The Ottawa Citizen 04/19/2007 By Arthur Kent
The Harper government has been caught off guard by a deepening scandal in Afghanistan's justice system, following a police raid Tuesday evening on the country's most popular TV channel. The operation was ordered by Attorney General Abdul Jabar Sabet -- who is also a former resident of Montreal.
For more than a month, officials at Foreign Affairs, Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the Prime Minister's Office have dodged questions about Mr. Sabet's entry into Canada in 1999, and exactly how he was able to gain residency. Mr. Sabet has a history of association with Afghan extremist groups, and his earlier attempt to move to the United States was denied by American authorities.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai's accident-prone attorney general first created a potential problem for Canadian Forces personnel last autumn, when he abruptly suspended Kabul Airport's respected police chief. Gen. Aminullah Amerkhel was an accomplished drug-buster, and his removal triggered a resumption of heroin trafficking through the airport, according to senior Afghan lawmen and legislators. Heroin profits help finance the Taliban's war effort against NATO forces, including Canadian troops based in Kandahar province.
Yet Canada and its NATO allies acquiesced to the crisis, despite calls from the Speaker of Afghanistan's Senate to have Gen. Amerkhel reinstated, and choruses of demands from Parliament that Mr. Sabet himself be removed from office. There, legislators lament that President Karzai's international sponsors appear content to be spectators of the corruption and ineptitude wracking their client administration in Afghanistan. Tuesday's raid may change that.
"The international community now has an obligation to act," says Saad Mohseni, head of Tolo TV, the channel whose offices were raided by 50 heavily armed policemen. Several Tolo journalists were badly beaten, and three were arrested. Four Associated Press employees covering the raid were taken away and roughed up as well. Mr. Mohseni says: "Sabet has shown that he is totally unfit to hold his position. Our international allies must tell the president this type of official is not acceptable to the Afghan people."
Witnesses say police lacked any form of warrant for the incursion, so Attorney General Sabet stands accused of breaching both Afghanistan's criminal law and its constitution. Yesterday the United Nations' Afghan mission denounced the "manhandling and detaining of Tolo TV staff" and called on the Karzai government to ensure that "unlawful action against media outlets is prevented in the future."
But it's not Mr. Karzai who holds the keys to Kabul. It's his foreign sponsors -- especially the Bush administration. Officials from Washington were behind Mr. Sabet's bizarre rise to high office. Mr. Sabet was a longtime aide to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, once the United States' most-favoured anti-Soviet guerrilla leader, but now on their most-wanted list of terrorists. In 1992, Mr. Sabet's continuing links with Mr. Hekmatyar led to his dismissal from a job at the Voice of America. He was denied re-entry to the United States.
Mr. Sabet turned next to Canada, immigrating to Montreal and becoming a familiar face in the local Afghan community. He returned to Kabul in 2003, working as a lawyer for the Interior Ministry. Then, in an ironic twist typical of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, he formed a relationship with a U.S. Justice Department adviser seeking favourable reviews of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. As a result, Mr. Sabet led an Afghan government inspection of the site, declaring afterward that there were "only one or two" complaints from prisoners, and that "conditions of the jail were humane. The rumours about prison conditions were all wrong."
Soon after, both the U.S. and British embassies in Kabul began lobbying for Mr. Sabet's promotion, according to an aide of President Karzai's who witnessed the sessions. Mr. Sabet was nominated as attorney general just months later. In Ottawa, a Foreign Affairs spokesman denies any Canadian involvement in Mr. Sabet's appointment, but declined any comment on the attorney general's Canadian residency, or his role in the Kabul Airport heroin scandal.
Meantime, efforts by reform-minded Afghan lawmakers to restore order in the airport's anti-narcotics policing are being thwarted, they say, by corrupt individuals at the highest levels of the Karzai administration. "We are trying each week to persuade the president to address this issue," says a high-ranking official of the Senate, the Meshrano Jirga, who asks not to be named due to the dangers posed by Afghanistan's heroin trafficking gangs. "But it is clear that others at the Presidential Palace are counselling Mr. Karzai against taking action."
Here, too, Afghans appeal for help from Mr. Karzai's Western sponsors, including Canada. "These cases stand in the way of our democracy," says the Senate official. "If the Canadians are serious about helping us, they must begin their work in Mr. Karzai's office."
As for Mr. Karzai's attorney general, officials who know and have worked with Mr. Sabet wonder why Canada, while placing troops on Afghan battlefields, turns a blind eye to disruptive figures in high office. One Interior Ministry supervisor says: "Sabet is able enough to prepare a legal brief, but he is totally incapable of exercising executive authority."
An Afghan Foreign Ministry official puts it much more darkly: "As his past shows, the man is unstable." And, by all indications, soon to be unemployed.
The question is: Will Mr. Sabet's next port of call be Montreal?
Arthur Kent has reported regularly from Afghanistan since 1980. A series of his film reports is now appearing at skyreporter.com.
Back to Top
Back to Top
Two NATO soldiers, three rebels killed in Afghanistan
KABUL (AFP) - Two NATO soldiers were killed Friday in separate blasts in southern Afghanistan, while three Taliban rebels died when a bomb they were planting exploded prematurely, officials said.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which has around 37,000 troops in Afghanistan fighting the resurgent Taliban movement, gave no further details about the dead soldiers.
"Earlier today, two ISAF soldiers died as the result of explosions in two separate incidents in southern Afghanistan," an ISAF statement said.
ISAF said it would not release the victims' nationalities before the relevant national authorities.
However the Netherlands said earlier Friday that a 21-year-old Dutch corporal became the first Dutch soldier to be killed in action in Afghanistan on Friday when he stepped on a landmine during a foot patrol.
Dutch chief of defence staff General Dick Berlijn confirmed the soldier was part of NATO's Operation Achilles against the Taliban in southwestern Helmand province, according to the ANP news agency.
There are about 2,000 Dutch soldiers in Afghanistan.
The deaths brought to 42 the number of international troops killed in Afghanistan this year. Some 170 were killed there in 2006.
Separately in the western province of Farah three militants died when a bomb exploded on a road which is often used by foreign troops, provincial governor Ghulam Mohaidin Khan told AFP.
"The Taliban were killed as the bomb they were trying to plant on the roadside went off," he said.
Western Afghanistan has been relatively peaceful compared to the south and southeast bordering Pakistan, but attacks there have increased this year.
Around 1,000 people have died so far this year in violence related to the Taliban, who regularly attack foreign and Afghan security forces, aid workers and civilians five years after they were ousted by US-led troops.
Back to Top
Back to Top
Pakistan, Afghan forces clash on border
Fri Apr 20, 4:52 AM ET
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan said on Friday its troops had exchanged fire with an Afghan patrol a day earlier, but contradicted Kabul's account that Afghan troops were tearing down a fence Pakistan had put up on the disputed frontier.
The Pakistan military accused an Afghan patrol of opening fire without provocation on one of its border posts.
"Our forces retaliated and they ran away. There were no casualties," military spokesman Major-General Waheed Arshad said.
The Afghan Interior Ministry said on Thursday the gunbattle erupted after Pakistani troops opened fire on Afghan forces as they were removing a fence and mines laid by Pakistan.
Arshad denied Pakistani forces were fencing and mining the area.
"There was neither any fence there, nor did they tear one down. Nobody entered into Pakistani territory," he said.
Pakistan has put up fencing in selected parts of the long porous border to stop Taliban fighters sneaking across to attack Afghan, U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Kabul opposes fencing because of a long-standing territorial dispute, and because it would penalize tribal communities with family on both sides of the Durand Line, named after the 19th Century colonial administrator who drew the border.
The clash happened on the border between Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal region and the Bermal district of Afghanistan's eastern province of Paktika.
Pakistan earlier this year announced plans to fence and mine parts of its 2,400 km (1,500 mile) border with Afghanistan after growing complaints by U.S. and Afghan officials that the Taliban militants were launching cross-border attacks from the safety of their sanctuaries on Pakistani soil.
