Karzai inaugurates conference in India
KABUL, Nov 18 (Pajhwok Afghan News): "Afghanistan's stability is an asset for the region, whereas an unstable Afghanistan will undoubtedly put the vision of a peaceful and prosperous region in jeopardy," said President Hamid Karzai in his inaugural speech at the regional economic cooperation conference began in New Delhi, capital of India, on Saturday.
Afghanistan would spare no effort to restore its historical role as a land-bridge connecting the surrounding regions, said the president, who asked the international community to increase their cooperation to achieve that goal.
Discussing the prospects of economic integration in the region, he said it was a lofty but achievable vision. The next step is to take careful stock of where we are, and to move our effort to a higher level by focusing on practical objectives.
"We in Afghanistan firmly believe in such a vision and we will work with you towards achieving it. We will spare no effort to restore Afghanistan's historical role as a land-bridge connecting the surrounding regions."
Today there are a host of other factors, from the fragility of security, to inadequate physical infrastructure, to inconsistent policies - which play to the detriment of regional economic cooperation.
Regarding the problems faced by the regional countries, he said they were plagued by poverty and environmental degradation, trafficking in illegal drugs, corruption and red-tapism, which, he termed as obstacles to development and upholding the rule of law.
"Perhaps by far the most fearsome challenge to the region's prosperity today is the menace of extremism and terrorism which threaten our people's lives and livelihoods," said the Afghan leader, who added his government was endeavouring over the past five years to rebuild the country and fight extremism and terrorism in the region.
"In this context, I wish to highlight the presence of the international military forces in Afghanistan, which has been critical not only to the fight against terrorism and the rebuilding of security institutions, but has also contributed to the security of the whole region."
He thanked countries who had contributed in rebuilding and bringing stability to Afghanistan and asked them that the job was not over yet. "The job is not over and the stakes are still very high. The security of the region and the world at large are not yet fully safeguarded. The war we are collectively fighting against international terrorism can't be won with hesitation and uncertainty. To win this war, we need the enduring partnership of solid and unwavering allies," the president maintained.
Discussing the progress achieved by his country during previous five years, Karzai said his government was continued to improve the infrastructure and legal framework to enhance Afghanistan's potential as an economic asset to the future prosperity of the region.
As part of the reconstruction efforts, road networks were being built in order to facilitate transit across the region and connect countries of Central Asia, through the quickest possible routes to the sea ports of Karachi and Gawadar in Pakistan and Chah Bahar and Bandar-i-Abbas in Iran.
He said work would soon be launched on the long-aspired project of Afghanistan's railways, beginning with the Dugharoon - Herat and the Chaman - Spin Boldak routes linking the country to Iran and Pakistan respectively.
In the same way, customs had been upgraded and tax and regulatory regimes improved to help cross border trade. "Our trade with the neighbouring countries has continued to grow by leaps and bounds, increasing from approximately 100 million dollars a year five years ago to around 2.5 billion dollars a year today - a 25 fold increase and still growing," said the president.
Tracing back the history of the regional economic cooperation conference, the Afghan leader said from Kabul in December 2005 to Delhi today, the members had come a considerable distance.
"Much has been achieved that bodes well for economic cooperation and partnership between Afghanistan and countries of the region. Over this period, I have had the honour of visiting several countries, who are represented here today, including China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates."
Each of these visits had opened a new chapter in Afghanistan's endeavour to build bridges of economic cooperation, he said, adding his country was looking forward to the full membership of SAARC in the coming year. At the same time, Afghanistan was continued to play an active role in regional organisations, such as ECO, CAREC and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
Regarding the conference in New Delhi, Karzai said it must serve, above all, as an impetus to define a vision that reflects the shared interests of all the members, and agree on working together towards achieving it.
Earlier, in his opening remarks, Karzai, welcomed the representatives from the regional and neighbouring countries and organisations to the conference on Afghanistan. He also thanked the Indian Premier Manmohan Singh for organising the conference.
Afghanistan's stability and prosperity central to region: PM
By IANS Saturday November 18, 12:06 PM
New Delhi, Nov 18 (IANS) India Saturday said it was committed to a 'stable and prosperous Afghanistan' and called for accelerated regional economic cooperation to reconstruct the violence-torn country.
'Peace and security of Afghanistan is essential for the stability and prosperity of not only Afghanistan but also for the entire region and the world,' Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said here on the opening day of the second regional economic cooperation conference on Afghanistan.
Manmohan Singh and Afghan President Hamid Karzai jointly inaugurated the conference, being attended by Central Asian countries, Pakistan, Iran, China and members of the G-8 group of industrialized nations.
It will identify key projects for revitalising Afghanistan's war-hit economy and involving its neighbours in the country's socio-economic reconstruction.
'Through increased regional cooperation, we will be able to reinforce the international community's stake in the development and reconstruction of Afghanistan,' Manmohan Singh said at the Vigyan Bhavan.
Underlining the 'tremendous fund of goodwill' between the people of India and Afghanistan, Manmohan Singh said India, being a close and friendly neighbour of Kabul, has 'particular interest in the success of this conference', which will outline 'the template of regional cooperation' to rebuild Afghanistan.
Describing the conference as 'a landmark event' for both the people of Afghanistan and the region, Karzai said 'a stable, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan could make an important contribution to the prosperity of the entire region'.
Karzai also underlined the need for a 'collective' fight against terrorism and extremism that afflicts not only his country but other regions as well.
Manmohan Singh, in his meeting with Karzai Friday, had expressed concerns about rising violence in Afghanistan.
U.S. Airstrikes Climb Sharply in Afghanistan
By DAVID S. CLOUD New York Times November 17, 2006
The Air Force has conducted more than 2,000 airstrikes in Afghanistan over the past six months, a sharp increase in bombing that reflects the growing demand for American air cover since NATO has assumed a larger ground combat role, Air Force officials said.
The intensifying air campaign has focused on southern Afghanistan, where NATO units, primarily from Britain, Canada and the Netherlands, as well as American Special Forces have been engaging in the heaviest and most frequent ground combat with Taliban rebels since the invasion five years ago.
The NATO forces are mostly operating without heavy armor or artillery support, and as Taliban resistance has continued, more air support has been used to compensate for the lightness of the units, Air Force officials said. Most of the strikes have come during “close air support” missions, where the bombers patrol the area and respond to calls from ground units in combat rather than performing planned strikes.
On a recent 11-hour mission that included a reporter for The New York Times, a B-1 bomber circled at 20,000 feet, responding to radio calls from American and Canadian troops who asked the plane to use its radar to watch for insurgent forces and to be prepared to drop bombs.
On a separate mission last week, a bomber dropped its entire payload of eight 2,000-pound bombs and six 500-pound bombs after ground units called for help, Air Force officials said. One B-1 pilot, Lt. Col. Tim Schepper, said that when troops called for airstrikes, “There are times when you can hear the gunfire and R.P.G.’s over the radio in the background, and that’s when you know you have helped keep them alive.” An R.P.G. is a rocket-propelled grenade.
To carry out the heavier mission load, the Air Force’s entire complement of B-1 bombers was shifted over the summer from the British air base at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to a Middle Eastern airfield closer to Afghanistan. The new arrangement shortens the flying time to Afghanistan by two hours.
Air Force officials said they were prohibited from disclosing the location because of sensitivities by the host country about disclosing the extent of its cooperation with the American military.
Lt. Gen. David Richards, the British commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, has promised to win support among Afghan civilians by focusing on economic development and avoiding combat. But the resurgence of the Taliban has made that difficult. NATO forces have established numerous small bases and sent out extended patrols with little or no heavy armor and artillery. NATO has also lacked a reserve force that can be shifted quickly to hot spots, though Poland has promised to send troops to fill that role.
The 2,095 attacks by American aircraft since June is many times greater than the number of airstrikes in Iraq, where the terrain and nature of the conflict are less susceptible to bombing campaigns. There have been only 88 attacks by American aircraft in Iraq since June, according to Air Force figures. Unlike in Afghanistan, insurgents in Iraq are largely in urban areas and do not often mass in groups large enough to warrant the use of airstrikes, Air Force commanders said.
The increase in total munitions dropped has also been substantial. This year in Afghanistan, American aircraft have dropped 987 bombs and fired more than 146,000 cannon rounds and bullets in strafing runs, more than was expended in both categories from the beginning of the American-led invasion in 2001 through 2004, the Air Force said. During those years, a total of 848 bombs and just over 119,000 bullets were used by aircraft, according to Air Force figures.
On the B-1 flight last week that included a reporter, Colonel Schepper and his two-man crew received a radio call from a Canadian soldier at an isolated base near the town of Tarin Kowt, who asked the aircraft to stand by for potential attacks on insurgent forces. A few hours later, the bomber crew received a similar radio message from an American Special Forces soldier, who warned that Taliban attacks on his position had been frequent. “We’ve had contact every day this week,” said the soldier, who could not be identified under military rules. “As sure as the day is long, we’ll have more.”
