Rebels Kill 19 Policemen in Afghanistan
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer Tue Oct 11, 2:56 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Suspected Taliban rebels ambushed a police convoy in southern Afghanistan and killed 19 officers, the deadliest attack ever on the fledgling police force, officials said Tuesday.
The convoy of 150 police was attacked late Monday while driving on a dirt road along the side of a mountain in Helmand province, said Interior Ministry spokesman Yusuf Stanikzai.
Dozens of insurgents opened fire on the convoy, sparking a gunbattle that lasted until early Tuesday before the militants fled into the mountains, he said.
Among the 19 dead was Helmand's deputy police chief, Stanikzai said. Four police officers were wounded and four police vehicles were destroyed.
Security forces rushed reinforcements into the area and have secured the region, the spokesman said.
Another Interior Ministry official, Dad Mohammed Rasa, said the attack was "the deadliest ever on the police," which was set up soon after U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban from power in 2001.
The attack comes amid a major resurgence in violence by Taliban-led rebels that has left about 1,400 people dead in the past half year. On Monday, two suicide bombers killed three people in the main southern Afghan city of Kandahar, a former Taliban stronghold.
Eighteen policemen killed in ambush in Afghanistan
KABUL (AFP) - Taliban fighters ambushed and killed 18 Afghan policemen in southern Afghanistan, the government said -- the latest bloodshed in an insurgency that has seen a recent spate of suicide attacks.
The number of fatalities is believed to be among the biggest suffered in a single attack by the fledgling Afghan police force, which started forming in late 2001.
The policemen, including a provincial director, were ambushed late Monday while travelling on a remote valley road in Helmand province to an event to introduce a newly appointed district police chief, the interior ministry said.
"Eighteen police, including the Helmand province police director Amanullah Khan, were martyred last night in an ambush," spokesman Yousuf Stanizai told AFP. Four other policemen were wounded.
Stanizai blamed the attack on "enemies of peace", a term Afghan officials use to refer to insurgents from the ousted Taliban government believed to behind almost daily attacks in southern Afghanistan.
"The exchange of fire between the police and the enemies went on for several hours, even up to 1:00 am," he said.
In a separate incident late Monday, four Russian-made rockets were fired on Kandahar city in adjacent Kandahar province, which is also caught up in the insurgency, Stanizai said.
No one was hurt by the rockets, one of which landed near the headquarters of a foreign-run reconstruction team.
The Taliban, which imposed a hardline version of Islam on Afghanistan when they took control of most of the country in 1996, was born in southern Kandahar.
The city has been the focus of recent attacks linked to the Taliban, who launched an insurgency after they were removed from power in a US-led campaign in late 2001 after they failed to hand over Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
In the past week there have been four confirmed suicide attacks in and around Kandahar, two of them targeted at foreign nationals.
In one on Monday a former mujahedin commander allied to the US-backed government of President Hamid Karzai and another person was killed, along with the suicide bomber, Stanizai said Tuesday.
Nine people were wounded and two were in critical condition, he said.
In another attack on Monday, a suicide bomber detonated explosives strapped to his body when confronted by police. No one else was hurt, officials said.
Last Wednesday another suicide bomber attacked a Canadian patrol; he and an Afghan child were killed.
And on Sunday a suicide bomber rammed himself into a convoy from the British embassy, wounding four British private security guards.
The attacks have added to concern that the insurgents are adopting Iraq-style techniques as they try to bring down the Afghan government.
Officials are however keen to dismiss the Taliban's capacity.
"They cannot launch organised attacks and they cannot fight in fronts. That is why they carry out such suicide attacks which illustrates their weakness," Stanizai said.
"Sometimes the rate of incidents is high and sometimes there is a decrease. It shows the desperation of the enemies of Afghanistan," presidential spokesman Karim Rahimi said.
The violence has focused on southern and eastern Afghanistan, where a US-led coalition force of about 20,000 soldiers is working with Afghan security forces to hunt down the militants.
In a swoop in southern Zabul province on Monday, security forces arrested a fighter from Chechnya and another from Pakistan, the defence ministry said.
Foreign fighters captured in rugged Afghanistan are usually believed to belong to the Al-Qaeda network that was sheltered by the ousted Taliban regime.
Afghan suicide attacks kill 6, wound 8
Mon Oct 10, 7:34 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Two suicide explosions in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on Monday killed six people and wounded eight, officials said.
They said a suicide bomber blew himself up in the city center, killing a senior anti-Taliban commander and three others.
Eight people were also hurt in the blast which was followed by a second in which a suicide bomber died on the road leading to the airport when a bomb strapped to his body exploded prematurely, said Kandahar governor Assadullah Kahlid.
There were no other casualties, he said. U.S.-led troops are based at Kandahar airport.
"Both incidents were the work of suicide bombers of Taliban and al Qaeda," Khalid said.
Among the victims killed in the first blast was a former senior factional commander, Agha Shah, Kandahar police chief Colonel Mohammad Hakim said.
"I can say now that at least four people, including Agha Shah, have lost their lives in the explosion," Hakim said.
Body parts from the victims of the first explosion were strewn on the dusty road outside Shah's house in a crowded area of Kandahar.
Shah was among local commanders who helped U.S.-led forces to overthrew the Taliban government in 2001.
A Taliban commander, who identified himself as Sabir Momin, claimed responsibility for the first incident.
There have now been four suicide attacks in less than a week in Kandahar, the Taliban's former stronghold.
