Four killed in Afghan bomb attack<>BBC News / Wednesday, 16 November 2005>
A suspected suicide car bomb has killed at least three civilians and the bomber himself in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, officials say.
Kandahar Governor Asadullah Khalid said the attacker had rammed his car into a convoy of US and Afghan forces.
At least three US soldiers and four Afghan civilians were injured in the rush-hour attack, reports say.
Elsewhere, five Afghan soldiers were killed on Tuesday in a bomb blast in Paktika province, officials say.
Wednesday's explosion in Kandahar, comes two days after twin car bomb attacks in the capital, Kabul, which killed at least eight people.
The blast happened just before 0900 local time (0430 GMT), when a Toyota Corolla laden with explosives drove into an armoured Landcruiser of the US special forces, a senior security official told the BBC.
US military spokesman Lt Col Jerry O' Hara confirmed the bombing but said there were no reports of any injuries or damage to the convoy.
An eyewitness, Ghulam Mohammed Haq, said he saw a car ram into a four-wheel-drive vehicle before exploding.
"I saw some people being carried away wounded," he said.
General Shah Wali, the deputy army commander in Kandahar told the Associated Press that the explosion was "massive".
It is not clear who carried out the attack but the BBC's Andrew North says members of the Taleban have claimed similar attacks in the past.
This year has already seen several suicide attacks in Afghanistan, including two in the capital.
Wednesday's attack comes after two suspected suicide car bomb attacks in Kabul on Monday killed at least eight people.
The Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) said a German soldier was among those killed.
Four others including two Greek soldiers were injured in the incidents. An Afghan was also killed.
In the south-eastern province of Paktika, near the Pakistani border, five Afghan soldiers died on Tuesday after a suspected remote controlled mine was detonated under their vehicle, security officials told the BBC.
The latest blast comes as discussions are going on within Nato about how to fulfil commitments to expand the peace keeping force in Kabul to areas currently controlled by the US-led coalition force.
The BBC's Andrew North says the US would like to start withdrawing some of its troops from the region.
Britain will lead the peace keeping force next year, but some other Nato countries have said they are unwilling to get involved in fighting insurgents.
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 of the country.
Official: Al-Qaida Boosts Afghan Activity
By DANIEL COONEY, Associated Press
Wednesday, 16 November 2005
KABUL, Afghanistan - Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network has increased its activities in Afghanistan, smuggling in explosives, high-tech weapons and millions of dollars in cash for a resurgent terror campaign, the defense minister said Wednesday.
A number of Arabs and other foreigners have entered Afghanistan to launch suicide attacks, Defense Minister Rahim Wardak said in an interview with The Associated Press.
His comments came after an unprecedented series of suicide assaults — the latest on Wednesday when a bomber attacked a U.S. military convoy, killing three civilians.
"There has been ... more money and more weapons flowing into their hands in recent months," he said. "We see similarities between the type of attacks here and in Iraq."
Wardak said al-Qaida militants and other foreign Islamic extremists had teamed up with local Taliban rebels.
"There is no doubt that there is a connection between Taliban and al-Qaida and some other fundamentalists," he said. "In most cases, the suicide bombers are foreigners ... from the Middle East, from neighboring countries. ... It is a new trend."
But he said not all the suicide assailants were extremists and that some had been duped into carrying explosives.
"There have been some cases where people have been used without knowing that they are being fixed with explosives and someone else detonated it from a distance," he said.
Until two months ago, suicide bombings were relatively rare in Afghanistan, unlike in Iraq. But since then, nine such assaults have been used nationwide.
Wednesday's attack in Kandahar, a former Taliban stronghold, which also wounded four civilians, came two days after militants used twin suicide car bombs to attack NATO peacekeepers in the capital, Kabul, killing a German soldier and eight Afghans.
Afghanistan Launches Its Accession Process To WTO
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
16 November 2005 -- Senior Advisor to the President and Minister of Commerce, Hedayat Amin Arsala, announced today launching of Afghanistan’s accession process to the World Trade Organization (WTO), according to the statements issued by Afghanistan ministry of commerce on Wednesday.
"Today marks a milestone in Afghanistan’s further integration into the world economy and the multilateral trading system. This process of accession to the WTO is consistent with and reinforces the national agenda with regard to the ongoing economic and trade policy reform in the country," writes the statement.
Afghanistan, as the least developed country in the world, requires strengthening its own trade capacities so that it can gain profit and thus benefit from WTO membership. "In this regard, Afghanistan needs to build its own supply capacity through expanding its productive base, diversifying agriculture into high value added activities and expanding into new areas of dynamic, competitive advantage."
The statement also says that Afghanistan will benefit from its membership in WTO by enhancing exports as well as strengthening its services, domestic markets and foreign investments.