The surge in recent airstrikes coincided with NATO moving into the south over the summer, a period when Taliban attacks also increased. Much of the bombing in September was conducted during several major NATO ground operations against concentrations of Taliban fighters. But the number of air attacks has stayed high, reaching 397 in October, and is expected to remain at comparable levels this month, according to Air Force commanders.
In Afghanistan the increased use of air power has also come at a cost in casualties among allied forces and civilians. In September, an American A-10 attack jet mistakenly opened fire on Canadian troops southwest of Kandahar, killing one and wounding dozens more.
Later that month, a nighttime NATO air attack involving an AC-130 gunship killed 31 civilians, most of whom were shepherds, a joint NATO and Afghan investigation concluded recently. The civilians were killed as they fled their tents with their wives and children after a NATO bomb struck a nearby compound, killing 20 Taliban fighters. There have also been increased reports of damage or destruction to mosques and other civilian buildings and property.
In addition to dropping bombs, Air Force jets are increasingly being called on to provide ground forces with intelligence about possible insurgent forces in their vicinity, using infrared cameras, radar and other surveillance equipment.
While the B-1 has proven useful in Afghanistan because of its large fuel tanks and bomb-carrying capacity, the planes’ 30-year-old electronics have sometimes been a liability.
On the recent 11-hour mission, the B-1 crew had to inform ground troops several times that the plane’s radar could not deliver the detailed picture of ground activity they wanted and that many fighter jets and other aircraft equipped with more modern surveillance equipment could provide.
During the mission, one American soldier called up to say that his unit was holding a memorial ceremony for a soldier who had been killed several days earlier in combat. Trying to detect any possible ambushes of the service, he asked whether the plane could see whether there were any “military-age males” with weapons nearby — a request beyond the capabilities of the B-1’s electronics, the crew told him. So he requested that the B-1 perform a “show of force,” a low-level pass meant to frighten any fighters nearby.
Colonel Schepper dropped the jet steeply from 20,000 feet to around 8,000 feet and roared over the soldiers’ position, releasing flares to heighten the effect of the fly-by.
On the plane’s radio, the soldier voiced a simple response: “Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.”
NATO chief bemoans limits on troops in Afghanistan
November 17, 2006
QUEBEC CITY, Quebec (Reuters) - The head of the NATO military alliance on Friday urged member nations to drop the restrictions they have placed on their troops in Afghanistan, saying this was hampering the ability to fight Taliban militants.
NATO currently has around 31,000 troops in Afghanistan but some member nations have placed so-called caveats on what their soldiers can do. Some are not allowed to operate at night and others have been banned from fighting altogether.
The caveats have upset the United States, Britain and Canada, who complain their troops are doing most of the fighting against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer asked a Quebec meeting of parliamentarians from the 26 member nations to persuade their governments to lift the restrictions.
"An operational commander can have lots of trouble if too many caveats exist in the written or unwritten form. Too many caveats limit the possibilities a commander has to use his forces," he said by video link from NATO's Brussels headquarters.
"My strong plea to governments and also my strong plea to you parliamentarians would be -- please help us in lifting those caveats as much as possible ... you have an important role to play here, because really in Afghanistan it is a problem."
Canadian Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor told the meeting that all NATO members had to share the Afghan burden equally and said Ottawa expected the caveats to be removed.
Canada has 2,500 troops in southern Afghanistan and has lost more than 40 soldiers since 2002, most of them in the last few months.
De Hoop Scheffer did not address another major problem NATO is facing, that of persuading member nations to send more troops to Afghanistan.
Rosy picture of Afghanistan hides grim truth
The Sydney Morning Herald By Chief Correspondent Paul McGeough
The great disappointment in today's Afghanistan is not so much that the foreigners came, but that they came and left so quickly - and when they did leave, they left so little behind.
PERHAPS it was Kabul's famously thin air. But while he was in the capital a few weeks ago, Britain's Defence Secretary, Des Browne, told the BBC back home how "the people of Afghanistan [had] lost 2 million people securing their freedom", before he added: ". to this extent".
That is a big caveat. The extent to which Afghans have been freed is debatable. Certainly, they have been liberated from the tyranny of the Taliban, but after the most violent year since the fall of Kabul, there is rising bitterness about the dismal first half-decade of their fragile democracy.
The NATO Secretary-General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, seemed to be breathing the same air as the British defence chief when he wrote for the Canadian press to mark this week's fifth anniversary of the US-led invasion that came so fast on the heels of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the US.
Painting a rosy picture of liberated Afghanistan, Mr de Hoop Scheffer concluded: "These numbers should act as a strong counter to the idea that the international community is not welcome [in Afghanistan]."
But he was answering the wrong question. The great disappointment in today's Afghanistan is not so much that the foreigners came, but that they came and left so quickly - and when they did leave, they left so little behind.
Indeed, there is a constitution and there have been elections for a parliament and a president. But that the parliament includes too many of the war criminals from the past, or their associates, is generally ignored by an all-powerful executive.
The President, Hamid Karzai, continually goes backwards to the future. He wants to re-activate a version of the dreaded Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which used to whip women, music-lovers and kite-fliers into line under the Taliban. Mr Karzai is setting up what he calls a "police auxiliary", which many Western observers fear is merely a veil for a new bunch of private or tribal militias that still make a misery of peoples' lives - except this time they will be foreign-trained and funded.
He shows an ill-disguised contempt for the fundamentals of democracy when he explains the Afghan way: "Our life is based on . talking with [born-to-rule] tribal elders and [unelected] religious leaders who guide society." Today, much of the south is in the grip of a harsh drought. A four-fold increase in violence in the past year has forced tens of thousands to flee their homes.
Cities such as Kabul and Kandahar are told to be grateful for having electricity for just a few hours a day. Gross domestic product stands at just $US500 million ($650 million) more than in the last year of the Taliban.
The yawning gap between the poor masses and the corrupt and cosseted elites in Kabul is a point of rising friction that seems to elicit contempt from those with their snouts in troughs swirling with donor aid and drug money.
The owner of one of the capital's gaudy new "narcovillas" was quoted last week as saying: "We're praying for the poor people to have houses like us."
Despite all the Western hand-wringing over Afghanistan's economic dependence on drugs, this year's opium harvest is tipped to be up a nearly unbelievable 59 per cent and will be worth more than $US3 billion - which accounts for about one-third of the Afghan economy and 92 per cent of the world's heroin trade. So who will the policeman or the politician listen to? A cashed-up drug lord or a foreign diplomat spruiking human rights and treaties? Corruption is so bad that tax collectors have to be bribed to register that a citizen has actually paid his tax. After two years on the job, the 140 staff of Kabul's Anti-Corruption and Bribery Office have yet to obtain a single conviction and the national police prey on the people, rather than protect them.
Almost 40 per cent of children under the age of five are malnourished and 61 per cent rely on untreated drinking water. Almost 2 million girls are back in school, but up to 80 per cent of all marriages are forced, with about 60 per cent of the brides being under the age of 16. Up to 200 schools were forced to close this year and Human Rights Watch estimates that 200,000 children are being denied schooling because of the violence.
As they see a combustible mix of corruption, drugs, militias, insurgencies and the anti-democracy tendencies of the country's tribal and religious ways, only a few in the foreign diplomatic corps have paused to ask: what kind of future are all these children being educated for?
In the northern autumn, senior Canadian and Dutch officers claim that NATO forces have bested the Taliban after a hot summer season of ferocious battles in the south and the east.
Others are not so sure. There is always a winter lull in fighting in Afghanistan. Despite coalition claims each year that the Taliban have been weakened and are on the run, they have come back each spring bolder, more brazen, better armed and better trained.
About 3700 Afghans have died this year - more than a quarter of them civilians. There were only five suicide-bomb attacks in the first four post-invasion years, but more than 80 were recorded in the first 10 months of this year.
Seeming to forget the rudiments of guerilla warfare, a NATO spokesman interpreted this dramatic increase in suicide missions as a sign of weakness: "Their other tactics have failed. As a result, we believe they've resorted to the weapons of the weaker party - suicide bombs, hit-and-runs, [improvised explosive devices] and mines".
But the fugitive leader of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Omar, might have been signalling the annual winter shutdown when he marked the end of the month-long Ramadan fast last month with a threat and a promise: "With the grace of Allah, the fighting will be increased . and it will be organised in the next few months. I'm confident [it] will be a surprise for many."
A month earlier, a Taliban commander, Mullah Safurrahman, patiently explained to a foreign reporter: "We are in no hurry. But look how far we have come from nothing. We're in a guerilla war - it isn't a matter of two or three years; it might take us 10, even 35 years. Will the foreign soldiers last that long here?"
Memory lapse also seems to drive the rhetoric in Washington. The US under-secretary for political affairs, Nicholas Burns, declared last month that the Taliban no longer posed a strategic threat to the regime in Kabul.
But with almost one-third of the country again rated by the United Nations as "extreme risk" or "high risk", the Taliban appear to be in much the same position as they were in the early 1990s - shooting up around the perimeter of centrally held territory while, village by village and valley by valley, they offered their version of stability to wearied communities that had lost faith in their corrupted old-guard leadership.
