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April 25, 2007 


Afghanistan 'will do all it can' to stop Pakistan border fence
Wed Apr 25, 1:00 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) -  Afghanistan will use all means to stop Pakistan erecting a fence on their border to stop the movement of Taliban militants, the foreign ministry said.

The ministry also denied Afghanistan had apologised for an incident last week in which its troops tore down part of the new fence being erected by Pakistani soldiers, sparking a gun battle which caused no casualties.

Pakistani foreign ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said in Islamabad the incident was raised in a commission of the Afghan, Pakistan and  NATO-led militaries and "there was an apology."

This was rejected by her Afghan counterpart, Sultan Ahmad Baheen. The ministry had this week summoned the Pakistan ambassador in Kabul to lodge a protest about the fence, he told AFP.

"We will use all legal tools to stop this fence," he said. "It is not a solution to crossborder attacks, it divides families living in the area."

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, a key US ally, announced late last year plans to fence 35 kilometres (22 miles) of the 2,500-kilometre border to stop the movement of militants Kabul says are involved in attacks inside Afghanistan.

Kabul, which does not recognise the border drawn up by colonial Britain in 1893, has written to  United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon to express "deep concern" over the issue.

But Pakistani officials have said they are determined to go ahead with the fencing. An earlier plan to mine the border to stop militants was dropped after widespread international criticism.

The issue is likely to be raised at a meeting in Turkey this weekend between Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai that is intended to clear up misunderstandings between the neighbours who accuse each other of not doing enough against the Taliban
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Attacks kill 19 in Afghanistan
KABUL (AFP) - Fresh attacks in  Afghanistan killed 19 people, including six soldiers in a roadside bombing, officials said Wednesday, as the Taliban stepped up its campaign against the government.

The bomb struck an Afghan army vehicle on Wednesday in Paktika province, which is on the border with Pakistan, army commander Murad Ali told AFP.

"This is work of the enemies of Afghanistan," Ali said, using a term that refers to the extremist Taliban who have increased their attacks after a winter lull.

Hours earlier a suicide attacker blew himself up close to the vehicle of a district governor of Paktika as the official was travelling to work.

"Luckily no one was hurt in the suicide attack," the interior ministry said in a statement. The Taliban have already targeted several district and provincial governors, killing one last year.

In neighbouring Ghazni province "terrorists" stormed a road construction company site near the main highway between Kabul and Kandahar on Tuesday, sparking a fierce battle that lasted more than six hours, officials said.

When the fighting in Ghazni province was over, three of the company's guards and seven Taliban were dead, the interior ministry said in a statement. Five militants were arrested, it said.

Provincial police chief Alishah Ahmadzai told AFP three civilians were also missing.

A spokesman for the Taliban, Yousuf Ahmadi, confirmed the movement was behind the attack near Qarabagh, about 180 kilometres (110 miles) southwest of Kabul, but said only three militants were killed, including a commander.

The attackers got away with vehicles and weapons, Ahmadi said.

In another attack, militants ambushed a police vehicle in the western province of Herat overnight and killed three policemen, provincial criminal investigation director Ali Khan told AFP.

The west of Afghanistan, along with the north, was last year relatively free of Taliban-linked violence but the unrest has surged this year.

The militants vowed at the weekend to spread their insurgency into the north.

The extremist Taliban were forced from power in late 2001. Their insurgency claimed more than 4,000 lives in 2006. More than 1,000 people have already been killed in violence this year, most of them rebels.

The number of suicide attacks in January this year -- 12 in total -- was three times that of the same time last year, a UN Security Council report said in March.

The ultra-Islamic fighters rely on attack-and-run tactics as well as suicide and roadside bombings.

There are more than 50,000 foreign troops helping the fledgling Afghan army and police fight the militants and their allies, who include Al-Qaeda.
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Roadside blast kills 7 Afghan soldiers
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - A roadside bomb attack on an Afghan military convoy in eastern  Afghanistan left seven soldiers dead Wednesday, a day after militants ambushed a police car in the west, killing four officers, officials said.

The soldiers were part of a 10-vehicle convoy traveling in the Wazekha area, in Paktika province, near the border with Pakistan, when a remotely controlled bomb exploded under one of their vehicles, said Gen. Murad Ali, Afghan National Army's deputy commander for the southern regions.

The blast left seven soldiers dead and one wounded, Ali said.

The blast occurred a day after a police vehicle was ambushed in Guzara district in Herat province on Tuesday evening, said Noor Khan Nekzad, a spokesman for the provincial police chief. Four officers were killed and two others wounded in that attack.

Afghan and international forces, meanwhile, clashed with Taliban insurgents in two separate gun battles in the south and west on Monday, leaving 13 suspected militants dead and four other people wounded.

Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces launched an overnight operation late Monday in Bakwa district in western Farah province, killing two suspected militants and wounding two, said a spokesman for provincial police chief, Baryalai Khan. Two police were wounded, and eight suspected militants arrested.

In the volatile southern province of Zabul, Afghan army and  NATO troops surrounded Taliban militants Monday evening and told them to surrender, said regional Afghan army commander Gen. Rahmetullah Raufi.

The Taliban opened fire, and the ensuing battle left 11 Taliban dead, but there were no casualties among Afghan or NATO troops, Raufi said.

Meanwhile in the relatively calm north, a bomb exploded outside the Sari Pul provincial governor's home Tuesday morning, but no one was injured, said the governor, Eqbal Munib. He said it was the third bomb targeting him in the past year.

