Security tight for Afghan vote as three police killed
KABUL (AFP) - Suspected Taliban fighters killed three policemen in Afghanistan's capital in continued violence ahead of key elections Sunday, but international and Afghan forces said they were confident they could secure the vote.
A police chief of a district in the capital and two other officers were gunned down in an ambush late Friday by militants, interior ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal told AFP.
Another two policemen were wounded, Mashal said Saturday.
It is believed to be the first time a senior police official has been killed in Kabul since the hardline Islamic Taliban was overthrown by US forces and Afghan militiamen in late 2001.
Mashal blamed the attack on "enemies of peace", the term commonly used by Afghan officials to describe Taliban militants.
The ousted regime has warned Afghanistan's 12.5 million voters they could face attacks if they vote in Sunday's poll, the only parliamentary election since 1969 and a key step in the country's recovery from decades of conflict.
But officials in the government as well as with the US-led coalition and NATO peacekeeping forces said there was no evidence the rebels would be able to mount any major attacks.
Brigadier General James Champion, the deputy commanding general of the 20,000-strong US force in Afghanistan, called the elections "a great historical milestone for our mission".
"This is also a great turning point for the people of Afghanistan, who will have the opportunity to experience democracy at work for the second time," he told reporters in Washington by teleconference from Bagram Air Base near Kabul.
The first was at the October 2004 presidential poll that elected Hamid Karzai.
"Our forces along with Afghan national police and Afghan national army are prepared to provide a secure environment so Afghan people can cast their vote," US military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jerry O'Hara said.
More than 100,000 Afghan army, police and security forces had been deployed to "every corner of Afghanistan" to guard the country's 26,000 voting centres, the interior ministry's Mashal said.
The Taliban have stepped up their near-four-year insurgency ahead of the elections, leaving more than 1,000 people dead in Afghanistan's bloodiest year since the regime fell.
Seven candidates and five election workers have died since July, including a candidate in the southern province of Helmand who was hauled out of his house and shot dead by suspected Taliban fighters on Thursday.
In another incident late Friday, two suspected Taliban gunmen were killed in a gun fight after they attacked police in troubled southeastern Zabul province, Mashal said.
Two suspected Taliban rebels were also wounded after ambushing the police chief of Maruf, a district in Kandahar province. The policeman, Malim Sayeed, and his guards survived.
Separately, 16 rockets and missiles aimed at polling stations were discovered and defused in the southeastern province of Logar, Mashal said.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, which guards much of north and west Afghanistan, said however the threat level for the elections was "moderate".
"We don't have any specific threats of any election-related intentions or violence," ISAF spokesman Major Andy Elmes told AFP.
In neighbouring Pakistan thousands of troops were on alert to stop militants crossing into Afghanistan to launch attacks, the military said.
Hundreds of militants from the fundamentalist Taliban are believed to have fled to Pakistan with their Al-Qaeda allies after 2001.
About 80,000 troops deployed to the rugged Pakistan tribal areas bordering Afghanistan were sealing the border, backed by gunship helicopters and other aircraft, a Pakistan military statement said.
Four militants killed, one US soldier wounded in Afghan clash
KABUL, Sept 16 (AFP) - US forces backed by warplanes and helicopter gunships killed four suspected militants after a roadside bomb wounded an American soldier in southern Afghanistan, the US military said Friday. The violence was the latest to mar the run-up to Afghanistan's first parliamentary elections in more than 30 years being held on Sunday.
A joint Afghan-US patrol was hit by the improvised bomb and then by small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades on Wednesday in Tarin Kowt, a district in the restive province of Uruzgan, a US statement said.
"The ensuing firefight left four enemy confirmed dead," the statement said, adding that US forces pursued the attackers and arrested five suspects in a nearby village.
"Coalition attack planes provided air support to the troops on the ground and Apache helicopters provided cover for the medical evacuation of the injured service member," the statement said. The wounded US soldier was evacuated to Kandahar airfield for treatment and was in a stable condition, it said.
Separately on Wednesday US forces arrested two men in neighbouring Zabul province who were carrying explosives, money, electronics, wire, wire cutters and Afghan National Police identification cards, the statement said.
They also destroyed a roadside bomb in a nearby area. Meanwhile three more militants were detained after a tip-off from a detainee near Gardez in the eastern province of Paktia for allegedly making bombs, the US military said.
Violence linked to the ousted Taliban regime has left more than 1,000 people dead this year. Most of those killed have been militants but some 50 US soldiers have also been killed by hostile fire.
Five held with explosive-laden cameras
KABUL, September 14 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Security officials claimed arresting five people, including three foreigners along with explosives hidden in their cameras.
Speaking to Pajhwok Afghan News, press officer of the Defence Ministry said the arrest was made in the Khogiani district of the eastern Nangarhar province on Wednesday.
Declining to divulge identities of the arrested people, the official said some remote-controlled bombs had also been recovered from their possession. He said they were under investigations.
The incident came at a time when a number of foreign journalists are crossing into Afghanistan to cover the landmark parliamentary elections scheduled for September 18.
US predicts big Afghan turnout; 10 die in clashes
By David Brunnstrom
KABUL (Reuters) - The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan said he expected a big turnout in Sunday's landmark elections, but guerrilla attacks on police patrols overnight underlined the security threat hanging over the poll.
Lieutenant-General Karl Eikenberry said on the eve of the vote that Taliban insurgents would not hesitate to attack unarmed election workers at thousands of polling stations around the country.
Three policemen were killed and two wounded in an ambush south of the capital on Friday night, police said. In a separate incident, seven guerrillas were killed after they ambushed a police convoy in Zabul province in the south, a hotbed of militant activity.
Security, especially in the south and east where the Taliban are most active, has been the main worry in the run-up to the parliamentary and provincial elections but Afghan and U.S. officials say they are confident polling can be held.
"I think that tomorrow what we are going to have with the elections here, we're going to have a record turnout," Eikenberry told Reuters in an interview at the main U.S. base in Kabul.
The Taliban, who have denounced the polls and called for a boycott, have claimed responsibility for killing several candidates, the latest shot on his doorstep early on Friday. They have vowed attacks on foreign troops over the election period.
Eikenberry said security for the $159 million U.N.-run elections was good but he expected more trouble.
"We are up against an enemy that will not hesitate to attack unarmed election workers ... to try to attack innocent Afghan citizens trying to express their will in a representational government," he said.
But Eikenberry said the insurgents would not succeed.
"Tomorrow that election is going to go. There will be some violence, but it's going to go," he said. "Tomorrow, when you think about this, in a country of 26 million, we're going to have over 10 million people that go out and express their will to put a representative government in place."
Eikenberry commands a mainly U.S. international force of about 20,000 troops battling the Taliban and Islamist allies, mainly in the south and east.
"NO MILITARY SOLUTION"
More than 1,000 people have been killed this year -- most of them militants, but including 49 U.S. troops. It has been the bloodiest period since U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001 for failing to give up Osama bin Laden, architect of the September 11 attacks on U.S. cities.
The Taliban vowed, but failed, to disrupt last October's presidential election, won by U.S.-backed Hamid Karzai, when more than eight million people turned out to vote.
Asked how long he thought it would take to defeat the insurgency, Eikenberry said this would depend on work done after the elections.
"The question is how long will it take for Afghanistan to move forward with building its government and building its security forces and building its justice sector and moving forward with reconstruction. It's all tied together here. "There is not a military solution to the violence ... The military plays a role in this campaign but as important and more important is standing up the government and we go and take a big step forward tomorrow with the seating of this parliament."
Security has been stepped up across the Muslim country with about 100,000 troops, including Eikenberry's force and 10,000 NATO-led peacekeepers, guarding voters.
Ballots will be cast for more than 5,800 candidates at over 6,000 polling centers.
Enthusiasm among Afghans for what will be their first free legislative polls in more than 30 years has appeared high, but rights groups have expressed concern about intimidation by warlords who have been allowed to run in the polls and militants.
Analysts have also questioned whether the parliament will be more of a help or a hindrance to Karzai, given that the election, being fought on non-party lines, is expected to produce a fragmented assembly with politicians looking at local rather than national interests.
(Additional reporting by Sayed Salahuddin, Robert Birsel and Yousuf Azimy)
U.N. Urges Afghans to Defy Rebels and Vote
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - The United Nations on Saturday urged Afghans to defy rebel violence and turn out in large numbers to vote in landmark legislative elections. Fierce battles near the capital and elsewhere killed nine militants and three policemen.
