Afghanistan to dominate NATO summit
By PAUL AMES, Associated Press Writer Mon Nov 27, 6:20 AM ET
RIGA, Latvia - One issue will dominate this week's NATO summit — Afghanistan.
The 26 presidents and prime ministers all know that the future of their alliance is playing out in the deserts of Kandahar and mountains of Uruzgan rather than in their conference hall on the Baltic Sea.
The rise in Taliban violence since NATO's 32,800-strong force moved into those southern provinces and the resultant casualties among civilians and Western soldiers has called into question the strategy behind NATO's "stabilization" force in Afghanistan.
Before traveling to Europe for the summit, President Bush spoke on the phone with his Afghan counterpart. "President Bush assured President Hamid Karzai that the United States of America will reiterate its commitment at the NATO summit to the strengthening of security and reconstruction in Afghanistan," said a statement from Karzai's office in Kabul.
The dangers to the NATO force were underscored by attacks in the run-up to the summit that ended a period of relative calm. Two Canadian soldiers serving with the NATO force were reported slain by a suicide car bomber Monday. A day earlier, a suicide bomber killed 15 Afghans in a restaurant.
The summit Tuesday and Wednesday in Latvia's capital, Riga, will be Bush's first meeting with European allies since he was chastened by Democrat success in the midterm elections and bid farewell to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
Allied leaders will be looking for any change in emphasis from the Bush administration following Rumsfeld's resignation. But on Afghanistan, the message is likely to be a reaffirmation of the alliance's determination to stay the course.
"I don't believe there is an alternative but to fight this and to fight it for as long as it takes," British Prime Minister Tony Blair told troops in southern Afghanistan last week.
Leaders will talk up battlefield successes against the Taliban in recent months and point to statistics showing health care and education improvements in Afghanistan as illustrating the success of their mission.
They will stress the need to follow up military advances quickly with development aid to win over hearts and minds. And they will pledge to do more through the United Nations and the European Union to provide civilian support to the Afghan government, from building roads and schools to training the police and tackling the narcotics trade.
"A military mission alone will not succeed," U.S. Ambassador to NATO Victoria Nuland said.
"We must have security married to good governance and development, and that means the EU, U.N. and NATO working in harmony with Afghans," she wrote on NATO's Web site last week.
Although all 26 nations have troops serving with the mission, those in the southern front lines — mainly Canada, Britain, the United States and the Netherlands — are irked that others — primarily Germany, Italy, France and Spain — have restrictions limiting their troops to the relatively peaceful north and west.
"Putting caveats on operations means putting caveats on NATO's future," NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in Brussels before the summit. "At Riga, I will convey this message to our heads of state and government, loud and clear."
He may get some success. Poland says the 1,100 troops it is sending to Afghanistan in the new year can be used around the country. Norway and Portugal have quick-response units based in the north that can be sent wherever commanders think best.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, de Hoop Scheffer said he was confident all leaders would agree that their troops are able to rush to the aid of allies in trouble anywhere in Afghanistan.
Several non-NATO nations are supporting the Afghan mission, including Australia and New Zealand. Some in the alliance want to bring those countries, along with Japan and South Korea, into a "global partnership" to boost political and military cooperation.
Washington sees that idea as a priority in Riga. The United States also wants to see more spending by European allies to modernize NATO's military, build up the alliance's role as a political forum and keep the door open for nations in the Balkans who want to join NATO in 2008, and others in the former Soviet Union seeking membership further down the road.
However, the U.S. faces opposition from at least one European ally.
"To seek to involve the alliance in nonmilitary missions, ad hoc partnerships, technological ventures or an insufficiently prepared enlargement could only distort its purpose," French President Jacques Chirac told a meeting with his country's ambassadors based around the world in August.
Although both sides are keen to lay to rest the ghosts of their Iraq war disputes, France and the United States hold fundamentally different views of NATO's role. Paris is wary of what it sees as Washington's attempts to use NATO to expand its influence at the expense of a more independent EU.
Many blame continued tension between France and United States for the relatively limited ambition of the Riga agenda and expect more for the next summit in 2008, when there'll probably be a new president in Paris, or the one after in 2009, when there will certainly be a new president in Washington.
NATO urged to 'whole-heartedly' commit to Afghanistan
by Karin Zeitvogel
RIGA (AFP) - Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga urged NATO countries to "whole-heartedly" commit their resources to strife-torn Afghanistan, as alliance leaders gathered in Riga for a summit.
"If NATO is engaged and has accepted being present in Afghanistan, it should do so whole-heartedly and engage in such a way as to ensure results," she told a news conference on the eve of the first-ever NATO summit in a former Soviet republic.
"The crucial question will be how to achieve that and what is needed," she said.
The summit of the 26-member military alliance, set up to counter the military might of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, formally opens late Tuesday, a day after a suicide attack in southern Afghanistan claimed the lives of two NATO soldiers from Canada.
The resurgence of the Taliban, five years after they were driven from power in Afghanistan in 2001, has peaked this year with daily attacks and full-scale battles claiming scores of lives.
NATO's military commander, US General James Jones, in early September called for some 2,500 extra military personnel for southern Afghanistan -- around 1,000 combat troops backed by about 1,500 logistical and other staff, plus equipment -- to tackle the revived insurgency.
But NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer confirmed Monday that the call for more troops had not yet been fully met.
"Being in Afghanistan as guests or tourists is far from the aim," Vike-Freiberga said.
"A half-hearted presence there doesn't seem to be worthwhile. We must either go there, get the job done or say we are unable to deal with it and leave that country to its fate," she said.
At a gala dinner for summit participants at Riga's Small Guild house, US Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Dick Lugar warned that failure of member states to commit to Afghanistan could deal a serious blow to NATO's credibility.
"Afghanistan has become a test case for whether we can overcome the growing discrepancy between NATO's expanding missions and its lagging capabilities," he said.
"NATO commanders must have the resources to provide security, and they must have the flexibility to use troops to meet Afghanistan's critical security needs."
"If the most prominent alliance in modern history were to fail in its first operation outside of Europe due to a lack of will by its members, the efficacy of NATO and the ability to take joint action against a terrorist threat would be called into question," Lugar said.
Vike-Freiberga said the heads of state and government would talk about enlargement and relations with Russia, which saw its former republics and satellites joining NATO in a bad light, but added "there are no burning issues on the table concerning relations with Russia" or enlargement.
The stated aim of the summit was to discuss NATO's transformation, to deal with modern-day security threats.
"This summit will prove that NATO is alive and well and adjusting to an ever-changing world. NATO, when it was created, was faced with a Europe divided in two. It lived for many decades through the Cold War. When the Cold War ended, a new world arose and NATO adapted," Vike-Freiberga said.
"The transformation of NATO and its readiness to assume new roles while keeping its ability to collaborate in an enlarged format of 26 members is a challenge in itself that NATO must to rise to," she said.
The United States believes that the alliance's operation in Afghanistan, its most ambitious mission ever, is evidence that NATO must be able to work outside of its classic transatlantic "area of operations".
But countries like France, Belgium, Greece, Spain and Italy believe that turning NATO into a coalition of democracies with global ambitions could spark concern in Asia, particularly in China.
Scheffer on Monday urged NATO members to engage in "frank political dialogue" to ensure that the alliance remains "strong and vibrant".
He also assured critics that the alliance would not become the world's policeman, although he added that "with missions and operations on three continents involving more than 50,000 troops -- with new capabilities and with new global partners -- NATO is providing security in new ways and new places."
Blair to press NATO allies over Afghanistan
by Michael Thurston Mon Nov 27, 2:19 AM ET
LONDON (AFP) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair will use a NATO summit this week to press his allies to do more in Afghanistan, where British troops are on the frontline of bloody fighting with Taliban insurgents.
Only last week Blair used a trip to the violence-wracked country to warn bluntly that failure would raise serious questions about NATO's very purpose in the post-9/11 world.
"The credibility of NATO... rests on us doing everything we can to help the people of Afghanistan in their search away from the Taliban," he said, his message firmly directed at the summit in Riga, Latvia, starting Tuesday.
Blair has good reason to be worried: in recent months the death toll among British troops has surged upwards since they spearheaded NATO's move into the south in the middle of the year, and more than 40 have now died.
The risks were further underlined this weekend, when another NATO soldier died in the province of Uruzgan adjoining Kandahar, the birthplace of the extremist Taliban movement.
More broadly Blair -- like US President George W. Bush, with whom his place in history will forever be bound -- faces his closing days in charge with Iraq threatened with all-out civil war and Afghanistan slipping back towards chaos.
Afghanistan -- NATO's most ambitious operation ever, involving some 32,000 troops from 37 nations including 5,500 Britons under the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) -- will top the agenda at the two-day gathering.
NATO's top commander US General James Jones called in September for 2,500 extra military personnel in Afghanistan, to help the British-led forces in the south battle the unexpected ferocity of the Taliban.