Afghanistan has been a World Trade Organization observer since 13 December 2004.
No timetable for US withdrawal from Afghanistan: Karzai
Wed Nov 16, 1:06 AM ET
VIENNA (AFP) - There is no timetable for the withdrawal of US-led forces from Aghanistan as the central Asian state needs them for the foreseeable future, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in Vienna.
" Afghanistan will need the presence of the international community until Afghanistan develops its own capability, its own . . . army, police and other relevant institutions," Karzai told a press conference on Tuesday after meeting with Austrian President Heinz Fischer.
He said international help was "very needed . . . in terms of presence of forces, in terms of economic assistance."
Afghanistan will keep foreign troops "until we are ready to stand on our own feet."
"I can't set a timetable. I hoped it will be soon but nation-building takes its own time," Karzai said.
He was speaking after comments over the past few days that British forces may within about a year begin withdrawing from Iraq, which like Afghanistan is occupied by US-led troops.
There are nearly 20,000 troops in the US-led coalition which has been based in Afghanistan since the fundamentalist Taliban regime was toppled in a US-led invasion in late 2001.
The foreign troops, 90 percent of whom are Americans, work mainly in the insurgency-hit south and east of Afghanistan, the focus of attacks by Taliban and other militants who want to overthrow the new US-backed government.
More than 50 US troops have been killed this year in hostile action, the highest number in a year since 2001. More than 200 US soldiers have been killed since the operation began.
Greek troops will stay in Afghanistan
Bombings fail to shake policy
Kathimerini (Greece) / Wednesday November 16, 2005
More Greek soldiers will be sent to Afghanistan, the government said yesterday, despite protests by a group of anti-war campaigners in Athens demanding that the troops already there as part of a peacekeeping mission be returned home.
“We are not thinking about pulling Greek forces out of Afghanistan,” government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said yesterday. Two Greek soldiers were slightly injured on Monday when a suicide bomber drove into a convoy of seven Greek vehicles.
“Greece... has international obligations which it has to live up to,” Roussopoulos said.
There are 128 Greek soldiers currently in Afghanistan, providing assistance to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the country. They were joined by another 45 troops in August, who are responsible for a mobile army surgical hospital near the airport in Kabul. It is the second-largest military hospital in the country and is due to keep operating for the next 15 months.
Roussopoulos said that 44 officers from the Greek air force would arrive in Kabul in January to take over the administration of the city’s airport for four months.
Members of the Stop the War coalition, however, protested outside the Defense Ministry in Athens yesterday, demanding that the government withdraw Greek troops from Afghanistan.
Several left-wing politicians added their voices to calls for Greek soldiers to pull out. Nikos Voutsis, an MP for Synaspismos Left Coalition, said the government was “fully responsible” for the injuries suffered by the two Greek soldiers.
“Greek public opinion demands that there is a full and immediate disentanglement of our country from the American venture in Afghanistan,” Voutsis said.
Meanwhile, the United Nations ordered its staff to stay at home or their offices in Kabul yesterday, in the wake of the attack which injured the Greek soldiers and another suicide bombing which killed a German peacekeeper, injured two of his compatriots and killed three Afghans.
Questions the Army must ask before going into Afghanistan
By Ahmed Rashid in Lahore
The Telegraph (UK)
November 16, 2005
Small Army reconnaissance teams have already deployed to Helmand, Afghanistan's most dangerous province in the south to study the situation before a major deployment of an estimated 2,000 British troops takes place there in the spring. Another 1,500-2,000 troops will be deployed elsewhere.
Although the British deployment is fraught with risks, it is deemed necessary to stem a growing Taliban insurgency now spreading to urban areas and to deal with a burgeoning drugs trade that is providing new funds and resources to al-Qa'eda and the Taliban in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, before any deployment, it is essential that the British high command demand and receive certain binding assurances from Whitehall and the Afghan government.
Next spring, more than 1,000 British troops, backed by civilian engineers and other experts and diplomats, will form a provincial reconstruction team (PRT) under Nato command to speed up reconstruction efforts and combat the opium trade from a base in Lashkagarh, capital of Helmand.
Another 1,000 troops, backed by Apache helicopters, will deploy at a separate base in Helmand as a fighting force under the American-led coalition to combat the Taliban insurgency in the south. Another 500-800 troops will deploy at Kandahar to beef up the main command centre of coalition forces in southern Afghanistan, while roughly the same number will deploy to Kabul as Britain takes over command of the Nato lead peacekeeping force in the capital.
The British deployment has now become much more serious and critical to stability in Afghanistan, after the US Defence Department announced that it would be withdrawing 4,000 troops from southern Afghanistan next spring. The 20,000-strong US force that does the bulk of the fighting against the Taliban is preparing more withdrawals later in the year and Washington is insisting that Nato take over more responsibility for fighting the Taliban - something few countries are prepared to do.
