Blair, Musharraf commit to terror fight
By DAVID STRINGER, Associated Press Writer
LAHORE, Pakistan - The British and Pakistani leaders committed Sunday to a fight against terrorism for years to come, pledging to fund moderate Islamic schools and provide more job opportunities to erode extremists' base of support, while vowing to stamp out Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, making his third trip to Pakistan, and host President Gen. Pervez Musharraf also called for a resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli crisis, seen as the catalyst for the spread of global Islamic militancy.
Blair said the war against extremism will fail unless more is done to support moderate political and religious forces over those fanning terrorism.
"This terrorism that we are facing, of which one manifestation is what has happened in Afghanistan, has been a long time going and will take a long time to defeat," Blair said during a visit to the eastern city of Lahore.
Blair's visit comes amid heightened Taliban violence in Afghanistan, where more than 30 British troops have died this year. Pakistan's central government is trying to cut off the broad-based support the Taliban receive in its northwestern tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
British forces will continue battling the Taliban to prevent the spread of extremism in Afghanistan, Blair said.
"We are in the middle of a difficult global struggle that has many aspects to it, including what is happening in Afghanistan," Blair said. "Our task is to take on the extremists wherever they are. I believe we will win."
Musharraf said that "we are doing the maximum" to stop militants from crossing the border and fighting in Afghanistan, and said more action against the Taliban needs to be taken inside Afghanistan.
"I would say that actions, more actions are required on the Afghanistan side because the war will be won on the Afghan side," he said. "
However, he acknowledged that the Taliban had support in Pakistan's tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.
"The Taliban problem is an Afghan problem ... being supported by elements from this side," Musharraf said. "We need to put our house in order on our side."
"We are doing all we can because we are against terrorism, against extremism, we are against Talibanization."
Musharraf dismissed assertions that religious extremism could lead to "World War III," but said resolving the Palestinian crisis, providing a concrete redevelopment plan of Afghanistan and boosting the number of jobs in Pakistan would reduce the numbers of people turning to violent extremism.
In a joint-communique, the two leaders said they had agreed to tackle the "underlying conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism ... for many years to come."
Blair repeatedly stressed that the Palestinian-Israeli problem must be dealt with to stamp out terrorism.
"For the Middle East in particular — but also worldwide — where there is injustice we've got to be dealing with it," Blair said. "That's why it's important that we deal with the Palestinian issue in a proper way."
The two men pledged increased cooperation to curb violence in Afghanistan through military means, economic reconstruction and fighting the opium trade.
Blair said Britain would provide two MI-17 helicopters by next April for the use of anti-narcotics forces patrolling the Afghan-Pakistan border.
The prime minister agreed Sunday to immediately release $38 million to target poverty alleviation schemes.
"This will promote the climate for enlightened moderation to which the president and the prime minister both aspire not just in Pakistan but also globally," the joint-statement said.
Blair agreed Saturday to increase planned funding for a program to create a network of Pakistani religious schools — known as madrassas — teaching moderate Islam from about $450 million to $910 million.
Blair and Musharraf were also expected to discuss closer ties between their interior ministries, intelligence services and universities to combat extremists who have attracted support in both countries.
Three of the four bombers who killed 52 commuters and themselves in July 2005 attacks on London's transport network had family ties to Pakistan. Two visited Pakistan in the months leading up to the strike.
Pakistani intelligence agents provided key information that led to the 2004 arrest in London of Dhrien Barot, jailed this month for a minimum of 40 years over plans to bomb U.S. and British targets.
A British operation in August to round up a gang allegedly plotting to down U.S.-bound airliners was also directly linked to Pakistani intelligence assistance.
Musharraf Calls for Afghanistan `Marshall Plan' to Beat Taliban
By Mark Deen
Nov. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said Afghanistan requires billions of dollars in development aid in a ``Marshall Plan'' designed to beat the Taliban insurgency and achieve stability.
``There is a requirement for a massive inflow of development aid, some kind of Marshall Plan,'' Musharraf said at a press conference in Lahore, Pakistan. He singled out the needs of the southeast of Afghanistan, where the insurgency is strongest.
The call for more aid came after meetings with U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, in which the two leaders discussed ways of boosting joint counter-terrorism efforts. Britain is seeking help to contain violence by Taliban rebels in Afghanistan, where 3,700 people have been killed this year.
On his second day in Pakistan, Blair said the U.K. is more than doubling its aid budget for Pakistan to 480 million pounds ($909 million) over three years, from 236 million pounds. The funds are intended mainly for schools.
Violence by Taliban-led insurgents in Afghanistan has surged this year, with increased use of suicide operations, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency said this week. The Taliban use Pakistan as a sanctuary to build forces, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies and other groups.
Britain has 6,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of a 30,000-strong force under the aegis of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Militants kill "U.S. spy" cleric in Pakistan
Sun Nov 19, 2:38 AM ET
MIRANSHAH, Pakistan (Reuters) - Suspected pro-Taliban militants killed an Afghan cleric in Pakistan's North Waziristan border region after accusing him of being a U.S. spy, the latest such killing in the area, officials said on Sunday.
Dozens of people have been killed in the regions of North and South Waziristan after being accused of spying for the Americans since Pakistani security forces launched a hunt for Islamist militants there in late 2003.