On Sunday, four British government officials on a visit to help improve customs services in the restive province were wounded in a suicide attack close to the city center.
Last Wednesday, a suicide bomber and a child were killed when the man detonated explosives in a car near a convoy of Canadian forces near the airport.
Suicide attacks have been rare in Afghanistan compared to those against U.S.-led and Iraqi forces in Iraq, but the Taliban say a number of their "devotees" have infiltrated major cities for suicide missions.
(Additional reporting by Saeed Ali Achakzai)
Rice, Karzai to talk on war on terror, US support
KABUL, Oct. 11 (Xinhuanet) -- Matters pertaining mutual interests with particular reference to war on terror and Washington's support to Afghanistan will prominently figure the talks between US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Presidential spokesman said here Tuesday.
"The bilateral issues, regional issues including war on terrorism, US support to Afghanistan and situation in the region will be discussed during Rice' visit to Afghanistan" Mohammad Karim Rahimi told reporters at a news briefing.
As part of her central Asian countries tour, Rice is going to arrive here for a one-day visit on Wednesday
It is Rice' second visit to Afghanistan over the past one year.
Over 20,000-strong US-led coalition forces have been fighting Taliban and al-Qaida loyalists in Afghanistan since the ouster of Taliban regime nearly four years ago.
Two rockets fired on Kandahar city
KANDAHAR CITY, October 11 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Two rockets were fired overnight on Karta Mualamin and Loya Wyala regions of southern Kandahar, while three other were seized in the area that were diffused, police official said.
Colonel Abdul Hakeem, a police official in Kandahar, told Pajhwok Afghan News on Tuesday the rockets were fired from the north that hit the superb of the city. The rockets caused no damage to life and property, he added.
After firing two rockets the security forces were sent in the north of the city, which captured three other rockets and diffused them, he added.
Security problems are on the rise in the southern provinces of the country. Only six suicide attempts have been reported in Kandahar over the past ten days.
Crumbling schools show shortfall of Afghan aid by U.S.
Cox News 10/09/2005 By Margaret Coker, Anne Usher
SHOWKHEI — Most mornings, boys from this village walk to a mud-brick school constructed two years ago, compliments of U.S. taxpayers. But the building is in disrepair already, its walls crumbling and its roof pitted by termites chewing into untreated wooden beams.
Village elders in Showkhei, about 20 miles from the main U.S. military base at Bagram, were unanimous in the summer of 2003 when soldiers arrived and asked what they needed: a bigger school. The soldiers sent a construction firm called Ahmad Jamil Construction to Showkhei to double the size of the existing school from five rooms to 10.
But no one from the military came back to inspect the quality of materials or the company's work, villagers said. The next time they saw the soldiers was weeks later at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. U.S. officials took pictures of the new building and left, school Principal Said Rakhman said.
Two years and $20,000 later, the locally made mud bricks crumble to the touch, and termites have infested the beams, leaving villagers with the morbid pastime of guessing when the ceiling will fall.
"Do they just care about photographs?" Rakhman asked. "My children have to stay in this building, their children don't." Use of inferior construction materials is just one of myriad complaints lodged by auditors and aid workers who are critical of U.S. efforts to rebuild Afghanistan.
Four years after American forces invaded Afghanistan to purge the Taliban, the United States has spent more than $1.62 billion to reconstruct this war-ravaged Central Asian country.
Some vital and visible results of the U.S. intervention are evident. After 25 years of open warfare, millions of Afghans have returned home, voters have elected a government and many women are back at work.
But a report published in July by the U.S. Government Accountability Office cited bureaucratic squabbles, poor planning and lack of coordination and oversight in the spending of U.S. reconstruction money in Afghanistan. The effect is that building and public works projects by the State Department and the Pentagon have had little impact on improving the country's long-term reconstruction, the GAO said.
For Afghans this is cause for despair. In a country ranked among the worst in terms of poverty, literacy and infant mortality, the slow reconstruction endangers short- and long-term stability.
Wavering commitment seen - No one expected bomb-scarred, medieval Afghanistan to be transformed into a modern nation overnight. But analysts, aid workers and many Afghans are questioning how effectively the millions of U.S. dollars meant to improve the country have been spent so far.
"You say time equals money. In this case it's true. We Afghans don't have the luxury of time," said Mohammed Sidiq Patman, the deputy minster of education. "I know that America has a desire to help, but (the U.S. government isn't) doing things in the best way."
The government of U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai, still heavily dependant on international assistance, is being further undermined by more frequent and deadly attacks by the Taliban and other insurgents. The continued presence of warlords means the authority of the central government doesn't stretch much beyond the confines of the capital, Kabul.
Despite pledges by President Bush to stay the course, the United States is reportedly planning to pull out 20 percent of its 18,000 troops next year.
Quayum Karzai, a brother of the president who was just elected to parliament, said withdrawing even 50 U.S. troops would send a signal to ordinary Afghans and extremists alike that "the commitment isn't there."
In the effort to deliver roads, schools, clinics, irrigation canals and other public works, U.S. agencies fell short of most of their own targets and misrepresented their progress to decision-makers in Washington, according to the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress whose July report covered reconstruction results through May.
For example, the U.S. Agency for International Development has pointed to the repair and construction of miles of irrigation ditches and canals as a reflection of booming Afghan farms. But the GAO found that the contractor responsible for overseeing these projects did not collect or report information on their progress. More important, U.S. efforts weren't steered with the aim of helping Afghans produce specific crops or getting those crops to market.
