Abuse Story Breaks at a Bad Time for Bush
By LIZ SIDOTI, Associated Press Writer Thu Oct 20,10:14 PM ET
WASHINGTON - Allegations that U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan burned the bodies of Taliban fighters couldn't have come at a worse time for the Bush administration, already fighting legislation in Congress that would impose standards on the Pentagon's treatment of detainees.
Lurid television pictures of the incident also may further tarnish the U.S. image in the Middle East.
Senate Republicans said the alleged U.S. troop participation goes to the heart of why Congress must pass legislation to standardize techniques used in the detention, interrogation and prosecution of detainees in the war on terrorism.
"This is a very, very serious problem," said Sen. John Warner, R-Va., and the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. If U.S. troops were, in fact, involved, he said, a question must be answered: "What was the command and control that allowed this situation to happen?"
The video, purportedly showing U.S. soldiers scorching bodies of two dead Taliban fighters in the hills near the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, surfaced as the White House renewed efforts to kill or weaken the detainee legislation. The administration claims it could tie the president's hands during wartime.
Underscoring the stakes, Vice President Dick Cheney met Thursday with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the Capitol and suggested alternative language, according to people with knowledge of the meeting. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the meeting was private.
It was the third time Cheney has discussed the detainee issue in person with McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam who sponsored the legislation.
McCain said the fresh abuse allegations serve as "another argument to make sure that our men and women in the military know exactly what the parameters are for what they can and cannot do in regards to prisoners."
The intra-party fight over the legislation and the new abuse claims come at a tenuous political time for the president.
His poll numbers have been dragged down by sluggish public support for the Iraq war and high gas prices, conservatives are in an uproar over his choice of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court and the president's top aides figure prominently in the investigation of the leak of a CIA operative's identity.
"This is devastating," Stephen Hess, political analyst at George Washington University, said of the video.
In the midst of a public diplomacy campaign to repair the U.S. image abroad, the Bush administration on Thursday tried to stem the fallout from the fresh abuse allegations as Islamic clerics expressed outrage and warned of a possible violent anti-American backlash.
The U.S. military declared the abuse "repugnant" and vowed to investigate, while the State Department directed U.S. embassies to say the actions don't reflect American values.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called the allegations "very serious" and, if true, "very troubling." Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said that burning bodies "is not anywhere close to our standard operating procedure. It's not something that is consistent with their procedures."
Lawmakers said even the perception of abuse could further hurt the world view of the United States, already marred by the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal in Iraq and claims of mistreatment of terrorism suspects at the Navy's Guantanamo Bay jail.
"This will sort of reopen wounds that may have been partially closing in regard to the previous scandals," Michael O'Hanlon, a foreign policy analyst at the Brookings Institution, said.
Claims of torture and abuse by U.S. troops at those two facilities prompted McCain, Warner and others to draft the detainee legislation.
The White House staunchly opposed the effort, and worked with Senate Republican leaders on alternative language for the legislation right up until the Senate voted on it earlier this month. House and Senate aides say that effort was dropped when it became clear the legislation had overwhelming support.
Ignoring a veto threat, the Senate voted 90-9 to ban the use of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners and to require U.S. service members to follow the Army Field Manual when imprisoning and questioning suspects in the war on terrorism. Senators added McCain's legislation to a $445 billion defense spending bill.
The House did not include the detainee legislation in its version of the spending bill, and House-Senate negotiators will meet in coming weeks to write a final bill.
Support for the detainee legislation among those negotiators is shaky.
Top House Republicans have signaled that they will try to weaken the language in part because the White House threatened a veto. In recent days, the White House has been circulating alternative language.
However, the new allegations of abuse could pressure House-Senate negotiators to retain the measure as the Senate passed it.
In the meantime, McCain is reaching out to negotiators. Last week, he sent copies of the Army Field Manual to each of them along with letters of support from former Secretary of State Colin Powell and other retired military leaders.
Afghans Outraged Over Alleged Desecration
By DANIEL COONEY, Associated Press Writer Thu Oct 20,11:51 PM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Islamic clerics expressed outrage Thursday at television footage that purportedly shows U.S. soldiers burning the bodies of two dead Taliban fighters to taunt other militants and warned of a possible violent anti-American backlash.
President Hamid Karzai condemned the alleged desecration and ordered an inquiry. The operational commander of the U.S. military in Afghanistan, which launched its own criminal probe, said the alleged act, if true, was "repugnant."
Worried about the potential for anti-American feelings over the incident, the State Department said it instructed U.S. embassies around the globe to tell local governments that the reported abuse did not reflect American values.
Cremating bodies is banned under Islam, and one Muslim leader in Afghanistan compared the video to photographs of U.S. troops abusing prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.
"Abu Ghraib ruined the reputation of the Americans in Iraq and to me this is even worse," said Faiz Mohammed, a top cleric in northern Kunduz province. "This is against Islam. Afghans will be shocked by this news. It is so humiliating. There will be very, very dangerous consequences from this."
Anger also was evident in the streets.
"If they continue to carry out such actions against us, our people will change their policy and react with the same policy against them," said Mehrajuddin, a resident of Kabul, who like many Afghans uses only one name.
Another man in the capital, Zahidullah, said the reported abuse was like atrocities committed by Soviet troops, who were driven out of Afghanistan in 1989 after a decade of occupation. He warned that the same could happen to American forces.
"Their future will be like the Russians," Zahidullah said.
In Washington, the U.S. government also condemned the alleged incident.
The allegation was "very serious" and "very troubling," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. His comment came after the department said U.S. embassies had been told to inform foreigners that abuse of remains "is not reflective of our values."
The report also generated congressional debate with Senate Republicans saying the alleged U.S. troop participation goes to the heart of why Congress must pass legislation to standardize techniques used in the detention, interrogation and prosecution of detainees in the war on terrorism.