But efforts to drum up that level of contributions have been an uphill struggle.
"More and more capitals are reluctant to commit additional troops," said French lawmaker Pierre Lellouche, who recently chaired a session of the NATO parliamentary assembly in Quebec.
"Given this context, one hopes that crucial decisions will be taken in Riga," he wrote in the International Herald Tribune on Monday.
While more troops may be difficult to find, Blair will press in particular for countries like Germany and France to end caveats -- NATO-speak for restrictions -- imposed on their troops, keeping them from the frontline.
As well as Berlin and Paris, Spain and Italy have also come under particular pressure for refusing to remove troops from the relatively calm north and west of the strife-torn country to the turbulent east and south.
"We do raise the issue of the caveats the entire time. Several countries, for reasons to do with their own politics are reluctant to remove them," Blair said ahead of the summit.
The Riga summit will bring together all 26 leaders of the West's Cold War-era military bloc including Bush, who ordered the ouster of the Taliban after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
They meet roughly every two years -- their last gathering was in Istanbul two years ago, not long after the 2003 Iraq war -- but this time it is generally agreed that the world faces a more critical juncture than ever.
With Iraq and Afghanistan -- the two main battlefronts in the post 9/11 global war on terror -- both facing huge challenges, the stakes couldn't be higher.
Against that background, the leaders are expected to reiterate their long-term commitment to Afghanistan, amid fears that international donors might renege on pledges they made to the country early this year.
If reconstruction fails to bring economic growth and jobs, officials worry, ordinary Afghans could turn back to the Taliban, who were ousted by a US-led coalition in late 2001 for harbouring Osama bin Laden.
NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer warned on the eve of the Riga gathering that if NATO fails to stop the Taliban returning, Afghanistan would become a "black hole for terrorism training."
"I am absolutely convinced that if we allowed Afghanistan to fall back into Taliban rule it would become a failed state again and a black hole for terrorism training," Scheffer told the Daily Telegraph on Friday.
"Who knows that the terrorists are not going to hit nations that they have not yet hit? That's why you see me strongly motivated -- that is the message I will give at Riga," he added.
Iraq's dark cloud hangs over Bush at NATO summit
by Paul Handley
WASHINGTON (AFP) - US President George W. Bush left for an international tour hoping to shore up support for the war in Afghanistan and find an end to spiraling violence in Iraq after one of the country's deadliest weeks.
Bush will attend the the NATO summit in Riga and urge European allies to offer for more support in Afghanistan. He will also meet in Jordan with Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki where he is expected to press for a political solution to mounting violence there.
Bush wants his European partners in the Atlantic alliance to provide more reconstruction in Afghanistan and to shoulder a more equal burden of the combat risks.
Without more troops, and in the face of a sharp surge in aggressive attacks by Taliban forces, NATO risks not achieving the crushing victory in Afghanistan that its prestige demands, some US officials warn.
"If NATO is to be successful and to continue to complete this mission, obviously it will need enough troops and the right kind of troops to be able to do the mission. It will need troops in the right places," said Judy Ansley, Senior Director for European Affairs on Bush's national security council.
Powerful US Senator Dick Lugar, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also challenged the North Atlantic Treaty Organizatin to prove itself.
"Afghanistan has become a test case for whether we can overcome the growing discrepancy between NATO's expanding missions and its lagging capabilities," Lugar was to say in a speech in Riga on Monday.
"Unfortunately, NATO capitals are making the military mission even more difficult by placing national caveats on the use of their forces," adds the Republican lawmaker.
With more than 31,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan fighting alongside around 8,000 US-led coalition troops, the Afghan army and police, there is also concern about disproportionate burdens borne in the fight.
"We have a lack of strategic lift and air-to-air refueling and of combat service support and of special forces -- these are the necessary ingredients of modern warfare," said US undersecretary of state Nicholas Burns.
Burns said Bush, who will first stop on Tuesday in Tallinn for meetings with Estonia's leaders, wants NATO to reach out to friendly countries outside the alliance's geographic area like Australia, Japan and South Korea, and also to Sweden and Finland.
Daniel Fried, US assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, last week gave voice to complaints by Canada, which has lost 34 soldiers this year alone in southern Afghanistan, that it is unfairly shouldering a heavy burden in the country.
But the elephant in the room at the November 28-29 summit in Riga will be the US struggle in Iraq, after Washington was shaken by one of the most bloody weeks in the three and a half years since the US-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.
On Thursday close to 300 people were killed across Iraq, most of them in a series of bombings in Baghdad's Shiite Sadr City neighborhood. That provoked shocking retribution killings against dozens of Sunnis which US forces were powerless to stop, heightening worries of an imminent all-out civil war.
Bush will head to Jordan immediately after the Riga summit for talks with Maliki, whose government was appearing frailer for its inability to staunch the violence.
King Abdullah II, who is hosting the Bush-Maliki meeting, put pressure on Bush to redouble peace efforts across the Middle East, warning that the violence in Iraq is but one of three brewing civil wars.
"The difficulty that we're tackling with here is ... the strong potential of three civil wars in the region, whether it's the Palestinians, that of Lebanon or of Iraq," he told ABC television Sunday.
He added that the conflicts cannot be separated one from another, but must be tackled as part of a "total picture."
"I keep saying Palestine is the core," he said, calling for a "comprehensive" regional approach to forging peace.
Bush was also under pressure to engage directly with Iran on the violence in Iraq and tensions in Lebanon, something he has resisted while the US vies with Tehran over the separate issue of its controversial nuclear program.
Last week Iran and Syria, who the US blames for stoking the violence in Iraq, both moved to firm links with Baghdad. Iraq announced Monday that it was restoring diplomatic relations with Syria after a quarter-century rupture, while Iran simultaneously set up a summit meeting with Iraq's leaders in a parallel step to improve ties.
Blast in Afghanistan kills two Canadians
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A suicide bomber killed two Canadian soldiers in an attack on an alliance convoy in Afghanistan's southern city of Kandahar on Monday.
Canadians form the bulk of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the province.
Civilians said the bomber plowed into the convoy in a car. NATO forces sealed off the site of the attack on a road where several government buildings are located, they said.
Flames and smoke rose from one of the vehicles and a NATO helicopter hovered overhead, the witnesses said.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and military chief Mullah Dadullah said suicide bombers had infiltrated every city and would strike again.
"Our squad of would-be suicide bombers has become much bigger after new inductions and they are waiting for their targets to hit," he told Reuters from a secret location.
"We have chalked out plans very carefully so that foreign troops could suffer maximum losses in our attacks."
In Ottawa, Canadian Department of National Defense spokeswoman Carole Brown confirmed that the two dead soldiers were Canadian, but would not release their names.
Afghanistan is going through its bloodiest period since U.S.-led coalition forces overthrew the Taliban's radical Islamic government in 2001.
The violence has seriously hampered development and reconstruction, raised fears the Taliban are gaining support in the countryside, and reinforced perceptions President Hamid Karzai has little control outside Kabul.
NATO took over responsibility for security in Afghanistan from the United States this year, and the 32,000 ISAF troops are fighting the toughest ground war in the alliance's 57 years.
Its mission will dominate discussions at a two-day summit of the 26-member alliance in Riga, Latvia, from Tuesday but some nations are resisting appeals to bolster the force and differ over limits on what national contingents can do on the ground.
NATO said on Monday it had killed an Afghan who ignored warnings to stop -- including flares and warning shots -- as he approached a convoy in Helmand province, also in the south.
Monday's incident is the latest in which troops have fired on civilians in the mistaken belief they were under attack.
On Saturday, NATO said it would mount signs on its vehicles in the two official languages, Dari and Pashto, warning people to keep away. A similar measure has long been in place in Iraq.
But half of Afghan men and 80 percent of women cannot read.
ISAF said on Sunday NATO forces had killed about 55 Taliban fighters in two separate engagements the previous day, both in the violent south. Two NATO soldiers died in on of the clashes.
A suicide attack on Sunday killed 15 Afghans in a restaurant in southeastern Paktika province, many of them from a militia hired by the U.S. military, according to the provincial governor.
The Taliban and their Islamic allies stepped up a suicide attack campaign a year ago as the insurgency gathered fresh momentum, despite U.S. military comments it was on its last legs.
So far this year, about 3,800 people have been killed in insurgency-related violence, including scores killed in suicide attacks, and in operations by foreign forces across the country.
A NATO soldier died after a road accident in eastern Nuristan province on Sunday. The alliance did not give his nationality, but U.S. troops make up the bulk of forces there.
(Additional reporting by Saeed Ali Achakzai, Terry Friel, and Scott Anderson in Toronto)
Afghan battle turns to hearts and minds
By Peter Grant BBC News, town of Gereshk, Afghanistan Monday, 27 November 2006, 13:48 GMT
UK troops in Afghanistan are continuing to work on building relationships with local townspeople in the hope of capturing hearts and minds.
