An Afghan bomber's tale sheds light on motives
By Paul Holmes Wed Nov 29, 7:33 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Mumtaz Ahmad spent more than three years at a madrasa in Pakistan learning the Koran, then pursued his pious desire to become a Qari' -- one who recites the Muslim holy book -- at a similar Islamic religious school in Kabul.
His extended family's mud-brick home in the village of Mahiger is just 2 km (one mile) down dirt tracks from the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan at Bagram, 60 km (37 miles) north of Kabul.
Two of his 10 brothers are stationed at the base as soldiers in the Afghan army and a cousin earns a living there as a laborer for the Americans, according to relatives.
The money comes in handy, said Ahmad's uncle, Sayed Agha, a wizened man of 60. He said the base had brought work to many of Mahiger's simple farming families since U.S.-led forces overthrew the radical Islamist Taliban five years ago.
Now, Ahmad languishes in an Afghan intelligence service jail after police caught him three weeks ago planting a roadside bomb on the Shomali Plain near Bagram in an act he says was driven by a belief that killing foreign troops was his Islamic duty.
It was his third attempted bomb attack this year and all three had failed, Ahmad, 22, said in an interview in a bare, unheated office at the lock-up in central Kabul.
"They beat me when I got here because they wanted me to give them information," Ahmad said as two senior intelligence service investigators listened to his words.
"It's just as well they did because I gave them the name of an accomplice. If I hadn't informed on him, there might have been some sort of attack," he said.
The investigators declined a request from Reuters to leave the room during the interview, saying they needed to make sure Ahmad was telling the truth.
LURED INTO ACTION
Ahmad said he had been lured into becoming a bomber by a shadowy man called Abdul Rahman who would visit his madrasa in Kabul to incite students to attack foreign troops in the name of the Prophet Mohammad.
The young man's account could not be independently confirmed but it was broadly similar in its religious aspects to the published stories of other suspected bombers interviewed in detention in Afghanistan.
The country has experienced its worst violence since 2001 this year as a resurgent Taliban battles Afghan and British-led NATO forces.
Of the almost 3,800 people killed, a quarter have been civilians, many of them victims of a sharp rise in the number of suicide attacks and other bombings in Kabul and elsewhere.
Investigators, with only rudimentary means, say they have had limited success in arresting would-be bombers.
Though Ahmad was caught, one of the investigators said, police believe "Abdul Rahman" had been lurking in the area ready to detonate the bomb by remote control but got away.
"We haven't had as much success as we need. We've had cases where we've made an arrest but the rest of the cell broke up and its members disappeared," the investigator said.
He said the intelligence service had identified 17 suicide bomber cells since March and arrested 24 people, including three Pakistanis, but in other instances suspects had been released for lack of evidence.
The officer would not be identified by name, saying it was against intelligence service policy.
Ahmad, a slim, bearded man, said he had left Afghanistan while the Taliban was in power to study for three-and-a-half years at a madrasa in Peshawar, across the border in Pakistan.
He returned home soon after Taliban rule collapsed in November 2001 and began attending the Kabul madrasa, where he was one of up to 200 students.
He said "Abdul Rahman" had used religion to talk him into working as a courier and had given him the 3.5 kg (8 pounds) of explosives that he had buried in a vineyard until the man telephoned him and told where to drop it.
"I really regret what has happened, what I did. I realize now that these foreign forces came here to help us, not disgrace us," he said. "It's too late now. I know I was deceived."
He has not been charged and says he does not know how long he may spend in prison.
Ahmad's family insist they had no idea what he was up to.
"All we knew is that he was a Qari'," said his uncle Sayed Agha. "He spent all his time praying in the madrasa."
The police still had not told the family he had been arrested or why and the family had not asked, the old man added.
"We were watching television and all of a sudden we saw him and heard he had been arrested," Sayed Agha said. "His father was shocked when he saw him."
(Additional reporting by Sayed Salahuddin and Ahmad Masood)
Roadside bomb kills 2 NATO soldiers in Afghanistan
KABUL (Reuters) - A roadside bomb has killed two NATO soldiers in Afghanistan as the alliance decided to increase its forces in the country to overcome a resurgent Taliban.
The attack struck a combat patrol in Logar province, about 60 km (40 miles) south of Kabul, on Tuesday, NATO said. The Taliban has launched a wave of attacks in recent days, killing six alliance soldiers in the past week.
And on Wednesday, a suicide bomber attacked a NATO convoy outside the southern city of Kandahar, killing two civilians, a spokesman for the alliance said.
He said there were no military casualties.
On Monday, two Canadian soldiers died when a suicide bomber rammed his car into their convoy in Kandahar city.
NATO leaders meeting in Riga vowed on Wednesday to stay in Afghanistan for the long haul and some members made concessions to improve the mobility of their troops in the country as part of the 32,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
NATO took command of the international effort in Afghanistan from U.S. forces in October, but some countries impose restrictions on how and where their soldiers can be deployed.
Bolstered by opium money and sanctuaries in Pakistan, the Taliban have grown stronger over the past 12 months and this has been the bloodiest year since their overthrow in 2001. Almost 4,000 people have died, about a quarter of them civilians.
"We are committed to an enduring role to support the Afghan authorities, in cooperation with other international actors," the 26 NATO leaders declared in a joint statement after talks in the Latvian capital, Riga.
"Contributing to peace and stability in Afghanistan is NATO's key priority," they added of the mission that has launched NATO into the most dangerous ground combat in its 57-year history.
"There is a complete acceptance around the table that NATO's credibility is indeed on the line," said British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose troops are bearing the brunt of the violence in southern Afghanistan alongside Canadian and Dutch soldiers.
President Bush said success in Afghanistan could come only if members accepted difficult assignments. Alliance commanders say the mission has been hobbled by limits many nations have placed on how their forces are deployed.
Canada said it had pledged a further 1,000 troops and Blair's spokesman said Bulgaria, Spain and NATO aspirant Macedonia had stepped forward to offer more forces, while several other nations had lifted or eased restrictions.
But many major countries, including France, Germany and Italy, said their troops could only be moved to the more perilous regions in emergencies.
(With additional reporting by Mirwais Afghan in Kandahar and Paul Taylor and David Clarke in Riga)
NATO leaders commit to Afghanistan for long haul
By Caren Bohan and Marcin Grajewski
RIGA (Reuters) - NATO pledged on Wednesday to stay the course to restore peace and stability in Afghanistan at a summit where nations offered guarded concessions to improve the mobility of allied forces battling Taliban insurgents.
Alliance leaders also reversed policy on Serbia and Bosnia by offering them a first step toward NATO membership, despite concerns over war criminals still at large, and said other Balkan nations could expect entry invitations in 2008.
"We are committed to an enduring role to support the Afghan authorities, in cooperation with other international actors," the 26 leaders of the military alliance declared in a joint statement after talks in the Latvian capital Riga.
"It is winnable, it is being won, but not yet won," said NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer of the most dangerous ground combat in the alliance's 57-year history.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose troops with Canadian and Dutch soldiers are bearing the brunt of daily violence in southern Afghanistan, said all NATO leaders agreed that NATO's credibility "was on the line" over Afghanistan.
President Bush said success in Afghanistan could come only if allies accepted "difficult assignments" after alliance commanders complained the mission has been hobbled by limits many nations set on how their forces are deployed.
Blair's official spokesman said Bulgaria, Spain and NATO aspirant Macedonia had offered more forces and de Hoop Scheffer said countries had pledged to lift or ease limits that would make 26,000 of the 32,000-strong NATO peace force more mobile.
But many major nations, including France, Germany and Italy said their contingents could only be moved to Afghanistan's more perilous regions in emergencies.
"We all agree that we help each other in case of emergency," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who resisted pressure on Germany to deploy outside its base in the relatively calm north.
French officials said France could "on a case-by-case basis" send troops outside their zone around the capital Kabul, while Spain promised the use of its helicopters -- but not for combat.
