Afghanistan's president heads to France
Sun Oct 2, 4:46 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - President Hamid Karzai left for France to meet President Jacques Chirac and other top officials for talks on the fight against terrorism and Afghanistan's new parliament, a spokesman said.
Karzai was accompanied by several of his ministers, including Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and his national security advisor Zalmay Rasul, a presidential spokesman said on Sunday.
"In meetings with French authorities, the president will discuss bilateral relations, the continuation of Frances assistance to Afghanistan, the fight against terrorism and the establishment of Afghanistans parliament," he said in a statement.
During the four-day visit, Karzai is also due to meet Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy and Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie.
He will address the French parliament and attend a meeting of the UN's cultural organisation UNESCO.
It is the president's first foreign visit since elections on September 18, the first parliamentary elections in war-shattered Afghanistan for more than three decades. The results are expected late this month.
France has some 200 soldiers helping 20,000 US-led troops in Afghanistan who are battling loyalists of the Taliban government that was ousted in late 2001.
Another 600 French troops are taking part in a 10,500-strong separate NATO-led peacekeeping force based in Kabul.
Afghan poll body vows strong action against fraud
02 Oct 2005 11:35:57 GMT
KABUL, Oct 2 (Reuters) - Afghanistan's election commission vowed strong action against vote fraud on Sunday after international observers highlighted "worrying" cases of cheating in last month's landmark legislative elections.
The U.N.-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) says ballot boxes from about four percent of 26,000 polling stations are being checked for irregularities ranging from ballot stuffing and proxy voting.
But JEMB chairman Peter Erben said the cases of fraud were localised rather than on a orchestrated, countrywide, scale and would not affect the overall integrity of the Sept. 18 polls.
"If compared with other, similar, post-conflict elections I think that the level of irregularities that we are currently reviewing is extremely reasonable," he told a news conference.
"And I do not believe that these irregularities give any reason to doubt the integrity of the elected institutions."
Nevertheless, Erben said, fraud needed to be dealt with.
"We must react against it and I believe you will see some strong decisions in coming days," adding that suspect ballot boxes could be excluded in whole, or in part, and candidates linked to fraud could be warned, fined or disqualified.
The European Union said last week it had seen "worrying" cases of fraud in the vote for a national assembly and provincial councils, Afghanistan's first in more than 30 years.
It said while this did not appear to have occurred on a nationwide scale, cases needed to be handled in a transparent and effective manner to ensure the integrity o the election.
A member of the EU mission said organisers should not feel obliged to rush the count if this meant questionable ballots were not dealt with properly.
The JEMB had aimed to complete the count by Tuesday, but Erben said the review of questionable ballots was not subject to any deadline.
One of the most problematic provinces has been Paktika in the southeast, where observers said polling failed to meet even minimum acceptable standards.
Erben said ballot boxes from no less than 274 polling stations in the province were under review as well as boxes from more than 90 stations in Paghman district of Kabul.
Paghman is the home district of Abdul Rabb Rasoul Sayyaf, a powerful factional leader and ally of President Hamid Karzai who had been in fourth place for one of the 24 seats open to men in Kabul, with about 20 percent of the vote counted.
Observers speaking privately said it was crucial decisions on ballots under review were handed properly as a handful of votes could decide between a seat or defeat in many provinces.
They said they had seen evidence of clearly suspect ballot boxes being allowed into the counting system to help speed up the vote count and this risked the credibility of the $159 million electoral process and its international backers.
"If you end up tolerating ballot stuffing, you simply reward the very people who should not have been on the ballot in the first place," said one, who did not want to be identified.
Turnout was significantly lower than last years' presidential vote, with analysts blaming the presence of notorious warlords on the ballot and disappointment at slow post-war reconstruction.
Erben said the JEMB would not hesitate to exclude ballot boxes if it found clear evidence of fraud. "The people of Afghanistan expect nothing less of us and we remain determined to take strong action to ensure the integrity of the process."
Afghanistan’s coins scam:
probe turns towards Pak Customs officials
The News International (Pakistan) / October 2, 2005
PESHAWAR: Investigation into the Afghan coins scandal has been directed towards Pakistani Customs officials, sources told The News.
According to sources the probe into missing of 21 tonnes of coins of denomination of two and five afghanis during transportation has turned into a mystery, as the Afghan government suspects Pakistani Customs’ officials involvement in the scam. However, Afghan diplomats in Pakistan are silent over the issue as they are awaiting directives from their government.