"This is a very, very serious problem," said Sen. John Warner (news, bio, voting record), R-Va., and the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said the situation raises a question that must be answered: "What was the command and control that allowed this situation to happen?"
The move suggested U.S. worries about an anti-American uproar like Afghan riots in May that erupted after Newsweek said U.S. soldiers at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility desecrated Islam's holy book, the Quran. Newsweek later retracted the story.
The alleged body burning comes as the U.S. military is struggling to bolster its image in Afghanistan amid charges by Karzai of heavy-handed tactics in fighting the Taliban.
Australia's SBS television network broadcast the video purportedly showing soldiers burning the bodies of two suspected Taliban fighters in hills outside Gonbaz village in the southern Shah Wali Kot district — an area plagued by Taliban activity and considered by the local security forces as too dangerous to venture into unless accompanied by U.S. troops.
Viewers of the footage saw a group of about five troops in light-colored military fatigues, which did not have any distinguishing marks, standing near to a bonfire in which two bodies were laid side by side. The flames obscured the view of the bodies, making it impossible to tell if the remains were of Taliban fighters.
The network said the video was taken by a freelance journalist, Stephen Dupont. Dupont, who told The Associated Press that he was embedded with the Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade, said the burnings happened Oct. 1.
He told SBS that soldiers in a U.S. Army psychological operations unit later broadcast taunting messages targeting the village, which was believed to be harboring Taliban fighters.
"They deliberately wanted to incite that much anger from the Taliban so the Taliban could attack them. ... That's the only way they can find them," Dupont said.
The video did not show those messages being broadcast, although it showed some military vehicles fitted with speakers and playing loud music.
According to a transcript released by SBS, the messages called the Taliban "cowardly dogs."
"You are too scared to come down and retrieve their bodies," said one message, according to the transcript.
Dupont told the AP the messages were broadcast in the local dialect but were translated into English for him by members of the Army unit. He declined to provide further information.
The U.S. military said the Army Criminal Investigation Command was looking into the matter.
"This alleged action is repugnant to our common values," Maj. Gen. Jason Kamiya said from the U.S. base at Bagram. "This command takes all allegations of misconduct or inappropriate behavior seriously and has directed an investigation into circumstances surrounding this allegation."
A U.S. military spokeswoman, Sgt. Marina Evans, said investigators would check whether the purported act violated the Geneva Convention, which says the dead must be "honorably interred, if possible according to the rites of the religion to which they belonged."
The Afghan Defense Ministry launched its own investigation, Karzai's spokesman, Karim Rahimi, said.
"We strongly condemn any disrespect to human bodies regardless of whether they are those of enemies or friends," he told the AP.
Associated Press writers Meraiah Foley and Mike Corder in Sydney, Australia, and Amir Shah in Kabul and Noor Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.
Car Bomb Kills Afghan Deputy Police
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A car bomb exploded near a mosque in southern Afghanistan, killing a deputy provincial police chief and one of his bodyguards, officials said Friday.
A second bodyguard was wounded in the blast as Nafus Khan, the deputy police chief of Nimroz province, was parking his car next to a mosque late Thursday, said Ghulam Dastaqir, the province's governor.
He blamed the attack on Taliban rebels.
Aid worker among 4 killed in Afghan violence
KABUL (Reuters) - A local aid worker and two senior provincial officials were among four people killed in Afghanistan, officials said on Friday, in attacks blamed on Taliban militants.
The employee of the Western-funded Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (CHA) relief agency was killed in an ambush in the northwestern province of Faryab on Thursday in which his three colleagues were wounded, provincial CHA head Khan Mohammad Sameem said.
Faryab's governor, Mohammad Aamir Latif, blamed Taliban guerrillas for the attack.
The ambush followed one a week ago in which five local aid workers were killed in the southern province of Kandahar.
In another attack, also on Thursday, Taliban guerrillas blew up a car, killing Nafas Khan, police chief for Zaranj, the provincial capital of Nimroz in the south.
A colleague of Khan was also killed in the blast triggered by a remote device, a senior provincial official said, and accused the Taliban for it.
An intelligence official was killed in a roadside bomb in the eastern province of Kunar, officials said.
Mohammad Yousuf, a spokesman for the Taliban, confirmed that militants were behind the blast in Zaranj, but had no information about the attack on CHA.
The latest surge in attacks is part of the violence that has claimed some 1,100 lives, mostly militants, but also more than 50 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan this year, the bloodiest period since U.S.-led troops overthrew Taliban in 2001.
The Taliban have vowed to drive out foreign forces from Afghanistan and topple President Hamid Karzai's government that was installed after the militants' ouster in 2001.
(Additional reporting by Mirwais Afghan)
Thousands Protest Killing of Afghan Religious Leader
By CARLOTTA GALL The New York Times October 20, 2005
KABUL, Afghanistan, Oct. 20 - Thousands of people in the eastern city of Khost demonstrated today against the killing of a religious leader, calling for the Afghan government to find and punish the perpetrators and for the Pakistani government to take action against those plotting terrorist acts in Pakistan.
The religious leader, Maulavi Muhammad Khan, a pro-government member of the clerics council in Khost, was killed by a bomb in his mosque last Friday, in an attack that government officials have attributed to the Taliban and its Al Qaeda allies.
Ten thousand people - religious clerics, shopkeepers, townspeople and villagers and university students - turned out this morning, the provincial police chief, Gen. Muhammad Ayub, said. "It was very large demonstration, and they were using very strong words," he said in a telephone interview. The government news agency, Bakhtar, reported hundreds of people at the demonstration, the second one inspired by Mr. Khan's death.
"People came from the districts; they had demands," General Ayub said, summarizing the mood of the crowd. "They condemned Al Qaeda and their activities, and their supporters who conduct terrorist activities in Afghanistan. Killing a religious leader is like killing a nation, they said, and they condemned the bombing of a mosque, which is against Islam. They asked Pakistan to help and cooperate against those who conduct terrorist activities in Afghanistan, and the Afghan government to work harder and find the terrorists who did this."