The American withdrawal has now forced London to seek a wider coalition with other Commonwealth countries to plug the gap left by the Americans, after European countries refused to join either the British-led PRT or the fighting force in Helmand.
Britain is the first country since the American deployment after the defeat of the Taliban to be both providing a PRT as well as a fighting force in the same region. Britain will also have the single largest PRT in the country. Almost all of the 22 PRTs scattered around the country are 100-150 strong and their effectiveness has been seriously questioned: each country sets its own rules.
No PRT is combating the drugs trade or doing large scale reconstruction work. Other caveats set by individual governments have been crippling. The Spanish PRT has not left its compound after six months in the country, while the German PRT allows only German troops to travel in its helicopters.
An ambitious Britain is trying to kill two birds with stone. Establish a PRT large enough to provide real security for aid agencies and the Afghan government to do long-term reconstruction projects and provide alternative crops to farmers to help eradicate opium, while also providing a fighting force to take on the Taliban and glean better intelligence about al-Qa'eda leadership.
However British troops must have an unequivocal mandate for what they will do and not do. Downing Street is adamant that the Army help Kabul interdict drug convoys and traffickers, even if British troops do not actually get involved in eradication of the poppy crop on the ground.
The Army has been resisting, saying even interdiction could create enormous resentment among the Afghan population. A similar battle is being waged in Washington, where the US army has been resisting the State Department's overtures to carry out interdiction. Helmand is the centre of the opium trade in Afghanistan. Helmand's drug mafia exports farmers, poppy seed and expertise to warlords in other Afghan provinces.
It is also vital that Britain establish clear ground rules with President Hamid Karzai's government. The British PRT is expected to work with the local governor, police chief, administration and militia forces in Helmand, but they are deeply corrupt and also involved in the drugs trade. Karzai has to be forcefully told to get rid of several leading Afghan figures in Helmand who are drugs-tainted.
A major role for the PRT would be to train local Afghan security forces and help build a local bureaucracy that could sustain reconstruction in the future. It would be an exercise in futility if British troops captured drugs traffickers and then handed them over to Afghan officials who were themselves drug traffickers.
British troops also have to be clear as to how far they can operate. Helmand is the gateway for Taliban and al-Qa'eda leaders travelling between Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, and is also the main exit point for the new line of communication with Iraq. Several Taliban commanders have trained with Iraqi insurgents and have brought their new skills home.
British troops also have to be assured of Pakistan's total support in stopping the Taliban supply lines and large recruitment pool that the Taliban has set up in Pakistani cities. The British Army should not deploy until many of these questions are answered to its satisfaction.
Anything less would be doing a grave injustice to the young soldiers.
Afghan women fulfill increasing roles in Afghan National Army
November 16, 2005
COMBINED FORCES COMMAND – AFGHANISTAN COALITION PRESS INFORMATION CENTER
By Army Lt. Col. Janet Kai Office of Security Cooperation–Afghanistan
Kabul , Afghanistan — Only four years since the Taliban was ousted from power, Afghan women are playing an increasing role in their country’s security through an accessions program allowing them to become members of the Afghan National Army.
Currently, there are 147 women serving in the ANA, including two whom were among the first group of 58 pilots recently accessed into the ANA’s Air Corps.
Capts. Latifa and Lailoma, who like many Afghans use only one name, are both graduates of the Kabul Air University and have a total of 14 years of military flying experience. They both pilot the Mi-8 helicopter and the MiG-17 fixed wing aircraft.
“When I wear my uniform and I’m flying the helicopter, my only goal is to help the people of Afghanistan and establish peace and security. I am proud to serve my country,” Lailoma said.
The accessions program enables the nomination of qualified women for vacant, authorized ANA positions. A board consisting of officials from the Ministry of Defense, the ANA General Staff, and the office of the Chief of Personnel reviews and determines the eligibility of each woman based on age, education and military experience from prior service in the Afghan Militia Forces.
After the accessions board reviews and approves the selection of nominees, the nominations are sent to the Defense Minister for final approval.
As the number of female officers in the ANA steadily increases, so too does the number of female NCOs. This is the result of a special accessions program that allows both men and women who were not previously nominated for specific positions to volunteer for service as an NCO. Today, women are serving in medical, logistics and communications positions as a result of this program.
Women undergo the same accessions process that is used for men. Both genders are intermixed on nomination lists and selection boards don’t take any special note if a person being considered for a position is a woman. However, since women previously were limited to serving in medical, administrative and support positions and professions, they are generally more qualified for, and are usually nominated to, similar positions in the ANA. Most positions in which women serve are located in the Kabul area.