The scam came into the limelight following information provided to the Afghan Embassy in Islamabad and Afghanistan’s consulate in Peshawar that tons of coins of two and five afghanis go missing on way to Kabul. A team of Afghan diplomats serving at the Peshawar’s Consulate followed two trailers carrying the coins from Karachi.
After stopping at Torkham the trailers were check and were found almost empty. Only nine tons out of a total of 30 of coins were found in both the containers," a source closely monitoring the situation informed.
The two trailers were returned to Customs House Peshawar and given in the custody of Pakistan Customs officials.
Missing Afghani coins scam: Pakistani customs officials fired
Daily Times (Pakistan) / October 2, 2005
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has fired some customs officials based in the Torkham town near the border with Afghanistan after 21 tonnes of Afghani coins went missing from containers during transportation to Kabul, Pajhwok Afghan News reported.
Gul Sam Khan, a customs official in the border town, told Pajhwok Afghan News on Saturday the coins had gone missing four days back. The scam came to light when the trawlers transporting the money were stopped for a weight check at the border. “On suspicion, customs officials in Torkham weighed one trailer and found 21 tonnes of the coins of two and five Afghanis missing from it,” revealed Gul Sam Khan, who would not say as how the big-time theft took place.
Taliban a ruthless threat, says top US general in Afghanistan
October 1, 2005
PARUN, Afghanistan (AFP) - Taliban-linked militants have become a "ruthless threat", the top US general in Afghanistan said as another US soldier and an Afghan trooper were killed in a new attack.
The rebels have also become influenced by foreign fighters, including those linked to the Al-Qaeda terror network, General Karl Eikenberry told reporters on a visit to the northeastern province of Nuristan.
"The threat out there ... it's a ruthless threat," said the commander of a 20,000-strong US-led force hunting militants in Afghanistan.
"It's a threat that will kill innocent people, does kill innocent people, does go to the mosque, does blow up the religious centres, that's what kind of enemy we're up against now," Eikenberry said.
The fundamentalist Taliban were toppled in a US-led campaign in late 2001 after they failed to hand over Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden for the September 11 attacks on Washington and New York.
Taliban loyalists launched an insurgency after the regime was expelled; more than 1,300 people, many of them militants, have been killed in almost daily attacks this year compared to 850 last year.
This has also been the worst year for US casualties since 2001.
The US military said Saturday that another of its soldiers had been killed, taking the toll to 84 this year, with more than 50 of the deaths in hostile fire.
The soldier was killed with an Afghan trooper when they were attacked near the southern city of Kandahar, the crucible of the Taliban, the military said in a statement. Another US soldier and two Afghan troops were wounded.
In other violence reported Saturday, an Afghan farmer and a policeman were killed in an attack claimed by the Taliban in southern Helmand province, one of the areas hardest hit by the insurgency.
Four other policemen were wounded in the attack late Friday on police guarding a road construction project, provincial police chief Abdul Rehman told AFP.
On Wednesday nine people including eight Afghan soldiers were killed by a suspected Taliban suicide bomber outside a base in Kabul.
Eikenberry would not speculate on the size of the Taliban force in Afghanistan.
"It's a complex question -- you've a group of fighters that are doing this continuously, you've others that might be sympathetic to their cause," he said.
However, foreign fighters and Al-Qaeda were involved, he said.
"In terms of the Al-Qaeda and foreign fighter presence in Afghanistan -- there are influences with any insurgency movements in Afghanistan," he said.
The general said the September 18 election, which the Taliban had not been able to disrupt as they had threatened, showed the militants' campaign was not effective.
"In terms of how effective is this enemy ... here in September there was a successful parliamentary election -- this enemy was not able to stop that process," he said.
Nine people were killed in a series of attacks around polling day, but there was no major violence.
The results of the election, the first parliamentary vote in Afghanistan for more than three decades, are due late this month.
Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan-Pakistan border area: official
October 1, 2005
PARUN, Afghanistan (AFP) - Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is alive and hiding out along the rugged border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, a top Afghan official said.
"I don't know exactly where he is but what is clear is that bin Laden is alive, he is in the region," said Zalmai Rasoul, national security advisor to President Hamid Karzai.
"If we knew about his whereabouts, we would've caught him -- but he'll be caught one day," Rasoul told AFP on Saturday in Parun, the capital of the poverty-stricken northeast province of Nuristan which borders Pakistan.
