisco's Golden Gate University.
Industries in Afghanistan seeking foreign investment include mineral, gem-stone and food production. There also are opportunities in cold storage and transportation of agricultural products.
The country's economy grew 13 percent last year. Since the adoption of new banking laws last year, 11 foreign banks have set up in the country.
Jawad criticized the international donor community for ``wasting money'' by not coordinating its efforts with the Afghan government. Less than 5 percent of donor money is channeled through the government. He called on donors to work with the government to pinpoint ``our needs and priorities.'' For example, he would rather build small clinics in villages to save a mother dying in childbirth rather than a hospital in a large city to help an Afghan dying from cancer, he said.
Stemming the drug trade remains ``the biggest challenge'' for the country, where farmers are reluctant to give up growing poppies, he said. In 2003, 75 percent of the world's heroin, obtained from opium poppies, came from Afghanistan.
The government has been able to carry out some successful programs, but a healthier economy is one sure way to divert farmers to other work, Jawad said.
``If you don't have a long-term perspective, a sense of hope, you grow poppy,'' he said.
Though the government has rebuilt most national institutions and some critical infrastructure, only 6 percent of Afghans have access to electricity and only 26 percent to drinking water. There's a dearth of trained doctors, teachers and other skilled workers.
The country will revamp its educational system in an effort to increase its quality, combining 19 universities into five. At Kabul University, only 40 of the 500 faculty members have doctorate degrees.
While Jawad didn't speak about Monday's deadly suicide bombing in Kabul, he said that while terrorists and the Taliban are defeated in Afghanistan, ``they're not eliminated.''
``Afghanistan is eager to partner with the international community,'' he said. ``While terrorists are building walls, Afghans are building bridges.''
Afghan Press Monitor
No 193, 13-14 Nov 05 - published by the Institute for War & Peace Reporting
14 Nov 05
Losing candidates hold demonstration
(Cheragh) Hundreds of unsuccessful election candidates staged a demonstration in front of the United Nations office in Kabul on November 13, demanding the trial of some electoral staff whom they accuse of committing fraud during the count. One of the protestors, Murtaza Nikzad, said thousands of fake ballot papers had been printed by certain government officials and used in favour of a Kuchi candidate named Faridan in the northern province of Balkh. Another candidate, Bashir Beijan, accused foreign staff of the election management of ballot-rigging and demanded their prosecution.
(Cheragh is an independent daily run by the Development and Democracy Association.)
Three policemen killed in Helmand
(Erada)Three policemen were killed on November 12 when a group of Taleban militants attacked their vehicle in the Afghan Ghar area of the southern province of Helmand. Bahadur Khan, the police chief in the Sangin district, said the three policemen were driving from Sangin to the Lashkargah district when their vehicle was ambushed by a group of Taleban, leaving three of them dead. According to the police chief, the attackers were able to escape. The Taleban claimed responsibility for the attack. This follows the murder of two policemen in the Marja district of Helmand on November 11. No one has been arrested following either incident.
(Erada is an independent daily run by the Afghan Media Resource Centre.)
Remote-controlled bomb defused in Kabul
(Arman-e-Milli)Police in Kabul discovered and defused a remote-controlled bomb on November 13. According to police, the bomb was placed under a car in front of a mosque in the city's eight district of Kabul, and was supposed to go off at approximately 8:00 am, the time when children come out of the mosque after attending religious lessons. But the district police were tipped off, and managed to defuse the bomb before it went off.
(Arman-e-Milli is an independent daily run by a group of journalists.)
Women's affairs building inaugurated in Ghazni
(Islah) Women's affairs minister Massouda Jalal has inaugurated a building in the central province of Ghazni which will be used to promote women's interests. The one-storey building, which has 13 rooms including a conference hall and other facilities, was constructed with funding from USAID.
(Islah is a state-run daily mostly in Dari.)
13 Nov 05
Al-Qaeda returning to Afghanistan
(Cheragh) The al-Qaeda network led by Osama Bin Laden is once again prepared to focus on Afghanistan, with two Arab nationals put in charge of combat groups in southwestern and southeastern Afghanistan. Videotapes distributed to the media indicate that Abdul Hadi Iraqi, who served as commander of Arab fighters during the Taleban regime, has been appointed as commander in southwest Afghanistan, while Khalid Habib will control the southeastern provinces. The outfit has already begun using Iraq-style militancy tactics in Afghanistan in the past two months.
(Cheragh is an independent daily run by the Development and Democracy Association.)
Taleban attack police headquarters in Khost
(Arman-e-Milli) Taleban fighters killed one policeman and wounded five others on November 11 in an attack on police headquarters in the southeastern province of Khost. According to the officials, two vehicles, two motorcycles and the headquarters building were also set on fire by the insurgents. The southern and southeastern provinces of the country are centres of unrest, and have recently seen an upsurge in such incidents.
(Arman-e-Milli is an independent daily run by a group of journalists.)
Upper house elections held
(The Kabul Times) Elections to the upper house of parliament have been held by Afghanistan's newly elected provincial councils. Sultan Ahmad Baheen, spokesman for the Joint Electoral Management Body said that in these sessions, two persons would be selected by these councils to the Meshrano Jirga or upper house of parliament. The chamber is to have 102 seats, with 34 representatives selected by the president and the rest elected by the provincial councils.