Security forces said they thwarted three huge rebel bombings, underscoring fears for Sunday's vote that many hope will marginalize insurgents and bolster a fragile democracy.
Top U.N. envoy Jean Arnault said extremists had failed to disrupt preparations for the polls, despite fighting that has killed more than 1,200 people in the past six months, including seven candidates and four election workers.
"We are very confident that those extremists will also fail to disrupt and derail voting day," Arnault told reporters.
Chief election organizer Bismillah Bismil appealed to voters to participate and not be "intimidated or frightened" by the threats of more bloodshed.
Their comments came a day after the Taliban called for a boycott of the polls. They said they would not attack civilians going to vote, but would target areas where U.S.-led coalition forces were deployed — and advised people to avoid such places.
About 100,000 Afghan police and soldiers and 30,000 foreign troops are on alert across the country to safeguard the election. In Kabul, road checkpoints have sprung up, with police pulling over vehicles ranging from hay carts to ribbon-decked wedding cars.
In neighboring Pakistan, thousands of troops deployed near the Afghan border went on alert. Militants based in tribal areas on the Pakistani side of the mountainous frontier are believed to cross into Afghanistan to launch attacks.
In the southern city of Kandahar, all vehicles were banned from driving after midday Saturday due to fears the militants will use car bombs.
In an unusually brazen attack on the outskirts of the capital, Kabul, militants ambushed a security patrol, killing a district police chief and two officers, said Interior Ministry spokesman Luftullah Mashal.
"This is the first attack so close to Kabul that we have seen in a long time," he said. "The Taliban and al-Qaida are trying their best to create problems."
Guerrillas also ambushed a police patrol on the main highway linking Kabul with the southern city of Kandahar, triggering a gunbattle that left seven militants dead, said Gulam Rasool, a government chief in Sharisafar district.
An insurgent rocket slammed into a police car, setting it afire, but all the officers inside escaped, he said.
Two Taliban rebels were also killed during fighting in Kandahar province Thursday, according to a Defense Ministry statement. Eight suspected rebels were arrested, it said.
Mashal said two of the thwarted attacks were planned car bombings in Ghazni and Paktika, two volatile provinces. The other was near the border with Pakistan, when two Pakistanis, suspected to be Taliban members, were found with explosives.
Election workers have been putting the final touches on poll preparations, using donkeys, dilapidated trucks and helicopters to haul millions of paper ballots to more than 6,000 polling centers.
Amid the killings, threats and concerns about pressure from powerful warlords, election organizer Bismil assured voters their ballots would be secret.
"Do not be intimidated or frightened by the empty threats of those who attempt to influence your vote," Bismil said.
The elections of a parliament and provincial legislatures are the last formal step toward democracy on a path set out after a U.S.-led force drove the hard-line Taliban from power in 2001.
"We are seeing today an unmistakable confirmation that there is in the country the emergence of a new political culture," Arnault said. "A sense that the legacy of the rule of the gun can be resisted is now taking root."
Associated Press correspondents Daniel Cooney and Steve Gutterman in Kabul contributed to this report.
Two Pakistanis held with explosives in Kunar
JALALABAD, September 17 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Two foreigners were arrested along with remote-controlled bombs in the eastern Kunar province, officials said on Sunday.
A senior police official, who declined to be named, told Pajhwok Afghan News the arrested men, Qamar Hasan and Ihsanullah, belonged to the Gujarat district of Punjab province.
The official said security men recovered several remote-controlled bombs, fuses and other explosive materials. He added they were detained in a bazaar in Asadabad, capital of the province.
Confirming the arrest, Kunar Governor Asadullah Wafa said besides explosive devices, some traveling documents had also been recovered from the two Pakistanis. They are under investigations to get further information, added the governor.
Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry said police had captured a man Mulla Abdullah, who was trying to plant a remote-controlled bomb in the Noorgul area of Kunar.
In charge of the ministry's press office Colonel Dad Mohammad Rasa told Pajhwok Afghan News the accused was arrested red-handed while planting the device.
Reported by Ezatullah Zawab/Habibur Rehman Ibrahimi and translated by Daud
Attack On Nuristani Highlights Threat To Female Candidates
By Freshta Jalalzai and Ron Synovitz - Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
Many of the 328 women competing for seats in the lower house of Afghanistan's national parliament, the People's Council (Wolesi Jirga), have faced death threats from gunmen who want to deny women any role in the country's political system. Candidate Hawa Alam Nuristani was shot four times on 14 September while campaigning in her eastern province of Nuristan. She had recently spoken to RFE/RL about death threats against her. Female candidates from other provinces also told RFE/RL they have received daily death threats in the run-up to national and provincial voting on 18 September. But they are determined to stay in the race.
Kabul, 16 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Hawa Alam Nuristani was in critical condition today at a U.S. military hospital at Bagram Air Field north of Kabul. The gunmen who attacked her two days ago shot her three times in the leg and once in the ear while she was campaigning in the eastern Afghan province of Nuristan for the national parliament.
Nuristani had spoken with RFE/RL just days before the attack about death threats against her.
"Afghan women still have a lot of problems in every aspect of life -- especially when we are beginning this new historical period and women are participating in the new democratic political process," Nuristani said. "So we have a lot of difficulties -- especially myself. I am a candidate from a province with a lot of problems. I have been threatened many times by unknown gunmen who say they will kill me if I try to campaign in Nuristan."
Before she was attacked, Nuristani said the support she has seen from the people of Nuristan province made her confident she would be elected to one of the 68 seats reserved for women in Afghanistan's 249-seat People's Council, which should compose the lower chamber of the National Assembly.
The 45-year-old Nuristani had been one of the first Pashto-language news presenters for Afghanistan's state television after the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001. Before deciding to run for parliament, she was a lower-level official in Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government -- working as a clerk in the Women?s Affairs Ministry. (Afghan law required that government officials surrender their official posts in order to run in the elections.)
Nuristani told that her main problem as a candidate was security while trying to campaign. She suggested that the daily death threats she had received in the past month were being made by Islamic militants based across the border in nearby Pakistan.
"Eastern Nuristan is next to Chatrall Province of Pakistan, and there are serious security problems in this area," Nuristani said. "I think my security problems are not caused by the people of Nuristan. They are caused by the enemies of the Afghan government, those who oppose the development of Afghanistan and the new democratic process."
Sam Zia Zarifi, the head of a research team in Afghanistan from Human Rights Watch (HRW), said the intimidation of female candidates is a problem across most of Afghanistan. But he said the problem is not restricted to militants based in Pakistan. In many cases, he said, death threats are being made by local Afghan militia commanders who have their own stake in the outcome of the upcoming parliamentary vote.
"Women candidates have been able to participate in record numbers," he said. "But they face some real challenges in terms of social mores, in terms of lack of resources, but also in terms of intimidation by local militia commanders."
That has been the case for Gheida Tavaen Afif, a 26-year-old woman who is running as a candidate in the western Afghan city of Herat. Afif received threatening phone calls from unfamiliar numbers virtually every day over the past month. Coming from payphones and mobile phones, the callers tell her to step down from the election or be killed. But she refuses to quit.
Nurzia Charkhi, a woman candidate for the People's Council from Logar Province south of Kabul, told RFE/RL that gunmen in her district have been bold enough to make threats against her in person. She said the threats were made by a commander and militia fighters linked to former Taliban commander Mulawi Mohammad Nabi Mohammadi and the mujahedin movement Harakat-i Islami.
"Local gunmen in Logar Province threatened me," Charkhi said. "They were a local commander for Harakati-i Islami named Mullah Palang and his gunmen. For more than 20 days, he has been sending me messages and threatening my family members. He tells me I am working for the Americans and that I am just an American servant. He says it is shameful that I am trying to be elected to the Wolesi Jirga and that I am campaigning in Logar Province. He says they will kill me or plant a mine in the path of my car."
Zarifi said problems for Afghan women taking part in the elections are not restricted to candidates. Women voters, who make up some 40 percent of registered voters, also are being threatened by men in their own families if they do not vote the way they are told . But Zarifi said many women have told Human Rights Watch they will vote the way they please once they get behind the curtain in a polling station.
