Karzai faces battle to tame Afghan parliament
by Rachel Morarjee
KABUL, Sept 14 (AFP) - Less than a year after winning Afghanistan's first presidential vote, Hamid Karzai will have to curb the power of warlords and opium kingpins who are likely to be elected to the nation's new parliament.
The charismatic Karzai has stamped his authority outside the capital in the past 11 months by taming some of the most powerful former mujahedin commanders, giving them central government positions to weaken their regional power bases.
"The authority of the central government and of Karzai, which was reduced to Kabul at the beginning, has extended virtually everywhere, even if his commands are not always followed," said Francesc Vendrell, special representative of the European Union in Afghanistan.
But the dapper US-backed leader will soon have to deal with 249 squabbling members of the lower house of parliament, who will be chosen in historic polls on Sunday.
They are likely to present Karzai, 47, with some daunting hurdles.
Most Afghan provinces and districts still remain under the thumb of commanders with private armies, left over from the war to oust the Soviet army and then the Taliban regime.
And many warlords are deeply involved in the drug trade, which accounts for almost half the country's economy and for around 90 percent of the world's opium supply.
"While there has been a measure of progress in limiting the influence of the military factor at national level, the deeper you go in terms of the provincial and the district level, the more militarised political life tends to be," said Jean Arnault, the UN's special envoy to Afghanistan.
While 45 people have been struck off the electoral roll, mostly for links with illegal militias, many feared local commanders are still standing for election.
In a speech to tribal leaders and Islamic clerics in the western city of Herat on Tuesday, Karzai urged Afghans "not to vote for those who have done no good for the country."
At the same time, he rebuffed criticism from rights groups for including warlords in the democratic process.
"Sometimes I hear criticism that all sorts of people have become candidates -- former communists, former Taliban, former mujahedin and others -- but I am happy that today we have an Afghanistan in which people feel safe and secure and they stand as candidates," he said.
Nevertheless, many candidates linked with the Northern Alliance, the US allies who helped oust the hardline Taliban regime in 2001, are standing for election and they will have a veto on Karzai's 27-member cabinet.
Those in the most powerful positions also hail, like Karzai, from the country's ethnic Pashtun majority.
If other disgruntled groups such as the Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks form a united front they could make life very difficult for the president, analysts say.
"It remains to be seen whether you will get any defined voting blocs other than splits along ethnic lines, but it could make it harder for Karzai to push through legislation on drugs if you have many drug barons elected," said a western expert working with candidates.
In the provinces, where more than 80 percent of the population are illiterate and many people still earn a living growing opium, making an informed choice will be difficult.
"I honestly can't see it changing," said a diplomat on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of his views. "Corruption and drugs reach to the highest levels of government.
"It took Thailand decades to wipe out opium. For Afghanistan it will be longer."
Karzai may also find it harder to reshuffle provincial governors around the country to stem corruption.
"You can dismiss people at will when you've appointed them, but it is a lot harder to do that when they have been elected by a popular mandate," said a western security expert.
Karzai urges terror fight rethink
By Andrew North / BBC News, Kabul / Tuesday, 13 September 2005
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says the US and other international forces need to reconsider their approach to bringing peace to Afghanistan.
Violence largely blamed on the Taleban has claimed at least 1,000 lives this year - the worst toll since 2001.
He said there had to be a focus on "the sources of terrorism" where extremists get their training and inspiration.
Many Afghans will interpret that as meaning neighbouring Pakistan, from where militants often launch attacks.
Pakistan, meanwhile, has offered to build a fence along the border with Afghanistan to prevent the movement of militants.
In an interview with the BBC, Mr Karzai said the US military strategy since the fall of the Taleban had not failed, in spite of the recent increase in violence.
But he warned: "We and the international community and the coalition must sit down and reconsider and rethink whether the approach to the defeat of terrorism that we have taken is the right one."
Mr Karzai then said: "I believe we have to go to the sources of it, where terrorists are trained, where terrorists are prompted up."
President Karzai denied his comment on the "sources of terrorism" was a reference to Pakistan, but his officials have said as much in the past.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri says his country has proposed building a fence along the border with Afghanistan to curb the movements of militants and drug smugglers.
Mr Kasuri told reporters in New York that the idea was put forward by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf during talks with the American Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.
He rejected accusations that Pakistan was not doing enough to clamp down on the Taleban and their allies.
President Karzai also rejected criticism that too many people regarded as warlords had been allowed to stand for parliamentary elections this weekend.
"Now we have the freedom to choose. If I consider somebody a criminal, I will not vote for him or her.
"The same can be done by every other Afghan. Therefore we must use our judgement and vote for the right person."
Mr Karzai also said he wished the international community had given more aid money for reconstruction over the past three-and-a-half years.
President Karzai said he was grateful for what Afghanistan had received, but said it could have been spent more effectively.
This could have been done, he said, "through more Afghan ownership, with more calculated application and in areas where Afghans thought best - for example, road building, electricity, agriculture".
His comments are a reflection of mounting complaints among Afghans about the slow pace of rebuilding.
However, many in the international community will dispute his argument that it would have been better to allow greater Afghan control of aid funds.
There are already widespread concerns about mounting corruption.
President Karzai has been Afghanistan's leader since late 2001, and its elected leader since last year.
Asked whether he wanted to run for office again when his current term expires in 2009, he said he did not know, but he did not think so.
It might be time, he said, for new and younger people to take over.
Afghan official says commanders let Osama escape
By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL (Reuters) - Osama bin Laden was provided safe passage to Pakistan in 2001 by Afghan commanders paid by al Qaeda and sympathetic to its cause, a senior Afghan official told Reuters on Wednesday.
Lutfullah Mashal, Afghanistan's Interior Ministry spokesman, said commanders helped the al Qaeda leader escape from the Tora Bora mountains as U.S. warplanes and Afghan forces attacked his hideout near the Pakistan border in late 2001.
"The help was provided because of monetary aid availed by al Qaeda and also partly because of ideological issues," Mashal said.
"Osama along with other al Qaeda people managed to go to Parachinar (in Pakistan) at the time and then Pakistani forces battled the al Qaeda runaways, killing around 70 of them," Mashal added, referring to an area in Pakistan's Kurram tribal agency.
He said commanders loyal to Maulvi Yunus Khalis had helped the al Qaeda leader escape. The whereabouts of Khalis, a top mujahideen leader from the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, is unknown.