It later decided against laying mines.
Pakistani officials said they planned to fence a 35 km (20 mile) stretch of the border in Waziristan, known as a hotbed of support for the militants.
(Additional reporting by Sayed Salahuddin)
Back to Top
Back to Top
US eyes Afghan to replace bank boss
Gabriel Rozenberg, London April 21, 2007 The Australian, Australia
THE future of World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz was in further jeopardy yesterday after it emerged the White House was drawing up a list of candidates to succeed him.
The most prominent potential replacement is Ashraf Ghani, credited with overhauling the economy of Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US.
Such an appointment would mark the first time a non-American has held the position in the 60-year history of the global bank.
Senior officials in the US administration have noted that the White House is softening its support for Mr Wolfowitz, President George W.Bush's former deputy defence secretary.
They pointed yesterday to the silence of the Treasury Department and Henry Paulson, the Treasury secretary, as a sign of the administration's attempt to distance itself from the man it parachuted into the job in 2005.
Mr Wolfowitz appeared yesterday before a meeting of the World Bank's 24-nation board, which is investigating whether he broke rules in arranging a high-paying job for his lover, Shaha Riza, in 2005.
The meeting of the executive board is continuing, but the pressure on Mr Wolfowitz is being felt in the bank.
"People feel paralysed," one official told The New York Times. "No one is doing any work at all. This genie can never go back to the bottle."
Mr Wolfowitz is expected to come under further pressure after the newspaper reported that an investigation by the Pentagon's inspector-general had found Mr Wolfowitz personally recommended that Ms Riza be awarded a contract for travel to Iraq in 2003 to advise on setting up a new government.
The inquiry, as described by a senior Pentagon official, concluded there was no wrongdoing in Mr Wolfowitz's role in the hiring of Ms Riza by the Science Applications International Corporation, a Pentagon contractor, because Ms Riza had the expertise to advise on the role of women in Islamic countries.
Publicly, the White House continued to give him support yesterday. Mr Bush's spokeswoman, Dana Perino, said the bank board should be allowed to complete its inquiry. "The President has confidence in Paul Wolfowitz," she said.
The global bank appears to be in turmoil. Graeme Wheeler, one of Mr Wolfowitz's two deputies, has called for him to resign.
But Mr Wolfowitz, who has said he made a mistake and has apologised, repeated to officials yesterday that he had no intention of stepping down.
Mr Ghani was special adviser to the World Bank between 1991 and 2002. After the overthrow of the Taliban, he was Afghan finance minister for two years, carrying out extensive reforms, including issuing a new currency, balancing the budget and overhauling the Treasury's systems.
Currently Chancellor of Kabul University, he was a candidate to replace Kofi Annan as UN secretary-general last year but lost out to Ban Ki-moon, of South Korea.
Mr Ghani was described then as someone with a strong record as an administrator. As well as the first non-American chief of the World Bank, he would also be the first Muslim in the job.
Back to Top
Back to Top
Chirac discusses bid to release hostages with Karzai
Thu Apr 19, 3:33 PM ET
PARIS (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac on Thursday spoke by phone with Afghan President Hamid Karzai about efforts underway to win the release of two French aid workers held hostage by the Taliban for more than two weeks, his office said.
Chirac thanked Karzai for allowing French envoy Philippe Faure, the top foreign ministry official, to hold talks in Kabul on the fate of the two aid workers and their three Afghan colleagues who were seized in southern Afghanistan on April 3.
The conversation touched on "efforts undertaken for their release," said presidential spokesman Jerome Bonnafont.
During a first conversation with Karzai last week, Chirac asked the Afghan president to "make every effort" to win the release of the two French nationals.
The Taliban have been holding the French man and woman and three of their Afghan colleagues from the Terre d'Enfance (A World For Our Children) charity since seizing them in the southwestern province of Nimroz on April 3.
Faure, the foreign ministry's secretary general, is to hold talks on Thursday and Friday with Afghan officials.
"Our objective remains, more than ever, to bring back the members of the group safe and sound and as quickly as possible," said foreign ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei.
A videotape showing the French citizens was shown on Canadian television at the weekend. Paris says it has not received any demands from the kidnappers.
Karzai has said that the government will not make any more hostage deals with the Taliban following the controversial release of five rebels in exchange for kidnapped Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo last month.
Faure is to meet in Kabul with NGO representatives and members of the French expatriate community, the foreign ministry said.
Back to Top
Back to Top
Pakistan-Afghanistan talks to be held in Turkey
Fri Apr 20, 6:18 AM ET
ANKARA (AFP) - The presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan will visit Ankara on April 29-3O for talks under Turkey's auspices aiming to cool tensions between the two allies in the war against terror, the Turkish presidency said Friday.
"The summit (between) Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer and the visiting presidents will provide an exchange of views on Pakistan-Afghanistan ties and their repercussions on the region," a statement from Sezer's office said. "The aim of the meeting is to serve regional stability and security."
Turkey offered to host the meeting between Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai with the two countries at loggerheads in the fight against the Taliban.
Most Afghan officials, including Karzai, blame Pakistan for failing to prevent Taliban-led militants from attacking Afghanistan from their bases in Pakistan's tribal areas along their common border. Some claim Pakistan supports the Taliban.
Islamabad has strongly denied the allegations, saying it has 80,000 troops stationed on the frontier and that pro-government tribesmen recently killed 300 "foreign militants" in the region.
Pakistan was one of three countries that recognised the harsh Taliban regime in the late 1990s, but later supported the US-led invasion of Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
Nearly six years later, the Taliban are resurgent and rebel-related violence has killed around 1,000 people in Afghanistan this year, according to an AFP tally based on official reports.
Back to Top
Back to Top
NATO watchful of Taliban in northern Afghanistan
Fri Apr 20, 4:33 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - NATO has identified up to five enclaves in the relatively calm north of Afghanistan where Taliban insurrections could spread, the head of coalition forces in the country said.
"In the north, which is a huge area, we are not seeing a great amount of insurgency up there," said US General Dan McNeill on Thursday.
"Could it happen? Yes, it possibly could. And we have identified four or maybe five enclaves where it could happen," he added, without specifying where the attacks could take place.
Nine Afghan policemen were killed Tuesday in a suicide bombing in the northern city of Kunduz, the first such attack to hit the north of the country since June last year.
"The chief of police of Kunduz was in my office about four days before that event," McNeill said.
"He's less concerned about the insurgency and more concerned about the violence that is a symptom of or created by the drugs trade."
Asked about the possible eventual spread of the insurgency in the north, the head of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said: "Not yet."
Taliban have increased their number of attacks and suicide bombings in the south of the country, their traditional stronghold, notably in Helmand province, the most important poppy growing region in the world.
The eastern part of the country, which borders Pakistan, is also restive, as well as certain areas in the west.
The north, relatively unscathed by the violence, is mainly made up of Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras.
McNeill also said ISAF had a plan to regain control of districts in Helmand which the Taliban had seized, including Musa Qala. "But it takes time. It is important to be patient," he said.
Last month, ISAF and the Afghan army launched a major offensive against the Taliban.
"Our best tactic is to get Afghan security forces trained and operational. They will solve the issue," he said, adding he hoped the Afghan forces would be 70,000-strong by 2009.
He declined to put a figure on the number of insurgents. "If there are more of them, our equipment and technology should compensate."
ISAF has 37,000 troops from 37 countries, the majority of whom are stationed in the south of Afghanistan.
Back to Top
Back to Top
US President Bush discusses drugs, terrorism with Afghanistan's Karzai
The Associated Press April 19, 2007
KABUL, Afghanistan: U.S. President George W. Bush called Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday to discuss security in the region, opium poppy eradication efforts and the fight against terrorism, according to a statement from Karzai's office.