The ANA is not recruiting women for service as entry-level soldiers. The current priority for creating new soldiers is for men to serve in combat and combat support units. Eventually, training women in basic military skills will require additional resources and the establishment of facilities and programs.
“In principle we concur with women serving in the ANA. But the service of women must be discussed and planned to determine the career fields and branches in which they may serve based on Afghan culture and norms,” said Maj. Gen. Homayun Fawzi, the assistant Minister of Defense for Personnel and Education.
According to Army Col. George Shull, director of the Defense Reform Directorate’s Human Resources Division at the Office of Security Cooperation – Afghanistan, “In the future, the Afghan Ministry of Defense has the potential to become a champion for organizational changes necessary for recruiting and employing women in work which is compatible with religious beliefs.”
Last month, the ANA’s Medical Command received an additional 43 personnel – all of them women. The recently accessed 32 officers and 11 NCOs are slotted for duties in a variety of locations, including three regional 100-bed ANA hospitals, the medical academy and the hospital annex in Kabul.
Two of the ANA’s training institutions, the National Military Academy of Afghanistan and the Air Corps Flight School , currently permit attendance by men only.
“Hopefully, in the near future, women will be allowed to apply and compete for positions in these institutions which will open more opportunities for education, training and career development,” Latifa said.
Latifa, who was the honor graduate at Kabul Air University , said she is honored to serve Afghanistan and considers it her duty. She supports more women entering the ANA.
“If we want change, it can happen,” Latifa said. “Part of my responsibility is to make the path clear for the future and for women who have the desire to become pilots in the ANA.”
Afghan Army Lt. Col. Noria, the director of Family Support Programs at the ANA General Staff’s Religious and Cultural Affairs directorate, agrees that women can contribute to the ANA.
“Women in the ANA are creative, committed and intelligent,” she said. “They are important and qualitative to teamwork, which is essential to mission success.”
Afghan Army gets connected with new technology
November 16, 2005
COMBINED FORCES COMMAND – AFGHANISTAN COALITION PRESS INFORMATION CENTER
By Air Force Lt. Col. George Vicari, Jr. and Army Maj. David E. Lee
Office of Security Cooperation–Afghanistan Defense Reform Directorate
KABUL , Afghanistan – The Afghan Army made strides toward full ownership of a service-wide computer network recently as members of the ANA General Staff’s Telecommunications Directorate met for executive-level training on network equipment and services.
Members of the Office of Security Cooperation–Afghanistan’s Defense Reform Directorate have been working with telecommunications contractors to establish a wide- area network that will link all ANA computer systems throughout the country into a single network.
Senior communications officers in the ANA met with representatives from companies that installed the network for three days of hands-on training late last month. Each of the contractors provided the senior staff with familiarization in their systems’ features, design, capabilities and reliability. They also discussed each system’s ability to expand to accommodate additional hardware and software in the future.
The senior staff asked the contractors many questions and said they came away with valuable insights into the inner workings of their future network. “I am truly glad I attended this training,” Col. Sayed Farooq, ANA director for radio and telephone repair, remarked following the sessions.
Currently, the system is operational only as a local area network on the Ministry of Defense complex. OSC-A officials estimate the full network will be up and running within a year. The OSC-A DRD communications office is working to get the wide-area network installed and operational, to include an information technology training contract, hundreds of personal computer distributions to ANA regional command headquarters, and a computer maintenance contract.
The DRD’s Human Resources Directorate is working with the ANA to train and field forces that can fully operate and maintain the system.
“Everyone around the world works with automation. We in the ANA want to also work this way, to be connected throughout our country and to be connected to the whole world,” said ANA Maj. Gen. Mehrab Ali, chief of Communications for the General Staff.
Ali said a robust wide-area network is of crucial strategic importance to the ANA. “This network will provide a wealth of information for those in the Afghan National Army who are hungry for knowledge.” He said the network will help the ANA communicate more quickly through the use of e-mail and will help individual soldiers through the maintenance of a pay system.
Contractors who presented the familiarization training included representatives from Network Innovations, providers of nationwide satellite connectivity; Jubaili Brothers, providers of generators and power supplies at each network site; DasNet, the company supplying network equipment and services on each individual ANA post; and Afghan Wireless Communication Company, providers of long-range microwave connectivity between network sites. Also present at these sessions were mentors from MPRI, and project managers from the OSC-A DRD.
Members of the ANA Telecommunications Directorate who attended the sessions said they received valuable insight into the workings of their future network, and are now better prepared to receive and maintain the network themselves.
“This training was not only good, it was necessary. This was a valuable step in the rebuilding of Afghanistan ,” said Brig. Gen. Shams “Shaka” Ahmad, first deputy chief of Communications.