Residents found the body of the cleric, Maulana Mohammad Hashim, early on Sunday in Razmak, 75 km (45 miles) south of Miranshah, North Waziristan's main town.
"He was shot in the head twice and a note was found near the body saying he was a U.S spy," said Zafar ali, the deputy administrator of Razmak.
The note said whoever spied for the United States would be killed.
The headless body of another cleric, Maulana Salahuddin, was found this month on a road linking North and South Waziristan. Residents said Salahuddin was a friend of Hashim.
Killings have been going on in North Waziristan despite a peace deal struck with militants in September to end violence there.
Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal belt has been a haven for Islamist militants for decades.
Many al Qaeda militants and their Taliban allies have taken refuge with sympathetic ethnic-Pashtun tribesmen since fleeing the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.
Afghan president urges renewed commitment to reconstruction at Indian summit
Sat Nov 18, 9:06 PM
NEW DELHI (AP) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai said extremism and terrorism are the twin challenges to peace in his country and the region and called for increased co-operation to tackle the scourges.
Karzai, addressing an international conference on Afghanistan on Saturday, said the tasks of reconstructing his country and restoring peace to the region remain largely unfinished.
"To those of our partners who may be pondering their continued involvement in Afghanistan, I say the job is not over and the stakes are still very high," Karzai told leaders from 19 countries who gathered in India's capital New Delhi for the two-day conference on Afghanistan.
Karzai said international military forces are still needed in Afghanistan and winning the war against extremism calls for countries to work together.
Fighting extremism needs collective effort, Karzai said, possibly in an indirect reference to neighbouring Pakistan, where the Afghan government said Taliban militants take refuge. At least 3,700 Afghans have been killed this year in attacks carried out by Taliban rebels.
The conference has brought together Afghanistan's neighbours, including Pakistan, Iran and China, and members of the G-8 group of industrialized countries.
"I hope the conference will bring to Afghanistan what we so badly need: assistance, investment and lasting stability," Karzai said.
His plea for a greater financial commitment was echoed by many of the leaders at the meeting.
India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told the conference despite Afghanistan's "remarkable transformation" over the last five years, the country still faces the challenges of poverty, unemployment and a lack of infrastructure.
Singh said increased violence in parts of southern and southeastern Afghanistan have not only undermined the country's security but are hindering development efforts.
The regional economic co-operation conference on Afghanistan, the second of its kind, is expected to focus on identifying projects that will benefit both Afghanistan and its neighbours. The first conference, hosted by Britain and Afghanistan, was held in the Afghan capital Kabul in December last year.
Osama bin Laden hiding on Pak-Afghan border: Karzai
HindustanTimes.com New Delhi, November 18, 2006
Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday hinted that Osama bin Laden could still be hiding in the region bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"He is in the region...That is if he hasn't run away," Karzai said, somewhat cautiously, during an interactive session with the audience after his address at the fourth HT Leadership Summit in the Capital.
A circumspect Karzai refused to go into the details of the whereabouts of the Al-Qaeda leader, who, it is often claimed, has taken shelter in the villages on the Pakistani side of the border with Afghanistan.
At the outset of his address, Karzai made it clear that he was always cautious when talking about Islamabad in New Delhi and vice versa, as both were close friends of Kabul.
In response to a question if the extremist Taliban movement that grew from the Afghan people's struggle against the Soviet occupation could have been avoided, Karzai answered in the affirmative saying terrorism cannot serve "any interests" anywhere in the world.
Indian firms urged to invest in Afghanistan
NEW DELHI, Nov 19 (Pajhwok Afghan News): President Hamid Karzai has asked Indian investors to venture in Afghanistan as the country presents suitable opportunities and investment-friendly environment.
The president was speaking to entrepreneurs during the regional economic cooperation conference on Afghanistan on Saturday. He said his country had vast opportunities for investment and the Indian investors had the chance to fully exploit those opportunities.
"It will not only bring you ample profit, but extend your businesses and enable you to establish commercial links with the Central Asian states," he said.
He added Afghanistan's economy was not only benefiting that country, but also helping the regional trade and commerce. The president referred to some entrepreneurs like Kabul Bank, Roshan mobile company and some other commercial and business organisations.
Pajhwok's special correspondence says majority of investors said yes to President Karzai's invitation and showed their willingness to venture in Afghanistan.
Indian ambassador to Kabul Rakesh Sood assured the Indian government would push the investors to extend their businesses to Afghanistan by investing in various fields.
President Karzai is scheduled to open an agri symposium today (Sunday). The president is in New Delhi to attend the second conference on regional economic cooperation. Cabinet ministers, advisors and a team of local journalists are accompanying the president to India.
Ahmad Naim Qadiri
Canadian Brig. Gen: NATO troops hampered
By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press Writer Sat Nov 18, 1:05 PM ET
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - The NATO-led force in Afghanistan would be more effective if member countries lifted restrictions that prevent their troops from fighting insurgents in the country's restive south, a senior Canadian officer said Saturday.
Many of the 37 troop-contributing nations serving with the 31,000-strong force have refused to join the fight against Taliban and other insurgents in the south, leaving the task to Canadian, American, British and Dutch soldiers.