"Women throughout Afghanistan have really shown themselves interested in the elections," Zarifi said. "They've registered to vote and they've been participating in electoral processes in an unprecedented manner. And that's a real point of pride for Afghanistan. Our researchers have talked to a number of women, even in the most isolated villages, who say that they intend to vote in the way that they please. At the same time, it's a society that is still recovering from the Taliban?s rule. And it's clear. We've talked to a number of women voters who say that they are going to take guidance on how to vote from their husbands or their fathers."
Shah Naz is a war widow from Laghman Province who now lives in Kabul with her two sons and five daughters. Wearing an all-encompassing burqa while waiting for a bus outside of her office at the Public Health Ministry, Shah Naz told RFE/RL she is afraid about the potential for attacks against voters on election day.
"I hope everything will be fine. But these days, I'm afraid for my children," Shah Naz said. "I?m always afraid of a rocket attack, a mine blast or a battle breaking out. I'm really concerned about this."
But not all Afghan feel the same. Zarghona is a 35-year-old school teacher in Kabul and the mother of three children.
"We don't want warlords or a militiamen to get into the People's Council -- no commanders who were involved in the fighting in Kabul and who have blood on their hands," Zarghona said. "I will vote for a good person who I trust. Nobody can threaten us. And I don't think anybody can force me to vote for any particular candidate. We don't want Jihadis anymore."
In addition to the 328 women running for the People's Council, another 237 women are running for seats on the Provincial Councils that will help determine the membership of Afghanistan?s upper chamber of parliament, the Council of Elders (Meshrano Jirga).
At least seven candidates have been killed in political violence since the election campaign began in July. During the past week, militants also have begun to attacks groups of Afghans in southern Afghanistan who were found to be carrying voter-registration cards. Journalists, election workers, and UN staff also have been killed or kidnapped by militants in the south and east of the country.
Pakistani Troops on Alert by Afghan Border
By MUNIR AHMAD, Associated Press Writer Sat Sep 17, 3:23 AM ET
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Thousands of Pakistan troops deployed near the Afghan border have been put on alert amid growing violence in the neighboring country ahead of this weekend's elections, an army official said Saturday.
The Afghan government and coalition forces had asked Pakistan to help them hold Sunday's elections in a peaceful manner, said the army official, who spoke on condition of anonymity according to government rules.
Pakistan is a key U.S. ally in the war on terror and has deployed about 80,000 troops along the Afghan border to stop remnants of al-Qaida and the Taliban from sneaking into Pakistan or crossing over to Afghanistan.
Last week, Pakistan army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan said an additional 9,500 troops had been deployed near Afghanistan to foil any bid by terrorists to disrupt the elections. Pakistan has also imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew for people living within about a mile of the border.
About 100,000 Afghan policemen, soldiers and 30,000 foreign troops will also be on alert in Afghanistan during the voting.
Pakistan was once a leading supporter of Afghanistan's former Taliban regime, but President Gen. Pervez Musharraf switched sides after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Since then the country has backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Taliban kill seventh Afghan election candidate days before poll
September 16, 2005
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - Taliban militants shot dead a candidate in Afghanistan's weekend parliamentary elections, the seventh to be killed ahead of the landmark poll, a Taliban spokesman and officials said.
Armed men forced Abdul Hadi out of his house in Hazarjoft, a district in the restive southern province of Helmand, and gunned him down late on Thursday, provincial spokesman Mohammed Wali told AFP.
"It is the work of the enemies of Afghanistan," Wali said on Friday.
Afghan officials frequently use this term to refer to insurgents from the Taliban regime, which was ousted by US-led forces and Afghan militia fighters in late 2001.
Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi said the group had carried out the attack, in which the candidate's guard was also killed, because Hadi was taking part in the "US-designed" election.
"Last night we killed the candidate for the parliamentary election, Abdul Hadi, and his guard because he was standing for the election," Hakimi told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.
"It (the election) is a US-designed process and he was helping this US process to succeed," Hakimi said.
The joint UN-Afghan electoral management body confirmed the attack. "He is the seventh candidate to be killed," spokeswoman Bronwyn Curran told AFP.
All seven have been killed since early July, when around 5,800 men and women signed up to run for the elections. Several of the killings were blamed on the Taliban while others were thought to be linked to drugs or local rivalries.
The Taliban have vowed to disrupt Sunday's vote for the lower house of the national assembly, or Wolesi Jirga, and for the country's 34 provincial councils.
More than 1,000 people have been killed in a wave of violence in Afghanistan this year, the bloodiest since the Taliban fled the capital.
Afghan candidates play down Taliban past
By Somini Sengupta The New York Times SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, 2005
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan For a man so seemingly intent on turning back time, there could be no better symbol than the one that Maulvi Qalamuddin had chosen for his campaign for Parliament: the clock.
Once, as the head of the Taliban's Department for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue, Qalamuddin, a Muslim cleric by profession, was the notorious face of Taliban-era moral policing: It was his men who cruised through town ordering the floggings of women who did not cover themselves from head to toe, or the floggings of men who dared shave their beards.
Now, in his quest to represent his home province of Logar in the parliamentary elections Sunday, Qalamuddin's appeals to voters contain hardly a word about the Taliban. He opts instead to rewind a few years to an earlier vocation, as a "mujahedeen" warrior fighting to oust the Soviet invaders from his country. Asked about his Taliban links, he prefers to describe himself as a member of one of several anti-Soviet factions that joined the old regime.
This is how he appealed to a gathering of men under a tent the other day: "You who now have white beards, you were once young, good jihadis," Qalamuddin, a cleric by vocation, said. "When you are voting for someone, look at him - judge his background, ask where was he during the jihad, was a good man or a bad man."
Afghan voters on Sunday may indeed be asking some of those questions of the handful of former Taliban ministers and military commanders who have thrown their turbans into the electoral ring, even as their former brothers-in-arms carry on a bruising insurgency against the American-backed government of President Hamid Karzai.
They are a storied bunch, and they are mostly from the south. At least two prominent Taliban commanders are running for Parliament: Rais Baghrani, from Helmand Province, just west of here, and Abdul Salaam Rocketi, thus named for his rocket-firing skills, from Zabul, to the east. Ahmed Mutawakil, the former Taliban foreign minister, is running for Parliament from this southern province.
There also is Haji Abdul Samat Khaksar, the Taliban's onetime intelligence minister, subsequently demoted to deputy interior minister and now also vying to represent Kandahar in Parliament. Khaksar's campaign manifesto includes ridding the country of narcotics and respecting human rights. His campaign symbol looks like a pasta bowl, he says his Taliban credentials are entirely irrelevant to his campaign.
"My people are important to me, to represent them in Parliament," he said in an interview here this week. "Now the name of the Taliban or any other party is not important. We should not divide our country by political parties, languages, or ethnic groups."
Still, he said, suspected Taliban fighters had been threatening him on the phone. What infuriated him even more was the refusal of election officials to give him the two AK-47s he had requested for his security.
By law, no one is allowed to campaign with arms. In practice, Khaksar groused, many do. "The government is helping the candidates they want for Parliament, and they're not helping me," he cried. "Are we not human?"
Qalamuddin, too, was not eager to be reminded of his Taliban days. In an interview at his village home the other day, he took pains to distance himself from what he called the excesses of young Taliban fighters in enforcing the vice and virtue laws of the regime. He had only wanted to persuade people to take the correct moral path of Islam, he said. He did not wish to inflict harsh punishment. "I was not the one putting people in prison," he said.
It is a good thing his campaign symbol, a necessity for illiterate voters who cannot read a candidate's name on a ballot, turned out not to be a television or a kite. During his tenure, the vice and virtue agency ordered television sets to be smashed and prohibited kite-flying, on the grounds that they were un-Islamic.
At the time, Qalamuddin had praised the 1996 public stoning of two adulterers beside a mosque in Kandahar as among the regime's most effective measures. "Just two people, that's all, and we ended adultery in Kandahar forever," he had said in an interview published in The New York Times in August 1997. "Even 100,000 police could not have the effect that we achieved with one punishment of this kind."
He was keen to point out that some of the Taliban's most infamous decrees, including the stoning of Afghan citizens and the destruction of the historic Buddha statues at Bamiyan, were judgments issued by the courts, not him.
Qalamuddin was arrested by Afghan security forces in April 2003, but was released after intervention from his tribe.
