British troops wary of joining war on drugs in Afghanistan
Thu Nov 23, 2:42 AM ET
LONDON (AFP) - Despite being urged to do so by Afghan and western counter-narcotics chiefs, British troops are wary of joining the offensive against the drugs trade in Afghanistan, The Daily Telegraph reported.
British commanders reportedly stand accused of taking too soft a line on opium farmers, and forces in the southern Helmand province -- where the majority of British soldiers are based -- are being asked to bomb or ambush drug smugglers.
Though Afghans believe British troops should target the main opium smuggling route in the south of the province, military officers are wary of getting involved, which they fear may draw their forces into a drugs war, and alienate the local population.
"When there is good intelligence, smuggler convoys should be hit from the air by' NATO and by using ambushes," said General Khodaidad, the Afghan deputy minister for counter-narcotics, who only uses one name.
According to the newspaper, the 2006 poppy crop in Afghanistan represented a 60 percent increase on 2005 levels -- the 6,100 tonnes produced totalled more than 90 percent of the world's production.
The Taliban claim a tax on the production of opium in return for protection, using the income to fund their insurgency.
Nick Kay, the head of the British Provincial Reconstruction Team in Helmand, told the Telegraph: "A clear link between the Taliban and the drug smugglers is accepted and we have a definite, active interest in targeting that nexus."
"But we are here to support the Afghans and build Afghan capacity to deal with this."
Karzai for drastic measures against poppy growers
KABUL, Nov 23 (Pajhwok Afghan News): President Hamid Karzai on Thursday asked the provincial governors to adopt strict measures to check poppy cultivation in their respective provinces.
The president was addressing a meeting of governors held at the Presidential Palace. Karzai said obstacles in supply or provision of alternative livelihood to farmers must not be presented as a pretext in action against poppy growers.
He said poppy cultivation was the symbol of instability. Eradicating poppies would certainly bring peace in the respective areas, he observed.
He asked the provincial governors to present names of the district chiefs, whose performance was not satisfactory, to the central government so that they might be sacked.
He believed poppies could be rooted out with the cooperation of local elders, district chiefs and provincial governors and it must be eradicated during this year.
At the same time, the participants of the meeting demanded of the ministries of Haj and Auqaf, Education, Culture and Youth Affairs and members of the Wolesi Jirga to join hands with them in informing youths about the harm caused by the drugs to their health and lives.
The governors asked the international organisations conducting surveys on poppy cultivation in Afghanistan to share information with them about the poppy cultivating areas.
The meeting was also attended Interior Minister Zarar Ahmadi Moqbil, deputy minister for Counter-Narcotics General Daud and representatives of international NGOs and other organisations.
Poppy cultivation in the country has increased by 59 per cent during the current year. The UN report, emerged about three months back, alarmed the international community and many countries and international organisations expressed their dismay over the mounting figures.
Govt to spend $30m on uplift projects
KABUL, Nov 21 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Counter-Narcotics Minister Habibullah Qadiri Tuesday announced $30 million for development programs in six provinces of the country, where poppy crop has not been cultivated during the current year.
Addressing a news conference, the minister said the budget was provided by US and would be spent through the ministry on various development projects.
He said $5 million were reserved for each of the six provinces of Maidan Wardak, Ghazni, Logar, Paktia, Paktika and Panjshir. Pointing to 60% increase in poppy cultivation in the county comparing to last year, he said the crop was not grown in the six provinces. The minister said they could achieve better results if police had cooperated them fully.
However, Gen Daud Daud head of the Counter-narcotics department of the interior ministry said anti-poppy cultivation campaign was launched in 11 provinces of the country and was very effective in Baghlan, Samangan, Balkh and Nangarhar. He said poppy cultivation had increased in Badkhshan and Helmand while it decreased in other 15 provinces.
Ahmad Khalid Moahid
Afghanistan Will Become Failed State Without Support, UN Says
By Paul Tighe
Nov. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Afghanistan needs ``sustained support and assistance'' from the international community to ensure the Taliban insurgency and increasing drug production don't derail its path to democracy, a United Nations envoy said.
Without such support, there is no guarantee that Afghanistan ``will not slide back into conflict and a failed state again,'' Japanese Ambassador Kenzo Oshima told the Security Council yesterday after visiting the south Asian country this month.
Attacks by the Taliban, that have doubled this year, and opium poppy cultivation rising 58 percent last year, are threatening a ``still too weak, fragile state and provincial institutions,'' Oshima said, according to the UN's Web site.
NATO leads a 31,000-strong force supporting the Afghan government's efforts to expand its control across the country and combating Taliban fighters mainly in southern and eastern provinces. Afghanistan, a country of 31 million people, has created democratic institutions since the ousting of the Taliban in 2001, inaugurating its first parliament since 1969 in December after holding elections in September 2005. Hamid Karzai, who took over after the fall of the Taliban, won the first direct presidential election in October 2004.
``It is abundantly clear that Afghanistan needs additional and sustained support and assistance from the international community, both for quick gains and for sustained progress,'' Oshima said. A report by his 10-member team, which spent five days in Afghanistan and also visited neighboring Pakistan, will be given to UN members early next month, the UN said.
Afghanistan's government plans double the size of the National Army to 70,000 soldiers over the next two years, Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said in Washington two days ago.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's contingent, known as the International Security Assistance Force, is drawn from 37 nations and includes 11,250 U.S. soldiers. The U.S. has another 10,000 military personnel in Afghanistan under separate American command on counter-terrorism operations.
The credibility of the alliance is at stake in Afghanistan and member countries should relax restrictions on how their soldiers operate there, U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair told Parliament yesterday. The U.K. has 5,800 soldiers in Afghanistan.
British military leaders and lawmakers have appealed to troop contributors such as Germany to ease limits, or ``caveats,'' placed on the movement and use of their troops. ``We do raise the issue of the caveats the entire time, but several countries for reasons to do with their own politics are reluctant to remove them,'' Blair said.
The mission of the 2,900-strong German contingent won't be altered and soldiers won't be transferred from northern Afghanistan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the lower house of parliament in Berlin yesterday.