Mashal told private Pakistani television channel Geo on Tuesday that U.S. forces made a mistake in entrusting the capture of bin Laden to Afghan commanders.
Mashal said he was present in the Tora Bora mountains during the December 2001 operation, and that while U.S. forces were not there in uniform, green berets in plain clothes, some disguised in Uzbek style dress were present.
He said that while 800 or 900 Arabs fled Tora Bora for Pakistan's Khyber tribal agency, senior al Qaeda leaders trekked across to Parachinar on foot, mule and horseback with the help of some Sulemankheil tribal elders.
Mashal said bin Laden later re-crossed the border to Khost where Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani gave him refuge, before returning to Pakistan, this time heading for Miranshah, the main town in another tribal agency, North Waziristan.
Mashal said he had gone to Pakistan himself, searching for bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri in camps of al Qaeda militants at Parachinar, Shawal, Daddakheil and Miranshah.
"I visited all the camps, where there were Chechens, Uzbeks, but I was not able to find clues about the whereabouts of Osama or al-Zawahri," he told Geo.
Mashal suspected the al Qaeda leader was still moving around Pakistan's tribal lands, guarded by Taliban and Arab fighters.
"His exact location is not clear for he changes his location and is on the move ... He is guarded by Haqqani's men and Yemenis."
U.S. officials have repeatedly said bin Laden, who has evaded a U.S.-led manhunt since the September 11, 2001, attacks, is probably still hiding in the rugged mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The United States invaded Afghanistan after the Taliban refused to hand over bin Laden, blamed for the attacks on U.S. cities, and overthrew the Taliban in late 2001.
London-based Arabic newspaper al-Hayat, quoting a U.S. officer in Afghanistan, said on Wednesday bin Laden was in poor health and was seeking medical attention.
Al-Hayat said it was not clear how the U.S. military had obtained its information or where it thought bin Laden might be.
Suspected Militants Kill Seven Afghans
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer Wed Sep 14, 6:43 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Suspected Taliban rebels fatally shot seven Afghans carrying voter registration cards just days ahead of landmark elections, a senior official said Wednesday.
The bodies of seven men were found in the central Afghan province of Uruzgan on Tuesday, along with the cards that entitle them to vote in Sunday's parliamentary and provincial elections.
Provincial Gov. Jan Mohammed Khan blamed Taliban rebels and said militants had launched similar attacks before last year's presidential elections.
"The Taliban are doing these terrorist activities and killing innocent Muslims. I don't know what kind of Muslims they are, finding voter cards and killing Muslims," Khan said.
He said police were investigating.
Supporters of the former ruling Taliban oppose the elections, the next key step in Afghanistan's transition to democracy after two decades of war.
Fighting has left more than 1,200 people dead in the past six months, including five candidates and four election workers.
The U.S. military and NATO peacekeepers have boosted their forces and say rebel threats won't stop the vote.
U.S.-led coalition and Afghan forces on Tuesday clashed with Taliban militants in the Shinkay district of the volatile southern province of Zabul, killing three suspected rebels and arresting another rebel who was injured in the fighting, said district chief Wazir Khan.
Meanwhile, suspected Taliban militants killed a man who worked for Afghan intelligence on Tuesday in Khake district of southern Zabul province, said district chief Ghulam Haider.
Ali Khail, spokesman for the Zabul governor, said coalition and Afghan forces had tightened security in the province ahead of the election and were checking every vehicle on the main road linking the capital Kabul and the main southern city of Kandahar.
In the eastern province of Nangahar, Afghan forces arrested five suspected militants, three of them Pakistanis, as they traveled in a car Tuesday through Khogyani district.
The army and police gave conflicting accounts of the arrests.
Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammed Saher Azimi said the men were posing as journalists and had explosives hidden inside cameras along with a remote control device.
However, the Nangahar police chief, Khalil Ziay, said the men, two Afghans and three Pakistanis, claimed to be businessmen on a trip to sell chewing gum. He said the men had three cameras, but denied explosives were found inside.
Four years ago, Ahmed Shah Masood, the head of the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance that fought the former ruling Taliban regime, was killed by two suspected al-Qaida assassins posing as journalists who had planted explosives inside a camera.
Associated Press writer Amir Shah in Kabul contributed to this report.
European NATO allies resist tougher Afghan role
By Mark John
BERLIN (Reuters) - NATO vowed on Wednesday to push ahead with a planned expansion of peacekeeping in Afghanistan but several European countries rejected a U.S. call to join in combat against the Taliban-led insurgency.
A U.S.-led coalition bears the brunt of the insurgency at the moment and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told NATO allies at a meeting in Berlin they should lend more help after Sunday's crucial parliamentary elections. U.S. officials cited a desire to cut U.S. troop numbers there when possible.
But France and Spain insisted NATO's peacekeeping duties should remain distinct from the 20,000-strong U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), largely focused in the south and east.
"These missions must remain separate with separate chains of command. The only thing they have in common are that they are in the same country," said Spanish Defense Minister Jose Bono Martinez, echoing the view of France's Michele Alliot-Marie.
German Defense Minister Peter Struck also expressed reservations.
"I would not like to expose our soldiers to more danger by linking these two mandates," he told German radio.
Earlier Rumsfeld told reporters "it would be nice if NATO developed counter-terrorist capabilities" and suggested NATO also had a role in combating the huge Afghan drugs trade.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer acknowledged differences about how NATO should function alongside the OEF but insisted the alliance would continue expanding its presence.
"The foundation for synergies is there and in that respect I am optimistic," he told a news conference.
U.S. TROOP CUTS?
OEF has been fighting in Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion to oust its Taliban former rulers. NATO took charge of the UN-mandated ISAF stabilization mission two years later.
Ahead of elections where security is a top concern, NATO has raised its presence to 10,000 peacekeepers in the capital Kabul, the north and the western part of Afghanistan. Next year it wants to expand into the more dangerous south and east.
The reservations of France, Germany and Spain need not hold up those expansion plans. Britain is leading moves to expand ISAF to the south early next year, with Canada and the Netherlands also having committed troops there.
British Defense Secretary John Reid said their primary role would not be to hunt Taliban fighters but insisted NATO had to be ready to fight insurgents where they found them.
"It has to have forces which are not paper forces," he told reporters after talks with Rumsfeld.
NATO's expansion would allow the United States, whose forces are stretched in Iraq, to consider cutting its troop levels.