The large arched tent was crowded. At the front, Captain Chris Burr was giving a briefing for the following day.
A few hours earlier, the men of Juliette Company 42 Commando Royal Marines had come back to their base after a fight with the Taleban.
Some were laughing and joking, others were quiet.
One or two seemed weighed down by more than just the huge amount of kit they were carrying.
But showered, fed and briefly rested they were ready to go again - they had been going into the nearby town of Gereshk.
There was ice on the seats of those vehicles, which were open as the convoy set off across a bleak, brown landscape under a clear morning sky.
The approach to Gereshk was past mud walls. Recently, heavy rains had left small lakes in deep hollows in the roads.
As the marines got out of their vehicles and walked towards the town, they were met with half-smiles and wary glances from the Afghans watching.
A single shot fired in warning at a car whose driver was reluctant to stop, did nothing to lift the mood.
It was the children who did that.
They stood in doorways or on street corners, sometimes singly but more often in groups.
The bolder ones grinned and shouted "Salaam". When the marines paused, they would cluster around.
Working with children
A Danish soldier with the patrol, Sergeant-Major Klaus Augustinus, who is working on civilian projects, chatted to them and let them peer through the sight of his rifle.
"I've put a lot of effort into working with the kids," he said, as he walked away.
"They're going to be the future of Afghanistan and hopefully they'll continue to wave at us.
"I adore kids. They smile at you, wave at you - make me happy."
In the town centre, the traffic ranged from donkeys ladened with sacks to a truck with an internet address on its side.
There was the noise, bustle and colour that the outskirts had lacked.
And, as the patrol pushed on, so did a growing escort of children.
At halts they gathered around hoping for handouts especially, pens. But the marines do not give away free gifts.
There have been instances in the past where children have raced across roads enthusiastically and been hit by vehicles or have clustered around a truck and been hurt when it moved.
Only a few of the marines wore helmets. In the town, soft hats or bare heads would do.
Chris Burr believes there has been a distinct improvement in the attitude of the townspeople towards the marines and he and the men of the patrol want that to continue.
Not that he is complacent.
He thought some of a crowd of men his patrol had passed might have been Taleban and the marines were quick to act when someone seemed to be using a mobile phone to report their progress.
Corporal Mick Cowe said the town centre is now "fairly benign" but the men are always on their guard. However, it was not long before another halt saw him mobbed by children.
A short time before he had been speaking about how the marines think "the combat side of the job is great".
But he dealt happily with the children - talking to them and smiling as they talked back even though neither could understand the other.
After four hours it was time to return to the vehicles. There was a final moment of tension as a white saloon car sped towards the marines.
Always vigilant for suicide bombers, they raised their weapons and it screeched to a halt. The children were hanging around until the marines left.
"It's nice to do the other half of our job" said Mick Cowe.
"A little bit of hearts and minds. If we don't do this work as well, we won't make any progress".
Afghanistan may destabilise Pakistan, India - Armitage
SINGAPORE, Nov 27 (Reuters) - Failure to restore peace to Afghanistan may jeopardise stability in neighbouring Pakistan and have a knock-on effect on India, former U.S. deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage said on Monday.
Calling on the international community to pay more attention to Afghanistan, Armitage said persistent violence in that country might wreck Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's efforts to defeat the forces of religious extremism at home.
"I want to call your attention to Afghanistan. The stakes in Afghanistan are actually larger in the near term than they are in Iraq," said Armitage, speaking at a seminar for conflict mediators in Asia.
Continued clashes in Afghanistan could also have knock-on effects on India, which may already perceive itself to be surrounded by failed or failing states such as Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, he said.
Afghanistan is currently enduring its bloodiest period since U.S.-led coalition forces overthrew the Taliban's radical Islamic government in 2001, with insurgent attacks gathering momentum.
"The knock-on effects of a lack of success in Afghanistan will have enormous repercussions," Armitage said. The situation in Afghanistan was not "an Iran situation which is a future problem, but a problem now", he added.
Trained Afghan troops 'are our exit strategy'
Chicago Sun-Times - Nov 27 2:28 AM BY FISNIK ABRASHI
PANJWAYI, Afghanistan -- Bandoliers draped over their chests and rocket-propelled grenades slung on their backs, Afghan soldiers venture slowly out of their base of mud huts and green tents for a patrol with Canadian troops through this restive southern town.
Such operations are at the heart of efforts by the United States and NATO to bolster Afghanistan's forces and open the way for the departure of Western troops.
"They are our exit strategy," said Maj. Francoise Bisillon, who is part of the Canadian team that lives with and trains Afghan soldiers in Panjwayi.
'They know the ground'
Their patrol might not seem dangerous, but the area is a front line against Taliban militants. Clashes erupt in nearby fields almost every day.
Fighting over the summer in the province killed hundreds of militants, but dozens of civilians also died -- souring relations between locals and Western troops.
Few children wave as the patrol passes through the town, and local men sipping tea in front of shops offer only a steely gaze.
Relying on local soldiers who know the terrain and can tell a farmer from a militant is vital.
"They are good fighters and they know the ground," Warrant Officer Daniel Parenteau, 38, said of the Afghan soldiers.
Over the weekend, one NATO soldier and an estimated 57 insurgents were killed in four separate attacks in southern Afghanistan, while a suicide bomb attack at a restaurant killed 15 people and wounded 24, officials said.
Nato urged to plan Afghanistan exit strategy as violence soars
By Stephen Castle in Brussels and Kim Sengupta in Kabul The Independent (UK) 27 November 2006
Nato's fragile unity over Afghanistan has begun to crack ahead of an important summit - with one public call to discuss an exit strategy from the Allied forces' bloody confrontation with the Taliban.
While heads of government are to make a show of unity over Afghanistan at tomorrow's alliance summit in Riga, Belgium's Defence Minister has questioned the future of Nato's most important mission.
And heads of the alliance's 26 nations are unlikely to agree to send reinforcements to Afghanistan - dealing a blow to Tony Blair's hopes that others will take up more of the increasingly heavy burden.
In the bloodiest day of violence to grip the country in many weeks, a series of fierce clashes between Nato forces and Taliban fighters and a suicide bombing left 76 people dead and more than 45 injured yesterday, many of them children.
Though Belgium only makes a small military contribution to the Nato mission, the Minister's comments will alarm senior figures at the alliance's headquarters where there is already concern that France is getting cold feet about its role in Afghanistan. Paris has remained publicly committed to the mission but Nato sources are concerned about the possibility of an eventual French withdrawal. They are pressing for an enhanced UN profile in Afghanistan to reassure the French who are suspicious about an expanded role for Nato because of Washington's hold over the alliance.
André Flahaut, the Belgian Defence Minister, brought anxieties about the Afghan mission into the open when he suggested that, at the Riga summit, "we finally reflect on an exit strategy". Five years after the start of Western involvement in Afghanistan, Mr Flahaut calls into question its prospects of success.
In an interview with Le Vif-L'Express magazine, Mr Flahaut argued: "The situation is deteriorating and, over time, Nato forces risk appearing like an army of occupation." Discussions of an exit strategy are the last thing the Nato top brass wants to hear because it is hoping to use this week to reinforce a message of unity on Afghanistan.
The summit in Riga - the first to be held on ex-Soviet territory - will be attended by, among others, George Bush, Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair.
The rising violence in Afghanistan could be seen yesterday, with Nato reporting the loss of one soldier and 57 insurgents killed during four separate attacks in the south. Local people said at least 12 civilians died during an air strike.
Just hours after the fighting in Oruzgan province, a suicide bomber destroyed a restaurant in the Orgun district of Paktika. The blast is believed to have been aimed at an Afghan military commander but among the 25 dead and 20 injured were a number of children.
With 37 countries, including a host of non-Nato nations, contributing to the operation in Afghanistan a total of about 32,000 troops have been assembled .
In Riga, Nato is hoping for progress on one of the main problems facing commanders in the field: restrictions placed by national capitals on the use of their troops.
Seven million Afghan children missing an education, warns Oxfam ahead of NATO summit on Afghanistan
Oxfam Press Release - 27 November 2006
Only one in five girls attend primary school
More than half of all Afghan children still do not go to school despite a five-fold increase in enrolments since 2001, according to a new report published today by international agency, Oxfam. The report is released a day ahead of a NATO summit in Latvia to review progress in Afghanistan.
Girls are particularly losing out with just one in five girls in primary education and one in 20 going to secondary school.
The report, entitled “Free, Quality Education for Every Afghan Child” says that aid from rich countries is not being delivered meaning millions of children are being denied an education.
Seven million Afghan children are currently out of school while five million children attend school, up from 3.1m in 2003 and around 1m in 2001, when the Taliban were in power.
