Italian freed after being held in Afghanistan for three weeks
Fri Nov 3, 8:48 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - An Italian photojournalist captured in an insurgency-hit part of Afghanistan three weeks ago was freed on Friday, the Italian embassy here said as the Taliban again denied any involvement.
Gabriele Torsello, 36, was abducted on October 12 as he was travelling between the troubled southern province of Helmand and neighbouring Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban movement.
"I can confirm he has been released this afternoon," Italian ambassador Ettore Francesco Sequi told AFP in Kabul. There was "no ransom, according to my information," he said.
"I have not seen him yet but according to my information he is in good health."
Torsello was being transported on a International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) plane to the Afghan capital Kabul, ISAF and the embassy said.
Torsello described his captivity in an interview with the web-based news service PeaceReporter.
"I never saw the light during my captivity. At first they kept me chained all the time, but at least I had a Koran that I could read," he said.
The abductors' identities are not clear. They had initially claimed to be from the insurgent Taliban group but spokesmen for the movement said they were not involved and reportedly even called on the kidnappers to release him.
A main spokesman for the extremists, Yousuf Ahmadi, again denied involvement after being contacted for comment on Torsello's release.
"We have repeatedly said in the past and once again we stress that we were not involved in the abduction of the photojournalist.
"His abduction had nothing to do with Taliban," Ahmadi told AFP in a telephone call from an undisclosed location.
Afghan police did not immediately have any information about the release of the hostage.
However police in Helmand province said the journalist had been freed from Zabul province, which is also in the south.
"The journalist who was abducted in Helmand a while back was freed from Zabul province surroundings and has been sent to Kabul. We have no more information," police chief Mohammad Nabi Mullahkhail said.
The abductors, who at one point threatened to kill the photographer, had demanded that Italy withdraw its 1,800 troops from the international security force in Afghanistan.
They had earlier demanded that an Afghan convert to Christianity, who has taken refuge in Italy, be returned to Kabul. Under Islamic Sharia law, the man could face the death penalty for his religious conversion.
The last Italian national abducted in Afghanistan, aid worker Clementina Cantoni, was held for 24 days in May 2005 by a criminal gang.
The court that tried the group heard that a ransom had been paid for the release, but officials denied this.
There were also reports of ransom payment for the release of a Colombian aid worker who was abducted with two Afghan colleagues in September, but their organisation said they were freed unconditionally.
The Taliban have kidnapped, and sometimes killed, several foreign nationals and Afghans most of whom have been involved in reconstruction of this war-battered country.
But other groups, including bandits, have also been involved in kidnappings.
Pakistani tribals vow revenge over madrasa strike
By Anwarullah Khan
KHAR, Pakistan, Nov 3 (Reuters) - Thousands of Pakistani tribesmen protested on Friday, vowing vengeance for an army airstrike on an al-Qaeda-linked religious school that killed around 80 suspected militants four days earlier.
Effigies of U.S. President George W. Bush and Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf were paraded through Khar, the main town in the Bajaur tribal region bordering Afghanistan.
Several thousand tribesmen gathered in Khar, just 10 km (six miles) from the destroyed madrasa, called Zia-ul-Koran or Light of the Koran in the village of Chenagai. The pro-Taliban cleric who ran it was killed in the raid.
"The people of the tribal areas are being treated like terrorists and innocent people are being killed by the U.S. and Pakistan army. We will not tolerate this anymore," Waheed Gul, a local Islamist leader from Jamaat-e-Islaami party, told protesters in Khar.
"We will certainly take revenge on these people," said another speaker, Zahir Shah.
At Nawagai, another town in Bajaur, tribesmen stoned government offices and burnt tribal police checkposts.
Along with North and South Waziristan, Bajaur is regarded as a hotbed of support for Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
Protests also took place in many towns of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Baluchistan, which adjoin Afghanistan.
In the NWFP capital of Peshawar a 1,000-strong crowd chanted "Shameless, Shameless Musharraf".
But, despite holding power in both provinces, Islamist parties failed to muster large-scale support outside the immediate border areas.
Islamist leaders and tribesmen say the airstrike was really carried out by a U.S. Predator drone aircraft, an allegation that both Pakistan and the United States have denied.
A CIA-operated drone aircraft carried out an attack last January in Bajaur that killed around 18 people, possibly including some al Qaeda operatives. But the main target of the attack, al Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al Zawahri, was not there.
Zawahri had also visited the madrasa at Chenagai in the past, but not recently, and no senior militant figures were killed in the airstrike, Pakistani security officials said.
Musharraf says all those killed in the latest airstrike were militants, and the military released video footage shot from a surveillance aircraft showing rows of men doing physical exercises at the madrasa just an hour before the attack.
Protesters said the dead, mostly young men aged between 15 and 25, were merely students, although Pakistani security sources say they were being trained as suicide bombers to attack NATO, U.S., and Afghan forces across the border.
Some radicals used a protest in the NWFP town of Mansehra to rail against foreign aid agencies for promoting un-Islamic values while carrying out relief work after last year's earthquake.
In the southern city of Karachi, where many Pashtuns have migrated, some 3,000 tribal people held a rally demanding an end to army operations in their homeland.
Meanwhile, 8,000 members of Jamaat-u-Dawa, an Islamist charity that the United States says is a terrorist organisation, held prayers in Lahore for the airstrike's victims.