The French, German and Italian forces patrol relatively quiet sectors in the north under self-imposed limitations, known in NATO as "caveats," that keep them out of combat operations.
Brig. Gen. Tim Grant, in charge of Canadian forces in Afghanistan, said that if the commander of the NATO-led force "had more flexibility in the deployment and the use of all the troops here I think it would be better for everyone."
"The issue is not necessarily having more troops stationed here on a permanent basis," Grant told The Associated Press in an interview at this sprawling southern military base. "But if there are situations ... when it is important to have different capacities, different capabilities on the ground, that is when (the NATO) commander needs to be able to move troops."
Speaking Friday in Quebec City, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer also urged lawmakers from the alliance's member nations to lean on their governments to remove troop restrictions. He said national caveats are understandable, but ultimately divisive.
At least 289 members of the U.S. military have died in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan as a result of the U.S. invasion in late 2001 to oust the Taliban regime for hosting Osama bin Laden.
At least 42 Canadians have been killed in the war, including 34 soldiers this year alone. Britain has lost at least 40 soldiers, while the Netherlands has had four deaths.
Meanwhile, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Saturday that the task of reconstructing his country remained largely unfinished, urging developed countries and international aid agencies to renew their commitment of support.
"To those of our partners who may be pondering their continued involvement in Afghanistan, I say the job is not over and the stakes are still very high," Karzai told leaders from some 19 countries gathered in New Delhi for a conference on Afghanistan.
The participants included Afghanistan's neighbors — Pakistan, Iran and China — and members of the G-8 group of industrialized nations.
"I hope the conference will bring to Afghanistan what we so badly need: assistance, investment and lasting stability," Karzai said.
He also said fighting extremism requires collective effort, a comment possibly aimed at Pakistan, which has come under increasing pressure to crack down on Taliban and al-Qaida militants operating along its border with Afghanistan. Osama bin-Laden is among those believed to be hiding along the porous frontier.
On Friday, Karzai said at a news conference that Afghanistan was not blaming Pakistan for the rise of violence in the country's south. "We are seeking help from the government of Pakistan," he said.
Violence in Afghanistan has spiked in the last year, the deadliest since the ouster of the Taliban by U.S.-led forces in late 2001. More than 3,700 people have died from insurgency-related violence, and insurgents have set off a record number of suicide and roadside bombs.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told the conference that rising violence had not only undermined the country's security but was hindering ongoing development efforts.
"Dealing with this challenge is a collective responsibility," Singh said.
The two-day meeting was expected to address ways to encourage regional cooperation in fighting the drug trade that flows through Afghanistan and to address the issue of scarce shared water resources, according to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs.
Associated Press Writer Rahim Faiez contributed to this report from New Delhi.
From soft hats to hard facts in battle to beat Taliban
· Hearts and minds battle gives way to shooting war
· Despite losses military chiefs feel fight is worth it
Declan Walsh in Kabul, Richard Norton-Taylor and Julian Borger in Washington Saturday November 18, 2006 The Guardian (UK)
It was, in retrospect, an age of soft-hat innocence. At the start of their deployment to Helmand last spring, British soldiers acted like preening contestants in a military popularity contest.
Paratroopers spurned helmets in favour of berets, learned pidgin Pashto and armed themselves with friendly smiles. Soldiers on foot patrol in Lashkar Gah kicked footballs with children and sipped green tea with solemn-faced, turbaned elders. Their commanders promised greater sensitivity than the gum-chewing Americans who used to charge around the town at breakneck speed. In Kabul the thoughtful British general in charge of Nato, David Richards, vowed to stay close to the people. "Your best solution is the population around you," he said.
How much has changed. More than 30 British soldiers killed in southern Afghanistan in six months, 18 of them in some of the most intense combat since the second world war; a controversial peace pact with pro-Taliban elders; a heroin trade soaring to record levels under British noses; and a stillborn £50m development plan.
Talk of hearts and minds has been drowned out by demands for armour and bullets. A volley of suicide bombings - such as the one that killed Royal Marine Gary Wright last month - have raised tensions, sometimes with tragic results. On Thursday, British troops fired on a vehicle that failed to stop at a checkpost in Goreshk, killing two civilians.
The Department for International Development has spent only £2m of its £50m three-year budget and the two DFID officials in Lashkar Gah rarely leave their base. The little work that has begun is in the hands of 28th Regiment Engineers and private firms as Helmand terrifies foreign aid workers. A province three times the size of Wales has just three international agencies, of which only one, Mercy Corps, ventures beyond Lashkar Gah.
Meanwhile the military, frustrated by reticent aid agencies, is fumbling for a successful strategy. Having fought courageously through the summer British troops have had to abandon dangerous outposts such as Sangin and Musa Qala. Now they are concentrating on protecting a much smaller triangle of territory. Is it all going wrong? Helmand is one part of a bigger Nato strategy across southern Afghanistan that seems simple and sensible - use military force to clear the Taliban from defined areas, send in millions of pounds of development, and win the support of the "swing voters" that make up an estimated 70% of southerners. In practice, it has been bloody and complex.