Many of those lucky enough to be in school are being taught by untrained teachers: a survey in northern Afghanistan revealed only five per cent of primary school teachers could pass the exams which their pupils must take.
“Educating Afghanistan’s children is crucial in improving their lives and in the rebuilding and development of the country. But poverty, crippling fees and huge distances to the nearest schools prevent parents from sending their children to school. Those children who are lucky enough to be in school must endure untrained teachers, inadequate school buildings and poor textbooks. If Afghanistan is to meet its ambitious aims for primary and secondary education there must be a dramatic increase in aid to the government from rich countries,” says Grace Ommer, head of Oxfam GB in Afghanistan.
Oxfam’s report shows that extra investment in school buildings is desperately needed. Over half of pupils do not go to school because there is no school nearby. More than half of Afghanistan’s schools need major repairs, the majority are without clean drinking water or toilet facilities while two million children study in tents or the open air. Oxfam calls on the international community to invest US$563m to rebuild 7,800 schools across the country. Rich countries are not providing nearly enough aid to Afghanistan despite their many promises. So far they give only $126m a year.
Oxfam estimates Afghanistan needs nearly 53,000 trained primary school teachers immediately and a further 64,000 teachers in the next five years. There is also a distinct shortage of female teachers as currently less than three in 10 teachers are female.
Recruiting these new teachers will be difficult given the low level of morale amongst Afghanistan’s existing teachers. Their pay is very poor - in Daikundi province in central Afghanistan most teachers are only paid US$38 per month – and many teachers have to pay a bribe before they are given their salaries.
There are also up to 20,000 “ghost” teachers who collect their salaries but don’t go to work, or who collect more than one salary. Oxfam is calling for better budgeting systems, more consultation and the creation of a national database of teachers to stamp out corruption in the education system.
Schools are supposed to be free but in some areas up to 85 per cent of schools charge. The average fee per student is $6 per year, compared to the average Afghan income of only $293 per year.
To ensure that the Afghan government meets its Millennium Development Goals, Oxfam is calling for:
• Rich countries to invest US$563m in school rebuilding and $210m in printing and distributing text books over the next five years.
• The abolition of all school fees. Uniforms, books and transport costs need to be subsidised as far as possible.
• Training over 116,000 teachers in the next five years. Half of these should be female.
• Schools to provide a free midday snack for all pupils.
• The government of Afghanistan to work with labour unions to make budgeting and procedural reforms which will reduce waste and corruption, improve the planning process and ensure all schools across Afghanistan are equitably-funded.
• Donors must fund education through the Afghan Ministry of Education to ensure better coordination.
Note to editors
1. Donors and the international community have given US$125.6m to the Afghan education sector. USAID and the World Bank are the largest contributors. The military forces operating in Afghanistan also fund education.
Afghan Independent TV Criticizes Proposed New Court for Media Law Violations
Excerpt from commentary by Afghan independent Aina TV's Roydad Hai Shash Roz (Events of the Last Six Days) programme on 26 November
[Passage omitted: parliament held sessions closed to the media]
[Commentator] The media is the fourth pillar of democracy in modern societies because democratic political parties are not afraid of the media's transparent reporting of true facts in society. The public are the pillars of the government's political and economic activities and they have a right to know the truth and decide their future.
Governments, which were dictatorships for a long time, use democracy as a tool and want to put distance between the people and their civil rights. There is no doubt that this is possible if they impose restrictions on media laws in an era when modern communication systems are being extended.
If the government authorizes some government institutions to supervise the activities of the media, this will be a hurdle to freedom of speech and factual reports and will disappoint the people, who found private media outlets a key source of true information. In addition, if the commission dealing with media law violations is dissolved and a new body is established in which private media outlets' representatives are not given fair representation, then this is a restriction of media activities. This is a violation of the constitution. Aina TV, as the first private television channel in Afghanistan, calls on the relevant officials to revise their policy.
Source: BBC Monitoring South Asia
Taliban capitalizing on Afghan frustration
The Associated Press 11/26/2006
Militants' comeback linked to corruption, ineffective government
QALAT — Until the Taliban were driven from power, Mullah Ehsanullah was an intelligence official, enforcing the militia's Islamic orthodoxy in eastern Afghanistan.
Five years later, he is again busy in the Taliban ranks, shepherding recruits through the guerrilla training camps hidden in the rugged terrain here and in Pakistan's tribal regions across the border.
He says a new generation is learning tactics such as suicide bombings and remote-detonated explosives. These recruits have contributed to the average of 600 attacks each month this year against government officials, NATO and U.S. soldiers, the Afghan National Army and police.
The religious militia is capitalizing on civilians' anger and frustration with their foreign-backed government, seen as deeply corrupt and slow to bring improvements or even basic security to the more remote regions of the country.
"The people in the beginning were saying that, 'OK the war is finished. We want stability. It is time for peace. It is over,'" Ehsanullah said.
But government help has not reached many Afghans, and much of the country has returned to the same 1990s anarchy and lawlessness that gave rise to the Taliban's iron-fisted rule.
President Hamid Karzai insists the main problem is Pakistan's government, saying its failure to control its tribal areas is fostering the Taliban resurgence.
Regardless of who is to blame, Afghans have lost faith in the central government, and its authority in the outlying regions barely exists.
Govt collecting info about Afghan prayer leaders in NWFP
By Akhtar Amin Daily Times (Pakistan) November 26, 2006
PESHAWAR: The government has started collecting information about Afghan prayer leaders in NWFP’s mosques, and has asked intelligence agencies to monitor the activities of these prayer leaders, an official source told Daily Times on Saturday.
The move comes after a suicide attack in Peshawar on November 17, which injured two policemen.
The source said that police would collect information about prayer leaders’ period of stay in Pakistan and which part of Afghanistan they were from. Details about their links to other mosques of the province will also be collected.
“Afghan prayer leaders will also have to disclose their sources of income to the government, and their relations with people in Pakistan,” the source added.
Following the suicide attack in Peshawar, police took the prayer leader of the area’s mosque, Imam Maulvi Maula Jan, into custody after they found that the bomber, Nadeem, spent the night before the attack with him. According to sources, Nadeem took food for three people to the mosque the night before the attack.
U.S. to provide aircrafts to Afghan army
People's Daily - Nov 27 1:04 AM
The United States of America would provide aircrafts including chopper to Afghanistan National Army (ANA), Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi said Monday.
"The U.S. would assist Afghanistan with some helicopters and transport planes during Afghanistan's current year," Azimi told newsmen at a press briefing here.
Afghanistan's current year the 1385 ends next March 21.
The agreement to provide aircrafts was reached during the recent visit of Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak to the United States ended early in the weekend.
Pentagon which trains Afghanistan's new army has earlier provided a number of armored personnel carriers the Humvee and light assault rifles the M-16 to Afghanistan National Army to substitute the Russian-built Kalashnikov.
Rift over Afghan mission looms for NATO
By Thom Shanker The New York Times
NATO is bigger than ever, and it is reaching further than ever before, by taking the lead in the war in Afghanistan. But the Afghan mission threatens a rift within the Atlantic alliance between those nations willing and able to participate fully in combat operations in Afghanistan and those nations that are not.
The challenge represents a third generational test for the allies - one fraught with argument and angst like the others were. The first test was how best to face off against the Soviet threat, a challenge that gave birth to NATO in 1949. The second was whether to move beyond the boundaries of NATO's members in the 1990s to halt ethnic bloodshed in the Balkans.
NATO's 26 members and 11 non-alliance partners have committed 32,000 troops to Afghanistan, with 12,000 Americans assigned to the NATO portion of the mission. (Another 8,000 American troops are in Afghanistan carrying out counterterrorism missions solely under American command.)
Most nations have imposed restrictions on their member troops that NATO commanders say hamper their ability to move forces for missions and rescue other NATO forces that may get into trouble. The restrictions include whether troops are allowed to conduct missions at night, which parts of Afghanistan they may patrol and whether they are permitted to conduct offensive operations against the Taliban.
Pentagon and military officers say the list of nations with caveats, and the exact restrictions they have imposed, remains classified, to avoid helping Taliban fighters assess alliance weak points.
President Bush is expected to push for easing the restrictions when he meets with NATO leaders on Tuesday and Wednesday at an alliance summit meeting in Riga, Latvia.
Bush administration officials, diplomats from NATO nations and military officers said that how the alliance resolved the question of caveats would determine whether NATO's leading role in Afghanistan represented a first step toward a broader future for the alliance - or a peak that, once attained, might never be scaled again.
Gen. James L. Jones, NATO's supreme allied commander, told the Council on Foreign Relations in October that "there are about 50 restrictions that have an operational impact, that impact on the commander" in Afghanistan.
While NATO officials said progress had been made in easing restrictions since then, the senior American officer in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, said this week that problems remained, and that NATO nations needed to fulfill their commitments to send troops, as well.