Earlier this year, the British commander of NATO, Lieutenant-General David Richards, estimated that about 70 per cent of the southern population now sat on the fence, having not yet decided whether to support the US-backed government in Kabul or the Taliban and the criminal gangs that ride on their flanks.
The challenge for NATO's very thinly spread 40,000 troops in Afghanistan is to position themselves best to convert the bloody insecurity of the summer to stability and meaningful reconstruction before March's spring thaw.
This is because the 70 per cent of "undecideds" will make their call according to what is in it for them and their families. Their judgement will be based on the simple basics of their daily lives, not on fine words spouted in Washington or London.
In a staggering admission of defeat in the last five years, the head of the UN mission in the south, Talatbek Masadykov, told The Times: "We've never improved the situation. The security issue isn't just to do with the Taliban - it's to do with bad, weak governance. Fifty per cent of this problem is internal. People don't naturally want the Taliban back, not all, but increasingly they think that the Government offers them nothing but insecurity, and that though the Taliban offers them nothing either, they may perhaps give them some stability and an end to corruption."
As the violence encroaches on Kabul, foreigners are increasingly jittery. Some diplomats are demanding armour-plated transport and there is talk of setting up a Baghdad-style green zone for foreign diplomats and local officials. But others just get on with the business of influence.
The US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have renewed Iran's historic ambition to be a regional power across the Middle East and South Asia. Pakistan cannot believe its luck - Western officials constantly accuse it of aiding the Taliban, but Washington is too fearful of the consequences to junk Islamabad's favoured status as an ally in the "war on terrorism".
The tragedy in Kabul is that by sucking so much of the stuff of global nation-building away from Afghanistan into the Iraqi vortex - where it is being squandered - the US-led coalition has created just the veneer of a democracy that barely masks so much of what is rotten in Afghanistan.
In the circumstances, it was hardly surprising that Monday's fifth anniversary of the fall of the Taliban regime went unmarked in Hamid Karzai's Kabul.
Afghanistan to top agenda on Blair Pakistani visit
November 17, 2006
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair will visit Pakistan "shortly" for talks that will focus on security in Afghanistan, where 5,000 British troops are serving with a NATO force fighting a Taliban-led insurgency, Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said on Friday.
Britain has lost 41 soldiers in Afghanistan since the Taliban was ousted by U.S.-led forces in late 2001, and more than half of those fatalities died this year, fuelling criticism of Blair for his unflagging support for U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Iraq.
British diplomacy scored a success in Pakistan ahead of his visit with the release on Friday of a British Muslim man, Tahir Mirza Hussain, who had been sentenced to hang, after spending 18 years in jail for a murder he says he didn't commit.
The Pakistan Foreign Ministry said Blair was due shortly but gave no details of his schedule due to security concerns in a country where many believe Osama bin Laden is hiding, and where President Pervez Musharraf is regarded as a traitor by jihadi groups sympathetic to al Qaeda's cause.
It said the conflict in Afghanistan would be a priority in talks.
"Areas of prime concern obviously remain the situation in Afghanistan, stability along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and even closer cooperation and consultations to deal with the challenges," the ministry said in a statement.
"These engagements are also necessitated by the presence of British troops in the most treacherous southern region of Afghanistan," it said.
British troops in Afghanistan have come under heavy fire from Taliban fighters since deploying this year.
Pakistan has had to defend itself against criticism, notably from the Afghan government, that it is doing too little to curb infiltration by militants into Afghanistan despite stationing close to 80,000 troops on the border.
Britain and the United States have given cautious backing to a treaty signed on Sept. 5 between the Pakistan government and tribal elders in its North Waziristan tribal region, that critics say amounted to creating a sanctuary for militants.
British forces in Helmand, however, have followed a similar course in hopes of dampening support among tribesmen for the insurgency. Blair's visit to Pakistan follows a warning from the head of Britain's domestic spy agency that Muslim militants are plotting at least 30 attacks in Britain.
Pakistan helped British and U.S. intelligence agencies in August to thwart a plot to blow up airliners flying from London to the United States.
Four British Muslim suicide bombers killed 52 people in London in July last year and at least two of the bombers had visited Pakistan.
Nearly three-quarters of a million British Muslims have roots in Pakistan.
The Pakistan Foreign Ministry said Britain had agreed to increase aid to Pakistan to 480 million pounds ($905 million) over the next three years from 236 million pounds ($445 million).
Wage Hike as Anti-Corruption Move
IPS By Sediqullah Bader and Dad Noorani The Killid Group
KABUL - The Hamid Karzai government has decided to raise the salaries of government employees in an attempt to rein in widespread corruption in Afghanistan.
Salaries at the lowest end of the civil service ladder will now be 80 US dollars per month while top bureaucrats could earn a monthly salary of 800 dollars -- too feeble some say to tackle corruption.
Civil servants are paid low in Afghanistan and their salaries compare badly with the 2,000 dollars that many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) pay their 'volunteers' and workers.
Even skilled workers earn about three times what bureaucrats take home and this situation has been identified as the main reason behind the rampant corruption and low work-efficiency prevailing in the country. It is hoped that the planned wage revision will improve living standards and increase productivity in government institutions.
Corruption is among the main challenges facing Afghanistan. The president has publicly committed his government to its fight, partly in reaction to mounting criticism from local and foreign media and donor countries. Commissions have been set up to address corruption within his administration and state institutions.
However, there has been no measurable change in the basic processes by which state affairs are conducted on behalf of the people.
Vetting and purging corrupt officials and instituting legal proceedings against those believed to be involved could curb corruption to an extent, an editorial in Killid Weekly, an independent magazine has asserted.
"The clean-up operation has to start at the top with prominent politicians and state officials. Prosecuting or dismissing low-ranking employees will not end the problem. Due consideration must be given to their grim working and living conditions," the editorial advised.
In addition, placement and salary scales of civil servants should be decided on the basis of merit and not nepotism.
Attorney General Jaber Sabet recently launched the government's seemingly tough anti-corruption campaign. But his efforts are being hampered from the top, Afghanistan's independent media have reported.
There was bitter criticism when Kabul International Airport border police chief Amin Amarkheil was suddenly removed. The official had made himself unpopular by taking a tough line on drug traffickers, who have political influence among key government officials and allies of the president, it has been hinted.
"Some officials want to protect friends and family, while others are ensuring that their political friends and allies are not targeted," according to Killid Weekly.
The editorial warned: "Public administration reform cannot be effective when the rule of law is compromised for reasons of personal and political expediency. If the government is serious about accountability it must implement its reform agenda across the board and no one should be unduly protected.
Rampant corruption has given the Afghan government a bad name, undermined its legitimacy among the public and drawn criticism from the international community.
The World Bank has given the green signal to the decision to raise the salaries of civil servants. In October, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) led military command in Afghanistan announced that the country was again at a "tipping point" and unless living standards of ordinary Afghans improve within the next six months, more and more people are likely to shift their sympathy to the Taliban.
Moreover, quick and large-scale reconstruction was essential in the restive southern provinces where the Taliban have regrouped to take on government and NATO-led troops in intense fighting, the Bank has advised.
"If the decision to raise salaries had been taken last year, things would not have been so bad today. It shows the short term thinking of Afghan policy makers and their international advisors and financiers. The government and the international community have a lot to learn from the way this issue has been handled. We shouldn't wait until disaster strikes and then think about how to deal with it," a second Killid editorial in October has concluded.
Five years after the Taliban were ousted from Kabul, the Karzai government has not been able to bring all of Afghanistan under its control or restore the rule of law.
In a recent interview with Fortune magazine, the president admitted "there is corruption in the whole system".
The judiciary also is not immune to being influenced. A legacy of more than two decades of war, the legal system like other state institutions was heavily compromised by sectarian and party politics. The previous members of the country's highest judicial body were mullahs (clerics) and religious scholars with virtually no modern legal training.
Delivery of justice was reduced to fatwas and summary justice. Citizens received justice on the basis of their purchasing power.
A new Supreme Court council led by Chief Justice Abdul Salam Azimi, an Al Azhar graduate, is seeking to restructure and reform the legal system at the local level, where most of the cases are handled. Although a quick clean up is unlikely, a beginning has to be made.
Karzai pushes Pakistan to do more against Taliban
Reuters By Sayed Salahuddin
NEW DELHI - Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Friday pressed Islamabad to do more to combat the Taliban and other Islamist militants using Pakistani safe havens to launch cross border attacks.
"We are not blaming the government of Pakistan," said Karzai, in India to promote foreign investment and trade at a meeting of regional powers and Kabul's allies.
"We are seeking cooperation from Pakistan in better handling violence in Afghanistan," he told a joint news conference with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
"There is violence committed against our people, there is violence committed against our schools, our children, against our clergy, against the reconstruction of Afghanistan, against those who have come to Afghanistan to help Afghanistan develop," Karzai said.
Afghanistan accuses Islamabad of not doing enough to stop its one-time protege, the Taliban, and other militant groups operating from its lawless frontier territories.
Some Afghan officials accuse Pakistan of still sponsoring the Taliban and India accuses Pakistan of backing Kashmiri separatists fighting New Delhi's rule in the Himalayan territory.
Pakistan denies both charges.