The Taliban, partly thanks to bases in neighbouring Pakistan, has proved a remarkably resilient and flexible enemy. In September Nato launched Operation Medusa, a drive into Panjwayi and Zheri, two notoriously Taliban-infested districts where heavily dug-in insurgents threatened to attack Kandahar. Medusa was, in military terms, a roaring success. The enemy was routed and more than 1,000 insurgents were killed, giving what British and Nato commanders call "psychological ascendancy" over the Taliban.
But they privately admit the situation remains on a knife edge. The Taliban has slowly re-infiltrated Panjwayi, returning to older "asymmetric" tactics copied from Iraq such as suicide attacks and roadside bombs. The insurgents no longer hold the terrain but have goaded the alliance into tragic blunders that cost public support.
On October 24, Nato forces attacked a Taliban position in Lakani, a hamlet in Panjwayi. During the battle a US C-130 gunship strafed a group running through a field, thinking they were insurgents. In fact they were shepherds and their families. "Certainly it's difficult to win people's hearts and minds when you are shooting at them," remarked a Nato official.
Tactics have been hampered by limited troop numbers. Captured outposts proved impossible to hold because units were vastly outnumbered by the enemy and because the logistics of supporting remote deployments were complicated by limited numbers of helicopters.
"A lesson the British have learned is the small outpost doesn't work, in part because the ability to put in a rapid deployment force has not happened the way they hoped," said Marvin Weinbaum, a former Afghanistan intelligence analyst at the US state department. "The ink blot approach makes more sense - you go into areas you can secure and spread from there."
But Mr Weinbaum, of the Middle East Institute in Washington, said the dual strategy of a military presence and a development drive was the right one, and should have been implemented earlier.
"We just let this slip away over five years," he said. "If you go back three or four years, things we are doing now would have worked very well. We were pre-occupied with counter-terrorism and border areas. We thought we had all the time in the world to bring in the kind of governance and reconstruction people are talking about now. We discover in the interim, people have lost faith in the central government and there has been a parallel rise of prestige for the enemy."
Nato is hamstrung by disagreements among its members. It relies heavily on air strikes - an effective but blunt weapon - because key allies, notably Germany, refuse to send troops to the south. The US air force has carried out 2,000 air strikes in Afghanistan since June compared with 88 in Iraq. Commanders will redouble requests for more combat troops at the annual Nato summit later this month.
But debate is also stirring about the value of robust military tactics. Tom Koenigs, head of the UN mission to Afghanistan, said Nato cannot win the fight alone and must concentrate on building up the Afghan security forces. "You can't resolve this by killing Taliban. You have to win people over. And that is done with good governance, decent police, diplomacy with Pakistan, and development," he said.
Nato and British commanders say Medusa has opened up a vital window for aid. Casualties from roadside bombs and suicide attacks have fallen from 245 in September to 29 for the first two weeks of November, said Brigadier Richard Nugee, and soldiers in Panjwayi have started an $8m reconstruction drive. Some experts warn that the lull might be seasonal; winter warfare is unusual in Afghanistan.
History supports the view that troops and infrastructure have limited value in winning Afghan sympathies. During their 10-year occupation the Soviets deployed 10,000 soldiers and spent billons on major projects yet were defeated. Tellingly, recent fighting between US and Taliban forces in Ghazni province was concentrated in Andar district, which had received the highest concentration of US aid. But the good news - and the major difference with the Soviet era - is that most Afghans still want outside help.
British commanders in Helmand already appreciate the importance of local politics. A deal with local elders in Musa Qala - whereby Taliban and UK forces agreed to withdraw in favour of local militia - led US officers to grumble that they had capitulated to the enemy. But British officials argue they were extricating themselves from a fight between two drug barons - an explanation that highlights the many complexities of an enemy for which the term "Taliban" is sometimes just a convenient catch-all.
But behind the arguments there is broad agreement that the mission is worth it. After two decades of bitter war, Afghans are also desperate for success. But time is running out to convince them that the pain they must endure in the meantime is worth it, too.
"The people here are fiercely independent but are swallowing their pride to bring their country forward," Mr Koenigs said. "We have a limited window to act. Otherwise they will they will chase us out within three years."
Don’t abandon Afghanistan, India tells US
By Iftikhar Gilani Daily Times (Pakistan) November 18, 2006
NEW DELHI: India on Friday told a visiting United States defence policy group that it had concerns over Pakistan’s recent deal between pro-Taliban elements in the Afghan-Pak border area of North Waziristan, while also warning Washington against reducing American anti-Taliban and –Qaeda operations in Afghanistan.
A senior US Defence Department official, who was part of the delegation, said that the group had registered New Delhi’s concerns over the Waziristan peace accord and was taking up the issue with Islamabad. On US military efforts in Afghanistan, a top Pentagon official, also part of the delegation, said speculations on a sagging commitment on the part of either NATO or the US were “far from the truth”, adding that despite the recent Democrat congressional victory, Washington remained committed to succeeding in that country.
He said that the joint military strength of NATO, ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) and US forces had been bolstered to over 54,000 troops, who were engaged in coordinated actions against resurgent Taliban and Al Qaeda elements, especially in the south of the country. In addition, the US Congress had also approved funding to bolster further recruitment of the Afghan National Army and police force, while a Four-Star American general was scheduled to assume joint command of NATO-ISAF and US forces in the country.