Eikenberry, chief of the Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan, said Tuesday that NATO nations had contributed only "85 percent of the level of what was promised." Speaking at the Pentagon, he also said "there does remain the question of some countries that have particular caveats - that is, restrictions on their ability to commit to all missions of Afghanistan."
Experts on alliance relations now in the private sector say the Afghanistan experience actually may raise the level of combat competence among those nations that entered the mission with caveats and reluctance to take on a heavy role in the fighting.
"I fall into the category of the half-full glass more than the half-empty," said Gen. Joseph W. Ralston, who retired after serving as NATO's supreme allied commander.
"We have seen a maturation in the past 11 years," said Ralston, now a distinguished senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a policy institute here. "And I think as the nations encounter the high-intensity conflict of Afghanistan, there will in fact be a positive outcome that comes from that."
Daniel Fried, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, said that even nations with troops in Afghanistan under combat caveats contributed to reconstruction and overall security, and that the system, however difficult, was better than a wholly unilateral American mission.
"It is a success for the trans-Atlantic community that despite disagreements about Iraq, despite politics and partisanship, that NATO has undertaken a set of new missions with Afghanistan front and center that changed the nature of the organization," Fried said.
He emphasized that the summit meeting's work would be to respond to current security challenges and improve the alliance's responses.
NATO is not scheduled to accept any new members at the Riga meeting. Even so, words of encouragement are expected for three nations - Croatia, Macedonia and Albania - in line for membership, perhaps as early as 2008.
And in an expansion of NATO's relations with nations far from its traditional geographic sphere, members are expected to propose establishing an initiative for a global partnership to acknowledge the role that nations like Australia, Japan, South Korea, Sweden and Finland play in NATO missions.
These countries "do not seek NATO membership, but we seek a partnership with them so that we can train more intensively from a military point of view and grow closer to them because we are deployed with them," said R. Nicholas Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs.
"Australia, South Korea and Japan are in Afghanistan," he said. "They have all been in Iraq, as you know. They have all been in the Balkans."
But Burns acknowledged that "for us, the No. 1 issue is Afghanistan."
In a telephone interview, NATO's secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said, "The threats and challenges facing NATO as we speak are of a global nature: terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction." He added: "NATO today is transforming and adapting itself. We need 21st-century answers to 21st- century threats and challenges."
"Britain can never win militarily in Afghanistan"
London, Nov 27 (ANI): NWFP Governor Ali Mohammad Jan Aurakzai has said that the British forces will never win in Afghanistan by military means, and that it should open negotiations with the Taliban. NATO was ignoring the realities on the ground, he said and added that the reason why Taliban numbers had swelled was because moderates were joining the militants. "Bring 50,000 more troops and fight for 10 to 15 years more and you won't resolve it. The British with their history in Afghanistan should have known that better than anyone else," the Dawn quoted Aurakzai as saying in an interview with Sunday Times reporter Christina Lamb. He added: "It is no longer an insurgency but a war of Pashtun resistance exactly on the model of the first Anglo-Afghan war. Then too (in 1839-42) initially there were celebrations.
The British built their cantonment and brought their wives and sweethearts from Delhi and didn't realise that in the meantime the Afghans were getting organised to rise up. This is exactly what Afghans are doing today and what they did against the Soviets." According to him, "the British should have known better. No country in the world has a better understanding of the Afghan psyche, and very little has changed there in the past couple of centuries. Instead of fighting, the only answer was to talk to the Taliban." Aurakzai, who over the past few months has negotiated a series of peace deals in Pakistan's tribal areas, further said: "This is the only way forward," he said, adding: "There will be no military solution, there has to be a political solution. How many more lives have to be lost before people realise it's time for dialogue?"
MINISTRY OF CULTURE, TOURISM AND YOUTH AFFAIRS RENAMED
RFE/RL Newsline (Radio Free Europe / Radio Liber) Monday, November 27, 2006 Volume 10 Number 217
A session of the Afghan National Assembly's Wolesi Jirga (People's Council) on November 26 approved a plan to change the name of the Culture, Tourism, and Youth Ministry to the Information and Culture Ministry. From the 1970s onward, the ministry was known as the Information and Culture Ministry, but was then twice renamed under the post-Taliban transitional administrations (initially to the Information, Culture and Tourism Ministry and later to the Culture, Tourism, and Youth Ministry). Under the Wolesi Jirga decision, youth affairs will be assigned to another ministry at a later date. AT
CZECH FORCES TAKE COMMAND OF KABUL AIRPORT
RFE/RL Newsline (Radio Free Europe / Radio Liber) Monday, November 27, 2006 Volume 10 Number 217
A 47-strong unit of Czech troops arrived in Afghanistan on November 25 to assume command of Kabul airport, CTK reported. This is the first time that a Czech contingent has been designated to command a unit within the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. The Czech command will comprise around 500 ISAF and Afghan soldiers. With the additional forces, the Czech contingent in Afghanistan will total about 150, stationed in Kabul and in northeastern Afghanistan. AT
PASHTUNS IN PAKISTAN SPEAK OUT AGAINST THE TALIBAN INSURGENCY IN AFGHANISTAN
Ahmed Rashid 11/27/06 EURASIA INSIGHT
War weariness is taking root among some Pashtuns in Pakistan. A recent gathering of Pashtun leaders spoke out forcefully for an end to Taliban violence in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. They also called on the Pakistani government to cut its alleged ties with the radical Islamic movement.
Hundreds of political leaders and tribal chiefs from the Pashtun tribes inhabiting Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan gathered for a peace jirga, or tribal council. Meeting in the Pakistani border city of Peshawar on November 20, jirga participants complained that Pashtun traditional values were "being drowned out in a sea of blood" created by the ongoing Taliban insurgency. There are roughly 12 million Pashtuns living in Afghanistan, and about 40 million in Pakistan.
Clean shaven tribal chiefs with large turbans, religious scholars with long scraggly beards and young political activists all attended the peace jirga, the first of its kind. Many participants challenged the notion that the Taliban enjoys the near-unanimous support of Pashtuns. "The Taliban [is] not the creation of Pashtun society, but the creation of the Pakistan army," Afsandyar Wali, head of the Awami National Party (ANP), told the jirga. "Pashtuns stand united for peace, but the fire of war is burning our land and we have to find the means to extinguish it. We are caught in the middle of warmongers, extremists and militants."
The Pashtun peace jirga was organized by the ANP, a small democratic, secular Pashtun nationalist party that has been marginalized in the past decade due to its strong criticism of Pakistan’s military regime, and the wave of Islamic extremism that has flooded the Pashtun tribal belt on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border.
However, the ANP and other democrats are now regaining popularity because of deepening fears within the tribes about growing Talibanization among all Pashtuns, a phenomenon fanned by the war in Afghanistan between the Taliban and the Afghan government, which is backed by US and NATO forces.
The Taliban is predominantly Pashtun and they are recruiting both Afghan and Pakistani Pashtuns to fight over 10,000 NATO troops deployed in southern Afghanistan. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Pakistani Taliban leaders have also declared an Islamic state in North Waziristan, a tribal agency on the Pakistani side.
The jirga also heard from Taliban supporters such as Maulana Fazlur Rehman, a cleric who heads a radical Jamiat-e-Ullema Islam party that is presently ruling the two border provinces of Baluchistan and North-West Frontier. Rehman helped launch the Taliban in 1994, and since then his party has provided a permanent sanctuary for Taliban fighters in Pakistan.
"The Taliban are in the forefront of resistance against foreign occupation forces in Afghanistan," said Rehman. "The United Nations has declared them [Taliban militants] terrorists so the only way left to defend themselves is by picking up the gun." Other conservative speakers insisted that foreign forces had to leave Afghanistan. However, such words were drowned out by dozens of speakers who said that the Taliban were a threat to peace and a negation of Pashtun values.
The jirga aimed to dispel the impression that Pashtuns are all involved in terrorism. "The world is asking who are you Pashtuns?" said Mehmood Khan Achakzai, the leader of a moderate Pashtun party in Baluchistan Province. "Around the world, we are accused of being terrorists, but tolerance is in our blood - it is taught by our mothers. We demand all the world respect our values, culture and the dignity of our people."
He and other speakers said that US forces in Afghanistan, as well as President Pervez Musharraf, were attempting to demonize Pashtuns. "Musharraf is describing us as barbarians who shed blood and that the Pashtuns are violent," complained Achakzai.
"The Pashtun nation is a victim of a conspiracy, and we are not terrorists. … The blood flowing on this border is Pashtun blood, and we will not allow terrorist to use our land,’’ added Darya Khan Afridi, a tribal chief and politician from the Khyber Pass.
Much of the debate focused on defining the two traditional centers of Pashtun values; the "masjid," or mosque, and the "hujra," or the seat of the tribal chief – concepts that can best be described as the power of religion and secular political power. While clerics defended the Taliban saying they had united these two major strands of Pashtun identity, others insisted they had to be kept separate if Pashtuns were to survive as a nation.