But senior Afghan intelligence officials say they have firm evidence of official support for the Taliban and other rebels in Afghanistan.
Privately, Afghan and Indian officials are also frustrated at what they say is Washington's failure to press Pakistan, a main ally in its war on terror, to do more to rein in militants.
Islamabad and Washington point out hundreds of Pakistani soldiers have died fighting rebels and that many Taliban and al Qaeda operatives have been arrested or killed in the country.
This year's fighting in Afghanistan is the worst since a U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban's strict Islamist government in 2001.
More than 3,700 people have died in fighting this year, about 1,000 of them civilians and more than 150 foreign soldiers.
U.S. officials say the Taliban have been bolstered by drugs money and the ability to shelter in Pakistan, although Washington says there is no formal support in Islamabad for the group.
Relief teams arrive after Afghan flood
KABUL, Afghanistan - Relief teams traveling by donkey arrived Saturday in a mountainous province of western Afghanistan where flash floods have killed at least 53 people and left dozens missing.
Heavy rain lashed remote areas of Badghis province on Thursday, swamping many villages surrounded by mountains with little access to main towns.
Badghis police chief Muhammad Ayub Niazi said the floods claimed the lives of 47 people in Balamurghad district and six — all children — in neighboring Ghormach.
In Balamurghad, at least 3,000 houses were damaged, and 2,000 sheep and other livestock were killed, Niazi said. He appealed for aid, saying "these are very poor people."
Health ministry spokesman Abdullah Fahim said dozens of people were missing. Relief teams reached the area Saturday morning after traveling overnight, he said.
Afghan officials prepared 17,600 pounds of medical supplies, blankets and other aid, which NATO planned to deliver by air to the area on Saturday, said Kabul-based NATO spokesman Maj. Luke Knittig.
Some 50,000 families live in the flood-affected area.
Afghan state television reported late Friday that more than 100 people were killed, although that number could not be confirmed.
More than 50 killed, 100 missing in Afghanistan floods
by Fridoon Poya
HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP) - More than 50 people are dead and 100 still missing days after flash floods in western Afghanistan, an official said as NATO aircraft prepared to deliver urgent aid.
Fifty-two bodies had been recovered after the floods hit the remote western province of Badghis province on Thursday, the head of a government-appointed disaster committee told AFP on Saturday.
Another 100 people were unaccounted for as the floods washed away up to six villages along the Murghab River, Habibullah Murghabi said. More than 5,000 animals were also killed.
Around 5,000 houses were damaged, he said.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said about 1,000 houses, many of them made from mudbricks, were believed to have been destroyed.
"It is still not clear how many people are affected," spokesman Major Luke Knittig said. "It seems more than 1,000 homes have been destroyed and a good number of people have been affected."
The remoteness of the area, near the town of Balamurghab, which is about 30 kilometres (19 miles) from the border with Turkmenistan, meant details of the casualties and damage were hard to pin down.
Government teams were being sent to the area from Kabul and the adjoining province of Herat to assess the situation as tonnes of relief aid was being prepared for the area, officials said.
Knittig said ISAF choppers were being sent in Saturday to deliver eight tonnes of relief aid, including medical supplies and blankets, with winter beginning to set in.
"We have got a small medic team in the area who have been treating people," health ministry official Ahmad Shah Shokohmand told AFP.
Shokohmand said Friday that 1,000 people had been affected, which included those wounded or left homeless.
The Italian-led ISAF team in the western city Herat was also working with local authorities to assess the damage and line up assistance, spokesman Captain Giancarlo Ciaburro told AFP.
"There are reports of 100 people dead but we don't know the numbers because the area is not very reachable," he said.
ISAF teams had said Balamurghab was under 10 centimetres (four inches) of water, he said, warning of health problems later because of the rotting animal carcasses in the water.
Afghanistan, especially the west and south, has been in the grip of drought but heavy rains started falling in several areas in the past week.
Badghis, a province of grassy hills, has been especially hard hit by a lack of rain, with reports that hundreds of families have been forced to leave their land.
The British-based charity Christian Aid said in September that it had found that most water sources in Badghis and adjoining Herat and Ghor provinces had dried up.
United Nations bodies have put out urgent calls for donations to buy food aid for millions of Afghans who face shortages this winter, although agencies say there is no danger of starvation.
Afghanistan is wrecked after nearly 30 years of war, which has also left traditional irrigation methods and the agriculture sector in general in tatters.
Its infrastructure is ruined and the country is reliant on the international community for disaster relief, development and battling a resurgent Taliban, being assisted by other Islamist militant groups.
Badghis has seen sporadic deadly attacks on aid workers in the five years since the Taliban was forced from government in late 2001 but none of the near-daily violence that has swept the south and east of Afghanistan this year.
UN chief: Nato cannot defeat Taliban by force
Official says alliance failing in Afghanistan as Blair admits Iraq is a 'disaster'
Declan Walsh in Kabul and Richard Norton-Taylor Saturday November 18, 2006 The Guardian
Nato "cannot win" the fight against the Taliban alone and will have to train Afghan forces to do the job, the UN's top official in the country warned yesterday.
"At the moment Nato has a very optimistic assessment. They think they can win the war," warned Tom Koenigs, the diplomat heading the UN mission in Afghanistan. "But there is no quick fix."
In forthright comments which highlight divisions between international partners as Nato battles to quell insurgency, Mr Koenigs said that training the fledgling Afghan national army to defeat the Taliban was crucial. "They [the ANA] can win. But against an insurgency like that, international troops cannot win."
He spoke to the Guardian as Tony Blair came the closest so far to admitting the invasion of Iraq had been disastrous.
When Sir David Frost, interviewing the prime minister for al-Jazeera TV, suggested that western intervention in Iraq had "so far been pretty much of a disaster", Mr Blair responded: "It has. But, you see, what I say to people is, 'why is it difficult in Iraq?' It's not difficult because of some accident in planning, it's difficult because there's a deliberate strategy - al Qaida with Sunni insurgents on one hand, Iranian-backed elements with Shia militias on the other - to create a situation in which the will of the majority for peace is displaced by the will of the minority for war."
Downing Street tried to play down the apparent slip last night. A spokesman said: "I think that's just the way in which he answers questions. His views on Iraq are documented in hundreds of places, and that [the belief that it is a disaster] is not one of them." However, Sir Menzies Campbell, leader of the Lib Dems, commented: "At long last, the enormity of the decision to take military action against Iraq is being accepted by the prime minister. Surely parliament and the British people who were given a flawed prospectus are entitled to an apology?"
British commanders have argued that UK troops should be withdrawn from Iraq to allow the military to focus on Afghanistan. But Nato commanders on the ground have pleaded for 2,000 more troops, helicopters and armoured vehicles, to little effect. Last night Nato secretary-general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said countries should lift restrictions on what their troops could do."My plea to governments would be: 'Please help us in lifting those caveats as much as possible ... because in Afghanistan it is a problem."
Des Browne, the defence secretary, made clear yesterday that the future of the alliance was now bound up with the future of Afghanistan. "The Afghan people, our own people and the Taliban are watching us. If we are indecisive or divided, the Taliban will be strengthened, just as all of the others despair," he said.
Attacks have increased fourfold this year and 3,700 people have died, mostly in the south. The US has made 2,000 air strikes since June, against 88 in Iraq.
Last week Acbar, an umbrella group of Afghan and international aid agencies, said the crisis highlighted the "urgent need" for a rethink of military, poverty-reduction and state-building policies.
Nato commanders maintain the Taliban have been on the "back foot" since Operation Medusa, a battle which killed more than 1,000 insurgents in Kandahar in September, and talk of gaining "psycho logical ascendancy". However, Mr Koenigs said any claim of victory was premature. "You can't resolve it by killing the Taliban. You have to win people over. That is done with good governance, decent police, diplomacy with Pakistan, and development," he said. Otherwise the Taliban would regroup in Pakistani refugee camps and madrasas and return in greater numbers next spring.
Afghan tribes negotiate with Nato
By James Bays in Kabul Al Jazeera / November 16, 2006
Al Jazeera understands negotiations are underway between tribal leaders and Nato commanders in the Panjawi district of Afghanistan, one of the most troubled places in the country.
A similar deal was recently struck with the British in the neighbouring town of Musakala in the southern province of Kandahar.
Nato pulled back from Musakala a month ago. Exclusive Al Jazeera pictures showed the damage caused by heavy fighting and bombing before British troops reached a deal with tribal elders.
There are now no sign of Taliban forces in the town.
Nobody knows exactly how many people died when Panjawi was bombed. Some say as many as 80. Nato acknowledged that many were civilians. Tribal elders in Panjawi say they now want a deal similar to the one in Musakala.
Jan Mohammed, an adviser to the Afghan president on tribal affairs, said he was strongly against such agreements.
"Leaving that district to Taliban means changing that district to a Taliban stronghold, to a Taliban centre," he said.
"Step by step the Taliban will go to other districts and demand the same thing and will keep demanding the same thing. That is the Taliban’s main goal…to get foreign forces out."
Mullah Zaeef was one of the Taliban's most senior figures in his position as its ambassador to Pakistan and said he believes the deal has paid dividends.
