Rumsfeld says Afghan body burning charges damage US
Sat Oct 22, 2:16 PM ET
VILNIUS (Reuters) - Accusations that U.S. soldiers burned the corpses of two Afghan guerrillas to taunt the Taliban have damaged the American military, whether or not they are true, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said on Saturday.
Rumsfeld told reporters aboard a plane to Lithuania, where he will attend a NATO meeting, that he had not seen video footage showing the alleged incident in the southern province of Kandahar and did not know if the accusations were true.
But he added: "One hates to see the adverse effect of it if it is true. You also recognize the damage that can be done by the allegations alone if they are not true."
The U.S. military -- already under fire for the abuse of detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq and the mishandling of the Koran in Guantanamo Bay -- has ordered an inquiry into the footage shown on Australian television.
The television report quoted the U.S. soldiers as saying they burned the bodies for reasons of hygiene. But the act could be deeply offensive to Muslims, whose faith prohibits cremation and demands respect for the dead.
After the burning, according to the TV report, a U.S. psychological operations unit broadcast a propaganda message on loudspeakers to a nearby village thought to harbor Taliban fighters, taunting them to retrieve their dead and fight.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has condemned the incident and asked for a speedy investigation.
Rumsfeld said that whether or not the accusations were substantiated, they should not be seen as representative of U.S. military behavior.
"Charges of that type are harmful and they don't represent the overwhelmingly positive behavior of the men and women in uniform," he said.
Rumsfeld said he hoped the investigation could be concluded as quickly as possible.
"My hope is that the commanders that are responsible for their troops will find ways to accelerate the process that they have to go through, still providing for the rights of the people who may or may not be accused of something," he said.
Stoking Afghanistan's resistance
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online October 22, 2005
KARACHI - The onset of winter and the heavy snows that go with it have traditionally brought Afghanistan's civil wars to a halt over the past 25 years.
But in the last two years, the Taliban-led resistance has bucked the trend. Two years ago, the winter was marked by the country's first-ever suicide attacks, which took place against US bases. And last year they continued with sporadic guerrilla activities throughout the long, cold months.
This winter, the Taliban had planned to draw warlords further into their struggle, luring them with promises of protection for their drug-growing and smuggling activities. The overall aim is to spread as much chaos as possible across the country.
Now their cause has received a significant boost from an unexpected quarter following reports that US soldiers desecrated the bodies of Taliban fighters by burning them.
Islam traditionally forbids the cremation or embalming of corpses. Further, as a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai said, "We strongly condemn any disrespect to human bodies regardless of whether they are those of enemies or friends."
An Australian television report from a journalist who had been embedded with US troops in Afghanistan, including video footage, purportedly shows US soldiers standing by the burning corpses of two suspected Taliban fighters with their bodies laid out, facing Mecca.
The footage was filmed outside the southern village of Gonbaz near the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. It included a propaganda message taunting Taliban fighters to retrieve their dead and fight.
In the complex tribal structure of Afghanistan, where Afghan traditions (Pakhtoon wali) compliment Islam, such an incident can be blown to exceptional proportions.
This happened in the 1980s, during the Soviet occupation, when Soviet authorities launched anti-traditionalist policies, such as discouraging the role of Muslim clerics in mosques and encouraging women to take a lead role in society.
The result was the wrath of the Afghan rural masses from north to south and among Tajiks and Pashtuns, Shi'ites and Sunnis. The reaction was far greater, and more damaging, than the intended objective, and the mujahideen resistance gained further popular support.
Both the Afghan and US governments have expressed strong revulsion over the footage, and have launched inquiries.
However, the incident gives the resistance a perfect propaganda tool for rabble-raising and widening its support to create the utmost political instability.
The Taliban have achieved some success on this count recently.
Two years ago, Asia Times Online wrote about the formation of the Jaishul Muslim (See Tribes, traditions and two tragedies, September 12, 2003).
The Jaishul Muslim was created to split the Taliban by turning some against their leader, Mullah Omar. The main purpose was to create an organization that could control those warlords and tribes siding with Mullah Omar by bringing them into the Jaishul Muslim's fold, especially in southern and southeastern Afghanistan.
Last year the Jaishul Muslim joined with the Taliban, but soon the Taliban found them to be unreliable and contact was broken off.
Now Asia Times Online contacts in Afghanistan say that recently some powerful commanders who were with Jaishul Muslim have agreed to join Taliban. These commanders have each been assigned to particular regions to carry out operations against US-led forces.
Similar deals have been struck with other commanders in places such as Kunar, Ghazni, Jalalabad and Kandahar.
From the resistance point of view these developments have come at a perfect time as the Pakistan Army is tied up with relief operations in the Kashmir region following the massive earthquake there last week.
This means that the resistance can use Pakistani territory on the rugged border area with Afghanistan with impunity.
It could be a long, cold and bloody winter.
Syed Saleem Shahzad, Bureau Chief, Pakistan Asia Times Online.