"REWARD FOR NON-COMPLIANCE"
NATO leaders also backed a French idea for an Afghan "contact group." De Hoop Scheffer will explore the idea of a steering group like the committee of nations that has coordinated diplomacy in the Balkans for more than a decade.
Some U.S. officials had voiced private misgivings about the idea because it might give Afghanistan's neighbor Iran, with which Washington has no ties, a seat at the table.
While Afghanistan dominated the summit, leaders launched partnership ties with Serbia and Bosnia after the United States, Britain and finally the Netherlands dropped a demand that they first show full cooperation with the Hague war crimes court.
Together with Montenegro they were invited to join NATO's "Partnership for Peace" program, with the proviso they try to capture top war crimes indictees from the 1992-95 Bosnian war, including Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic.
Asked how the alliance could reach out to Serbia only days after its officials were still complaining of poor cooperation from Belgrade, de Hoop Scheffer denied NATO had gone soft.
"We'll keep up the pressure," he said, saying Bosnia and Serbia, due to hold elections in January, would be monitored.
But chief U.N. war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte attacked the NATO decision as a reward for non-compliance.
"The prosecutor is very surprised by the decision. She regrets that it was made, that NATO changed its position because it looks like a reward for not fully cooperating with the prosecutor," her spokesman said in The Hague.
NATO as expected confirmed intentions to issue invitations to some candidate countries to join at its next summit in 2008, a signal aimed at aspirants Croatia, Macedonia and Albania.
As part of the alliance's efforts to revamp itself from Cold War monolith to a more fleet-of-foot global security provider, NATO leaders declared a long-awaited 25,000-strong rapid reaction force fully operational.
Russian President Vladimir Putin caused a diplomatic frenzy on Tuesday by offering to drop in on the former Soviet republic after the summit to congratulate President Jacques Chirac, a political ally, on his birthday.
The visit, which would have been the first by a Russian leader to the Baltic states since they won independence from Moscow in 1991 and seen by some diplomats as a bid to upstage NATO, was finally canceled due to scheduling difficulties.
(Additional reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis, Elizabeth Pineau, Francesca Piscioneri and Paul Taylor)
Accept Defeat by Taliban, Pakistan tells Nato.
By Ahmed Rashid in Islamabad Daily Telegraph. (UK) 1:54am GMT 29/11/2006
Senior Pakistani officials are urging Nato countries to accept the Taliban and work towards a new coalition government in Kabul that might exclude the Afghan president Hamid Karzai.
Pakistan's foreign minister, Khurshid Kasuri, has said in private briefings to foreign ministers of some Nato member states that the Taliban are winning the war in Afghanistan and Nato is bound to fail. He has advised against sending more troops.
Western ministers have been stunned. "Kasuri is basically asking Nato to surrender and to negotiate with the Taliban," said one Western official who met the minister recently.
The remarks were made on the eve of Nato's critical summit in Latvia. Lt Gen David Richards, the British general and Nato's force commander in Afghanistan, and the Dutch ambassador Daan Everts, its chief diplomat there, have spent five days in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, urging the Pakistani military to do more to reign in the Taliban. But they have received mixed messages.
Mr Karzai has long insisted that the Taliban sanctuaries and logistics bases are in Pakistan while Gen James Jones, the Supreme Commander of Nato, told the US Congress in September that the Taliban leadership is headquartered in the Pakistani city of Quetta.
Lt Gen Ali Mohammed Jan Orakzai, governor of the volatile North West Frontier Province has stated publicly that the US, Britain and Nato have already failed in Afghanistan. "Either it is a lack of understanding or it is a lack of courage to admit their failures," he said recently.
Gen Orakzai insists that the Taliban represent the Pashtun population, Afghanistan's largest and Pakistan's second largest ethnic group, and they now lead a "national resistance" movement to throw out Western occupation forces, just as there is in Iraq.
But his comments have deeply angered many Pakistani and Afghan Pashtuns, who consider the Taliban as pariahs and a negation of Pashtun values. Gen Orakzai is the mastermind of "peace deals" between the army and the heavily Talibanised Pashtun tribes on the Pakistani side of the border, but these agreements have failed because they continue to allow the Taliban to attack Nato forces inside Afghanistan and leave the Taliban in place, free to run a mini-Islamic state.
Gen Orakzai is expected to urge the British Army to strike similar deals in Helmand province. Meanwhile aides to President Pervez Musharraf say he has virtually "given up" on Mr Karzai and is awaiting a change of face in Kabul before he offers more help.
Many Afghans fear that Pakistan is deliberately trying to undermine Mr Karzai and Nato's commitment to his government in an attempt to reinstall its Taliban proxies in Kabul – almost certainly leading to all-out civil war and possible partition of the country.
To progress in Riga, Nato will have to enlist US support to call Pakistan's bluff, put pressure on Islamabad to hand over the Taliban leadership and put more troops in to fight the insurgency while persuading Mr Karzai to become more pro-active.
NATO can't agree on Afghan troop role
By PAUL AMES, Associated Press Writer Wed Nov 29, 8:01 AM ET
RIGA, Latvia -NATO leaders finished a two-day summit Wednesday without agreement on some members' refusal to send troops into combat in Afghanistan's most dangerous regions, where casualties are mounting in the fight against Taliban insurgents.
Officials said France, Germany, Italy and Spain had agreed to remove restrictions on aiding other countries' militaries in an emergency in Afghanistan. But the four nations will not be sending troops to regularly fight alongside the British, Canadian, Dutch and American forces on the front lines of battles with the resurgent Taliban in the south and east.
"The summit did not have the character of a major breakthrough," Polish President Lech Kaczynski said. "Not all countries showed the same level of determination."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair tried to cast the summit in a more positive light.
"These have been significant steps in the right direction," Blair said. "Have we got absolutely everything we wanted? Not yet."
NATO leaders pledged in a closing statement to stay the course in Afghanistan. Blair said it was crucial that they had agreed that the alliance must succeed.
NATO officials said they received assurances at the leaders' dinner Tuesday night that all nations would allow their troops in the 32,800-strong allied Afghanistan stabilization force in the nation to come to the aid of allied units in trouble anywhere in the country.
Officials said at least three nations, which they did not name, offered to send more troops.
President Jacques Chirac said France planned to send more helicopters and warplanes. French officials said he would also allow troops to operate beyond their base in Kabul, the Afghan capital, when needed.
"There should be no doubt on our common determination to make a success of this mission," French officials quoted Chirac saying at the meeting. "In support and solidarity with our allies, France has decided to strengthen its contingent."
Nations with troops in the south and east have raised concern that limits on troop deployments risk undermining alliance solidarity and public support for the mission, while only some allies are taking most casualties.
"Losing young men and women is the surest way that can happen," Canada's Foreign Minister Peter MacKay said. Progress "can still be eroded ... if you have people coming home in coffins," he said.
Canada has suffered 44 fatalities in Afghanistan — 36 this year alone. Most occurred after NATO troops moved into the south this summer.
Leaders at the summit also declared that a new 25,000-member rapid-response force designed as the spearhead of a modernized NATO military is ready for action after four years of preparation.
Underscoring the dangers in Afghanistan, two more NATO soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb Tuesday south of Kabul. NATO did not immediately release the nationalities of those victims.
"Everyone accepts that this is NATO's absolutely critical mission," Blair said. "There's been a real sense that this mission in Afghanistan is not yet won but it is winnable and I think we are winning."
President Bush on Tuesday also raised the pressure on allies to ease restrictions on what their troops can do in Afghanistan.
"Afghanistan is NATO's most important military operation," Bush said. "By standing together in Afghanistan we will protect our people, defend our freedom and send a clear message to the extremists — the forces of freedom and decency will prevail."
NATO officials said leaders did agree on the need to follow up military operations in Afghanistan with speedy development aid and help to the Afghan government to build up the local police and judiciary, along with roads, hospitals and schools.
Also on Wednesday, NATO invited Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina to join the Partnership for Peace pre-membership program. The three countries can offer "valuable contributions" to stability in the Balkans, and their membership in the outreach program is important for the region, officials said.