On whether the US would ask India to boost security for its personnel working on humanitarian projects in Afghanistan, he said that NATO and US forces had recently launched large military sweeps across the troubled southern hotbeds in Uzurgun, Helmand and other areas to ensure improved security cover there. The comments by the Pentagon official assume significance in the wake of reports that border roads project in Afghanistan - to link the country’s main Garland Highway network to the deep sea port of Bandaar Abbas in Iran – were being delayed due to security concerns.
Pakistan calls for ‘holistic’ plan for Afghanistan
By Iftikhar Gilani Daily Times, Pakistan
NEW DELHI: Pakistan on Saturday called for a “holistic” plan and a coordinated strategy to meet the challenges faced by Afghanistan.
At the second regional ‘Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan’ here, Pakistani Minister of State for Economic Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar asked the world to concentrate on road links, communication and transmission lines in Afghanistan.
Ms Khar said her country had completed the feasibility study for the Chaman-Kandahar rail link, and work on the Chaman-Spin Boldak segment would begin shortly. Pakistan had launched nine customs stations in Chitral and tribal areas of Pakistan to facilitate trade with Afghanistan, she said, adding that the Torkham-Jalalabad Road had already been built.
She said that Pakistan was also considering importing hydropower from Central Asia via Afghanistan. She said Pakistan was focusing on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan and Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline projects.
Fazl announces ‘forceful resistance’ against government
Daily Times (Pakistan) November 18, 2006
LAHORE: Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) Secretary General Maulana Fazlur Rehman has announced that a “forceful resistance” against the government’s “anti-Islam agenda” would be launched to remove it from power.
Fazl told a press conference on Friday that the MMA’s decision to resign from the National Assembly in protest at the Women’s Protection Bill (WPB) was “final”, and plans for this purpose would be made at a meeting of the MMA supreme council on December 6. He challenged President Pervez Musharraf to shed his uniform and “step into the political field” to judge his public worth.
He said the MMA would only resign from the National Assembly because “we do not want to punish the NWFP and Balochistan assemblies”. The MMA would “not allow” by-elections for seats that its members would vacate, he added.
Fazl said that the WPB would “not be implemented” in NWFP and Balochistan. “Provinces have the constitutional right to reject un-Islamic legislation,” he added.
Replying to a question, he said that the idea of a grand alliance could still not be ruled out.
120 Afghans arrested
By Our Staff Correspondent Dawn (Pakistan)
QUETTA, Nov 18: Law-enforcement agencies on Saturday arrested 120 Afghan nationals from Nushki and border area Tump at Pakistan-Iran border on suspicion of terrorism. A team of Frontier Corps raided a hidden place in Nushki, some 160km from here and taken 33 Afghan nationals who crossed into Pakistani area without legal documents. The team arrested another badge of 87 Afghan suspects from Tump a town at Pakistan-Iran border who arrived here with the aim of crossing into Iran illegally.
AIDS, heroin two-pronged problem for Afghanistan
by Catherine Jouault
KABUL (AFP) - With eight HIV positive cases in 2001 and 61 today, Afghanistan is worried a growing use of heroin will add the spread of AIDS to its long list of problems inherited from decades of war.
The Central Asian country is better known as the world's top producer of opium, the raw ingredient of heroin: about 92 percent of opium comes from Afghanistan's poppies, the United Nations says.
But the fall of the Taliban in 2001 has led to the return of refugees initiated into drug use in camps in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.
A domestic market has developed, with heroin of good quality made in secret laboratories inside the country and costing relatively little -- at about 300 afghani (six dollars) a gramme compared to 50 afghani for bread.
Counternarcotics Minister Mohammad Zafar said the number of heroin users in Kabul jumped from 7,000 in 2003 to 14,000 last year.
"Forty to 50 percent of refugees use heroin and 20 to 30 percent hashish," he said, putting the total number of drug users in Afghanistan at about one million of its roughly 30 million inhabitants.
"There is a problem because production is always rising. The drug mafia, which could not be operating without protection at a high level, is everywhere and always wants to produce and sell more," Zafar said.
Drug money was also financing anti-government militants including the extremist Taliban, he said.
AIDS could follow the rising drug use, mainly because needles were being shared. Farid Zama, of the Nejat detox centre, said up to 10 people sometimes used a single syringe.
There were 61 confirmed cases of AIDS in Afghanistan today, of which 18 were women and 15 drug users, Health Minister Saifour Rehman said.
"There are between 1,500 and 2,000 suspected cases," he added, with the majority of them using drugs. The shared needles and also the time they spent with sex workers meant they were more likely to get HIV and AIDS, he said.
Rehman, also a doctor, worried about an explosion of the disease.
Authorities were pushing the AIDS 'ABC': Abstinence, Be faithful and wear a Condom, he said. The B is the easiest to get across in this culturally conservative country where religious authorities have a strong influence.
Three nongovernment organisations and a public hospital are also trying to head off what could become a bigger problem for destitute Afghanistan.
The Nejat and Zendegi-e-Nawin detox centres and a section of the Kabul mental health hospital run programmes to help users kick their addiction. Together they have 40 beds for a course that lasts between 10 and 15 days.