Several speakers expressed anger at Musharraf for following a two-track policy, both supporting the war on terrorism and the terrorists in the shape of the Taliban. Achakzai described the Taliban "as the tail of the ISI [the Pakistani intelligence agency].’’ Such harsh criticism of the security establishment is rare in a city that has long been silenced by fears of Taliban retribution. They also came shortly after British Prime Minister Tony Blair gave a ringing endorsement of Musharraf for his role in the war on terror.
Many speakers urged Pakistan to stop interfering in Afghanistan. Humayun Khan, a former Foreign Secretary and a long time Pakistani diplomat said that "Islamabad has perpetrated a bad policy of wanting to bring Afghanistan under Pakistan’s influence – we should let the Afghans decide their own future."
Bismallah Kakar, a Pashtun member of the Baluchistan provincial assembly, said Afghans were not being allowed the freedom to govern themselves because of outside interference. "Let’s support peace in Afghanistan, not the insurgency," he said.
At the Jirga several tribal chiefs claimed that the Pakistani military was helping the Taliban plan a major new offensive in the spring of 2007, aimed at defeating NATO in southern Afghanistan and toppling the government of President Hamid Karzai. The chiefs said the Taliban are being allowed to move large amounts of weapons and ammunition to the Afghan border. Spring and summer is the traditional fighting season for the Taliban. However government officials in Peshawar vehemently denied the claim. "This is nonsense, Pakistan supports stability in Afghanistan," said a senior military officer.
Editor’s Note: Ahmed Rashid is a Pakistan-based journalist and author of the book "Taliban: Militant Islam and Fundamentalism in Central Asia."
Afghanistan rejects Iran's call to oust "occupiers"
The News International (Pakistan) November 27, 2006
KABUL: Afghanistan defended Monday the presence of the nearly 40,000 foreign troops on its soil, rejecting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statement that they were "occupiers" and should be made to leave.
The Iranian leader on Sunday called for the peoples of the Middle East and Afghanistan to join forces to drive out foreign troops.
"These forces are not occupiers," Afghan foreign ministry spokesman Sultan Ahmad Baheen told French news agency.
"The presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan is based on a United Nations Security Council resolution. They are here to prevent Afghanistan becoming a safe haven for terrorists," Baheen said.
"These forces will go back home when this is achieved," the spokesman said. "Iran understands this."
There are nearly 31,000 NATO-led International Security Assistance Force troops in Afghanistan and about 10,000 more foreign soldiers with a separate US-led anti-terror coalition.
Afghans go home, but refugee legacy burdens Pakistan
ISLAMABAD, Nov 27 (Reuters) - Nearly 135,000 Afghan refugees have returned home from Pakistan this year, despite the worst violence since the Taliban were ousted in 2001, aid agency officials said on Monday.
Although it is the biggest repatriation of refugees anywhere in the world in 2006, it marks a sharp slowdown from the mass movements seen in the previous four years, when optimism generated by elections persuaded many Afghans to go home.
"Something like 4 million refugees were repatriated, but still the problem emerges as it was before," Sajid Hussain Chatta, secretary at Pakistan's Ministry of States and Frontier Regions, said on Monday.
Nearly 3 million Afghans are still living in Pakistan, and there is little chance of them going home soon.
Pakistan, along with Iran, have been saddled with the problem since the 1980s, when Afghans fled their homeland to escape the war against the Soviet occupation.
They never returned because of the violence that racked their country for years afterwards and because there were better chances of making a living in Pakistan or Iran.
The Pakistani government, U.N. agencies, and a core group of aid organisations are seeking to prioritise the needs of Pakistan's refugee-affected areas ahead of a donor conference Chatta expects to be held in 2007.
Addressing a meeting in Islamabad, the Pakistani official spoke of the economic and environmental cost of hosting such a huge refugee population.
With other humanitarian crises to handle, notably those in Darfur and Congo, finding funds for the Afghans living in Pakistan has become harder.
Because the Afghans have stayed longer than anyone foresaw, what began as a a humanitarian problem has become increasingly a development issue -- reflected by high illiteracy rates, inadequate water and sanitation, and poor access to healthcare.
Almost half of the Afghans in Pakistan are under 18, raising the prospect of a third generation being born during coming years as the children of refugees have children themselves. Families that came with 12 members now might number 60. Less than half of them live in camps, and many families living in urban areas have put down roots.
Jalozai camp, near the city of Peshawar, houses 110,000 people and now looks more like a small town than a temporary refugee settlement.
This year, the government had wanted to close four camps, but for several reasons, including a reluctance to use force, backed off from carrying out its plan.
Bush Presses Karzai On Afghan Drug Trade
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
November 26, 2006 -- U.S. President George W. Bush has asked Afghan President Hamid Karzai to demand more action against Afghanistan's drug trade.
Karzai's office said today that Bush telephoned Karzai on November 25, ahead of the NATO summit in Latvia next week.
At the summit, Bush is expected to press European NATO allies for more support for Afghanistan's battle against the resurgent Taliban.
Afghanistan's poppy crop yields about 90 percent of the world's opium, which is used to make heroin. Production jumped by nearly 50 percent this year. (AFP)
Bush, Karzai hold telephonic talks
KABUL, Nov 26 (Pajhwok Afghan News): President George W Bush has vowed his country would continue its support for stability and reconstruction of Afghanistan.
In a phone conversation with President Hamid Karzai Saturday evening, the two leaders discussed the coming joint peace jirga (council) between Afghanistan and Pakistan and preparations for it. They also talked about counter narcotics efforts in Afghanistan and fight against corruption.
President Bush assured Afghans the US was firmly committed to extend all-out support to Afghanistan. Bush asked the Afghan government to take effective steps to rein in drug-trafficking. President Karzai appreciated his American counterpart for the phone and hoped the ties would be further cemented in the two countries.
Afghanistan: Health crisis brewing in isolated Nuristan province
KABUL, 27 November (IRIN) - The lack of a general hospital in the isolated eastern province of Nuristan means that some 300,000 people are at risk of contracting a range of preventable diseases, with many women continuing to lose their lives due to preventable pregnancy-related conditions, local officials and tribal elders said on Monday.
"Despite billions of dollars of international aid coming to the country during the past five years, unfortunately the residents of Nuristan [province] are still deprived of a hospital to treat their women and children," provincial governor Mohammad Tamim Nuristani, told IRIN.
"We have a small clinic in the capital but we don't have a surgical or even a dental ward there. There is not even a 10-bed health facility in the rest of the province for our patients," Nuristani asserted.
Health facilities are few and far between in impoverished Afghanistan with just 1,100 clinics and 100 hospitals serving a population of 30 million people.
Rugged terrain, bad roads, lack of communications and insecurity are the main problems contributing to health problems in Nuristan. At the same time, humanitarian aid is lacking as many national and international NGOs have stopped aid work there due to poor security, officials say.
Some 50 tribal elders from Nuristan were in the Afghan capital, Kabul, at the weekend to bring the plight of the province's people to central government and to campaign for resources, schools, roads and water supplies, as well as decent health facilities.
"My father had a stomach ache, probably appendicitis, and we tried to take him to a hospital in Mehtarlam [provincial capital of Lagham], some three days' journey from our village of Ghezee, but he died before we reached the hospital," Abdul Gafar, a tribal elder from the Mandol district of Nuristan, told IRIN in Kabul.
Problems with pregnancy and birth are also rife, leading to a high number of unnecessary deaths, provincial representatives said.
"If there is an urgent case in the village such as problems in child delivery, appendicitis or anything else... there is no choice but to count the last moments of life," Abdullah Khan, a tribal elder from Dowab district, maintained.
There is a strong feeling the province has not received a fair share of international donor support. "There are new clinics and hospitals, asphalted roads and new schools in other provinces but I don't know exactly why we are being ignored. Where did the billions of dollars of foreign aid go?" Gafar asked.
Nuristan's remoteness means reliable statistics on the health crisis are hard to come by. According to a study conducted in 2002 by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the health ministry, the recorded maternal mortality ratio of 6,500 per 100,000 live births - one of the highest globally - came from Ragh district in the northeastern province of Badakshan.
"But we believe that there may be other areas with similarly high risk in other equally remote districts such as Nuristan province," Savita Naqvi, head of communications in UNICEF in Afghanistan, told IRIN.
Responding to this, Abdullah Fahim, a health ministry spokesman, accepted that the health needs for the residents of Nuristan province were becoming critical. "Getting a hospital in Nuristan is really a big issue there."
"The rugged and mountainous terrain and security problems in Nuristan province are major constraints for donors and aid groups [looking] to construct a hospital in the province," Fahim told IRIN.
On top of this the financial cost could run to some US $10 to $15 million for a fully equipped general hospital for Nuristan, Fahim noted.