Asked to comment on a New York Times report that Washington was studying plans to cut some 4,000 troops early next year, a Pentagon spokesman said no such proposal had been made to Rumsfeld but acknowledged a desire to cut troop levels.
"As NATO expands its responsibilities, as the Afghan national army gets more capable, there is obvious desire to see a reduction over time (in U.S. troop levels)," a Pentagon spokesman said in Berlin.
Faced with European resistance, the United States has given up for now its push for an overall merger of ISAF with the OEF mission. NATO has proposed other models for cooperation between the two when their forces inevitably meet in the south and east.
(Additional reporting by Will Dunham and Sabine Siebold)
Rumsfeld Seeks NATO Role in Afghanistan
By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press / September 13, 2005
BERLIN - Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday he hopes NATO will eventually be able to take over counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan currently being handled by coalition forces, allowing the United States to reduce its forces there. But he acknowledged it will be a difficult task and did not suggest a timetable.
Speaking to reporters as he prepared to attend a meeting of NATO defense ministers, Rumsfeld said NATO's move to take on a larger role in Afghanistan — including drug interdiction — will be a key topic of discussion.
"Over time it would be nice if NATO would develop counterterrorist capabilities which don't exist at the current time," he said. "That probably will be the last piece they take."
He declined to comment, however, on comments made by some Social Democratic leaders in Germany who said they would oppose merging NATO's peacekeeping mission with the combat operations. German elections are this weekend, and he said he did not want to wade into German election politics.
Rumsfeld also said he will urge his defense counterparts to find ways to increase both the military flexibility and the common funding for NATO.
A problem, though, is that a number of countries put various limits on the military activity, such as limits on where they can go or what type of combat force they can use.
Rumsfeld declined to single out countries with restrictions that posed problems for the NATO forces. But he said there are 17 pages of various constitutional, statutory and other edicts that limit where troops can go and what they can do, including whether they can perform only humanitarian functions, or if they can fire without first being fired upon.
"Different restrictions on national forces makes it enormously difficult for commanders to have the flexibility to function," said Rumsfeld.
In addition, he said an increase in funding reserves is needed because some of the smaller countries have lower defense budgets or must plan their spending so far in advance that it makes it difficult for them to respond quickly to changing military needs.
Rumsfeld said he hopes that changes in the structure of NATO will eventually allow the alliance to reduce some of its forces in Kosovo.
NATO has 11,000 mostly European troops providing security in northern and western Afghanistan, while around 19,000 U.S.-led troops cover the south and east.
Plans are for NATO to slowly expand its peacekeeping role, and eventually take primary responsibility for security in the country. Thirty-five countries have troops in Afghanistan, including a number of non-NATO nations.
Rumsfeld plans to meet privately with several of his colleagues over the next two days, including Britain's defense minister, John Reid.
Afghanistan's elections come four years after the U.S. invaded the country to overthrow the Taliban. Insurgents, however, have vowed to disrupt the balloting.
Under the NATO plan, German troops will take the lead role in the north, Italians in the west, British in the south and Americans under NATO command in the east. French and Turkish troops will lead in Kabul — working alongside Afghanistan's fledgling army and police.
Britain says more troops needed in Afghanistan
Source: Deutsche Presse Agentur (DPA) / September 13, 2005
London (dpa) - British Defence Secretary John Reid called Tuesday for several thousand additional NATO troops to be deployed in Afghanistan.
Reid suggested that the extra troops would be needed as NATO expands the geographical coverage of its ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) operation in the country.
The Defence Secretary stressed that they would be drawn from several contributing countries, not just Britain.
He told a briefing of journalists at the Ministry of Defence in London that from next April, NATO forces would be moved from their present locations in the north of the country to a new base in Helmand province in the south.
The minister acknowledged that the deployment would be hazardous. "The Taliban are still active in the area. So are drug traffickers. We must be prepared to support, even defend, the provincial reconstruction team,'' he said.
His remarks came after Afghan President Hamid Karzai, in an interview with BBC television Tuesday, urged the United States and international forces to reconsider their approach to bringing peace to Afghanistan.
In the interview, Karzai said there needed to be a focus on "the sources of terrorism'' from where extremists received their training and inspiration.
The BBC said many Afghans would interpret his remarks as being directed at neighbouring Pakistan, from where militants frequently launch attacks.
Violence largely blamed on the Taliban has claimed at least 1,000 lives this year - the worst toll since 2001.
However, Karzai said the U.S. military strategy since the fall of the Taliban had not failed, in spite of the recent increase in violence.
But he warned: "We and the international community and the coalition must sit down and reconsider and rethink whether the approach to the defeat of terrorism that we have taken is the right one.'' dpa at sc
Will Pakistan really fence off Afghan border?
Wed Sep 14, 3:36 AM ET
ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Critics say it is too costly to be practical and just Pakistan's way of deflecting attention from a failure to crack down on Al-Qaeda and Taliban rebels.
But Pakistan insists it is deadly serious about a proposal to erect a huge fence along parts of its rugged and highly porous 2,400-kilometer (1,500-mile) border with Afghanistan.
President Pervez Musharraf, a key US ally, floated the idea for the barrier during a meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in New York on Monday.
The proposal follows months of fingerpointing by Afghan and US officials at Pakistan's alleged failure to rein in militants operating from its lawless tribal areas.
The criticism has become stronger due to an upsurge in violence in areas near the Pakistani border in the run up to Afghanistan's parliamentary polls on Sunday. The country's ousted Taliban rulers have vowed to disrupt the poll.
"We believe this is a good idea and it would help the situation and allay the concerns of our Afghan brothers," Pakistan's foreign ministry spokesman Naeem Khan told AFP.
"We have proposed that at least some portion of the border where there are high chances of inflitration could be fenced to check illegal crossing," he said.
A top interior ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to discuss the issue, was even more forthright and gave details about how the plan would work.
"We are very serious about this proposal. We mean business and this is the best way to address Afghanistan's concerns," he said.
"We can build the fence in sensitive areas first and later expand it. We can run electricity in the fence, like the Indians have done on the Line of Control in Kashmir."
Musharraf aired the fence idea on the same day as 4,000 Pakistani troops and helicopter gunships raided an alleged Al-Qaeda hideout in the North Waziristan tribal zone. A huge cache of arms and 21 suspected militants were seized.
But while Pakistan is keen to show its commitment, Kabul's first reaction to the proposal was unfavourable -- mainly because of a dispute over the Durand Line, a boundary between the countries drawn during British colonial rule.