The treatment is harsh: shaved heads for hygiene and so hair cannot be torn out in the throes of withdrawal; prison-style uniforms; and cold showers prescribed when the pain gets too much.
French nongovernment group Medecins Du Monde (Doctors of the World) has meanwhile been distributing injection kits since October to cut the risk of disease. The kits are handed out at known places of use and at a centre run by former or currents users.
Heroin substitutes like methadone are not authorised in Afghanistan.
"With the absence of control that we have seen with the disintegration of the country, methadone could find its way out of the pharmacies and into the underground market," said Zafar.
The challenges of building an Afghan army from scratch
The U.S. is trying to create a force made up of all the country's ethnic groups representing a unified central government--and that's not easy
By David Zucchino Chicago Tribune Newspapers: Los Angeles Times November 19, 2006
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- The commander of Afghan troops confronting the Taliban is a career officer with a clipped gray beard and a formal bearing who fought for a Soviet-backed puppet government. His deputy is his former enemy.
Many of their soldiers fought for or against the Russians, against the Taliban or for various warlords--except those so young they had never picked up a rifle.
From this unwieldy mix, the U.S. military and the Afghan government are attempting to create something Afghanistan has never had: A national army made up of all the country's ethnic groups and representing a unified central government.
Five years after the fall of the Taliban government, thousands of well-armed insurgents have re-emerged to seize large swaths of southern Afghanistan.
In many districts, warlords, opium dealers and corrupt police help the religious extremists exert authority. Except for their fortified, American-built bases in the south, Afghan army units control virtually no territory and depend totally on the U.S. for supplies and support.
The continued presence of foreign troops, who have repeatedly killed Afghan civilians by accident, and the U.S.-backed government's failure to improve the quality of life or rein in local warlords anger Afghans, pushing some back into the arms of the Taliban.
"People are very upset and disappointed with the government," said Col. Abdul Raziq, a brigade commander in southern Afghanistan.
Officers of the new Afghan army know that the Taliban hold will not be broken until they can establish enough security for the government to provide essential services. Until they do, U.S. and NATO forces won't be able to go home.
But the day when foreign troops can leave seems a long way off.
"To the Afghan people, the words `Afghan national army' are sweet words," said Maj. Gen. Rahmatullah Roufi, 49, the Afghan commander whose 205th Corps is responsible for six volatile southern provinces. "They've never had a real national army before, only tribes and militias. There's a hunger for it."
`That was the past'
His deputy, Brig. Gen. Khair Mohammed, 50, said officers were willing to forget the past. Mohammed, a trim, energetic man, gestured toward one of his battalion commanders, who drew to attention and saluted.
"He was a communist, and I fought against him," Mohammed said. "But that was the past, and we Afghans don't look back."
The army has been built from scratch since U.S. trainers arrived at the end of more than 20 years of warfare that swept up Roufi, Mohammed and many men of their generation.
It has grown in the past five years to 36,000 trained soldiers and officers, more than halfway to the goal of 70,000 men. The troops enjoy productive relations with 1,200 U.S. and NATO trainers at 85 bases. A few battalions now take the lead during combat operations. Searches of towns and villages are conducted by Afghan soldiers, not foreign troops.
But the army is still directed and supplied by U.S. and NATO forces. U.S. officers say they plan operations jointly with Afghan commanders, but some Afghan officers say the Americans dictate the scope of operations by controlling supplies, vehicles and air support.
Afghan privates and generals alike complain that they are sent into battle in ordinary Ford Ranger pickups with no body armor or helmets, while U.S. soldiers wear flak vests and travel in armored Humvees.
"We fight on the same ground and under the same threat as the Americans and the coalition, but we don't have what we need to operate independently. This has a poor effect on our soldiers' morale," said Gen. Zahir Azemi, the army's chief spokesman.
U.S. trainers, while praising Afghans for their courage, complain of lax discipline, petty thefts and poor maintenance of weapons and equipment. The Afghans often run up hills or charge into caves wearing virtually no armor and without waiting for backup. And while U.S. troops are stoic and focused during combat missions, many Afghans are freewheeling and talkative.
The trainers constantly urge Afghan commanders to discipline their men. They say at least two bases have been abandoned by Afghan units after American trainers were transferred out.
"These guys fight magnificently. They run to the fight, not away from it," said Col. Michael "Jeff" Petrucci, who is Roufi's counterpart and mentor. "But they cannot sustain operations over a long period."
Some critics say disbanding the Afghan militias that initially dominated the army robbed the force of experienced mujahedeen fighters. Under a United Nations-sponsored disarmament program, the militiamen were demobilized and trained for civilian jobs. Critics say that left the army dependent on young recruits with no combat experience.
The roughly two years needed to replace militiamen with recruits has given the Taliban time to re-establish itself in the south, its traditional power base, said Ismail Khan, a Tajik warlord who commanded a powerful militia that was largely disbanded when he was appointed energy minister.
"The one force that knew how to defeat the Taliban was disarmed," he said.
Brig. Gen. Douglas Pritt, a member of the Oregon National Guard who commands the training effort, said a low retention rate was the Afghan army's biggest problem. The U.S. is working to improve weapons and equipment, he said, and Afghans should be working to offer re-enlistment bonuses and pay increases.
