Italian reporter freed in Afghanistan returns home
November 4, 2006
ROME (Reuters) - An Italian journalist released in Afghanistan after three weeks of captivity returned to Italy on Saturday.
Gabriele Torsello, a 36-year-old, London-based photojournalist taken by armed men from a public bus in the most dangerous part of the country, landed in Rome on an Italian government plane a day after his kidnappers freed him.
"I am well. Thank you, Italy," he said to reporters at Rome's Ciampino airport.
He was taken to Rome's courts to be questioned by magistrates who are investigating his kidnapping.
Five gunmen seized Torsello on October 12 from a bus on the highway from the capital of Helmand province to neighboring Kandahar province, both Taliban strongholds and major opium centers.
Afghan police said Torsello was held by the Taliban, but the group denied any involvement, blaming criminals instead.
Italian officials have denied paying a ransom for his release.
Afghan politician flays U.S., Britain roles in Afghanistan
KABUL, Nov. 4 (Xinhua) -- A critic of President Hamid Karzai's government and leader of the political group the National Congress Party of Afghanistan Abdul Latif Padram has lashed out at roles of the United States and the United Kingdom in Afghanistan, an independent Afghan daily reported Saturday.
Padram, according to Arman-e-Millie newspaper, said that the Washington's and London's wrong policies would further cause chaos in the post-Taliban nation.
"The continued illegal stay of foreign forces and the criminal behavior of the U.S. and the UK troops would cause more crises in Afghanistan," Arman-e-Millie quoted the young and the outspoken politician as saying.
Padram opposed the presence of the U.S. and the UK forces unless they get legitimacy and mandate from the UN and Afghan parliament.
Previously another opposition leader Abdul Hafiz Mansoor, who contested President Karzai in the October 2004 Presidential Election, had also called for the legalization of foreign forces presence in Afghanistan through Afghan parliament.
NATO, Taliban clash northeast of Afghan capital
04 Nov 2006 12:40:14 GMT
More KABUL, Nov 4 (Reuters) - NATO troops fought suspected Taliban insurgents northeast of Kabul on Saturday, Afghan and NATO officials said, in the first major encounter in the area since the strict Islamist group's government was ousted in 2001.
NATO officials said the clash in the Tagab valley, 70 km (45 miles) from the capital, erupted after an alliance convoy was attacked while hunting insurgents in the area, just east of the main U.S. base at Bagram airfield.
No further details were immediately available.
Speaking from a secret location, a Taliban spokesman said militants destroyed several NATO vehicles in the twisting valley, where rebel activity has picked up in recent weeks for the first time since a U.S.-led coalition overthrew the Taliban.
NATO officials did not confirm the Taliban report.
NATO planes were called in to support the ground troops at the height of the fighting, which continued as evening fell.
Fighting across Afghanistan is the worst since the Taliban government was overthrown. More than 3,100 people, about a third of them civilians, have been killed so far this year.
NATO assumed full command of Afghanistan's security from the U.S.-led coalition last month, the biggest operation in its history.
7 Taliban militants killed in S. Afghanistan
KABUL, Nov. 4 (Xinhua) -- Afghan and NATO forces killed seven Taliban insurgents and injured 30 others on Saturday in Helmand province of southern Afghanistan, the provincial police chief told Xinhua.
Nabi Jan Mullahkhil said the conflict, which lasted for hours, occurred in Zanboba area of Gereshk district.
The forces carried out an operation to wipe out militants in the area after locals complained Taliban activities were rampant there, he added.
There were no casualties of the troops and civilians, he said.
Helmand, famous for its gigantic opium product, has been a hotbed of Taliban insurgents, who clash with government and foreign forces frequently.
Due to rising Taliban-linked violence this year, Afghanistan has plunged into the worst spate of bloodshed since the Taliban regime was toppled down nearly five years ago.
Over 2,600 people, mostly Taliban militants, have been killed in this volatile country this year.
Taliban kill two in attack on US convoy in Afghanistan
Sat Nov 4, 3:43 AM ET
KHOST, Afghanistan (AFP) - Taliban fighters ambushed a convoy supplying logistics and goods to a US base in southeastern Afghanistan, killing two Pakistani drivers and wounding an Afghan, police said.
The attackers opened fire on the two trucks from both sides of the road in a mountainous area of Khost province late Friday, the provincial police chief told AFP on Saturday.
"Two Pakistani co-drivers were killed and one Afghan driver was wounded in an enemy attack on non-military trucks hired to supply goods for Americans," General Abdul Hanan Raufi told AFP.
Raufi said the attack was carried out by Taliban insurgents who fled immediately afterwards. Police were searching for the killers, he said.