"During this telephone conversation, the president of the United States once again reassured the government of Afghanistan that as long as Afghanistan needs help, they are committed," Karzai's office said.
Afghanistan is facing a bloody insurgency, especially in the country's south and east, as opium production from poppies in Afghanistan has reached record levels.
Last year the country produced 6,700 tons of opium — enough to make about 670 tons of heroin. That is more than 90 percent of the world's supply, and more than the world's addicts consume in a year.
The booming drug economy, and the involvement of government officials and police in the illicit trade, compounds the many problems facing Afghanistan's fledgling democracy as it struggles with stepped-up attacks by insurgents loyal to the former Taliban regime.
The United States has 27,000 troops Afghanistan. Some 15,000 serve as part of a 36,000 strong NATO-led force. The rest are part of an anti-terror coalition hunting for al-Qaida and other Islamic militants throughout the country.
Back to Top
Back to Top
NATO chief cannot confirm Iranian arms in Afghanistan
Thu Apr 19, 12:59 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - The commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, US General Dan McNeill, said Thursday he was unable to confirm the interception Iranian-made mortars and explosives in the country.
"I don't deny that position and I'm very interested how the insurgents might be helped and who might have helped the insurgents," McNeill told reporters in the Afghan capital.
"Obviously, the US Secretary of Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff have far more information than I do right now," he added.
General Peter Pace, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs, said Tuesday that coalition forces had intercepted Iranian-made mortars and explosives in Afghanistan destined for the Taliban.
After 30 years of war, Afghanistan is awash with weapons of all kinds and of different origins. Iran, in particular, furnished the Northern Alliance with weapons during their struggle against the Taliban government.
Mcneill, the head of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), also said he had no hard intelligence on the existence of training camps for Afghan insurgents in Iranian territory.
"There is no report of that fact," he said.
A number of American officials have accused the Iranian Revolutionary Guards of training and arming Shiite militants in Iraq.
Back to Top
Back to Top
Iran, US take their fight to Afghanistan
By M K Bhadrakumar Apr 21, 2007 Asia Times Online, Hong Kong
Marine General Peter Pace, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, is not beyond making gaffes. When the clever editors of the Chicago Tribune recently prompted him to discuss his former commander-in-chief Bill Clinton's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy on homosexuality among US servicemen, Pace responded that homosexuality was as "immoral" as adultery.
Senator Hillary Clinton, among others, promptly objected. For a week, it seemed Pace elbowed out the killing fields of Iraq from
the great American debate.
Therefore, it might seem at first glance Pace was making a ridiculous gaffe on Tuesday when he implied Iran could be arming the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. Pace told reporters in Washington, "We know there are munitions that were made in Iran that are in Iraq and Afghanistan. Either the leadership in that country knows what their armed forces are doing, or that they don't know. And in either case, that's a problem." Pace added that Iranian-made mortars and C-4 explosives were intercepted in Kandahar.
But it is well known in the Afghan bazaar that the country is awash with Iranian weapons that were supplied to Northern Alliance groups during the anti-Taliban resistance in the late 1990s. The London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting has been monitoring erstwhile Northern Alliance groups based in the north of Afghanistan clandestinely selling their stockpiles of weapons to the Taliban. A north-south corridor of arms smuggling seems to be in place. North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) contingents have independently confirmed such smuggling.
There was nothing new about weapons with Iranian markings being found in Kandahar. Was Pace making another gaffe? No, Pace cannot be unaware of the lay of the land in the Afghan war zone. He must be a good soldier to hold such high office. But, as Bertolt Brecht wrote in his famous play The Caucasian Chalk Circle, "A good soldier has his heart and soul in it. When he receives an order, he gets a hard-on, and when he drives his lance into the enemy's guts, he comes."
Pace was speaking on orders. No sooner had he spoken than three senior officials of the George W Bush administration took over - Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher and White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.
Perino essentially kept Bush out of the controversy, but what was interesting was that Gates and Boucher spoke while traveling abroad in regions relevant to Iran and the Afghan war. Gates was in Cairo, and Boucher spoke while on a visit to Brussels aimed at drumming up European support for the Afghan war.
Gates was categorical about Iranian government involvement. He then proceeded to discuss the Iranian government's Afghan policy. Gates said, "We don't know at what level this has been approved by the Iranian government or in the Iranian government. We don't know the magnitude of the assistance. It's obviously troubling and worrisome that the Iranians may be deciding to counter the efforts of some 42 nations in Afghanistan to establish a strong democratic state. So we'll watch it very closely."
Evidently, Gates went overboard by inviting the US's allies and friends to join in his condemnation of Tehran. Indeed, it strains credulity that the Iranian government has taken a virtual u-turn in its policy toward the Taliban. Iran is a big player in Afghanistan. It has thoughtfully exploited any new opportunities in the past five years to spread its influence and ideas within Afghanistan. Iran has pursued a nuanced strategy where various elements and policy instruments have been brought into almost optimal interplay - reconstruction, education, propaganda, good-neighborliness, trade, investment, economic interdependence and religion and ethnicity.
Conceivably, like any other outside power, Iran would keep up a certain tempo of intelligence activity inside Afghanistan in the nature of surveillance, information-gathering, and recruitment of agents.
Iran has made no bones that its Afghan policy is essentially three-pronged. First, Iran must hasten the vacation of the American military presence in Afghanistan. Second, everything possible should be done to ensure that the Taliban don't regain power in Kabul. Third, it is in Iran's historical, cultural and geopolitical interest to ensure that western Afghanistan remains in its sphere of influence.
But despite its self-image as an ascendant regional power, Iran has relied on soft power in advancing its policy objectives. In 2006, Iran issued close to half a million visas to Afghan nationals to visit Iran. Its contribution to Afghan reconstruction has been stunning - almost nearing US$1 billion.
Iran decided to live with President Hamid Karzai's enduring links with the security establishment in Washington. Iranian mediation was crucial in his induction into Kabul five years ago. Iran pretended it didn't notice that the US lowered the bar of democracy for getting Karzai elected as president. And, all the while, it kept counseling Shi'ite leaders to cooperate with Karzai.
Iranian propaganda doesn't berate Karzai's government for being ineffectual or corrupt, even though Tehran is uneasy about the aggravation of the Afghan situation. Unsurprisingly, Karzai visualizes Tehran as a balancing factor in Kabul's troubled equations with Islamabad. Out of all Afghanistan's neighbors, apart from New Delhi perhaps, it has been with Tehran that Karzai's government has kept up steady exchanges at the political level.
Kabul has time and again indicated that it has its perspectives on friendly relations with Iran, which are based on the imperatives of Afghanistan's national interests, no matter the tensions between Washington and Tehran. Similarly, Tehran appreciates that Karzai's government has its limitations in influencing US activities on Afghan soil directed against Iranian interests. Even with regard to the removal of Ismail Khan from the post of governor of Herat two years ago, Iran decided to take the US-engineered move in its stride.
Tehran has a fundamental problem with the Taliban's virulent anti-Shi'ite ideology - the main reason why Saudi Arabia and the US found the Taliban movement attractive in the mid-1990s. The Iranian leadership will not easily forget or forgive the Taliban for massacring (often burying alive) thousands of Shi'ites in the Hazarajat region and in northern Afghanistan during its years in power in Kabul. In Mazar-i-Sharif in 1997, when the Taliban executed eight Iranian diplomats, Tehran came close to war.
Without doubt, Iran was a principal backer of the Northern Alliance. Tehran not only rendered huge amounts of material and military assistance to the Northern Alliance groups, then-Iranian special envoy Alae'ddin Broujerdi (presently chairman of the Majlis' - Parliament's - foreign affairs and security commission) was a frequent visitor to the Amu Darya region and Panjshir Valley, cajoling and motivating the anti-Taliban resistance. Without Broujerdi's persuasive skill, Northern Alliance groups, ridden with petty jealousies and personality conflicts and turf problems, would have unraveled.