President George W. Bush will press for such caveats to be removed when he attends the Nov. 28-29 NATO summit in Riga, Latvia, Nicholas Burns, the U.S. State Department's political- affairs chief, said two days ago in Washington.
The ability of NATO commanders in Afghanistan to make emergency decisions is being limited because some NATO members have said their forces can be moved around Afghanistan only with the approval of their governments, Burns said.
The Taliban-led insurgency is being boosted by funds from drug cartels in Afghanistan, U.S. Marine General James Jones, NATO's commander, said last month.
About 92 percent of the world's opium is produced in Afghanistan, where it generates more than $3 billion a year for people involved in its cultivation and trafficking. The number of people working in the Afghan opium industry rose to 2.9 million from 2 million in 2005, the United Nations said in September.
Afghanistan's governments will provide $500,000 for development projects in six provinces that are opium-free, the UN said on its Web site.
``By rewarding the good behavior of farmers who are committed to make their provinces opium-free, we show the people of Afghanistan that they can have a sustainable future without growing illicit crops,'' Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said yesterday in a statement. ``Solving Afghanistan's opium problem is not only a question of security, it's a question of development.''
NATO commander praises Pakistan for Afghan cooperation
Thu Nov 23, 12:39 AM ET
MONS, Belgium (AFP) - NATO's military commander, US General James Jones, praised Pakistan's cooperation in trying to prevent fighters illegally crossing its border into Afghanistan.
Jones said meetings between NATO and Pakistani officials had been promising and that he hoped they could help stem the flow of Taliban-allied fighters and drug runners into southern Afghanistan, where NATO is battling a major insurgency.
"I was very impressed by Pakistani military willingness to engage with ISAF (the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force) and NATO to open up a series of bilateral meetings," Jones said at his headquarters in Mons, Belgium.
He said he hoped the cooperation could lead to a "less uncontrolled flow of people through the border".
"We are working well together," said the general, who retires next month. He added: "This is still a developing relation, at both political and military level."
The former Taliban regime -- ousted by a US-led coalition five years ago for harbouring Osama bin Laden -- and its supporters among drug runners and warlords, has been waging a tenacious insurgency against NATO.
Pakistan has come under increasing pressure to put an end to the flow of fighters moving in and out of the tribal areas along its border with Afghanistan.
On September 5, the Pakistani government signed a truce with pro-Taliban militants in the North Waziristan tribal agency on Afghanistan's eastern border.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has lauded the peace deal as the smartest way to combat the insurgency in the mountainous border region but NATO has been watching developments to see if it will be effective.
Under the deal, Pakistan released dozens of detained tribesmen, returned confiscated weapons and agreed to dismantle checkpoints in North Waziristan. The rebels pledged to end targeted killings and cross-border attacks into Afghanistan.
"The Talibanisation problem is not only an Afghan problem but also a regional problem and something that both countries have to work on," Jones noted.
Bush seeks support for Iraq, Afghanistan
President Bush embarks on a campaign to address the growing violence in Afghanistan and speed the transfer of security in Iraq.
BY WILLIAM DOUGLAS AND HANNAH ALLAM Thu, Nov. 23, 2006 Miami Herald
WASHINGTON - President Bush travels to Europe and the Middle East on Monday to seek help with the two biggest problems dogging his presidency: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
After a quick stop Monday in Estonia, Bush is to arrive in Riga, Latvia, for a two-day North American Treaty Organization meeting that will focus on the 26-nation alliance's struggle to secure Afghanistan against resurgent Taliban forces.
From Riga, Bush is to fly Wednesday to Amman, Jordan, for a hastily arranged meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, where they'll discuss ways to speed the transfer of security to Iraqi control.
'This is the `Everything is Falling Off the Table Trip' for President Bush,'' said John Hulsman, an analyst for the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. ``Iraq is falling off the table, Afghanistan is falling off the table and [the Bush administration] has no goodwill at the bank. These are gigantic problems, and nothing is going to get done because the president is weak.''
Even by Iraq's standards, October was a particularly bloody month. The latest United Nations report estimates that civilian deaths soared to a record 3,709, the highest monthly toll since the war began in 2003.
Sectarian killings are blamed on militia infiltration of Maliki's Shiite-led security forces. In recent weeks, Sunni and Shiite Muslim politicians in Iraq have unleashed scathing criticism of Maliki, calling him unfit to rein in the militias and keep his unity government intact.
''The problem is that Bush and Maliki don't comprehend the real problem,'' said Nadim al Jaberi, a leading figure in the Fadhila party, a Shiite political faction allied with the militant cleric Muqtada al Sadr. ``They move to solve it from outside, going to neighboring countries like Jordan, Syria and Iran, without dealing with the problem inside.''
Expectations for a breakthrough at the summit are low in Washington and in the Middle East.
''I hope the meeting comes up with fruitful results, though I think the situation has become so awful that the government hasn't been able to accomplish anything or even wanted to,'' said Adnan al Dulaimi, one of Iraq's leading Sunni politicians. ``Bush and Maliki both want security to prevail in Iraq, but I'm afraid Maliki won't be able to fulfill that. He's not ready for it.''
Improving security in Afghanistan tops the agenda for the NATO summit, even as the alliance continues to ponder its role in the world 15 years after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
''Internally, some member states remain deeply divided over NATO's post-Cold War purpose and the nature of the alliance's role and missions beyond Europe,'' said retired Air Force Gen. Joseph W. Ralston, a former U.S. supreme allied commander in Europe. ``The [Afghanistan] mission has posed problems for the alliance.''
Despite the presence of 40,000 U.S. and NATO-led troops, Afghanistan has become more dangerous and less secure. This year has been the bloodiest one since the 2001 U.S.-led intervention, which toppled the Taliban and drove al Qaeda out of Afghanistan.
Since then, Taliban forces have made an aggressive comeback, operating out of bases in neighboring Pakistan and flush with profits from record opium poppy cultivation.
Insurgent and terrorist attacks throughout Afghanistan have doubled from a rate of fewer than 300 per month in March to more than 600 in September, according to a recent report by the Joint Monitoring Board, a group of Afghan and foreign officials that monitors the performance of the fledgling Afghan government.