Afghanistan: NATO must ensure justice for victims of civilian deaths and torture
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PRESS RELEASE AI Index: ASA 11/021/2006 (Public) News Service No: 303 27 November 2006
NATO leaders must set up a joint body, together with partners in Afghanistan, to pursue justice for civilians whose human rights may have been violated by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) in Afghanistan, said Amnesty International ahead of the NATO summit in Riga, Latvia on 28/29 November.
Amnesty International is concerned that the legal basis for the presence of ISAF in the country places it outside Afghan law and beyond the effective reach of justice in members' own countries.
"ISAF has a crucial role to play in securing the rule of law in Afghanistan. We urge NATO leaders to ensure that ISAF does not fall short of international humanitarian and human rights law in pursuing this aim," said Tim Parritt, Deputy Asia Pacific Director at Amnesty International.
"Any civilians who may have suffered human rights violations in the course of ISAF operations deserve to receive justice and we call on NATO to lead the establishment of a body to investigate such claims, ensure the prosecution of those found responsible, and ensure reparation for the victims."
Amnesty International is particularly concerned that:
Aerial bombardments carried out as part of ISAF military operations have resulted in the killing of civilians, according to reports. These attacks may have failed to discriminate between civilians and military targets.
These operations have also contributed to the displacement of up to 90,000 people who have fled their homes because of the violence.
Detention procedures currently used by ISAF may be resulting in the torture or ill-treatment of Afghan nationals who are handed over to Afghan security forces known to use such practices.
NATO should create a joint body together with its Afghan partners and the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) to pursue justice for human rights violations such as these. The body could draw on the Trust Fund called for in UN Security Council Resolution 1386 (2001) to make any reparations to victims.
NATO members should ensure that ISAF complies fully with international law in the course of its operations and should cooperate with UNAMA and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission in doing this. ISAF should pay particular attention to its arrest and detention procedures, including the handing over of detainees to Afghan custody.
Amnesty International has for many years raised concerns about the use of torture and ill-treatment by Afghan security forces, including the National Security Directorate.
Afghanistan eager to earn prestige when coming back to sports family
Xinhua November 27, 2006
History was made in 2004 when the six-member Afghanistan team entered the Athens Olympic Games. Two years later, Afghanistan is eager to earn prestige from the sports world in Doha Asian Games.
"After being a long time away from the sports family, now we are entering the family again," Din Mohammad Safi, the Chef de Mission, told Xinhua.
The flag-raising ceremony for Afghanistan delegation was held in the Athletes' Village on Monday.
"We lost some prestige during the war. We came back here to earn the prestige of the sports world. And we want to find what we lost in the past," he said after the ceremony.
The south Asian country Afghanistan, with a population of 26 million, could not achieve so much success in the international sports due to its political unsettle and wars within the country.
Roia Zamani won bronze for Afghanistan in the women's 72kg taekwondo at the 2002 Busan Asian Games.
"Afghanistan TV stations also came to Doha to broadcast the competitions, and the Afghan people are quite enthusiastic with the Asian Games," Safi said.
"Winning or losing is not important for our delegation. We want to learn from the Asian Games, and be a part of the sports family. "
It has a long tradition of sports as Afghanistan first competed in the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936. Its best result came from wrestler Mohammed Ebrahimis who finished fifth at Tokyo Olympiard in 1964.
In the Athens Games, Afghanistan sent women for the first time in the 100m track event and judo but did not win any medal.
For a country devastated by the wars, Afghanistan needs the helping hands from the sports family.
"Our young people need the sports to change their life and we have asked for help from some sports federations."
"China is the sports powerhouse in Asia, and we have contacted our embassy in Doha, hoping China to send some coaches to our country," Safi said.
Afghanistan looking for Asiad medals: said AOC chief
Xinhua November 27, 2006
Afghanistan are looking forward to taking medals in some events like taekwondo, wrestling, boxing, karate during the Doha Asian Games, said Afghanistan Olympic Committee (AOC) media chief in Kabul on Monday.
"Afghanistan send a 86-men-delegation, including 51 athletes, to take part in 11 events at Doha Asiad, and the number of athletes is a double of those who took part in the Busan Asian Games four years ago," AOC media spokesman Ghurob told Xinhua.
"Because of the harsh training conditions in the country, most of Afghan athletes are now training in Iran and India, and will head for Doha directly when the matches begin."
"Although we can not compare with other nations with regard to the sports facilities, finance and general environment, we are still likely to fight for medals in certain events."
Ghurob said the Doha Games will provide a good stage for Afghanistan to show its new image to Asia and the world as well, to let the world know the new changes of the nation after wartime, which lasted for more than 20 years.
"The Afghan people like sports and the Afghan athletes will cherish the Asian Games as a good communication platform with other nations.
"We are improving our sports level. We got a bronze medal four years ago at Busan, and did well in the last two South Asia Games. We are progressing quickly."
Pak rejects opening Wagah border for Indo-Afghan trade
PTI Monday, November 27, 2006 14:48 IST
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has rejected India's request to open the Wagah border point trade route for export of its goods to Afghanistan saying the option does not suit Islamabad at present.
Despite strong insistence from New Delhi, Islamabad during the recent foreign secretary-level talks in New Delhi was not willing to allow the use of Wagah border as transit route for trade with Afghanistan and stuck to its policy that India should use Karachi port instead for trade with Afghanistan.
Pakistan did not accept the request, saying the option does not suit it at this point of time, local daily 'The Post' quoted officials as saying.
Islamabad currently allows Kabul to export items to New Delhi by using Pakistan's land routes but do not permit Indian exports to be transported through the same route.
Pakistan says India could use Karachi from where it has transportation facilities for land-locked Afghanistan but India prefers the land route as it reduced the costs.
Most of the Indian goods for Afghanistan and Central Asia are routed through Chabahar port in Iran.
India can use only Karachi port for trade with Afghanistan.
Besides India, Afghan President Hamid Karzai too has asked Pakistan to open the road.
via Daily News & Analysis (India)
Dental School Due in Afghanistan
The Korea Times November 26, 2006
The Afghan Embassy in Seoul said that a dental school will be built in Afghanistan with the help of Korean dentists and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
The student council of Seoul National University's dental school; two Korean NGOs, Dental Service International and International Environment Development Partnership; and Afghan NGO Shuhada have agreed to set up the dental school.
Dental Service International will provide medicines and faculty for the school, while dental students are making textbooks.
A committee for the establishment of the school will be launched today at the university's dental school in Yongon-dong, Seoul.
406 illegal Afghan immigrants deported
via Daily Times (Pakistan) November 26, 2006
QUETTA: Pakistan has deported 406 Afghans after arresting them for illegal entry in Balochistan, police said on Saturday.
The men were arrested in Quetta and other towns in recent weeks in a crackdown against illegal immigrants, said Mohammed Azhar, head of Balochistan police’s Investigation Department.
The 406 Afghans have been handed over to Afghan security officials at Chaman, the main border crossing between Balochistan and southern Afghanistan, after courts ordered them returned to their country, Azhar said. Azhar denied media reports that the Afghan deportees were fighters from Afghanistan’s Taliban militia. “We investigated them. They didn’t have any link with the Taliban movement,” Azhar said. ap
Afghan Drug Boom Fuels Child Addiction Rates
Doctors estimate that there are more than 2,000 drug-addicted children in the western city of Herat alone.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting By Sadeq Behnam and Sudabah Afzali in Herat (ARR No. 235, 24-Nov-06)
Idris, 16, sells cigarettes for a living. Walking along the road in Herat with a wooden box hanging from his neck, he confesses that he had moved onto stronger substances.
“I didn’t want to become addicted, but I started smoking since I was selling cigarettes,” he said. “Then I tried hashish with other kids. Now I can’t work unless I smoke hash two or three times a day.”
Idris is an orphan who lost his family in fighting when the Taleban were attacking the forces of local leader Ismail Khan back in the Nineties. Homeless, he sells cigarettes during the day and sleeps in city parks at night.
There are many young people like him in Afghanistan, where families have been torn apart over decades of war.
Nur Ahmad, 15, makes his living by shining shoes on the street. He, too, is alone: after his father was killed, his mother remarried but his stepfather threw him out of the house.
”I started on snuff, moved on to cigarettes and now hashish,” he told IWPR. “Now I smoke hashish with my friends every night.”
Observers say that drug addiction among children has risen precipitously in recent years. This is especially true in western areas like Herat, because of the influx of returning refugees from neighbouring Iran, where addiction rates are high.
Dr Abdul Shukur Shukur, of the Shahamat Centre, a non-government institution that helps combat drug abuse, told IWPR that he had seen a 20 per cent rise in juvenile addiction over last year.
“We have children between the ages of six and 16 at our centre,” he said.