"Here's what I tell the [Afghan] corps commanders: `I understand your desire for better and more equipment. That will happen. But right now the biggest issue facing you is retaining soldiers,'" Pritt said. "`You need to focus on that . . . take care of them so that their basic needs are met so that they aren't inclined to leave.'"
Distance Learning Comes to Afghanistan
San Francisco-based group to use satellite broadcasts to educate children in rural areas
By Ivan Velinov Epoch Times San Francisco Staff Nov 19, 2006
Afghan workers carry satellite dishes inside Kabul's main electronics market. A San Francisco-based group plans to use satellite broadcasts to help educate children in Afghanistan beginning in March 2007. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)A San Francisco Bay Area-based group has launched a unique educational program that will improve literacy for children in rural areas of Afghanistan via satellite television. The program, known as "Master Teachers by Satellite for Afghanistan," is supported by good-hearted Americans, some of whom were born in Afghanistan.
Beginning in March 2007, satellite television courses will supplement the standard school curriculum for Afghan boys and girls. The classes will be designed for children in the first through third grade. Mulla Nasrudin, a beloved national comic character, as well as Sesame Street-style programming, will be used to help the children learn.
According to Carol Silver, who is spearheading the program, there is little chance of getting a teacher or classrooms for children who live away from Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Kabul is the center of education and learning, but the rural areas outside the city are remote and have few resources for formal education.
Silver said that the radical Islamic movement in Afghanistan, known to the outside world as the Taliban, opposes education in general. Since the resurgence of the Taliban in the spring of 2006, many schools have been destroyed. This destruction includes the schools recently constructed by international charities after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. The Taliban has regained some of its power, and children in Afghanistan have had difficulties gaining access to education.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), together with the Afghan Ministry of Education, has recognized the shortage. The UNICEF reports show that the adult literacy rate in Afghanistan is 43 percent and, for female adults, it is only 14 percent. An estimated 1.2 million girls who should be in primary school are not.
"We are attempting to use a direct approach with technology that is now available using satellite television," said Silver. "The most expensive part of it would be the time to broadcast up to the satellite and down into Afghanistan in order to teach the children in the little valleys and into the little mountain hamlets how to read and write."
Silver plans to start educating up to 30 children in each of the first 100 villages chosen by UNICEF from among the 2,680 villages in need of schools. Her organization will be providing the equipment needed to view the lessons.
The satellite dish and a panel of solar cells will be placed in the house of one of the students, in a tent, or in a shed. The equipment will be easy to roll up and hide in case there are troubles in the village. "The plan is to have an underground school that is not visible," Silver said.
The two-hour educational programming will be shown into 15-minute segments. One of the segments will be the Arabic version of Sesame Street which was produced in Egypt, but the show will be dubbed in Dari and Pashto, the native languages of Afghanistan.
"We are not attempting to create a complete school system, but our effort is to create a series of programs which will run two hours a day, six days a week, and forty weeks a year, just like a regular school system," Silver said.
This method of teaching is known as "distance learning" and is a fast growing educational phenomenon throughout the world. The Afghanistan National Satellite TV station and Radio Television of Afghanistan have committed to allot broadcast time as an in-kind contribution.
Meanwhile, the Mayor of San Francisco issued a proclamation that declares Nov. 5, 2006 to be Afghanistan Educational Awareness Day in San Francisco. The day coincided with the organization's first fundraising event.
Health Hazard From Poor-Quality Imports
Afghans say cheap food and medicines from Iran can pose a risk.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting By Sadeq Behnam and Sudabah Afzali in Herat (ARR No. 234, 16-Nov-06)
Herat has traditionally been a thriving commercial centre sitting on the trade route between Iran and Afghanistan, but with so many goods coming into the country there are few safety standards to protect consumers from substandard products.
Health officials in this western city acknowledge there are problems with products as chocolate, tea, sugar, crisps and biscuits, which can result in food poisoning, especially in children.
“In the last month alone we’ve had at least 15 cases of food poisoning in children caused by crisps and biscuits,” said Dr Mohammad Karim Nemati, the head of environmental health in the region.
“My two children almost died after eating biscuits,” said Mahbuba, 35. The biscuits, she said, came from Iran, and after eating them her children spent two weeks in hospital, where they were treated for food poisoning.
“Why do officials let businessmen import fake products? How are we supposed to tell which are good and which are bad?” she asked angrily.
When such cases are recorded, health officials say they identify the foodstuffs and then confiscate them from local shops.
Dr Abdul Hakim Tamanna, deputy director of Herat’s health department, said laboratories to test food quality would soon be built.
Apart from foodstuffs, imported medicines are another high-risk product, with significant amounts of expired, substandard and even counterfeit pharmaceuticals finding their way onto the Afghan market. In Herat, such medicines are believed to have caused illness and some fatalities, although doctors cannot always identify the principal cause of death.
Tamanna said samples of medicines were sent to Kabul for testing, as there were no local facilities. “Sometimes the sample does not represent the entire batch of medicine, and this can create problems,” he added.
According to Mir Muslim Seddiqi, the head of customs in Herat, his officers have seized enough expired medicines, soft drinks, sweets and other foodstuffs to fill three freight containers in just one three-month period.