There have been several such attacks on convoys supplying bases for the 40,000 troops in Afghanistan, about half of whom are Americans.
Taliban militants are using several tactics in their insurgency, with most of the violence targeted at Afghan and foreign troops and civilians who work with them or the government, including school teachers and mullahs.
The fighters also used suicide and roadside bombings, and have met with strong retaliation from foreign and Afghan forces.
More than 3,000 people have been killed in the violence, about two-thirds of them rebels.
Six police die in Afghan attack
Friday, 3 November 2006, 07:12 GMT BBC News
Six policemen died and three were hurt after their convoy in Herat, western Afghanistan, was attacked by suspected Taleban militants, officials have said.
Among the dead was the police chief of Adraskan district, Mohammad Sadiq.
Officials say the militants attacked the police patrol with machine guns late on Thursday.
Herat province saw a spate of bombings earlier this year and in December 2005, a suicide bomber injured four Italian troops in Herat city.
Herat province's police chief, Nisar Ahmad Paikar, told AFP news agency that Mr Sadiq was visiting police posts in the area when his convoy came under attack.
Mr Paikar blamed the attack on the "remnants of Taleban insurgents".
He said the wounded policemen have been admitted to a hospital in Herat.
The ambush took place near Shindand district where a recent clash between two rival warlords and their tribesmen left a dozen people dead.
Nearly six years after the fall of the Taleban and despite the presence of more than 30,000 international troops in the country, the almost daily violence continues to take its toll.
Attacks blamed on the Taleban have soared in south and east Afghanistan this year, with hundreds of deaths.
Hundreds rally in chilly Edmonton to support troops in Afghanistan
Jim Macdonald Canadian Press Saturday, November 04, 2006
EDMONTON (CP) - An army medic whose legs were amputated after his convoy was hit by a suicide bomber says the first Edmonton rally for Canadian troops in Afghanistan made him proud to be a soldier.
"Years ago we didn't have this support," Master Cpl. Paul Franklin told more than 300 people who stood for an hour in freezing wind on Friday. "But now when you go on missions you don't even have to think about how Canadians support us. "We know. It's a given."
A total of 42 Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan, including 13 who were based in Edmonton, the most from any one military base. Franklin said he acts as an unofficial spokesman for the wounded.
"After my attack and during my recovery I found it difficult to put on this uniform," he said, standing at the podium on two prosthetic legs. "But we know as we head out those gates that no matter what, Canadians across this land support what we do."
Col. Jon Vance said the images of Friday's rally would be viewed immediately by Canadians deployed in Afghanistan and the reaction would be gratitude and a firming of their resolve.
"You are telling your soldiers today that Canada is worth fighting for, and for a soldier, it just doesn't get any better than that," Vance told the cheering crowd, many of them wearing poppies or yellow ribbons.
"Your soldiers don't crave pity. They don't want you to fear for them. They need your love and unwavering support."
Several soldiers in camouflage uniforms stood among the crowd, and at one point an elderly man shook hands with about a dozen of them.
Trooper Justin D'Angelo, 24, later said he was delighted when the man approached them.
"It gives you a warm feeling" said D'Angelo, who is waiting to be deployed. "You don't really know what people are thinking and actions like that, it's great."
The rally outside City Hall is the first of what organizers promise will be weekly demonstrations dubbed Red Fridays, a name taken from similar rallies in the United States.
A choir of children dressed in red T-shirts opened the event with an enthusiastic rendition of O Canada.
Trooper Robert Costello, 28, said he was glad to see such a large turnout, especially given the -6 C temperature accompanied by a biting wind.
"It makes you really appreciate what you're doing," said Costello, who has been in the military for a year and expects to see action soon.
The military had a handful of specialized vehicles and troop carriers on display. Several booths were set up to sell yellow ribbons, red T-shirts, baseball hats and coffee mugs with messages of support for the troops.
Franklin said the colour red symbolizes many things to him, including poppies and the Canadian flag.
"Today as we stand in this chilly air, soldiers are on the mountains of the Hindu Kush," he said. "They know of events like this and they know about the little yellow ribbons that signal your support."
Similar rallies have been held over the last few months in Toronto and Ottawa, but Edmonton organizers bragged that hundreds of people had to bundle up in mitts, toques and parkas to attend this one.
A Duty NATO Is Dodging In Afghanistan
The Washington Post By David Bosco Sunday, November 5, 2006; Page B07
As colder weather descends on Afghanistan, the country's violent insurgency is likely to cool as well. For the more than 30,000 U.S. troops and NATO peacekeepers in the war-torn country, winter may provide a needed respite. It is also the right time for the United States and its NATO allies to confront an urgent and unresolved question: what to do with the Taliban fighters they capture.