Peace in Afghanistan Is 'Key Priority' for NATO Officials
By Michael Abramowitz Washington Post Staff Writer Wednesday, November 29, 2006; 11:24 AM
RIGA, Latvia, Nov. 29-- NATO leaders on Wednesday declared that securing peace and security in Afghanistan is now the "key priority" for the alliance originally formed to combat Soviet military power in the Cold War, signaling a new political embrace of a mission that has divided member nations over how to share the burdens.
"We reaffirm the strong solidarity of our Alliance, and pledge to ensure that [the NATO-led force] has the forces, resources, and flexibility needed to ensure the mission's continued success," said the statement issued by 26 heads of state and governments at the close of a summit meant to help refine NATO's post-Cold War role.
NATO officials also reported some progress in addressing concerns by commanders in Afghanistan and the Bush administration, which has been pushing for more troops and fewer restrictions by NATO members on how those troops could be used. Bush has said that success in Afghanistan is only possible if members accept "difficult assignments."
NATO has about 33,000 troops in Afghanistan, about a third of them American. Tensions have risen within the alliance over the refusal of Germany, France and Italy to send their soldiers to southern Afghanistan, where the alliance is battling a resurgent Taliban militia that is causing increasing violence and raising doubts about the viability of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government. A statement from NATO indicated that the leaders had agreed to remove some of the so-called "caveats" that countries had placed on the use of their troops.
In a news conference, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said that about 26,000 of the troops in Afghanistan were now "more usable" in combat and non-combat operations, and that all countries had agreed their troops could be called on in a crisis by British Gen. David Richards, NATO's Afghanistan commander.
"In an emergency they will support each other. That is the most fundamental demonstration of NATO solidarity," de Hoop Scheffer said.
Though Germany, France and some others have maintained restrictions that will largely keep their troops in the north, the Netherlands and Romania removed restrictions on how their troops can be used, while some other countries offered more troops and equipment for the effort.
The NATO leaders also called on other countries to step up economic support and help for reconstruction.
"There can be no security in Afghanistan without development, and no development without security," the communique stated.
Afghanistan was a major focus of a dinner Tuesday night for President Bush and other leaders gathered for the summit here. British Prime Minister Tony Blair briefed the others on his recent trip to Afghanistan, telling them that the operation there is of "crucial importance to our own security. NATO's credibility is at stake here."
"If we don't succeed in Afghanistan," Blair said. "the whole of our security will be less secure."
White House counselor Dan Bartlett said Bush was pleased with the dialogue Tuesday night, saying there was a "clear understanding of the stakes in Afghanistan."
Unlike recent summits, this year's NATO gathering did not include enlarging the alliance to new members. The leaders' statement indicated that they might issue invitations to three Balkan nations--Croatia, Macedonia and Albania--at the next summit in 2008.
They also invited Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro to join its Partnership for Peace program, a first step to possible NATO membership. That decision seemed likely to cause controversy since the alliance had previously indicated it would require greater cooperation in tracking down suspected war criminals by Serbia and Bosnia. NATO also declared its 25,000-member rapid reaction force to be fully operational. The force is designed to allow NATO to respond to crises around the world at a moment's notice.
"Failure Would be a Catastrophe for the Security of the West"
Deutsche Welle - Tue, Nov 28, 2006
Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: The various countries with troops in Afghanistan don't always agree
The time has come, says Berlin-based political scientist Herfried Münkler, to integrate the US-led mission Enduring Freedom with the efforts of ISAF troops in Afghanistan. Otherwise the mission could fail.
DW-WORLD: How do you see the situation in Afghanistan? Has the NATO mission failed?
Herfried Münkler: At this point in time, you can't make such a general conclusion. As far as the question of the success of NATO's mission is concerned, Afghanistan is a relatively diverse country. The situation in the South and the Southeast is completely different than that in the North. The current discussions have more to do with perceptions in our own countries -- in the US and the nations of western and central Europe. We're realizing that our mission and presence there will last at least a decade and not a couple of months or years. And that's more than just the physical presence of rotating troops.
It also means we have to be prepared to commit more troops and get more deeply involved. NATO will have to do everything that's required, and it will do that to ensure that this mission doesn't fail. If that were to happen it would be a catastrophe for the security of the West.
What specifically do you think needs to be done? Are there radical changes that need to be made on the concrete or the general level to turn the situation around?
Bildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Münkler says Germany should not send troops to Southern AfghanistanIn order to master the situation, we need more calm. We need to stifle the hectic rumor-mongering that stems from incompetence. That's very important.
One key point is that we're dealing with a war-by-coalition here. There are a number of actors, which has to do with the historical genesis of the NATO mission and the special project that is Afghanistan. The governments of the countries involved all have to take into account the sensibilities of their respective peoples. Those sensibilities differ, and the result is that there's no comprehensive design to the mission.
Secondly, Enduring Freedom and the efforts of ISAF to stabilize Afghanistan have run parallel to one another. After five years, the question is whether that's sensible, or whether one needs a total concept that would integrate Enduring Freedom and ISAF. Up until now, people have accepted the current situation as a provisional solution -- in the hope that the whole thing would be over very quickly. Now we're recognizing the difficulties and problems. In terms of strategy, we have to ask how we can bring Enduring Freedom and ISAF together.
Those are the general points. The specific ones are the arguments and animosities that result from what I call war-by-coalition. The nations involved in the South -- especially Britain, Denmark and the Netherlands -- are upset to an extent because the situation in the North is so much less problematic.
On the other hand, that's what was expected from the very start. It's not surprising when we recall which territories were affiliated with the Northern Alliance and which with the Taliban. It's possible that the mission in the South has focused too much on the use of military force and not enough on administrative, social and economic stabilization. But that's easy to say from here. I'd say we now have to draw a balance and get used to the fact that we need at least a decade to develop an overarching design.
Other nations have started a discussion about whether Germany should send troops to Southern Afghanistan. Should Germany get involved there?
Well, from Germany's perspective, the mission has been fairly successful in achieving its modest aims. The situation is completely different in the North than in the South and requires different skills from the soldiers. I have serious doubts as to whether it would work to throw troops from the North into the South for two or three weeks of battle and then withdraw them to the North. The situation with the trust of the populace in the troops is very different in the North. That's not only normal -- it's also desirable.
Bildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Some NATO members want German troops to get more involved in military operations
Deploying German troops in the South would probably be a military mistake. That would mean the Bundeswehr would have to transfer units that are primarily for combat to the South, a move which would hardly be feasible considering our domestic political situation right now. Our friends from Canada, the Netherlands and Great Britain will have to accept the original division of tasks that everyone agreed to at the start.
It's bad form, so to speak, to try to solve their own problems at meetings of NATO parliamentarians through provocations that are aimed at drawing Germany further into the conflict. On the other hand, we in Germany have a medium-term problem insofar as our missions are too concentrated on a mixture of aid and social work. We've never seriously grappled with the fact that such missions are also about enforcement. But that's not something that you can change in German society from one day to the next.
Things won't just be different because NATO holds a meeting and reaches a decision, and then it's just rammed through. For that we'll need time.
Professor Herfried Münkler holds a chair in Political Theory at the Alexander-von-Humboldt University in Berlin.
Prodi Rejects Bush on Afghanistan Troop Redeployment
By Steve Scherer
Nov. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Romano Prodi said Italy would not allow its 1,900 troops in Kabul and Herat to be moved by NATO commanders to other parts of Afghanistan, rejecting a call by President George W. Bush.
Bush yesterday urged North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies to make more troops in Afghanistan available to fight the Taliban insurgency and to reduce restrictions placed by member nations that have curtailed the movement of soldiers.
``The countries there are firmly committed in areas that they're assigned to,'' Prodi told reporters in Riga, Latvia, where NATO leaders are meeting for a summit. ``The strategy has been chosen and no one can talk about changing this strategy. This is the position of other countries as well, including Germany, France and Spain.''