The average number of terrorist assaults in 2005 was 130 per month. The spike in insurgent violence has resulted in 3,700 deaths since January 2006 -- a rate four times greater than 2005's, according to the Joint Monitoring Board.
Bush administration officials acknowledge the violent surge, but maintain that NATO forces have dealt serious blows to the insurgency in Helmand, Uruzgan and Kandahar provinces since July.
''So we don't feel that the situation is somehow one that is sliding away,'' said Nicholas Burns, the State Department's undersecretary for political affairs. ``We feel this is a manageable situation, but it is certainly one of increased combat, increased threat, but NATO is meeting the threat.''
Others aren't so sure. Ralston said it's been a struggle to get NATO nations to come up with helicopters and 2,500 more troops for Afghanistan. So far, the alliance has received a commitment of only 1,000 soldiers from Poland and 200 from Romania.
''After . . . nations signed up to the mission, there was a reluctance to come up with the assets that were needed to do the job,'' Ralston said.
Analysts doubt that major progress will be made in Riga because, while relations between Bush and other NATO leaders have improved, the European public remains angry about Bush's go-it-alone approach to Iraq. Consequently, European leaders might resist easing the restrictions on their troops to avoid suffering political damage at home, Smith said.
Blair Says NATO's `Credibility' Is at Stake in Afghanistan
By Mark Deen and Robert Hutton
Nov. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Tony Blair said NATO's credibility is on the line in Afghanistan and he's pressing allies to end restrictions on the use of their troops in the country.
``We have to make sure not just the U.K., but all NATO partners are doing their utmost to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan,'' Blair said in his weekly questions session in Parliament today. ``The credibility of NATO rests on us doing everything we can.''
Blair, who visited troops in Afghanistan two days ago, has stepped up calls for other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to shoulder more of the burden in Afghanistan, where 36 British soldiers have been killed this year.
Britain has 5,800 troops in Afghanistan as part of a 31,000- strong NATO force. The so-called International Security Assistance Force is working alongside the Afghan National Army to root out militants from the Islamist Taliban movement, which was toppled by a U.S.-led coalition in 2001 in response to the September 11 attacks.
British generals and lawmakers have called for other NATO troop contributors such as Germany to ease limits, or ``caveats,'' placed on the movement and use of their troops. Blair is due to meet with NATO leaders next week in Latvia.
``We do raise the issue of the caveats the entire time, but several countries for reasons to do with their own politics are reluctant to remove them,'' Blair said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel ruled out any redeployment of Germany's NATO-led forces from northern Afghanistan, resisting U.S. pressure to send troops to the south to counter the resurgent Taliban militia.
The mission of the 2,900-strong German contingent won't be altered, Merkel told the lower house of parliament in Berlin today. The Taliban this year has stepped up a guerrilla campaign against NATO and Afghan government troops.
``I see no military commitment beyond this mandate,'' Merkel said. ``The German Army is fulfilling an important and dangerous mission in the north of the country. We certainly don't want to call the success of this mission in the north into question.''
Moving Germany troops from the north might also be a mistake because it would create a vacuum that could then be occupied by the Taliban, said Wolfgang Ischinger, Germany's ambassador to the U.K.
``The last thing we should do is deploy German troops away from the North because it would invite the Taliban to establish itself,'' he said in an interview. ``We are not in the north because the north is quiet, the north is quiet because we have been there since 2001.''
Ischinger also pointed out that Germany was the first to propose a NATO mission in Afghanistan and that its troops were the second-largest contingent in the country behind the Americans until Britain added more in the first half of 2006.
Pakistan: Unregistered Afghans to be treated as illegal immigrants
ISLAMABAD, 22 Nov 2006 (IRIN) - Afghans living in Pakistan who fail to come forward for registration under the current campaign ending on 31 December will be treated as illegal immigrants and have to face the legal consequences, officials said on Wednesday.
“Those who fail to register [with Pakistani authorities], would be considered as illegal migrants and be treated under the law of the land,” Nayar Agha, head of the Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees (CAR), told IRIN in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. CAR is the state body dealing with Afghan refugee issues.
In October, Islamabad started a programme to register millions of Afghan exiles living in the country, to provide them with official identification through Proof of Registration (PoR) cards, valid for three years. The card recognises the bearer as an Afghan citizen temporarily living in Pakistan.
But the take-up from the estimated 2.4 million Afghans still living in Pakistan has been slower than expected. Many Afghans in Pakistan appear to be suspicious of the registration drive, fearing it may be a prelude to forced repatriation. UN officials and Pakistani authorities have been trying to allay their fears.
Countrywide, some 380,000 people, accounting for only about 15 percent of eligible Afghans, have registered so far, according to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Islamabad.
The registration drive is a follow-up to a comprehensive Afghan census conducted in Pakistan in February and March 2005, which found more than 3 million Afghans were still living in the country. Since then, an estimated 580,000 Afghans have returned home, UNHCR said.
A provincial breakdown suggested that about 182,000 have so far registered in North West Frontier Province (NWFP), which hosts over 1.5 million Afghan refugees mostly living in 63 UNHCR-administered camps.
Pakistan's National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) is conducting the US $6 million exercise using fingerprints and photos to record information through 70 static and mobile registration centres across the country.
Meanwhile, the slow response to Afghan registration is expected to be on the agenda of a tripartite meeting between Islamabad, Kabul and the UN refugee agency scheduled for early December in the northeastern Pakistani city of Lahore.
Afghanistan: Floods kill 40 in Urozgan province
KABUL, 22 November (IRIN) - At least 40 people, including women and children, have been killed and hundreds of houses destroyed after recent flash floods triggered by torrential rains hit southern Urozgan province, local officials said on Wednesday.
"According to our information from the area, floods have killed 40 people and injured 20 others in Choraee, Khas Urozgan, Char Chino and Dehrawat districts," Abdul Qauim, Qauimi, spokesman for Urozgan's governor, told IRIN.
Some 300 houses and hundreds of acres of farmland have also been destroyed in the past three days in several districts of Urozgan province, local authorities said.
"Flood-affected people are in urgent need of assistance but we don't have the means or resources to help them," Qauimi asserted."
Quaimi said that a recently built bridge which linked Char Chino district with Dehrawat district was also destroyed during the flooding.