“U.S. soldiers cleaned their boots with Qur’an pages”
Aljazeera.com / October 22, 2005
A Bahraini detainee held at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba revealed more sexual abuses by the American soldiers there and confirmed Qur’an desecration.
Jumah Al-Dossary, one of six Bahraini detainees the U.S. holds in Guantanamo prison said he was subject of sexual abuse. He also confirmed desecration of the Qur’an, Islam’s Holy Book, by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, The Associated Press reported.
Al-Dossary, 30, said he witnessed U.S. soldiers at Kandahar Air Base in Afghanistan cleaning their boots with pages they had ripped from the Holy Qur’an.
According to the recently declassified documents issued by his lawyer Joshua Colangelo-Bryan Al-Dossary, the Bahraini detainee was beaten and stamped on by eight U.S. soldiers, as he was recovering from an earlier stomach operation.
In September 2002, Al-Dossary was taken to an interrogation room where he found four MPs, one carrying a video camera. Al-Dossary said he was shackled to the floor, stripped naked on orders from a female interrogator, who stripped and squatted over his genitals, chest, and face smearing him with her menstrual blood to force him admit having links to Al-Qaeda network.
On a later occasion Al Dossary says he was forced to watch naked man and woman having sex, then offered sex with the woman if he co-operated with the interrogators, Gulf Daily News reported.
Al Dossary’s accusations of being harshly beaten and stamped on by U.S. guards have been widely reported already.
Now Al Dossary suffers heart problems, and he wakes up screaming from nightmares. He fears he has been driven to mental illness, the paper reported.
After visiting all six Bahraini detainees at Guantanamo jail, Colangelo-Bryan, who has just arrived in the U.S., says the six men fear they will stay there for the rest of their lives.
Hunger-strikers at Guantanamo jail accused U.S. guards of repeatedly inserting and removing dirty feeding tubes until the detainee would vomit blood.
According to declassified documents recently released by defense lawyers for three men held at the U.S. detention center in Cuba, the guards used feeding tubes as thick as a finger, as objects of torture.
"They were forcibly shoved up the detainees' noses and down into their stomachs," the lawyers reported to a federal judge in August. "No anesthesia or sedative was provided."
The force feedings resulted in prisoners "vomiting up substantial amounts of blood. When they vomited up blood, the soldiers mocked and cursed at them, and taunted them with statements like `look what your religion has brought you.'"
Yousef al Shehri, a 21 year-old Saudi detainee held at Guantanamo, said guards removed a nasal feeding tube from one prisoner and inserted it into another without cleaning.
Another detainee said that a military doctor put a tube in his nose, down his throat and "kept moving the tube up and down" until he finally "started violently throwing up blood."
US troops burned bodies in Afghanistan because 'they stank'
Sat Oct 22, 1:41 AM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - US soldiers burned the bodies of two Taliban fighters in Afghanistan because villagers had not claimed them a day after they were killed and the bodies "were bloated and they stank," a US magazine reported, citing soldiers who were present at the incident.
Australian television reported on Wednesday that soldiers had burned the bodies of two suspected Taliban militants and afterwards used the incident to insult villagers and try to provoke them into attacking US-led coalition troops.
The incident has prompted a US military investigation into the alleged desecration of the corpses, which is in violation of the Geneva Convention on human rights.
It also further clouds the United States's reputation, already tarnished by the sexual humiliation of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and allegations of mistreatment of "war on terror" inmates at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
According to the article published on Time magazine's website, a US army platoon was sharing a rocky hilltop above Gonbaz village in southern Afghanistan with the bodies of the two fighters.
"The Taliban men had been killed in a firefight 24 hours earlier and in the 90 degree (Fahrenheit, 32 degrees Celsius) heat, their bodies had become an unbearable presence," Time reported, citing soldiers who were present.
Earlier, Lieutenant Eric Nelson, the leader of B Company, I-508 platoon had sent word down to Gonbaz asking the villagers to pick up the bodies and bury them according to Muslim ritual.
But the villagers refused -- probably because the dead fighters were not locals but Pakistanis, said one US Army officer, the magazine said.
The magazine said it was then that Nelson took a decision that could jeopardize his career.
"We decided to burn the bodies ... because they were bloated and they stank," Time reported, citing a soldier.
The incident, captured on film by Australian photojournalist Stephen Dupont and aired on Australian public broadcasting channel SBS, unleashed world outrage.
Islamic tradition requires the bodies of Muslims to be washed, prayed over, wrapped in white cloth and buried, if possible, within a day.
Under the Geneva Convention, the disposal of war dead "should be honorable, and, if possible, according to the rites of the religion to which the deceased belonged."
Time noted that one US officer in Kandahar had "pointed out that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda never show any qualms about defiling the bodies of dead Afghan or American soldiers."
Afghan court sends magazine editor to two years jail
Sunday October 23, 5:07 PM
KABUL (Reuters) - An Afghan court has sentenced the editor of a women's magazine to two years imprisonment for writing a blasphemous article against Islam, a judge said on Sunday.