Today, he urged Taliban gunmen to join the government. "I can go to Parliament, solve my people's problems, work for my people and stop the fighting in this country," he said.
AFGHANISTAN: Female candidates speak out as campaigning closes
MAZAR-E-SHARIF, 16 Sep 2005 (IRIN) - 45-year-old Farema Warakzai from the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif, is standing in Sunday’s parliamentary election. She’s confident that women candidates will do well in the historic poll – because they had not been responsible for the decades of violence the nation endured.
"We have not used guns against the people, so they will vote for us." she said, adding people should be free to choose who they vote for and not be influenced by warlords and regional strongmen, who many fear will influence the polls.
On Thursday, candidates could be seen out on the streets of this ancient city, some in cars, some on donkeys, some with loudhailers and makeshift sound systems, trying their best to muster as much support as they could before campaigning officially ended on Friday morning.
Despite her optimism about the election, along with many other female candidates in conservative Afghanistan, Warakzai was unhappy that there had not been additional support for them in the electoral process. "We did not have enough budgets to carry on our campaigns, compared to men, because this society is so unequal," she complained.
Another female candidate in Mazar said she had gone into debt to contest the election. "I have borrowed much money for this electoral campaign." Pashton Qaderi, said, adding she had limited her campaigning to the city itself, due to a lack of security in rural areas nearby.
Up to 6,000 Afghans have registered to stand in the legislative and provincial council elections scheduled for 18 September.
According to the UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), of the 2,900 people registered to run for the 249-seat Wolesi Jirga (lower house), nearly 350 were women. Afghan electoral law requires that at least 68 seats in the general assembly be reserved for women.
When Lawngina, a 35-year-old school teacher from the ultra-conservative Pashtun province of Paktika, in southeastern Afghanistan, told her family that she was contesting the country's landmark legislative polls, the first in 30 years, she faced stiff resistance.
"My family first strived to convince me to withdraw my candidacy. Later they prevented me from campaigning and even did not allow me to distribute my posters. Most of the people in Paktika are very narrow-minded and traditionalists. They do not want women to campaign," said the widow, who had been forced to quit campaigning in the province and move to Kabul.
In neighbouring Paktia province, another woman, Nafeesa Rishtin is contesting the election in the provincial capital of Gardez. In contrast to Lawngina's experience, she said she had been welcomed in most communities where she had campaigned.
"I have travelled to faraway districts and returned home late in the evening, but I did not have security problems. My only complaint is that a lack of resources has prevented me from doing more for my campaign," she said.
She mentioned the fact that she was up against male candidates who were splashing out on printing huge posters and calling big meetings. "This kind of thing is well beyond my means," she lamented.
JEMB officials said they were aware that women candidates had to contend with security and cultural problems in rural areas, but said they were unaware of any particular cases of harassment.
"Yes, women generally face security threats in districts and there are also traditional impediments ahead of their campaigning, but as we have been monitoring the situation there was no big issue of such problems," JEMB head, Dr Mohammad Nader Nikyar, said.
But according to Afghan women's affairs minister Masouda Jalal, social relations in Afghanistan had militated against women's participation in elections. "The main reason thousands of women didn't become candidates is that they can't afford the financial expenses," Jalal said in a recent interview.
Men remain in charge of most households' budgets in the strongly traditional and Muslim society.
In another southeastern province, Khost, Wolesi Jirga candidate Mahboba Sadat Ismaili, said money had been a key factor in the election. "I believe that those who spent lots of money and conducted good campaigns have more chance to win the elections. Those that did not have little chance of making their way to the parliament or the provincial councils."
Meanwhile, a female candidate was wounded in an attack by unidentified gunmen in the Wigal district of the northeastern Nuristan province on Wednesday evening. Armed men opened fire at Wolesi Jirga candidate Hawa Alam Nuristani while she was campaigning in the area. She is still at the US-led coalition force's base in Bagram outside Kabul, receiving medical treatment.
A week ago, another female candidate was attacked in the Khogyani district of the neighbouring Nangarhar provinces, but escaped unhurt while three of her companions were injured. Safia Seddiqi said the attack came while she was campaigning in the Wazir-Pirakhelo area.
Last month, Zahra Sahel, a candidate campaigning in Mazar, also survived an attempt on her life when a car tried to run her down.
Joshua Wright, a spokesman for the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) said on Thursday they had received about 2,700 complaints from across Afghanistan, of which some 2,000 had been addressed while 700 were still being investigated. Some were from women candidates complaining of harassment and intimidation, but did not say what percentage of all complaints these concerns made up.
"There are systematic complaints from female candidates in provinces and in the capital about security problems they had, about violence and harassments," Wright noted.
Bush invited to Afghanistan
Source: AFP / From correspondents in Kabul / September 16, 2005
AFGHAN President Hamid Karzai overnight invited his US counterpart George W Bush to address the war-torn country's new parliament after it is elected this weekend, a statement from Mr Karzai's palace said.
Mr Bush telephoned Mr Karzai, who took power shortly after the US-led ouster of the hardline Taliban regime in late 2001, to say he was pleased with the progress ahead of the milestone polls, the statement said.
"President Bush said he was delighted to see the campaigning and other preparations for the elections were going smoothly, and extended his best wishes to the people of Afghanistan," it said.
More than 12 million Afghans will be eligible to vote for the country's first national assembly in more than 30 years. They will also vote for provincial councils.
"The president invited President Bush to visit Afghanistan and address the Afghan parliament once it convenes," the statement said, adding that Mr Karzai thanked the United States for its support.
Results from the poll are not due until mid-October. The run-up to the vote has been blighted by violence blamed on Taliban rebels.
The statement said Mr Bush also thanked Mr Karzai for his country's offer of aid to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Poverty-stricken Afghanistan said it would donate $US100,000 ($131,388).
"The people of the United States have given us generous support in difficult times and we wish we could have done more to help them," the statement quoted Mr Karzai as telling Mr Bush.
via The Australian
Tajiks 'ready to help' U.S. when Uzbek base closes
By Michael Steen / Fri Sep 16, 5:08 AM ET
DUSHANBE (Reuters) - Tajikistan could host some U.S. military equipment and personnel forced to leave an airbase in Uzbekistan, a senior member of President Imomali Rakhmonov's political party said on Friday.
Following U.S. criticism of the bloody suppression of a rebellion in the Uzbek town of Andizhan in May, Uzbekistan gave Washington six months to leave the airbase which it has used to support operations in neighbouring Afghanistan since late 2001.
The United States has not said whether it is seeking a replacement for the base, known as Karshi-Khanabad or K2, but it leaves U.S. forces in Afghanistan reliant on a smaller base at Kyrgyzstan's civilian airport and bases inside Afghanistan.
"We were members of the anti-terrorist coalition right from the start," Davlatali Davlatov, First Deputy Chairman of Rakhmonov's ruling People's Democratic Party, told Reuters.
"Our position has not changed. We always say yes," he said. "We cooperate closely with the United States, irrespective of the political situation and, unlike other neighbours, we have never chopped and changed."
However, he added, any help would have to be within Tajikistan's capabilities. "To move all of Khanabad here, where would you put it?" he said.
The Tajik government, which already hosts French military aviation at its airport, has not publicly commented.
A Western diplomat in the Tajik capital Dushanbe said he believed Washington had not yet made a decision on whether to seek assistance from Tajikistan, an impoverished former Soviet republic that shares a long border with Afghanistan.
"My impression is that there's not going to be an establishment of a new full-fledged base anywhere in Central Asia," the diplomat said.
"There may be elements of what was happening at that base that may be moved to other places but I am absolutely certain that no final decision has been taken about that yet."
Russia, despite lending its support to the establishment of the U.S. bases in Central Asia after the September 11, 2001 attacks, has shown increasing hostility to the U.S. presence in a region rich in oil and gas resources that it has historically viewed as its sphere of influence.
It has established its own military airbase in Kyrgyzstan and last year won approval to keep its 6,000 troop-strong 201st Division at a permanent base in Tajikistan.
Along with China and four Central Asian states including Tajikistan, Russia issued a statement in July calling on the United States to name a date for its military's departure from the region, citing the end of major combat in Afghanistan.
Davlatov said Russian opposition to any U.S. presence in Tajikistan was "not important."
But Moscow last year offered to invest $2 billion in the country's economy and annually hosts hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from Tajikistan, whose remittances are crucial to a fragile economy still recovering from civil war in 1992-97.