While a Kabul-to-Kandahar highway is nearing completion, cutting travel time from three days to six hours, relatively little attention has been paid to fixing or building smaller roadways, so moving crops — or people, money or even the Afghan army — around the country remains difficult.
"People told us, I hear there's a clinic, but I can't get to it," said Morgan Courtney, a researcher for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan Washington-based policy group. She conducted an independent survey this year of reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. The clinic may be only a mile or two away, but "they say, the roads are so bad that if we carry our family on a cart, we'll dump it on the way there because its way too bumpy for us."
The handful of health clinics built last year weren't placed where trained doctors are because contractors didn't consult with local officials or the Ministry of Health, which wanted to ensure that they were being put in places of need, the GAO reported.
Peggy O'Ban, a USAID spokeswoman, said the agency agrees with the GAO's assertions and notes that a comprehensive strategy for reconstruction in Afghanistan, lacking until this past summer, is now in place.
"It would've been a lot easier to import people (workers) from abroad, but — depending on project and level of skill — what you're trying to do is train people," she said. "But if the imperative is to get everything done as quickly as possible, that creates a challenge."
Improving primary education — by building schools, revamping inadequate curriculums and training teachers — is a goal embraced by all international agencies working in Afghanistan. Yet some of the U.S. government's most abysmal reconstruction results came in education.
Since 2002, 3,500 schools have been refurbished or built from scratch. For all Afghan children to study in covered buildings instead of tents or open-air schools, however, another 2,000 schools will need to be built, according the Ministry of Education. The U.S. government has paid for a relatively small number of these needed school projects.
USAID had projected that it would refurbish or build 286 schools by the end of last year, but its contractors had only completed eight by that deadline and refurbished about 77 others, with a coat of paint sometimes counting as a refinished school, the GAO reported.
As of Sept. 1 of this year, according to USAID, its contractors had completed 314 school projects since reconstruction began after the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001.
By contrast, in the village of Jamal Agha, residents call the recently built girls school a castle. With electricity and computers, it was constructed with private U.S. money.
USAID officials say its lackluster performance was largely a result of being initially too optimistic about Afghanistan's political and security climate. Many areas of the Texas-sized country are still considered too unsafe for humanitarian workers.
Some builders shunned risk - Deteriorating security played a major role in slowing or shelving plans in at least six of the country's provinces, mainly along the Pakistani border, officials said. They blamed a lack of contractors willing to work in risky areas for allocating only $6 million of its $49 million budget for schools and clinics in fiscal 2003.
Eighty-one aid workers were killed last year, the GAO reported, and attacks by the Taliban and its sympathizers left more than 1,200 dead in the six months leading up to the Sept. 18 parliamentary election, including U.S. and NATO soldiers, Afghan military and civilians and foreign workers.
U.S. officials also note they had to coordinate their actions with the Ministry of Education, a challenge considering the Afghan government didn't have pens, desks or computers — let alone a working staff — until mid-2002.
"Building the capacity of the new government to deliver is as important as the buildings, and it takes time," said Alonzo Fulgham, the USAID mission director in Afghanistan.
Under the same difficult conditions, however, nonprofits and international lending agencies such as the World Bank have demonstrated better results.
Atlanta-based CARE International, which has worked in Afghanistan for 44 years, built 40 schools last year, which in most cases cost $10,000 to $20,000 less than U.S.-sponsored projects. Schools constructed by USAID contractors cost between $60,000 and $80,000. CARE's faster pace was possible in part because it already had relationships with Afghan villages and businesses. U.S. government agencies also have been hindered by bureaucratic battles not faced by the private aid organizations.
USAID, a branch of the State Department and the main American aid agency, had to make room for the Defense Department's new role in reconstruction, which has been expanded since the Sept. 11 attacks. USAID still has the lion's share of the aid budget for Afghanistan, about 83 percent.
Both agencies had to hammer out a philosophy of aid work acceptable to military and civilian staff. By last year, the two U.S. agencies — partly at the urging of Afghans — worked out a cooperative effort using groups known as provincial reconstruction teams. By design, these small teams of U.S. workers, led by armed soldiers, are based in rural districts, placing them well to evaluate and fulfill the needs of residents.
But shuffling personnel in and out of the teams, often under pressure to show quick progress, sometimes led to overlapping efforts, according to Courtney of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Often, outside aid agencies weren't consulted. In one town, for instance, the team built one school, while on the other end of town a private aid group financed construction of another. This was occurring as many Afghan districts remained without any educational facilities.
While U.S. officials say they have improved coordination, a lack of contractor oversight continues to plague American-financed projects. In some cases, U.S. officials have not been able to identify where their projects were located, nor have they kept credible records of contractor work, the GAO report said.
"Projects are expensive, but they're not following up on them," said a U.S. official who formerly worked in Afghanistan, adding that "it's entirely up to the goodwill of the contractor" to make sure the work has been done right, especially since most Afghans lack technical expertise. Analysts and some aid workers say that earlier in the reconstruction effort the U.S. government put too much emphasis on numbers — putting the quantity of reconstruction projects above the quality of the work — that hindered progress.
"Eight hundred schools does not mean you have education," said Suraya Sadeed, the Afghan-American founder of Help the Afghan Children, a Virginia-based nonprofit organization. Schools await staff, books
Fulgham, the USAID mission director in Afghanistan, says the agency is not only building schools but training teachers and printing schoolbooks, initiatives that he contends have yielded significant results.