But Mohaqiq Nasab, editor-in-chief of "Hoqooq-e-Zan", or Women's Rights, can lodge an appeal against the verdict of the court, which was announced on Saturday.
"The court proposed a period of two years imprisonment for Mohaqiq Nasab," Abdul Bari Bakhtyari, a senior judge, told Reuters.
Nasab was detained late last month on orders of a religious adviser to President Hamid Karzai after a group of Islamic Shi'ite figures complained that he had written a blasphemous article in his magazine.
In his article, the 50-year-old Nasab questioned the need for harsh Islamic punishment for apostates, thieves and others, according to officials. Under Islamic law, blasphemy is punishable by death.
The information ministry had earlier said Nasab's detention was technically illegal as the government-appointed media commission had to question him first.
Two years ago, a pair of journalists were sentenced to death by a court for writing blasphemous comments, but they managed to escape from jail and have sought asylum in the West.
Earthquake rattles eastern Afghanistan, five killed
KABUL (AFP) - An earthquake has shaken eastern Afghanistan near the border of quake-hit Pakistan, with initial reports saying at least five people were killed and six hurt, the defence ministry said.
Initial reports also said some houses were destroyed in the quake that struck mountainous Paktika province, ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi told a press briefing.
"Our national army units are in the region assessing the damage. They're on the ground helping villagers," he said.
Another quake struck adjacent Zabul province earlier, killing at least three people, provincial officials said.
Afghanistan was spared the devastation caused by a massive October 8 earthquake that left more than 53,000 people dead and more than 75,000 injured in northwestern Pakistan and Pakistani Kashmir.
Several Afghans were killed in that quake, which shook the east of the country and the capital, Kabul.
Pakistan has been jolted by more than 700 aftershocks since the 7.6-magnitude earthquake, a seismological department official said. There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties from the latest tremors.
War-shattered Afghanistan does not have a meteorological agency that can provide information about the scale of earthquakes.
Provocation in Afghanistan
COMMENTARY By Mohammed A.R. Galadari Khaleej Times (United Arab Emirates) 22 October 2005
WHILE the role the US has played in introducing democracy and rule of law in Afghanistan is admitted and appreciated by all, an incident like the American soldiers burning the bodies of dead Taleban rebels should best have been avoided. For, predictably, it is becoming a fresh cause for upheaval in a country that is struggling to restore normalcy.
Dear readers, as President Hamid Karzai has sought to explain it away, soldiers do commit errors in war. Or, to err is human. But the fact also remains that the American soldiers are fielded into war zones after intensive training. They must know what they are doing; and they must also make it a point to give due respect to the customs and traditions of the land they are in. In the least, they should not add to the chaos there.
What has happened in the hills outside southern Gonbaz village, a region known for strong Taleban support, is clearly a stray case. But that has, to an extent, washed out the good image the America and its military has painstakingly built over a period of time. American funding for Afghanistan in the past four years by way of non-military assistance alone accounted for 5 billion US dollars, which is no small gesture. That help has gone into areas like building of roads, setting up of medical clinics and introducing other public utility services. All of these are benefiting the people, and they will, in normal course, be thankful for such assistance.
Without US encouragement and support, Hamid Karzai would not have been able to hold on to power there for long; and without US support, the democratic process there would not have come to this stage. A constitution is in place. Hamid Karzai is the elected president and hence has the legitimacy to rule. The third stage in the democratic process, an elected parliament, is now in the making there. Things, one must say, are looking up.
Looking back, Afghanistan has come a long way in the past four years. The warlords are no more as powerful as they were in the past. Many of them have been brought to the heels. Quite a few are still on the prowl, and some are close to the seats of power or are even sharing power. The new parliament is not going to be devoid of warlords or of their influence. For Karzai, establishing the rule of law in all parts of the country remains a daunting task. How long can a nation bear with situations in which extra-constitutional powers and private armies call the shots?
Afghanistan has had a tough time in the past quarter of a century of war, occupation and fighting. But, the past few years were promising; to a point. The insurgency and fighting, however, continues, resulting in the killing of as many as 1200 people this year. There also is the serious problem of drug trafficking and mafia networks. Many of Karzai’s promises remain on paper. Among them is the promise for reforms that has not materialized in any perceptible way. The elected parliament should, hopefully, strengthen his hands and put in place a government that is more responsive to the people’s needs and aspirations.
Dear readers, Afghanistan is often cited as the poorest country outside of the African continent. There is much work to do to effect a turn-around in the people’s fortunes. Under the circumstances, that needs American help as well. While US soldiers would need to exercise more care and respect the traditions of the land, incidents like the one in Gonbaz village should not be turned into another issue for a fresh flare-up and more chaos there. Those who have committed such provocations must be given severe punishment-which is what the US military there has promised the public. But, the alliance for a better Afghanistan should carry on, and all the promises made to the Afghan people must be implemented without hesitation and delay.