There are many reasons why children start using drugs, said Dr Shukur, including the lack of parental supervision, the large number of children orphaned by war, the return of refugees from Iran, and Afghanistan’s booming illicit narcotics industry, which means drugs are readily available.
Dr Shukur estimated that there are more than 2,000 drug-addicted children in the city of Herat alone.
A report issued by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime in late 2005 put the number of drug users in Afghanistan at 920,000, with 60,000 of them under 15.
This year and next, opium and its derivative heroin will be even more plentiful, as poppy cultivation is on the rise despite eradication efforts sponsored by the international community. UNODC estimates that 60 per cent more land was planted with opium in 2006, so that the harvest will hit 6,100 tonnes.
"Afghanistan is increasingly hooked on its own drug," UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said after presenting the latest estimates for cultivation and production in September.
Abdul Hai Mahmudi, who heads the Khoja Abdullah Ansari orphanage in Herat, says homeless children are vulnerable to addiction and to exploitation as “mules” carrying drugs for the traffickers.
“We have provided shelter for about 1,000 children, but that’s only 20 per cent of all the homeless children in the city. We just don’t have the capacity to take them all,” he told IWPR, saying some of the children in the orphanage were receiving treatment for their addiction.
Mahmudi said homeless children are targeted by smugglers because they make good couriers and arouse little suspicion with the police.
Nur Khan Nekzad, press spokesman for police headquarters in Herat, confirmed this.
“We have caught ten children who were being used to smuggle drugs,” he said. “Through them, we have been able to arrest the traffickers standing behind them.”
Another cause of juvenile drug addiction is the widespread use of opiates to keep children quiet, said Juma Khan Karimzada, head of a charity that provides assistance to disabled children in Ghor, a province east of Herat
“The real reason for drug addiction in children is the high volume of poppy cultivation in the province,” he told IWPR. “Many parents use poppy paste to calm their children, and this then leads to addiction.”
Karimzada’s organisation is among several trying to combat the practice by getting the word out to parents, though the mosques and schools, but the problem persists.
Other people, including children, become addicted while harvesting the poppy crop through their long exposure to opium.
Mohammad Zarif, 17, who lives in the Braman district of Herat province, told IWPR that he became addicted while cutting poppy plants in nearby Farah province.
“I’m not happy that I’m an addict,” he said. “But I can’t stop - there is no treatment for me. There is no real employment, either, and I do anything I have to in order to get food and drugs.”
Sadeq Behnam and Sudabah Afzali are freelance reporters in Herat.
Items from Afghanistan's museum in exile to head home
CBC News (Canada) Sunday, November 26, 2006
The collection at the Afghanistan Museum in Exile, created in Switzerland in 1999, will be sent back to Kabul now that the situation in the city has been deemed stable.
The museum's officials decided to let the collection go after UNESCO, the United Nation's cultural agency, determined the Afghan capital is safe enough, according to The Art Newspaper, an international publication that covers the visual art world.
The museum is in the village of Bubendorf, 20 kilometres outside of Basel. Swiss scholar Paul Bucherer-Dietschi established the museum to house artifacts from the war-torn country.
Bucherer-Dietschi is the director of the Swiss Afghanistan Institute in Bubendorf, which safeguards historical papers about Afghanistan.
At the start of the museum's creation, Bucherer-Dietschi had been arranging to relocate the collection at the Kabul Museum through UNESCO. But it proved to be too difficult under the Taliban regime.
Although some pieces were taken out of the museum between 1999 and 2001, most of Afghanistan's cultural legacy was destroyed when the Taliban ransacked the museum in March 2001.
The Taliban were toppled by a coalition of U.S.-led forces and Afghanistan's Northern Alliance in late 2001.
The Swiss museum became a repository of Afghan artifacts donated by private collectors from around the world and has about 1,300 objects.
It includes 200 archaeological items, including finds from Ai Khanoum, such as a gargoyle of Alexander the Great's fighting dog and an important foundation stone from the site. All this material is to be handed over shortly to the Kabul Museum, which was reconstructed two years ago.
Pieces will be transferred to Kabul starting early in the new year.
Night letters warn against women education
PUL-I-ALAM, Nov 26 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Militants, thought to be linked with Taliban or Hizb-i-Islami have thrown night letters in the central Logar province, warning people to stop their girls from schools, government employees have also been threatened to quit their jobs.
Resident of Mohammad Aagha district said they found night letters thrown by the militants in the still of night. A copy of the letters available with Pajhwok Afghan News has warned families not to send their girls to schools. The outlaws have also asked the government employees to quit their jobs and have ordered night curfew in the district from 10pm
The people serving in the Afghan National Army and journalists have also been told to quit their jobs. Religious leaders are directed to declare jihad against foreign forces in Afghanistan.
Hamidullah, 18, said he also found such a letter at his door in the morning, but his family members told him to keep mum. Mohammad Naeem, a shopkeeper in the district, said: "I would not let my daughter to go to school from today."
Others ask for arrest of such elements that are destroying peace of the country and deprive the people of their basic rights.
Mullah Jan Mohammad, a prayer leader in the district, said the government must track down such dissidents. He branded all the requests and warnings in the letters as un-Islamic. Logar police chief Qudratullah Azizi said it was a handiwork of 'enemies of peace and prosperity in the country'. He assured people not to worry about the threats.
Two anti-tank mines recovered
Meanwhile, police found two anti-tank mines placed under bridges on the Kabul-Logar highway on Sunday. Azizi said local resident had informed the police about one mine in Shash Kala area.
He said two mortar rounds were also discovered in Baraki Barak district where the second anti-tank mine was discovered under another bridge. Should they exploded, the mines would have caused heavy casualties to people, said the provincial police chief.
Taliban kill four Afghan workers in Kunar
ASADABAD, Nov 26 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Taliban Sunday said they had killed four Afghans kidnapped earlier for spying charges to US forces in Manogay district of the eastern Kunar province.
Kunar Governor Shalizi Didar said four local workers at a US base were kidnapped on Saturday in Korengal area by 'armed enemies' referring to Taliban fighters while they were on the way to home from work.
Taliban's spokesman Dr Muhammad Hanif told Pajhwok Afghan News they had abducted the four people for spying for US forces and killed them after investigation. He added they were killed on Sunday after evidences proved that they were spying for the US, according to Islamic court. Didar said he was not aware of execution of the workers and had no news of them after their abduction. In mid-October, eight local workers at a US base were killed in a similar case by insurgents in the same district of Kunar.
Abdul Moeed Hashimi/Javed Hamim
Construction work near Serena Hotel banned
KABUL, Nov 26 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A commission of Wolesi Jirga (lower house) Sunday banned reconstruction work near Serena Hotel in Kabul that caused obstruction of road.
Kabul- Serena Hotel located close to presidential palace and across the central bank has been given on lease to Agha Khan Group. After the lease, construction work started inside the hotel, but such work outside the hotel premises was blocking the road.
Commission of Wolesi Jirga in its meeting, attended by former mayor of Kabul, civil society organizations, representative of general attorney, head of the Kabul Serena Hotel and others decided to stop the reconstruction work.
Kabir Ranjber, the head of central audit commission of Walsi Jirga, said the public had complaints them about blockage of road. He said the matter would be discussed in general session of the Wolesi Jirga.
Trade point inaugurated in Kabul
Ahmad Khalid Moahid
KABUL, Nov 25 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Holland ambassador and head of Afghanistan International Trade Rooms Saturday inaugurated a trade point of Philips in this central capital.
Azim Badakhsi, an official of Philips, told Pajhwok Afghan News the trade centre would sell health equipment, computers, and other electronic devices. He added the trade centre would import electric items from various European companies like Philips Wagfa and Del.
Hamidullah Farooqi, official of the Afghanistan International Trade Rooms, said the inauguration of the centre was a positive step in special sector and investment.
After a decades long war, he said Afghanistan again became able to offer chances to foreign companies. Van Der Geer, ambassador of Holland to Kabul, said the centre would help in investment as it was a proof of peace and security in the country.
Bogus Afghan passports recovered in Peshawar
ISLAMABAD, Nov 25 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Pakistani authorities sealed Saturday a printing press allegedly involved in publishing bogus Afghan passports and other fake documents in Peshawar, capital of the North West Frontier Province.
Habib Rahman, a senior police official, told Pajhwok Afghan News intelligence had got reports about a printing press publishing bogus passports of Afghanistan and other countries in Jangi Mahla area Peshawar. He said police raided Popular Printing Press and recovered 584 bogus Afghan passports from it.
He said owner of the printing press Malik Asim Akram and his two workers were arrested and were now under investigation. He said: "Soon they will take stern action against other printing presses involved in publishing fake material."
Omar Khayam, a member of the Union of Printing Press, told this news agency they would fine the Popular Printing Press if once charge against it proved. He said: "We don't allow anyone for conducting bogus business in bazaar."
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