Last week, deadly flooding in the western Badghis province killed some 60 people in Balamurghab and Ghormach districts, while 100 more people are still missing. In total, nearly 5,000 families were badly affected by the floods.
While commenting on this, Ehsan Zia, Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD), said that they have sent a team to the flood-affected areas in Urozgan to assess the damage.
Dan McNorton, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) public information officer, said that 3.5 mt of medical supplies from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) had been dispatched to the area to assist flood-affected families.
Meanwhile, local officials in the western Farah province have also called for assistance for hundreds of flood-affected families. The floods there killed 18 people and destroyed a number of houses in Purchaman district this week.
On 10 November, floods also killed at least nine people in Behsoud district of eastern Nangrahar province, officials said.
Besides flooding, the impoverished, war-torn country has also suffered harsh drought this year affecting some 1.9 million people. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Afghanistan on Monday called for US $48 million to buy 74,000 mt of food for drought-affected people and those facing food shortages during the forthcoming winter.
Karzai governs nation on shaky foundation
Taliban, U.S. reins, corruption bedevil Afghan president
Paul Watson, Los Angeles Times Thursday, November 23, 2006
(11-23) 04:00 PST Kabul, Afghanistan -- Tribal elders pleaded with Hamid Karzai to intervene in a land feud with their neighbors. But it was too dangerous for the president of Afghanistan to travel south to the heart of the Taliban insurgency, so Karzai invited them up to Kabul for lunch.
At least 120 ethnic Pashtuns from Zabul province arrived, making their way past razor wire strung out a mile from the palace doors. The desert dust still clung to their plastic sandals and tattered clothes as they sat down under vaulted ceilings and crystal chandeliers.
Karzai, himself the son of a Pashtun chief, assured these elders of the Tokhi and Hotak tribes that he would try to find a solution to their 40-year-old argument with the Nasir tribe.
"My father spent all of his life solving tribal problems, and I was with him the whole time," he said. The elders muttered skeptically.
Most presidents don't concern themselves with tribal disputes, but Karzai, like Afghan kings of old, makes local quarrels part of his daily routine.
Aides say he is turning to tradition as he struggles to build a stable democracy on a foundation of war, corruption, foreign interference and religious extremism. Critics counter that he is retreating behind the marble and stone walls of his 19th century palace and losing touch with a country sinking deeper into trouble.
But Karzai's foreign backers have left him with little real power, and his weak, corruption-riddled government lacks direct control over billions of dollars in development aid, money that is supposed to help Karzai win Afghan support for his administration.
After the United States joined forces with Afghanistan's Northern Alliance militia to oust the Taliban regime five years ago, it pledged to help rebuild the country and chose Karzai to lead the effort. Since then, foreign donors have spent at least $16 billion in Afghanistan; more than $10.3 billion of that has come from the United States.
Afghanistan has made enormous progress in some areas. With hopes for a better future soaring, its citizens defied insurgent threats to elect Karzai to a full term two years ago and to choose a parliament last year. The elections were the freest and fairest in the country's history.
Under Karzai, more than 90 percent of Afghan children are in school, compared with fewer than 20 percent during Taliban rule. A multinational effort is training an army that is halfway to its goal of 70,000 soldiers in uniform, as it strives to overcome ethnic divisions, equipment problems and low morale. Parliament is gradually asserting its authority. A full quarter of the members are women.
But the progress has not met the rising expectations of Karzai's countrymen. Many see the nation slipping back into the grip of violence, corruption and extremism from which the West promised to liberate them.
On paper, the post-Taliban Constitution gives Afghanistan's president ample power. But central government influence remains weak in large parts of the country.
Perhaps Karzai's greatest strength is giving pep talks to Afghans at news conferences and in speeches, urging them to unite and solve their problems. Still, many say they would prefer honest justice, jobs and peace to fine words.
From ethnic minorities in the north to the president's fellow Pashtuns in the south, Karzai faces the same growing disaffection.
Sitting on a curb in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, Sanam Shah spoke of the Karzai era's mixed blessings. A mother of eight and an ethnic Uzbek, she suffers kidney and digestive problems and traveled from her desert village of Andkhoi in search of a good doctor.
Foreign aid has delivered new equipment to her local clinic, but none of the employees are properly trained to use it, she said, speaking through the mesh of her white burqa veil. "I think Karzai is doing a fine job, but nothing has changed in my life," she said.
Hundreds of miles to the south in Logar, the owner of a two-pump gas station, a Pashtun, said he was unemployed under the Taliban but was able start his own business when U.S. aid rebuilt the highway.
But the Taliban are back, scaring off customers by ambushing cars at night, said Hekmatullah, who, like many Afghans, uses one name.
"Power is back in the hands of those who had it before, like warlords, the Taliban and thieves," he said. "Nobody pays attention to poor people like us."
In the eyes of Afghans, the restrictions on Karzai's authority imposed by foreign governments make him a shadow of a president with only the trappings of power: photo opportunities, ribbon cuttings and bodyguards with wraparound sunglasses who carry M-4 assault rifles and whisper into microphones in the sleeves of their dark suits.
Although Karzai is officially Afghanistan's commander in chief, he has no control over the foreign troops fighting the Taliban insurgency and little over his own army, which answers to the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. His defense minister's main job is cajoling donors into providing the army with better equipment.
The country's gross domestic product has doubled since Karzai came to office, but the drug trade is the largest employer and source of income. Drugs account for half of Afghanistan's economy and create what the United Nations calls a "narco society."
Despite hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid aimed at persuading farmers to grow legal crops, this year's opium harvest is expected to set a record. It's up 50 percent from last year, to an estimated 6,700 tons, the United Nations said in early September.
Though reconstruction spending could help the government draw support away from drug lords, the Taliban and other foes, only a quarter of public spending actually goes through the Afghan government, World Bank figures show.
U.S. money supports a wide variety of projects to improve agriculture and government institutions, support schools and clinics, and rebuild roads, bridges, canals and other infrastructure destroyed by war. But unlike Britain and a few other countries, the United States has not demonstrated confidence in Karzai's government by giving it direct control of the funds.