Germany's contingent is stationed in northeast Afghanistan, while the Italians are in the capital of Kabul and in the northwest, the Spanish are in the northwest and the French are mostly in Kabul. The U.S., Canada, the U.K., and the Netherlands are facing greater Taliban resistance in the south, and NATO would like to send more troops there.
``To succeed in Afghanistan, NATO allies must provide the forces NATO military commanders require,'' Bush said during a press conference in Tallinn, Estonia, before he traveled to Riga yesterday. ``Like Estonia, member nations must accept difficult assignments if we expect to be successful.''
NATO leaders including Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are meeting today to negotiate ways to cooperate in Afghanistan, where Taliban resistance is hampering efforts to bring Afghanistan under the control of President Hamid Karzai.
French President Jacques Chirac said he would consider ``case by case'' demands to move French forces from Kabul. He repeated calls for a ``contact group'' to coordinate the peace- keeping mission with neighboring countries and international organizations.
``In Afghanistan, the military dimension is not enough: we must inscribe our action in the framework of a global strategy,'' Chirac told fellow NATO leaders at a dinner last night, according to the text of his speech given to journalists.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer called on members of the alliance to step up their commitment to fighting insurgents by reducing the restrictions, or ``caveats'' yesterday.
Caveats can hinder commanders' ability to fight, de Hoop Scheffer told a research institute conference in Riga. In southern Afghanistan, he said caveats have contributed to a 20 percent deficit of NATO's required force strength.
``We must resource ISAF properly,'' de Hoop Scheffer said, referring to NATO's Afghan mission. ``I have spoken out repeatedly about national caveats that take away a commander's flexibility and undermine our operational effectiveness.''
Fighting at Night
Restrictions in Afghanistan include some national forces not fighting at night, according to the Center for Defense Information, a Washington-based research institute on military issues. Germany's mandate restricts it to development work in northern Afghanistan, while the Dutch must avoid ground combat.
``We need to continue to make better progress in fully resourcing the military requirement and doing away as much as possible with the most restrictive caveats,'' General James Jones, the Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, said at a panel discussion yesterday. He said NATO had been discussing about 50 national caveats.
Italy allows its troops to be called in an emergency -- where other soldiers are in trouble and need help -- in a region they aren't assigned to. If they are asked to participate in a mission outside their region, NATO commanders must ask the Italian government, which has 72 hours to either approve or disapprove of the mission.
Iran strengthens ties with Afghanistan
By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press Writer
HERAT, Afghanistan - From cheap ice cream to 24-hour electricity, Iran is strengthening economic ties with western Afghanistan that could undermine support for U.S. and NATO forces.
Western Afghanistan has a newly paved 75-mile stretch of highway between the Iranian border and its main city, Herat, courtesy of the Islamic republic. Iran is also considering building a rail line on the busy route, and has pledged another $560 million to help rebuild Afghan infrastructure and businesses.
"Iran is not going away from here," a Herat-based Western diplomat said. "The question is whether we can coexist in this region together and realize that some of our aims might even be the same when it comes to Afghanistan."
Tehran has built 10 schools and built several clinics in western Afghanistan, and paid for the equipment to provide electricity 24 hours a day in Herat, unlike in most other parts of the country, including the capital, Kabul.
Iranian influence here dates back to ancient times and, while dependent on U.S. military and financial support, the Afghan government tries not to antagonize Iran, which currently houses about 2 million Afghan refugees.
"Our hope is for Afghanistan to be peaceful and stable because that would be good for the region," said an Iranian diplomat in Kabul, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with the media. "Everyone wants a stable neighbor."
If Iran and the United States are at odds, Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Zahir Azimi said, "we will stay out of it."
Local political analyst Mohammed Rafiq Shaeir says Iran wants greater influence in western Afghanistan to promote its own national interests, both security and economic.
"The people of Herat have doubts about why Iran is putting so much attention into this area, but they still recognize that it is good for our own national interests and security in the region to have friendly relations with Iran," Shaeir said.
Saeed Laylaz, a prominent political analyst in Tehran, said Iran is investing in Afghanistan chiefly for its own national interests, rather than to counter Western influence.
"Regardless of presence of the NATO forces there, Iran has been always suffering from lack of stability in Afghanistan," Laylaz said in a phone interview. "An unstable Afghanistan would cause difficulties for Iran."
For many people in this historic city, famous for its mosques and minarets, Iran's largesse is a mixed blessing.
Herat shopkeeper Mohammed Aref said low-price Iranian ice cream harms local producers, which make products of the same quality that are, however, more expensive.
"I cannot compete with them," said Zamarai Qhousi, who owns a marble works, plastic utensils factory and foodstuffs packaging plant in Herat's Industrial Park. "Iranian producers are state-subsidized and people go for cheaper goods."
Iran's commerce and relations with western Afghanistan often are between tribes, traders and militia who pay little heed to the border separating the two countries.
During the wars of the past quarter-century — the 1979-89 Soviet occupation, the subsequent civil war, Taliban rule and U.S.-led invasion — millions of Afghans, particularly from western provinces of Herat and Farah, took refuge in Iran. Many found jobs and stayed.
Ghulam Faruq, keeper of Herat's 7th-century citadel, spent nearly a decade in the Iranian city of Mashhad before the Afghanistan's Taliban regime was toppled in 2001.
Despite Iran's hospitality, he chose Afghanistan over Iran, a country most of his eight children still call home.
"I would not want to go back (to Iran)," Faruq says. "I am proud of my country."
Associated Press Writer Nasser Karimi contributed to this report from Tehran, Iran.
India for use of force against extremism in Afghanistan
New Delhi, Nov 29, IRNA
Rejecting suggestions that it enter into a deal with the Taliban, India has said a long-term solution to the problems of Afghanistan lies in a judicious mixture of force used against extremist elements and providing credible and sustained development opportunities.
"What is needed is to eliminate the bases of extremists' support," India's Ambassador to the UN Nirupam Sen told the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday without naming any country, and called for interdiction of sources that provide terrorist groups with arms and finances, a PTI report said here today.
He rejected suggestions that India enter into a deal with the Taliban and warned that such a course would bring neither peace nor security.
"The swamp of terrorist insurgency cannot be drained till the stream feeding the swamp dries up or is at least reduced to a trickle," he remarked.
An important regional and international duty that devolves upon the international community is to "firmly and decisively" act to eliminate not only the agencies of terror themselves but also their backers and prevent incitement of terror, he told the delegates discussing the situation in Afghanistan.
Stressing that much more needs to be done to reverse the deteriorating security situation, Sen called for intensification of regional and international efforts to deal with the problem of a resurgent Taliban, an al-Qaeda insurrection and their nexus with drug traffickers.
Stressing that most of the accepted milestones of modern democracy are now visible in Afghanistan, Sen noted that the landmark achievements have been attained in the face of adversity and despite serious challenges.
"This is not to deny the need for further efforts or to suggest that we may now indulge in the luxury of complacency -- far from it.
We do recognize the need for further efforts to give representation to all segments of Afghan society, including women," he told the 192- member assembly.
India, he said, sees a resurgent, stable, sovereign and peaceful Afghanistan as an essential element in the growing web of regional cooperation that is binding the world as well as a process that reclaims for the people of Afghanistan their rightful place in the collective future.
Afghanistan's entry into the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) at its last summit in Dhaka was a manifestation of this process.
"We believe that Afghanistan can and must be provided with the means to re-establish itself as the crossroads of Asia, and as one of the future transport hubs and energy bridges of our region," he added.
PAKISTAN: UN and government plan to develop former Afghan refugee camps
29 Nov 2006 04:53:29 GMT
More ISLAMABAD, 29 November (IRIN) - The Pakistani government, together with United Nations agencies and a core of NGOs, has completed the first assessment under an initiative to rehabilitate and develop areas where Afghan refugees have lived over a long period.
"The development of [Afghan] refugee-affected areas refers to repairing the adverse impact on areas where refugees have lived for long periods. It also refers to creating and supporting basic services to improve living conditions for all populations living in the target area," said Jairo Morales-Nieto, senior reintegration and development expert with the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.