But some USAID contracts to build schools do not obligate the contracting company responsible for construction to also equip the building with desks, blackboards or other educational necessities, a task USAID said falls under the Afghan Ministry of Education.
Dozens of U.S.-built schools, lacking trained teachers, books or even drinking water, sit empty, Sadeed said.
Sadeed's organization provided the technical assistance for construction and added money to attract good teachers and run a generator that provides electricity to a computer lab. "You can't do nation-building and have it crumble," she said.
AFGHANISTAN: Regional earthquake claims at least three
11 Oct 2005 06:26:21 GMT
KABUL, 10 October (IRIN) - At least two children and an adult were killed and a number of houses damaged in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar on Saturday, when the strong earthquake that devastated northern Pakistan and the divided region of Kashmir, was felt in Afghanistan, the United Nations confirmed on Monday in the Afghan capital Kabul.
There have also been reports of minor damage elsewhere. "In northeastern Badakhshan, a few houses were destroyed. We don't have more information of casualties from there," Kalanpari Saroesh, a public information officer for the United Nations Assistant Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said.
An estimated four million people have been left in dire need of food, shelter, water and medicine after Saturday's earthquake, which has left at least 20,000 people dead and 42,000 injured over much of northern Pakistan and parts of the divided region of Kashmir.
According to Dad Mohammad Raasa, a press officer for the interior ministry, there had been no reports of casualties from other parts of the country, although reports from many parts of eastern Afghanistan have yet to be received.
The last major quake to hit Afghanistan measured 7.2 on the Richter scale and devastated the northeast of the country in March 2002, killing nearly 2,000 people.
Afghanistan’s flag at half mast
KABUL, Oct 10: Afghanistan lowered its flags to half mast on Monday in sympathy with Pakistan as it rushed helicopters, doctors and tons of medicines and food to the country.
The flag would be flown at half mast for three days in mourning for the thousands of people killed in Saturday’s earthquake, presidential spokesman Karim Rahimi told reporters.
Four helicopters from Afghanistan’s air force and a plane headed across the border with four tons of medicines and teams of doctors and nurses, Mr Rahimi said.
The country had also pledged $500,000 to the relief effort, he said.
The helicopters were scheduled to stay in Pakistan for 10 days although their deployment could be extended, defence ministry spokesman Gen Mohammad Zahir Azimi said.
The Afghan medical teams were likely to go to Bagh area in Azad Kashmir, which was hit particularly hard by the tremor, which also shook parts of Afghanistan, he said.
The earthquake killed three people in eastern Afghanistan and toppled a handful of mud-brick homes.
Afghanistan’s Red Crescent Society will also despatch rescue teams and about 20 tons of dried fruit, the presidential spokesman said.
“Pakistan helped us when we were in need,” Mr Rahimi said. “Today unfortunately the people of Pakistan are in need, we will do whatever we can do to help them.”—AFP
Quake leaves a dozen refugees dead in Pakistan
ISLAMABAD, October 11 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A dozen of Afghan refugees were killed and 35 other sustained critical injuries in Manshera in NWFP during Saturday's earthquake, a devastating tremor in country history.
Officials of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Islamabad said they had extended all possible aid to the affected refugees.
The 8/10 temblor has leveled several buildings and the tentative death toll has been put at 20,000. The disaster magnitude stuns the nation that has wiped out the villages in Muzaffarabad.
Antonio Guterres, UNHCR chief, in a statement issued here on Tuesday said that medicines, blankets and food had been distributed to the quake-hit refugees. The aid would be sufficient for 01 million affectees, he added.
UNHCR had many godowns in Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan but a helicopter was need for the delivery of aids to the far-flung areas, he added. The killer quake has hit the northern regions of the NWFP where .9 million Afghans are living. A severe jolt in the nation history that was called as 'colossal' by the Pakistan officials has badly affected Manshera.
Landsliding and blockade of road has posed a major impediment in carrying out relief operation in hilly areas and only helicopter might help in this situation.
The devastating quake had turned many villages into ghost towns. The quake-caused damage in the hard-hitting areas was massive and the people wait for aid under the sky.
Afghan Commission Still Poring Over Vote Complaints
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
10 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Afghanistan's Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) has adjudicated more than half of the roughly 5,300 challenges and complaints filed since mid-July concerning the landmark national and parliamentary elections on 18 September, the commission said in a statement today.
More than 1,000 complaints have been filed with the central commission or with provincial election commissions since election day, the statement said.
The commission also said it is placing the highest priority on the 200-300 complaints that "could change the results of the elections," followed by those that "make electorally relevant allegations and present evidence that supports them," in an effort to speed up its assessment process.
It said it will notify the election watchdog, the Afghan-UN Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), once all the complaints that might alter the elections have been dealt with, to allow that body to certify final results.
"The complaints filed since Election Day and reviewed by the ECC have thus far generally raised the same issues that observer groups have discussed in their public statements: allegations of intimidation, bias among electoral officials, lack of access to polls and counting centers, and concerns about quarantined ballot boxes and the reporting of results," the ECC said in the statement. "As in any hotly contest[ed] election, but particularly in one where over 5,000 candidates will fail to win a seat, many unsubstantiated complaints are to be expected."