The summer fighting in southern Afghanistan marked the entrance of NATO troops into ground combat, which had previously been left to American forces. About 7,000 troops from Canada, Britain and the Netherlands are fending off a Taliban resurgence. The demanding mission has strained NATO politically and logistically. It has also confronted alliance members with the uncomfortable reality that fighting often means taking prisoners.
America, of course, has been taking prisoners in Afghanistan for some time. And that's part of the problem. The European and Canadian publics have been disgusted by reports of prisoner abuse, and they want nothing to do with what they see as American excess. In Brussels and Ottawa, Bagram and Guantanamo Bay are dirty words.
So NATO countries have essentially opted out of the detainee business. Before committing their troops to combat areas, the Canadian, Dutch and British governments signed agreements with the Afghan government stating that any captured fighters would be handed over to Afghan authorities rather than to American forces.
In practice, these agreements mean that NATO troops have no system in place for regularly interrogating Taliban fighters for intelligence purposes. Whenever possible, they let the Afghan troops they operate with take custody. When that's not possible, they house their prisoners briefly in makeshift facilities while they arrange a transfer to the Afghans. NATO guidelines call for the handover of prisoners within 96 hours, far too brief a time for soldiers to even know whom they're holding. And once prisoners are in Afghan hands, international forces easily lose track of them.
It's not good policy. Not only is NATO forfeiting the intelligence benefits that can come with real-time interrogation, it's sending detainees into an Afghan prison system poorly equipped to handle them and rife with abuse.
One international expert sent to evaluate Afghan prisons concluded that "the physical infrastructure is essentially destroyed." Last February thousands of prisoners rioted in Kabul's largest and most notorious prison, Pul-e Charki. Prison officials blamed the riot on al-Qaeda and Taliban diehards, but poor conditions no doubt played a part.
Shuffling detainees off to the Afghans may make it easier for European politicians to sleep at night, but it is an operational and ethical evasion. A better solution is to establish a modern detention center run by the Afghan government but closely monitored by NATO soldiers and intelligence officers, including Americans.
The Dutch government briefly considered refurbishing an existing prison in the southern city of Kandahar, which would be a natural location. The city is near the heart of the insurgency and has become a critical base of operations for international peacekeepers.
Regularly processing and interrogating detainees would be a difficult psychological step for many of America's allies. They want to build houses and schools in Afghanistan, not jails. And they don't want any part of the prisoner scandals that have dogged American forces. But NATO is now fully engaged against the Taliban insurgency, and the alliance cannot afford to pretend otherwise. Nothing in the Geneva Conventions, after all, prohibits them from interrogating detainees humanely.
For its part, the United States will not be able to work closely with its allies on detainees until it retreats from its strained interpretation of the Geneva Conventions and other international treaties. The Supreme Court's recent Hamdan decision has helped repair some of the damage. The Bush administration will have to pledge that detainees in the Afghan prison will not be sent to Guantanamo or extradited to countries that torture.
Perhaps most important: Senior U.S. officials must publicly acknowledge America's past missteps and convince allied governments and publics that cooperating will not mean compromising their values.
It is the right moment for NATO to forge a unified approach. Europe and Canada are quickly becoming acquainted with the messy realities of combating a brutal insurgency. And the United States is slowly recognizing that an ethical detainee policy is in its national interest. There is no better way to reconcile these realities than through the world's strongest alliance of liberal democracies.
The writer is a senior editor at Foreign Policy magazine.
Rice, Kasuri not to attend Afghan conference
Hindustan Times Nilova Roy Chaudhury New Delhi, November 4, 2006
Neither US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice nor Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri will attend the second Regional Economic Cooperation Conference for Afghan Reconstruction being held in India on November 18 and 19, co-hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.
The RECC, coordinated by the Afghan Foreign Ministry and the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, will be a follow up to the first such conference held last year in Kabul, undertaken by key stakeholders like neighbouring countries, G-8 partners, the United Nations and international financial institutions.
The Conference aims to focus on areas of interest, not only to Afghanistan, but also to the neighbours, as that will be crucial for the success of the regional cooperation initiative. In the past, and, officials said, as is apparent from the lower level of representation from immediate neighbour, Pakistan, regional countries have not shown sufficient interest in building on this initiative.
Pakistan's Minister of State for Economic Affairs, Hina Rabbani Khar, is attending the RECC, while Rice's deputy, the US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Richard Boucher, will attend the conference in New Delhi in her stead.
Boucher, who is travelling in the region between November 4 and 20, will travel to Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan, before arriving in India.