Pakistan has hosted one of the world's largest Afghan refugee communities fleeing conflict in Afghanistan for over a quarter of a century. In some ways, the refugee population has had a negative impact on the poverty stricken country's resources and environment.
Currently, the South Asian nation hosts some 2.6 million Afghans, according to UNHCR, including some 1.3 million in the agency's administered camps. The rest of the Afghan population in Pakistan is scattered in urban and rural settlements across the country.
Conceived in February 2005, the Refugee Affected and Hosting Areas (RAHA) initiative is part of an overall strategy under way to address the issues relating to Afghans living in Pakistan.
"Afghans' voluntary repatriation and their registration inside Pakistan are the two other programmes," the UNHCR official said.
Led by UNHCR, the first phase of the RAHA assessment looked into the three key sectors of health, education and water and sanitation across 38 host districts in Pakistan. These include 16 districts in Balochistan province and 22 in North West Frontier Province (NWFP).
Most communities that host Afghan refugees are located in some of the poorest districts of the country as measured by a set of critical indicators of social exclusion.
"Watsan [water and sanitation], health and education coverage in refugee-affected districts of Balochistan and NWFP are well below the national average in Pakistan," the first phase of the RAHA assessment noted.
The second phase of the assessment, led by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), would look into other sectors including natural resources, environment, livelihood, employment, basic infrastructure and local governance.
"UNDP would also propose potential responses to the identified needs and outline their estimated costs," said Haoliang Xu, UNDP Country Director in Islamabad.
Islamabad is planning to present the results of these assessments and future plans for the development of areas formerly settled by refugees at a donor conference to be held in the second quarter of 2007.
Can sharia be good for women?
F Brinley Bruton The New Statesman
Across Afghanistan, girls and women are now receiving an education: but it is a purely Islamic one
Shaegh Fazil still thinks about the time when learning could trigger a beating. In those days, she always wore house-cleaning clothes under her burqa to ensure that the Taliban would never find out that she was a student at a secret school. "I was always so afraid," she said. We were speaking in the grounds of Herat University in western Afghanistan. Sunlight shone blue through the upturned burqa framing her face.
Now that Shaegh can learn openly, she studies sharia law, which stems from the teachings of the Koran and Sunna, the practice of the Prophet Muhammad. "I'm so happy I can study sharia," she said. "I love it. I've loved it since I was a child." As with the other women I interviewed, I wondered what it really meant to "love sharia" and if Shaegh had ever been given a choice about it.
The study of sharia includes subjects such as Islamic law, Islamic philosophy, and Arabic. Students at the country's state-controlled sharia departments can also study international and criminal law, and basic civil rights.There are no statistics for the number of women studying sharia at university in Afghanistan. In Herat, about 90 out of the department's 480 students are women, up from just 22 three years ago; in Kabul there are about 100 female students out of 500. Women such as Shaegh Fazil are part of the educated vanguard in a country where an estimated 80 per cent of women are illiterate. Only 30 per cent of school students are girls. Which means only a tiny elite are enrolled in university.
The government is set to boost the numbers of girls studying Islam: earlier this year it announced that as part of its five-year plan it would build a network of madrasas for girls in every one of the country's 34 provinces. Private madrasas are springing up as well. Investing in women's religious education is big news in a country where women still cannot pray in all but a few mosques.
Studying sharia may be seen as part of women's rightful freedoms, but there are those in Afghanistan who question whether a strict interpretation of Islamic law should be directly applicable to the country's legal system. "The Koran is very important to our laws, but it was written for that time, not for this time," said Herat province's chief prosecutor Maria Bashir, the first woman to hold such a post in the whole country. "For example, in the case of adultery, the punishment according to the Koran is stoning . . . Now we use international law and an adulterer will go to jail for a minimum of two years, a maximum of five."
Bashir is a model for the kind of woman the west wanted to promote when it helped topple the Taliban five years ago. In fact, the US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice flew Bashir to lunch in Washington as soon as she was appointed. But her highly public role challenges many assumptions in a country where the sight of a woman simply leaving the house without a male family escort can still be unusual and frowned upon.
Bashir's reference point is the relatively progressive 1964 constitution and the new constitution passed in 2004, which enshrined equal rights for men and women. But the truth is that the country's official legal system is badly damaged. Outside the major cities, it is practically non-existent.
"Three years ago, people had a very clear idea of the future for Afghanistan. Now we don't have such a clear idea," said Bashir. One of her biggest disappointments has been the slow pace of judicial reform.
Not only are Bashir's ideas imperilled, so is her life. She said she feared for her and her family and had received "many" death threats, mostly from people who object to a woman holding such an important position. She has bodyguards, but only during the work day, and her government-provided car is not bullet-proof. "Maybe the government will give me a bullet-proof car, but after it is too late," she mused.
The space for women such as Bashir to operate in Afghanistan is shrinking, said Meryem Aslan, programme director for the UN's Development Fund for Women (Unifem). "One of the main things Unifem has done is to help open a space so that women can negotiate their rights, so that officially there is no barrier for them to go to school, university or work," she said. This progress is threatened, Aslan warns, by a re-energised Taliban on the one side, and militia leaders and warlords, who have taken control of vast tracks of countryside, on the other.
The ongoing epidemic of school-burnings in Afghanistan shows how potent a symbol women's education and empowerment can be. Last month, Unicef Afghanistan said that school-burning, until recently confined mainly to the south of the country where the insurgency is strongest, has spread through the rest of Afghanistan. In the four southern provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan and Zabul alone, Unicef estimates that more than 380 of the 748 schools are no longer providing an education to students, throwing more than 105,000 children out of school. Most of these closures affect girls.
Wave of madrasas
In addition to state-funded schools, a wave of new, private madrasas are being built across the country. In Kabul's Karte Se neighbourhood, the Last Prophet madrasa is headed by Ayatollah Mohseni, a prominent Shia scholar famed for helping lead the fight against the Soviet occupation. The school is an example of what a lot of money can build, even in this war-ravaged country, where many students still study in shattered buildings or in the open air. The campus will one day hold a large mosque, library, boys and girls' dormitories, and classrooms. While it is still largely a construction site, 150 female students study in classrooms organised around a courtyard. Boys' classes have not yet started. The madrasa's student body varies widely in age, a legacy of the Taliban's exclusion of women and girls from education.
Palwasha Kakar, a gender expert who has been researching in Afghanistan for two years, is one of the few people who are prepared publicly to question the need for nationwide madrasas. She fears that the government's plans will back- fire. "Madrasas are so easily co-opted by the mullah system, by the Taliban system or Taliban-like ideas," she said, shaking her head.
The women at the Last Prophet madrasa would passionately disagree. "Our country needs us to study Islam because only by Islam will we change our society," said 36-year-old Someha. "First of all, we need honesty and then we need to help the poor, because they never get what they deserve."
Another student, Mahmouda, 17, was certain that religious schooling will bring respect and unity. "Muslims must fight for their rights and to get people to accept them," she said. "Sunni and Shia, we need to fight together."
Mahmouda spoke quickly and emphatically. Her answer to my questions about the need for Islamic education, was direct and unanswerable: "If you have a better programme, then give it to us."
Afghanistan: WFP in race before winter snows and flooding
Source: WFP 29 Nov 2006 08:31:00 GMT
Ahead of the winter freeze, WFP is racing to complete deliveries of food for impoverished Afghans living in communities that will be cut off once the bitter cold arrives and heavy snows set in – and in other parts of the embattled country, the food agency is providing assistance to victims of severe floods.
With winter approaching, 21,000 metric tons of food – including wheat, beans, oil and salt – need to be positioned and then distributed to 600,000 vulnerable people located in over half the provinces of Afghanistan, before the heavy snows set in.
The operation is beset with difficulties posed by bad weather and increased insecurity due to the continuing conflict.
“Winter is a brutal time in Afghanistan. Hundreds of villages that are remote today will be impossible to reach within the coming weeks,” said Rick Corsino, WFP Representitive in Afghanistan.