A US-led coalition of about 20,000 troops is in Afghanistan hunting the Al-Qaeda leader who was sheltered by the hardline Taliban regime that ruled the country until late 2001.
The Taliban were removed from power in a US-led campaign launched after they failed to hand over bin Laden for the September 11, 2001 attacks on Washington and New York.
Rasoul said however there was "no Al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan".
"They're coming from outside and when there's pressure against them by Afghan or coalition forces, they cross back over the border into the other side," he said.
Asked whether he was referring to Pakistan, he said: "Inside Pakistan there are some extremist groups cooperating with Al-Qaeda. It's not only a threat for Afghanistan but it's a threat for Pakistan too."
Slaying may hurt U.S. image in Afghanistan
MATTHEW PENNINGTON Associated Press / October 1, 2005
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan human rights activists warned Saturday that allegations that an American security contractor killed his Afghan interpreter could hurt the image of the United States here - even as the U.S. military suffers its deadliest year yet fighting Taliban rebels.
Underscoring the danger, militants firing rocket-propelled grenades killed a U.S. soldier and wounded another during combat operations Friday near the southern city of Kandahar, the military said. The death brought to 198 the number of U.S. service members killed in or around Afghanistan since the ouster of the unpopular Taliban regime in late 2001.
Relatives of the slain interpreter, 37-year old Noor Ahmad, threatened to set themselves on fire unless his American supervisor is tried for his death, which occurred at a compound of U.S. Protection and Investigations in western Farah province. U.S. Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor told The Associated Press that it was "our understanding that this American citizen is no longer in Afghanistan."
The case has raised questions about the reach of Afghanistan's fledgling legal system and law enforcers.
Foreigners working on civilian projects are generally subject to Afghan law, but the legal status of security contractors appears unclear. U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan come under American military jurisdiction.
The Farah police chief said Thursday that his investigators were barred from entering the security company's compound after the shooting.
Ahmad Fahim Hakim, the deputy chairman of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, urged a thorough and transparent probe into the shooting.
"We are very concerned about this kind of incident," he said. "It also blurs the friendly image that the Americans developed in Afghanistan in the early days. That is gradually vanishing."
There are conflicting reports about what triggered the shooting.
Relatives claim the American opened fire during a late-night party because of a personal grievance against the Afghan. But a local militia commander who heard the shooting and later saw Ahmad's body claimed the interpreter was to blame.
The company provides security for foreign contract workers in Afghanistan.
Company officials have repeatedly declined comment.
Fazel Ahmad, 45, a brother of the dead man, said that if the American was allowed to flee it would be a mockery of Afghan democracy.
"My brother who died has seven children. Who will take care of them? This guy should be brought to justice and there should be an open trial because he is a foreigner and he has killed a poor Afghan man," Fazel Ahmad told the AP in Herat.
Also Saturday, police announced the arrest of a key commander suspected in bomb attacks against coalition forces. The commander, known as Gafar, was arrested Wednesday by U.S. and Afghan forces during a raid on a central Afghanistan home, where he tried to conceal his identity by dressing as a woman.
Terrorists failing to destabilise Afghanistan: British, Afghan ministers
Channel NewsAsia - Oct 01 4:35 PM
KABUL : Mercenaries and "terrorists" behind the unrest in Afghanistan are failing to destabilise the country, the British and Afghan defence ministers revealed.
British Defence Secretary John Reid also reiterated that Britain was considering sending more troops to Afghanistan as part of its plan to deploy forces in the volatile south.
Southern Afghanistan is the hotbed of an insurgency launched by loyalists of the hardline Taliban regime toppled in late 2001 by US forces and Afghan resistance groups.
Britain is committed to contributing to the "multinational force that are going to the south ... so we are looking in putting more troops to assist the Afghan government," Reid said after talks with Afghan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak.
Britain's defence ministry said Friday the country was mulling a plan to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan. The final figure of troops would likely be around 1,500, sources said. Britain already has 900 soldiers on the ground.
Reid and Wardak said hired fighters and drugs gangs were behind much of the violence, which they said did not have the support of Afghan people.
"Sometimes it is imported terrorism on the borders, sometimes it appears to be mercenary, young people who appear to be getting paid for coming in, sometimes it is people connected with the drugs-trade mafia, or corruption or criminality.
"By and large they have not been successful in either destabilising the country or attracting the support of the population and are a minority who have to be dealt with as the people of Afghanistan build their own democratic future," he said.
Wardak said the violence did not have public support because there was "no real cause to fight for".