In the last week, insurgents suspected of belonging to the Taliban have killed three religious clerics, a government administrator, a school headmaster and five medical workers. The attacks, aimed at unarmed civilians, are part of a new wave of violence after a period of relative calm during the Sept. 18 parliamentary elections.
The police and Afghan soldiers continue to be attacked as well. On Oct. 12, 18 police officers were killed in an ambush in Helmand province. It was one of the worst attacks on Afghan security forces in the four years since the fall of the Taliban.
Taliban Step Up Afghan Bombings and Suicide Attacks
By CARLOTTA GALL and ERIC SCHMITT The New York Times October 21, 2005
KABUL, Afghanistan, Oct. 20 - Violence in southern Afghanistan has escalated in the last month as militants are increasingly taking a page from the insurgent playbook in Iraq and using more roadside bombs and suicide attacks, senior Afghan and American officials said Thursday.
American officials said they were bracing for protests throughout the Islamic world in response to allegations that American soldiers in Afghanistan had burned and desecrated the bodies of two dead Taliban fighters and used the remains as propaganda. American officials voiced fears of violence after Friday Prayer services.
In Washington, the State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, said United States embassies around the world had been issued talking points to explain to foreign journalists and officials that the alleged misconduct was an aberration that did not reflect American values. "These are very serious allegations and, if true, very troublesome," Mr. McCormack told reporters.
At a news conference at the Kandahar air base, a presidential spokesman, Khaleeq Ahmad, said the Defense Ministry and provincial governor had been directed to investigate the incident, which reportedly took place on Oct. 1 in the village of Gonbaz, 60 miles north of Kandahar, a former stronghold of the Taliban.
Maj. Gen. Jason K. Kamiya, the senior American commander for daily operations in Afghanistan, joined the Afghan officials at the news conference, and promised to conduct a serious investigation into the allegations of mistreatment of dead Afghan Taliban combatants and to punish any American soldiers found guilty of misconduct. "I want to know what happened," General Kamiya said, "and what measures we can put in place that these alleged acts never happen again."
The gruesome corpse-burning incident shown on an Australian television program on Wednesday comes as Taliban insurgents and their sympathizers have ratcheted up their campaign of violence in southern Afghanistan a month after parliamentary elections, concentrating on the province of Kandahar from where the American-led coalition forces run their combat operations in southern Afghanistan.
There have been daily attacks on American and government forces, with numerous roadside bombs, one of the most serious struck Afghan police in Helmand Province on Oct. 12, killing 18.
Militants have become more skilled in shooting down American military helicopters, including a Chinook in Zabul Province on Sept. 25, an incident that killed five soldiers.
In the most alarming development, officials said, there has been a sudden rise in suicide bomb attacks, a tactic that had not been used much in Afghanistan before, largely because it is thought Afghans do not believe suicide is permitted under Islam. Already, there have been at least 13 suicide attacks this year, more than double the number from all of last year, a defense intelligence official said in Washington.
American intelligence officials say Afghan insurgents are resorting to more spectacular attacks partly to attract financing for operations from extremist financiers in the Middle East who have been increasingly directing their funds to insurgents in Iraq, including the network of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Officials here are struggling to understand who the bombers are, but have only been able to identify one of them, an Afghan war invalid who was blind and an amputee, according to a senior Afghan intelligence official, who asked not be named because of the covert nature of his job.
A suicide bomb attack killed nine people outside an Afghan Army training base in Kabul last month, in the first serious violence after the largely peaceful elections. Since then five suicide car bomb attacks have hit Kandahar in the last 10 days and American, Canadian and British vehicles have been among the targets.
The governor of Kandahar Province, Asadullah Khalid, said investigators had retrieved only parts of the bodies of the bombers. In the case of the attack that killed an Afghan commander, Agha Shah, the police did find the head of the bomber, he said, and he appeared to be non-Afghan, possibly an Uzbek.
Gunmen on motorbikes have also stepped up attacks on unarmed civilians working for the government or in public services. Five medical personnel were killed and four wounded when gunmen raked their minibus with gunfire on their way to a refugee camp outside Kandahar. Three religious clerics, a government district administrator and a headmaster have also been killed in the last 10 days across the southern and eastern regions. Three people were reportedly beheaded in the province of Uruzgan, another area of intense insurgent activity.
United Nations and Afghan officials have described the insurgency as taking a new, more brutal turn this year, with beheadings, throats cut and the assassination of religious and tribal elders and of doctors. The Taliban, through spokesmen and letters, have routinely blamed the victims for spying for the American military, or working for the government.
The American military says these attacks on soft targets - usually civilians - are a sign of the desperation of the insurgents and an indication of their growing weakness.
President Hamid Karzai used the same argument, saying the killing of the 18 police in Helmand had been a sign of the enemy's weakness.
That brought an angry response from the editor of the Kabul weekly newspaper Fahim Dashty, who called on the president to admit to the inability of the his security forces to contain the violence.
In Washington, Gen. James L. Jones, commander of the NATO force that now oversees security in northern and western Afghanistan and will soon take over in south, said Thursday that the country's violence stems not only from insurgent attacks but also from drug traffickers, criminals and political operatives settling scores.
"There are four or five groups of people that can bring violence to bear at any time," he said.
But General Jones said poppy production "is the No. 1 problem that Afghanistan has to face for its future," not a resurgent Taliban or Al Qaeda.
Defense intelligence analysts in Washington estimate there are about 2,000 to 3,000 hard-core Taliban fighters operating in Afghanistan, and about 100 Qaeda combatants in and around Afghanistan.
Carlotta Gall reported from Kabul for this article, and Eric Schmitt from Washington. Ruhullah Khapalwak contributed from Kandahar.