Thus, as the Guardian newspaper reported quoting Western officials in Kabul, what Gates said "is all a war of words. It has very little basis in reality." The remarks by Boucher corroborate the British daily's impression. "We have been seeing a series of indicators that Iran may be getting more involved in an unhealthy way in Afghanistan," Boucher said in carefully calibrated language.
He maintained, "I don't want to overstate it. We have seen these things that I've noted; the weapons that General Pace talked about show up in Afghanistan; seen reports of political involvement by Iran, and these are things that we are watching very carefully." But Boucher refrained from finger-pointing: "We don't know exactly who is doing this and why but we know that these are Iranian-origin weapons that have shown up in the hands of the Taliban."
By Iran's "political involvement", Boucher seemed to refer to the formation of the so-called National Front (NF) in Kabul a fortnight ago, which bears a striking resemblance to the defunct Northern Alliance but seeks reconciliation with the Taliban. Not only is the National Front headed by former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, but other Northern Alliance leaders have joined it as a collective leadership - Ahmad Zia Masoud, Mohammad Qasim Fahim, Yunus Qanooni, Karim Khalili, Rashid Dostum, Mohammed Mohaqiq, Ismail Khan, among others.
Tehran's role, if any, in the NF's formation; the timing of the NF's formation; the NF's demand for national reconciliation with the Taliban; its willingness to accommodate Gulbuddin Hekmatyar; its forays into Karzai's Pashtun base (the NF includes Mustafa Zahir, grandson of former king Zahir Shah) - all these are nagging questions. On top of all this, it must have exasperated Washington to no end that Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is preparing to make a visit to Kabul in the near future.
It shouldn't come as a surprise if Iran's Afghan policy is beginning to turn in a widening gyre even while on the well laid out five-year-old track. One thing is beyond doubt. Tehran must be regretting its role in establishing a post-Taliban regime in Kabul under American influence. Characteristic of the American philosophy of "winner-takes-it-all", once American control over the Kabul regime was legitimized internationally, Washington began seeking a rollback of Tehran's influence in Afghanistan, including in the western provinces.
Of late, details have begun to emerge that American intelligence has been training and equipping anti-Iranian terrorists belonging to the so-called Jundollah in camps inside Afghanistan. The Voice of America recently interviewed Jundollah leader Abdul Malek Rigi. He is a wanted by Tehran for several kidnappings and over 50 killings. In the latest incident, on March 25, Jundollah terrorists blocked the Zahedan-Zabol highway in Sistan-Balochistan province, killing 22 people, injuring six others and taking eight people as hostages. Later, four of these hostages were killed and the video footage of their killing was broadcast on a number of Arab television channels.
The leadership in Tehran has sized up the unprecedented nature of the US threat to the Islamic regime. Iranian rhetoric is beginning to resemble the stridency of the early years of the 1979 revolution when imam Ruhollah Khomeini fought off wave after wave of US assaults aimed at crippling the Islamic regime.
Once again, like during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, pro-Western Arab regimes are falling in line with the US diktat. Saudi Arabia's historic compromise in making the Arab League enter into talks with Israel virtually opens the way for Riyadh to have overt dealings with Tel Aviv in the near future on the pretext of discussing a settlement of the Palestinian problem. Washington is all but clinching a Saudi-Egyptian-Jordanian-Israeli arc of hostility toward Iran.
Meanwhile, the huge US military buildup in the Persian Gulf region continues. Gates just concluded a visit to Israel - the first such visit by a US defense secretary in the past eight years.
Tehran understands that despite the talk of a "diplomatic solution", Bush is ratcheting up tensions. Given the Democratic Party's close links with the Israeli lobby, it endorses Vice President Dick Cheney's line that "all options are on the table" when it comes to making Iran bend. In such a dangerous scenario, Tehran will not act impetuously. Persians do not behave like Texan cowboys - "my-enemy's-enemy-is-my-friend". It is illogical that Iran would open a new front in Afghanistan, either.
Besides, Iran estimates carefully that any link-up with the Taliban (and al-Qaeda), howsoever tactical, could have unforeseen long-term consequences. Also, Iranians have a fairly accurate assessment of the complexities of the US's dealings with the Taliban. Iranians have all long suspected that there is a convergence of interests between the US, Britain and Pakistan to keep the Afghan war going at a certain level of intensity as a justification for perpetuating the Western military presence in the region.
Without doubt, Tehran realizes that continued American occupation of Afghanistan is irreconcilable with its vital interests and core concerns. But, at the same time, Afghanistan's long-term stability is of utmost concern to Tehran. Thus, the Iranian reaction to the US support for terrorism will be measured and proportionate. The Iranians know that the Afghan war is largely a war dominated by spin.
We may expect that Iran will use all its influence in Afghanistan, which is quite considerable, to make Washington realize that its support of terrorism from Afghan soil comes at a heavy price. Pace unlikely thought through before he spoke on Iranian support of the Taliban. But, then, as Frederick the Great once said, if his soldiers were to begin to think, not one would remain in the ranks.
M K Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India's ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001).
Back to Top
Back to Top
Pakistani Taliban militant offers refuge for bin Laden
Fri Apr 20, 2007 5:52 PM IST By Alamgir Bitani
WANA, Pakistan (Reuters) - A pro-Taliban Pakistani tribal leader, who was backed by the Pakistan army in a campaign to evict Central Asian al Qaeda-linked fighters from tribal lands, said on Friday he would provide refuge to Osama bin Laden.
Mullah Nazir said he had never met fugitive al Qaeda leader, but was ready to protect him in South Waziristan tribal region, near the Afghan border, for the cause of "oppressed people".
"If he comes here and wants to live according to tribal traditions, then we can provide protection to him because we support oppressed people," Nazir told journalists in Wana, the main town of South Waziristan.
The whereabouts of the world's most-wanted man, who carries a $25 million bounty on his head, has remained a mystery since the Sept. 11 al Qaeda attacks on the United States in 2001. He is widely believed to be hiding somewhere in tribal lands on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
His long silence has fuelled speculation that he may have died, though many in the international intelligence community reckon Islamist militant Web sites would circulate word of his death.
The most recent videotape of bin Laden was in late 2004 - subsequent tapes released were identified as old footage - and around half a dozen audio tapes were circulated in the first half of 2006.
Thousands of al Qaeda-linked foreign fighters, including Uzbeks, Chechens and Arabs, fled to Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal lands on the Afghan border after U.S.-led forces defeated the Taliban in 2001.
The militants were given refuge by the Pashtun tribes that straddle the border.
But relations broke down after tribesmen, with the tacit support of the Pakistan military, turned against the militants in March after they tried to kill a tribal elder.
Around 300 foreign militants and up to 40 tribal fighters, led by Mullah Nazir and backed by the army, have been killed in clashes in recent weeks.
DEAD OR ALIVE?
The foreign militants were believed to have been commanded by Tahir Yuldashev, head of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a group that became linked to the al Qaeda network while in Afghanistan.
Nazir, 32, and married with a son and a daughter, announced an amnesty for foreigners and their local supporters if they surrendered, but warned that fighters loyal to Yuldashev would not be spared.
He said Uzbek fighters were reported crying over the death of one of their leaders but he was not sure whether it was Yuldashev.
Yuldashev, known as Qari for reciting the Koran in a beautiful voice, has been on the run since Pakistani security forces launched a major offensive on his stronghold in South Waziristan in 2003.
After unsuccessful military campaigns to clear al Qaeda nests from Waziristan, the Pakistan government made pacts with the tribesmen in the hope of driving a wedge between them and the foreign fighters.
Critics say the pacts risked creating a sanctuary for al Qaeda and the Taliban, but Pakistani officials said the clashes in South Waziristan showed the strategy was working.
Nazir ducked a question that whether he was sending militants across the border into Afghanistan but said he did go to Afghanistan because he had dual nationality.