The commission vowed in the statement to "take action if it finds evidence that the Electoral Law has been violated."
US to extend Afghanistan agro, power assistance
KABUL, October 11 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The United States would provide Afghanistan assistance for power and irrigation projects, Agriculture and Food Minister Obaidullah Ramin announced on Tuesday.
Speaking to journalists at the Kabul airport on return from Washington, Obaidullah Ramin claimed the US energy minister had promised to provide 150 megawatts of power to Kabul in the winter.
The US would also undertake a number of irrigation projects across the country, the minister said, adding officials of the US Chambers of Commerce and Industry had vowed to help promote gardening in Afghanistan.
Afghan Agriculture and Livestock Ministry spokesman Abdul Latif said details of the assistance promised by the United States would be announced later at a news conference.
Afghan Opium Production Resists Eradication
ABC News 10/09/2005 By Charlotte Sector - Snuffing Out Cash Crop Requires Fighting Corruption Along With International Efforts
Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan fell this year but opium production barely budged, making the rugged mountain nation once again world's largest heroin purveyor, despite national and international efforts to curtail the drug's spread.
Nipping Afghanistan's opium problem in the bud thus far has meant targeting poppy farmers, but the root of the problem lies beyond the fields and within Afghanistan's government, say experts.
The problems are manifold. The heroin industry puts many Afghans at the mercy of narco-traffickers, and Russia and Europe are grappling with skyrocketing heroin use, which has fueled a rise in HIV cases.
In the last few years, the refining of opium into morphine and heroin has shifted within Afghanistan, signaling that organized crime has implanted itself, with opium profits now believed to be fueling the insurgency and international terrorist groups.
The Afghan government and international community have grappled unsuccessfully with the problem, but one think tank suggests that the answer is as simple as allowing poppy farmers to grow the plant legally for sale to pharmaceutical companies, rather than attempting to eradicate the crop.
Cultivation Down but Production Still Going Strong ) Harsh winters can wreck a promising harvest. Not so for the Afghanistan opium crop, which after years of drought, flourished with the heavy rainfall and snow last winter and spring. Production fell 2.4 percent to 4,200 tons in 2005 compared to a year before. Despite the slight drop, 87 percent of the world's opium comes from Afghanistan, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2005 Afghan Opium Survey.
The UNODC and Afghan President Hamid Karzai are touting that this remains well below the 1999 peak under the Taliban and that eradication efforts have curtailed overall cultivation. Beginning in October 2004, Afghanistan ordered provincial governors to destroy poppy fields and dispatched national police on a slash and burn mission. The threat of having poppy fields wrecked by drug enforcement authorities convinced farmers not to plant poppies. In return for opting not to plant the crimson-colored cash crop, farmers are promised aid and assistance.
The efforts seemed to have paid off in targeted provinces. Cultivation — the number of acres planted with poppies — dropped by 21 percent with the "poppy basket" region of Nangarhar seeing a 96 percent drop in cultivation.
"This year, we saw how well the stick and carrot approach really works," said Antonio Maria Costa, UNODC executive director, at a presentation of the UNODC survey in Russia at the end of September.
Karzai has repeated that he hopes his war-battered country will rid itself entirely of poppies within five to 10 years. Optimistic, yes. Realistic? Many doubt the country can achieve such lofty goals.
As encouraging as the numbers may be, CARE's Afghanistan Advocacy Coordinator Scott Braunschweig, questions the sustainability of the eradication efforts.
"These are short-term means to obtain a short-term reduction," he said in an e-mail from Kabul. "The decreases have negatively affected many farmers' livelihoods and potentially weakened state development," said Braunschweig.
In his opinion, tying development assistance to reductions in poppy cultivation undermines long-term, sustainable improvements because inevitably both sides feel like neither is living up to its end of the bargain.
In provinces where poppy cultivation has fallen dramatically, farmers voiced anger and disappointment about promises for roads, irrigation systems and jobs never materializing. A farmer told a CARE employee that if assistance didn't come he would plant poppies again next year, according to a March Afghanistan policy brief by CARE and the Center on International Cooperation.
The United Nations is aware that money and assistance hasn't reached all the farmers and cites security concerns and lack of staffing.
Cautiously Optimistic - The UNODC acknowledges that the recent progress is tenuous considering that opium cultivation has shifted away from the center and the east of the country to the north and west.
"We have to assist those who obey better," said Thomas Pietschmann, a UNODC research officer, saying that it's hard to convince a farmer to grow wheat when he can make 10 times more planting poppies. Pietschmann explained that at first the incentive program didn't work in Pakistan, but that after a while, the benefits convinced farmers to choose legality over illegality.
Afghanistan ranks among the poorest countries in the world and wiping away a very profitable income source — the drug trade accounted for 52 percent of its gross domestic product — doesn't happen overnight.
Even if farmers only reap 3 percent to 4 percent of the $2.7 billion illicit drug money, opium remains their only mode of survival, experts say. Afghans need another cash source for at least two to three years as an alternative crop grows and bears fruit.
Let 'Em Grow It for Medicine - Observing the impasse, the international drug policy think tank Senlis Council believes that licensing opium production would allow Afghans a perfect transition toward legal means of surviving by cutting out the middle man and putting an end to the growing drug mafia controlled state.
"You allow farmers to maintain a livelihood by still letting them grow their cash crop, which then allows them to diversify into roses, wheat and other activities," said Emmanuel Reinert, Senlis' executive director. "If you remove their livelihood, it's a serious way to push them [the farmers] into a criminal network thus recreating the conditions which led to the Taliban coming to power."