Afghanistan Reiterates Iran's N. Rights
November 3, 2006
TEHRAN (Fars News Agency)- Iran is certainly entitled to access and use peaceful nuclear technology, an Afghan Foreign Ministry official said here Friday.
Director of the Strategic Studies Center of Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry Hazrat Vahriz told FNA that Afghanistan may never allow any country to use its soil for launching attacks on other states.
Saying that Afghanistan's stance in the face of Iran's right of access to peaceful nuclear technology has been frequently stressed by Kabul on different occasions, the official also stated that his country is seeking a WMD-free region.
Vahriz stressed that despite the US and EU's alleged concerns about Iran's nuclear programs, Afghanistan recognizes Iran's nuclear rights, and continued, "Efforts must be made to achieve a mechanism which could both remove the West's concerns about Iran's nuclear programs and meantime, restore Iran's legal rights.
Elsewhere, he said that Afghanistan would not let any other country use its soil for invading Iran, and expressed the hope that the nuclear issue would be solved through negotiations.
Noting the likely imposition of sanctions against Iran, he said that sanctions against Iran would also inflict significant losses on Afghanistan, "because we enjoy extensive economic ties and import many different items, including foodstuff, clothing and oil from Iran. If sanctions are imposed on Iran, then we will have to suffer a lot."
Director of the Strategic Studies Center of Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry described Iran as a great country with a pivotal role in the region, and the main factor for stability in the region, adding, "Iran is a country whose economic and political weight is on the increase on a daily basis."
New Photos Link Elite German Soldiers to Nazi Emblem
Deutsche Welle (Germany) November 2, 2006
The German Defense Ministry said six soldiers were suspended in connection with a scandal involving troops desecrating skulls found in Afghanistan, while new photos of soldiers using a Nazi-era emblem have also surfaced.
Germany launched an investigation Wednesday into an unconfirmed report that Germany soldiers in Afghanistan had used a vehicle with a Nazi-era insignia.
The weekly magazine Stern published a photograph Thursday of alleged members of the German army's elite KSK unit with an off-road vehicle bearing a palm tree and iron cross. The photo is thought to have been taken in 2001.
From Hitler's "Afrika Korps"
The symbol resembles the one used by the Nazi "Afrika Korps" under Erwin Rommel, though the original version had a swastika instead of an iron cross, which is a traditional symbol of the German army.
"A few of our guys are stuck in the past and thought it was particularly cool to drive around with Wehrmacht insignia," an unnamed KSK soldier told Stern, referring to the name of the German army during the Nazi era. "I and others found it sickening."
According to the magazine report, the photos were taken at a camp in Oman where German forces prepared for deployment to Afghanistan.
Inquiry on skull photos expanded
Parallel to the newest investigation use of Nazi symbols by some members of the Germany military abroad, a probe over the desecration of human skeletons in Afghanistan has been expanded to include 23 soldiers suspected of posing for macabre photographs, defense ministry spokesman Thomas Raabe told reporters Wednesday.
Another four troops have been suspended, bringing the total number to six, Raabe added.
The photographs, which reportedly date back to 2003, show soldiers posing with human remains. They were published last week by the German mass-market Bild and caused outrage in Germany with Chancellor Angela Merkel vowing to punish any troops involved.
The exact origins of the human remains are unknown, though they are thought to date back to the British and Russian occupations of Afghanistan.
Television station RTL then broadcast other images, reportedly from 2004 elsewhere in Afghanistan, which raised concerns that this type of behavior may have been widespread among the 2,800 German soldiers stationed in the war-torn country.
Pakistan: Afghan refugees reluctant to participate in registration
ISLAMABAD, 3 November (IRIN) - A programme to register Afghans living in Pakistan has been proceeding slowly due partly to confusion over the objectives of the exercise, United Nations officials acknowledged on Friday.
The 10-week campaign, costing some US $6 million, is aimed at providing millions of Afghan exiles in Pakistan with identity cards valid for three years. The cards recognise the bearer as an Afghan citizen temporarily living in Pakistan.
"The main obstacle to registration seems to be [Afghan] people's fear that the exercise is the [Pakistan] government's way of rounding them up and sending them home," Vivian Tan, a spokeswoman for the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.
"On our part, we are trying to convince them [Afghans in Pakistan] that this is really a protection tool for Afghan nationals that will help them to stay for three years while keeping an eye on the situation in Afghanistan," she added.
Nearly 91,000 Afghan refugees have registered so far across Pakistan since the operation started on 15 October, including about 37,000 in North West Frontier Province (NWFP), 20,000 in Balochistan, 17,000 in Punjab, 14,000 in Sindh province and some 2,000 in Pakistani-administered Kashmir.
The registration drive is a follow-up to a comprehensive Afghan census conducted in Pakistan in February and March 2005, which found more than three million Afghans were still living in the country.
More than 580,000 Afghans have returned home with UNHCR assistance since the census, leaving an estimated 2.4 million Afghans still living in Pakistan today, according to UNHCR.
"What are the benefits of this registration for us [Afghans]? Besides giving us legal status, how is it going to help in our daily lives like in getting admission to Pakistani educational institutions, open bank accounts or get services," Latifa Aziz, an Afghan woman who runs a private school in the Pakistani capital, said.
UNHCR has been trying to clarify the purpose of the registration. "In itself, the Proof of Registration (PoR) card is not a work permit or travel document. It is for identity purposes only, recognising the bearer as an Afghan citizen temporarily living in Pakistan. It's a protection tool against harassment, but will not confer any additional rights or status," Tan noted.