"I have a house in Bermal and have some agriculture land in Kandahar," he said, referring to border areas in eastern and southern Afghanistan. "When I go there, I side with the Taliban."
Back to Top
Back to Top
Canada's opposition seeks exit timetable for Afghanistan
Thu Apr 19, 4:42 PM ET
OTTAWA (AFP) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative minority government must immediately vow to withdraw Canadian troops from Afghanistan in February 2009, the opposition Liberals said Thursday.
In a parliamentary motion, the Liberals asked the government to dispel speculation that Canada's combat mission could be extended beyond 2009, its current mandate, and advise its NATO allies so they may prepare for an orderly handover of duties.
But Harper refused to discuss future deployments.
"For months the Conservatives have given confused and often conflicting messages about the mission in southern Afghanistan," lamented Liberal defense critic Denis Coderre in a statement.
"The opposition is demanding clarity for our parliament, for Canadians, and most importantly, for our soldiers and their families."
Canada has deployed 2,500 soldiers in the volatile Kandahar region in southern Afghanistan hunting down former Taliban militants. Since 2002, 54 soldiers and one senior diplomat have died in attacks, accidents or roadside explosions.
Last year, Harper's Conservatives pushed through parliament a two-year extension of the mission to February 2009, with the support of several Liberal MPs, but did not exclude the possibility of a further commitment.
The Liberals accused Harper of having already made up his mind to extend the mission, despite his public denials.
Harper responded in parliament saying: "NATO is not asking us for a decision today."
Opposition leader Stephane Dion vowed in February to bring Canadian troops home in February 2009, if his Liberal Party is returned to power in the next general election, expected this year.
Back to Top
Back to Top
Afghan gold treasures to go on display in Turin on May 25
The Associated Press April 20, 2007
ROME: An exhibit featuring 2,000-year-old Afghan gold treasure is scheduled to open in Turin on May 25, organizers said Friday.
About 220 Afghan pieces of gold and jewelry, including bracelets and rings encrusted with turquoise, garnets and lapis lazuli as well as many pieces of Bactrian gold, as it is known, will go on display at Turin's Antiquities Museum through Sept. 23.
Also on display will be a dagger topped with fearsome beasts, a chain-link belt and even gold shoe soles.
The exhibit showcases Afghanistan's rich history and its place as a crossroads on the Silk Road, where it infused artistic influences from Greek to Chinese to Indian and Middle Eastern.
In 2001, the hard-line Taliban regime destroyed much of Afghanistan's pre-Islamic art in the belief that it was idolatrous or offensive to Islam. The rampage culminated with the dynamiting of two giant Buddhas carved into the side of a cliff.
The treasure, and a host of other masterpieces from the Afghan National Museum, were saved by a group of Afghans who kept them hidden underground during troubled times at great personal risk.
The exhibit, which opened in Paris in December, will tour Bonn, Germany; Amsterdam, the Netherlands; the United States and Japan.
Back to Top
Back to Top
Czech Republic considers redeployment of its elite troops in Afghanistan
The Associated Press April 20, 2007
PRAGUE, Czech Republic: The Czech Defense Ministry said Friday it was considering redeploying the country's elite troops to Afghanistan.
A unit of some 120 Czech elite soldiers who served in the U.S.-led operation against al-Qaida and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan ended their mission last year.
The ministry is considering sending the same unit to Afghanistan again, this time to participate in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, Defense Ministry spokesman Andrej Cirtek said.
The soldiers could be deployed next year, Cirtek said. The move would have to be approved by the country's parliament.
"The fight against terrorism is in the interest of the Czech Republic. It's in the interest of all NATO allies," Cirtek said, declining to give further details about the possible mission.
The Czech Republic currently has about 150 troops in Afghanistan, and plans to increase that to about 225 later this year.
Back to Top
Back to Top
Killings of Afghan civilians recall Haditha
By Paul von Zielbauer Friday, April 20, 2007 The New York Times
After it became clear last year that several marines had killed 24 civilians in Haditha, Iraq, following an attack on their convoy of Humvees, the Marine Corps, which had initially played down the massacre, began an offensive of a different kind.
Last May, General Michael Hagee, the commandant of the Marine Corps at the time, went to Iraq to express deep concern to his marines and to reinforce what he called the "core values" that required them to respond to danger with thoughtful precision.
But almost a year later, marines killed at least 10 civilians in Afghanistan in an episode that bore some striking similarities to the Haditha killings and suggested that the lesson had not taken, even in a platoon of combat veterans wearing the badge of the elite new Marine Corps Special Operations forces.
Marine Corps officials said the unit, whose members undergo at least four months of specialized military training, did not receive specific values training addressing the lessons of Haditha. The actions of the 30 marines on patrol in Afghanistan appeared to contradict many of the edicts Hagee had implored the marines to remember.
"We use lethal force only when justified, proportional and, most importantly, lawful," Hagee declared in a series of talks he gave at Marine bases around the world. "We must regulate force and violence," he added. "We protect the noncombatants we find on the battlefield."
A preliminary military investigation found that the marines killed at least 10 civilians and wounded dozens along a stretch of road near Jalalabad on March 4, and no evidence that they were being fired upon.
The killings illustrate the difficulty American forces have encountered in fighting an enemy who often wears no uniform, uses civilians for cover and understands the limits of the American military's strict rules of engagement.
But they also show how hard it can be for officers to control the actions of heavily armed troops in the heat of battle.
As the marines did in Haditha, those on patrol in Afghanistan began shooting at civilians in reaction to an attack, in this case a suicide bomber who drove into their convoy as it traveled to Jalalabad from Torkham and detonated his explosives, said Lieutenant Colonel Lou Leto, a spokesman for army Major General Frank Kearney, the commander of all American Special Operations forces in the region.
"When the marines recovered from the blast, they thought they were taking fire, so they returned fire," Leto said Wednesday, paraphrasing findings of the inquiry, in which the marines and civilian witnesses had been interviewed.
As the convoy sped away, several marines shot at people near the side of the road, in cars on the shoulders or working in fields nearby, Leto said. As they did in Haditha, the marines near Jalalabad overreacted to the initial attack, the investigation suggests, firing at unarmed civilians who happened to be nearby.
"The evidence that we found was that they just weren't fighters," Leto said. "They saw people in the fields. They thought these people were carrying weapons, but they could have been tools."
Leto said by telephone from the United Arab Emirates that the marines had fired on several cars. "Some cars they thought were taking aggressive actions, another was not following directions," he said. "You can imagine, you are hit with a pretty good blast, the air gets sucked out of you, you have to make judgment calls real quick."
The military report found that the marines had killed 10 people, including an elderly man and a young woman, and wounded 33 others. But a report by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission said the marines had killed 12 people and wounded 35.
As in Haditha, many of the civilians killed in Afghanistan were women and children, a detailed report by the human rights group said.
Kearney ordered the entire company, the first Special Forces unit sent into battle since the Marines Special Operations command was formed 14 months ago, to leave Afghanistan at the beginning of April, Leto said. He also referred the matter to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
The platoon involved in the ambush and subsequent killings was responsible for gathering intelligence in the field and capturing or killing enemy fighters, said Major Cliff Gilmore, a spokesman for the Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command. The marines were drawn from a Marine Force Reconnaissance unit and have an average of seven years of military experience and more than 15 months of combat experience in Iraq or Afghanistan. Leto said, "They were still new on the scene." He declined to say how many marines had fired or possibly killed civilians but, without elaborating, he said marines being questioned have been "separated" from the unit.
All marines get instructions on the laws of armed conflict, the Geneva Conventions and the rules of engagement, which require positive identification of hostile intent before shooting. But Kearney's month-long investigation seems to indicate that those rules were violated by an elite unit, military officers said.
"You do ask, 'How did this happen?' " said an officer familiar with the inquiry, speaking on condition of anonymity. "And it's a fair question."