"If Tajikistan got too far out of line with Russian policy desires then they could begin to turn the screws and say okay we're going to send these men home, what are you going to do with them?" the Western diplomat said.
No doubt about war crimes in battered Afghan area
17 Sep 2005 10:47:35 GMT By David Brunnstrom
KABUL, Sept 17 (Reuters) - Abdul Rabb Rasoul Sayyaf may be a candidate in Afghan elections on Sunday but he is unlikely to get many votes in Dashte Barche.
In fact, he would be well advised not to show his face in this part of western Kabul.
The district was largely destroyed by his forces during Afghanistan's civil war because most of its people are from a rival ethnic group.
More than 10 years later, the terror of devastating night-time rocket attacks, abductions and rapes has not been forgotten by the ethnic Hazaras of Dashte Barche, where many are still struggling to rebuild bombed-out homes.
They want to see Sayyaf and other warlords on trial for war crimes, not dignified by positions in the country's first free parliamentary elections in more than 30 years.
"These warlords have destroyed our country," said grocery store owner Khalifa Naseer. "They should be brought to justice."
Rights groups have expressed concern that Sayyaf and other warlords accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in fighting between mujahideen (holy warrior) factions that overthrew the Soviet-backed government in 1992 have been allowed to stand in the elections.
A Human Rights Watch report in July accused Sayyaf's Ittihad-i-Islami forces of failing to distinguish between military and civilian targets when battling Hazara Hezb-i-Wahdat forces in western Kabul.
It said it appeared Ittihad intentionally targeted civilians in rocket and artillery attacks and abducted and killed them because of their ethnicity.
Wahdat forces were guilty of similar actions against civilians in Ittihad's ethnic Pashtun areas, it said.
In Dashte Barche, where the population is predominately Hazara, it will be a long time before those nightmarish days are forgotten. Thousands died, mainly women, children and the elderly, and locals still blame Sayyaf.
"My three brothers were killed by the rockets of this 'respected' man," said Sayed Satar Ali, who was seven in 1992. "I am alone with my father and mother; the others were killed."
"I don't say this just because I am a Hazara, but it's not a good idea to have these people in parliament."
Hazaras, who are minority Shi'ite Muslims, say tensions still run high with pro-Sayyaf Sunni Muslim Pashtuns in adjoining districts and in his heartland of Paghman on Kabul's outskirts.
"If I went to Paghman, I would be 90 percent afraid," said furniture maker Amir Muzafari. "If people came here from Paghman they would be afraid too."
Sayyaf could expect no votes from Dashte Barche, he said.
"I want to see national unity, but if I were to see Sayyaf in this area, I would slap him in the face," he said.
"Not a single Hazara would vote for him."
Asked if he thought tensions could boil over again, Muzafari replied: "If people like Sayyaf get into parliament, yes."
Speaking to journalists in Paghman on Wednesday, Sayyaf said he would back an investigation into abuses during the civil war, but denied wrongdoing and defended his right to stand in the parliamentary elections.
"If there was some proof that I had committed some crimes, then I will be responsible for that, but I am sure that we have worked for the freedom of the country," he said.
"We have struggled against crimes and didn't commit crimes," he said. "These are only the claims of those who are against us and against the freedom of this country."
Sam Zarifi, deputy director for Asia for Human Rights Watch, said there was "very strong proof" Sayyaf's forces were involved in crimes against humanity and war crimes.
President Hamid Karzai has defended the fact warlords have been allowed to run in the elections, saying it was in the interests of national reconciliation.
He said voters had the choice of who to vote for and, if there was a tribunal to prosecute abuses, parliament could decide whether to lift the immunity of anyone elected.
However, significant doubts remain whether Karzai's administration will pursue justice for war crimes and there are concerns that if warlords are elected to parliament they will seek to pass an amnesty for mujahideen commanders.
Asked if he thought Sayyaf was guilty, Khalifa Naseer laughed and gestured skyward: "It's as clear as the sun."
But asked if he thought a trial would ever happen, he shook his head and replied: "I don't think so."
Afghans turn to slain Arab fighters for blessings
By Terry Friel
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Sept 16 (Reuters) - It's almost sunset in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar as a woman sitting in a black burqa stops reading from the Koran, leans forward to grab a pinch of salt from the grave and puts it to her lips.
She goes back to her reading and prayer, her young daughter sitting cross-legged and patient by her side.
The Taliban were driven from power by U.S.-led forces four years ago, but the foreign "Arabs" who came to fight alongside them are still revered by many southern Afghans as shaheed, or martyrs for Islam, and special messengers to Allah.
Every week, hundreds of Afghans, some traveling hours, come to the Graveyard of the Arabs to honour the shaheed and to seek their help: for money, for health, for babies, for good fortune.
"We respect them because they fought the Americans," says Bismi Allah, a 25-year-old shopkeeper who has bought his son, Hamid, 3, to pray and take a pinch of holy salt at several of the 97 graves.
"I don't ask for anything. I just like to pray for them."
Each of the mounds of hard-baked clay is marked by a single pile of salt, the pure white contrasting with the harsh grey-brown of the earth. Large ants scuttle across the dirt and banners of white, green and occasionally black flutter in the stiff breeze coming in from the desert.
"The shaheed are close to Allah," says Gul Dusta, who thinks she is in her 50s, a widow who tends the graves with her friend, Sadi Qah, 50, in return for small handouts.
"If somebody is sick, they ask for help, if a woman needs a baby, she prays for this, if someone needs money, they pray for it," she says, resting from the scorching sun under a small patch of brown material strung up from two headstones.
The salt is considered blessed and is thought to bring good luck and good health. Hamid Allah gathers several pinches and stores it in a small cloth.
"I'm taking it home," he says. "I'll mix it with other salt and when we put it on our food we will have good health."
"THE AMERICANS WILL FAIL"
Some come alone or in groups to pray a few minutes in peace by the canal, under the stark Archandab and Kotalmurcha hills. Some of the women prostrate themselves over the graves.
Others sit cross-legged for a while, reading from the Koran and praying. Children play and joke among the graves, drawing water from a nearby well.
Some of the graves are tiny, the shaheeds' sons and daughters who were killed in the U.S.-led bombing that devastated Kandahar in 2001, residents say.
The stories of exactly who is buried here, how they died and where they came from vary. But everyone agrees they were "Arabs" from abroad and died in the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
Kandaharis don't tend to talk publicly about what they think of the Taliban, whose guerrillas have been responsible for numerous bloody attacks in the province since their overthrow.
But many speaking privately say life was better under their rule, when Islam was supreme.
Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban and a deeply conservative area with proud traditions. The towering rock bluff overlooking Taliban leader Mullah Omar's compound, itself now a U.S. base, can be seen from the Graveyard of the Arabs.
Former Taliban are standing in Kandahar for Sunday's national elections, Afghanistan's first since 1969. Many Kandaharis share the Taliban's Pashtun ethnic roots and in Afghanistan, tribe is still everything.
Abdul Rahim's mother, Bibi Shah Jehan, was so devoted to the shaheed she wanted to be buried beside them, says Rahim, who was visiting the graveyard from New York where he runs a couple of Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants.
Cemetery authorities refused permission. But the day she died three years ago it was raining and no one was around, so she was buried by her shaheed.
"You make a wish, you ask them. They are messengers," he says.
For some, the shaheed are a symbol of Afghan resistance against foreign invasion and of the struggle for Islam.
"This is not the first time the foreigners came to Afghanistan by force," says Bismi Allah, wearing a light brown shalwar-kameez and a silver-brown turban. "The British came, they failed and they went. The Russians came, they failed and they went. The Americans will also fail.
"It's up to Allah. When Allah likes, he will push them from the country."
Investcom, Watan win Afghan mobile telecom licenses
September 15, 2005
LONDON (MarketWatch) -- Lebanese mobile telecommunications company Investcom Thursday said it has won a license to offer mobile telecoms services in Afghanistan.
Investcom was bidding with United Arab Emirates company Alokozay Group for one of the two licenses being auctioned by the Afghan government. Investcom owns 60% of the consortium, with Alokozay owning the remaining 40%.
The second license has been awarded to Watan Mobile Afghanistan, a consortium consisting of Al Houbi Telecom from Saudi Arabia, and U.S. companies Cellular One and GlobeCom Systems Inc. (GCOM).