The conference will build on the work flowing from the RECC (Kabul), in particular, following up on themes identified at Kabul.
These comprise; trade facilitation and transport, with a paper being updated by Asian Development Bank (ADB); investment trade and business potential, with a paper being prepared by GTZ (Germany); and electricity trade and energy development, for which the World Bank is updating papers. It will also take up a new theme; agriculture and agro-development, as mandated in the Kabul Declaration, the paper for which is being prepared by Afghan M/Agriculture.
Capacity building will be a crosscutting issue in all the themes, according to the MEA.
Countries that have been invited to the conference are Canada, China, Finland, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, UAE, UK, the US and Uzbekistan. Invited organisations include the ADB, Aga Khan Development Network, European Commission, European Council, IMF, SAARC, UNDP, the UN and the World Bank.
The government hopes that the identification of practical projects, which would have commercial incentives for the regional countries as well, will spur the interest of neighbouring countries. Wider cooperation in aspects like border management; trade and transit agreements; power purchase agreements; skilled labour import agreements, will bring benefits to the region as a whole.
NATO fighting the wrong battle in Afghanistan
By M K Bhadrakumar Asia Times Online / November 4, 2006
The pre-dawn attack on the Zia-ul-Uloom madrassa in Pakistan's Bajour tribal region on Monday killing 80 people, mostly students, is bound to impact on the course of the Afghan war. No matter the repeated assertions by Islamabad to the contrary, widespread suspicions of US involvement in the attack have arisen.
The incident offers "proof" to those who clamor for Pakistan doing "more" that indeed Islamabad is going the extra league in the "war on terror". White House spokesman Tony Snow was quick to lavish praise on President General Pervez Musharraf for showing
"courage and determination". If Musharraf is indeed standing in for a botched-up US military operation, the White House must owe him one hell of a lot.
But it doesn't add to his domestic political credibility to be seen as unwilling to resist, or incapable of doing so, the US assault on the sovereignty of Pakistan's borders. Islamabad is to conclude an agreement on providing "logistical support" for North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces during NATO secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer's first ever visit to Islamabad this month.
In fact, the agreement for transit facility was sought by NATO some six months ago, with US backing. Post-Bajour public perceptions of NATO in Pakistan cannot be favorable. But does Islamabad have a choice in the matter? Without Pakistan's support, NATO's extended supply lines to Afghanistan will run through airspace largely under Russian control. That is an unbearable dependence on Moscow's political goodwill - incompatible with NATO's further expansion into the territory of the former Soviet republics.
All this makes the umbilical cord tying Musharraf to the Bush administration that much more difficult to sever.
Without doubt, the Taliban will be the main beneficiary in Bajour as the tribal agencies revert to open war. The hostility toward foreign occupation of Afghanistan goes up by a few notches, while the prospects of any political process built around the jirga (council), as agreed on at the trilateral meeting at the White House in Washington in September of US President George W Bush, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Musharraf, recede even further.
Karzai said in Washington that the jirga would be "a very efficient way of preventing terrorists from cross-border activities or from trying to have sanctuaries". However, the Afghan jirga comprising some 1,800 delegates proposed to be held in Jalalabad next month promises to be sheer fantasy. It may even backfire, as the mood in the tribal areas hardens.
Also, prospects of any code of conduct (as agreed in the tribal areas of North and South Waziristan) between Islamabad and the tribal leadership in Bajour are now almost nil. Despite its numerous flaws, Musharraf's overall approach made sense, and it ought to have been allowed to work as an experiment, if nothing else, in pacifying and incrementally restoring the traditional power structure in the tribal areas.
Therefore, an intriguing question remains as regards the timing of the attack on Bajour when Islamabad seemed to have all but wrapped up an agreement with the tribal leaders from the Mamond area, where the Zia-ul-Uloom madrassa is located. Almost everyone in Bajour is convinced that the missile strikes were launched by the US military through its pilotless Predator spy plane with the objective of subverting Islamabad's imminent peace agreement with militants.
Again, Karzai's recent initiative to reach out to Pashtun opinion in Pakistan will now fizzle out, and along with that his overall image of being a puppet of the US becomes even more difficult to erase in the Pashtun heartland.
In recent weeks, Karzai directly contacted Pashtun nationalists from North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) in Pakistan as part of his continuing attempt to consolidate a platform of non-Taliban Pashtun opinion. Karzai's interlocutors included Asfandyar Wali Khan, president of Pakistan's Awami National Party, and Mehmood Khan Achakzai, president of the Pakistan Oppressed Nations Movement.