The Pakistani government was contacted to comment on the registration drive but had not responded by late Friday.
Many Afghans working as labourers or running small businesses fear they will be expelled from the country once registered with the Pakistani authorities.
"Police will deport us. If we go through this registration process they will have our pictures as well," said Muhammad Saeed Wali, an Afghan carpenter in Islamabad.
Pakistani officials, in a tripartite meeting in Doha held in May, proposed a rolling three-year plan to close all Afghan refugee camps in the country.
Even those who do not think they will be immediately sent back to Afghanistan are concerned about the future. "Afghans are wondering what would happen to them after three years, since these cards are non-extendable," Rajab Ali Ahmadyar, an Afghan community leader in Islamabad told IRIN.
The registration process will capture a detailed profile of Afghans living in Pakistan including their area of origin, ethnic background, and obstacles they face in returning to Afghanistan.
The data collected during the registration will also help the Afghan government plan regional development in potential areas of return. It will also help Kabul make the best use of returnees with skills, by identifying key workers such as teachers and doctors, the UNHCR official said.
Pakistan's National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) is conducting the exercise using fingerprints and photos to record information through around 100 fixed registration centres supported by mobile units, across the country.
The UN refugee agency and the government's Commissioner for Afghan Refugees (CAR) are monitoring the process.
Pakistan registers 60,000 Afghans in massive drive: UNHCR
Islamabad, Nov 3, IRNA
More than 60,000 Afghans in Pakistan have so far been registered since the largest-ever registration started on October 15, the UN refugee agency said on Thursday.
"So far the process has been satisfactory, and the pace of registration is picking up every day," Vivian Tan, the UNHCR spokesperson told IRNA in an interview on Thursday.
"We would like the process to be faster and we hope to register all eligible Afghans within this time period," she said.
She dispelled the impression that the registration process will lead to deport them from Pakistan.
"From UNHCR, we are stressing very clearly that this exercise has nothing to do with expelling them.
"It is not an attempt to find where they are and deport them.
Instead it is for protection," the spokesperson said.
She said that registration is an attempt to give them a Proof of Registration card with their names, staying and where they are from in Afghanistan.
"With this card, we hope they will not be harassed by the police or they will not be detained or deported."
This exercise is expected to run from October 15 until the end of the year, and seeks to provide those registered with a Proof of Registration card that is valid for three years and recognizes the bearer as an Afghan citizen living temporarily in Pakistan.
The registration is a follow-up of a Pakistan government census of Afghans conducted last year (February/March 2005) that counted just over three million Afghans living in Pakistan.
More than 580,000 have returned home with UNHCR assistance since the census, leaving an estimated 2.4 million Afghans still living in Pakistan today.
The Pakistan government's National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) has set up 100 registration centers staffed by 2,500 people, UNHCR and the government's Commissioner for Afghan Refugees (CAR) have deployed 1,000 staff members to support and monitor the exercise.
So far, the United States, the United Kingdom and European Commission have contributed generously towards the US$6 million registration exercise.
Pakistan's Ministry of States and Frontier Regions has also mobilized its provincial resources.
NATO takes the fight to Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / November 2, 2006
KARACHI - The air attack on Monday in which up to 80 suspected militants were killed at a religious school in the Pakistani tribal area of Bajour marks the first successful operation after a tripartite meeting in Kabul on August 24 of representatives of Afghanistan, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Pakistan. And it won't be the last.
It was agreed at that meeting that NATO forces operating in Afghanistan would be allowed to conduct hot-pursuit operations across the border into Pakistan.
Although Pakistani officials claim that Monday's operation was conducted by the Pakistani military, Asia Times Online contacts in the area are convinced that foreign forces were also involved, including US unmanned Hellfire Predator aircraft. NATO and the US have only acknowledged that they provided intelligence on the possible presence of Taliban and al-Qaeda figures at the madrassa that was attacked, which was known to be pro-Taliban.
After Monday's operation, intelligence sources say that Pakistan will further facilitate NATO in the strategic back yard of Pakistan in an attempt to bolster the struggling NATO forces in Afghanistan in their battle with the Taliban.
"I can see slit throats beneath these turbans and beards," were the words of Hajaj bin Yusuf, an 8th-century tyrant in what is now Iraq, as he witnessed a gathering of leading religious and political figures.
This was the start of an article (The knife at Pakistan's throat, Asia Times Online, September 2) by this correspondent on returning from the largest-ever meeting of the Taliban in the North Waziristan tribal area two days before a peace deal was signed between the Taliban and Pakistani authorities.
The inspiration behind the quote was a genuine sense of upcoming bloodshed in the Pakistan tribal areas, given the hot-pursuit agreement in Kabul to which Pakistan had agreed in principle, though it unsuccessfully demanded a clear demarcation of the boundaries up to which hot pursuit would be allowed.
Subsequently, Pakistani officials traveled to the tribal areas, where they tried to explain their position of being under immense pressure from the increasingly desperate Americans. The Pakistanis suggested that the tribals develop a mechanism under which militants would retreat into the background, allowing the "soft-faced" (moderate) tribal leaders to come to the fore.
All the same, it was fully understood by both sides that bloodshed was inevitable, of which Monday's massacre in Bajour agency is just the beginning of a new phase in the "war on terror" battlefields that will embrace all seven of Pakistan's tribal agencies. These remote and semi-independent agencies along the border with Afghanistan have steadily developed into hideouts and bases for the Taliban and al-Qaeda and serve as the back yard for operations in Afghanistan.