The Iranian consulate in Herat rejects claims that Iran is to blame for the substandard goods on the Afghan market.
“It is Afghan businessmen who are the real culprits,” said Farhad, head of the consulate’s commercial activities. “All the goods [officially] exported from Iran are of high quality - otherwise we would lose consumer confidence.”
Farhad conceded that substandard goods might be being produced in Iran in response to Afghan demand for low-cost products, but he insisted the only way they could cross the frontier was by smuggling, because Iranian border officials would stop anything that did not conform to the country’s export regulations.
“Of course things can be imported illegally,” he said.
Herat customs chief Seddiqi told IWPR that Afghanistan imposes high import tariffs on items that it can produce itself, in a bid to slow the influx of such products and protect domestic businesses.
One adverse effect of this protectionism might be to encourage the kind of smuggling Farhad mentioned, resulting in cheap, unregulated goods that undercut their Afghan counterparts.
Noor Ahmad, director of a Herat-based soft drinks firm, complained that cut-price imports have cost him business. “We cannot compete with Iranian companies because traders import their low-quality drinks, thus driving down market prices. Our products are better quality, but people want cheaper things,” he said.
Herat’s strategic location makes it a key overland route to Iran and the Gulf, and it is also close to the border with Turkmenistan to the north.
Customs chief Seddiqi reported that trade through Herat was up 13 per cent in the first six months of the year compared with the same period in 2005, and customs revenues rose by about the same proportion, from 94 million US dollars betweeen January and June last year to 105 million this year.
Sadeq Behnam and Sudabah Afzali are freelance reporters in Heart.
Players get medals
FARAH CITY, Nov 17 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Seven players of the kyokushin karate from the western Farah province were awarded international medals for their brilliant performance during the last month games in Iran.
Players from seven other countries from the Middle East and Central Asia also participated in the competitions.
Chief of the Afghanistan Kyokushin Karate Shehan Abdul Aziz Farhang distributed the medals among the players on Thursday.
He told Pajhwok Afghan News the competitions were organised in Tehran and players from the western Farah province won the medals.
Kyokushin karate instructor in Farah Mohammad Daud Firotan said the province had a lot of talent in the game. He said players from Farah had got several times first positions in competitions.
Songs frenzy grips cell-phone holders
KABUL, Nov 17 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Young users of cellphones having great craze for downloading new songs may be seen around the computers laying on tables on roadside in Deh Afghanan area of this central capital.
These cellphones users download audio, video songs and ringing tones in their cellphones. Shafiqullah, 24, on his turn said: "Download some pop song in my mobile."
He told Pajhwok Afghan News: "There is neither power to watch television with and nor picnic spots, we hear songs when we get bored." This is not only Deh Afghanan, but other places Nadar Pakhtun Wat, Shehr -e- Naw, Khairkhana, Mirwais Maidan, and other parts of the city such activity may be noticed.
Some young people have become addicted to storing songs in their cellphone like once they were hooked to watching movies. Ahmad Farzan, one of the customers, said he stored new song in his cellphone every week.
On one hand saving of songs has become a source of enjoyment to the cellphone users, but on the other hand this has provided job opportunities to large number of people.
Junaid, a resident of Kabul, also runs such business in Pakhtunistan area of the city. He said he was getting 15 afghanis for per audio song and 20 to 25 afghanis for per video song.
He said all kinds of CDs using for downloading songs in cellphones were available in markets. Junaid said they first bought these CDs and then were using them for the purpose. He said his customers were included most young men and every day over hundred people were visiting him to download songs in their cellphones.
He said: "A customer don't download one song, sometimes he may store over 20 songs at one and the same time in his cellphone." Junaid believed that over 1,000 people were doing this business in Kabul. Engineer Juma Khan Ameri, who besides repairing, download songs in cellphones, said storing of songs in the cellphones was so easy that everybody could do this.
He said first they were cutting songs through Converter and then through a cable download them in cellphones. Ameri said though capacity of all cellphones were different but a five-minute audio song and 20 seconds video song might be downloaded in a cellphone.
Saving songs in cellphones have also enriched market of CDs. Jan Mohammad, a seller of CDs and films, said market of film CDs and CDs used for downloading songs in cellphones was quite high.
He said: "The people who have computer buy such CDs and download songs from them in their cellphones." Besides, CDs, there are also various websites of ringing tones that may be used for downloading tones in cellphones.
Afghan Wireless and Communication Company (AWCC) started its services in early days of Hamid Karzai government in 2002. However, now Roshan and Ariba companies have launched their services in the war-torn country.
Two NGO workers drowned
QALAT, Nov 17 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Two workers of a non-governmental organisation (NGO) were swept away by floods caused by heavy downpour in the Shajoy district of the southern Zabul province, officials said on Friday.
Police chief of the province Noor Mohammad Paktin told Pajhwok Afghan News the incident happened when vehicle of the ACO welfare organisation was swept away by a gush in Gajwi area.
He said the ACO employees were on way from Zabul to the neighbouring Ghazni province. Two of the four people traveling in the coach were saved. Bodies of the other two were found last evening.
He said both the dead were workers of the IT branch of the organisation. The NGO is running computer courses and organising training workshops for people in the area.
Sher Ahmad Haidar
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