Malalai Joya, confronting Afghanistan's warlords
Sun Oct 23, 1:10 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - In two minutes, two years ago, Malalai Joya secured her name in Afghanistan's modern history. Only 25 years old and little known outside her home district in the far west of the country, she caused an uproar when she stood up to powerful warlords responsible for years of brutal civil war and told them what no one else dared: that they deserved punishment.
Commanders at the meeting, called to discuss a post-Taliban constitution, were furious.
Some delegates rushed at her, yelling "Allahu akbar" (God is the greatest) and demanding her expulsion. Soldiers leapt to protect her; women shouted in her defence that she was young and should be forgiven.
Death threats followed and Joya had to stop travelling for fear of her life.
But she is still determined to continue her battle against the men she says are responsible for ruining her country and will take the fight to the first parliament in more than 30 years when it sits later this year.
"My goal is the total disarmament of warlords, to bring to justice war criminals," she told AFP last week from Farah province after it was confirmed she had won a seat.
She said she planned to rally other like-minded parliamentarians into a front against the fighters. She also wanted to push "reconstruction and fighting for the rights of women."
With the results from last month's elections being finalised in stages, indications are warlords implicated in war crimes and crimes against humanity in the early 1990s will make up a significant share of the new parliament -- up to about half, according to some estimates.
They will likely include Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, who led a faction implicated in abductions, summary executions and the shelling of civilian areas in Kabul, and Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, implicated in similar incidents.
Analysts say one of the first things the commanders, whom Joya called felons and criminals in her outburst, could do is use their clout to vote to award themselves amnesty.
"They should be taken to national and international court," Joya proclaimed at the 2003 meeting, her boldness rare in a country emerging from the harsh Taliban rule, under which women were barred from public life.
Joya's young life reflects Afghanistan's tumultuous modern history.
She was only four when her family fled the country in 1982, joining hundreds of thousands of Afghans who had escaped the Soviet invasion three years before.
She lived in refugee camps in Iran and later in Pakistan, where she finished her schooling. At 19 she began giving literacy classes to women.
In the meantime the Soviets left Afghanistan. The remaining communist regime collapsed into years of cruel civil war that ended when the Taliban took control of most of the country in 1996.
Unable to keep away from her homeland even at the height of the Taliban's tyranny, Joya returned in 1999 and set up a secret school for women in the western city of Herat.
For two years she gave lessons at great personal risk, with the Taliban outlawing education or work for women and forcing them under the all-enveloping burqa. "That was the best I could serve women at the time," Joya said.
Then the Taliban fell in late 2001 after a US-led campaign launched when they refused to hand over Osama bin Laden over the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
Joya threw herself into rebuilding her battered country, taking a job with a group promoting women's empowerment before setting herself on course for a seat in Afghanistan's historic new parliament.
Black Hawk crashes in Afghanistan; all soldiers survive
By Sean D. Naylor ArmyTimes.com, VA Staff Writer
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — Thirteen soldiers, including two battalion commanders, had a lucky escape this morning when they survived a crash that destroyed their UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter during a combat operation in Oruzgan Province.
Nobody was killed and only three soldiers were hurt, none seriously, when the command and control helicopter crashed during an attempted landing. The aircraft was part of Task Force Storm, based at this airfield, one of several helicopters supporting a special operations mission to clear Taliban fighters from a collection of remote villages. Military rules preclude naming the specific location because the operation is ongoing.
Aboard the aircraft were Lt. Col. Donald Bolduc, commander of 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group, and Task Force Storm commander Lt. Col. Bob Werthman, who was the right seat pilot in the helicopter. The other soldiers on the aircraft were the left seat pilot, the two door gunners, a seven-man reconnaissance element from a Special Forces A-team and Bolduc’s command sergeant major. The cause of the crash is under investigation, said Sgt. Maj. Keith Butler, spokesman for Combined Joint Special Forces Task Force – Afghanistan.
The sun had just come up in the mountainous region when the Black Hawk approached its landing zone in what Bolduc described as “very rocky, very uneven terrain.” The pilots, who had just removed their night vision goggles, “did all the right things flying in,” he added, including using evasive maneuvers to avoid any ground fire. (On a previous mission to the same location, a Chinook had been shot eight times, according to Bolduc.) But things went wrong as the helicopter was about to land.
“The last thing I heard was the pilots saying ‘Oh, we’re going in too hard,’” Bolduc said, adding that he was not aware of any enemy fire directed at the helicopter. “The tail rotor hit the ground, flipping the aircraft over.” The crash tipped the helicopter upside down, skidding across the ground from the movement of its rotor blades. When it came to rest, Bolduc said, “we were all upside down.”