There were five bidders for the two licenses. Failed bidders include Luxembourg-based Millicom International Cellular SA (MICC), in partnership with China's ZTE Corp. (000063.SZ) and Dayanat; KB Impuls, which comprised Vodafone-Arcor of Germany and Siemens AG (SI), and Warid Telecom of the United Arab Emirates.
Each license, which has a term of 15 years and is renewable for a further 10 years, cost $40.1 million. The licenses are on the GSM, or global systems for mobile, standard used in Europe.
The Afghan Ministry of Communications said that Investcom lodged the highest bid, with Watan verbally agreeing to match that offer after it submitted a lower bid. It said if Watan fails to formally match the higher bid of $40.1 million, Millicom will be offered the license at that price.
Investcom expects to launch commercial services under its Areeba brand during the first half of 2006.
The company said that with a population of 30 million and very low mobile penetration, Afghanistan offers a large market opportunity for Investcom which is present in nine territories, including the new license.
Afghanistan already has two network operators. Roshan GSM Co., which is owned by Cable & Wireless Group PLC's (CWP) Monaco Telecom unit and U.S. MCT Corp., and Afghan Wireless Communications Co., owned by entrepreneur Ehsan Bayat's Telephone Systems International Inc.
Countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and many African nations offer mobile telecom providers large growth opportunities as decades of political instability mean the population is under-serviced by fixed-line telecom systems. High demand for basic voice services mean operators can install cheaper and more basic telecom equipment than is required in more mature markets and the high risk involved in building and operating mobile networks often deters larger players.
Asiacell, which operates in Northern Iraq, announced Thursday it has over 1 million subscribers. It was issued a license in October 2003.
Selling the two additional licenses will bring much-needed foreign investment to Afghanistan and raises funds for the Afghanistan government.
Government Web site: Http://www.moc.gov.af
Afghan parliament will have big visions, few rules of the road
By Scott Baldauf, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor Fri Sep 16, 4:00 AM ET
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - Nobody ever accused Mullah Mohammad Khaksar, a former Taliban deputy minister, of being an Afghan Thomas Jefferson.
But his goals for Afghanistan sound remarkably like those of a founding father, and like those of the majority of the other 5,700 candidates running on Sunday in the country's parliamentary election. Mr. Khaksar wants a strong central government, improved security, faster reconstruction, and a serious effort to control drug trafficking and government corruption.
With such broad consensus, Afghanistan should be well on its way toward creating a sound, workable Afghan parliament that serves as a watchdog to the government. But even Khaksar is not so sure it's going to work that way. He fears that many parliamentarians who come to Kabul will be inexperienced, or be just as corrupt as the government they are supposed to be watching over.
"I am very disappointed about the future of this parliament," says Khaksar, a candidate from his native city of Kandahar. "Look, we are building this parliament. But if, instead of using a strong cornerstone, you build with unbaked bricks, will you be able to build a strong building?"
The problem, many candidates and foreign observers say, is the way in which Afghanistan's parliament was created in the country's new constitution. Voters choose candidates as individuals, not as members of a party. This creates an environment where personalities are more important than ideas, coalitions struggle to stick to common agendas, and individual MPs are more easily manipulated by the palace.
"This parliament will not be functional for several years," says Barnett Rubin, an expert on Afghan politics at New York University who helped organize the Bonn Conference in December 2001 that set up the post-Taliban government. Rubin says that President Hamid Karzai's habit of ruling through patronage - rewarding those who support him with better positions or development funds - has now set a precedent for many elected parliamentarians to turn to him as a kind of feudal lord with deep pockets.
"Once elected, what is their main goal? To get reelected," says Mr. Rubin. "The goal is to get benefits to a small number of people, with no notion for the benefit of society." He pauses. "I don't know how they are going to pass legislation."
Yet, already there are signs that some candidates are forming three main coalitions. One, led by Northern Alliance politician Younus Qanooni, will act as a sort of permanent opposition to President Karzai, and will attempt to change the system of government to give parliament more power, including a prime minister. A second faction will be a cross section of independents from around Afghanistan, who side with Karzai on most issues. A third faction of liberal and leftist parties will swing back and forth between the opposition and Karzai, supporting the president on common issues, but voting against him on others.
With many voters expressing frustration at the slow pace of reconstruction, and visible signs of corruption in their government, even Karzai's friends may find it necessary to slap the hand that feeds them from time to time.
Mohammad Iqbal, a young independent candidate from Jalalabad in the eastern province of Nangrahar, says he supports Karzai, and particularly the way he mediates local problems through local tribal elders. But if Karzai fails to clean up corruption in government, fails to rebuild the country, or strays too far from Afghanistan's Islamic traditions, Mr. Iqbal says he will vote against him.
"Friendship is friendship, but if Mr. Karzai is anti-Afghanistan, then even if His Excellency Mr. Bush asks me, I will say no," says Iqbal, with a wry smile. His supporters break out in laughter.
Experts say it will take time for Afghan parliamentarians to figure out the new process, when most of the elected officials have no experience in how to legislate and none will have researchers to help them sort out good bills from bad bills.
"With a limited role for political parties, things will be fluid, with lots of deal- making," says Paul Fishstein, director for the Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit, a think tank in Kabul. Many Afghans are optimistic that things will get sorted out in traditional Afghan ways, but Mr. Fishstein says that parliamentarians are in for a rude awakening when they confront the hard work of legislation.
"A lot of people love to talk about improving security, electricity, water systems, but that's not necessarily what parliament is intended to do," says Fishstein. "They'll be passing budgets, they'll be representing the material interests of their constituencies, and that takes a certain level of skill."
He smiles. "It's going to be an interesting parliament."
Afghan opposition leader eyes speaker's post
Gulf News 09/15/2005
Afghan opposition leader Younus Qanooni staked his claim to be speaker of the new parliament setting the stage for a confrontation with the ageing former president Burhannuddin Rabbani.
"I hope to play the role of speaker. I think the post where I would be chairman of parliament would be acceptable to me and my supporters," Qanooni, a former education minister, said in a hard-hitting interview with Gulf News, ahead of Sunday's parliamentary polls. The elder statesman, Rabbani, has already said he wants to be speaker.
"Afghanistan has rejected extremists like Prof Rabbani and Prof Sayyaf. The present time is for moderates, for a new generation of intellectuals, a group that I am proud to be a part of," he said.
Canadian soldiers slightly wounded by roadside bomb blast in Kabul
OTTAWA (CP) - Two Canadian soldiers suffered minor wounds after a roadside bomb went off next to their armoured patrol in Afghanistan's capital city of Kabul.
Defence Department officials say the blast hit one of two Canadian Coyote vehicles that were part of an armoured reconnaissance squadron patrolling Kabul before Sunday's parliamentary elections. It was not immediately clear if any civilians were wounded or killed by the improvised explosive device that left a crater almost three metres wide.
The troops are believed to be with the Royal Canadian Dragoons and are among about 700 Canadian soldiers based at Camp Julien, including an infantry element from the 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment. Investigators and a quick-reaction force were on the scene, where the Coyote was still able to move under its own power.
The troops, who are part of a NATO peacemaking force, will close Camp Julien after the elections and move south to the contingent's new operations base in Kandahar, which is under U.S. command.
PRT donates $43,000 for Kandahar-Arghistan road
KANDAHAR CITY, September 15 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A Canadian-led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) has donated $43,000 to the provincial Public Works Department for the reconstruction of the 78 kilometers Kandahar-Arghistan road.
Abdul Ghafoor, head of the Public Works Department, told Pajhwok Afghan News on Wednesday the Afghan engineers had started work on the road, adding it had 78 kilometer length, 40 kilometer thickness and eight kilometer width.
Ghafoor said the funds were insufficient and efforts were underway to get more money from the departments concerned to complete the project. Daily fuel expenses were 30,000 afghanis and more funds were needed for timely completion of the road, the director concluded.
Afghan president's brother calls for cooperative parliament
KABUL, Sept. 16 (Xinhua) -- An influential candidate and elder brother of President Hamid Karzai warned Friday that obstructionist opposition and rubber stamp parliament would damage the government and undermine stability in Afghanistan.
"I think an obstructionist opposition and a rubber stamp parliament both would damage the establishment as a rubber stamp parliament would approve whatever the government says while obstructionist opposition would take in mind its interest," the 57- year-old Qayum Karzai told Xinhua.