“Right now our focus is on positioning food in these areas, as well as moving forward with our drought relief efforts in more readily accessible areas.”
Many areas of the country, especially the west, northwest and far east, are also affected by localised flooding at this time of the year.
WFP is now assisting Government and other agencies in relief efforts for over 24,000 flood victims in the provinces of Nangarhar, Badghis, Farah, Uruzgan, Faryab and Jawzjan.
In preparation for oncoming snows, WFP has already delivered 16,000 tons of food, or all of its planned winterisation assistance to the winter-affected provinces of Badakshan, Nuristan, Kunar, Ghor, Wardak, and Nangarhar - and more than 80 percent to Bamyan and Badghis provinces.
But poor road conditions, worsened by early snows and heightened insecurity along some key road corridors have impacted food deliveries to thousands of people in areas of higher elevation.
“Winterisation” deliveries to the central highlands province of Daikundi, in particular, have been hampered. Some higher mountain passes have already been closed due to early snows. Because of rains and snow, trips that might take three hours in the summer are now taking up to a day, or more.
“In the higher passes roads are barely wide enough to allow a single truck to move. So when a vehicle breaks down, or cannot progress because of snow or mud, traffic in both directions can be halted for several hours, or even longer,” said Corsino.
More than 1,000 tons of food are still en route to these locations.
“Thousands of people are in need of our assistance. We have to reach them before winter does – and that means within the next few weeks,” said Corsino.
WFP uses creative schemes to support both relief and development efforts.
These include food for the construction of roads to achieve or improve access, and wells to provide permanent water supply and other community assets; food for people attending training; and food for school children.
The very timely and generous response of donors has ensured there is food to meet these challenges and get the beneficiaries through the winter.
But because of the very long lead time between confirmation of a contribution and the distribution of the food to a hungry person, by March 2007 the Programme will face shortfalls in all commodities.
Further donations are urgently needed now to avoid such shortfalls, including 6,000 tons of fortified biscuits needed to enable the school meals programme to commence at the start of the new school year in March
Afghan police aiding drug traffickers, U.N. report says
The Associated Press 11/28/2006
KABUL — Afghanistan's criminal underworld has compromised key government officials who protect drug traffickers, allowing a flourishing opium trade that will not be stamped out for a generation, an ominous U.N. report released today said.
The fight against opium production has so far achieved only limited success, mostly because of corruption, the joint report from the World Bank and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said.
The findings show a "probability of high-level (government) involvement" in drugs, said Doris Buddenberg, the UNODC's Afghanistan representative and co-editor of the report.
The report in particular presented a strong indictment of the Interior Ministry, which runs the country's police, and said Afghanistan's criminal underworld could not operate without the support of the political "upperworld."
"The majority of police chiefs are involved," one senior police officer told the report's authors on condition of anonymity. "If you are not, you will be threatened to be killed and replaced."
Without naming officials, the report said it was possible that powerful interests in the Interior Ministry are appointing district police chiefs "to both protect and promote criminal interests."
The result is a "complex pyramid of protection and patronage, effectively providing state protection to criminal trafficking activities."
The spokesman for the counter-narcotics ministry said there is no evidence that high-ranking officials are involved in Afghanistan's drug trade.
"If there is evidence we welcome the evidence and the arrest will be on the spot," Zalmai Afzali said.
Poppy cultivation and the heroin it produces has become a major problem in Afghanistan, providing funds for the Taliban insurgency that has caused the deaths of more than 3,700 people this year.
Opium production in Afghanistan rose 49 percent this year to 6,100 metric tons. The harvest provided more than 90 percent of the world's opium supply and was worth more than $3.1 billion.
Gen. Khodaidad, Afghanistan's deputy minister for counter-narcotics, told The Associated Press that next year's harvest will be as large as this year's in several key southern provinces where Taliban militants have a heavy presence. A U.S. official has also told the AP he expects next year's yield to be about the same.
The 210-page report, titled "Afghanistan's Drug Industry," is the first comprehensive assessment of the country's drug production, from poppy-growing farmers to international drug traffickers.
Barnett Rubin, director of studies and senior fellow at New York University's Center on International Cooperation, said his research has led to many of the same conclusions as the report's.
"There are many cases where honest prosecutors or police chiefs try to do something about corruption, and they say they receive phone calls from very high officials in Kabul saying to leave the people alone," said Rubin, an expert on Afghanistan.
Like the report, Rubin said he could not name names. "Getting indictable evidence is very, very difficult," he said. "I'm not mentioning any individual's name to you because I don't want to be sued or bumped off."
Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary said the ministry has reformed its process for selecting police chiefs.
"At the moment we don't have any problems with our police chiefs," he said. "If the government is saying that poppy cultivation is prohibited, so they are obliged to implement the orders of the government."
Instead of sustained declines in cultivation, successful efforts to reduce poppy growing in one province often leads to increases elsewhere, the report found.
"History teaches us that it will take a generation to render Afghanistan opium-free," said Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of UNODC. "Those driving the drug industry must be brought to justice and officials who support it sacked."
Poppies take up less than 4 percent of the total cultivated area in Afghanistan, and most districts do not grow opium, the report said. But the $3.1 billion export value of last year's crop accounted for around one-third of total economic activity in the country, and about 13 percent of Afghans are involved in the trade.
The report says there is also a need to curtail demand. The major consumers of Afghanistan's opium are Iran, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and Germany, Buddenberg said.
Afghans to use herbicide on nation's poppy crop
U.S. efforts to quell country's opium boom 'will make the situation worse,' official says
GRAEME SMITH Globe and Mail - Tue, Nov 28, 2006
TIRIN KOT, AFGHANISTAN -- The United States has persuaded Afghanistan to spray herbicide on poppy fields in an effort to slow the country's opium boom, according to a senior Western diplomat.
A security review will be conducted before the plan goes ahead, the diplomat said. But already rumours of chemical eradication are spreading in southern Afghanistan, where many say it would spark a revolt among farmers and put Canadian soldiers at risk.
Afghanistan has not previously tried chemical spraying, as President Hamid Karzai expressed deep misgivings about the effects of herbicides on villagers and legitimate crops.
But U.S. politicians are now encouraging a more aggressive drug policy in Afghanistan, after estimates show this year's opium crop was 59 per cent bigger than the previous year's harvest.
"The assumption here is that this is being pushed by Congress," the Western diplomat in Kabul said. "I suspect the U.S. embassy here is not that excited. They know the drawbacks to eradication in general and spraying in particular."
Those drawbacks are clear to southerners such as Haji Agha Lalai, a provincial council member in Kandahar, whose home district of Panjwai is a major source of opium and a battlefield where Canadian troops regularly fight Taliban insurgents.
"The people will be angry about this spraying, very unhappy," Mr. Lalai said. "It will make the situation worse."
Spokesmen for Afghanistan's Ministry of Counter Narcotics and the Counter Narcotics Police said the government hasn't made any decision about spraying. Privately, one counternarcotics official in the south said he's heard persistent talk of a chemical eradication program but he can't get definite answers from his bosses in Kabul.
No spraying can happen until next year, the narcotics official added, because the poppies planted by farmers this fall won't be vulnerable until their green shoots emerge from the ground in the spring.
In Kabul, a U.S. official denied that any decision has been reached, but confirmed that Americans are talking with their Afghan counterparts about a possible spraying program "on a test basis." The spraying would be conducted by ground vehicles, instead of aircraft, said the U.S. official, adding that NATO and other countries would be consulted before any action.
"We cannot at this point even speculate when, or even if, that decision will be taken," the official said.
The first major poppy-eradication program in Afghanistan was launched by the Taliban in 2000 as the regime imposed a harsh law that dramatically cut production, and raised the cash value of the Taliban's own opium stockpile. Mr. Karzai launched his first eradication campaign in April, 2002, with less success. Provincial governors and district officials usually lead the efforts, which annually destroy a tiny fraction of the crop. The same local politicians are often accused of profiting from the drug trade.