"It is merely terrorism.... It is also some sort of a business for some militant elements in the region," he said.
Reid was due to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai during his trip, his first official visit to Afghanistan.
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) that has been in Afghanistan since the Taliban were removed has been deployed in northern and western Afghanistan but will extend to the volatile south next year.
Reid said British soldiers would stay in Afghanistan only as long as they were wanted.
"We have no long-term ambitions or self-interest which would cause us to stay here longer than you think is necessary and useful," he said.
- AFP /ls
US working on incentive to thwart pipeline plan
By Anwar Iqbal / Dawn (Pakistan) / October 2, 2005 issue
WASHINGTON, Oct 1: The US is considering a proposal to help Pakistan meet its energy needs as part of its efforts to wean India and Pakistan away from building a pipeline for bringing gas from Iran, officials said.
US State Department officials, who were talking to a group of visiting journalists from South Asia, said that the US offer of nuclear cooperation to India was also part of its efforts to stop the construction of the proposed pipeline.
“They have not ruled out helping Pakistan meet its energy needs,” Pakistan’s charge de affairs in Washington, Mohammed Sadiq, told Dawn while commenting on the reported offer.
Asked if the US offer would also include civilian nuclear reactors, Mr Sadiq said: “It includes both conventional and non-conventional sources of energy.”
Earlier this month, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington Jehangir Karamat told a US news agency that his country should have the same access to US civilian nuclear technology that President Bush has proposed for India.
The visiting South Asian journalists who met several senior US officials at the State Department quoted the officials as saying that a Congressional law binds the US government to oppose investment in oil and gas industry in Iran by any country, hence the opposition to the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline.
“For this very reason, we want Pakistan to think of other alternative sources of gas. But, if we want this we will have to take care of energy needs of these countries and think of ways to help them,’’ a State Department official said, adding that it was for this reason that the US signed the civil-nuclear energy agreement with India in July.
Police checkpoint head gunned down in Helmand
Abdul Samad Roohani
LASHKARGAH, October 2 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Unidentified gunmen shot dead the head of a police checkpoint near this provincial capital on Sunday, security officials said.
Helmand's deputy police chief Colonel Amanullah Akbar told Pajhwok Afghan News unidentified gunmen attacked the check-post at 8am, killing Mohammad Daud.
"The assailants in police uniform entered the Mukhtar refugee camp checkpoint, shot dead the commander and managed to flee," Akbar said, adding police were trying to track down the culprits.
Jawzjan spikers lift trophy at stake
TALOQAN, October 2 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Jawzjan spikers lifted the trophy at stake by outperforming their opponents from Balkh in the final of a volley championship played here a day earlier, officials said on Sunday.
Hundreds of spectators were entertained to an enthralling display of volleyball by the finalists, who were given bronze medals and appreciation letters as a token of acknowledgement of their professional excellence. The Takhar squad that finished third received similar honours.
Attaullah Ghafoori, official of the National Olympic Committee's Volleyball Federation, told Pajhwok Afghan News: "All fixtures of the championship were keenly contested in a friendly environment, with participants demonstrating a high degree of sportsmanship."
A northeastern volleyball team comprising outstanding players would be selected on the basis of their performances in the just-concluded event for playing a series of matches with different outfits in other zones, the official revealed.
Jawzjan's spiker Hamayun, who described the final victory as huge accolades for his line-up, hoped they would do equally well in the inter-zone competitions.
Why India voted against Iran
EDITORIAL By Karamatullah K. Ghori Dawn (Pakistan) / October 2, 2005 issue
INDIA voting on the side of the Americans and the Europeans against Iran at the September 24 IAEA board meeting in Vienna was bound to enrage the Iranians. The jury is still out as to how Tehran will ultimately react to the Indian perfidy. There have, so far, been conflicting reports from Vienna and Tehran. The Vienna missive spoke of Iran immediately retaliating by cancelling the $22 billion liquefied natural gas deal with India. But later reports from Tehran still left a modicum of shades of gray on the subject.
Irrespective of whether Tehran pays the Indians back in the same coin or sticks to its commitment on the gas deal with Delhi, it is not possible to water down Indian treachery and its impact that goes far beyond bilateral ties.
Many have been surprised by Delhi’s decision to stand up and be counted in the camp of western neo-imperialists out to nettle Iran on the nuclear issue. How can India, the self-proclaimed moral guru of the Third-World, stab a camp follower in the back? What, the argument goes, has happened, or is happening, to the erstwhile grain of India that regarded the West with so much suspicion and mistrust?