The prospect of foreign forces becoming a regular feature on Pakistani soil conjures up visions of disastrous proportions. Just as such troops have been fiercely resisted in Iraq and Afghanistan, so they will be opposed in Pakistan.
More important, Pakistan will then become a new base for anti-US jihadis, that is, a new front will be opened.
The prelude to this phase was President General Pervez Musharraf's recent visit to Washington, where he was placed under heavy pressure to take a broader operational role in the US-led "war on terror". Soon after Musharraf's return home, the British commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan, Lieutenant-General David Richards, visited Islamabad.
He talked to the Pakistani authorities of creating a joint operational strategy for Afghanistan. It was speculated at the time that this would involve joint patrols on the border. But sources close to the strategic quarters of Rawalpindi maintain that there is more to it than that.
In the first week of October, a team of British army officers visited the southern port city of Karachi and inspected the medical facilities in various hospitals and discussed with the administration of Aga Khan Hospital the availability of special wards with emergency facilities for wounded soldiers.
Many US troops are already stationed at Jacobabad Air Base in Sindh province, and recently the Pakistani air force reported extended reconstruction operations there that appear to be preparations for extended action. Similar information has been gathered about Kohat Air Base in North-West Frontier Province.
"The recent comment of the British commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan [Richards] that NATO had failed to deliver on promises made to the Afghan people and a warning that the Taliban will be back in strength next summer explains very well these preparations," a security official told Asia Times Online.
Meanwhile, in many places in Afghanistan, especially the south, allied forces are virtually being held hostage in their bases by the Taliban.
As a result, they are negotiating with the Taliban in many districts for a peace deal to give them some breathing space, especially as the Taliban have in recent weeks focused their attentions on attacking bases, and will continue to do so until winter brings the current offensive to a standstill.
The Taliban have sustained heavy casualties from this fresh approach, but they have succeeded in rattling the nerves of the allied forces in the southwest, to such an extent that those forces feel they are rapidly losing the ground from under their feet in Afghanistan.
It is for this reason that Pakistani territory is so important, as it would give the NATO-led forces room to consolidate and take the fight into the enemy's home territory - the longer-term consequences be damned.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
Britain insists 'not overstretched' in Iraq, Afghanistan
by Michael Thurston
LONDON (AFP) - Britain insisted its armed forces are stretched but not over-stretched in Iraq and Afghanistan, after new figures showed the country's military has been understaffed for the last five years.
Junior defence minister Derek Twigg downplayed any sense of crisis after the National Audit Office report said the military currently has a shortfall of 5,000 people.
The audit report noted that many troops have quit the services earlier than anticipated, while some potential recruits are put off by the Iraq and Afghan conflicts.
The minister said that, on the contrary, some young people were drawn to the military because of the conflicts.
"While it is clear some people are unhappy with operations, quite a number want to join because of the operations. They are doing a tremendous job," he told GMTV morning television.
"Some of the Marines left because they could not go on operations ... There has been an upsurge in interest from people who want to join the armed forces," he added.
"We are stretched but not over-stretched."
Britain has around 7,000 troops in Iraq and around 5,000 in a 31,000-strong NATO force in Afghanistan, where British troops are on the frontline of increasingly deadly attacks by Taliban insurgents in the south.
The National Audit Office, which oversees how the government spends taxpayers' money, said the army, navy and air force were currently 5,170 under strength -- a shortfall of 2.8 percent.
Its report added that, in the 30 months leading up to January 2006, 14.5 percent of army personnel were sent on operations more often than guidelines say they should be.
The number of troops quitting early has also gone up, with 9,200 leaving last year before the end of their period of engagement, a situation linked to stress on families and too many deployments, the report said.
Recruitment has been hit by controversy over the Iraq war, it added.
Liam Fox, defence spokesman for the main opposition Conservatives, said the government must give the forces more cash if it is to continue current levels of deployment.
And Nick Harvey, defence spokesman for the second largest opposition party the Liberal Democrats, added: "The government must demonstrate how it expects our troops to cope with the serious challenges ahead in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Despite the government assertions, a former senior general insisted Britain's armed forces are taking on too much.
"Of course they are over-stretched. I know people going back on operations within six months of returning," former UN commander in Bosnia Colonel Bob Stewart told GMTV.
"What we need is lance corporals, corporals, sergeants and younger officers such as captains staying in because those are the people who have got the experience and they're tending to leave."
The audit report also said that two thirds of British 16-year-olds were considered too fat to join the army.
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Defence said it was relaxing its Body Mass Index criteria for male recruits aged between 28 and 32.
U.K. Military, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Is Short-Staffed, NAO Says
By Mark Deen
Nov. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Britain's armed forces are short- staffed, the country's spending watchdog said, adding its voice to concern that commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan have left the military over-stretched.
Shortages are most acute for specialists such as technicians who run the nuclear reactors in submarines, explosive experts, doctors and the Royal Marines Corps, the National Audit Office said in a report released in London.
With 7,200 troops in Iraq and 5,600 in Afghanistan in addition to British commitments in Northern Ireland, the Balkans and Africa, lawmakers are concerned that government is pushing the military too hard. The issue is adding pressure on Prime Minister Tony Blair to set a date to bring forces home from Iraq.