The council, which just wrapped up a three-day symposium in Kabul, proposed that the state control opium production so it can be sold for medicinal purposes. Opium-based morphine and codeine are highly effective painkillers. France, Australia, India and Turkey run successful licensed opium systems, said Reinert, reiterating that his group advocates working with what's available and "turning something bad into something good."
"We're not saying keep growing poppies, we're just saying you can ease the pressure and do something different," he said. In his view a licensing system will bring rule of law to the country and allow Afghanistan to take responsibility for their reconstruction and development.
Fighting the Addiction - Apparently the Afghan government hasn't been swayed. The government welcomed the study but said that it was too early to implement such a plan, blaming insecurity and instability.
"The Senlis proposals are attractive at a superficial level," said Paul Barker, CARE Afghanistan country director via e-mail from Kabul. "A licensing regime for poppy production could only work in a country with a well functioning judicial and security system."
Not only does Afghanistan lack consistent rule of law, the UNODC also fears that legalizing opium production would send the wrong message to farmers and worsen the problem by giving everyone a reason to grow poppies. Pietschmann added that India has fallen on hard times because legalizing opium production automatically drives prices lower.
The UNODC realizes that it takes more than counter-narcotics efforts to fight drugs. It has asked that along with the eradication and persuasion campaign, Afghanistan must address corruption within its own government and remove (not just reprimand) corrupt governors. In addition, they advise a zero-tolerance policy toward militias and warlords involved in drugs. Finally, the UNODC recommends Afghanistan must prosecute and extradite drug traffickers.
Afghanistan's government bears the brunt of the dirty work but so does the Western world, according to the United Nations. That means pouring more money, not less, into development, having NATO control Afghanistan's borders and break the drug chain abroad. Snuff out heroin labs, clamp down on illegal drug money bank accounts and dissuade drug users from shooting up.
Afghanistan: the next Iraq
By Allabaksh / Asian Tribune, Thailand / October 10, 2005
Where is Afghanistan headed? Democracy, insurgency or anarchy? That the situation there is—as yet-- nowhere as bad as it is in Iraq can give little comfort.
The level of insurgency in Afghanistan has been rising. It suggests that much of the hopes raised after the country was rid of the Pakistan-backed Taliban towards the end of 2002 are in danger of being shattered.
The goal of a peaceful, prosperous and, above all, democratic Afghanistan after the fall of the fanatical regime of the Taliban looks as distant, if not more, today as it was three years ago.
People in the country, fed on dreams immediately after the overthrow of the Taliban, are becoming despondent. They may brave the bullets to show their preference for democracy by going to vote but that is no indication that they are happier with their lot than before.
Many analysts note with some concern that the recently concluded parliamentary elections in Afghanistan drew about 50 percent of the electorate whereas the presidential poll last year had attracted 75 percent of the voters. The parliamentary polls were marked by violence though some observers have said that the scale of bloodshed was less than was the case in neighbouring Pakistan’s local elections in August.
The highly respected interior minister of Afghanistan, Ali Ahmed Jalali, has resigned, ostensibly to resume his academic pursuits but most believe he had quit on account of his differences with president Hamid Karzai over the question of dealing with the drug trade and curbing the warlords many of whom occupy positions of authority in the country.
It is of note that the first interior minister of post-Taliban Afghanistan, Yunus Qanuni, had also resigned in 2002 and though shifted to head the education ministry, Qanuni was altogether dropped from the Afghan cabinet by Karzai in a reshuffle last December. He is now an opposition leader.
A suicide bomb attack outside an army base camp in Kabul late in September in which 10 people were killed has led to fear that the Taliban/Al Qaeda combine has started to carry out its nefarious activities in Kabul also.
The capital is considered to be a relatively safer place in the country and though attacks by suicide bombers have taken place in many parts of the country, Kabul saw very few of them.
That the suicide bomb attack of September 29 was aimed at the fledgling army of Afghanistan has been particularly disturbing as it replicates the kind of insurgency being witnessed in Iraq.
The militants of the Taliban/Al Qaeda variety, refreshed, so to say, after a period of forced rest in the mountainous caves along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, are said to be ready to launch a more forceful offensive in the country. They hardly hide their aim which is to push Afghanistan back to the middle ages.
And other than the US president and his officials, nearly the whole world is convinced that all the oxygen the militants need for destroying Afghanistan is supplied by Pakistan, which is desperate to regain its ‘strategic depth’ on its western border.
The fears of Afghanistan and its capital being subjected to Iraq type suicide attacks cannot be dismissed lightly. Just a few days before the Kabul attack, a Taliban commander, ‘trained’ In Iraq for several months, told the US magazine Newsweek: ‘I want to copy in Afghanistan the tactics and spirit of the glorious Iraqi resistance.’
The Afghan intelligence is certain that the Al Qaeda has formed a new group, called Fidayeen Islam or Sacrifices for Islam, and sent suicide bombers to southern Afghanistan, close to the Pakistani border, to seek ‘targets of opportunity.’
Al Qaeda and its offshoots operating in Iraq have found considerable support among Iraqis in general and Sunnis in particular because of the revulsion against the presence of US troops in their country. Though the foreign troops in Afghanistan may not be as widely disliked as they are in Iraq, there is no denying that an increasing number of Afghanis are turning against the foreign forces.