What baffles the observer is how an energy-starved India, which has been laying so much store by its frenzied rush to become an international economic power-house, even think of putting its lucrative energy deal with Iran on the line just in order to please its new western friends.
It wasn’t so long ago that India prided itself on its independent foreign policy of which opposition to the western camp was a cornerstone. India was given due recognition, by friend and foe alike, for its capacity to stand up to the bullies of the western world whenever it deemed its principles and scruples to be coming under attack. So what has so radically changed the Indian chemistry that instead of standing up to them now it is standing alongside them?
A plausible answer to that puzzle is, in one word, the sea change in the complexion of the Indian leadership. It goes without saying that the man at the top of a government or state matters much.
Bush has steered the US so aggressively on an imperialistic track because the man is hopelessly hooked on the neo-con ‘vision’ of Pax Americana in the 21st century. Blair, a supposedly enlightened liberal, has turned out to be a closet imperialist indistinguishable from the empire-builders of bygone centuries.
Manmohan Singh is the key to understanding the radical ‘shift’ in Indian foreign policy, especially in the context of the western world. He is a product of the World Bank, and this American-controlled entity is as much an imperialist outfit as was the benighted East India Company at the prime of Pax Britannica. In fact, British imperialism was in lockstep with the cut and thrust of the company, just as US neo-imperialism is, today, with the likes of the World Bank and IMF.
In yesteryear, the cross was the inevitable alter ego of the colonial sword. Today, the corporate culture is an essential clone of neo-colonialism of the neo-conservative brand. Pax Americana has been rigorously pursuing a two-pronged strategy of acquiring military bases wherever possible and supplanting in leadership positions wherever the acquisition of military foothold is difficult, Washington’s friends preferably those trained at the World Bank/IMF.
British imperialism was served ideally by the brown or black sahibs picked up from the natives. They lived up to Macaulay’s masterly vision of native loyalists — speaking their masters’ tongue and thinking like the masters — and delivering as expected of them to enhance imperialist interests without demur. The WB/IMF clones are, likewise, expected to do the bidding of these institutions and paymasters.
The watershed heralding a new course for Indian relations with the West, and US in particular, was reached two months ago when Manmohan Singh visited Washington and was rolled out the red carpet. The Americans cornered him to concede on the game plan for Iran by promising him an expanded programme of nuclear cooperation capped with technology transfer and dual-use equipment.
Manmohan found the offer tempting and irresistible and fell for it. Iran’s goose at IAEA was cooked then and there in Washington.
Congressman Tom Lantos, a ranking member (Democrat) of the House International Relations Committee, let the cat out of the bag when he boasted, on the heels of India’s helpful vote in Vienna, that Washington’s cooperation with India should “encourage quid pro quo diplomacy to engender consistent support for US interests.” Lantos was also unabashedly frank in admitting: “India cannot expect (us) to accommodate her while she totally disregards our interests...”
India obviously didn’t succumb to pressure from Washington and voted in its favour only to get it off its back. Far from being a one-time error, it seems to be part of a well-deliberated new policy to integrate India’s nuclear ambitions into the western grand scheme to keep the nuclear club’s door firmly shut on another Muslim state other than Pakistan that gate-crashed into the club and whose presence there is barely tolerated.
Credence to this was furnished only two days after the Vienna vote when Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh showed up in Ottawa to sign a deal with his Canadian counterpart Pierre Pettigrew calling for renewed nuclear safety cooperation and the supply to India of “dual-use items” to civilian nuclear facilities.
Canada has had a freeze on its nuclear cooperation with India since 1974, when India exploded its maiden nuclear device. Why should Canada, all of a sudden, feel the need now to roll back 30 plus years of treating India as a pariah in the nuclear field?
An official spokesman of the Canadian ministry of foreign affairs didn’t allow any suspense to shroud the precipitous Canadian move. Briefing the press, he admitted that Ottawa was impressed by India voting with Canada, the US and the Europeans “in condemning Iran for its nuclear activities.” What he didn’t say was that the government of Prime Minister Paul Martin has been bending over backward to please Washington, wherever possible, to make amends for Jean Chretien’s bold and principled decision to stay out of any involvement in Bush’s Iraq adventure.
So it is fairly obvious that India, under Manmohan, the World Bank man, is happily content to play footsie with its western friends and mentors, in order to reap a rich harvest in cutting-edge technology and state-of-the-art equipment from the West to whet its own appetite and become a world-class nuclear power.