To everyone’s great relief, the helicopter did not catch fire. Bolduc, who was monitoring the operation over a headphone set — which made it impossible to wear his helmet — sustained a mild concussion in the crash. “The sergeant major popped my harness and pulled me out of the aircraft,” he said. “I do not have a total memory of being pulled out of the aircraft, [but] I remember saying to myself, ‘Am I still alive?’ ”
The other two wounded soldiers were the Special Forces element’s team leader, who sustained a lacerated face, and the element’s medic, who suffered cracked ribs and a broken arm. Although Werthman was the senior uninjured person on the ground, standard procedure dictates that in such situations, the senior uninjured ground soldier takes command of the situation, according to Bolduc. The command sergeant major would have been that soldier, but because he was not read in on the ground, the Special Forces team sergeant took charge. Neither the command sergeant major nor the team sergeant can be named under military rules.
“What I was really glad to see was how the team reacted,” said Bolduc, who regained consciousness after being removed from the aircraft. The unhurt Special Forces soldiers took care of the casualties, established communications with other friendly elements, and then marked their location with smoke so that a CH-47 Chinook could pick them up about 25 minutes after the crash.
Interviewed in his hospital bed here, where he was being kept under observation because of his concussion, Bolduc took a matter-of-fact view of the accident that had almost claimed his life and those of 12 other soldiers. “That’s the risk you take doing combat operations,” he said.
Bolduc acknowledged that Afghanistan, with its heat, dust and high mountainous regions, is a very unforgiving environment for helicopters. “The most dangerous thing we do is fly around in helicopters,” he said, stressing that he meant to imply no criticism of the helicopters or their crews. “It’s just the environment,” he said. But in certain areas there was no option but to use helicopters if the goal was to achieve surprise, he added.
“You just can’t surprise them any other way,” Bolduc said. “You’ve got to come in hard and fast, and you’ve got to come in with aviation support.”
Few CIA charges expected in prisoner deaths - NYT
23 Oct 2005 07:36:44 GMT
NEW YORK, Oct 23 (Reuters) - CIA employees or its contract workers appear likely to escape criminal charges in all but one of the deaths of four prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, The New York Times reported on Sunday.
Citing current and former intelligence and law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, the Times said that federal prosecutors reviewing cases of possible misconduct by CIA employees had notified lawyers they did not intend to bring criminal charges in several cases involving the handling of terrorism suspects and Iraqi insurgents.
While some cases remain under Justice Department review, the officials said they had been told the department was not preparing to bring charges against CIA employees in those cases, the Times said.
The sole exception was David Passaro, who while linked to the CIA, was a contract worker, not a CIA officer. He remains the only person charged in any of the cases. Details of the CIA cases and the Justice Department reviews remain classified.
The decisions are based on reviews of eight dossiers referred to the Justice Department by the CIA's inspector general, describing possible misconduct by a half-dozen to a dozen CIA employees in the deaths and other cases, the Times said.
The prosecutors' decisions regarding CIA culpability for prisoner mistreatment contrast with that of the military, in which dozens of soldiers have been convicted or punished. Among those convicted in connection with abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were Pvt. Charles Graner Jr. and Pfc. Lynndie England.
One case still technically under review by the Justice Department, the Times said, involved an incident in which a CIA officer was linked to mistreatment involving an Iraqi who died under CIA interrogation in a shower room at Abu Ghraib.
The department has signaled it does not plan to bring charges in another case involving the hypothermia death of an Afghan at a CIA-run detention center called the Salt Pit in Afghanistan in November 2002, the newspaper reported.
A third episode studied within the CIA involved a former Iraqi general who died of asphyxiation after being stuffed head-first into a sleeping bag at an American base in Al Asad, in western Iraq, in November 2003 after days of interrogation that involved beatings. An official told the Times that case was never referred to the Justice Department for prosecution.
Passaro is awaiting trial in connection with his suspected role in a fourth case involving the death of a prisoner in Afghanistan in June 2003.
In the cases of the deaths at the Salt Pit and Abu Ghraib, the individuals involved could still face punishment by internal accountability review boards, the Times said.
Labour of Love
Looted and smuggled antiques spanning the country's history are slowly returning to Kabul, thanks to the efforts of one man.
By Wahidullah Amani in Kabul (ARR No. 192, 21-Oct-05) Institute for War & Peace Reporting
Ahmad Shah Sultani is an unlikely patron of the arts. Uncertain of his exact age, although he believes he is in his fifties, he is still unable to read and write. But the former goldsmith’s apprentice has amassed a fortune that has allowed him to pursue his true vocation: finding and restoring to Afghanistan the treasures lost over decades of war and turmoil.
Sultani’s father died when he was an infant and his mother remarried. Rejected by her new family, he was shuffled from relative to relative until finally ending up apprenticed to a goldsmith at the age of seven.
Far from bitter about his difficult early life, he believes the accident of fate which got him into the gold trade gave him the eye for beauty that shaped his future path.
Sultani, who made his money as an antiques dealer, has assembled a collection of ancient Afghan artefacts which he is now displaying in Kabul’s National Gallery.
The collection, known as the Sultani Museum, is still being catalogued and includes approximately 3,000 items that he has rescued from as far away as France, England and Germany, as well as Iran, Pakistan, and Dubai.