Their anger is building up because of what they see as the intrusive style of combing the countryside for militants and indiscriminate bombings by US planes which has seen a number of civilian casualties. An outfit calling itself Hizb-e-Islami has vowed to push the US troops out of Afghanistan. Of course, this outfit also want to throw out Karzai.
Karzai himself has suggested that the US needs to rethink its strategy for fighting terrorism in his country. He thinks it is no longer necessary for the US troops to launch large military activities and house searches by them should be carried out only after authorised by Afghan government authorities. In fact, Karzai has reportedly said that the use of the air force by foreign forces must end at once.
Opposition to the US and other foreign troops is stronger from the drug lords and others who obviously support the Taliban or its philosophy. The ordinary citizen of the country may still not harbour much ill-will against the foreign troops but he is getting quite restive and impatient nevertheless because the process of rebuilding Afghanistan in the last four years has been slow; perhaps far too slow.
The road network and infrastructure remain poor; since its liberation from the Taliban, Afghanistan has not seen any new major power station come up. Employment is still a big problem and law and order is anything but satisfactory in much of the country.
Many ordinary Afghans ask where are the benefits that they were apparently led to expect in post-Taliban Afghanistan? Some people in and out of Afghanistan have begun to accuse, so far with some muted voices, that Karzai of making half-hearted attempts at nation rebuilding.
What is being said more openly is that the Karzai administration has not shown the firmness that was expected from it in dealing with the menace of opium cultivation and restraining the warlords.
The people want to see their President get tough with criminals, not turn soft towards them to shore up his position, a suspicion shared by many.
Bulgaria to strengthen presence in Afghanistan after ending mission in Iraq
Bulgarian News Network, Bulgaria / October 10, 2005
SOFIA (bnn)- The ending of Bulgaria’s military mission in Iraq raises the question of a larger presence of Bulgarian military troops in Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Ivaylo Kalfin said in an interview for the private bTV channel on Sunday.
At the moment there are about 80 people there including medical teams and specially trained servicemen.
“Next year the Bulgarian contingent is scheduled to take the management of the airport in Kabul, which will probably double the need of Bulgarian military professionals in Afghanistan,” Kalfin explained.
Only those of the military unit who wish to continue the Iraq mission after the ending of its mandate will remain in Iraq, Kalfin added. He said that the Cabinet will not dispatch another contingent, only about 10-15 new military servicemen to replace the ones who want to return at the end of the month.
“At the moment Bulgaria discusses with its NATO partners the possible opportunities of assisting the processes in Iraq after January 1, 2006. We are searching for a way that Bulgaria can be most helpful for Iraq without the participation of a military contingent,” Kalfin said.
He added that the conversations will continue during the visit of President Georgi Purvanov in U.S. scheduled for October 17. /bnn/
Afghanistan's Ariana TV Goes on Air in Ghazni
Tuesday October 11, 8:12 AM
KABUL, Oct 11 Asia Pulse - Afghanistan's newly-established and increasingly popular Ariana Television (ATN), as part of its expansion plans, launched transmissions in the southern city of Ghazni on Monday. The private TV channel thus entered the sixth province since its inception just 45 days back, with ATN Director Ghulam Reza Zaki voicing satisfaction with their ability to reach such a large number of viewers.
"We launched our transmissions in Ghazni today (Monday) after going on air in Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad, Mazar-i-Sharif and Herat. In the near future, we plan to expand our network to several other cities in north, central and southern parts of the country."
Zaki told Pajhwok Afghan News residents could watch ATN by using an ordinary antenna after a transmitter was installed in their city. The ATN is regarded as Afghanistan's fast growing channel airing informative programmes on a wide range of subjects including religion, languages, politics, social issues and current affairs.
Because of the caution it exercises on sensitive issues, Zaki observed, ATN is steering clear of controversy and attracting a huge audience in a conservative country where the electronic media is a new phenomenon. Funded by Afghan trader Eng. Ehsanullah Bayat, who also co-owns one of Afghanistan's mobile phone networks, ATN is watched in 75 Asian and African nations via satellite.
Zaki revealed they would soon launch an FM radio in major cities of the country with round the clock broadcasts. The Ariana Radio has already started experimental entertainment and music transmissions in Kabul, and plans to hit the airwaves with news, analyses and educational programmes in a month's time.
(Pajhwok Afghan News)
Ghazni to have big library and meeting hall
GHAZNI CITY, October 11 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A big library and a meeting hall will be built in the southern city of Ghazni in the next six months, officials said Tuesday.
The library will have a seating capacity for 100 readers while the meeting hall will accommodate about 400 people. Both will be constructed in the Hazrat Sanayee Park on the outskirts of the city.
Ghazni deputy mayor Musa Khan Urzoyee told Pajhwok Afghan News they had allocated 25 million afghanis for the construction of the library and the hall, projects that would be completed by the spring.
The objective behind the projects, Urzoyee said, was to promote the reading culture in the region - which was once called the center of civilizations and the capital of the old Afghanistan under the Mahmud Ghaznavi.
Failed invasion of Afghanistan turned into a triumph for Russia's film industry
Sunday Herald, UK 10/09/2005 By Andrew Osborn in Moscow
HUMILIATED and impoverished at the hands of Hollywood's movie moguls, Russia's film industry has sealed its renaissance with a multi-million pound blockbuster about one of the country's most painful events of modern times: the Soviet Union's failed invasion of Afghanistan. The film – 9th Company – is already being hailed as a Russian equivalent of Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket or Oliver Stone's Platoon. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the superpower's painful withdrawal in 1989 is to Russians what Vietnam is to Americans.