Wali Khan publicly responded that Karzai wrote to him and then phoned him, and that he was supportive of Karzai. Khan said: "Right now two forces are operating in the region. One is promoting war, hatred and isolation, while the other is trying for peace and harmony. We are in the latter camp." Islamabad is sure to resent Karzai's "undiplomatic" dealings with fellow ethnic-Pashtun leaders in Pakistan. But after Bajour, even the anti-Musharraf politicians among the Pashtun nationalists in NWFP may have a problem in openly identifying with Karzai's cause.
Meanwhile, the reticence on the part of non-Pashtun groups within Afghanistan in sharing the grief and anguish of the Pashtuns is becoming glaring. All that Tajik leader Yunus Qanooni would say about the massacre of civilians by NATO forces in the Panjwai district in Kandahar recently was that "such tragic incidents will be repeated unless the government establishes a proper mechanism of cooperation between the local and foreign forces".
Qanooni has virtually offered himself as a more efficient collaborator than Karzai for the hard-pressed Americans - if a job vacancy arises in Kabul. This level of opportunism will only accentuate Pashtun alienation, which in turn makes a political reconciliation between the Pashtuns and "Panjshiris" in the near future almost impossible. Yet it is becoming increasingly apparent to most observers that a political accommodation of the Taliban is necessary if enduring peace is to be established.
Jason Burke, author and leading expert on international terrorism, wrote in the London newspaper The Observer last Sunday, "The Taliban remain a local phenomenon and are not to be believed to be in close liaison with the Saudi-born [Osama] bin Laden or his Egyptian-born associate Ayman al-Zawahiri." Burke quoted French intelligence sources to the effect that it was more a case of "ad hoc cooperation" between the Arabs and some of the major figures in the broad Taliban movement.
Burke rejected the commonplace caricaturing of the Taliban as a progeny of the Pakistani establishment. He said, "The Pakistani influence on the Taliban strategy does not surprise many observers. Senior NATO officials speak privately about 'major Taliban infrastructure' in the neighboring country, but Western military intelligence has consistently underestimated the group's depth and breadth - it can almost be considered the army of an unofficial state lying across the Afghan-Pakistani frontier that has no formal borders but is bound together by ethnic, linguistic, ideological and political ties."
It is easy to see what makes victory over the Taliban almost impossible. Colonel Oleg Kulakov, a Soviet war veteran who served for five years in Afghanistan and teaches at the Russian military academy, recalled a few days ago that "there was no task the Soviet armed forces were assigned and failed to carry out. However, the achievements at the battalion and brigade level could not be turned into political success." Almost all war correspondents currently reporting from Afghanistan agree with the assessment that battlefield victory is becoming almost irrelevant.
The British Broadcasting Corp's David Loyn's brilliant reportage from the Taliban lines in Helmand province offers an incisive account of the current state of play. Loyn, who had known the Taliban in the 1990s, estimates: first, the Taliban's ouster in 2001 couldn't obviate the political reality that the regime enjoyed popularity in many parts of the country, especially in Pashtun rural areas. It was popular because it was not corrupt, and it brought law and order. The Taliban's treatment of Afghan villagers is marked by "respect and familiarity". Second, the growing popular support for the Taliban is for a variety of reasons: Karzai's government is seen as corrupt and venal; people are fed up with the breakdown of law and order and are disenchanted with Afghan reconstruction; the abysmal poverty of the overwhelming majority of the people; atrocities by the occupation forces, etc.
Third, the Taliban's funding comes from sympathizers, including governments in Arab states and collections from mosques around the world. Taliban fighters are motivated by Afghan nationalism "fueled by Islam". They picture themselves as the "heirs of Afghanistan's warrior tradition". Thus, apart from "tactical links" (such as suicide bombing), the Taliban do not consider themselves as part of a worldwide jihad, rather they visualize that they are an "Afghan solution to an Afghan problem".
Loyn adds the caveat that despite the Taliban's access to cash, communications equipment and weapons, it is difficult to be categorical whether Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence is behind the new rise of the Taliban. Apart from the main Taliban forces, which are under Mullah Omar, a number of other militias are based in Pakistan's tribal areas with the ability operate inside Afghanistan.
Loyn concludes that Taliban forces are unlikely to yield to anything short of the occupation troops leaving Afghanistan. A way out would be if they were offered some kind of power-sharing arrangement.
What stands out is the imperative need of a political solution to the Afghan problem. But to quote Loyn, "Given the way they [Taliban] have been demonized by the world, I wonder too if the Karzai government would be willing to make the compromises necessary to offer them an official role."