Before talking about building a fence, the two countries should first address "border issues," Afghan interior ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal said in Kabul.
"In some areas Pakistani troops have crossed the border five to 10 kilometers (three to six miles) inside Afghanistan," Mashal said.
Afghan foreign ministry spokesman Naved Moiez said the fence would not stop infiltration. "If Pakistan wants to stop terrorism they should root out terrorists inside Pakistan -- a fence is useless," he said.
Pakistan would not be the first country to rely on a fence for security.
Israel has built a controversial West Bank barrier, while Pakistan's long-term rival India constructed a near 1,000-kilometre (600-mile) fence marking off New Delhi's sector of the disputed territory of Kashmir.
But analysts say Pakistan's proposal is mainly a way of deflecting criticism.
Musharraf's offer "is aimed at addressing continuing international concern that the Taliban remnants are using Pakistani tribal areas to foment trouble in Afghanistan," said Rifaat Hussain, director at the Regional Institute of Strategic Studies in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo.
Analysts say a Pakistan-Afghanistan border fence could never stop cross-border movement without sophisticated sensors, electronic barriers and a strong guard.
This would also make the project prohibitively costly, especially as Pakistan's military is directing extra resources to Washington's "war on terror".
Defence analyst and retired army general Talat Masood told AFP Musharraf's suggestion was "more metaphorical rather than actual. But it shows the extent to which Pakistan is pushed at this point."
Kabul Scorns Musharraf's Proposal to Fence Pak-Afghan Border
Wednesday September 14, 7:59 AM
KABUL, Sept 14 Asia Pulse - The Afghan government Tuesday rejected a proposal floated by Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf for fencing the Pak-Afghan border.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal said the two countries should first demarcate the border under the international law before talking of its fencing.
Speaking to Pajhwok Afghan News, Mashal said Pakistani security posts in the Ghulam Khan, Zazai and Babrak Tana areas had partially been built in Afghan territory.
"Afghans will never accept the proposal before demarcation of the border," he added.
The Pakistani leader suggested the construction of a security fence to end recriminations between the two countries over cross-border militant movement.
Musharraf, who is the United States' close ally in the global war on terror and who helped the world super power in overthrowing the Taliban regime in Kabul in 2001, floated the suggestion during his meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington on Monday.
Mashal suggested the formation of a joint commission comprising experts both from Pakistan and Afghanistan to demarcate the 2,400-kilometre border stretching between the two countries.
He lauded Pakistan's cooperation during the Afghan presidential elections last year and hoped the neighbour would demonstrate the same gesture during the September 18 parliamentary polls.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Navid Ahmad Maez when approached for comments, said no formal contact had been made with the Afghan government on the fencing issue.
Calling it mere a suggestion, Maez said the two neighbours enjoyed cordial bonds and the fencing would create problems for the people of both the countries.
(Pajhwok Afghan News)
Russian, Afghan foreign ministers discuss military assistance
09:25 | 14/ 09/ 2005
NEW YORK, September 14 (RIA Novosti) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with his Afghan counterpart Dr. Abdullah Abdullah in New York Wednesday to discuss Russia's military assistance to the country, a ministry spokesman said.
"The Russian side has confirmed its readiness to provide [further] military assistance to Afghanistan, including in personnel training and military equipment supplies," Mikhail Kamynin said.
Ivanov and Abdullah also discussed arrangements for the upcoming parliamentary elections in Afghanistan, scheduled for Sept. 18, and said the elections would "bring stability to the country."
Afghans protest over candidate's disqualification
Tuesday September 13, 4:58 PM
KABUL (Reuters) - About 100 Afghans held a noisy protest on Tuesday to denounce the disqualification of a candidate from Sunday's elections because of his links to an armed faction.
Afghanistan is struggling to establish political stability after 25 years of conflict, and election rules say candidates cannot have links to factional fighters or have been convicted of human rights crimes.
Qumandan Didar, a former fighter with mujahideen holy warrior forces who defeated Soviet occupiers in the 1980s, is one of 21 candidates to have been disqualified for links to illegal armed groups.
Didar's supporters rallied in front of the Electoral Complaints Commission, which disqualified him on Monday, to vent their anger.
"We want him to be a candidate," said Didar's campaign manager, Mohammad Nasir.
"If they don't accept our demands we will create violence," he said as he and the other protesters set off for the joint Afghan-U.N. election commission.
Afghanistan holds national assembly and provincial elections on Sunday, and will then have an elected president and parliament for the first time in its history.
US releases former Taleban envoy
Monday, 12 September 2005 BBC News
The former Taleban ambassador to Pakistan has been released after four years at the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
Afghan TV showed Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef being received by the head of the Afghan Peace and Reconciliation Commission, Sibghatullah Mujaddedi.
Mr Zaeef held senior positions in the Taleban government before it was driven from power in 2001 by US forces.
Before his arrest he had become the public voice of the embattled Taleban.
His release comes ahead of parliamentary elections in Afghanistan on Sunday.
Some months ago, Mr Mojaddedi offered to extend a government amnesty to former Taleban leaders.
Last month Afghan and US officials said Afghans held at Guantanamo would gradually be repatriated and put in the custody of the Afghan government.
Ghazni's Formidable Females
Lack of security and opposition from family members are minor obstacles to some of the candidates standing for parliament in a staunchly conservative region.
By Wahidullah Amani in Ghazni (ARR No. 186, 12-Sep-05) Institute for War & Peace Reporting
The women parliamentary candidates of Ghazni province really are quite special. One, Hosai Andar, travels fearlessly to the remotes regions and swears that even al-Qaeda supporters will vote for her.
Another, Rahila Kobra Alamshahi, found two tiny children living alone in a container, scouring rubbish bins for food. She took them home with her – permanently. And a third, Kobra Sadat, hid her candidacy from her husband, who hit the roof when he found out but eventually realised he couldn't win, so he joined her campaign.
While female candidates, as elsewhere in this male-dominated country, are in the minority in this province southwest of Kabul, there are enough of them to make their mark.
Twelve women and 119 men are competing for the province's 11 seats in parliament, with three of the seats specifically reserved for women. There are nine women among the 123 candidates chasing 19 seats on the provincial council, where five places are allocated to women.
"I feel proud that my al-Qaeda brothers have assured me that they will cast their vote for me," said Andar, who sounded quite plausible when she told IWPR she was not afraid of anyone.