``There simply aren't enough men and women in all parts of the armed forces to meet the planned levels of military activity, never mind enough to cope with the heighten demands'' placed on them, Conservative lawmaker Ed Leigh said in response to the report. ``Given the ferocity of the challenges they face in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, this is intolerable.''
Recruitment rates have dropped while departures have increased in the past year, the audit office said.
The Ministry of Defense achieved 96 percent of its recruitment target last year, compared with 98 over the previous five years, the audit office said. The number of those leaving the forces increased ``slightly'' to 9,200, with pressures on family life being cited by 49 percent.
``The U.K. has been involved in more military activity than even the most demanding levels it had planned for and that looks like continuing to be the case for years to come,'' Leigh said. ``It must exhaust our service men and women and put immense strain on their personal lives.''
In an effort to reverse the trend, the government said last month that it will begin paying bonuses to soldiers deployed in dangerous areas.
``Workloads on service men and women in some areas are heavy,'' Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office said. It is ``vital that, in addition to the financial incentives offered, the Ministry of Defense maintains its focus on longer- term measures.''
Retaining trained personnel is cheaper than increasing recruiting, the audit report concluded. It estimated the cost of keeping 2,500 soldiers at 74 million pounds ($141 million), compared with a cost of 189 million pounds for finding and training the same number of new people.
To contact the reporters on this story: Mark Deen in London at email@example.com
British troops will die for as long as Bush and Blair allow it
Daily Telegraph. By Ahmed Rashid in Islamabad 12:01am GMT 01/11/2006
Faced with mounting pressure from Nato over Pakistan's alleged harbouring of the Taliban, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf's response was not to arrest Taliban leaders residing in Quetta, but to bomb a religious school hundreds of miles to the north.
European and Nato tolerance levels for Musharraf's two-track policy of hunting down al-Qa'eda, while allowing Afghan and Pakistani Taliban to recruit, plan and arm themselves in Balochistan province, is now at an all-time low.
Yet George Bush and Tony Blair still refuse to call the military's bluff, with the result that Nato troops continue to die every day in Afghanistan.
At least 80 people died in the bombing of a madrassa in the Bajaur tribal agency on the border with Afghanistan on Monday. The government says they were militants being trained by al-Qa'eda, the locals say there were students. American forces in Afghanistan may have been involved in the attack; they almost certainly provided intelligence for it.
The truth may never be known, because for three years the army has barred journalists and human rights investigators from the region – so much for Musharraf's much-vaunted freedom of the press. Anti-American protests are now taking place, led by Islamic fundamentalist parties who at the political level are allies of both the military and the Taliban.
So what is going on in this complex, high-stakes game?
Taliban (and by default al-Qa'eda) base areas are being established in Pakistan's northern tribal agencies and Balochistan, which are spreading to the Afghan side of the border because of a shortage of Nato troops. International terrorists take advantage of such base areas to train, arm and collect funds.
In Kabul, Nato and US military commanders and the United Nations now speak openly of Pakistani collusion with the Taliban. Last week in Brussels, Nato ambassadors devoted two days of secret discussions on what to do with Pakistan.
But Nato knows it can discuss as much as it likes, but, until Bush and Blair are on board, there is nothing they can do. Yet Bush and Blair are determined to continue covering up the immensity of the problem. The Americans do not want to antagonise Musharraf, a key Muslim ally, when the war in Iraq is going so badly and who may be useful if Washington decides to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities.
British policy is even more short sighted. To its credit Pakistan's Interservices Intelligence (ISI) is giving its fullest cooperation to Britain's MI5 in tracking down British-born Pakistani militants who travel between the two countries. MI5 and the Foreign Office have been seduced by this cooperation and have warned British commanders in Helmand province not to rock the boat by accusing the ISI of helping the Taliban.
Pakistan's strategy has been quite brilliant – offer full cooperation on "one-off" terrorist cases involving a few individuals, but do little to stem the Taliban crossing into Afghanistan or the rapid Talibanisation that is taking place inside Pakistan.
Thus British soldiers in Helmand are held hostage by Blair's refusal to deal with the larger problem, which is the need for Pakistan to crack down hard on all extremism, including the Taliban.
Despite the promises made by Musharraf to Bush and Blair after 9/11, there has been no reform of the madrassas, no serious attempt to deal with extremists and the military remains in political cahoots with the largest Islamic fundamentalist party that aids the Taliban – the Jamiat-e-Ullema Islam. Next year Musharraf plans to continue his alliance with them when he runs for another five-year term as president.
How long can this go on and how long will Nato troops and Afghans continue to die as long as the Taliban has a safe sanctuary in Pakistan? According to Bush and Blair – indefinitely.
But a revolt in Nato is brewing. Since the spring, when some 10,000 Nato forces took over in southern Afghanistan from US forces, they are suffering three times the casualty rate of American soldiers.
European countries are balking at providing more troops to the Nato force in Afghanistan. Norway, Denmark, Sweden and others have refused to send more troops. France, Germany, Spain and Italy, who have troops in safer parts of Afghanistan, are refusing to send them to the south where British, Canadian and Dutch forces are taking the brunt of the fighting.
European publics want answers as to why the Taliban are back when they were supposed to be finished and why their media is reporting that the Taliban leaders are in Pakistan. Nato faces a crisis and that is why its summit meeting in Riga this month is so critical to its survival.
In recent days, the ISI chief, Lt Gen Ashfaq Kiyani, has briefed worried ambassadors in Islamabad, promising a crackdown on the Taliban and all extremists. Let's hope this signals a decisive strategic change in the military's policy, rather than the ad hoc tactics it has pursued so far.