"What I am hearing from the people here is, in Musakala it is peaceful. The people there are going to school and going to business. The city is open and the people there are happy."
An England flag lying on the ground is one of the few remnants of the British presence in Musakala. Tribal leaders are the people who now appear to be in control.
The question now is if this is a model that can be extended to other towns in southern towns in Afghanistan.
The Nato spokesman in the region told Al Jazeera that no formal negotiations are taking place but said that they meet tribal leaders on an almost daily basis.
However, tribal sources say there will be a major meeting next week and added they will be pushing for a withdrawal of forces as in Musakala.
Afghan warlords find limits to power
They still have clout, but as public servants they are able to make little difference.
By David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer November 18, 2006
For an hour, the minister of energy and water listened in silence as his employees complained about their department's dismal image: People called them lazy, corrupt and inefficient. Customers accused them of demanding bribes for the smallest services.
Ismail Khan sat on a stage in a dank meeting hall and glowered beneath his wild white beard. His eyes were narrow slits beneath his fierce black eyebrows. At last he spoke.
"Baseless lies!" he spat out. That was the end of it.
Khan runs his ministry the way he once ruled over western Afghanistan as supreme warlord from his headquarters in Herat. His word is law.
But Khan the warlord is now also Khan the public servant. In his gleaming white robes and black-and-white headdress, he still looks like a strutting pasha. However, he works in an office adorned with ancient maps of Kabul's power grid. And he is accountable to the public for failures in what even his critics acknowledge is an impossible mission.
Afghans expected a great leap of progress after U.S. forces, aided by Northern Alliance warlords such as Khan, toppled the Taliban regime five years ago. But electrical service is as unreliable as ever, despite millions of dollars in aid and U.S. promises of a modern, developed Afghanistan. Khan's ministry is barely able to provide two hours of electricity per day to Kabul, the capital, and 90% of the rest of this ruined nation gets none. His own ministry's offices are without power several times a day.
Khan represents one of the grand experiments of the post-Taliban era: the transformation of warlords into public servants. Five years ago, President Hamid Karzai declared that Afghanistan's "era of warlordism is over."
With U.S. help, he strong-armed Khan and other major warlords into relinquishing their roles and maneuvered them into jobs as ministers and governors, asking them to deliver services for Afghanistan's first democratically elected government.
But despite Karzai's declaration, the warlords are among the most powerful forces in the country. Scores of them are as entrenched as ever in the provinces, fielding private armies, profiting from the opium trade and co-opting police officials. Those who have come to Kabul know they could easily reconstitute their militias. In the meantime, they are untouchable.
The United Nations Development Program, which runs a project designed to rid the country of warlords and illegal militias, says at least 500 members of Karzai's government are directly linked to illegal armed groups. That number does not include Cabinet ministers, governors or members of parliament. Warlords are so entrenched at those levels that the U.N. program dares not target them.
"We are not now addressing the level of governors and ministers and above — in other words, none of the big guys," said Ariane Quentier, a strategic advisor for the U.N. program. "That would be political suicide at the moment."
Large private armies
U.N. officials and international donors say one of the biggest obstacles to disarming militias is Karim Khalili, a former warlord who is the leader of the frequently persecuted Hazara minority. Khalili also is Karzai's vice president — and is the government's director for the U.N. project, the Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups.
There are more than 2,000 such groups across Afghanistan, U.N. officials say, with 180,000 to 200,000 men under arms. Most are paid with profits from the opium trade, which also helps warlords finance the gaudy new mansions springing up in Kabul.
In addition to drug money, warlords typically enrich themselves and pay their private armies through illegal taxes, bribes, extortion, kickbacks and "fees" imposed at checkpoints. They dispense favors to petitioners, and in many cases, maintain a patina of legitimacy in their dual roles as governors, police chiefs or district commissioners.
Given the lack of central government authority, warlords and tribal commanders also provide a semblance of security in the countryside.
Some provincial officials are suspected of helping the Taliban. A U.S. military computer flashdrive purchased by The Times in April at an Afghan bazaar in Bagram contained a file that named 13 corrupt officials in six provinces who were still in their jobs, including governors, deputy governors, police chiefs and security advisors. The document accuses the officials of recruiting fighters for the Taliban; hiring Taliban for government jobs; kidnappings; illegal checkpoints; attempted assassinations; and opium smuggling.
Khalili and Khan formally disbanded their militias and turned over heavy weapons under U.N. supervision when they entered the government. But Khalili recently helped block an expansion of the disarmament program into Bamian province, his political stronghold, according to U.N. officials and diplomats. Bamian, in central Afghanistan, is home to at least 15 illegal armed groups, the diplomats said.
Karzai cannot move more forcefully against the militias because his police and military have little authority outside Kabul.
"The army is still weak and the police are worse," said Shuhei Ogawa, who serves as liaison to the U.N. disarmament program from Japan, its leading donor. "Until the government can provide security, no one will feel secure enough to turn over their weapons. It's very frustrating."
The U.N. program has collected 57,000 light and medium weapons and 12,000 heavy weapons since 2003. It has disarmed 63,000 former militiamen. About 1,200 warlords and commanders have handed over weapons.
"But that doesn't mean they handed over all of them. Most kept a lot of their weapons," said Ahmad Jan Nawzadi, an official with the U.N. program.
There are still 5 million to 10 million weapons in Afghanistan, according to estimates by international study groups. U.S. and NATO forces regularly uncover large caches of weapons, not all of them belonging to the Taliban.
A recent U.N. attempt to disarm militias in five provinces, including Herat, failed dismally. Only a few old weapons were collected. Local government officials and police refused to help. When U.N. directors asked for assistance, a U.N. official said, Karzai's office answered: "We can't help you. Do it yourself."
Khalili, like Khan, says he is committed to public service but is hamstrung by the legacy of more than two decades of war, and by the Taliban's resurgence in the country's south and east. Unlike Khan, Khalili concedes that corruption and bribery permeate the warlord-dominated government.
"I agree that people are mistrustful of the government," Khalili, 56, said in an interview in the stately Gulkhana Palace in downtown Kabul, dressed in a silver turban, a tailored blue blazer and white shalwar kameez — a loose-fitting tunic and pants. "The expectations of the people are high, but the fight against terrorism means the government has not been able to do much for them so far."
Afghanistan's history of tribal wars requires vigilance, Khalili said. Afghans are unwilling to give up their weapons and militias unless they are convinced that rival groups are disarmed.
"Insecurity means people feel they need their weapons, and they refuse to turn them over to a government that cannot protect them," he said. "Afghans have had bitter experiences in the past."
Khalili was referring, in part, to his own Hazara group, who are Shiite Muslims and considered apostate by many of Afghanistan's dominant Sunnis. Under Taliban rule, Hazaras were massacred and their villages razed.
He said illegal weapons in Bamian had been gathered up and locked away in depots controlled by "ex-commanders." However, diplomats say those commanders still report to Khalili.
Khalili acknowledged the limits of his new role as public servant. In Bamian, he said, "I was able to take fast action." But as a top national government official, he says, his authority has limits. Like Ismail Khan, he has found that the transformation from warlord to government official can be frustrating.
"Unfortunately," he said with a small sigh, "I cannot implement decisions as easily as before."
13 years, no electricity
For two years, Ajab Khan has trudged down the darkened hallways at the Ministry of Energy and Water, papers in hand, seeking permission to hook up electricity to his home. Short and sturdy, with a stringy black beard, Khan is a remarkably patient man.
But now, after spending the equivalent of $320 from his meager government salary, Khan, who is no relation to the minister, is livid. The money went for rishwat — bribes. Each time he needed a signature, he said, a ministry functionary demanded shereniy — sweets, or slang for a bribe.
And yet, he still has no electricity. He hasn't had any for 13 years, since electric lines in his west Kabul neighborhood were destroyed by civil war.
Standing outside a ministry office with dozens of angry men who had lined up for official signatures, Khan tenderly withdrew a folded piece of paper, its worn folds secured with tape. Each official signature on it came at a cost: $4 for low-level employees, $10 for midlevel officials and $20 for deputy ministers.
"The first thing they ask is not: 'How can I help you?' It's: 'How much will you pay?' " Khan said. He says his problem is also America's.
"The Americans promised us a modern country, but now everyone is disappointed in them," Khan said. "All the American money has gone to the top people in the government, and to the warlords. There's nothing for the people."
Ismail Khan, the warlord-turned-minister, professed to be shocked at reports of bribes.
That very morning, he said, he had toured a ministry complex where bribes were said to be demanded. He talked to people waiting in lines there, but not one complained of bribery.
"So these are baseless claims spread by people frustrated by years of war," Khan said. "They have unrealistic expectations that we cannot fulfill."
As important as corruption is, the problems Khan faces trying to supply electricity to Afghanistan are even more daunting.
The steady roar of private generators reverberates throughout Kabul as homes and businesses provide their own power. But poor districts, 30% to 40% of the city, have no power at all.
Power shortages could worsen this winter, when the U.S. Agency for International Development cuts off payments for diesel fuel to run the ministry's power plants. The agency has paid $130 million over two years, but the final payment covers fuel purchases only through this month.