Foreign aid groups and their contractors are also guilty of corruption, but they aren't accountable to Afghan voters, said Jawed Ludin, Karzai's chief of staff.
"Democracy is about the empowerment of people," Ludin said in an interview. "To make democracy in Afghanistan real, we should give the Afghan people the sense that they can control things, that they can implement their own decisions."
In the meantime, the insurgency has spread across more than half the country, with fighters advancing northward from strongholds in the east and pushing all the way to the Iranian border in the west. Government officials say the militants in villages and districts near Kabul, the capital, are laying the groundwork for future offensives.
Ludin blames Pakistan for reviving the insurgency, which once looked to be on its last legs.
After they were ousted from power in 2001, the Taliban retreated to bases in Pakistan, where the military's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency had once nurtured them. From there, the Taliban and its allies regrouped in eastern and southern Afghanistan, U.S. military intelligence documents say.
Washington today regards Pakistan as a key ally in fighting terrorism, but many Afghans suspect the country of playing a double game, cooperating with the United States while fostering the Taliban insurgency.
Karzai's frustration over tactics used by the U.S. and allied military forces, including the continued bombing of civilian areas, is raw. Senior Afghan officials are surprisingly frank about the dangers of foreign military dominance.
Despite the success in uniting Afghanistan's fractured ethnic groups into a national army, a senior aide to Karzai, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, called the army a "sort of lame-duck institution" without the capacity to make decisions.
"It will fall the instant that the U.S. military is not behind it," the official said.
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Kabul goes mad for wild sport
Declan Walsh in Kabul Thursday November 23, 2006 The Guardian
Money, violence, barely contained chaos and an unbridled struggle for power - it has all the elements of a classic battle. But this is sport, not war: a new season of buzkashi, Afghanistan's wild national game, has just begun.
Some say the game, a heartstopping contest where hundreds of horse riders wrestle over a decapitated animal carcass, is the key to understanding Afghanistan. It certainly has some striking similarities to the country's turbulent politics: too many players, too few rules and regular confusion about who is in control. But can it help cement much-needed national unity?
The first players of the season trotted out for a pre-season tryout behind Kabul airport. With their woollen hats, thick-heeled boots and leathery faces, the riders resembled a winter version of Mad Max. But their courage and skill were very real. Whips between their teeth, they thundered up and down the mucky pitch. Horses clashed, lurched and reared; their riders lunged towards the prize - a headless, hoofless calf carcass, as heavy as a sack of potatoes and sorely battered as the afternoon wore on.
Nato helicopters and cargo planes zipped overhead; communist-era apartment blocks squatted in the distance. The crowd, hunkered on an embankment, roared when one rider broke free from the scrum, carrying the calf around a flagpole and dumping it inside a white circle in the mud - a goal. His fist raised, the victor smiled and trotted towards the crowd, where local businessmen handed out prizes from $20 (£10.50) to $100 - considerable sums by local standards.
Yet this was a modest game. In the northern cities of Balkh, Mazar and Maimana, buzkashi enjoys a fanatical following. Gladiatorial Friday afternoon contests attract up to 800 riders, and powerful warlords and politicians vaunt their prestige and power by offering generous prize money. The Kabul game is younger and has different rules - it flourished only after the Taliban fell in 2001 - but is growing fast, attracting new horses, players and teams.
The buzkashi renaissance has also attracted some foreigners, their enthusiasm lagging behind their skills. Roger Clayton, a bespectacled British security consultant, plunged into Sunday's game but failed to score. So he dismounted, flung the calf over his shoulder and scurried away, cartoon-style. The crowd hooted with laughter. Afterwards, Clayton, a former cavalry officer, explained that he was following in the footsteps of his forebears, who rode into Kabul as part of the colonial expeditions of the 1840s. Also watching was the American anthropologist and eminent buzkashi expert Whitney Azoy. Mr Azoy has led research into the parallels between power, politics and horseback play in Afghanistan. "At the moment it's hard to see if anyone's in charge," he remarked as a scrum of riders thundered past.
The same might be said of much of Afghanistan. Insurgents, drug barons and warlords hold sway across much of the south. The new parliament can be as rowdy as an ill-tempered match. Political parties are forbidden, so individual MPs struggle for influence. Buzkashi itself has become embroiled in political and regional rivalries. The biggest team in the Panjshir Valley is controlled by Marshall Fahim, a former warlord who has offered $1,000 prizes for each round. In Kabul, the president, Hamid Karzai, has about nine horses - not enough for a team, but sufficient to bolster efforts to launch a Kabul side.
Mr Karzai, who is struggling to quell a Taliban rebellion in the south, may hope that buzkashi will help to unify Afghans as it did during the reign of King Zahir Shah from the 1950s to the 1970s. Since the fall of the Taliban, buzkashi has attracted large numbers of southern Pashtuns, who traditionally spurned the game. "We love buzkashi," said Abdul Jalil, a Pashtun labourer, at Sunday's game. "This is our national passion."
Top Prosecutor Targets Afghanistan's Once-Untouchable Bosses
By Pamela Constable Washington Post Foreign Service Thursday, November 23, 2006; A22
KABUL -- All day the petitioners came, crowding into the shabby hall and spilling onto the muddy lawn, waiting for hours to see a man they hoped would bring them relief and protection from the corrupt administrators, abusive security officials and wealthy landowners who hold sway in much of Afghanistan.
One by one, the petitioners entered his office and told their stories. The details differed, but the theme was always the same. A man from Baghlan province said his son was murdered and the authorities were protecting the influential killer. A woman from Logar province said her home was confiscated by powerful businessmen and no one would help her get it back.
Behind a huge wooden desk, Abdul Jabbar Sabit listened intently, stroking his bushy gray beard. Then he nodded brusquely and swung into action, barking orders into a cellphone or scribbling notes on a legal petition. Clerks scurried in and out purposefully. Visitors beamed with gratitude and bowed out of the room.
"It's like this every day. Sixty, a hundred people. Before, they could never get access to the proper authorities. Now they think I can help them," Sabit said during a lunch break in his office last week. "I am one man. I have no soldiers, I just have the law, and in some parts of this country there is no rule of law. If I am having any success, it is to reveal that."