She smiles when asked about lack of security in the province, something other candidates confess prevents them travelling to many areas. According to Hosai, she has no problems with security, despite the fact that she is utterly opposed to the warlords who still control parts of the province.
While security may not be a problem to Andar, it is for at least one of her male rivals, Ali Asghar Hakimi. "There are lots of places in Ghazni province that I can’t go and launch my campaign, because it could cost me my life - which is more than any campaign is worth," said Hakimi, adding with irreproachable logic, "If I got killed during the campaign then I wouldn’t be able to serve in parliament."
Andar seems serene when she considers the same security challenges. "My motto is civility, and if I can find my way into parliament I will get rid of all the warlords," she said.
One of her rivals for parliament, Alamshahi, is an economist who has set up her headquarters in a two-room modern apartment on a dusty, smoke-polluted road in Ghazni city.
Rented for 160 US dollars, the apartment is luxuriously furnished, with elegant curtains and a beautiful Iranian rug on the floor. In one corner stands a 21-inch colour television. The walls are adorned with Alamshahi’s photographs and campaign slogans such as "Parliament is the House of the Nation".
The candidate, joined in the room by 10 men who make up part of her campaign team, talked about some of the problems facing the nation, such as the homeless and abandoned children she encountered. She explained why she decided to take two little girls – Sausan, aged about four, and Nilofar, about six - home with her after finding them living alone on the streets of Kabul.
"These two girls were living in a container. During the day they used to search through boxes of rubbish to find rotten fruit, which they ate and survived on," she said.
Alamshahi says her two girls exemplify the plight of the many others in Afghanistan who live in appalling conditions, "This is why I decided to try for parliament - so that I can work to help these sorts of children.
"I am taking care of these two as a mother, and I will be their mother as long as I am alive.”
Her major problem on the campaign trail has been accusations that she is a Christian.
"Other candidates spread rumours that I am American and a follower of Christianity, so people shouldn’t vote for me," she said. "Afterwards, I go back to people and swear that I am a Muslim, and that they [rivals] are lying when they say I’m not.”
Alamshahi, who is a Shia and spent 27 years living in Iran, said she felt insecure in areas dominated by Pashtuns, who are mostly Sunnis, and unable to go there. She also said some parts of the province were not safe because of the presence of the Taleban.
The first election battle that Kobra Sadat won was at home. She worked secretly to get registered, and only told her husband she was a candidate once her name had been added to the list.
"I finished all the mandatory work with the help of my son, who is 18. It was all hidden from my husband because he wouldn’t give me permission to stand for parliament," she said. “I had discussed it with him before, but he’d said that everyone who knew him would insult him and demand to know why his wife was standing.”
Sadat’s husband reacted predictably when he found out. “He told me I should get my name struck off the candidate list before people heard about it. I did not agree to do so," she said.
After many struggles and with the help of her husband's family, Sadat finally succeeded in changing his mind and even winning his support.
"Now my husband is helping me in my campaign and is urging people to cast their vote for his wife," she said with a smile. Her only problem now is lack of money for campaigning. So far, she has spent only 3,500 afghanis, about 700 US dollars, on the contest.
But she adds optimistically, "People know the difference between good and bad, and there’s therefore no need to spend more money."
She may be right, but it is not a philosophy shared by everyone.
Sayed Hamidullah Hashemi, a male candidate for parliament, has spent 12,000 dollars on having some 58,000 posters and flyers printed in Iran to help his campaign. Some of the posters bearing his photograph are 2.5 metres high by 1.5 metres wide and can be seen from far away.
But like other candidates, he complains about rivals' supporters defacing his posters, "I’ve pasted up about 5,000 posters in Ghazni city, and at present there are only 800 of them left, with most of the rest torn down by supporters of other candidates.”
Wahidullah Amani is an IWPR reporter in Kabul.
Campaign Adverts Swamp Capital
It seems that if anything remains still for a moment, an election poster will be plastered on it.
By Amanullah Nasrat in Kabul (ARR No. 186, 12-Sep-05) Institute for War & Peace Reporting
They are everywhere, a new phenomenon in every city, town and village in Afghanistan. Pasted on walls and shops, they also cover traffic signs, lurk high in tree branches, obscure the doors to people's homes, and reduce drivers' vision as they block car windows.
And as fast as some go up, others are torn down or defaced. There is a childish touch of humour in the moustaches and beards added to the faces of women staring out stolidly at passers-by.
They are the posters for parliamentary and provincial council candidates standing in the September 18 elections – an avalanche of paper that outdoes even last October's presidential campaign. That election was contested by 18 candidates; these ones involve 6,000, with some 400 standing in Kabul alone.
Some of the posters in the capital are huge and visible from hundreds of metres away. One in particular has drawn the crowds, who stand gaping. Its contents are no great attraction; it is the sheer novelty of an electronic billboard which changes every five seconds.
As the city disappears under a wave of wannabe politicians' faces, many observers believe the spending has gone mad, making a joke of the limits imposed by the Joint Election Management Body, JEMB.
Each parliamentary candidate is allowed 750,000 afghanis (about 15,000 US dollars) and each provincial candidate 375,000 afghanis (about 7,600 dollars).
Kabul’s city authorities are despairing. Senior official Mohammad Asef Akbari said they had allocated specific places for posters in 18 districts of the city and had passed the details to the election commission. But no one took any notice.
“We can’t do anything now. I guess that they will even paste their posters up on people’s coats,” he said wryly.
If candidates do spend too much, it doesn't seem to matter, at least for the moment. Complaints commission member Farid Hamidi confirms that going over the cash limit is against the election law and that the body has received complaints.
But he acknowledges that they have not decided what to do about them, and adds, “The punishment for candidates who contravene the election law is still not clear.”
The novelty of the electronic poster has also ensured that it has drawn debate on its likely cost. Located in Pul-e-Bagh-e-Umumi, in the heart of Kabul city, it switches every five seconds between different pictures of candidate Mohammad Younus Qanuni, who is now running for parliament after coming a distant second in the presidential contest.
One man carefully studying the repetitive shots wondered aloud about the cost. “Posters like this show that the candidates are overspending and are most likely breaking the campaigning law. He [Qanuni] would probably have spent thousands of dollars on this poster," commented Abbas Ghiasi.
"What will the candidates do in future when they get access to the government and its treasury? If all the candidates are overspending on posters, what will be the future of parliament and this poor nation?”