Qayum, who is running independently from his home province Kandahar, the former stronghold of Taliban, was of the view that obstructionist opposition and rubber stamp parliament are equally dangerous for the post-war Afghanistan.
"So, we are trying to have a parliament within the constitution to really engage the government, to give government a direction, to insist on creating employment and insist on helping to create work for the people and good governance," he said.
Calling for unity, the elder Karzai urged Afghans to give up merely criticizing and instead to serve the war-torn nation cohesively. "I think we the Afghans should try to move away from the politics of blaming. This was in the past and did not service good. I think we should engage in dialogue. Empty criticism does not serve the country," he stressed.
"So, what we like to do is to have a parliament that is cooperative," Qayum Karzai noted. In response to the notion of enjoying the president's support in the electoral process, the elder Karzai said that he belongs to a politician family and almost all of his family members have been involved in politics over the past 30 years.
"I hope the people will measure me not because I am the president's brother but because I have something to offer and I believe that is the case," he said.
About his relations with the president, he said that in public "he (Hamid Karzai) is president but in private we are brothers, we maintain very good dialogue, we listen, we talk."
However, to some extent he was critical of administration's performance, and said, "I can agree with that there is corruption with the government. And I think reconstruction process is good but I believe more is needed."
Commenting on security situation, Qayum Karzai, who returned home from the United States after the fall of Taliban regime in late 2001, expressed dissatisfaction by saying, "Unfortunately the security as we have now is not very professional."
"I think we made a major mistake in the stability process that in the Bonn agreement it was stipulated that Kabul should be disarmed but now Kabul is not disarmed," he said.
Nonetheless, he was appreciative of government's efforts in reforming security establishment and said, "The Ministry of Interior and the government is professionalizing the rank of the police in the security forces and giving them training that will hopefully make the security of Afghanistan more professional than they are right now."
Commenting about keeping American bodyguards by President Karzai, he maintained that, "Security is not only a problem for the president but is a problem for everybody and I believe that it is prudent. We cannot afford a mistake."
However, he pointed out that security forces of Afghanistan are slowly growing.
Over 12.4 million Afghans are going to elect their representatives into the first-ever parliament in over three decades amid Taliban's threat and tight security on Sunday.
The Taliban's rocket man adopts a gentler image to woo voters
The Guardian - 09/15/2004 By Declan Walsh in Qalat
Persuasion once held a very different meaning for Mullah Abdul Salam Rocketi. As a leading Taliban commander - so senior he once dined with Osama bin Laden - Rocketi was famed for his ability to annihilate enemies with a carefully aimed missile. Hence his name.
"I was famous for firing the rocket-propelled grenade," he said at his home in Zabul, a violent southern province. "It still gives me a pain in my ears."
But as a candidate in next Sunday's Afghan parliamentary election Rocketi has been forced to adopt less brutal tactics - and ideas - to win the argument. For weeks the retired warlord has wooed key voters with free lunches and flowery speeches. He promises economic reform, ethnic harmony, and a return of the Taliban.
A peaceful return, he adds hastily. "I will try to bring them back into government through a genuine peace process," he said, raising his voice to a shout as an American helicopter clattered overhead. "That is better than just fighting, fighting, fighting."
A year after their first presidential election, millions of Afghans are returning to the polls this weekend for another faltering step towards a new nation. Voters will choose from about 5,800 candidates to fill both the 249-seat Wolesi Jirga, or lower house of parliament, and 34 provincial councils.
It is a troubled blossoming. Although President Hamid Karzai's US-backed government hails the vote as a democratic milestone, analysts warn of critical flaws: political parties are forbidden, the parliament will be chaotic, and some of Afghanistan's most unsavoury warlords have been allowed to compete.
The presence of "good" Taliban candidates on the ticket is among the most controversial aspects. Half a dozen senior officials have been allowed to contest the poll, including Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil, the former foreign minister who spent three years in US custody, and Muhammad Khaksar, a former deputy interior minister.
But the candidacy that churns most stomachs is that of Al-Haj Maulvi Qalamuddin, a stern-faced cleric once considered Afghanistan's most feared man. As head of the notorious Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, Qalamuddin promulgated many of the Taliban's harshest decrees.
On his orders religious police roamed the streets, thrashing beardless men and women who refused to wear the burka. Girls' schools were closed, television and kite-flying were banned and adulterous couples were buried up to the waist and stoned to death. As Afghanistan regressed into the middle ages, Qalamuddin sat in his Kabul office obsessing over the height of women's heels. "Some women want to show their feet and ankles," he told a reporter in 1997. "They are immoral women. They want to give a hint to the opposite sex."
But the new Qalamuddin, released from jail a year ago, claims to be a leopard with radically changed spots. As a candidate in the four-seat province of Logar, 90 minutes south of Kabul, he is infused with a new-found humility. The Taliban's excesses were "misunderstood", he said over a breakfast of yoghurt, biscuits and sweet tea as he prepared for another day's campaigning.
"We were never against girls' education, we just didn't have the budget to pay for it. And I have nothing against television, as long as it is shows proper Islamic programmes," he said.
A tall man with a tightly-wound turban and a piercing stare, Qalamuddin met the Guardian in the upstairs study of his Logar home, surrounded by shelves groaning with gold-embossed Qur'anic texts. Freshly printed election posters sat in a corner. "My message to voters is that we have had 24 years of jihad. Now it is time for peace," he said.
His ideas appear to be a bag of contradictions. He renounces the Taliban but favours a return of its one-eyed fugitive leader, Mullah Omar. He praises Mr Karzai's reforms but refuses to buy a TV.
And although still subject to EU and UN sanctions, he has a curiously warm attitude to the foreign powers he once blasted as infidels. "You know, if the American army left Afghanistan this morning, there would be war by the afternoon. They are the reason we have peace," he said.
Other Taliban candidates are also glossing over their antediluvian images. Last week Mutawakil published a book denouncing Osama bin Laden as a miser who never helped poor Afghans and criticising the 2001 demolition of the historic Bamiyan Buddha statues.
In Zabul, one of the bloodiest flashpoints between Taliban and coalition forces, Rocketi's election literature ignores his Taliban past and has omitted the honorific "Al Haj" from his title. He claims he was never keen on their radical strictures anyway. "See my driver over there?" he said, gesturing to a man eating nuts. "I can't remember how many times he was arrested by other Talibs for playing music in our car."
Like other ex-Talibs, Rocketi has received death threats from former colleagues. "They say if they catch me they will kill me," he said. As a result he carries a small German pistol.
Karzai is gambling that the participation of Taliban heavyweights will blunt the insurgency, which spiked alarmingly this summer. More than 1,100 people have died, mostly in pulverising US air strikes. But Taliban roadside attacks on coalition forces have become increasingly deadly, a development Afghan officials blame on al-Qaida assistance.
Yesterday morning suspected Taliban killed seven men carrying voting cards in Urzugan, the southern home province of Mullah Omar. The provincial governor said rebels launched similar attacks against "innocent Muslims" before last year's poll.
Simultaneously, however, there are hopes the rebellion may be waning. About 350 mostly middle ranking Talibs have defected to the government via reconciliation initiatives; Mr Karzai hopes the example of candidates like Mutawakil will bring in more from the cold. "I am happy we have an Afghanistan where anyone can be a candidate," he told elders in Herat on Tuesday.
Critics say this approach is dangerously mistaken. The Taliban must first account for past atrocities, said Ahmad Nader Nadery of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.
"There is no such thing as a moderate Talib. People like Qalamuddin were violating human rights every day," he said. "Ignoring such abuses encourage impunity, which creates a very fragile, short-term peace."
The divisions reach into the heart of Mr Karzai's cabinet. "Many ministers do not agree with this decision," said a senior official in Mr Karzai's office, who requested anonymity. "They say the socalled moderates want to bring back fundamentalism."
Some believe Mr Karzai is currying Taliban support to build a political base among fellow Pashtuns. But a more likely explanation is that he is under US pressure to end the insurgency. This week Pentagon planners are debating a 20% cut in troops from next spring.
The furore is part of a wider controversy about the failures of Mr Karzai's presidency. Although more than 200 former warlords applied to contest Sunday's election only 32 were disqualified.