Sabit, 61, has been Afghanistan's attorney general for less than three months, and he has already earned a reputation as a fearless, even fanatical, crusader. Blunt and impatient, he appears eager to shake up the status quo and indifferent to his growing list of enemies in high places.
A longtime resident of Montreal, he returned home to Kabul in 2002 to work with a human rights organization. He was later named as a special adviser at the Interior Ministry, where he headed a campaign last summer to crack down on alcohol sales and prostitution at foreign-owned bars in the capital.
In September, President Hamid Karzai made him the nation's top prosecutor and announced that he would launch a major campaign against corruption, a practice that has plagued Karzai's administration since it replaced the Taliban in late 2001. Now, the problem has grown so pervasive that it is viewed as a major factor in the revival of the Taliban insurgency battling U.S., NATO and Afghan forces.
"Getting rid of corruption in the Afghan administration is an absolute necessity," Karzai said in a radio interview this month. Admitting that previous anti-corruption efforts were "not what we had hoped for," he said that unless the problem was addressed, the country's hope for progress would be dashed and its credibility with international donors lost.
In his first weeks in office, Sabit has turned his attention to once-untouchable bosses. In particular, he has taken on powerful officials in two provinces, Herat in the west and Balkh in the north. Last month he made trips to both places, accompanied by teams of prosecutors, to investigate allegations of corruption.
In both cases, however, his efforts have been resisted. Balkh Gov. Atta Mohammed, a former militia leader, waved off his allegations and accused Sabit of waging a political and personal vendetta. Then Sabit said that he had found evidence that the mayor of Herat city was embezzling funds, but that he was unable to arrest him. The mayor is a protege of Ismail Khan, a former militia leader and provincial governor who is now minister of water and power.
Karzai, asked about the official resistance, said he had given Sabit full legal authority and would stand firmly behind him. Many members of parliament have also rallied to Sabit's cause with supportive messages and speeches.
"He is wonderful, and we all need to support his reforms, or he will be a lonely person facing many difficulties," said Shukria Barakzai, a legislator from Kabul and a democracy activist. "People are really thirsty for justice, but Dr. Sabit is in such a hurry, and he has opened so many lines of battle, that he is taking many risks."
Despite his determined demeanor and flair for publicity, Sabit admitted he may not be a match for such regional bosses.
"I did not anticipate how much resistance there would be from warlords to the rule of law," he said. "Now I see how powerful they are. The president is trying to bring justice, but we cannot do this alone. We need the international community to get these warlords out of our way."
Even in the capital, Sabit has encountered problems trying to pursue well-connected individuals. One case involves the community of Sherpur, where police bulldozed squatters' huts in 2004 to make way for ornate new mansions now occupied by some of Kabul's most powerful residents. According to Sabit, most of the new residents never paid the government a penny for the land, and so far he has been unable to force them to do so.
Some officials are so accustomed to flouting the law that they walk into Sabit's office expecting him to back off. One day last week, he said, two uniformed military officers came to demand that he release another officer who he said had been caught stealing military equipment.
"They were trying to pressure me. I got really angry and threw them out," Sabit said with indignant satisfaction.
Ahmad Behzad, a legislator from Herat, said many residents were delighted to see the new prosecutor target corruption in a region where public revenue has long been pocketed by local authorities. But he also said the problem was so old and deep that it would take sustained efforts to successfully prosecute.
"I agree with what he is doing, but will he take time to get to the roots or just put a few people in prison?" asked Behzad. "Will he have enough power to make a real difference, to get to the senior people behind the corruption? We are all waiting to see."
Whatever becomes of Sabit's high-profile crusades, he has already made a difference to hundreds of modest Afghans whose legal grievances have gone unheard, sometimes for years, because their adversaries or abusers were simply more powerful. Now, at least someone is listening.
"I have been to so many offices and no one ever helped me before, because I don't know anyone," said a poorly dressed widow in Sabit's waiting room last week, carrying a sheaf of old documents that she said proved she owned a certain piece of land. After a five-minute audience, Sabit ordered an assistant to look into her claim, and the widow wept in gratitude as she left.
Later, another woman asked to speak with him privately. They went into a side room, and she described how a security official in her province was kidnapping and molesting children. Sabit promised to do what he could and asked a clerk to show her out.
"She's scared," the prosecutor said grimly. "This man is a warlord and he is being protected by powerful people." He stared for a moment and stroked his beard. "I think I'll go there next."
MacKay calls on Pakistan to stanch flow of Taliban fighters
BILL CURRY Globe and Mail
OTTAWA -- Pakistan must do more to stop the flow of Taliban fighters crossing the Afghan border, says Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay, who estimates 30,000 Pashtuns move unhindered across the border each day.
In an appearance before the Commons defence committee, the minister singled out Pakistan for not doing enough and listed five specific areas for improvement.
Pakistan must seek out and arrest senior Taliban officials, improve border security, sign and ratify UN conventions on terrorism, bring in stronger money-laundering laws and prevent the exploitation by insurgents of refugee camps in Afghanistan, he told MPs.
"Canada, along with our allies, continues to encourage Pakistan to step up its efforts to prevent the cross-border movement of insurgents between Pakistan and Afghanistan."
The minister was appearing as part of committee hearings seeking an update on Canada's military mission in Afghanistan.
Opposition MPs all agreed with Mr. MacKay that Canada should increase diplomatic pressure on Pakistan.
Liberal defence critic Ujjal Dosanjh criticized Pakistan for failing to arrest senior insurgents and for signing peace agreements with groups of Taliban in Pakistani communities near Afghanistan.
"I don't think the world has seen Pakistan do very much," said Mr. Dosanjh, who called the country "a training ground for terrorists."
Mr. Dosanjh accused Mr. MacKay of "mollycoddling" Pakistan, an assertion the minister rejected.
Managing the border between the two countries is "unpredictable and difficult," said Mr. MacKay, because Afghanistan does not recognize Pakistan's border and because of a challenging "human dynamic" between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.
Mr. MacKay expressed hope that a new plan to have NATO liaison officials physically inside the Pakistani government, as well as Pakistani officials sharing information while stationed in the Afghan capital of Kabul, will aid co-operation.