Qanuni told IWPR he was not overspending on posters - electronic or otherwise - despite the fact it is impossible to avoid his face, smiling at voters throughout the city.
"I completely reject this; it’s propaganda by my rivals against me," he said, adding that he had no idea how much money had gone into promoting his quest for votes and that the question should go to his campaign manager.
In turn, he charged that some other candidates, who were holding parties and feeding people to try to win support, must be overspending.
"I haven't been feeding anybody or throwing parties, and the cost of the electronic sign has been paid for by an Afghan businessman named Engineer Atiq," he said.
Qanuni’s campaign manager, Ali Yar, refuses to say what the electronic billboard cost or how much they have spent in total, "The campaign is still going on, so we can’t give you any information on how much we’ve spent so far.”
The state-run Afghan Elanat, Afghan Advertisements, which was responsible for the electronic sign, was also coy. "We cannot give anyone information about these contracts," said Mohammad Rafi, a senior official there.
Engineer Maullah Gul is one parliamentary candidate in Kabul who says some of his rivals are spending too much. “Some candidates are spending 1,000 dollars a day inviting people out to eat,” he said.
So far, he has spent 6,000 dollars on his campaign. That includes 10,000 printed posters, but he says 80 per cent of them have been torn down and he cannot afford to replace them.
Fatehullah Albari, another parliamentary candidate in the capital, has had 3,000 coloured posters printed so far and insists that some people are spending far more on their campaigns, "There are some who have spent twice as much money as the limit set by the JEMB.”
As torn posters flap in the wind, interior ministry press officer Raz Mohammad Rasa told the IWPR reporter that candidates had the right to paste up placards anywhere, whether owned by the government or not.
He said there was no punishment laid down for those who tear them down, “If a candidate complains to us that his posters are being torn down, then we will look into the matter."
Qiamuddin, a 37-year-old Kabul resident, said those who destroyed or defaced others' posters showed no respect for each other and could hardly be expected to respect the nation and its people.
“I think a boxing or wrestling ring should be set up for them in parliament because most of them are local commanders and they will make parliament into a battlefield,” he commented.
Wakil Gul Agha, competing for one of Kabul's 33 parliamentary seats, believes he has little chance. He bemoans the state of his posters, saying he had not been able to print good quality ones to compete with those of rich candidates, many of whom must have overspent.
“People are going for those candidates who have printed good and expensive posters. No one cares about the poor and weak candidates,” he said.
At the Ahmadi printing shop on Sadarat crossroads, 18 people are working flat out on eight machines, churning out posters for the poll. The boss, Haji Sayed Ahmad, was working alongside, able only to spare two minutes to talk.
Speaking of printing costs, he said one A4-size flyer costs around eight afghanis (15 US cents) although this depends on the quality of the paper. The other popular size, A2, goes for 10 afghanis. The print shop charges 10 dollars for working out a design.
“There are some candidates for whom we have printed 1,000 posters and there are some other rich ones who have had 50,000 posters done, which cost them 8,000 dollars,” said Sayed Ahmad.
Outside, away from the clatter of printing presses, one passer-by casting a jaundiced eye on a wall festooned with posters asked simply, "Who is going to clear up this mess?"
Amanullah Nasrat is an IWPR reporter in Kabul.
Afghanistan Needs US$233 MLN to Resolve Health Problems: Min
Wednesday September 14, 2:19 PM
KABUL, Sept 14 Asia Pulse - Afghanistan will need US$233 million to cope with health problems during the next five years.
Addressing a press conference here after his arrival from a 13-day visit to the United States, Health Minister Syed Mohamamd Fatemi said arresting the rising child and mother mortality rate was the main challenge before the government besides provision of other facilities to the people.
The minister said the United States had assured him of establishing centres for emergency cases like victims of burn injuries in Afghanistan. A delegation would soon visit the war- ravaged country to assess ways and means how to help the disabled.
Fatemi added the US government also pledged to construct a separate hostel for medical students of the Kabul University and provide anti-meningitis vaccines to be administered to pilgrims.
(Pajhwok Afghan News)
New road opens in Afghanistan
U.S.-led project is first paved road in Paktika province
Stars and Stripes Mideast edition, Tuesday, September 13, 2005
It runs for less than two miles, and it’s made of cobblestones, but U.S. and Afghan officials have already dubbed it “The Road of the Future.”
The first paved road in Paktika province, an impoverished area that has seen its share of violence in post-Taliban Afghanistan, was officially opened over the weekend with a parade of Afghan soldiers and citizens.
The road runs from an archway built near the entrance of the town of Orgun-E, with U.S. officials saying the construction project serves as a “visible symbol of the improving quality of life and infrastructure” in the province.
“What makes this road special is the fact that it was built by the sweat and hard labor of proud Afghan workers,” Col. Patrick Donahue, 1st Battalion, 82nd Airborne commander, said in a military release.
Donahue attended the opening ceremony with Lt. Col. Timothy McGuire, 1st Battalion, 508th Airborne commander. The two units have been responsible for security in the region. Orgun-E lies along Afghanistan’s porous mountain border with Pakistan; U.S. and Afghan officials have long said Taliban and other fighters have sought refuge in the area straddling the border.
In the run-up to Afghanistan’s Sept. 18 elections, violence has flared. More than 1,000 Afghans have been killed so far this year, already roughly 200 more than in all of 2004. More than 75 U.S. troops have died so far this year, along with scores of Afghan military and police.
U.S. officials said that, in the short term, the road would help Afghans near Orgun-E get to polling sites. In the long run, they said, improved roads will help jump-start Afghan commerce and improve the ability of local security forces to patrol the area.
The road project, which cost $200,000, put around 100 Afghan laborers to work for three months, officials said.
Afghanistan: Breathtaking, Way Off the Beaten Track and Open for Travel
Tourism Gains with Improving Stability Press Release / Source: Source: China Productions / Tuesday September 13, 5:08 am ET
HONG KONG, Sept. 13 /PRNewswire/ -- "Though Afghanistan's south remains dangerous, in the north and west one can see breathtaking landscapes and cultural treasures. Among them: Kabul; Bamiyan; Balkh, terminus of the Silk Road where Alexander the Great married; and Herat, site of ancient architecture and the contemporary Literary Circle where women organized to study, defying the Taliban." So says Matthew Leeming, who has visited Afghanistan regularly since 1993, and who set up the first tour company for Afghanistan in 2002.