NATO Commander Decries Afghan Opium Crops
By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press Writer Thu Oct 20, 4:27 PM ET
WASHINGTON - NATO countries want to better tackle the biggest threat in Afghanistan — rampant drug trafficking and an economy dependent on opium farming — but many lack the money to do it, the organization's supreme allied commander in Europe said Thursday.
U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James L. Jones said NATO nations steadily are taking on greater roles in security and drug interdiction.
Afghanistan is responsible for nearly 90 percent of the world's supply of opium, the raw material of heroin. Jones said the military alliance knows Afghans must take the lead in policing what is their biggest social and criminal problem, but the allies must help with crop eradication, crop subsidies and security.
"How do we wean an economy that is at least 50 to 55 percent dependent on this crop in such a way that you don't cause chaos in the economy, and maybe even trigger the renewed violence levels because of the economic implications," Jones said at a breakfast meeting with reporters.
NATO is expanding its peacekeeping role in Afghanistan four years after a U.S.-led invasion toppled the militant Islamic Taliban rulers. The alliance eventually will take primary responsibility for security in the country.
Some nations are balking at taking on counterinsurgency or combat roles, and Jones declined to talk about any projected decrease next year in the approximately 18,000 American troops in Afghanistan.
Under plans up for approval by the 26 allies in November, the NATO mission could almost double in size over the next year to as many to 17,000 troops.
"The biggest problem is not troops, it's how can we pay for it," said Jones. "There's an increasing appetite do to more, but there's a corresponding decrease in appetite to fund more."
For example, he said, NATO will need to take over the military base in Kandahar, but so far not a single nation has stepped forward to take on such a large and costly facility. One option, he said, is for the alliance to agree on some type of common funding.
Regarding bird flu, Jones said the U.S. European Command is acquiring vaccines needed to protect the troops and their families, and reviewing the potential security implications of a pandemic on the alliance.
Afghanistan: Editor's Arrest On Blasphemy Charges Highlights Difficulties Facing Journalists
By Golnaz Esfandiari
The arrest of the editor in chief of an Afghan women's magazine is causing concern and fear among journalists in the country. Ali Mohaqiq Nasab ran the respected monthly magazine called "Women's Rights" (Hoquq-e Zan). He was arrested earlier this month for publishing articles deemed blasphemous and anti-Islamic. His arrest has been condemned by organizations defending press freedoms inside Afghanistan and also by international media rights groups, such as Reporters Without Borders and the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
Prague, 20 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- One of the stories published in "Women's Rights" questioned the harsh punishment under Shari'a law for women found guilty of adultery, such as stoning. Another article argued that giving up Islam is not a crime.
The magazine's editor, Ali Mohaqiq Nasab, was arrested on 1 October following a complaint made to the Supreme Court by a religious adviser to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Since then, Mohaqiq Nasab has appeared twice in court. The judges in charge of the case have accused him of intentionally publishing anti-Islamic articles and have said he should be severely punished.
Mohaqeq Nasab, who is also an Islamic scholar, denies the charges.
Rahimullah Samandar, the head of Afghanistan's Independent Association of Journalists, told RFE/RL that the country's Media Commission met on 18 October and concluded that Mohaqeq Nasab did not insult Islam in his articles. The meeting was called following a request by Afghan media groups.
Samandar, who is a member of the Media Commission, said the panel is now calling on the Supreme Court to release Mohaqiq Nasab:
"In all the words by Mohaqeq Nasab, the commission members did not find anything to prove that he is an apostate or that he had insulted Islam deliberately. Therefore, the commission found him not guilty and just ordered that, from now on, he cannot work as an editor in chief or managing editor of a publication [because of lack of journalistic experience]," Samandar said.
According to Afghanistan's media law, journalists can be arrested only after their case is first reviewed by the Media Commission. In the case of Ali Mohaqiq Nasab, this process was not followed.
Samandar said it is unclear whether judges will agree to free the jailed editor.
Robert Kluyver, the country representative for the Open Society Institute in Afghanistan, believes the case is politically motivated. He said Mohaqiq Nasab ran into trouble with conservative Shi'ite clerics when he was campaigning as a candidate for parliament.
"It is a case where conservative Shi'a clerics are fighting the more moderate Shi'a. In other words, it very much reminds one of the problem that exists in Iran. It was a general Shi'a issue. Meanwhile, Ali Mohaqeq Nasab was also a candidate for parliament [and was] attacked by more conservative Shi'a clergy for his more modernist views on religion," Kluyver said.
According to Afghanistan's media law, journalists can be arrested only after their case is first reviewed by the Media Commission. In the case of Ali Mohaqiq Nasab, this process was not followed.
Kluyver said the case sets a disturbing precedent. "Unfortunately, the problem is that there has been no stance on the principles -- first, on the following of legal proceedings in this country, and second, on freedom of press issues," he said. "In other words, this person will be released, but there is absolutely no indication that in a couple of months, another journalist will not be picked up on charges of blasphemy and will be tried by the Supreme Court. [It] is basically not in the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to arrest journalists and put them on trial for blasphemy."
Mohaqiq Nasab is not the first Afghan journalist to be picked up for alleged blasphemy. In 2003, two editors from the Afghan weekly "Aftab" were also detained for allegedly publishing articles that criticized the political use of Islam by conservative leaders. They were later freed, but were forced to leave the country because of threats.
Samandar said such cases deal a serious blow to freedom of expression in Afghanistan. He fears these incidents will lead to increasing self-censorship among Afghan journalists.
"In recent days, I see that journalists talk among themselves and say that such sensitive issues should not be touched on. Before this case, we had the issue with Tolo TV [in which the station's programs have been criticized by conservative clerics as un-Islamic]. Or before that, we had a crisis in Herat University where two journalists who had questioned some Islamic issues were expelled from the university for one year. If such cases increase, no journalist in Afghanistan will be able to write as it is needed," Samandar said.