Britain and the United States donate most of the money for eradication programs in Afghanistan, while the United Nations monitors the results. Canada does not participate in eradication, preferring to work on alternative livelihoods for poppy farmers.
A recent report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found that Afghanistan's opium crop had grown to 165,000 hectares this year, up from 104,000 last year. This pushed supply above demand by 30 per cent, the report said, although Afghanistan's farmers still earned $750-million (U.S.), making opium the largest sector in the economy.
Foreign advisers in Afghanistan are divided about how to handle the growing drug problem. Drug lords are seen as a source, or conduit, of the money that feeds the insurgency, and opium profits are believed to have corrupted Afghan officials at the highest levels. Still, some prominent analysts say they're convinced that spraying is a mistake.
"News of this year's record crop is likely to increase pressure from the U.S. Congress for eradication, including aerial spraying," Barnett Rubin, author of a recent report on Afghanistan for the U.S.-based non-partisan research centre Council on Foreign Relations, said in testimony to a congressional committee.
"Such a program would be disastrously self-defeating," Mr. Rubin said.
"If we want to succeed in Afghanistan, we have to help the rural poor, which is almost everyone, and isolate the leading traffickers and the corrupt officials who support them."
One landowner from Sangisar, a village west of Kandahar city, said in an interview last week that his workers planted about 10 hectares of poppy on his land this season. Ever year, some districts are visited by Afghan eradication teams that use conventional slash-and-burn methods of destroying poppies, he said, but it's not a serious effort: Any farmer with enough local influence, bribe money or connections in the provincial capital can avoid the authorities.
"If you destroy my poppy, I will not fight you," the landowner said.
"I am a rich man. If somebody promised me the kingdom of America, I would not fight. But the farmers on my land would fight because they are poor."
U.S. contractors working in Afghanistan, such as DynCorp, have experience with spraying herbicides on drug crops. DynCorp aircraft reportedly spray herbicides on coca fields in Colombia, but a report by the international think tank Senlis Council suggests this wasn't effective, damaged the environment and killed the crops that ordinary people need to survive.
"Evidence shows that aerial spraying directly led to an increase in social unrest, instability and violence," says the Senlis report.
US Hearts and Minds Cash Goes to Taleban
Funds distributed by US forces to civilians in a southern province find their way to the Taleban.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting By Mirwais Atal in Ghazni (ARR No. 236, 28-Nov-06)
When United States troops in the southern province of Ghazni handed out cash to village elders, they must have thought they were winning friends. The money, intended for bridges, wells, drinking water, irrigation systems and other infrastructure projects, was supposed to convince the local Afghans that the foreign presence would benefit their country in general and themselves in particular.
After distributing the funds to villagers in Ghazni’s Andar district in early October, the US soldiers departed, having done their best to get the district on side.
Their hearts and minds campaign is part of a major anti-Taleban offensive codenamed Operation Mountain Fury, which US-led coalition forces launched in mid-September in conjunction with the Afghan National Army, ANA.
But the resources intended to combat Taleban influence ended up doing just the opposite. Local people in several parts of Andar district told IWPR that almost as soon as the coalition forces left their villages, the money found its way into Taleban coffers to finance the jihad against the foreigners.
“American money is haram [unlawful in Islam],” said Abdul Jalil, an elder in one village. “We could not use it to improve our lives. So we decided to give it to the Taleban. The most important thing we could do with this money was help the Taleban to pursue the jihad.”
At a gathering in the local mosque, mullahs exhorted the faithful to reject foreign blandishments and contribute to the insurgency, said Jalil. The elders agreed, so the Taleban were summoned and the money handed over.
An elder in another village called Lashko, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told IWPR that the villagers were well aware that they could not use the funds without Taleban consent.
“It’s the Taleban who are with us in the night-time,” he said. “They are powerful: they can enforce their rules and punish those who violate them. One day, the US troops gave us 50,000 afghani [1,000 US dollars] for a construction project, but the Taleban came to us that evening and asked us what we were going to do with it. We told them it was their decision. They took the money and left.”
According to this man, US troops arrived a few days later to see what had been accomplished with their donation. At a loss to reply, villagers told them that the Taleban had taken the money by force.
“The soldiers were angry and threatened that they would not help us against the Taleban,” he said.
Cash disbursements and distribution of goods were part of a special drive carried out in the course of military operations in areas where support for the Taleban has been strong. The fact that the aid was distributed by soldiers from an “occupying force” seems to have particularly angered the militants.
Other reconstruction projects administered by donors and carried out by contractors have had more success, although in places like Ghazni, implementing partners are becoming increasingly scarce, leaving assistance money and projects vulnerable to pressure from insurgents.
Asked about the military’s cash handouts, Larry Falkenhausen, a spokesman for the Provincial Reconstruction Team, PRT, in Ghazni, acknowledged there had been problems, but said such incidents were few and far between.
“The Andar district chief told us it happened in one village,” he told IWPR.
District chief Muhammad Rahim Disiwal, however, suggested that a number of villages were involved, though he suggested the aid money was extorted from the civilian population rather than given freely.
“We have received such reports from some villages,” he said. “The Taleban have used force to take aid materials distributed to villagers, which shows how they are robbing poor people and that they won’t even let other people help them.”
IWPR has received varying reports as to the level of force used by the Taleban to confiscate the aid. According to villagers, a combination of intimidation and persuasion seems to have been employed to get the residents of Andar district to refuse to cooperate with the coalition forces.
Ghazni had turned into a hub from which militants would spread into other areas, and Andar found itself at the centre of Operation Mountain Fury, designed to combat the increased “Talebanisation” of southern Afghan provinces.
Government officials in Andar were unable to venture beyond their district centre, and police were afraid to turn off the main highways. The fighters, who had developed a well-organised intelligence network with the help of local residents, would mine secondary roads and target any government convoys travelling along them.
More worrying still, sympathy for the insurgency has been growing among villagers frustrated with the slow pace of reconstruction as well as by government corruption and the deteriorating security situation.
The Taleban have made inroads in the province over the past several months, and now are beginning to bring back their own form of justice.
Ghazni has suffered a spate of armed robberies, and crime has been rife. The Taleban has claimed responsibility for eliminating one prominent bandit, Bismillah Khan, who was shot along with several others on the main Kabul-Kandahar road.
During the summer, the Taleban distributed so-called “night letters” in villages prohibiting residents from taking their legal problems to government courts. Instead, they set up Taleban courts to hear disputes, and villagers in Andar say the results have been welcomed by locals.
Organising a shura or council in a mosque or home, a Taleban judge settles disputes according to Sharia law. Villagers see the process as quick, fair, free of corruption and enforceable, since the Taleban have armed men all over the area.
Operation Mountain Fury was supposed to rid the region of the Taleban, but in some cases it only made things worse, say Ghazni residents.
Some people complain that ANA troops deployed to protect them robbed their homes when they came to their villages. Reports of brutality against local residents by ANA men increased sympathy for the Taleban and hostility towards the coalition forces who were seen to be in league with the Afghan government military.
Maulavi Abdul Hakim, an influential religious scholar in Andar district, delivered a blistering sermon on the Eid holiday in November condemning those who had accepted cash and goods from the coalition forces.
“Giving this aid to our people is intended to win our support and justify their invasion,” he told a crowd of villagers, after turning off the loudspeakers so that his lecture could not be heard from the road. “Those who help them are criminals whom God will not forgive.”
While it is impossible to gauge with certainty the level of support enjoyed by the Taleban, anecdotal evidence suggests that it is considerable. During the hour or more that an IWPR reporter spent with a mid-level Taleban commander, the conversation was interrupted numerous times by phone calls, which the commander said were from ordinary people sharing intelligence.
When coalition forces enter a village, said the commander, local residents alert the Taleban by cell phone. The Taleban then have time to stage an ambush or mine the road leading away from the village.
Andar residents told IWPR that while the American forces were visiting villages to distribute aid, the Taleban were conducting a shadow campaign to discourage people from accepting anything from the foreigners.