Daily Afghan Report
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty - 15 November 2005
Suicide Attacks Kill Three Afghans, One German Soldier In Kabul...
Two proximate suicide attacks in the Pol-e Charkhi area of Kabul left four people dead on 14 November, international news agencies reported the same day. First, an explosives-laden vehicle rammed into a military patrol vehicle belonging to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), leaving a German soldier and an Afghan man dead, while two other German soldiers and a number of Afghan civilians sustained injuries. A second car bomb subsequently exploded in the same area killing two Afghans -- a woman and a child -- AFP reported. A reporter from RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan who was slightly injured in the second blast said she could not determine the target of the second attack, RFE/RL reported. German Defense Minister Peter Struck confirmed the German casualty report later the same day, ddp reported. In September, a suicide bomber killed at least nine Afghan National Police recruits by ramming his explosives-laden motorcycle into their bus, also in Pol-e Charkhi (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 29 September 2005). AT
...As Neo-Taliban Claim Responsibility
Speaking on behalf of the neo-Taliban on 14 November, Mohammad Hanif claimed that group was responsible for the deadly suicide attack on the ISAF vehicle in Kabul the same day, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. Hanif told AIP that a "Taliban fighter" carried out the attack, in which he asserted that "five NATO soldiers were killed." The caller refrained from commenting on the second explosion. Hanif later called AIP claiming responsibility for three explosions in Kabul, saying that all were suicide missions carried out by members of the militia from Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan. In his second conversation with AIP, Hanif claimed that 19 foreign troops were killed. It is not unusual for the neo-Taliban to exaggerate casualty figures from insurgency attacks or even to claim credit for terrorist activities that they do not appear to have carried out. AT
Islamabad Rejects Charges Of Interference In Afghan Affairs
Pakistan on 13 November rejected charges that it is interfering in Afghanistan's internal affairs by assisting the neo-Taliban, the Islamabad-based daily "The News" reported on 14 November. The head of Afghanistan's Commission for Strengthening Peace and Stability, former President Sibghatullah Mojaddadi, told a news conference in Kabul on 13 November that elements of the Pakistani military and that country's Inter-Services Intelligence might be involved in backing antigovernment forces in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2005). Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed rejected Mojaddedi's claims, saying that his country "has always been supportive of [a] peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan." Referring to Islamabad's support for Afghan membership of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Ahmed said that "responding to our sincerity in such a manner does not suit an Afghan leader" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 14 November 2005). AT
Afghanistan Establishes Military Courts
Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi told a news conference in Kabul on 13 November that military courts have been established within the framework of the Afghan National Army, the official Radio Afghanistan reported. The courts were established following the approval of a law on military courts by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The new courts, which would be limited to trials for military offenses, should have five primary courts within the central and regional corps and an appellate court within the chief of staff command. The so-called Third Court, or high court, for military offenses would be set up within the Afghan Supreme Court. AT
Afghan drug problem solved, praise the laudanum
By Ramtanu Maitra / Asia Times Online / November 16, 2005
Reports indicate the West is now working toward a "solution" to the opium explosion in Afghanistan, namely the licensing of legal opium production for medical purposes.
The formal proposal was floated in September by the Senlis Council, a French think tank on narcotics. The council's study was conducted in partnership with Kabul University as well as academic centers in Europe and North America, such as Ghent University, Lisbon University and the University of Toronto.
The proposal comes in the wake of a general admission by Washington, its adjunct in Kabul and the United Nations that eradication of drugs in Afghanistan cannot be accomplished by the warriors against terror.
Touching a sensitive chord, however, Afghanistan's Counter- Narcotics Minister Habibullah Qaderi questioned the timing of the Senlis report. "We don't want to confuse the Afghan people, because while the government on the one hand wants to control and stop cultivation, we are talking about licensing."
What Qaderi did not say was that the West, being unable to eradicate opium, is moving to repackage Afghanistan's uncontrollable scourge as a legalized and regulated industry, to be included along with elections among the "democratic successes" in that benighted land.
Scale of the problem
The massive annual growth in opium production coincided with the "liberation" of Afghanistan from the Taliban by US occupation forces in the winter of 2001. Having registered unprecedented growth in 2002, 2003 and 2004, the 2005 harvest showed a slight reduction. But if the numbers made public are correct, the reduction will not affect the drug users of Europe significantly.
In its Afghanistan Opium Survey 2005, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported that the area of opium cultivation in the country decreased by 21% from a record high of 131,000 hectares to 104,000 hectares. In other words, one out of five opium fields cultivated in 2004 was not replanted in 2005. This decline in cultivation was attributed to several factors: the farmers' choice to refrain from poppy cultivation, the government's eradication program, the ban on opium and law enforcement activities.