In hopes of introducing his beloved, wild land to more people, the adventurous Leeming teamed up with a fellow Oxfordian -- Bijan Omrani, who loves sitting in libraries -- to deliver the definitive guide to Afghanistan. Where Leeming's nomadic exploits give us practical information, Omrani's meticulous history -- along with 307 photographs -- tempts us to make the trip. In writing Afghanistan: A Companion and Guide, (Odyssey Publications, $29.95), available online and in bookstores, Omrani dug deep into source materials in French, German, English, Arabic, Greek, Latin and Farsi.
Having combed 3,500 years of Afghan history, Omrani summarizes, "Afghanistan is where many of the world's great empires -- the Persians, the Moghuls, the British and the Soviet Union -- were first violently challenged, in fact put onto the path of total defeat. Afghanistan must be self-governing. There is hope that this great wilderness may, through continued contact with civil society, be nurtured on its current path to stability and self-sufficiency."
In the foreword by Hamid Karzai, elected President of Afghanistan: "As peace returns with the establishment of democracy and the rule of law, visitors are beginning to re-discover the snow-capped mountains ... the rivers and glaciers ... the wondrous treasures of the Kabul Museum."
Of the tourist trade, Leeming says, "Though Afghanistan remains essentially untamed, it's becoming easier to get around. An octogenarian English couple and a group of retirement age trekkers from Hong Kong have just made separate voyages through the north. While logistics, the lodges and the chaikhanas (tea houses) are improving, the wildlife, the trekking and the people remain simply incredible."
Afghanistan's infotainment revolution, thanks to India
By Gurinder Randhawa / NewKerala.com, India / September 13, 2005
Kabul: The hills of Afghanistan are resounding with Indian film songs and more than two-thirds of songs broadcast are from Hindi films. The dozen-odd cinema halls in the capital screen Hindi films daily, all shows.
As a result, Bollywood stars are household names in Afghanistan. Afghans follow Indian cinema so passionately that people voluntarily shut all mobile telephones for 10 minutes to mourn the demise of actor Amrish Puri earlier this year.
From a total gag on information and entertainment during the oppressive Taliban days, Afghanistan is today witnessing a communication and entertainment revolution. And Indian assistance is being seen as a crucial factor in helping Afghanistan evolve a knowledge-based society.
Every third person now carries a mobile phone and the landline network is expanding fast, alongside the introduction of wireless telephones and Internet services.
"The Afghan government and the people can never forget the Indian help in restoring totally destroyed infrastructure for information dissemination by providing both hardware and training to our producers, artistes, choreographers and journalists in India," Afghanistan's Information and Culture Minister Makhdom Rahin told IANS.
"We did not have even simple musical instruments like harmonium, tabla and sitar since they all were destroyed by the Taliban. Even the ceremonial band of the president's guard had to be provided with musical instruments by the Indian government," he added.
As a part of the $550 million reconstruction assistance provided by New Delhi to Kabul, India has set up a new earth station at the Afghanistan Radio and TV Centre here and provided a free transponder on the INSAT-3-A to transmit Kabul TV signals to 10 provincial TV centres where Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Ltd. (BECIL) have installed downlink facilities.
The remaining 23 provinces will soon get the facility with the completion of the downlink set up as a part of the $550 million reconstruction assistance provided by India to Afghanistan.
"Uplink and downlink facilities executed by India will bring the country together like nothing before," said Abdul Rehman Panjshiri, director of international relations at the Afghan Radio and TV.
"The 100-KW short-wave transmitter with seven antennas being installed by India at Yakatoot in Kabul is being completed this month. It will enable Kabul Radio programmes to be heard in South East Asia, South Asia, Africa and Europe.
"The people in remote areas in Afghanistan who remain cut off during the harsh winter months will now be able to follow the happenings in Kabul and other areas of the country through the programmes beamed on this short-wave transmitter," Panjshiri added.
BECIL has also set up a full-fledged TV studio with ultra-modern facilities at the Jalalabad TV centre to produce quality programmes and local news and encourage talent of Nangarhar and neighbouring provinces of Kunar, Nooristan and Loghar.
India is also replacing the existing low power TV transmitter in Jalalabad by a high power one with a 1,000-watt capacity, which will enhance the signal quality and enlarge the TV coverage area enormously.
TV relay stations are also being set up there to extend coverage to the shadow areas in the second most populated province after Kabul.
A memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the two countries provides for setting up a film academy with India's support and training for Afghan nationals in Indian academies in script writing, cinematography, editing and sound recording.
The pact also aims at providing free flow of information, newspapers, periodicals, books and other publications, besides facilitating movement of journalists, increased cooperation among news agencies and holding of regular conferences of editors and working journalists of two countries.
The government-level cooperation is reflected in the private sector, too, as four private TV channels and a number of FM radio stations source their content from India's private producers in the entertainment sector.
Afghan women rally for change behind closed doors
By Terry Friel Wed Sep 14, 3:25 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A pick-up van crammed with a dozen or so Afghan women, covered head-to-toe in burqas of black, blue or green, pulls up on the edge of the dusty street and they troop single file into a basement.
They have come to join a few dozen others for a women's only campaign meeting in the conservative southern city of Kandahar, once the Taliban heartland, to decide who to vote for in Sunday's parliamentary election, the first since 1969.
In the dark basement, the air thick with a mix of perfumes, Fariba Ahmadi urges them to vote for her, offering to be their voice in the new 249-seat parliament and promising education, water, electricity and peace in a country ravaged by war.
"We have to make our country. If we don't want to make our country, no one can," she says, wearing a long black-and-grey pinstriped coat with matching slacks, her black headscarf pulled back off her hair.
Sixty-eight seats have been set aside for women in the 249-member Wolesi Jirga, or House of the People, but in deeply conservative Muslim Afghanistan where many women still live behind the purdah, that does not make it easier.
One morning as she left home recently, Ahmadi found a letter on the front door. Pull out or die, it said.
The school teacher shrugs it off: "I am not afraid."
When the hardline Taliban seized power in 1996 they imposed conservative, tribal village codes of conduct across Afghanistan.
Women were forced to wear burqas, confined to their homes and beaten if discovered outside without a male relative.
The Taliban were swept from power by U.S.-led forces in 2001 for refusing to hand over al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, architect of the September 11 attacks on U.S. cities. Now, several hundred women are standing in the elections.