He also said Canada is now funding education projects in Pakistan so that children do not attend madrassas, religious schools that sometimes encourage extremism.
Afghanistan link up with the US
via Gulf Times (Qatar) (AFP) - Wednesday, 22 November, 2006
KABUL: Not for the first time in its recent, troubled history, Afghanistan will look to the United States for help when it comes to boosting their medal hopes at the Asian Games.
Wary of being made to look like second class citizens at the event, the country’s basketball authorities has spread their net to the US searching for the sons of Afghan refugees to come to the country’s aid.
In recent months, try-outs were held on the east and west coasts of America to assess the talent available while fund-raising dinners were staged to cover the cost of getting the selected players to the other side of the world.
Abdul Roshan, a point guard, is typical of those who were targeted.
His parents left Kandahar in 1982 for New York. He played school and college basketball and was one of those who was trialled for the Games.
“I love running the point on fast breaks and finding the right guy for a sweet pass and finish,” said Roshan.
Basketball is growing in popularity among young Afghans. At a recent friendly tournament in Kabul, the Turkish embassy donated playing kits which could be used at the Games.
At the last Asian Games in Busan in 2002, Afghanistan’s team hopes lay squarely on the shoulders of their football squad who were called in late to replace Mongolia and needed a 40,000-dollar grant from FIFA to help them along the way.
It was a chastening experience after a 20-year absence from the Games.
In three matches, they conceded 32 goals including a 10-0 defeat by eventual champions Iran and two 11-0 losses to Qatar and Lebanon.
But it was not all gloom for the 23-strong squad in South Korea.
They even came home with a bronze medal in taekwondo courtesy of Roia Zamani who will be present in Doha.
Her story is typical of many in the team.
The 26-year-old learned the sport while living as a refugee in Iran after her family fled the Taliban regime who were so suspicious of sport that they even banned kite-flying and opted to use Kabul’s main football stadium for executions.
“We spent six years in Iran, but I was always determined to show that women can play sport just as well as the men so that’s why I wanted to learn a tough sport,” Zamani told AFP.
“I wanted to show people that Afghanistan is alive and that women are alive.” The country’s women tried to make their mark at the Athens Olympics in 2004 when judoka Friba Razayee and 100m sprinter Robina Muqimyar were two elements of a five-member team in Greece.
Razayee went out in the first round of the women’s judo 70kg division losing to Spain’s Cecilia Blanco in just 42 seconds, but she was the first Afghan woman in history to take part in an Olympic event.
“I am proud I was in the Olympic Games, although the world knows we are not as strong as other athletes. I tried my best but I couldn’t do anything,” she said.
Muqimyar had the second-slowest time among 63 women in the 100-metre heats in Athens. Dressed in tracksuit bottoms, t-shirt and head scarf, the 18-year-old ran 14.14sec, a national record.
“I hope this opens the way for Afghan women,” she said.
Doha, over two weeks in December, will see how much progress has been made.
AFGHANISTAN: Polio vaccination campaign targets children in vulnerable south
21 Nov 2006 18:59:46 GMT
More KABUL, 21 November (IRIN) - Afghanistan has begun its latest drive to vaccinate millions of children under five against the crippling polio virus, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) officials have said.
The three-day campaign is the fifth in Afghanistan this year and was launched Sunday by the Afghan Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), with the support of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International and other partners.
Afghanistan, one of just four countries in the world where polio is endemic, has seen the number of people suffering from the disease surge this year. There have been 29 confirmed polio cases in 2006, compared to only nine cases last year, according to the WHO in Kabul.
"This is a massive campaign and involves 34,000 volunteers administering drops of polio vaccine to 7.2 million children across the country," UNAMA spokesman Adrian Edwards said in Kabul.
Many new polio cases recorded this year have been in southern Afghanistan, which is experiencing a deadly phase of Taliban-led violence. Officials say the deteriorating security situation in the south, which has hampered polio immunisation drives, has been the leading cause of an increase in the disease in the impoverished country.
"One of the most important aims of the campaign is to curtail the polio virus in southern Afghanistan and minimise the risk of it spreading to other parts of the country," Dr Tahir Mir, medical officer for polio vaccination at the WHO, told IRIN.
During the September and August polio vaccination drives, about 75,000 children were missed out in the southern region and about 50,000 children were not immunised in the Karabagh, Nawa, and Gilan districts of southeastern province of Ghazni due to security problems, according to the WHO.
Unregulated travel to and from Pakistan, where polio still exists, difficulty in establishing health services, a lack of awareness and poor communication with community leaders were the main factors fuelling polio's spread in the impoverished Central Asian state, health officials said.
Polio is a highly infectious virus that invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis in hours. It can strike at any age, but mainly affects children under five. It enters the human body through the mouth and multiplies in the intestine. Besides Afghanistan, polio remains endemic in Nigeria, India and Pakistan.
Pakistani FM to visit Kabul next month
KABUL, Nov 21 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Rangin Dadfar Spanta has said that his Pakistani counterpart Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri will visit Kabul early next month to discuss the holding of the peace Jirga with Afghan officials.
Speaking at a news conference here on Tuesday, Spanta said the two sides would jointly devise a framework for the Jirga. He said they would jointly set a time, date and place for holding the Jirga.
The minister said fight against terrorism and the security would be key issues to be discussed by participants of the Jirga. Terrorists were posing serious threat not only to the tribes but the whole country and the Jirga was being held to secure all Afghans, said the minister.
He said the pace of work on reconstruction projects should be accelerated. The minister said eradication of corruption, increase in salaries and provision of employment opportunities were the other factors that could contribute in ensuring peace and security in the country.
He said the gap between the people and the government was benefiting terrorists and widening their support base. He said supporters of fight against corruption were approaching him for appointment of their relatives or friends against senior and lucrative positions.
Three-year reconstruction plan for Kandahar
KANDAHAR CITY, Nov 21 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Minister for Rural Rehabilitation and Development Ehsan Zia has said the central government will launch a three-year reconstruction programme in the province.
Speaking at a news conference here on Tuesday, the minister said the projects, including construction and pavement of roads, bridges and provision of clean drinking water, would be completed at the cost $28 million.