U.S. officials said the payments were meant to give the ministry time to provide its own fuel, but now it is on its own. The problem will be compounded in winter when the rivers dry up. Hydroelectric generators provide nearly half the electricity Kabul gets.
Khan said the Finance Ministry had promised him $34 million. He hopes international donors will provide the rest.
"Yes, we are faced with huge problems," Khan, 59, said in an interview, looking flushed and weary after a day of addressing employees and inspecting a power plant, all on an empty stomach because of Ramadan fasting. "The main problems are money and time, and a country that has been ruined by war."
When the Taliban regime fell in December 2001, Kabul had a population of about 500,000. Today, with the return of exiles from Pakistan and Iran, the city's population is estimated at 4 million. Thousands of new homes and businesses have shot up, and demand for electricity has skyrocketed.
"In fairness to Ismail Khan, no country in the world, including the U.S., could have managed this kind of explosive growth, especially with an infrastructure that hasn't been improved in 20 years," a Western diplomat said.
USAID, which is providing $750 million over five years for energy development, is leading a $468-million project to build transmission lines to electricity-rich Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. If completed on schedule in two years, the new lines could help meet much of the burgeoning demand across Afghanistan.
Until then, local entrepreneurs and warlords are building some small-scale projects. And Khan is responsible for delivering the government's trickle of power. It is a miserable job, but Khan seems to confront it the same way he confronted the Soviets and the Taliban, with bluster and supreme self-confidence.
Western engineers say Khan's ministry has only four or five competent technical experts among 9,000 employees. Ministry workers say Khan, who graduated from a military academy, constantly asks questions, trying to educate himself on technical issues.
After listening to his employees complain about their woeful image, Khan took the stage at a district electricity complex and spoke without notes for an hour and a half. Twice the power failed and the lights and microphone went off, but Khan thundered on as if nothing had happened, pounding the lectern for emphasis.
He spoke in parables and aphorisms. Things are bad, he said, but employees should do what he did when he was imprisoned by the Taliban from 1997 to 2000 — have faith in God. (Khan escaped with the help of a sympathetic guard.)
"Our problems are great, but we will not lose courage, even with our limited resources," Khan said, concluding his speech. The workers clapped perfunctorily.
Then Khan was off, escorted to a convoy of white Toyota Land Cruisers that sped off for a tour of a power plant, going the wrong way down one-way streets. At the plant, Khan poked at gauges and valves and peppered the plant engineers with questions. He seemed energized and engaged, projecting the same florid-faced authority as when he dominated the political and military affairs of Herat and five western provinces.
But, when he was asked whether he could reassemble his once-feared Herat militia if Afghanistan again descended into civil war, Khan brightened.
"Ah, the mujahedin," he said wistfully.
A thin smile played on his lips. "They remain on call," the minister said. "As long as they are alive, these mujahedin remain loyal to me."
Khan folded his hands in his lap. His plant managers leaned in, straining to hear his low voice.
"If I called them to once again help me liberate the country, for any reason," the minister said finally, "you would hear a very loud shout all the way from Herat."
COMMENT: Can Afghanistan be far behind?
Tanvir Ahmad Khan Daily Times (Pakistan) November 17, 2006
The failure to create a more positive dynamic in the Afghan conflict will make it difficult to keep Afghanistan out of the policy shifts that the United States would be forced to make in the months ahead
The mid-term election that reversed the configuration of political forces in the US Congress aroused an extraordinary interest in Pakistan. It would partly be explained by the competitive spirit pervading the growing number of private TV channels revelling in the comparatively freer uplink facilities obtainable in a cosmopolitan Gulf city. It is only half the story; the other half was an inchoate perception struggling to become an ardently desired fact of the regional strategic situation
The interest evinced by an off-year election in the far away United States reflected deep resentment at the policies pursued by that country in a region to which the people of Pakistan feel linked by tangible and intangible factors. It brought to surface a desire not only to see a change in the Middle East but also a spin-off for Pakistan in terms of an enhanced freedom to take its own sovereign decisions.
The post-election scenario vindicates the hope that President Bush takes the calls for a progressive disengagement from Iraq seriously. The appointment of the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group foreshadowed the grudging acceptance of the collapse of the once strident policy of staying the course. The alacrity with which George Bush dumped Rumsfeld demonstrated the urgency to control damage. It was meant to steady a hobbled presidency in its quest for the least hazardous retreat from the arrogant and insensitive positions taken by it for years.
A natural enough question in Pakistan was about the implications of the power shift in the US Congress for Afghanistan. How far would the pressure for change impinge on the situation in Afghanistan? Were the ground realities in Iraq and Afghanistan similar enough to conflate the two wars into the same policy review? Having outsourced military operations as well as the intended campaign to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan to NATO, the American military establishment could hide its frustration. But in the British case, there have been almost explosive expressions of pessimism about the Afghan situation. A head of steam about getting the troops home has been building up in UK and the other significant European members of NATO. Would the Democratic Party’s programme of rationalising American military commitments abroad not lead to a further groundswell in the European demand for a more independent European policy?
There is an understandable tendency in the American establishment to exclude Afghanistan from the policy zone de-legitimised by the large anti-Republican vote. But several factors militate against this exclusion. Five years down the line, the invasion is still considered as valid reprisals for a great atrocity planned on the Afghan soil. But equally widespread is the scepticism about the grand tale of a global war against terrorism. What made sense as international cooperation in counter-terrorism became complicity in a failed enterprise of imperial wars which overtook the entire region either as a ghastly reality or a menacing threat.
The manifest failure of the regime brought to power in Kabul with Pakistan-assisted electoral processes to extend its writ and acceptability among the Afghan people has compromised NATO’s mission. It is the same old warring by an occupation army under a different label. Whether it is the fault of the Kabul government, increasingly portrayed as inept by the western media, or that of an overbearing alien army, the brutal fact is that no significant transition from a military policy to a policy of peaceable reconstruction has taken place. The hunting down of the Taliban often results in a disproportionate killing of innocent civilians. Civilian deaths, perhaps as high as one-third of all conflict-related mortalities, keep the spiral of violence going.
The Karzai government is unable to use reconstruction to tamper social anger. The Taliban threaten reconstruction in substantial areas of the country. The advent of winter may not make much difference to violence in the southern provinces. The new Taliban tactics, including suicide bombing, are less weather-sensitive, and reduction in Taliban activities during winter months may be no more than wishful thinking in Washington’s beltway. In fact, the winter months may well offer greater opportunities to the Taliban for the indoctrination of new recruits.
Secondly, reconstruction has itself become divisive with large amounts of foreign money operating outside the control of the Kabul government. The corrupt practices that concentrate the rewards of development in only a few hands alienate the youth and make recruitment by the Taliban easier. Third, there is growing disenchantment that development has turned out to be brittle and prone to rapid decay. It is easily blamed on foreign armies.
The helplessness of the Kabul regime is shared up to a point by Pakistan. For reasons intrinsic to the present government in Islamabad and also for reasons that illustrate its inability to influence decisions taken on the other side of the Durand Line, Pakistan is unable to help change the nature of conflict in Afghanistan. The Miranshah accord was hyped up as a model for conflict limitation on both sides of the border but the mysterious destruction of a madrassa in Bajaur and the not-so-mysterious retaliatory attack on Pakistani soldiers in Dargai have sent shock waves that are much deeper than the Pakistan government cares to admit.
The failure to create a more positive dynamic in the Afghan conflict will make it difficult to keep Afghanistan out of the policy shifts that the United States would be forced to make in the months ahead. Optimistic forecasts made in this context by the denizens of Washington’s beltway are a reminder that the strategic culture created by the neo-conservatives cannot change overnight. But there is enough robust energy in the movement underlying the triumph of the Democrats to raise fundamental questions about Afghanistan and the probable answer would be that it represents a policy failure as stark as Iraq.
The neo-con project is dead. The United States has to think afresh.
The writer is a former foreign secretary.
Dutch at odds with NATO Afghan strategy
Reuters - 11/16/2006
AMSTERDAM - The Dutch army leadership disagree with NATO's strategy of heavy combat operations in Afghanistan to keep the Taliban under control, fearing it would fuel more turmoil, a Dutch newspaper reported on Thursday.
NRC Handelsblad quoted unnamed sources at the defence ministry as saying tension had emerged between the Netherlands and its NATO partners, the United States, Britain and Canada, over the Afghan peacekeeping mission.
British, Dutch and Canadian forces are fighting a revived Taliban insurgency in the south of Afghanistan. The U.S.-led military alliance is facing fierce resistance from Taliban fighters in its biggest and most complex military operation.
Sources told the NRC, a conservative newspaper widely respected in the Netherlands, that the Dutch chief of staff of the armed forces, Dick Berlijn, had taken a tough stance against his NATO partners.
He told NATO allies in September that the mission should not be about eliminating the Taliban but winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people and maintaining support by the parliaments of NATO member countries, the paper said.
"Continued fighting is a signal for both the Afghans and the capitals (of NATO allies) that the mission is not going well," a source told the NRC. "We don't want to give that signal."