Evidently the NATO strategy of spreading goodwill from isolated "inkspots" is plain unrealistic. The Taliban have demonstrated their control over a wide region. They are confident and well armed. As Loyn narrated, "When we stopped for the night, they [Taliban] broke into groups to eat in different houses in a village. They demand and get food and shelter wherever they stop ... Thousands of young men now see them as a resistance force against international troops who have had five years and are not seen to have delivered results. Driving around the region during the next day with a local commander, Mahmud Khan, was a little like visiting villages in Britain might be with a popular local politician. He knew everybody and stopped often to chat."
That is why the Afghan war is not just a matter of US or NATO troop levels. The crisis forms several concentric circles. At the center lies the problem of a non-functioning, corrupt government that doesn't command respect because it lacks real popular support. Around it, an entire crisis area has developed in terms of weak authority, warlordism, breakdown of law and order, rampant opium trade, etc. This, in turn, provides a fertile ground to the Taliban's resurgence, which is inevitable regardless of whether or not Pakistani officials are turning a blind eye to Taliban activity in their territory. These are wrapped up with a fourth ring, namely the growing resentment among Afghans (and Pakistanis) about the continued foreign occupation of their country.
Equally, while international attention remains riveted on the southern and eastern regions, it is often overlooked that the northern and western regions also remain fragile. Not many realize that the "political settlement" in these non-Pashtun regions is a legacy of the formidable Zalmay Khalilzad (currently US ambassador in Baghdad) during his term in Kabul as President George W Bush's special envoy.
Khalilzad is an extraordinary alchemist. According to media reports, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has been the latest politician to realize this. Maliki apparently aired his grievance to Bush in a telephone conversation last week that Khalilzad was behaving like a viceroy instead of a diplomat in Baghdad. He complained: "The US ambassador is not [former US overseer of Iraq L Paul] Bremer. He doesn't have a free rein to do what he likes. Khalilzad must not behave like Bremer, but rather like an ambassador."
The point is, Khalilzad's Bremer-like penchant for ruling the Afghans through self-administered decrees may come to haunt the mild-mannered, highly amiable, consensual Karzai. A few weeks ago, supporters of Uzbek leader Rashid Dostum became involved in bloody clashes with the forces of his old enemy, Abdul Malik, in the remote northern province of Faryab. This is a blood feud going back a decade or more, and shows how simmering tensions lie just below the surface.
If Dostum and Malik are coming out of the woodwork, Karzai may have a tricky time ahead. In comparison, the factional fighting 10 days ago in western Afghanistan has all the subtleties of a Persian puzzle. In the Shindand district south of the city of Herat, close to the Iranian border and where a strategically important air base of NATO is located (an invaluable asset in the staging of any US military strike against Iran), the local strongman Amanullah Khan was killed, ostensibly in clashes with the forces of another Pashtun commander, Arbab Bashir.
Bashir's son was taking revenge for his father's death at the hands of Amanullah Khan in an earlier encounter. This was apparently a case of a blood feud involving two Pashtun tribes - the Barekzai and Noorzai. But Arbab Bashir has also kept close links with legendary commander Ismail Khan, who still wields considerable influence in the region despite his removal from power as governor of Herat by Khalilzad in August 2004.
Geopolitics no doubt played a role in Ismail Khan's sacking two years ago after clashes instigated by Amanullah at the best of the US. Given his close ties with Iran, as long as he remained in power in Herat, the US couldn't establish total control over Shindand Air Base.
But now it is a new ball game for Ismail Khan - Khalilzad is gone, Karzai is weak and the Afghan bazaar is full of talk about Americans wanting to cut and run from Afghanistan.
It is difficult to foretell where commanders like Dostum or Ismail Khan or Malik will stand if push comes to a shove in Afghanistan. Dostum is an ethnic Uzbek, Ismail Khan is an ethnic Tajik, Malik is only half-Pashtun, but that didn't prevent them from occasionally collaborating with the Taliban and mujahideen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar during the 1990s.
M K Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for more than 29 years, with postings including ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-98) and to Turkey (1998-2001).
92 refugees arrested in Peshawar
PESHAWAR, Nov 2 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Law-enforcement agencies in the neighbouring Pakistan have detained 92 Afghan refugees for taking part in anti-government demonstrations organised by religious parties to condemn the Bajaur tragedy.
Eighty-two seminary students were killed in an air raid, which area people believe, was carried out by a pilotless US' Predator aircraft in Pakistan's Bajaur Agency Monday morning.
Security officials in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan's North-Western province, said besides taking part in demonstrations, the detainees had no legal documents for living in Pakistan.
According to police, most of the people were arrested from Peshawar City, Nasar Bagh, Afghan Colony, Board and Jalozai Camp after they allegedly participated in protest rallies on Wednesday.