But according to UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa, despite the overall decline in cultivation, Afghanistan remains far and away the world's largest supplier of opium (87%). According to the UN survey, opium production in Afghanistan in 2005, by comparison with the production figures in 2004, dropped by only 2.4%. Favorable weather conditions resulted in a 22% higher yield. Cultivation also increased in some provinces. In 2005, the drug economy accounted for 52% of the country's gross domestic product.
If you can't beat it ...
At least a year before the Senlis Council stuck its neck out on behalf of the United States and NATO, hand-wringing in Washington over the West's inability to curb opium production in Afghanistan had begun in earnest.
After the record production of more than 4,200 tons of opium in 2004, not only officials serving the Bush administration - the Pentagon, in particular - but also behind-the-scenes policy directors lodged in various think tanks, began putting forward arguments against taking on the drug warlords.
For example, Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute (a non-profit public policy research foundation headquartered in Washington) and a former special assistant to Ronald Reagan, writing soon after the presidential elections in Afghanistan last fall, acknowledged that "controlling opium trafficking has not been the top US priority in Afghanistan".
Therefore, the opium explosion in Afghanistan during the US occupation should not be considered a US failure. Although the Defense Department is careful to appear to be cooperative, Bandow points out, US forces have largely ignored drug trafficking unrelated to enemy action. "Attempting to suppress the drug trade with more than rhetoric will make it even harder to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda," he said. "Yet Washington's most important goal today remains destroying transnational anti-US terrorist networks, led by al-Qaeda."
Soon after the Senlis Council came out with its study, a view similar to Bandow's was expressed by another Cato Institute academic and vice president for defense and foreign policy studies, Ted Galen Carpenter. In a recent article he argues that the US military must not become an enemy of Afghan farmers whose livelihood depends on growing opium poppy.
"If zealous American drug warriors alienate hundreds of thousands of Afghan farmers, the Karzai government's hold on power, which is none too secure now, could become even more precarious," he wrote. "Washington would then face the unpalatable choice of letting radical Islamists regain power or sending more US troops to suppress the insurgency."
Throwing an economic spin into his argument, Carpenter pointed out that for many Afghans involvement in the cultivation of opium poppy crops and other aspects of drug commerce is "the difference between modest prosperity and destitution. They will not look kindly on efforts to destroy their livelihood."
According to Carpenter, US efforts to eradicate Afghanistan's opium crop actually amount to beating plowshares into swords: such efforts drive Afghan farmers, who have so far helped in the "war against terror", straight into the arms and camps of anti-American terrorists.
Naivety or avoidance?
If Bandow and Carpenter could be considered apologists for burgeoning opium production in Afghanistan under the US and NATO's close watch, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's statements prior to her October 2005 visit to Kabul demonstrated that, indeed, Washington has nary a thought about the opium explosion in Afghanistan.
In her news conference en route to Kabul from Kyrgyzstan, Rice heaped praise on the US "success" in Afghanistan and congratulated the Karzai administration for bringing about "remarkable progress".
On the narcotics issue, however, all she could come up with was the following: "I'm going to have a meeting with the members of the cabinet who are responsible for the narcotics problem and to discuss with them how we might accelerate those efforts. We and the British - the British, of course, have the lead on this - [want] to help the Afghans to root out narcotics. If they can do that then I think they really have made a major step forward in stabilization - they will have made a major step forward in stabilization."
Several hard realities raise questions about Rice's words. To begin with, Rice was fully aware that the US Department of Defense had made it clear that they would not antagonize the warlords and thus forsake their friendly alliance by going after opium cultivation.
Secondly, Rice is fully aware of the lack of strength of the Hamid Karzai presidency. It has been observed again and again that the writ of the US-backed Karzai does not extend beyond Kabul. It is ridiculous to try to make others believe that a president, who has to depend for his personal security on a foreign country - the occupying forces, really - would be able to go on a campaign to eradicate opium, battling hundreds of powerful warlords and about 30% of all Afghan families.
Finally, opium is not domestic garbage. Unfortunately, it is valuable, indeed, almost as expensive as gold, if not more so in some countries of the West. Those who bring it into western Europe, and carry it further west, generate enough money to corrupt not only the security infrastructure but the entire political economy of Europe. To suggest that a weak president, without any real help from US and NATO forces, will be able to eradicate opium in Afghanistan is simply a cruel joke.
Moreover, while Carpenter concludes that terrorist and other anti-government forces are hand in glove with the opium growers and traffickers, and that the connection between drug trafficking and terrorism is a direct result of making drugs illegal and, therefore, extremely profitable, Rice chose to remain mum. During her talks with reporters, she did not bring up the close nexus between drugs and terrorism.