But despite the many problems with Sunday's poll, at a local level it has reinvigorated debate about Afghanistan's past and future. In the bazaar at Qalat opinions were sharply divided about the candidacy of Rocketi. "If someone has fired even one bullet, how can we vote for him? Those men have destroyed our country," said Rahmat Ullah during a heated teashop debate. But Muhammad Zaman, a vegetable seller with black kohl under his eyes, praised the Taliban. "They are good men. We want them back in power again," he said.
Outside town Rocketi was holstering his pistol before heading off to another meeting. "The past is the past, a book that has already been written," he said. "Now it is time to write a new one."
Backstory - Led by the enigmatic cleric Mullah Omar and nurtured by Pakistani intelligence, the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in 1996. Its initial popularity in restoring security to a nation racked by civil war was soon overshadowed by its repressive edicts inspired by a fundamentalist reading of the Qur'an.
The west paid little attention to the Taliban until 1998 when Osama bin Laden, who the organisation was sheltering, directed the bombing of two US embassies in Africa. Mullah Omar refused numerous appeals to surrender Bin Laden and in late 2001 the Taliban regime was rapidly toppled by a coalition of American bombers and Afghan militia fighters.
The Taliban rump fled into the southern mountains and across the border to Pakistan where it regrouped to launch an insurgency that continues today. American claims that the rebellion was on its last legs last winter proved premature. The Taliban killed 16 soldiers aboard a US helicopter in July, regularly bombs military convoys and has rendered swaths of the south ungovernable. The US has responded with massive aerial bombardments, killing hundreds. Mullah Omar's whereabouts remain unknown.
Afghan Hindus & Sikhs disillusioned with electoral process
KABUL, September 14 (Pajhwok Afghan News): For Hindus and Sikhs minorities together, a solitary Wolesi Jirga (lower house of parliament) seat has been reserved in Sunday's elections, for which an active woman is in the run.
Dwelling in this capital city, a number of Hindus and Sikhs complain they avoided standing in the polls because the government gave the minorities a raw deal - treatment that tended to lower them in status and public esteem.
Robinder Singh, gazing at candidate posters plastered on a wall from his shop in the bustling Kabul Market, asked: "Knowing full well the government has done nothing for our wellbeing over the last three years, why should we jump into the electoral race?"
Speaking to Pajhwok Afghan News, a skeptical Singh believed nobody would heed the voice of their representatives even if they were catapulted to the Wolesi Jirga and provincial councils.
According to information provided by Anarkali, a Hindu-Sikh contender for the first post-Taliban ballot, some 3,500 members of the minority communities are currently living in Kabul, Ghazni, Nangarhar, Khost and Balkh provinces.
She explained the number of Hindus and Sikhs in the Central Asian country had been depleted by their mass exodus, triggered by decades of strife. The suave, urbane woman recalled about a hundred thousand Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan would often slam the Dr. Najibullah government for giving them short shrift.
"They didn't file nomination papers for the elections, because no one is willing to grant them their due rights. As a result of the continued indifference shown to them, they are least interested in Afghanistan's political and governmental affairs."
Anarkali, who represented the two minorities at the constitutional and emergency Loya Jirgas, urged candidates to treat voters equally, regardless of religious, ethnic and linguistic considerations.
A resident of the Karta-e-Parwan neighbourhood, Narender Singh echoed the views of the urbane Hindu woman and Robinder Singh. They were not treated like Afghans, he grumbled, arguing the discrimination had left them disillusioned with the whole thing.
But Mohammad Ishaq Nasiri, a high-ranking official at the Ministry of Border and Tribal Affairs, is dismissive of the criticism from the minorities. "We have the same respect for Hindus and Sikhs as we show to other Afghans."
He claimed, like the rest of the communities, they were invited to Afghanistan's cultural and national festivals to promote national cohesion. "They can't blame us for their failure to contest the vote," remarked Nasiri, who reasoned the government would have ungrudgingly reached out to them if they had entered the race.
Nasiri pointed out the government had returned Hindus and Sikhs the lands and property wrested from them by gunmen during the civil war. Under the Afghan constitution and the electoral law, people of all faiths could contest the legislative elections - the first in 30 years.
No law followed at Guantanamo Bay prison: Zaeef
KABUL, September 14 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Former Taliban ambassador to Islamabad Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef has alleged no law is followed at the US naval detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, where has spent four years in captivity.
Palpably bitter over his arrest and subsequent handover to the US by Pakistan, the former diplomat told Pajhwok Afghan News of frequent and prolonged hunger strikes by inmates at the notorious prison and his travails in detention.
Before taking up his ambassadorial assignment in Islamabad, Mullah Zaeef had held senior positions in the ministries of defence and mines and industries and transport during the Taliban regime, ousted from power in 2001 by the US and the Northern Alliance.
He recalled after Pakistan derecognized the Taliban regime in 2001, he wrote an official letter to the foreign ministry in Islamabad regarding his stay in the host country. The ministry responded he could live there. With his diplomatic visa still valid, he says he was detained and yielded up to Americans.
"One night unidentified men - introducing themselves as Pakistani intelligence operatives - came to my house and told me US officials wanted to interrogate me. They took me to Peshawar, where they handed me over to Americans - blindfolded and hands tied behind my back - at the airport," Zaeef claimed.
About the recent hunger strike of almost all the Guantanamo Bay inmates, the diplomat revealed the protest started on August 7 and continued till his release. The protested pressed for two things.
"One, they wanted to be treated under the Geneva Convention - especially stressing implementation of the articles which say as long as detainees are innocent till convicted," he explained.
"Two, they demanded an improvement in the situation at the Fifth Camp, where detainees were kept locked in closed cells for 17 months at a stretch. All inmates are suffering from psychological disorders," Zaeef added. He described the Fifth Camp's cells as suffocating, with no proper ventilation. The prisoners were denied access to books, pens and notebooks, Zaeef said, adding the oppression enraged the inmates.
"Another article of the Geneva Convention says nobody should be held for more than a month in detention without charges. This period is allowed only for investigations. But the Fifth Camp's prisoners were kept for 17 months in hard conditions and that sparked the hunger strike."
Asked if detainees were tortured during questioning, Zaeef replied the attitude of the jailers was harsh at the beginning but improved gradually. However, he said he himself was never beaten up or tortured.
Regarding the interrogation process and the procedure for the release or trial of detainees, Zaeef said the Bush administration had set up two bodies for the purpose, but both operated illegally while seeking to work according to US military strategy.
"The US set up the Enemy Combatant Status Tribunal Review, which allows the detainees' description as enemy combatants and their indefinite detention without charge-framing. This body acquitted 10 prisoners.
"Later, they established the Administration Review Board to interrogate the detainees and decide on the release of those not threatening American interests. This commission has so far produced no practical result."
Answering another query, the 37-year-old said: "There was no law, US or international, but few inmates were freed by the board." Zaeef attributed his release to efforts from "some friends."
German troops should leave Afghanistan - CDU MP
16 Sep 2005 19:48:32 GMT
BERLIN, Sept 16 (Reuters) - German troops should be recalled from Afghanistan to avoid being sucked into a quagmire, a lawmaker from Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) party was quoted as saying in a newspaper interview on Friday.
"Our goal must be to get German troops out of Afghanistan and home as quickly as possible rather than sink in the Afghan swamp," Willy Wimmer, a former junior defence minister, told Saturday's Koelner Stadt Anzeiger, according to an advance summary.
"The Pashtuns are fighting for ethnic goals, not democratic niceties," Wimmer added, referring to Afghanistan's main ethnic group, of which President Hamid Karzai is a member.
Germany is the biggest contributor to a NATO-led peacekeeping mission (ISAF) of 10,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan alongside a separate force of mainly U.S. combat troops.
The German parliament is due to decide soon on a proposal to increase the number of German troops in the country to around 3,000 from the current 2,250.
Germany - like Afghanistan - goes to the polls on Sunday. Merkel's conservatives are expected to become the largest party in parliament, although without an absolute majority and it is not clear yet who will be her coalition partner.
Because of the time it takes to form a new government, Germany's current parliament - not the one being elected on Sunday - will decide on the renewal of the Afghan mandate.
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's government was the first to deploy German troops abroad since World War Two. His defence minister said the threat of terrorism meant defence of Germany started in the Hindukush mountains in Afghanistan.
Germany's CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, has so far backed the deployment of German peacekeepers abroad. The party's election manifesto says, however, foreign peacekeeping should not come at the expense of domestic security.
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