Local authorities have warned the refugees to abide by the laws of the land and do not become party in anti-government demonstrations to avoid action from the law-enforcement agencies.
Ministry signs contract with Chinese company
KABUL, Nov 2 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The Ministry of Communications has signed an agreement with a Chinese company on the establishment of a countrywide fibre optical cable network on Thursday.
The 3,300-kilometres long fibre optic cable will improve telephone, Internet, television and radio broadcast services in the country.
Communication Minister Amirzai Sangin, who signed the agreement with the ZTE Corporation, said the project would ensure cheap and better services for the countrymen.
The project is funded by the Communication Ministry with allocation of $64.5 million. The project will be completed in the coming two years.
The underground cable network would be extended from Kabul to Ghazni in the first phase. It would be spread to Kandahar in the south, Herat in west and Balkh in north of the country.
The minister described the extension of the cable network as the biggest and the best-quality service. The country would also be linked to its neighbours - Pakistan, Iran, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan - through the same cable network, said the minister.
The Chinese company ZTE has got the $64 million contract at a time when the Ministry of Finance accused the latter of evading tax and operating without getting license from the authorities concerned in the country.
But Sangin said he was not aware of the tax evasion or any breach of the country's laws on part of the Chinese enterprise. The national exchequer had got $67 million from the telecom industry last year and expects the amount will jump to $90 million this year.
Chinese enterprise faces tax evasion scam
KABUL, Nov 2 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The Finance Ministry has said that a leading Chinese enterprise has been operating in the country for the past three years without getting license from the government.
Officials said the ZTE Corporation, a leading telecom equipment manufacturer, did not pay any tax to the government during that period.
Spokesman for the Finance Ministry Aziz Shams told Pajhwok Afghan News on Thursday the company's staff and owners evaded tax for three years and worked in the country without getting proper permission from the government.
He said there were a number of such companies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), who are operating in the country without government's permission. They are also evading taxes on staff salaries as well as their net taxable profit, he added.
Shams said the ZTE Corporation had never paid tax on staff salaries and profit since its establishment three years back.
According to the new tax law, all companies and corporations are liable to pay two per cent tax on their original capital, 20 per cent on their annual income and 10 per cent on staff salaries to the government.
Shams said investigations had been ordered into the alleged tax evasion of the Chinese company. If proved guilty, the enterprise would be directed to pay all the previous taxes with a fine of 1,000 afghanis ($20) per day since the beginning of its operation.
ZTE's marketing officer Babrak Haidari, when contacted for comments, said they had obtained work licence from the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency (AISA) about a fortnight back.
Haidari said ZTE was a leading global provider of telecommunication equipment and network solutions having its presence in 100 countries. It had first signed contract with the Ministry of Communications in Kabul to supply equipments for the state-run Afghan Telecom, which had imported all its supplies from China through ZTE.
Haidari said the company was a private commercial enterprise which would soon sign agreements with the government for supply of equipments of the fibre optic cable networks and the Etisalat telecom company.
The tax evasion case has emerged at a time when the ZTE had signed a $64.5 million contract with the Ministry of Communications for extending the fibre optic cable network on Thursday.
Speaking to journalists during the contract signing ceremony, Communication Minister Amirzai Sangin said he did not know about tax evasion or operation without licence of the company
Jamal Nasar, director of the Afghan Telecom, confirmed that ZTE had purchased and installed the equipments for them. Haidari said they had paid tax on the equipments they had provided for the Afghan Telecom.
Schools reopen in Panjwayee
KANDAHAR CITY, Nov 2 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Schools have reopened in Panjwayee district of the southern Kandahar province after the conclusion of the NATO anti-Taliban operation there.
All the 42 schools were closed after the launching of anti-Taliban operation by the NATO forces in the district.
Director of the Education Department Hayatullah Rafiqi told Pajhwok Afghan News on Thursday Shamsuddin Kakar High School and another located in centre of the district were opened a day earlier.
In this connection, a meeting was held which was attended by local officials, elders and students. He said more schools would be opened in other parts of the district after improvement in security situation.
Haji Lala, one of the elders, said they were happy at the opening of the schools. "We thank the officials for opening the educational institutions."
Ahmadullah, a student at the Shamsuddin Kakar High School, said his family had migrated to Kandahar City, capital of Kandahar province, due to recent fighting in the district.
Hailing the step, Ahmadullah said it had saved their time from being wasted. According to official figures, Kandahar province has 382 schools, of which 203 are operational while the rest are closed due to insecurity.
EC provides 2.5m euros to drought victims in Afghanistan
Saturday November 04, 2006 (0214 PST) PakTribune.com, Pakistan
KABUL: The European Commission (EC) has decided to provide 2.5 million euros in emergency humanitarian aid for victims affected by severe drought in Afghanistan.