A recent survey by a local media-development organization found that the harassment of journalists in Afghanistan is on the rise. The study found that many of the threats and intimidation tactics used against journalists are initiated by warlords and government officials.
Samandar said several measures need to be taken. "Article 31 of Afghanistan's media law should be [toned down]," he said. "It includes the issues that journalists are not allowed to write about. Journalists cannot write about Islamic issues, about religion. It should be [changed]. It is necessary for the freedom of journalists. In addition, international organizations which defend freedom of expression should put the Afghan government under pressure so that there is less pressure on journalists inside the country."
In a statement released after Ali Mohaqiq Nasab's arrest, Reporters Without Borders said the press is required to respect Afghanistan's official religion. But it added that authorities cannot assume the right to arrest those who peacefully express their views about Islam.
A group of Afghan writers based in Canada also wrote an open letter to Afghan President Hamid Karzai in which they refer to the arrest of Mohaqiq Nasab as "the imprisonment of all writers in Afghanistan."
Afghanistan: People surrender arms but want rebuilding
MAIDAN WARDAK, 20 October (IRIN) - Tribal elder Mullah Saleh Mohammad stands with dozens of white-bearded men and other residents under a sparkling sun in a narrow valley in the Narkh district, listening to a government delegation asking them to surrender their arms.
Dr Fazal Rahim Bower, provincial coordinator for the Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG) in Maidan Wardak province, has asked the gathering to support the disarmament process in Narkh, 15 km west of the provincial capital Maidan Shar. "Fighting is over. We are in the phase of reconstruction. All our miseries are caused by arms, so I need your strong determination for surrendering arms," he told them.
"All types of weapons in your houses are banned and . would be collected. If anybody feels threatened they could get arms permits from the government," Bower added.
But Mullah Saleh Mohammad's reaction to the request is mixed. "People are ready to surrender their arms but they do not rely on the promises of the government," the 57-year-old said. "Our government has done nothing for us," adding the people were suffering from unemployment, poverty and a lack of health, educational and agricultural facilities.
"If the government wants to eliminate insecurity, it should address the problems of unemployment and poverty in the urban areas [first]," he said.
Another member of the delegation, Ali Ahmad Khahshie from the ministry of labour and social affairs, told the gathering those who surrendered arms would be rewarded with vocational centres, orphanages, schooling and employment opportunities.
The Maidan Wardak province, about 30 km west of the capital Kabul, was a frontline for warring factions during two decades of conflict, but the disarmament programme has enjoyed good success there, according to DIAG officials.
Residents in the province's urban areas, however, complain reconstruction has been slow, although the shape of the provincial capital Maidan-Shar has changed significantly since the newly appointed provincial leadership launched several big projects.
Over the past two months alone, local residents had voluntarily surrendered about 250 light and heavy weapons, provincial governor Abdul Jabbar Naeemi said.
"All people, including commanders and ordinary individuals, holding weapons in their houses, should surrender their arms," he said.
Lack of awareness among local populations was the main challenge in the disarmament process, the governor added. "We are conveying the message of our president [Hamid Karzai] regarding disarmament to the people [but] with many difficulties," he added.
The governor admitted reconstruction was slow in districts and appealed for international assistance. "In some of the districts, students are studying under the shadow of trees due to a lack of school buildings," he said.
Following the disarmament of Afghan militia forces under the UN-backed Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) of ex-combatants programme, completed in late June, the Afghan government and the UN are now focusing on the DIAG initiative.
According to officials of the disarmament commission, more than 20,000 arms have been collected within DIAG operations across the country since its launch in early June.
Financed by the Japanese government, DIAG is run by the interior and defence ministries and the national security agency, and overseen by the UN.
According to the disarmament commission, laws will soon be in force banning the unlicensed ownership of private arms and ammunitions. Only those with permits issued by the interior ministry will be allowed to bear arms.
All arms stored in caches would be collected first, while individuals keeping small arms in their houses should surrender or license them, said Ahmad Jan Nawzadi, a spokesman for Afghanistan's New Beginnings Programme (ANBP), the official name of the DDR programme.
More than 60,000 former combatants had been disarmed under the DDR initiative, which took the international community almost 20 months and more than US $150 million to complete. In addition to the decommissioning of ex-combatants, about 35,000 light and medium weapons and 11,004 heavy weapons were collected across the country.
Afghan Traders Find Int'l Market Reluctant to Recognize Afghani
KABUL - Pajhwok 10/19/2005 - A number of local businessmen complain the afghani is not in circulation outside the landlocked country while its trade in many border provinces remains negligible.
Safiuddin, owner of the Wasim Sajad Limited which imports electronics, foodstuffs and home appliances, told Pajhwok Afghan News on Tuesday people were reluctant to recognize the afghani in the international market.
"I import commercial materials from Dubai, the biggest trade center in Asia, where all currencies of the world are easily exchanged but the afghani is not accepted there. I see no sample of it when I go to currency markets," claimed Safiuddin.
Head of the money-changers in the main Kabul currency market Mohammad Rafi Azemi observed: "When people do not trade in the afghani inside Afghanistan, we should not hope for its circulation abroad."
He continued the Pakistani rupee was commonly used in Nangarhar, Kunar, Khost, Paktia, Paktika and some other provinces while the Iranian tuman is in circulation in Herat and Nimroz provinces. He urged the government to press for trade in the afghani in all border cities.
Mohammad Salim, another money-changer in the Shahzada Market, said: "Though little progress has been achieved on the reconstruction front over the last four years, yet the new currency remains in circulation."
Mohammad Esa Turrab, deputy governor of the Afghan central bank, linked the weakness of the afghani in foreign markets to the country's poor economy and products. He pointed out the central bank had sent the national currency to foreign countries through Afghan missions.
"Afghanistan's imports are far more than its exports. In most countries, Afghan traders have to use the currency of those nations," said Turrab, who argued legal tenders in international markets were linked mainly to products exported by the countries concerned.