In the meantime ordinary Afghans are convinced that the US and Britain are not serious about securing Afghanistan, that the Taliban are on their way back to power and nobody has the power or desire to stop them.
Pakistan demands Afghan extradite Bugti's grandson
New Kerala - Nov 03 3:23 AM
Islamabad, Nov 3: Pakistan intelligence agencies have claimed that Brahmdag Bugti, grandson of slain Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti, is in Kabul and demanded that Afghan government extradite him to Islamabad.
Brahmdag Bugti, who is believed to have been formally designated by Nawab Bugti as his successor, has been blamed for recurring violence in the Balochistan province.
He was initially presumed to have been killed along with his grandfather in the Pakistan military operation.
Pakistan's intelligence agencies got the lead that Brahmdag Bugti is in Kabul and talks were underway about his handing over to Pakistan, officials were quoted as saying by Pakistan's Online news agency.
While there is no extradition treaty between Pakistan and Afghanistan, a bilateral legal aid treaty exists between both countries under with which they assist each other.
"Pakistan had provided all evidence on his involvement in murder cases and terror acts against Bugti and expected him to be handed over," the officials said.
The report also said that Balochistan continued to witness violence.
A car bomb rocked Quetta, the capital of Balochistan yesterday, killing two policemen and a civilian.
The blast coincided with an announcement that President Pervez Musharraf would convene an official jirga to rival a tribal meet called by Khan Kalat, the former princely ruler of the area who has decided to move the International Court of Justice alleging violation of the 1947 agreement of merger of Balochistan with Pakistan.
Solar lights brighten up Ab Band
November 3, 2006
COMBINED FORCES COMMAND – AFGHANISTAN COALITION PRESS INFORMATION CENTER
BAGRAM, Afghanistan – The Ab Band District of Khowst Province will soon have solar street lights to brighten the path for villagers along the Khowst-Gardez road from Khowst City to Gardez.
The $498,500 project began in November 2005 and is due completion this month. Photo cell technology will automatically determine when the lights should come on and go off, even on overcast days, thereby improving security in the community.
The infrastructure improvement project was funded by the U.S. Khowst Provincial Reconstruction Team in conjunction with provincial leaders.
“The Khowst government is working hard to keep their community safe from the threats of the Taliban extremists,” said Lt. Col. Paul Fitzpatrick, spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force – 76. “Legitimate Afghan leaders want to keep their people protected, and projects like this help deliver the message to Taliban extremists that they are not welcome.”
Afghan farmers likely to match harvest
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer Thu Nov 2, 3:31 PM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan farmers now planting opium poppies will probably reap a harvest comparable to this year's record crop, in part because insurgents are preventing effective counter-narcotics work, officials said Thursday.
Planting is under way in southern regions responsible for the bulk of the estimated 6,100 tons of Afghan opium produced in the 2005-06 growing season. Anti-drug officials say that despite anti-cultivation campaigns, they foresee little improvement by harvest time next spring.
Drug production has skyrocketed since a U.S.-led offensive toppled the Taliban regime five years ago for giving refuge to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida camps. Last spring's poppy harvest accounted for 92 percent of the global opium supply and was enough to make 610 tons of heroin — more than all the world's addicts consume in a year.
Police and government officials are deeply implicated in the trade, which adds to the corruption and lawlessness threatening Afghanistan's fledgling democracy. Taliban militiamen had all but eradicated opium cultivation by 2000 but now profit from it, protecting poppy farmers.
Deteriorating security in the countryside makes it difficult to monitor how much poppy has been planted, a senior U.S. official said. Taliban-led militants have increased attacks this year, particularly in Afghanistan's southern opium heartland.
Gen. Khodaidad, a deputy minister in Afghanistan's Ministry of Counter-Narcotics, said some provincial governors and police chiefs have been doing effective anti-drug work.
"But unfortunately, in some provinces, especially in the south and southwest, we haven't been doing as well," said Khodaidad, who like many Afghans uses one name. "The reason is very clear — fighting. Some of the districts are under the influence of the Taliban or al-Qaida."
Khodaidad said he hoped for a successful anti-cultivation campaign this fall followed by an eradication campaign in the new year, but he said he couldn't promise a reduction in the harvest. "I can tell you there will be no increase," he said.
However, the senior U.S. official said the new poppy crop probably will be similar to the one planted a year ago, "maybe a little under — we were so high last year." He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on the record.
The United Nations' anti-drug chief said recently that proceeds from Afghan opium production are being used to finance terrorist groups. The U.S. official said the country's drug trade was a $3.1 billion business this year and it doesn't "take much of that to fund terrorism."
Seeking to counter corruption that hinders anti-drug efforts, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency is training special units of Afghan policemen who must pass polygraph exams and investigations of their backgrounds, Karen P. Tandy, the DEA administrator, said during a visit Sunday.
"DEA is very accustomed to working in countries where corruption is rampant," she said. "We have a method that has been extremely successful. ... You have patriots in every country who care about the future of their country, and that is no less true here in Afghanistan."
Khodaidad said President Hamid Karzai has warned government officials they will be removed if they help drug trafficking. He said a district chief and an administrator from the same district in Badakhshan, a remote and rugged northern province favored by drug producers, were recently fired.
The U.S. official said if there is no reduction in the opium harvest this year, Afghanistan would come under strong U.S. pressure to start spraying poppy fields with herbicide, an idea that Afghans, including Karzai, deeply oppose because of fears the chemicals could harm people.
Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.
The US role against militants in Pakistan
By Aamer Ahmed Khan BBC News, Islamabad Thursday, 2 November 2006
Monday's aerial attack on a seminary in Pakistan's tribal area of Bajaur that killed 80 people has again triggered a debate about who is actually carrying out such attacks.
President Musharraf's opponents, led by the country's religious leadership, are insisting that the latest strike was carried out by US forces based in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Military officials have strongly rubbished such assertions, claiming it to be a "purely Pakistani operation".
Amid these conflicting claims, the problem of sifting fact from fiction has been compounded by the government's decision to block media access to Bajaur.
Monday's strike was the deadliest in the tribal areas in recent history.
Defence analysts in Islamabad say the confusion over the architects of Monday's strike may have more to do with the nature of the intelligence sharing agreement between Pakistan and the US than anything else.
Few details of this agreement were made public when it was first ironed out in the wake of the September 2001 attacks in the United States.
But enough has surfaced over the last few years to help analysts piece together its various contours.
It is widely believed that the agreement was originally confined to intelligence sharing between the two countries on the presence, movement and activities of al-Qaeda suspects in and around Pakistan.
The focus was on preventing al-Qaeda suspects from taking roots in major Pakistani cities such as Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad and Rawalpindi.
The success of this intelligence sharing arrangement was obvious from the number of important arrests made in these cities.
Among those nabbed were major al-Qaeda activists such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Abu Zubaida.
Senior Pakistani military officials say it was their successful intelligence sharing in the urban centres that encouraged them to replicate the model in the tribal areas.
But the arrangement that had worked so well in the cities soon ran into policy as well as practical snags in the lawless tribal territory on two counts.
On the policy front, there was no disagreement between the two countries on weeding out al-Qaeda from the cities.
But their security perceptions were found to be poles apart in the tribal areas where al-Qaeda operatives were given refuge by the Taleban.
Pakistani officials say the US was strongly advised to isolate al-Qaeda through political initiatives before resorting to military action in the area.
US officials, however, were said to be "resistant to suggestions that al-Qaeda and their Taleban protectors be treated differently".
More importantly, the kind of stealth operations that had led to important arrests in the cities were almost impossible in the tribal areas because of the difficult terrain and the highly integrated tribal structure.
It was only logical for Pakistan to use sophisticated US technology of aerial surveillance and remote identification of possible targets before taking action anywhere.
And once a decision was taken on decisive action, how it was to be done was an issue that essentially boiled down to the question of capability.
In many situations, the US was in a position to act more swiftly than Pakistan.
In the January attack on Bajaur for example - which Islamabad admitted had been carried out by the US - Pakistani authorities were informed of the intended attack just a few hours before it was actually carried out.
Intelligence officials describe it as a cooperation that is typical in most covert joint operations.
A day after this Monday's strike on Bajaur, Pakistani military officials gave a select group of journalists in Islamabad a background briefing on the "evidence" that had led to the strike.
Journalists, who attended that briefing, say they were shown photographs and videos of people "involved in rigorous physical exercises as early as 4 o'clock in the morning".
These were infrared images apparently shot from spy planes that are not known to be owned or operated by the Pakistan army.
Some of the "training" scenes depicted in the videos seemed similar to a Taleban propaganda video released to a popular television channel in Pakistan last month.
Officials, briefing journalists, said as far as they were concerned, it was convincing evidence that the madrassa was being used for training militants.
Analysts say if there is one thing that this sequence of events points to, it is the extremely close coordination between the two countries in what they define as anti-terror operations.
According to one senior official, if an operation involves US surveillance technology and advanced precision weaponry provided by the US, then who actually pulled the trigger is of academic interest only.
US created new form of terrorism in Mideast: Khatami
London, Nov 2, IRNA
The US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not only a "great mistake" but also brought a new kind of terrorism, said former Iranian president Mohammed Khatami.
"Not only were they not able to stop terrorism or eradicate it in these two countries, but they also introduced a new kind of terrorism in the Middle East and in Islamic countries," Khatami said.
"Whatever they are taking out of Iraq is just dead bodies of their loved ones," he told the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London Wednesday evening.
Khatami, who is now director of the International Foundation for Dialogue among Civilizations, said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has bee a "great mistake committed by the Americans."
With spiralling violence in both countries, the US has been defeated in its so-called "war on terror," he said as he responded to queries after delivering a speech on the subject of tolerance, moderation and dialogue among civilizations.
The former Iranian president criticized attempts by US President George W Bush to impose a Western-style government in the Middle East, saying democracy is not a "one-size-fits-all" proposition.
One of the biggest jokes said about Mr Bush is his statement that he "wants to export democracy to the Middle East," Khatami said.
"Democracy is not something to be exported or given," he told the RIIA, also known as Chatham House.
Khatami suggested that in contrast to Bush's idea, democracy needed to be tailored to the social, historical, cultural and religious make-up of individual nations.
"Historically, human affairs depend on social conditions and experience. The experience of one country, one nation, cannot be extended to another geographical area with a different culture and conditions," he said.
The former Iranian president started a five-day visit to the UK Tuesday, when he was presented with an honorary doctorate of laws by St Andrews University in Scotland in recognition of his efforts to encourage inter-faith dialogue.
During his visit, he will meet with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and hold talks with other bishops in the House of Lords.