Sultani rents the space by giving the gallery 10 per cent of the admission price he charges: 20 afghani, or 40 US cents, for Afghans, with public servants paying half and children a quarter that sum, while foreigners pay 200 afghani, about four dollars.
His museum attracts close to 40 visitors every day, and has been operating for about a year.
In addition to the pieces on display at the gallery, Sultani says he has also returned items that once belonged to the separate National Museum, which was extensively looted and damaged during the mujahedin wars and by the Taleban.
"Among all the antiques… there were just two Bactrian silver coins and one silver pot which belonged to the National Museum,” he said. “I delivered all three of them back there."
The bulk of Sultani’s collection is still in London, where he lived for many years, He continues to search the world for Afghan treasures, and wants to establish museums elsewhere in Afghanistan, particularly in his home province of Ghazni, where he lived until he was 17.
"I will 100 per cent open a museum in Ghazni. And if the government and the people will help me, I will be able to build, stock and open 20 museum all over the country," he said.
The antiques now in his museum in Kabul date from 100 to 8,000 years ago, he said, and include gold coins, ceramics, sculptures, carved wooden pillars, manuscripts, clay pots and books.
Sultani speaks with obvious pride about his collection and his achievements.
"Even if I am illiterate, I think I am the most expert in the world in knowing the difference between fake and genuine antiques. I don't need anyone's help in doing this," he said.
Raouf Zakir, deputy head of the archaeology department of the Ministry of Information and Culture, said that he had examined Sultani’s collection, and confirmed its authenticity.
“Sultani’s museum is a part of our national heritage,” he told IWPR. “There are pieces in this museum which belong to the pre-Islamic period as well as more recent items. Sultani has done a wonderful job, and now Afghans can get a sense of the culture of their forefathers.”
Sultani made his fortune in gold and antiques. After coming to Kabul from Ghazni, he set up an antique store in Kabul’s Chicken Street, expanding in time to other locations in the capital.
When the Soviets invaded in the Eighties, Sultani decided to get out. He moved to London, where he opened an antique shop. He has become a citizen of the United Kingdom but still has only a rudimentary knowledge of English.
For the past 18 years, he has been living in London, using the money he made selling antiques to buy up Afghan treasures.
“I would keep most of them and just sell a few – enough to make money to live on and to buy more antiques," he said.
Sultani, whose passport gives his age as 54, would not say how much he had spent on the antiques he had collected, just that they had cost "millions of dollars”.
He says it is not the possession of precious things that inspires him. Rather, he wants to return the antiques to his home country so that "Afghans will know the culture of their forefathers". Ultimately, he plans to donate his museum to the nation.
"I've loved antiques since I was a child and I was always hoping to be able to do something which all the people would like," Sultani told IWPR.
Wahidullah Amani is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.
English Education Sparks Controversy
Leading educationalists object to a private school conducting all its classes in English.
By Amanullah Nasrat in Kabul (ARR No. 192, 21-Oct-05) Institute for War & Peace Reporting
Kabul’s first fully-private primary school has opened and has already attracted 400 pupils whose parents are willing to pay up to 50 US dollars a month for the teaching. But the English-only curriculum at the International Model School has set off a fierce debate within the education community.
"I came here from Pakistan where I studied in English,” said nine-year old Nilou Jan, wearing the school’s distinctive uniform of a light blue blouse and black trousers. “When this school started up, I was so happy because there is no [other] school which will teach lessons in the English language.”
Her satisfaction, however, stands in sharp contrast to complaints from some educational specialists about the use of English rather than Dari or Pashto as the teaching medium.
"I do not agree with schools giving lessons via foreign languages from the primary level,” said Ghotai Khowri, a member of Afghanistan Academy of Sciences.
Khowri insists that classes should be conducted in Afghanistan’s two main languages from kindergarten through high school, so as to safeguard the national culture.
“Teaching should be carried out in our languages first of all, and in foreign languages only in higher education studies," she added.
Hamidullah Farooqi, a former Kabul university economics lecturer who set up the new school, disagrees. Now the school’s principal, he argues that teaching in English gives his students access to the latest books and technology from around the world, particularly important as Afghanistan struggles to rejoin the international community after more than two decades of war and isolation.
But education officials are not swayed by this argument.
"We are not against the English language," the deputy education minister Mohammad Sediq Patman told IWPR, noting that English is commonly taught as part of the state school curriculum. It is not, however, used as the medium of instruction.
"It is a condition [for the new school] that its curriculum should be based on the Afghan one," he said.
The school opened on September 25, accepting children from three to 12 years old. The kindergarten, which has 60 under-fives is open from 7:30 to 10:30 in the morning, with a break to play in a grassy recreation area equipped with swings and slides. The older children attend classes from 7:30 to 1:30.
The International Model School is one of very few educational institutions in Afghanistan where boys and girls sit in the same classroom. During the Taleban era, girls were barred from attending school altogether.