Turrab called for an industrial revolution to promote the circulation of the afghani in international markets. Otherwise, he feared the fate of the new currency would not be different from the old one.
A senior official at the central bank, who wanted not to be named, believed the afghani was alive because of million of dollars spent on buying the national currency from the market.
"Afghanistan's central bank has no branches in other countries, with which Afghans have commercial ties, and we have to exchange the afghani for other currencies through brokers to get back to Afghan markets. They charge us US$20 for $1,000 worth of afghani," said Baryalai, owner of the Laghman Parwashan Limited in Kabul.
PRTs Spreading, Though Impact Remains Unclear
RFE/RL 10/20/2005 By Robert McMahon
International civilian and military units -- known as Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) -- have now spread to 22 locations in Afghanistan, a sign of their popularity with Afghan, U.S., and NATO leaders. But it's unclear how effective the teams are in stabilizing regions and extending Kabul's control – their main goals
Washington, 20 October 2005 (RFE/RL) – Three years after they were introduced, Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) are winning cautious praise from international bodies and the Afghan government.
Twenty-two units are now deployed from Faizabad in the northeast to Kandahar in the south. Their roles have evolved since the first team was introduced by U.S. forces in the eastern town of Gardez, but they remain focused on small projects such as building bridges, renovating schools and clinics, and in some cases training Afghan police. PRTs also helped with security in presidential elections last year and in last month's parliamentary polls.
A Constructive Role - Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah told an audience of foreign-policy experts on 26 September in Washington that the PRTs are playing a constructive role in stabilization efforts.
"As a whole, it's a positive experience," Abdullah said. "While it will not do the job of counterterrorism in a specific term and manner, it is a complement to the efforts of stabilization of Afghanistan and in the war in a broader sense."
An International Effort - The United States, which commands a separate antiterrorism coalition in Afghanistan, runs 14 PRTs. One of them, in the western province of Farah, is under NATO command. Most of the rest are in the less secure eastern and southern regions of the country.
Lithuanian troops command a PRT in western Chagcharan. There are also PRTs headed by forces from the Netherlands (Pul-i-Kumri), Germany (Faizabad), Italy (Herat), and Britain (Maimana), as well as units turned over to NATO control in Mazar-i-Sharif and Kunduz. A non-NATO country, New Zealand, commands the PRT in Bamiyan, and Australia is considering heading its own unit.
All aim to improve security and extend control of the Afghan central government. But the PRTs handle civil-military activities in different ways depending on the environment and the priorities of troop-contributing countries. The troop contributors set conditions for deploying forces, such as restrictions on how far they can move from bases or the hours of the day they operate.
NATO spokesman James Appathurai told RFE/RL that this flexible approach has attracted a growing number of troop contributors.
"It's a model that's growing in popularity because it works," Appathurai said. "But the key is, of course, that it's a flexible model. A PRT in the north, where things are pretty relaxed, comparatively, is very different from a PRT in south, where it has to have a much heavier military element."
The U.S.-run PRTs usually have about 80 soldiers and a smaller civilian component, including officials from the U.S. Agency For International Development (USAID). Their emphasis has been economic assistance and quick impact projects, such as wells, schools, and roads.
Britain started the PRT in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and places more focus on security assistance. Its forces have been credited with de-escalating conflicts between militias loyal to General Rashid Dostum and Atta Mohammed. They have also helped with the roundup of heavy weapons in the area and with training local Afghan security forces. German PRTs are among the largest, with about 300 personnel each. They have a limited military mission but a large economic assistance role.
Effectiveness Study - Robert Perito is a specialist with the U.S. Institute for Peace, a congressionally funded organization that on 26 October will release a major study of Afghan PRTs.
Perito told RFE/RL that the lack of standardization among PRTs poses some problems. For example, even as NATO expands its jurisdiction in Afghanistan, no single commander can direct the operations of various PRTs until the restrictions of troop contributing countries are removed.
Another problem, Perito says, is gauging the effectiveness of the PRTs. "I think that's one of the major failings of PRTs, is that they have not established standards and they have not established measures of effectiveness," Perito said. "What you are left with then is anecdotal information, where people will tell you a story about a PRT doing this or not doing that, and people's impressions, so it is in fact very difficult to evaluate what they have accomplished."
U.S. officials say the PRTs provide useful "eyes and ears on the ground" for both military and civilian planners. Military officials say some Afghans have alerted PRTs to bombs, mines, and insurgent activity.
U.S. aid officials say that on one major reconstruction project – the Kabul-to-Kandahar highway – PRTs operating in Ghazni channeled important feedback from villagers in affected regions. Officials say project planners in Kabul gained insight into the importance of feeder roads to the highway, as well as the capabilities of local Afghan construction workers.
Improving Coordination - U.S. Army Lieutenant Darrel Pearman, who helps support the PRT in Parwan, north of Kabul, told RFE/RL that there has been an improvement in the coordination of projects this year.
"Things have become a lot more structured, and smart people have started thinking, 'Hey, we need to start working this in a systematic way,'" Pearman said. "So now we're looking at roads and infrastructure improvements and those types of projects, and we think in a systematic way -- 'OK, so let's try to link this provincial capital with this provincial capital, fix all the roads in between those.'"
The improved coordination coincides with the increasing deployment to U.S.-run PRTs of full-time staff from the USAID. The agency's assistant administrator for Asia, James Kunder, told RFE/RL that the lack of standardized practices in the 22 PRTs is an obstacle to improving the functioning of ministries -- such as health and education -- in the provinces.
"While we can have 22 different perimeter configurations, we can't have 22 different public-health-reporting systems in Afghanistan because the Ministry of Public Health has declared what the official Afghan public health reporting database will be," Kunder said. "And so this is exactly one of the issues we're looking at that is very critical for the applicability of PRTs in other settings – how do we make them specific enough to take into account local conditions, but how do we make them consistent enough with the overall Afghan priorities? And that requires a degree of standardization."