And along comes the Senlis Council
As Washington and London came to the conclusion that opium eradication in Afghanistan is neither useful nor of immediate importance, the Senlis Council conveniently trotted out its proposal and supporting study.
Prior to the feasibility study, funded by a dozen European social policy foundations, the council held a series of seminars to hone its arguments. Because the Blair government in the UK has been the loudest voice heard on eradication of opium poppy in Afghanistan, the council held one seminar, "The Opium Policy Challenge in Afghanistan: Current Responses and New Strategies," at the British House of Commons on July 20.
The seminar brought together British policymakers and senior officials responsible for UK reconstruction policies in Afghanistan, with representatives from United Kingdom-based policy centers and organizations, and academics engaged in research work on Afghanistan, according to news reports. At the seminar, Senlis Council Executive Director Emmanuel Reinert presented the "Feasibility Study on Opium Licensing in Afghanistan for the Production of Morphine and other Essential Medicines", ostensibly a ground-breaking project to consider the licensing of opium production in Afghanistan for medical uses.
In his opening remarks, Chris Mullin, a British MP who is chairman of the council, made clear Afghanistan's reconstruction has been threatened by the failure of current counter-narcotics policies and that there exists no simple solution to the drugs problem. Mullins told the audience to take a good look at the study.
In response to questions raised, Reinert explained the benefits the Afghan farmers would gain within the proposed legal and controllable framework. He also explained the importance of non-governmental organization involvement in achieving a successful and viable intervention, especially with regard to economic development, farming and health treatment.
Though Western countries have begun pushing the Senlis Council's concept as a viable proposition, it was greeted with opposition by Afghanistan. Afghanistan's Counter-Narcotics Minister Habibullah Qaderi stated plainly that the country's security system was still too weak to police the legal production of opium.
"Without an effective control mechanism, a lot of opium will still be refined into heroin for illicit markets in the West and elsewhere. We could not accept this," Qaderi said in a statement.
UNODC, careful not to antagonize the Western countries, said the proposal would offer little attraction to opium farmers because they would earn less selling their crop on the legal market than on the black market.
To sell the concept, Reinert points out that the plan is modeled on programs in India and Turkey, which have helped reduce illegal opium production through a strictly supervised licensing scheme backed by the US Congress. In addition, legal opium production programs are already in place in several other countries, including Australia, France and Japan. With India and Turkey these nations provide the bulk of the world's legal opium for medicine, notably morphine and codeine.
The salesman in Reinert allowed him to suppress the obvious. Neither in India nor Turkey, nor any of the other countries that produce legal opium, does opium make up 52% of the gross domestic product. None of these countries has ever produced 87% of world's opium annually. The fact of the matter is that apart from Turkey, which did have a problem concerning illegal production of opium poppy, no other country mentioned has had any opium-related problems. And none were ever under the control of drug warlords.
The fact of the matter is that the political system that has evolved in Afghanistan following the US invasion is extremely fragile, and verges on being a joke. What really has been strengthened in Afghanistan since 2001 is opium production. Afghanistan now has "pro-democracy" drug warlords who raise illegal opium by the hundreds of tons every year. But pro-democracy sentiments notwithstanding, they have so far remained illegitimate in the eyes of the world.
Now, along comes the Senlis Council to give legitimacy to what is otherwise a political embarrassment. In their study, the council recommends the government fast-track the establishment of a national authority to license opium producers and research an amnesty that would "integrate illegal actors into the opium licensing system".
Is Afghanistan Ready for Women in Parliament?
The recent elections showed some surprising gains for women, but it is far too soon to herald a new age of sexual equality.
By Wahidullah Amani and Salima Ghafari (ARR No. 195, 15-Nov-05) Institute for War & Peace Reporting
Now that the results of September’s parliamentary and local council elections have been finalised, officials and international pundits have been little short of gushing in their assessment of how female candidates fared in the various contests.
Women, as required under the constitution, will occupy 68 of the 249 seats in the Wolesi Jirga, or lower house of parliament. They also secured 121 seats in the provincial councils which have a total of 420 members. That was three short of the 124 mandated by law because not enough female candidates could be found.
In a country where women have long been held back by fear and tradition, this does indeed reflect a significant gain.
Peter Erben, operations manager for the Joint Electoral Management Body, JEMB, announced at a news conference in early November that “most” of the women who will come to the parliament won their places fair and square. Only “a small number” owe their seats to the quotas established by law, he said.
Many international observers shared the JEMB’s enthusiasm. “Women did remarkably well as candidates, winning 68 of the parliament’s 249 seats,” the New York Times wrote on October 28. The Eurasianet website spoke of “stunning gains for women”, arguing that “women would have won about 27 per cent of the seats even without the constitutional quota”.