Nasrullah Khan, a resident of the village of Bakhshi, said that the Taleban came into the mosque to warn the community that if they accepted money and goods from the soldiers, it would be their own fault if the militants conducted suicide attacks against the coalition forces in the village.
According to Nasrullah, a group of Taleban would go to every village right after the US troops left, confiscating and burning any materials that had been given to the villagers and not yet divided up among people. They would make a public bonfire and destroy everything, he said.
“No one could object or stop them,” he said.
Mullah Nasir Kakar, the Taleban's representative in one Ghazni district, with dozens of combatants under his command, said his men were harboured by villagers, and insisted that the cooperation was voluntary.
“We burn things that the foreign soldiers have distributed to try and win people’s sympathy. We also take the money given to them. This is by order of our leadership,” he told IWPR.
Mullah Naseer said that the money was used to buy supplies such as weapons, explosives, motorcycles and mobile phones.
“We are not allowed to keep a penny of that money for ourselves,” he said.
Operation Mountain Fury is now over in Andar, and the Taleban boast that they have come through largely unscathed. Many of them simply left the province at the height of the offensive. Since Ghazni is flat, without forests or mountains, they prefer to plant mines and stage hit-and-run attacks rather than face a well-equipped enemy head on.
But according to residents, the situation is now “normalising” – meaning that once again, the Taleban are regaining control.
Mirwais Atal is the pseudonym used by a freelance reporter in Ghazni.
Afghan President Karzai to form political party
Kabul - Afghan President Hamid Karzai would launch a political party, a private news service the Hindokosh News Agency (HNA) reported Monday.
President Hamid Karzai is going to form his own political party under the name of Afghanistan Democratic Party "in order to contest the upcoming presidential elections in the country," HNA said.
Afghanistan's next presidential elections would be held in 2009. Several cabinet members including Interior Minister Zarar Ahmad Muqbal have been working to form the party.
Karzai, who assumed office as the first elected president in the post-Taliban country in December 2004, said months ago that he had no attention to contest the coming presidential polls.
Presidential spokesman Mohammad Karim Rahimi was not available to make comment.
Three terrorists detained by Afghan, Coalition forces
COMBINED FORCES COMMAND – AFGHANISTAN COALITION PRESS INFORMATION CENTER November 28, 2006
KABUL , Afghanistan — Afghan and Coalition forces detained three terrorists during an operation Tuesday morning near the village of Nazer Kala in Logar Province, approximately 22 kilometers south of Kabul.
No shots were fired during the operation, which netted three members of a terrorist cell that had been operating in and around Khowst and Kabul Provinces.
The combined force conducted a search of several buildings after requesting the occupants to come out peacefully.
Several Afghan women and children were also present in the buildings, and none were harmed.
The combined force conducted a brief assessment after the operation and determined that no collateral damage was sustained.
No Coalition or Afghan forces were injured during the operation.
61 HIV/AIDS cases confirmed in Afghanistan: official
Xinhua / November 28, 2006
Afghanistan has reported 61 confirmed cases of HIV/AIDS, and 1,500 to 2,000 suspected cases, a health official said on Monday.
"HIV/AIDS is a crucial issue, which if not given the necessary attention will adversely affect the development of Afghanistan," said Dr. Saifur Rehman, manager of the National AIDS Control Program, days before the World AIDS Day that falls on Dec. 1.
Among the infected people, 43 are men and 18 are women, he said at a press conference, adding 14 of them live or lived in Kabul and seven in Herat city in the western Herat province neighboring Iran.
Quite a few Afghans acquired the disease abroad, Rehman said, adding among them 15 returned from Iran and five from Pakistan, which lies east to Afghanistan.
Two children and one man died of the deadly disease in Afghanistan, which has a population of 31 million, he said.
The official warned that "Afghanistan is prone to HIV/AIDS and the vulnerability factors include increased numbers of drug users, internally displaced people, migration, low levels of public awareness, limited facilities for the treatment, and lack of a systematic surveillance system in the country."
HIV/AIDS has become severe disease across the world as no efficient medicine or vaccine has been invented to tackle them so far.
According to the UN's 2006 Global AIDS Report, about 39.5 million people are living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) worldwide, while Acquired Immure Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) has killed 2.9 million persons in 2006.
Speaker hopes to confer with Afghanistan on Hirmand
Zabol, Sistan-Baluchestan prov, Nov 27, IRNA
Majlis Speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel Monday expressed hope that Iran and Afghanistan will hold talks on sharing the waters of River Hirmand which runs through both countries.
Speaking at a public gathering in Zabol's Al-Mahdi (AS) grand prayer grounds, he added, "Iran pays special attention to Hirmand, therefore, I have conferred with President Hamid Karzai and Parliament Speaker Younis Qanooni on the issue."
He noted that establishing security in Afghanistan will increase security in Sistan-Baluchestan province.
Drug trafficking via the eastern province has caused some problems for Iran in confronting insecurity.
Pointing to the appointment of the new governor general of the province, Habibollah Dehmardeh, he said, "We hope that the appointment is considered as people's appreciation for Dr. Dehmardeh." Referring to the province's glorious background during the Islamic Revolution, he noted that the people of the province are proud of the Grand Ayatollah Sistani as their compatriot.
He expressed satisfaction over his three-day tour to the province, appreciating their loyalty to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei.
Terming Zabol Education and Higher Education departments as keys of victory, he said that it has got four universities and 20,000 students.
Referring to Zabol-Zahedan highway and railway, he noted that the government allocated some 1,000 billion rials to initiate the project which will be completed at a cost of 2,500 billion rials.
He also referred to allocation of 500 billion rials on water storage projects in the province, and added that gas transfer project from Asalouyeh to Sistan-Baluchestan is under implementation.
The speaker visited the towns of Zahedan, Iranshahr, Khash, Saravan, Chabahar and Zabol during his provincial tour.
Team sees officials involvement in inmates' escape
KABUL, Nov 27 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Representatives of the prosecutors and attorney general office Monday said preliminary investigations revealed officials helped detainees to escape from Pul-i-Charkhi jail.
The envoys said they grilled 30 officials in the case of the Pul-i-Charkhi jail from which three prisoners escaped last week. Head of the Judiciary Department at the office of attorney general Abdul Rab Chanbili said a special team of prosecutors was quizzing the suspected 30 officials in the case.
Three Taliban prisoners sentenced to death and long-term jail escaped from the notorious and well-guarded prison last Wednesday. The three prisoners Maulvi Abdul Hadi of Kandahar was sentenced death penalty, Mullah Turab from Logar was sentenced to 20 years in jail and Naqibullah from Helmand had to spend 16-year in jail.
A member of the investigative team, requesting anonymity, told Pajhwok Afghan News: "The three people have escaped from the jail very skilfully with cooperation of the prison's officials." He said Abdul Hadi and Naqibullah were kept in the Bloc No. II of the prison and were taken to the Bloc No. IX to Mullah Turab's room few days before his escape on the prison director's oral order.
Also just before the incident, relatives of the detainees were allowed to visit them in the prison on a day when visitors were not allowed. Head of prisons department in the justice ministry Abdul Salaam Bakhshi also suspected that prison guards were involved in paving way for the escape.
Despite strict measures usually taken for anybody entering or leaving the Pul-i-Charkhi, inmates have escaped several times from the well-guarded prison. Seven detainees escaped in a similar case from the prison earlier this year, but no results have been made public of the investigation conducted in the incident.
A justice ministry official told this agency, on condition of anonymity, this was the fourth time that inmates escaped from the notorious jail in two years. The case is not limited to Pul-i-Charkhi, said the source, but such cases have frequently occurred in Herat, Ghor and Baghlan provinces. There are 2,700 people held in the Pul-i-Charkhi prison currently, out of 9,700 detainees across the country.
Habib Rahman Ibrahimi
No border route for Indo-Afghan trade: Pak
KABUL, Nov 27 (Pajhwok Afghan News): 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 the 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, media reports Monday said.
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.
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