A report commissioned last summer by Britain's Department for International Development said most PRTs remain primarily military missions. It said they are not equipped to deliver assistance in ways that will have a long-term developmental impact in rural Afghan communities. The report also called for broader efforts by PRTs to increase the capacity of Afghan security forces on the regional level.
Kunder of USAID acknowledges the challenges. "I am not going to report perfection to you," he said. "We still have work to do. We still have to get better at this. We still have to make sure that we pay full attention to the priorities of the Afghan ministries, and we're still working out the modalities for accomplishing that and responding to the needs of the local villagers on the ground that the PRT teams encounter on a daily basis."
The PRTs are attracting increasing scrutiny as NATO plans to assume more control of the units in southern Afghanistan from U.S. forces. U.S. and NATO officials are discussing a long-term plan to turn over responsibility for security throughout Afghanistan to NATO. It would maintain the distinct missions of antiterrorism combat operations and attempting stabilization through PRTs.
U.S. policymakers are planning to transfer the model to another nation-building effort. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a U.S. Senate panel on Wednesday that, starting next month, coalition-run PRTs will work with Iraqis as they train police, set up courts, and help local governments establish services.
Mission Accomplished: Diplomat Reflects on Opening First Afghan Embassy in Ottawa
Embassy Magazine, October 19th, 2005 By Brian Adeba
When he arrived to open Afghanistan's first embassy in Canada three years ago, Mohammad Sharif Ghalib faced a difficulty rarely encountered by diplomats in Ottawa. For five months no landlord was willing to offer him a lease.
Back then, Afghanistan was emerging from the shackles of Taliban rule and to a large extent, was still a haven for terrorists hiding in the remote corners of the country. The terrorist factor made all the landlords Mr. Ghalib had met shy away from renting office space to him. Everyone was afraid that their property would be targeted.
"Believe it or not, I had to operate from a store," says Mr. Ghalib, Minister Counsellor at the Embassy of Afghanistan. Mr. Ghalib's task was made all the more difficult by the fact that Afghanistan had no prior diplomatic representation in Canada at the level of resident ambassador. There was no official residence, neither was there an office to do business from.
Every time he wanted to communicate with Foreign Affairs Canada, he would call the Afghan mission in Washington and dictate a letter over the phone. The U.S. mission would then type the letter and fax it to him in Ottawa, and he would personally take the letter to the Department of Foreign Affairs.
While he was looking for office space to rent, Mr. Ghalib lived in a hotel suite, which doubled as an office.
"Sometimes I take it paradoxically--to the extent that it is unthinkable, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was kind enough to recognize my hotel suite as my office for four months," says Mr. Ghalib.
Mr. Ghalib's diplomatic career started at the United Nations in 1994. He was studying for a Master's degree in International Relations at Virginia Theological University, when he was asked to work as the Second Secretary at the Permanent Mission of Afghanistan to the UN in New York. Three years later, he became Counsellor.
After the Taliban were removed from power in 2001, the new interim government headed by Hamid Karzai asked Mr. Ghalib to establish Afghanistan's first embassy in Ottawa.
As he reflects on his mission three years later, Mr. Ghalib says some of the difficulties he encountered with landlords were based on ignorance on their part.
"The upheavals in Afghanistan are not an Afghan thing. It [upheavals] had its roots outside the country, which eventually led the country to be a hub of terrorism," says Mr. Ghalib, adding that Afghans are a peace-loving people had it not been for the proxy wars imposed on their country by foreign powers "who had a different agenda."
Even fellow diplomats in Ottawa were concerned for his personal safety. "They would ask, 'aren't you going to be vulnerable?' 'Won't threats be pursued against you?'"
But the misconceptions that people had about Afghanistan also offered the chance to explain the positive side of the story, dispelling the myths and stereotypes about his country, says Mr. Ghalib, who will be leaving his post in December after being recalled to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Today Afghanistan has a fully accredited mission at the level of a resident ambassador. Mr. Ghalib says he couldn't be happier. "It was a pioneering task--a near success story," he says.
As he reminisces about his task, Mr. Ghalib says the struggles to establish a mission in Canada mirror Afghanistan's struggles of becoming a recognized member of the international community after years of diplomatic isolation during the Taliban reign.
Recent developments like the holding of democratic elections and a 25 per cent increase in the number of seats for women in the parliament are achievements signaling the return of Afghanistan to the international community, he says. "We started from scratch and three years later, we are right on track." But he is quick to add that this would not have been possible without the world's help.
Mr. Ghalib says despite these achievements, Afghanistan still needs help. "We are not fully there yet, the world has a moral and practical obligation to deliver on promises," he says.
Thursday October 20, 2005 (1510 PST) PakTribune.com, Pakistan
KABUL: Afghanistan's impressive achievements are in danger of being lost. Donor nations aren't giving enough development funds.
Western nongovernmental organisations are mismanaging reconstruction. And Pakistan has failed to arrest Al Qaida and Taliban militants in its backyard.
The optimism and hope generated by last October's presidential election and last month's legislative voting will soon fade. Afghanistan could again become a base for global terrorism, says a Gulf News report.
Four years after the US-led coalition kicked the Taliban out of power, Taliban and Al Qaida remnants continue to use Pakistan as a sanctuary, training base and staging area for attacks on coalition and Afghan soldiers.
More than 50 US soldiers and hundreds of Afghans have been killed this year. Reconstruction is stalled in Afghanistan's border provinces because of a lack of security.
Despite Pakistani military operations in Waziristan, periodic arrests of militants and announcements that the border has been "sealed", Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and his generals still play both fireman and arsonist in Afghanistan.
This will only worsen unless President Bush and Congress stop indulging Pakistan's two-track policy.