Access to food and clean water supplies, as well as food security will be improved for the most vulnerable populations, with a particular focus on disabled people and female-headed households.
According to press release funds were channeled through the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Department under the responsibility of Commissioner Louis Michel.
Significantly, less snowfall in the last winter and the failure of rains in much of the country during the critical spring season have caused severe drought throughout the country.
There has been a considerable reduction in the yield of wheat this year and many households have experienced food and water shortages. An estimated 2.5 million people are facing difficult living conditions.
This decision will target the most vulnerable populations affected by the drought who have reached the limits of their coping mechanisms. Special attention will be given to the disabled and households headed by women.
Food and water deficiencies will be addressed by the provision of employment through cash-for-work and food-for-work activities. Through labour intensive programmes, it is expected that water sources, irrigation assets and infrastructure will be rehabilitated in order to mitigate the effects of the next droughts. Food will be distributed directly to the most vulnerable people in areas, where the mechanisms cannot be applied.
The Commission's operational partners, such as non-governmental organisations already working in the field, will implement the projects. Their activities could be hindered by the deteriorating security situation.
Access to remote regions could be affected by the early onset of winter and landslides.
Since 2004, the European Commission has allocated a total of 77 million euros in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.
Workshop on National Strategy for Drought Management
KABUL, Nov 2 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A two-day workshop, highlighting the drought condition in parts of Afghanistan, concluded here the other day.
Addressing the participants, Afghanistan's Minister for Energy and Water Mohammad Ismail Khan stressed the need of educational programmes through media to raise local awareness on drought management issues.
The minister highlighted the existing problems of drought and water scarcity in the country and the importance of sustainable water management for mitigating the effects of drought.
Serge Verniau, FAO Country Representative, emphasised the need for a sound national strategy to address the problem of drought. He said this strategy was essential not only for agriculture and economic development, but for the survival and the success of the Afghan people.
The workshop was organised by the Ministry of Energy and Water in collaboration with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Ministers, government officials and representatives of various NGOs attended the workshop.
Karazi grieved over Ghulam Ishaq death
KABUL, Nov 2 (Pajhwok Afghan News): President Hamid Karzai has expressed grief over the demise of former Pakistani president Ghulam Ishaq Khan.
Ishaq Khan, 92, had passed away after protracted illness last week. In his condolence message, Karzai expressed sympathy with family members of the late former president and prayed for his soul.
In his letter, the Afghan president praised Ghulam Ishaq Khan's role and his support for the Afghan jihad. The late Khan was president of Pakistan during that era.
Karzai's letter was handed over to Mamoon Ishaq Khan, elder son of the deceased, by Afghan Counsul-General Abdul Khaliq Farahi on Thursday.
Ghulam Ishaq Khan had become president of Pakistan after the demise of General Ziaul Haq in a plane crash in August 1988. Since then, he stayed as president of the country till 1993.
After his differences with the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif, late Ishaq Khan stepped down and silently retired from active politics. He opted to stay at home in Peshawar and avoided public appearances.
UNSC to send fact-finding mission to Afghanistan
UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 2 (Xinhua) -- The United Nations Security Council will send a high-level fact-finding mission to Afghanistan next week to review the threat posed by Taliban and Al Qaida extremists, council president for the current month Jorge Voto-Bernales said on Thursday.
Voto-Bernales, Peru's ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters that a nine-member team from the 15-member council will leave for Islamabad on Nov. 10 on its way to Afghanistan where it is due to arrive on Nov. 12.
The mission is due back at UN headquarters on Nov. 17 and the Security Council is to hear a briefing on the trip on Nov. 22, Voto-Bernales said.
The Taliban is waging mounting insurgency in Afghanistan. The rebels who are allied with Al Qaida have attacked troops in large numbers and intensified a campaign of suicide and roadside bombings.
NATO reserves right to re-enter Musa Qala
KABUL, November 1 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Wednesday declared they reserve the right to re-enter the Musa Qala district.
The NATO-led ISAF forces withdrew from the district after entering an agreement with local tribal elders on October 17.
Brig Gen Nick Pope said they were carefully observing the situation in Musa Qala. "The right to enter the district again was reserved."
He said the agreement made in Musa Qala district had the consent of the Afghan government. The 120-men ISAF unit that withdrew from the district is presently stationed in Lashkargah, capital of the southern Helmand province.
Interior Ministry spokesman Zmary Bashari, on the other hand, said government forces were still present in the district. He rejected any deal between government and enemies, the term Afghan officials use for Taliban.
Najib Khelwatgar/Makia Monir
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