Khatami is also due to speak at Oxford University, west of London, and hold discussions with British Muslims leaders as well as meet members of the Iranian community.
Indian actors faced threats while shooting movie in Afghanistan
Pravda (Russia) / November 3, 2006
In a real case of life imitating art, two of India's best known actors headed to Afghanistan to film a movie about war correspondents living on the edge only to find themselves facing threats from the Taliban.
"Kabul Express," starring John Abraham and Arshad Warsi, tells the story of two Indian journalists chasing stories across dangerous swaths of Afghanistan in the days after the Taliban was ousted following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
A resurgent Taliban has left many parts of Afghanistan no safer these days than they were five years ago, and the stars and crew found themselves in the kind of danger they were trying to document while shooting in and around Kabul last year.
The film's director, Kabir Khan, told The Associated Press in a recent interview that Taliban threats to kidnap Abraham, Warsi or members of the crew prompted Afghan officials to provide heavy security for the filming.
"They had our names," said Khan. "We knew something like this may happen. But the ferocity with which it came was a little unnerving."
"You're bound to attract the attention of the Taliban shooting a feature film, which is banned by them, especially a Hindi feature film," he said.
The hardline Taliban deemed movies un-Islamic when they were in power, and included films in broad laws that banned nearly all forms of entertainment.
The cast and crew of "Kabul Express" had reason to be afraid. As they were shooting, an Indian worker on a road-building project in southern Afghanistan was abducted and later killed one of many abductions and killings in the country, reports AP.
India was also a supporter of the Northern Alliance, which fought against the Taliban, and has close ties with the current Afghan government.
Abraham, a model turned actor best known for the 2004 hit "Dhoom," and Warsi, known for his role as a lovable gangster in the hit movie "Munnabhai MBBS" and its sequel "Lage Raho Munnabhai," or "Keep At It, Munnabhai," insisted the filming in Afghanistan be completed.
"It was not out of any foolish sense of adventure. John is a very well read person and once we were clear that things could be made secure, we went ahead," Khan said.
"Kabul Express" is set to be released on Dec. 15.
Afghan staff college_starts first class
by American Forces Press Service Friday, November 3, 2006 11:56 AM CST
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Afghan Command and General Staff College conducted a ceremony Oct. 28 marking the start of the first class to attend the school, which teaches generals in the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army.
"Over the next six months, you will participate in the first ever senior Command and Staff College offered by the Afghan National Army," U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Robert Durbin, commander of Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, told the first class of students. "You will increase your effectiveness by improving your knowledge about the art and science of leadership and command."
The course is modeled after the U.S. Army and NATO command and general staff colleges.
Afghan Col. Mohammad Yaqub, an instructor at the Command and General Staff College, explained that general officers from the police and army will learn strategic thinking, interagency cooperation and overall contingency planning.
"Throughout the six months, officers, ambassadors and strategic experts will speak to the students explaining how to think about the big picture," Yaqub said. "They will learn how to use every resource available to them and how to request additional assets from allies if the need arises."
Durbin added, "This course of instruction will allow the Afghan National Army and Police the opportunity to see how they fit into the international political and military environment and how to effectively integrate non-governmental organizations and media with the full spectrum of military operations, from humanitarian relief to counterinsurgency."
Editor's note: From a Combined Forces Command Afghanistan news release.
Afghan women to attend business classes at T-Bird
Yvette Armendariz The Arizona Republic Nov. 3, 2006 12:00 AM
The recent resurgence of violence in Afghanistan hasn't deterred the organizers of an entrepreneurial program aimed at teaching Afghan women about American business principles.
The second set of classes for Project Artemis is to begin Monday at Thunderbird, the Garvin School of International Management in Glendale.
Fifteen women, who fly into Phoenix today, will spend two weeks in and out of class learning about business and will apply their new skills back home. advertisement
It won't be easy for them. The program's organizers are careful not to reveal much about them, fearing it could lead to retaliation when they return to Afghanistan later this month.
The women are entrepreneurs, community leaders and educators trying to develop an idea for a business or non-profit that can employ, or at least help, other Afghan women who were oppressed for years under the Taliban's rule.
Organizers of Project Artemis, named after the Greek goddess who protected women and children, believe that these women will make a difference in an economy still rebuilding after years of war and Taliban rule.
"These are the courageous women who serve as role models," said Barbara Barrett, a Thunderbird trustee who developed the program after she was appointed to the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council. "Artemis members are making it possible for other women to find refuge. It (the impact) is vastly beyond those participating."
Even though the Taliban fell out of control in Afghanistan five years ago, extremists continue their threats. Many are aimed at professional women, who are threatened for working. The September assassination of activist Safia Ama Jan, the director of women's affairs in Kandahar, spread more fear among women.
But organizers said fear shouldn't be a reason to drop the program.
"I think it's totally the right time and the right thing to do," said Meredith Peabody, a Thunderbird trustee who was a mentor last year. "We have to keep pushing this."
The program began after Barrett met the director of Women Entrepreneurship under Afghanistan's Ministry of Commerce in Kabul in January 2004. Barrett was moved by the risks women would take to improve their finances and education and knew Thunderbird could help. Within in year, the program came to life.
Topics planned in the upcoming session include the Afghan business environment, marketing, business plans, accounting, and negotiation. Several field trips showcasing Arizona businesses are planned, and the women will be paired with mentors for ongoing support when they return to Afghanistan.
Women applied to the program via various Afghan support groups.
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