The great majority of Afghans I've spoken with believe that the promises of reconstruction assistance from the Afghan government and the international community remain unfulfilled.
More than $5 billion (Dh18.35 billion) in reconstruction aid has not bought one new power plant, even though electricity is a crucial ingredient in agricultural and industrial development.
Opium production is at unacceptably high levels, with terrorist groups and warlords reaping large profits trafficking drugs. Corruption is on the rise.
A big part of the problem is the more than 1,000 Western nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) that receive and channel the aid.
Too often they perform governmental functions that elected but under-sourced Afghans should be doing. Maintaining the maze of foreign NGOs is also wasteful.
Their logistics, personnel, housing and other internal costs eat up more than 60 per cent of the assistance money (some estimates are as high as 80 per cent). Afghans joke that they suffered under the Soviets, then the Taliban and now the NGOs.
Afghanistan's governing institutions remain too weak to be effective. Little progress has been made in preparing Afghans to govern.
Afghan judges and legal experts repeatedly told me that resolving the huge upsurge in property disputes left over from 20 years of war is beyond the judiciary's ability.
In judicial as well as other governmental and administrative areas, aid agencies are not devoting sufficient attention to training and deploying a professional Afghan cadre of managers and skilled civil servants essential to administering the country.
Weak democratic institutions and an inadequate civil society undercut President Hamid Karzai's ability to deal with Muslim extremists and warlords.
What's to be done?.
First and foremost, the United States, bilateral donors and the United Nations must investigate and eliminate the inefficiency and mismanagement rampant within the NGO-administered reconstruction.
Government functions performed by non-Afghans should be transferred to Afghan institutions, both public and private, as expeditiously as possible.
To reduce corruption, donors should demand more accountability. When the new Afghan Parliament convenes, it will target this corruption. Karzai would be wise to fire some ministers and implement anti-corruption regulations before that day.
Continued progress doesn't depend on more foreign troops, but on a smarter, redirected and better-funded reconstruction strategy.
Neamat Nojumi, senior fellow at the Centre for World Religion, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University, was an Afghan Military commander during the anti-Soviet war in the 1980s. He recently returned from Afghanistan.
Afghanistan, Iraq among most corrupt countries in world
Thursday October 20, 2005 (1510 PST) PakTribune.com, Pakistan
BERLIN: Iraq is the most corrupt country in the Middle East, and Afghanistan leads a nest of nations in Central Asia that fail the corruption test.
The Berlin-based Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), released Wednesday, showed more than two-thirds of the 159 nations surveyed, scored less than 5 out of a clean score of 10, indicating serious levels of corruption in a majority of the countries surveyed, says a Irish Sun report.
Iraq's score of 2.2 was near the bottom of the barrel as was Afghanistan's score of 2.5. The worst countries were Bangladesh and Chad with a score of 1.7. The former Soviet states that form Central Asia all performed badly, with Afghanistan the worst.
Indonesia showed no signs of recovering from the Suharto era by scoring the same as Iraq at 2.2. Earthquake-ravaged Pakistan did slightly worse at 2.1.
The least corrupt country was Iceland, followed closely by Finland, New Zealand, Denmark, Singapore, Switzerland, Norway, Australia, Austria, the Netherlands, and the U.K.
Canada was the fourteenth least corrupt country, Germany 16th, the U.S. 17th, and France 18th.,
Israel was a major mover falling from the 14th least corrupt, to 28th with a rating of 6.3.
Despite progress on many fronts, including the imminent entry into force of the United Nations Convention against Corruption, seventy countries - nearly half of those included in the Index - scored less than 3 on the CPI, indicating a severe corruption problem.
Extensive research shows foreign investment is lower in countries perceived to be corrupt, which thwarts their chance to prosper. When countries improve governance and reduce corruption, they reap a "development dividend" that, according to the World Bank Institute, can include improved child mortality rates, higher per capita income and greater literacy.
Nineteen of the world's poorest countries have been granted debt service relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, testifying to their economic reform achievements. Not one of these countries, however, scored above 4 on the CPI, indicating serious to severe levels of corruption. These countries still face the grave risk that money freed from debt payments now entering national budgets will be forfeited to greed, waste or mismanagement. The commitment and resources devoted to qualifying for HIPC must also be applied to winning the fight against corruption.
Stamping out corruption and implementing recipient-led reforms are critical to making aid more effective, and to realising the crucial human and economic development goals that have been set by the international community.
"Corruption isn't a natural disaster: it is the cold, calculated theft of opportunity from the men, women and children who are least able to protect themselves," said David Nussbaum, TI's Chief Executive. "Leaders must go beyond lip service and make good on their promises to provide the commitment and resources to improve governance, transparency and accountability."
An increase in perceived corruption from 2004 to 2005 can be measured in countries such as Costa Rica, Gabon, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago and Uruguay. Conversely, a number of countries and territories show noteworthy improvements – a decline in perceptions of corruption – over the past year, including Estonia, France, Hong Kong, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Qatar, Taiwan and Turkey.
The recent ratification of the United Nations Convention against Corruption established a global legal framework for sustainable progress against corruption. The Convention, which will enter into force in December 2005, will accelerate the retrieval of stolen funds, push banking centres to take action against money laundering, allow nations to pursue foreign companies and individuals that have committed corrupt acts on their soil, and prohibit bribery of foreign public officials. Low-income countries that embrace and implement the Convention will have a head start in the race for foreign investment and economic growth.
Wealth is not a prerequisite for successful control of corruption. New long-term analysis of the CPI carried out by Prof. Dr. Johann Graf Lambsdorff shows that the perception of corruption has decreased significantly in lower-income countries such as Estonia, Colombia and Bulgaria over the past decade.
In the case of higher-income countries such as Canada and Ireland, however, there has been a marked increase in the perception of corruption over the past ten years, showing that even wealthy, high-scoring countries must work to maintain a climate of integrity.
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