A spokesman for the Dutch defence ministry said the newspaper report was exaggerated and denied that there was tension between the Netherlands and its NATO partners. He acknowledged, however, that there were some disagreements.
"In a difficult operation like this, it is normal to have some disagreements. But it is nothing major, it is on small things on the execution of the strategy," the spokesman said.
"The chief of staff of the armed forces is in constant talks with his partners ... Most of the time they agree, sometimes they disagree. There is intense discussion," he added.
The U.S.-led military alliance has called for more troops to be sent to Afghanistan but has been having trouble getting members to fill the gap.
On Monday, Britain and the Netherlands urged the European Union to take responsibility for training Afghan police to help the embattled NATO peacekeeping force.
More than 3,100 people, about a third of them civilians, have died in the fighting this year, the bloodiest since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban's strict Islamist government in 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Afghan, NATO forces remove bomb in school
Paktribun November 16, 2006 - KABUL: Afghan and NATO troops removed a bomb in a school in Paktika province of eastern Afghanistan, said a statement of NATO troops received on Wednesday.
The bomb was found by Afghan forces in a school of Chankolay village in Urgan district, it said, adding Afghan and NATO troops coordinated the removal and disposal of the bomb.
Paul Fitzpatrick, a spokesman of NATO troops, said many children's lives were probably spared in the incident, which happened on Monday.
The statement did not mention who had planted the bomb and what motivation was behind it. However, extremists, who oppose education for girls, have launched attacks on girls' schools in this country from time to time.
On July 3, an explosion in Herat University in the western Herat province killed one girl student and injured six others in a girls' classroom.
Germany Assailed for Training Afghan Police Poorly
International Herald Tribune - 11/15/2006 By Judy Dempsey
BERLIN — Germany is coming under severe criticism for failing to train an effective Afghan police force to provide security for the local population and help NATO against Taliban insurgents in the south, according to military officials and defense experts.
The criticism of Germany, which has been leading the program to train the Afghan police since 2002, comes as the European Union — under pressure from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to play a greater role in providing security — agreed Tuesday to send a fact-finding mission to Afghanistan to study taking over the project.
"I strongly believe that we should strengthen our efforts to build up the police force and that we should ask ourselves if our contribution to reforming the political institutions, especially the rule of law, is sufficient," the German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said Monday at a meeting of European Union foreign and defense ministers in Brussels.
So far, Germany has only 41 police officers involved in training the Afghan police. Since 2002, it has spent 70 million euros, or $89.7 million, in training 16,000 police, most of them officers and noncommissioned officers. In comparison, the United States has spent $862.2 million to train 40,000 police, mostly highway and border personnel. By 2007, a total of 62,000 police will have been trained by Germany, the United States and Norway, according to the German Foreign Ministry.
Germany has 2,900 troops based in the relatively calm northern region of Kunduz, but has refused a request by NATO to send some of those troops to the volatile south.
"Germany has a strong presence in Afghanistan," Chancellor Angela Merkel said. "We have taken responsibility for the north."
Mr. Steinmeier said the security and stabilization work in the north should not be jeopardized by sending soldiers south. Politicians from across the political spectrum have also rejected calls by President Horst Köhler for the government to become more involved in the reconstruction efforts in Iraq.
Germany's record in training the Afghan police has come under particular scrutiny as NATO and the European Union try to coordinate the military, civilian and development efforts to prevent the south from falling into the hands of warlords and drug cartels.
NATO's top military commander, Gen. James L. Jones, has repeatedly criticized Germany's role in training the Afghan police and the police's inability to protect civilians. "The training has been very disappointing," General Jones said in a recent interview.
A spokesman for the NATO mission in Afghanistan, Mark Laity, said: "The police training is not a success area at present. The performance of the police in the south has been disappointing."
Another NATO official based in Kabul said the Afghan police were "badly trained, badly paid and subject to bribery and corruption."
Barnett R. Rubin, director of studies and senior fellow at the Center on International Cooperation at New York University, said: "The two fatal weak points in Afghanistan's government today are the Ministry of the Interior and the judiciary."
He told the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee recently that both "are pervaded by corruption and lack basic skills, equipment and resources.
"Without effective and honest administrators, police or judges, the state can do little to provide internal security," Mr. Rubin added.
He said that commanders who had been demobilized by the Defense Ministry had found positions in the Interior Ministry.
"The latter became the main body providing protection to drug traffickers," said Mr. Rubin. "Positions such as police chief in poppy-producing districts are sold to the highest bidder. The going rate was reported to be $100,000 for a six-month appointment to a position, with a salary of $60 per month."
General Jones, who was also giving testimony to the committee, said NATO was trying to ensure that the police were being paid their full salaries by banks instead of waiting for the ministry to pay them.
"The intention is to expand the program where the banking capacity exists," the general said. "This has, in our opinion, had a positive impact on the Afghan National Police."
German legislators say one of the main reasons the Afghan police appear to be so badly trained is because of the way the German police officers themselves are trained for such missions.
Johannes Kahrs, a Social Democrat legislator, said: "If you are going to send police abroad to train or rebuild security forces, you have to have a proper training system.
"Germany places a great deal of emphasis on stabilization and development assistance," he added, "but that means you have to have a proper integrated system with security and development working closely. This is still lacking."
The Foreign Ministry said today that the government was constantly assessing the role of the police while awaiting the outcome of the European Union's fact-finding mission. "The big problem is corruption and the security situation, and what happens to the police once they return home to take up duty."
Early but welcome: Afghanistan receives first snowfall
KABUL, Nov 16 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The central and some southern parts have received the first snowfall, breaking the long dry spell prevailing over the country.
The early but welcoming snowfall was caused by the rains that begin to lash the central capital on November 10 and continued intermittently till the filing of this report.
Although the rains and snowfall brought a bout of chilly weather with it, the flurry gave respite to Kabulis as well as residents of other provinces from the ever-existing dust.
Salang Pass, situated about 100 kilometres north of Kabul, and the main pass linking the central capital with the northern provinces, received the snow which also dropped the temperature in Kabul considerably.
In the central Bamyan province, Dara-i-Foladi, Shiber district and Hajigak Pass received more than 25 centimetres of snow. Anwar Khan, a driver, told Pajhwok Afghan News Hajigak Pass, which is used for travel between Bamyan to Kabul and the northern provinces, was remained blocked due to heavy snowfall on Thursday.
Sayed Ali, a resident of Dara-i-Foladi, said the snowfall began earlier than was expected this year. He said the early snowfall could cause problems for locals since they were not prepared as is common practice in snowfall areas.
In Paghman, situated northwest of Kabul, residents said the snowfall had started as early as Tuesday. Due to the snow, the traffic has started moving with snail pace through the Salang Pass and the traveling hours from Mazar-i-Sharif to Kabul has increased from six to 11 hours, drivers say.
In Ghazni province, situated south of Kabul, the mountains in Jaghori and Nawar districts are receiving snow over the past two days. In the southeastern region, Paktia and Khost provinces also received snowfall. Teri and Sato Kandao areas of Paktia have been covered with snow, blocking the Gardez - Khost highway at Teri for a few hours.
Welcoming the snowfall, Khost residents said the weather changed 20 days before they were expecting. Abdul Sami, a resident of Qalandar district, said the snow was helpful for their drought-stricken lands and farms.
Protesters for Jawzjan governor resignation
JAWZJAN CITY, Nov 16 (Pajhwok Afghan News): About 400 residents of the northern Jawzjan province Thursday in a protest rally urged Juma Khan Hamdard to quit his position as governor.
The locals accused Hamdard as inefficient, his links with Hezb-i-Islami, involvement in smuggling and weak management. Refuting the allegations, the governor said it was a hatched conspiracy against him. The marchers warned they would continue their protest until the governor had resigned from his office.
Mohammad Rasul, one of the protesters, told Pajhwok Afghan News: "We don't want the governor, he belongs to Hezb-i-Islami party and is also involved in drug-trafficking."
Ahmad Sameer, another protester, said they wanted the government should appoint an honest, qualified and efficient governor. "Hamdard has not solved any of our problem, we will continue to protest until government replaces him," he added.
In a brief chat with this news agency, he said:" It is all a plot against me, neither I am involved in smuggling, nor have any link with Hezb-i-Islami party, I was only its member during Jihad time, as everyone had membership of a party." He also said the number of the protesters were very small.
Ahmad Naeem Qadri
New depts at Islam-Qala dry port soon
HERAT CITY, Nov 16 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Modern buildings for Customs, Business and Security Departments would be built at Islam-Qala dry port of the western Herat province with total budget of $16 million fund from US and Germany, officials said on Thursday.
Governor of Herat Sayed Hussain Anwari told Pajhwok Afghan News officials of the business, finance, and interior ministries visited the port recently and selected the location for the offices. Islam-Qala is the dry port between Afghanistan and Iran.
Over hundreds of vehicles pass through the port carrying the business goods. Currently, the limited buildings in this area were insufficient to address the needs and problems of the traders.
Haji Sharif, one of the businessmen in Herat province, complained presently there was no appropriate place for businessmen and passengers in this area, and hoped the new buildings would solve their problems.