(The Kabul Times is a state-run paper published in English every other day.)
Two policemen killed in Helmand
(Erada) Unidentified armed men killed two police officers in the Marja district of the southern province of Helmand on the night of November 11. Provincial police chief Abdul Rahman Jan said the police were on patrol in the Marja district when they came under armed attack. The attackers managed to escape, he added. The police chief also said that an operation was under way to track down the assailants, but no arrests have yet been made.
(Erada is an independent daily run by the Afghan Media Resource Centre.)
Former district chief abducted
(Anis) Unidentified armed men on November 11 kidnapped Haji Abdul Hakim, former district chief of the Baghran district of the southern province of Helmand, officials said. According to the interior ministry press office, a number of unidentified armed men abducted Hakim from his house. The source added that police in the province have arrested 10 suspects in connection with the incident. Local police say an investigation is under way.
(Anis is a state-run daily published mostly in Dari.)
Medical teams dispatched to Bamian refugees
(Islah) The Afghan public health ministry has dispatched two medical teams to the central province of Bamian to assist residents of refugee camps in the province's Waras district. Public Health Minister Mohammad Amin Fatemi said the latest assessments indicated that residents of these camps were experiencing difficulties in getting access to medical help. The minister went to Bamian two days ago to evaluate the health situation in the province.
(Islah is a state-run daily mostly in Dari)
A Marshall Plan for the third world
By Lawrence Korb and Arnold Kohen / The Boston Globe / November 15, 2005
WITH THE international donors conference for millions of earthquake victims in Kashmir in northern Pakistan collecting only about a quarter of its $550 million goal in Geneva recently, it is fair to ask if the United States and others are doing enough.
To be sure, the United States has sent badly needed military helicopters and an army field hospital, donating a total of $156 million. But this is a small sum when measured against the cost of fighting Al Qaeda worldwide, let alone the war in Iraq. The United States is unlikely to prevail by military means; a better alternative must be provided.
In Pakistan, a pivotal Muslim nation, the United States cannot afford to fall short. The Kashmir catastrophe affects larger numbers of people than the Asian tsunami last year in more difficult terrain. Many face death with the onset of the forbidding Himalayan winter in Kashmir, especially children, and time is running out.
To address this tragedy and other human needs, reconsideration of America's international spending priorities finally must be at the center of any serious debate.
The defense budget now exceeds $440 billion a year, 40 percent above that spent before Sept. 11. Counting spending on Iraq and Afghanistan, total expenditures for the US military exceed $500 billion annually. In contrast, the respected British journal, the Lancet, has published a study stressing that $5.1 billion (about one-half of 1 percent of the $1 trillion in annual global military spending) could save the lives of 6 million children worldwide.
To put it another way, UNICEF's annual budget is spent on the world's military purposes every 15 hours, even as one billion children live in almost unimaginable conditions of deprivation.
Consider the potential impact on both human lives and on world opinion of devoting a portion of the huge US defense budget to stepping up humanitarian and development assistance and, more specifically, child survival worldwide. This might contribute to a more secure and peaceful America and world in the long term.
Indeed, a poll by Pew indicates that US deliveries of tsunami aid in Aceh, part of Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation, may have done more to promote goodwill toward the United States than anything else since Sept. 11. Many Marines were elated at how they were greeted by local people, comparing this with the extreme hazards and hostility they face in Iraq.
One should recall the way US forces were welcomed in Europe in the years of the Marshall Plan from 1947-51. Under the plan, the United States contributed about $13 billion (about $100 billion in today's dollars) toward the rebuilding of Europe.
Today, finding ways to eradicate malnutrition and conduct public health campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan could bolster successful transitions to democracy. Afghanistan has maternal mortality rates about 60 times the rate in industrialized nations. One-fifth of all children die before age 5, 80 percent from preventable diseases.
Moreover, several Middle Eastern countries are falling behind in meeting child survival criteria of the Millennium Development Goals. The goals, aimed at reducing by half the 1.1 billion people living in extreme poverty by 2015, were unanimously adopted by the United Nations with US support in 2000.
The example of Yemen warrants special notice. This is, after all, the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden and the locale of the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in 2000.
According to UNICEF, the number of babies who die in childbirth in Yemen is 366 per 100,000, compared with nine in the United States. One third of Yemen's children go unvaccinated.
Similar conditions exist in Sudan, Bangladesh, and other Muslim countries (including Pakistan), linchpins in the struggle against terror, where the United States needs all the goodwill it can muster. And despite recent gains, child mortality remains high in Indonesia, and especially in neighboring East Timor, still recovering from devastation by Indonesian forces in 1999.
The disparity between the costs of the war in Iraq and spending on child survival in countries such as Yemen is stark. Beyond its inherent value in moral and human terms, the message sent by a significant adjustment of these priorities could have a powerful impact over time.
The unpopularity of the war in Iraq will continue to be a complicating factor, but going forward, a different dynamic can be created. This should include a major boost in US earthquake aid for Kashmir to help the most vulnerable, among them, children.
World security depends upon a creative reordering of spending priorities.
Lawrence Korb is senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and senior adviser to the Center for Defense Information. Arnold Kohen is international coordinator of Global Priorities.
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