But an objective analysis of the results reveals a different picture. Without the benefit of seats specifically set aside for them, only 19 women would have been elected to the Wolesi Jirga. The remaining 49 must credit the affirmative-action provision in the constitution for their posts.
Some women did do remarkably well. Fawzia Gailani, mother of six and pioneer of women’s aerobics, was the top vote-winner in the western province of Herat. Malalai Joya, an outspoken critic of the warlords, came in second in the conservative Farah region. Six women in Kabul can boast that their victories owe nothing to quotas, and everything to their own grit and determination.
But these are exceptions rather than the rule. In 22 out of the country’s 34 provinces, no women would be entering the lower house of parliament if it were not for the constitutional requirement. The nomadic Kuchis, who were balloted separately, also had no women in their top line-up, meaning that in 23 out of 35 election regions, no women finished high enough to win Wolesi Jirga seats on their own.
For example, in Kandahar, the birthplace and continued stronghold of the Taleban, three of the 11 parliamentary seats allocated to the province were reserved for women. But the highest-scoring woman actually finished 17th in the overall ballot, the second highest female candidate came in 28th and the third in 32nd place with a mere 1,468 votes, or 0.9 per cert of the vote. All three, however, will be in the new parliament, ahead of men who won significantly more votes.
In total, women won only 7.6 per cent of the seats in parliament in open contest rather than through the reserved quota.
In the provincial elections, the results were similar. Out of the 124 seats reserved for them, women won only 29 outright.
The JEMB points to Kabul, where ten women won seats on the 29-member provincial council, exceeding the eight slots legally reserved for them. But election officials are less forthcoming about the 20 provinces where no women would have made it at all without the quota. In places such as Zabul, Uruzgan, and Nangahar, there were not even enough women candidates to fill the reserved seats, so five of these will remain empty.
Regardless of how they gained their elected positions, most women are justifiably proud of their achievements.
Shukria Barakzai, who came in 23rd in Kabul’s parliamentary election, has announced she will seek election as speaker of the new legislature.
In an interview with the independent daily Arman-e-Milli, she said she thought she had a good chance of winning the post, since the Afghan people were looking for assurances that the new body would not be plagued by the problems of the past.
“The people who have been in power for the past 30 years are known as warlords, communists and drug smugglers,” she said. “I stand as an Afghan woman with a national idea. This is who should be speaker of parliament.”
Barakzai may have a hard time getting the male-dominated legislature to vote for her.
But she says that in future, many more seats should go to women, “Sixty-eight is much too few. It should more in line with the actual population figures.”
Parwin Mohmand, who won a seat reserved for Kuchis, is grateful that any seats have been set aside for women. She came in 46th, with only 0.6 per cent of the vote. But that was enough to gain her a place among the ten Kuchi parliamentarians.
“If there were no law granting seats to women, then there would not be many of them in parliament,” she said.
Najiba Sharif refuses to attribute her seat to the quota system, despite the fact that she came in 51st in Kabul, where only the top 33 candidates would have been elected to parliament without it.
She maintains that she actually received many more than the 1,547 votes officially awarded to her, and blames election fraud for her modest results.
“I was sure when I nominated myself that I would win,” she told IWPR. “The seat was not given to me. I won, and I am happy that people voted for me.
“Karzai signed a law saying that these seats should be reserved for women, so it is our right. Men should not be unhappy.”
One male candidate who would have won a seat in parliament if there had been no quota for women is Abdul Hafiz Mansoor.
Mansoor lost his post as the head of Radio and Television Afghanistan after he refused to allow women to sing on the air. But he expressed no bitterness about being denied a seat.
“Women should have a role in the parliament; I support them,” he told IWPR. “And I supported this during the Constitutional Loya Jirga. I knew this would happen, but that is the law and their right.
“If we don’t give them the chance now, then we will have to wait another 50 years for women to have equal rights with men.”
Still, says Mansoor, there are limits. “I don’t think women should appear on television,” he insisted.
All agree that the women who are coming to parliament are a rare and unusual breed.
“These are educated women, they are strong,” said Sultan Ahmad Baheen, the JEMB’s spokesman. “They will be able to discuss the issues, and they will be able to make decisions.”
Political analysts say that even the modest results that women showed in the elections represent a victory, given the restrictions under which they campaigned.
“This is a big problem in Afghanistan,” said analyst Qaseem Akhgar. “In some provinces women were not able to stand for election. If they did stand, they were unable to campaign, to go out among the people. A lot of men think that women should just be their mouthpieces – that they should just do what they’re told.
“Women have a long way to go to gain their rights. I hope in the future they will be more active. But we are not there yet.”
Wahidullah Amani and Salima Ghafari are IWPR reporters in Kabul.
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