Islam-Qala is located 130 kilometres west of Herat city. A modern office building with necessary rooms and storehouses was built at Torkham border with neighbouring Pakistan. European Union funded $9 million for the project.
Similarly, work over the building and related offices such as stocks for Shirkhan port beside the borders with Tajikistan in the north of the country was under construction. European Union will grant 10 million euro for the scheme.
Three Taliban killed, six injured in clash
KANDAHAR CITY, Nov 16 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Three Taliban fighters have been killed and six others wounded in a clash with police in the Khak-i-Afghan district of the southern Zabul province last evening.
District police chief Colonel Mohammad Hasan said the fighting erupted when the militants attacked a police party in the Alikhel area of the district Wednesday afternoon.
He said the police and NATO forces jointly retaliated killing three of the assailants and injuring six others. Police and NATO soldiers remained unhurt, said the officer.
He added bodies of the dead Taliban were found on the site of the clash while the injured had been taken away with them by their fleeing colleagues.
Taliban, on the other hand, rejected the government's claim and said none of their men was killed or injured in the firefight.
Yousaf Ahmadi, calling himself spokesman for the Taliban, said they had gunned down several police and foreign troops in the ambush.
Hiding their own casualties and boasting of inflicting losses on their opponents has become a common practice among the Afghan forces and Taliban to get psychological edge over their opponents.
Rocket fired at Khost airport
KHOST CITY, Nov 16 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Unidentified miscreants have fired rockets at the Khost airport and a police post but the attack caused no loss to life or property, officials said.
Colonel Mohammad Yaqoob, crime branch chief of the province, said one rocket was fired at the Salarno airfield, adjacent to the Khost City, last night.
He said the rocket landed in an uninhabited area near the airfield and caused no damage to life or property.
Habibi, a resident of the area, told Pajhwok Afghan News they had heard sound of firing last night. He suspected more than one rockets might have been fired at the airport.
Separately, a police post was attacked with rockets in the Dargai district but the policemen remained unhurt, residents said.
Mohammad Rauf, an inhabitant of the area, said it was a tented police post established for the security of road construction workers.
Colonel Yaqoob confirmed the attack but said only one rocket was fired at the post. He said police retaliated and the attackers fled the area.
Abdul Majid Arif
Saudi ban puts Ariana Haj flights in limbo
KABUL, Nov 16 (Pajhwok Afghan News): First flight of pilgrims is only five days away from now, but fate of the Ariana Afghan Airliner (AAA), already blacklisted by Europe and Saudi Arabia has yet to be decided.
As time is drawing near, but the Ministry of Haj and Auqaf is still awaiting the reply of the Transport Ministry regarding pilgrims' flights. Head of the Haj and Pilgrims Department under the Haj and Auqaf Ministry Faiz Mohammad Mukhtar told Pajhwok Afghan News the first flight might be started next week.
He said 90 per cent work of the 24,100 pilgrims was accomplished, but the Ministry of Transport had yet to inform them. Mukhtar said they had already granted $8 million for tickets to the Ministry of Transport. After admission that Officials of Ariana have failed to get flight permission from Sauid Arabia government, still the airliner authorities seemed hopeful that the flight would be kicked off in due time.
Officials of the Ministry of Haj and Auqaf are also worried that Ariana Afghan Airliner, blacklisted by Europe and Saudi Arabia and their flights are banned to these countries. Head of the Ariana Afghan Airliner Engineer Abdul Hamad Mansur told this news agency they had sent their officials to Saudi, but they had not succeeded so far.
He said: "The flights would be started next week and would be completed in less than 22 days." Mansur put blame on the former officials of the airliner for negligence that had confronted the company with the problems.
He said they had chartered two planes of the African Holdan Company and had also inked an agreement with an Iran Airliner and the three airplanes would reach soon.
He said 60 per cent of the intended pilgrims would be shifted to Saudi Arabia through other airliner like Kam Air.
Musa Qala residents seek govt help in rebuilding
LASHKARGAH, Nov 16 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Residents of Musa Qala district of the southern Helmand province have demanded of the government and international community to reconstruct their mosques, shops and homes demolished during NATO bombing in October.
Dozens of people were killed and as many houses, shops and mosques were also abolished in the NATO air strikes. Tribal elders have started talks with Taliban and NATO forces that the latter may leave the Musa Qala district. In the result of dialogues, both Taliban fighter and the NATO troops left the region while tribal elders shouldered the responsibility of maintaining security here.
Dwellers of the district demanded of the government and international community to rebuild the buildings destroyed in the bombing. The shops, markets smashed in the attacks are conspicuous and draw attention on entering into the district.
Most of the residents said their shops and valuables were lost in the bombing. After leaving the area by both NATO and Taliban fighters, now the security has been restored and people are living a peaceful life.
Haji Mohammad Yar, a tribal elder and resident of the district, said he had lost all his goods in bombing laying in shops. He told this news agency: "We are spending tough times, and we demand of the government and international community to help us on emergency basis."
He said if they were not provided with alternative livelihood they would restart poppy cultivation. Sharifudin, a resident of Hosaki village in Musa Qala, said the people were in great trouble due to unemployment and poverty.
He told this news agency: "Earlier, there were enough job opportunities, but with demolishing of city everyone has become jobless." He also demanded of the government and international community to rebuild their markets, shops and provide them with alternative livelihood.
Haji Agha Jan, a resident of village Yatamchi of the district, said he had also lost all his valuables in the NATO air strikes. In a brief chat with this news agency, he said: "Foreigners, who destroyed their goods in the bombing, now should compensate them for their damages." Agha Sanam, another farmer, said his two and a half acres of pomegranates orchard was destroyed in the bombing and he had not got one kilogram of produce from it.
He said: "Every year I was earning huge money from the pomegranates, but war and bombing have deprived him of income this time." He said: "Foreigners have come here to restore security and launch reconstruction projects, but instead of help they have destroyed our existing properties."
Regarding the demolished mosques, Governor of Helmand Mohammad Daud said they had planned to rebuild mosques along with rebuilding other buildings. He said: "President Hamid Karzai has also vowed help with people of Musa Qala, we have also sent delegation in the area to make a survey of the abolished buildings."
Daud said they had sought help of the international agencies for reconstruction of Musa Qala, and they also wanted to provide job opportunities to the people of the district.
Abdul Samad Rohani
Disarmed people to get employment abroad
HERAT CITY, Nov 16 (Pajhwok Afghan News): About 26 former military officers unarmed under the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme in the western Herat province would be sent abroad for work, officials said on Thursday.
Sayed Mohammad Hussain Hussaini, head of the Public Works Department in Herat, told Pajhwok Afghan News that International Organisation for Migration (IOM) would send 26 disarmed military personnel to UAE for work.
They would be sent abroad following test of their language skill and profession, he added. In the past, number of disarmed military personnel several times staged protest demonstration in Kabul, Herat and other parts of the country to press demand for employment opportunities.
Gen Saeedi, In charge of the Disarmament of the Irresponsible Armed Groups (DIAG) programme in western zone, told this news agency that government had planned to send those joined or would join DDR and DIAG abroad.
He said about 5,680 people were disarmed in Herat, Farah, Ghor and Badghis provinces and had recovered over 5,000 different arms and 2,000 tons of ammunitions.
DDR process began in the country in 2003 and ended with joining of 63,000 people to this process in 2005, following DDR the DIAG programme began through which 25,000 arms and thousands tons of ammunitions were collected from local commanders and irresponsible armed personal across the country.
Afghan private Tolo TV broadcasts banned in Pakistan
Text of report by Afghan independent Tolo TV on 15 November
[Presenter] Tolo TV broadcasts, aired on cable networks, have once again been banned in Pakistan since last week. Tolo broadcasts had previously been banned in Pakistani border states, including Baluchistan.
The Pakistani authorities have warned owners of cable networks they will be punished if they air Tolo TV programmes.
[Correspondent] According to a number of Afghan and foreign analysts, media sources, newspapers, Radio and TV channels, have grown remarkably and incredibly in Afghanistan over the past four and half years.
The question is why has the government of Pakistan has banned Tolo TV broadcasts?
[Mohammad Nabi Farahi, deputy minister of culture for tourism affairs, in Pashto] I believe it is a negative move. I should hope not only Tolo television, but all other media sources should be allowed to carry out their activities.
[Rahimollah Samandar, head, union of independent Afghan journalists] It is against international conventions. The government of Pakistan should lift the ban on Tolo broadcasts as soon as possible because millions of Afghans are still living in Pakistan and all of them need to watch their national TV channels.
[Correspondent] During the Taleban era, only one radio station, called Radio Voice of Sharia [religious teachings], was active, and only one newspaper, called Sharia, was published in Afghanistan.
However figures published by the Ministry of Culture and Youth Affairs say around 600 newspapers, Radio and TV stations, and websites are active in Afghanistan now.
It is worth mentioning that Lemar, state-run television, Ariana and Aina channels have not been banned and continue to air their programmes in Pakistan.
We tried to contact Pakistani diplomats in Kabul several times to ask them about the issue, but could not get through.
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