Does it also presage India participation in the neo-con plans to tighten the noose around Iran’s neck?
India, it is a matter of fact, has been eager to get on board the rolling American bandwagon ever since 9/11. The BJP, for crass political expediency, may denounce Manmohan Singh for abandoning India’s no-truck-with-the-West attitude but the Vajpayee government, too, was petulantly anxious to join Bush’s battle against terrorism and did, for the record, offer its services for operations against the Taliban. Manmohan Singh isn’t, really the first in Delhi to go for the forbidden fruit.
But didn’t Delhi take into account the fallout of its provocative, anti-Iranian, move on its interest in buying the badly-needed Iranian gas for its ambitious industrial take-off?
It’s inconceivable that there was no such homework done in Delhi before the Rubicon was crossed in Vienna and a palpable backlash — inviting die was cast against Iran. So how were the tea- leaves read especially on an issue of such vital stakes as energy for a starving Indian industry?
It could only mean one of the two probable outcomes that the Indian pundits may be banking on. One, that Tehran would lump its pride and not abandon the gas pipeline-to-India-via-Pakistan scheme, because of it being too lucrative for Iran to abandon.
Two, that if Tehran, as expected, accords primacy to its well-known national pride and scuttles the gas deal, India’s western mentors would bail it out with another pipeline from some other source in the neighbourhood, say, for instance, Qatar. The gas-rich Arabian Qatar has had a foot in the door for India for several years.
What should Pakistan, caught in the middle, do? Nothing. It doesn’t have too many cards to play in this game of nerves, although Pakistan would be losing big bucks in royalties on the pipeline transit if the deal falls through.
The Iranians don’t trust Pakistan sufficiently, especially since Islamabad jumped on board the Bush juggernaut in Afghanistan. This came on top of the erstwhile mollycoddling of a Tehran-hostile Taliban regime in Kabul. But Islamabad can still softly and unostentatiously advise Tehran to be chary of an untrustworthy India which wouldn’t bat an eyelash before stabbing Iran in the back wherever its own interest so warrants. Anything warmer than a strictly cold business deal with Delhi could be tantamount to courting trouble.
The writer is a former ambassador.
Afghanistan: Returnees should return to their provinces
KABUL, 28 September (IRIN) - Returnees to Afghanistan from both Pakistan and Iran will only get land for shelters in their province of origin, the government announced on Wednesday in the Afghan capital, Kabul.
"In order to reduce crowding here in the capital and provide equal reconstruction opportunities to all provinces across the country, the government will soon implement the plan of providing land for shelter for returnees in their own related provinces," Hafiz Nadeem, public information officer for the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation (MoRR), said, adding one of the major problems causing slow repatriation was the lack of shelter.
Lack of shelter remains a key issue in Afghanistan as millions of returned refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) slowly seek to pick up their lives, only to find their villages and homes destroyed.
Since the Taliban were ousted in December 2001, rent prices in the capital have skyrocketed, fuelled in part by the arrival in strength of foreign NGOs, with an average family house now going for up to US $800 per month - far beyond the reach of Kabul residents.
The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has praised the government's plan. Nader Farhad, spokesman for UNHCR in Kabul, said the plan would further accelerate the repatriation process from the neighbouring countries, adding the United Nations was encouraging returnees to go back to their own provinces.
But a large number of returned refugees suffering from unemployment, a severe lack of shelter, and poverty, prefer to live in the capital, knowing that they will not find work opportunities if they return to their place of origin.
"The government's decision is not reasonable because we cannot find work outside the capital," said 25-year-old Mohammad Fardeen of Parwan province, who returned from Iran and is living in a dusty shell of a battle-scarred building in the Dehmazang area of Kabul.
"If the government provides work opportunities in provinces than it is a good decision. Unemployment is worse than the lack of shelter," complained 46-year-old Abdullah of Panjshir, representative of refugees in Dehmazang.
Meanwhile, to tackle the problem of lack of shelter, the Ministry of Women's Affairs is planning to build accommodation for at least 1 million vulnerable Afghan women across the country, with an agreement signed with a German construction company to launch the countrywide project.
According to UNHCR, the number of Afghans seeking assistance to return home this year surpassed 400,000 and now stands at just under 3.5 million. Since 2002, including those who have returned without assistance, the overall total has now reached 4.2 million, according to the UN refugee agency.
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