Back to Top
Back to Top
Pakistan: UN-assisted repatriation drive resumes for registered refugees only
TORKHAM, 19 April 2007 (IRIN) - The United Nations Refugees Agency (UNHCR) has resumed its assisted repatriation drive for more than two million Afghans living in Pakistan, the agency said on Thursday.
"Under the new UNHCR-assisted repatriation phase, only those refugees that hold proof of registration as Afghans living in Pakistan will receive cash grants," Salvatore Lombardo, UNHCR's representative in Afghanistan, told IRIN.
According to a tripartite agreement between UNHCR and the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan, Afghan refugees will not be forced to leave Pakistan. However, they are required to register their presence in Pakistan and can choose to repatriate voluntarily.
In February 2007, the government of Pakistan embarked on a registration programme by which 2.2 million Afghans received Proof of Registration (PoR) documents that allow them to stay in the host country for the coming two years.
The refugee agency launched a grace period or assisted repatriation for unregistered refugees on 1 March that ended on 15 April. More than 200,000 Afghans, mostly unregistered, left Pakistan for Afghanistan in this period of time, a spokesman for the organisation said in Kabul.
Those who are registered and wish to return to their country, must de-register their PoR's at UNHCR verification centres before receiving about US $100 upon their return to Afghanistan, the refugee body said.
"Unregistered Afghan refugees who want to return to their home country after 15 April will not receive cash assistance from UNHCR," Lombardo said.
Now, those Afghans who are not registered but continue to live in Pakistan do so illegally. It is unclear how many there are of them. However, some unregistered refugees are demanding the UN continue to provide assistance for their repatriation.
"We spent 15 days visiting the [returning refugees' verification] centre hoping that we will receive aid money to return home," said unregistered Afghan refugee Mohammad Ali. "Now, they [UNHCR] say we are late and therefore will get nothing."
Days in long queues
Another unregistered refugee, Hazrat Din, 42, whose seven-member family also spent days in long queues to receive cash grants, was also critical. "They [refugee verification centre staffs] are corrupt. Those who give them bribes receive cash tokens very easily," he said.
Some refugees complain about the way UNHCR and Pakistani police treat them in returning refugee centres, a charge not entirely denied by the refugee agency.
"I do not totally reject the charges of corruption and ill-treatment that might have happened in a few cases," said UNHCR's country director in Afghanistan, explaining the difficulty of dealing with hundreds of thousands of refugees.
According to UNHCR, some individuals complicated and caused delays in the six-week grace period by using various fraudulent means to receive cash grants more than once.
About 300,000 Afghan refugees are expected to voluntarily return from Pakistan in 2007, UNHCR said.
More than three million Afghans migrated to neighbouring Pakistan after their country was invaded by the former Soviet Union in 1979.
Many others migrated to Pakistan during the internecine fighting that took place after the Soviet forces' withdrawal in 1989.
UNCHR has assisted 3.7 million Afghans in their return to their home country since 2002, the single largest operation of its kind in the organisation's 55-year history. A further one million refugees have returned unassisted.
Back to Top
Back to Top
Afghan refugees forced home, but to what?
Fri. Apr. 20 2007 10:54 AM ET Lisa LaFlamme, CTV News
Daman District, Kandahar Province -- An open desert plain just off a road that Afghans now refer to as the "Bloody Highway," has become a dumping ground for displaced people, forced out of Pakistan by a mandatory repatriation order.
The deadline was April 15 and in the week that followed, 1,200 families have now crowded into a refugee camp in Daman District, just a 20-minute drive from Camp Nathan Smith (PRT), where Canadian Reconstruction Teams are deployed.
Refugees here, armed with ratty old rugs and a few thin blankets, have been forced home to an unwelcoming country still dominated by warlords, still crawling with foreign armies.
Inside the camp, the first thing that hits like a brick wall, is the stench of human waste and sickness, so strong that even those, who now call it home, cover their noses to protect against the pungent smell.
Children lie in clusters on the ground, seemingly lifeless, covered in flies and sick with diarrhea and fever. The camp doctor shakes his head, knowing with no medicine there is little he can do. He lost three children to disease in the first few days of their arrival.
Pediatric medicine is in short supply. In fact, his entire stock consists of a few boxes of scabies lotion and an old beer cooler containing vials of vaccine, spoiling in the 48-degree Celsius heat. Ironically, for a camp teeming with hundreds of children, the only thing in huge supply is a cupboard full of birth control pills and condoms. The doctor laughs as he opens a box of condoms. "These don't seem to be working either."
Particularly disheartening is the fact that not far away, the medical unit at Kandahar airfield base has stacks of soon-to-expire pediatric kits. A staffer who didn't want to be identified admits it's just too unsafe now for their mobile medical team to venture into these camps and administer healthcare to the sick and dying.
Even the NGOs have pulled out. Camp Superintendent Mohamed Nabi Rahimullah Safi says "no one has come here and offered us any help." Last year he travelled the 20 minutes to the PRT for a meeting with "the Canadians... nothing changed and no one ever came."
Minister of International Co-operation Josee Verner spent all of 20 hours in Kandahar this past week (on April 13). An accompanying press release refers to her discussions with the United Nations Human Rights Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) regarding "the plight of the most vulnerable in refugee camps" but when pressed by reporters on specific action on the part of Canada, she offered none.
At the camp, looking embarrassed, Safi says: "We do what we can to improve conditions ourselves and while it may sound funny, we need everything: tents, medicine, security."
Lack of security, while not as urgent as medicine, is equally life-threatening. When the camp first opened after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, it was easier to control. The UNHCR provided 200 tents and the number of refugees remained manageable. Now, with the influx from Pakistan, 2.4 million Afghans coming home, all bets are off.
About 700 families arrived at the Daman camp in one night.
The day supervisor, Ashmah Tullah, says as he rifles through the hundreds of new applicants waiting to be processed "we are so confused about how to control the crowd, we cannot manage them, security is not satisfactory."
These camps have become shelter for the Taliban now moving back into Kandahar Province along with the hot weather. With plenty of working-age young men, sitting idle, this desert tent city is ripe for recruitment of the bitter and the bored.
Despite the grim surroundings and overpowering stench, the children not tasked with collecting water from the old leaky pump, also provided by UNHCR in 2001, collect rusty old bottle tops -- the Afghan equivalent to marbles. Their enthusiasm belies the fact that they've gone without food for days. With distended stomachs and vacant eyes, they still challenge each other to a competitive game of Pepsi caps. Little boys give in to the universal desire to giggle while girls aged 4 and 5 run around in women's black patent shoes more than 3 times their size.
Between the rows of canvas tents, an old iron tea pot smokes, over a small fire of brush and garbage. There is no rice here either, a daily meal consists of packaged pound cake, crackers and cans of beans. Even that is running out. Still proud though, the supervisor invites us to stay for lunch, his curiosity is superseded by our Afghan fixer's desire to leave. "We have stayed too long," he says. "The Taliban know we're here, it's no longer safe."
As we leave the camp, the crowd out front, still waiting to be processed, is getting restless. With only two staff members able to tackle the pile of paperwork, the line moves slowly. The official stamp and a thumbprint, entitles them to a small cash grant from the Afghan government, a welfare cheque of about $60 US.
It would go along way if there was anything to buy.
Watch Lisa LaFlamme's video report on CTV National News with Lloyd Robertson, tonight at 11 p.m. (check local listings.)
Back to Top
Back to Top
Playing politics with Afghanistan
The Liberal motion to pull out our troops in February, 2009, amounts to dangerous back-seat driving, says
DAVID BERCUSON Globe and Mail Update
Once again, the Opposition Liberals are trying to drive the government from the back seat. This time, the issue is the Afghanistan mission and the tactic is a motion that, if passed, would pull Canadian troops out of Afghanistan in February of 2009.
Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion and his two wingmen, Jack Layton of the NDP and Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc Québécois, have already been successful with this tactic on environmental and aboriginal issues. They are about to be so again by using their majority to force a significant weakening of the government's crime bill.
The reasoning behind this tactic is not hard to guess. The three opposition parties can outvote the government any time they wish, without fear of an election they most assuredly don't want, if they do so on motions that are not deemed confidence motions by the Speaker, or pegged as confidence motions by the Prime Minister. So they pass bills demanding the government do this, or ordering the government to do that, as if they were the government.
It's back-seat driving, pure and simple.
Why do it?
They obviously think they're embarrassing the government in the minds of the voters by appearing to demonstrate that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is not in control of the national agenda. So far, the voters have seemed largely oblivious in each case.
But on the question of the length of the Afghanistan mission, they risk doing the country real harm -- harm that won't be undone if this minority Parliament lasts beyond February, 2008 -- because if passed, the Liberal motion will force the government to notify the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, now, that Canada plans to leave Afghanistan in February, 2009.
This notification will come at just the moment when France and Germany are beginning to engage in combat operations there; when the United States has just committed an additional brigade there; when Australia has announced a doubling of their troops there; just after Britain has added more than 1,000 additional troops; and before Poland sends 1,000 troops without caveats, ready to fight.
The silence that would ensue in Brussels, half a dozen European capitals and Washington would be deafening.
Canada's reputation as a reliable ally, only now beginning to recover after years of Liberal neglect, would be shattered. Canada's national interests would suffer grievous harm. And all for nothing, because such a notification, delivered now, would be wholly gratuitous. It would be taken -- rightly -- as Canada's judgment that the Afghanistan mission is already a failure without actually having any impact on the mission itself.
The mission -- with four more Canadian rotations between now and February of 2009 -- will go on. The risks to the thousands of Canadian troops who will go to Afghanistan between now and February, 2009, will be no less. But Canada will have said, in April, 2007, that Afghanistan is a doomed cause that we should not support in the long run.
If Canada is truly going to end its mission in Afghanistan in February of 2009, the time to make the announcement is February of 2008 at the earliest. That would give NATO one whole year to find replacements for the Canadian contingent. But more to the point, it would also give Canadians 10 more months to evaluate whether the lives and treasure that have been spent there have been for a cause that cannot be won.
It is simply too early to know. What we do know is that the outlook in the military struggle against the Taliban is better than it was a year ago, and that NATO and the governments involved there are renewing efforts to ramp up development, rebuild the hinterland areas and help Afghan President Hamid Karzai reform his government, his civil service and his judicial system.
Is this, then, the time to announce Canada is going to pull out? Obviously not.
If there is no earthly reason from a military or diplomatic perspective to make such an announcement now, why do it?
Because some Liberals think it's good politics. After all, they'll be able to continue to claim they support the current mission. But, at the same time, they will also be able to claim they won't support it beyond February, 2009. Or, to put it more bluntly: They do support the effort in Afghanistan, but they also don't support it. Just when everyone thought Mr. Dion had finally made up his mind about the mission, it appears he has unmade it just as quickly. Were eight combat deaths last week the reason the mission is now back on the Liberal political agenda?
Mr. Harper has already declared that there will be no extension of the mission beyond February of 2009 unless Parliament approves that extension. What is there about such a commitment that the Liberals don't understand?
The Prime Minister has allowed this back-seat driving long enough. Afghanistan is the basic foundation of his entire effort to rebuild Canada's influence in the world. It is time for him to take a stand and declare any motion on a pullout before February, 2008, as a motion of want-of-confidence in his government. Then the Liberals will understand what is at stake.
David Bercuson is director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary and director of programs for the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute.
Back to Top
Back to Top
AACC Congressional Forum Addresses Priorities for U.S. Funding to Afghanistan
Fri, 20 Apr 2007 14:58:01 GMT Author : Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce Press Release News | Home
WASHINGTON, April 20 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- On Wednesday, April 18th, the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce (AACC) conducted the first forum by an outside organization held on Capitol Hill assessing priorities and mechanisms for improving effectiveness of U.S. funding for Afghanistan. The event at the Dirksen Building was held as Congress deliberates on an $11.8 billion Supplemental Appropriations bill for Afghanistan. Over 150 representatives of U.S. government agencies, corporations, nonprofit organizations, think tanks and individuals attended.
Panelists included high-ranking U.S. and Afghan government officials, AACC leadership and well-known American experts on Afghanistan.
The moderator, AACC's Chairman of the Board Ajmal Ghani A., provided context for the event. He called Afghanistan a post devastated country and stated that "Afghanistan and Iraq put together in the budget requests in the past has been a disadvantage for Afghanistan, which has been getting a 1 to 19 ratio of the development aid. The budget Supplemental is needed and the security sector must be reinforced, but the money designated for economic development, considering that Afghanistan's infrastructure and economy were completely destroyed, is simply not enough."
Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns, reiterated the Administration's long-term support for Afghanistan, and also participated in a question and answer session. U/S Burns noted that there is bipartisan support in Congress for Afghanistan and that the supplemental included a greater amount of funding than what had been allocated in the past four years. He said that the majority of money for economic development funding was for priorities identified by the Government of Afghanistan, which he stated "on the whole had taken the right approach and we will hopefully be successful in showing Congress that the money is deserved."
Dr. Anwar-ul-Haq Ahadi, Afghanistan's Minister of Finance, said, "We are addressing many needs simultaneously that countries normally develop over decades." He opined that state-building and security were the top priorities, followed by infrastructure and education. He thanked the U.S. government and the American people for their generosity and support, noting that it was "by far the largest donor, providing over half of the donor support for Afghanistan thus far." Minister Ahadi noted that of the $30 billion pledged by all donors, only $15 billion had been committed and $12.8 billion actually disbursed. Of that, he related "only $3.7 had been provided to the Afghan government to spend on national programs."
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia John A. Gastright, Jr. stated, "Afghanistan is still a top priority for the Administration." He noted that the $11.8 billion supplemental would be used over the next two years, with $8.5 billion requested for the security sector.
Dr. Barnett Rubin stated that priorities depended on objectives. In highlighting the issue of effectiveness he stated, "In Afghanistan, most of the assistance is disbursed in a way that is not accountable to the Afghan people. This is because there is a parallel system by donors. U.S. foreign assistance is mainly done through big US contractors, whose costs of security and other expenses is much higher than costs of Afghans doing the job." Dr. Rubin further stated that the U.S. is providing four times more for security than for economic support, which is unfortunate as "the number one security threat is unemployment."
AACC's President Atiq Panjshiri stated that "We need to have available capital for business people so they can provide employment." He stated that Congress should provide funding for a revolving loan fund for the Afghan private sector, commenting that, as Enterprise Funds, the concept had been successfully implemented in other countries. He stated, "Afghanistan needs assistance, but availability of credit and the capacity to qualify for credit for people to grow their business and employ Afghans should be one of the most important priorities."
Dr. Marvin Weinbaum of the Middle East Institute stated, "If I had to choose one area, I would choose improvement of governance at all levels," as progress cannot be made in any of the other areas without such capacity. Dr. Weinbaum also commented that the expectations of the Afghan people were raised by initial international community engagement after the fall of the Taliban and, "It has been the failure of sufficiently meeting these expectations that has made it more difficult for us to secure the country."
Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) showed his support for Afghanistan stating, "I have carried an admiration for the courage and integrity of the Afghan people who have in times of great peril survived and managed to hand the Soviet Union a crippling defeat." He talked about a "Grand Deal" where the Afghans themselves would stop poppy cultivation if the U.S. would provide the resources equivalent to the crop value for alternative farming and other private and public employment enterprises. The concept was strongly supported by the Finance Minister.
In sum, AACC, serving as a voice for policies that promote economic growth and representing the U.S.-Afghan trade and investment community sees the Forum as a first step in a continuing dialogue about aid priorities and effectiveness as Congress assesses appropriations for Afghanistan.
Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce
Back to Top
Back to Top
Agriculture exhibition being organised in Kabul
KABUL, Apr 18 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock is going to organise a two-day agriculture exhibition on April 23 in this capital city.
More than 85 local and international companies are expected to participate in the exhibition, aimed to promote the country's agriculture products and find a suitable market for it in the outside world.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Afghanistan International Chamber of Commerce (AICC) will sponsor the exhibition.
Obaidullah Ramin, Minister for Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, told journalists on Wednesday that the event would help promote the country's agri products.
He said companies manufacturing agricultural tools and fertilizers, process agri products as well as animal farm owners had been invited to attend the exhibition.
The minister said the exhibition would be held in the Badambagh area, located north of Kabul. He said there were 200 kiosks in the area chosen for the exhibition and the number would be increased to 500.
Hamidullah Farooqi, operational head of the AICC, told the news conference that the country's agri sector was faced with numerous problems, like lack of proper irrigation system and water, conflicts among people on ownership of land and less investment in the field.
Farooqi believed the display would help promote agri products as well as address some basic problems faced by the cultivators.
The exhibition will also include dance and music shows and other entertainment programmes. Only invitees would attend the event on the first day; however, it will be open for all on the second day, officials said.
Back to Top
Back to Top
"Transnational mafia pushes drugs production"
WASHINGTON, Apr 18 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A top official of the Afghan embassy in Washington has said that transnational drug mafia is mostly responsible for pushing Afghanistan towards increased narcotics production.
Addressing the students of the Georgetown University Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Ashraf Haidari, political counselor at the embassy, said the global demand, particularly in the western countries, and the transnational mafia, which provides drugs to consumers, was responsible for this.
As such, he suggested that along with targeting its production in Afghanistan, focus should also be made on destroying the network of this mafia.
"We know from economics that as long as there is demand for anything, there is always supply, which, in case of narcotics, is often found in war-torn countries where states lack resources for rural development and law enforcement capacity to fight and eradicate drugs," Haidari added.
He discussed Afghanistan's comprehensive eight-pillar Drug Control Strategy, and pointed out that international aid for counter-narcotics had neither been enough nor coordinated properly over the past five years.
"We know from international experience that unless we balance 'carrots and sticks' to fight narcotics at the supply end, unless we address the problem at the demand end, unless we regionally and internationally cooperate against transnational drug mafia, and unless we commit long-term rural development assistance to revitalize Afghanistan's legal agriculture, we would continue swimming against the tides of drugs in Afghanistan," Haidari said.
In his lecture on "Afghanistan's Drug Control Policy: The Nexus between Drugs and Insecurity", Haidari informed the students about the background against which Afghanistan has become a prime victim of transnational drug traffickers that have found a natural ally in the Taliban terrorists and those that undermine governance and the rule of law in Afghanistan.
"Any involvement in the illicit opium poppy cultivation and drug trafficking is strictly forbidden by Islam, by our Constitution, and by our culture. Afghans observe each of these principles against drug production and trafficking, but the past thirty years of war have forced some ten per cent of our rural population to rely on poppy cultivation for mere survival," he said.
Lalit K. Jha
Back to Top
Back to Top
Police graduation ceremony in Bamyan
KABUL, Apr 18 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Thirty-one students, including eight women, graduated from the basic course at Bamyan Regional Training Centre.
The women's participation was the result of an initiative by the New Zealand police lead adviser to increase the number of women serving in the Afghan National Police, said a press release.
Three different female trainees received honours. They were most improved student, top shot and top of the class, the release added.
The Bamyan RTC completes Afghanistan National Police training and covers the provinces of Bamyan, Daikundi, Parwan, Panjsher and Kapisa.
There were four female police officers in Bamyan when the New Zealanders arrived in Afghanistan in October 2006. Three of the women had just graduated from the basic course while the other one had been a police officer for 10 months.
Recruiting more women was a key task for the New Zealand team. They sought more female police officers to assist with domestic crimes and also crimes associated with children.
The basic course began on February 17 at the Bamyan RTC. Current female Bamyan ANP officers recruited the eight women.
In order to allow the women to attend the training, the military officials held meetings with mullahs and family members. Several dignitaries, including the Bamyan governor and senior ANP officials from Bamyan and neighbouring provinces, attended the graduation ceremony.
Back to Top
Back to Top
US' legislators discuss Afghanistan's education system
WASHINGTON, Apr 18 (Pajhwok Afghan News): An influential Congressional caucus on Human Rights held a special hearing on educational system on Afghanistan.
Headed by two powerful Congressmen, Tom Lantos and Frank Wolf, the Congressional Human Rights Caucus during its one of its hearing analyzed the educational needs in Afghanistan and discussed ways and means to remove the obstacles.
During the one-and-half hour hearing, the invited experts shared their views on the education system of Afghanistan, how civil war has affected it and how much progress has been made in the post-Taliban era.
Prominent among them were Edna Mitchell, Emeritus Professor of Education, Mills College, Oakland; Hali Jilani, director, Institute of Cultural Intelligence; Richard Navarro, Professor of Education, California State Polytechnic University; Nuran Kolan, senior advisor, Office of the President, Creative Associates International; and Carol Ruth Silver, project director, Master Teachers by Satellite for Afghanistan.
During the briefing, the Congressmen said though considerable progress had been made in post-Taliban era as a significantly large number of students have starting going to schools, a lot needed to be done. Literacy rate still remains as low as 43 per cent among men and 14 per cent among women.
Lantos, who has always shown special interest in Afghanistan, expressed concern over the increasing incidents of violence affecting the education system. Not only the schools have been damaged, but teachers receive threats and students are being kidnapped outside schools.
Lalit K. Jha
Back to Top
Back to Top
Envoy plants vine for peace in California
WASHINGTON, Apr 18 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Afghan ambassador Said Jawad planted a vine in California, roots of which were once brought from Afghanistan way back in 1948.
Called "Vine for Peace", the symbolic plantation ceremony was held on the grounds of the American Centre for Wine Food and Arts (COPIA) on April 16 in Napa in California. Said Jawad was on a two day tour to California to participate in several functions on the West Coast.
Officials of COPIA said the vine planted by Said Jawad was a direct descendent from the collection of Afghan root stalk that acclaimed viticulturist, the late UC Davis professor and grape geneticist Harold Olmo brought back and studied from Afghanistan in 1948.
"This grapevine is a wonderful symbol of the shared heritage between farmers from our two countries. It will serve as a permanent reminder for all visitors to COPIA of the seeds we have in common and the hope that peace may be planted from Napa Valley to Afghanistan," said Heidi Kuhn, founder and CEO of the non-profit Roots of Peace.
Roots of Peace, co-host of the event, is engaged in de-mining operations in Afghanistan and large scale plantation of grape vines so as to provide alternative commercial plantation to the farmers of Afghanistan.
Later on April 17, Jawed addressed the students and faculty of the University of California Berkeley on "Winning the Peace in Afghanistan, Challenges and Opportunities."
In his remarks, the ambassador outlined the connection between regional stability and global security, discussed how new US aid to Afghanistan would be allocated, and gave a progress report on public health and women's rights throughout the country.
Jawad emphasised the need for increased aid effectiveness, accelerated budget execution and greater Afghan control of resources flowing into Afghanistan.
"Last month, Afghans celebrated their new year with celebrations all across the country. People gathered together without fear to picnic, dance, and partake in a special Afghan custom, the planting of a tree. Each tree planted is a vote in the future of our country, another living thing that will slowly, steadily grow roots in Afghan soil," he said.
Back to Top
|Back to News Archirves of 2007|
Disclaimer: This news site is mostly a compilation of publicly accessible articles on the Web in the form of a link or saved news item. The news articles and commentaries/editorials are protected under international copyright laws. All credit goes to the original respective source(s).