The school is housed in a building almost directly across the street from Kabul stadium, where the Taleban carried out public executions while they were in power.
So far, the school has not been authorised to operate by the education ministry although Patman told IWPR that private schools are allowed under the constitution and a new law to regulate them is being drafted by the ministry.
School information officer Mohammad Tariq Salimi said, "We have tried our best to get authorisation for the school from the education ministry, but have been told by officials there that we have to wait until a new decree is issued by the president."
Headmaster Farooqi, who continues to lecture in economics at the university, likes to view his school as part of the free-market transformation taking place in Afghanistan. “Competition is necessary to lift standards. This is true for both public and private education sectors,” he said.
The school charges 30, 40 and 50 dollars a month for kindergarten, pupils in the first and second years and the higher grades respectively. There are 18 teachers for the 400 pupils, with two more due to be hired shortly, said Salimi. They are paid 200 dollars a month, significantly higher than the average salary of 60 dollars paid to teachers in the state system.
This allows the school to maintain a class size of 20, in contrast to the 50 or more common in the state schools.
According to Salimi, the school’s curriculum is equivalent to that used in the state sector, the major difference being that all subjects, except the national languages Dari and Pashtu, are taught in English.
Teacher Ahmad Daud came to the school from the Abdul Hadi Dawi High School. "I have a masters’ degree in English literature and for that reason I want to be involved in teaching the children of my countrymen," he said.
Zulaikha, a female teacher at the school who has just returned after 18 months living in Pakistan, said English had become a part of office life in Afghanistan, so competency in the language was essential.
Salimi says dozens of people have visited the school in the short time since it opened, and there is now a waiting list.
As if to prove Salimi's point, a woman named Nazia came into the building, holding the hand of her ten-year-old daughter.
"I want to enroll my daughter here because I have heard that the quality of teaching is better than other schools, and that they teach in English. There is no such teaching elsewhere," she told IWPR.
Amanullah Nasrat is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.
Signs of the Times
The culture ministry mounts a battle to replace English with Dari and Pashto on Kabul street signs but few merchants seem willing to comply.
By Abdul Baseer Saeed in Kabul (ARR No. 192, 21-Oct-05) Institute for War & Peace Reporting
In a clash of commerce versus culture, Kabul traders have reacted angrily to an order to use one of the national languages - Dari or Pashto - more prominently than English on the signs on their shop fronts.
In late September, the ministry of information, culture and tourism, gave shopkeepers just two weeks either to eliminate the English words from their signs, or to display their Dari or Pashto equivalents above them or in larger type.
The deadline passed with very little effect. The ministry has extended the time frame until the end of October, but Kabul’s businessmen seem in no hurry to comply.
Standing under a shop sign reading Blue Sky Mobile Centre in the central Shahr-e-Naw district, mobile phone seller Habib, 23, told IWPR he had paid over 300 US dollars for the sign.
"I wrote this sign to attract customers,” he said. “If I have to change it, I’ll lose customers and I’ll have to tell everyone about my change of address ."
The trendy western-style names many adopt for their shops do not lend themselves easily to a word-for-word translation. "Unfortunately we don’t have substitutes for these English words in Dari and Pashto,” said Habib. “The signs must be attractive so that they draw people in, and not make people laugh."
In fact, both Dari and Pashto have words for "mobile phone" but the English word "mobile" is more widespread.
Culture ministry official Sayed Aqa Hussain Sancharaki said the decision was taken in agreement with the city authorities and the state-run advertising authority Afghan Elanat, in a bit to promote national identity.
"When a person comes here, he ought to realise he has come to Afghanistan," said Sancharaki.
But over at the modern, blue-glass fronted Chief Burger restaurant, owner Shah Mahmood, 42, was equally unhappy with the order. “We don’t have equivalent words for this in our languages ,” he said.
"Changing the signs will not benefit us… we’ll lose customers and also have the expense of another electronic billboard, which is 2,028 dollars."
Anisa Zamani, chairwoman of Afghan Elanat, defended the order.
"We are determined to keep our Afghan culture alive and we must change the signs," she said, adding that if people needed help with translation they should ask the Academy of Sciences, or else " come to us and we’ll help them".
Maybe she should start with the ministry that issued the order. While Dari and Pashto have words for “tourism” the ministry of information, culture and tourism prefers to use the English word in its title, a clear breach of its own directive.
For this reason, traders like Habib say the ministry is being hypocritical. "They should improve their own use of language," he said.
Academy of Sciences member Ghotai Khawri supported the name-changes. "Signs in markets, shops and everywhere else must be cultural ambassadors and everyone travelling to this land must know they have come to Afghanistan," she said.
Many Kabulis agree, complaining that the use of foreign words in the city has increased markedly since the overthrow of the Taleban in 2001 and the arrival of international aid workers into the city.
Ahmad Tamim, 21, who sells electrical equipment along Nadir Pashtoon Road, says he is tired of hearing and seeing foreign words, "Our own languages must develop. We should use words that people know."