He said the National Solidarity Programme (NSP) had launched several projects in eight districts of the province. He said work on welfare projects in three more districts, including Boldak, Khakrez and Mianishin, in the near future.
He said several schools, health clinics and roads had been constructed and other facilities provided to the people under the NSP.
Besides the NSP projects, the government had earmarked an additional amount of $8 million for reconstruction in Panjwayee and Zherai districts of Kandahar.
He said the government of Canada had assured them of provision of $2 million for reconstruction activities in each district of Kandahar.
Kapisa Radio/TV gets new building
MAHMUD RAQI, Nov 21 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The US-led provincial reconstruction team (PRT) has constructed new building for the government-owned Radio/TV in central Kapisa province.
Constructed at the cost of $130,000, the new building was handed over to local officials during a ceremony here on Tuesday.
General Tapa, a US military official at Bagram airbase, told they had provided $5 million for different reconstruction projects in Kapisa to the provincial government. The projects included establishment of a TV station and reconstruction of roads.
Amanullah Khalilyar, in charge of the Radio/TV in provinces, who attended the inaugural ceremony on behalf of the Minister for Information, Culture and Youth Affairs, hoped the new building had 24 rooms and two studios.
The Radio/TV in Kapisa had no building and was operating in another governmental office. Khalilyar said they would soon establish a modern Radio station in Kapisa with the assistance of India.
Nadim Kohistani/Shahpur Arab
Check on the chickens
KHOST CITY, Nov 21 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Two people were killed and as many wounded when two families clashed over a pity dispute in the Tanai district of the southeastern Khost province.
Residents and officials said the root cause of the dispute between the two families in the Dir Malaka village was the killing of a neighbour's hen by another neighbour.
Kalim Khan, police chief of the district, said the two parties exchanged harsh words but the matter withered at that time. The next day (Tuesday), the aggrieved party, whose chicken was killed, attacked a member of the opponents when he was busy repairing an irrigation channel, said the officer.
The scuffle soon converted into armed clash and the two sides exchanged fire resulting in the killing of two people and injuries to two others. Khan said police had arrived in the area and the situation was under control.
He said the law-enforcement personnel had arrested one man on charges of opening fire at the rival family. Hospital sources said the injured also included a woman.
Armed clashes over pity disputes in the rural areas of Khost, Paktia and Paktika provinces are common, which often result in loss of precious lives. Last year, three people were killed and as many wounded in a similar dispute in the Latak area of Khost City, capital of Khost province.
Abdul Majid Arif
Two fuel tankers set on fire
JALALABAD, Nov 21 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Unidentified miscreants attacked and set on fire two oil tankers on Kabul - Jalalabad Highway last night.
The two vehicles were burnt near the Qarghai district of the eastern Laghman province, crime branch chief Colonel Yar Mohammad told Pajhwok Afghan News on Monday.
The officers said the vehicles were on way from Pakistan to the US' Bagram airbase to supply fuel to the foreign troops.
Police chief of Laghman Brig Gen Abdul Karim Omaryar said only one tanker was targeted. He said some oil was wasted but the vehicle did not burn. He said no one was killed or injured in the attack.
Meanwhile, a telephone caller, identifying himself as engineer Haroon Zarghoon and spokesman for the Hezb-i-Islami, told Pajhwok Afghan News their men were responsible for the attack.
This was the first incident of its type claimed by Hekmatyar-led Hezb-i-Islami. Earlier, Taliban used to claim responsibility for burning of oil tankers and trucks supplying fuel and food items to US forces on the Kabul - Jalalabad Highway, the main route linking Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Abdul Mueed Hashmi
Feature: Fish farms needed to fulfill domestic demand
KABUL, Nov 21 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Despite huge water reserves and suitable climate for fish farming in the country, most of the fish and fish products are imported from the neighboring Pakistan, Iran and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Demand for fish meat goes up with the advent of winter and its imports register a sudden and manifold increase as the mercury drops in the central capital Kabul and other parts of the country.
Qais, a fish seller in Nadir Pashtun Wat of Kabul, told Pajhwok Afghan News his daily sale reached to 140 kilograms per day during winter. But all the commodity is imported from Pakistan.
A little quantity, he said, was received from the Sarobi Lake and Sayad River in the central Kapisa province. Fish obtained from the two places usually attract most customers and hence, its prices are ranging between 120 and 150 afghanis per kilogram. As for the product from Pakistan, its prices range between 80 to 100 afghanis per kilogram.
Samiullah, a fish importer, told this news agency they had imported from 40 to 100 sacks - seven kilogram each - fish from Pakistan on daily basis. The fish imported from the neighbouring country was also transported to Balkh, Kunduz and Ghazni provinces, he added.
Sher Aqa, another businessman, said fish farms were insufficient and the production could not fulfill the demand inside the country. Even in areas like Darunta and Sarobi, fish imported from Pakistan is being sold. Aqa says he used to import up to 200 sacks of fish from Pakistan on daily basis.
Besides import of fresh fish from Pakistan, packed fish meat is also brought into the country from Iran and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Fish importers, in the meantime, complained police were teasing them and squeezing money from them while bringing the product from Pakistan. Aqa said they had to pay eight to 10,000 afghanis per truck to police officials on way to Kabul.
Asked for comments about the complaints of fish importers, Interior Ministry spokesman Zmary Bashari said the ministry had kept a check on the highway officials and the problem had now been curbed.
Bashari said if the problem still persisted, then the importers would have no license or they might have used some illegal means for importing the product in the country.
Fish is being imported from Pakistan despite the fact that Afghanistan has suitable climate and vast reserves of fresh water. Abdul Raziq, an official of the French office for promotion of fishery in Afghanistan, said the country had suitable climate for promotion of fisheries, especially in areas close to rivers Amo and Hari Rod, the southern province of Helmand and the central capital Kabul.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation had recently launched efforts to boost domestic fish production by promoting fish farms in the country. Two such farms had already been set up in Qargha Lake, situated east of Kabul, and the central Kapisa province. Such farms were existed in Parwan, Kabul, Nangarhar and other provinces but years of war and civil strife had destroyed all the infrastructure in those provinces.
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