Up to 15,000 Soviet troops died in the conflict, along with around one million Afghans, and for Russians, defeat at the hands of the US-backed mujahidin was a bitter reminder that the once-mighty USSR was no longer a force to be reckoned with.
The failure marked the country's slide into chaos, heralded the superpower's disintegration and gave the Russian Army a taste of what was to come in Chechnya.
Few Russian directors have dared tackle the subject up until now because of its sensitivity, but Fyodor Bondarchuk, son of famous Soviet director Sergei Bondarchuk, has changed all that.
In its first week on general release in Russia, more than two million people flocked to see 9th Company, and it grossed almost $10 million, a record for any modern Russian film.
Shot with the biggest ever budget for a Russian movie ($9m), it enjoyed an advertising budget of $3.5m, which was enough to cover most of Moscow in posters featuring the film's tragic heroes.
Based on real events, it tells the story of a company of soldiers ordered to take and secure a barren Afghan hilltop called "Height 3234" so that a military convoy can safely pass below.
In the film, the company finds itself overwhelmed by Afghan fighters and, in the bitter gun battle that follows, all but one of the Russians die. The episode starkly underlines the futility of the conflict and of war in general.
In one of the final scenes, the sole survivor, a soldier nicknamed "Fierce", is told by a relief force which arrives too late that the Soviet Union is withdrawing from the country, that the convoy his dead comrades were supposed to be safeguarding is not passing that way anymore, and that they couldn't get the message through earlier because the radio wasn't working.
The final line in the film from "Fierce" rings hollow: "We, the lads of Company 9, we won our war. We were victorious."
Veterans of the conflict have given the film their guarded approval, though some have questioned its historical accuracy, arguing that the events in question took place two years earlier and that more than one soldier survived the ensuing bloodbath.
But what is perhaps more significant is that a film which dwells on one of Russia's most painful military defeats is so popular in a country that has traditionally embraced feel-good patriotic films – and that such a production represents the Russian film industry's renaissance after at least a decade of turmoil and humiliation.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and Moscow acknowledged it had lost the cold war, its once-prolific film industry also collapsed.
Hundreds of cinemas shut down or were converted into nightclubs or casinos; state-run film studios suddenly found themselves on the verge of bankruptcy, and Russians joined the rest of the world in consuming Hollywood fare with a voracious appetite. Many even stopped going to the cinema altogether, buying into the country's burgeoning market in pirate videos and, a while later, DVDs.
Throughout the 1990s, a handful of acclaimed arthouse films were produced, but none of them made it onto general release in the West.
However, 14 years after the Soviet Union's demise, the Russian film industry appears to have got its act together.
The country now boasts more than 800 cinemas (with 300 built in the last year alone) and new multiplex complexes are appearing all the time.
Receipts are also up. Russian films are expected to gross $370m this year and more than $500m next year. A decade ago, that figure was just $8m. Russian productions have also began to edge out Hollywood ones, clawing back about a quarter of the country's market share so far.
And 9th Company is not a one-off – last Friday saw the general release in the UK of a Russian-made fantasy film Night Watch. It depicts a battle between good and evil on the streets of modern-day Moscow, and has taken at least $20m in Russia already.
It has been lauded by Pulp Fiction director Quentin Tarantino and is the first of a trilogy, international distribution rights for which have been bought up by Hollywood.
After years of watching their film industry fall apart at the hands of America's richer, slicker studios, the industry once tightly controlled by Joseph Stalin is finally playing Hollywood at its own game.
Iran official says US incapable of going to war
October 10, 2005
TEHRAN (AFX) - Washington is not in a position to go to war against Tehran and its pressure over the Islamic Republic's disputed nuclear programme is nothing more than 'intimidation', Iran's top nuclear negotiator said.
'There will not be a war ahead of us. The situation in America does not allow them to create new fronts,' Ali Larijani was quoted as saying by the student news agency ISNA.
'War with Iran is hard for them, so they want to intimidate us into committing suicide,' he added, referring to Western efforts to make Tehran abandon work on the sensitive nuclear fuel cycle.
Iran insists its nuclear programme is strictly peaceful and argues it has the right to carry out fuel cycle work as a signatory of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
But the EU and US fear the clerical regime is using an atomic energy drive as a means to acquire the technology to make weapons.
'If they want to talk to us in a threatening tone, we'll resist,' Larijani said, repeating his threat that Iran could cease applying the additional protocol of the NPT -- which gives greater powers of inspection to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Although he said 'we will not leave the NPT', Larijani did complain that 'the NPT was supposed to help us have nuclear energy but it hasn't done anything for us except create obstacles.'
Talks between Iran and Britain, France and Germany broke down in August, when Iran slammed the door on such a deal and partially ended a freeze on fuel cycle work by resuming uranium conversion -- a precursor to potentially dual-use enrichment work.
In September, the IAEA's 35-nation board passed a resolution that found Iran to be in non-compliance with the NPT -- paving the way for the matter to be referred to the UN Security Council -- and urged Iran to return to a full freeze.
'There are certain articles in the resolution which can be implemented by Iran, and there are some which cannot,' Larijani said, adding that Iran would 'not go back on our decision' to resume conversion work.
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