In a basement in the home of one of Ahmadi's supporters, the women sit cross-legged on a soft red carpet, the popping of soft drink cans punctuating a lively meeting, part open discussion, part question-and-answer and part campaign speech.
Some women have lifted their veils, others still hold them across their faces in the presence of a male reporter.
The government should do more for widows, says an elderly woman who recently returned after fleeing to Iran when her husband was killed. What about roads? Asks another; why is Afghanistan so much worse than Iran? asks another returnee. The discussion goes back and forth over politics and problems.
Despite the dangers involved in this campaign, the women here are not scared.
"We are making our future. Why should we be afraid?" asks Aziza Karima, who has just come back from Iran. "If we are afraid, we cannot make our future, we should just sit at home."
Ahmadi spent years working with agencies helping women.
"I think if I go to the parliament I can do more for women than this," she explains when asked why she is taking the risk of running for parliament.
NO QUICK FIX
But Ahmadi cautions there are no quick fixes in a nation where infrastructure has been battered by war and millions still live without reliable water or power and rancid open sewers run through the streets of a provincial capital such as Kandahar.
"We cannot solve our problems in one day," she tells the women, who range from teenagers to the elderly.
"It must be day-by-day, month-by-month, year-by-year."
"First, we must open men's minds. They are not letting their women get an education. Without education, we cannot ... solve the problems of life. With education, we can solve everything."
Education is Ahmadi's driving priority. About 80 percent of Afghanistan's women are illiterate, compared with half its men.
Ahmadi sees the polls as a positive step, but one step on a long journey. She says too many of the 5,800 candidates are former fighters -- mujahideen or Taliban -- or linked to the powerful drugs trade.
"I don't think that this parliament will make Afghanistan," she says. "All of them were fighters before. If they win, then Afghanistan will again be in darkness."
But despite the opposition to women joining politics among some conservatives, many support the change sweeping one of the world's most ancient societies.
Asked what he thinks of women in politics, 18-year-old Ahmad Jan smiles at his scarf stall in Kandahar's chaotic main bazaar.
"No problem," he says. "I like women better than men."
Afghan father sets high price for sons killed in U.S. accident
He invokes Shariah code for compensation that no American commander could grant
Ian Klaus, San Francisco Chronicle - Sep 14 3:43 AM
Bawraganah, Afghanistan -- In a desolate mountain region north of Kandahar, eight American soldiers traveled to the village of Bawraganah in a convoy of condolence.
Three days earlier, two Afghan brothers had been killed in a collision between a U.S. Army truck and their motorcycle. The soldiers, dressed in body armor, arrived in armored humvees laden with 50-caliber machine guns and automatic grenade launchers. That's the way it is when you're trying to be respectful in an area where some people are trying to kill you.
A road the Americans are building will cut the trip from Kandahar to Tarin Kowt from eight hours to three, offering the promise of increased security and commerce for people in the region. But in the dust of evening winds, as a speeding motorcycle and a construction truck converged, the road also brought death to two young brothers.
It was, according to both U.S. officials and local villagers, a tragic accident. What happened in the wake of the accident, however, underscores the soldiers' larger mission in Afghanistan and the difficulty of leaving a light footprint when driving heavy vehicles and carrying big guns in someone else's country.
The U.S. Army maintains a special fund for condolence payments after accidental deaths, even when, as in this case, the military is not at fault. Generally, in consultation with the government in Kabul, the commanding officer of the task force or battalion decides what would be a reasonable gesture of sorrow. Afghan culture also provides guidelines for such accidents, allowing the survivors to choose between either Muslim Shariah law or Pashtun tradition.
On a Monday evening, in a small mud home lined with pink and purple pillows, the Americans and the dead boys' family members sat down together to try to agree on a just compensation.
Haji Abdul Wahid, the bereaved father, along with the boys' grandfather and three uncles, joined three American soldiers for the meeting. Gen. Shir Agha, a local warlord (and former Taliban supporter) who now provides the U.S. military in this area with additional security, served as mediator.
Capt. Elliot Bird of the Army's 864th Engineer Combat Battalion, out of Fort Lewis, Wash., spoke first and expressed his sincere regrets for the deaths. He spoke for his battalion, for his country and, in a very honest way, for himself as well, it seemed.
"This is not a replacement," Bird said, holding two envelopes of cash. "No amount of money can make up for your loss, as I well know."
The Americans had been advised on a gesture of somewhere between zero and $2,000 per death. They had brought $500.
Pashtun code has it that parties do not speak directly to each other but instead through representatives. So, in response to the American gesture, Dr. Mohammed Nasir, a medical doctor trained in Kabul who works as Agha's translator, explained the family's expectations.
"You have two options," Nasir stated. "One is by the Quran, by Shariah. In that option, you give the driver (of the truck) to the father, and he can deal with him." One did not need to look at the Americans in the room to know that this was not an option.
"The second choice," he continued, "is our local tradition. You give either 90 camels or 2 women. So for the 2 boys, 180 camels or 4 women. Or the driver."
Not wanting to seem unreasonable, Nasir added that the price of one woman was $8,000, so a payment of $32,000 also would suffice.
Bird tried again to stress that this was a gesture, not a reparations payment, simply something to help the father through a difficult time. Capt. James Esquivel, a civil affairs officer from San Antonio attached to the 864th, echoed the sentiment and asked if the father might speak for himself.
Dressed in an elegant charcoal turban, with his own graying father hunched down behind him, the man broke down almost immediately.
"You have the power. You have the tanks and the airplanes. I had only my two sons," he said, sobbing. "My wife is too old. Now I have nothing. Now I have only to wait for Allah."
Then he added, "You can help me in the way of the Quran."
He wanted nothing of the money. He had seen loss. Now he wanted only possession of the American driver and to see to it personally that loss was shared.
The warlord intervened, as did the uncle, in an attempt to repair the situation. They did not succeed.
The uncle reiterated the options, and the Americans reiterated their regrets. Small glasses of tea lay less than half finished as the meeting broke up.
A few days later, American officials in Kandahar decided to double the monetary value of their condolence gesture, and the family and Bird met a final time. Bird brought along a photograph of his family, including his two sons, in an attempt to connect with the father. But once again, the money was refused.
"You are not at fault," the father said as the parties separated. "We want only the driver. If we cannot have him, we hope someone hears our sounds. And if no one hears our sounds, we hope that Allah hears our sounds."
A legal aide from the central government in Kabul will travel south and attempt to resolve the matter. But the process had been painful for everyone.
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