One person who is definitely pleased with the order is Sayed Najibullah Saifi, who runs a shop that makes signs which can only benefit from the demand for new inscriptions.
"If anyone wants me to change an English sign to Dari or Pashto for them, then I’ll give them a 50 per cent discount because of my concern for my country and its national languages," he promised.
But Saifi, the 28-year-old owner of Digital Signs, concedes that no one has yet ordered him to redo the English-language sign in front of his store.
It is unclear what sanctions, if any, will be imposed on those who ignore the government’s order. But Zamani, from Afghan Elanat, is adamant that the signs will have to change.
"If anyone ignores the order, we will use spray paint to cover their signs," she warned.
Abdul Baseer Saeed is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.
Dubious Licence to Drive
Money matters more than road skills when it comes to getting a licence in Kabul
By Amanullah Nasrat in Kabul (ARR No. 192, 21-Oct-05) Institute for War & Peace Reporting
Lorry driver Ghulam Hazrat hasn't a clue where the traffic department is located in Kabul despite the fact that it recently issued him with a new driving licence.
"A friend of mine introduced me to a man to whom I gave my identity card, photos and 100 US dollars. Within three days, he brought me my licence," said Hazrat.
This is common practice in Afghanistan, he insists, and far preferable to going through official channels.
To get a licence legally, Hazrat would have had to take time off work, sit through a three-week obligatory course and then take an exam. If he failed, he would have to begin all over again. Like many, he found it cheaper and easier to hand over a bribe.
The three-week course, run by the traffic department, is free of charge and open to anyone over 18 who has completed a medical exam. It covers the rules of the road, but does not involve actual driving, since the assumption is that those attending can already drive.
Colonel Asadullah, who heads Kabul’s traffic directorate, is adamant that no licences have been issued to unqualified drivers since he took command of the department in August.
"Since my appointment, there has been nobody who has got a licence by paying a bribe or commission. If somebody got one before that, I am not aware of it," he told IWPR. A licence costs 10 dollars, he said, and is given only after a driver has passed both the written exam and the final road test.
“The time it takes to pass the examination is up to the driver," he said.
Asadullah told IWPR that his department is issuing approximately 300 licences per month. This number is down from last year, he said, most likely because of the new requirement that would-be drivers do the three-week course.
But given the surge in traffic accidents on Kabul’s streets, it would appear that many drivers are bypassing the process.
The traffic department's chief accident investigator, Fateh Mohammad, said that in the past six months there had been 472 traffic accidents in Kabul, of which 106 had resulted in death and 306 in injuries. This is up 10 per cent over last year, he said.
Mohammad placed much of the blame for the rise on the increased congestion on Kabul’s streets. He said that the roads were built for some 50,000 vehicles compared with the 300,000-plus in the capital today.
He also cited the fact that many of the cars in Kabul have their steering wheel on the right-hand side, although the traffic drives on the left side of the road.
Fateh denies that drivers are able to bribe their way into getting a licence, maintaining that the bogus documents are being forged in Pakistan.
"The licences from Pakistan have been printed so cleverly that only some of our expert traffic police can recognise them. Some people have been arrested because of this and their cases sent to the public prosecutor’s office," he said.
IWPR could find no drivers who admitted to receiving a fake licence in Pakistan. But here are plenty who claim to have paid a bribe to obtain their driving document.
Habib Rahman, who drives an eight-seater minibus, told IWPR that three months ago, he received a three-year licence from the traffic department by paying a bribe of 150 dollars. Since then, it had been checked many times by traffic police but he has not had any problems.
“Traffic officials take money for themselves, and give out licences for a commission,” he said.
The penalties for driving without a valid licence are relatively mild and do not seem to deter many. If a traffic officer has doubts about the validity of a licence, he can force the driver to take a test. If the driver fails, his licence is confiscated and he is are fined up to 400 afghani, about eight dollars.
Some drivers are put off applying for a license by the amount of bureaucracy it involves. Twenty-seven-year-old Ajmal finally got his licence one month ago, although he has been driving for the past four years. It took him a long time to get around to processing the paperwork, he said, because he was constantly being shunted from one office to another, told to come back, and sometimes asked for money.
"A licence costs only 10 dollars but if you add the ‘tea and sweets money’ [bribes] you pay to the traffic officials it reaches 60 to 70 dollars," he said.
Amanullah Nasrat is an IWPR reporter in Kabul.
Iranian bank expanding
TEHRAN, Oct. 21 (UPI) -- Iran's largest bank is expanding into Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq, AME Info reported Friday.
Bank Melli has already begun working with joint venture partners to establish a branch in Baghdad and another in Kabul, Tehran officials said.
The bank, Iran's largest in terms of assets, operates 3,061 branches in the country and last year accounted for 32 percent of Iran's total commercial bank lending.
It currently operates branches in Oman, Azerbaijan, Hong Kong and Europe.
Besides Baghdad and Kabul, it seeks to open branches in Dubai, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
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