Taliban-led militants have stepped up attacks in recent weeks, but NATO forces claim to have blunted a vaunted rebel "spring offensive" with a series of military operations aimed at consolidating the shaky grip of President Hamid Karzai's government.
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Canada votes against exit timetable for Afghanistan
Wed Apr 25, 3:28 AM ET
OTTAWA (AFP) - Parliamentarians have rejected a motion that would have blocked Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government from extending Canada's military mission in  Afghanistan beyond February 2009.

The vote on Tuesday came a day after media reports that Afghan prisoners captured by Canadian forces faced possible torture after being transferred to Afghan custody.

The resolution, proposed by the opposition Liberals, was voted down 150 to 134.

The motion 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.

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 now accuse Harper of having already made up his mind to extend the mission, despite his public denials.

According to a poll Tuesday, 52 percent of Canadians support the troop deployment in Afghanistan, but 63 percent also want their soldiers to return home in 2009.

The Liberals this week called for Defense Minister Gordon O'Connor's resignation for not immediately halting the practice of transferring Afghan prisoners to Kabul after a Toronto newspaper reported the torture allegations.

The Globe and Mail said Monday it had "uncovered a litany of gruesome stories and a clear pattern of abuse by the Afghan authorities who work closely with Canadian troops."

The report said detainees, who are regularly handed over to Afghan forces, suffer whips with electrical cables, electric shocks, exposure to cold temperatures and beatings, "despite Canada's assurances that the rights of detainees are protected."

In March, O'Connor apologized for telling lawmakers that the International Committee of the Red Cross would alert Canada of any mistreatment of prisoners transferred from Canadian custody, acknowledging the statements were "inaccurate."

A new accord struck with the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission is now also being questioned over the alleged lapses in monitoring of prisoners.
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NATO pulls disputed Afghan opium ad
By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press Writer Wed Apr 25, 4:08 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan -  NATO said Wednesday that it has withdrawn a radio message telling Afghan farmers that its troops will not destroy their opium fields, following complaints that the alliance appeared to condone the illicit crop.

The advertisement was paid for by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and aired on radio stations in Helmand province, the largest opium-producing area in the world and the focus of NATO's biggest ever anti-Taliban offensive.

"This was an error by ISAF," said Zalmay Afzali, a spokesman for  Afghanistan's Ministry for Counter Narcotics. "We request from ISAF to avoid these kind of errors in the future because it can create a hell of a problem for the counter-narcotics strategy of Afghanistan."

ISAF spokeswoman Lt. Col. Angela Billings said that the "poorly worded address" was taken off air on Tuesday.

While NATO has no role in poppy eradication, "we support the Afghan government in their efforts," she said.

NATO and Afghanistan's army have kept out of eradication efforts — they are performed by police and a specially trained eradication force — for fear of fueling the insurgency they are trying to quash.

Nearly 2 million farmers grow opium poppies, according to government figures.

Encouraged by the Taliban, a powerful drug mafia and poor farmers' need for a profitable crop that can withstand drought, opium production from poppies in Afghanistan last year rose 49 percent to 6,700 tons — 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.

Officials dealing with counter-narcotics forecast that this year' production will be equal to, if not greater than last year's record crop.

The booming drug economy, and the involvement of government officials and police in the illicit trade compound the many problems facing Afghanistan's fledgling democracy as its struggles with stepped-up attacks by insurgents loyal to the former Taliban regime.Back to Top

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'Battlefield bullies' bring comfort to Canadian troops in Afghanistan
FORWARD OPERATING BASE MA'SUM GHAR, Afghanistan (CP) - They're Canada's bullies of the battlefield - and they're a welcome presence that help Canadian troops sleep better at night.

The 12 Leopard 1 tanks that rumble several times a day out of this base west of Kandahar provide indisputable muscle to Canada's security efforts as they prowl on "presence patrols" in the Panjwaii and Zhari districts.

Sgt. Anthony Sewards of the Edmonton-based Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians) armoured regiment, says the intimidation factor of the tanks is an invaluable weapon.

So too are the multi-pronged plows attached to the front of some of the machines - the perfect defence against the all-too-common mines and improvised explosive devices in volatile southern Afghanistan.

Capt. Craig Volstad says when it's attached to a tank, the plow is probably the most valuable piece of Canadian equipment on the battlefield.

Soldiers with the Lord Strathcona's Horse are looking forward to breaking in a fleet of more modern Leopard 2s when they arrive from Germany some time this summer.
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Bin Laden overseeing Iraq, Afghanistan ops-Taliban
25 Apr 2007 15:13:31 GMT
More  DUBAI, April 25 (Reuters) - Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden is orchestrating militants' operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, a senior commander of Afghan Islamist group Taliban said in remarks broadcast on Wednesday.

Bin Laden has not made any video statements for many months raising speculation that he might have died.

"He is drawing plans in Iraq and Afghanistan ... Praise God he is alive," Mullah Dadullah told Al Jazeera television.

In September, a French newspaper quoted French foreign intelligence service as saying the Saudi intelligence were convinced bin Laden had died of typhoid in Pakistan in August.

Dadullah said bin Laden ordered the attack on Feb. 27 at the U.S. Bagram base during a visit by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney to Afghanistan.

"Do you remember the martyrdom operation inside the Bagram base which targeted a senior American official ... this operation was the result of blessed plans put by him," Dadullah said. Jazeera said the U.S. official Dadullah was referring to was Cheney.

"He (bin Laden) guided us through it," he said, adding that no Afghan would have been able to penetrate the base if it was not for the world's most wanted militant.

About 14 people were killed, including one American and one South Korean soldier in the suicide bombing which militants said targeted Cheney. A U.S. official then said Cheney was about half a mile away on the base and was not in danger.

The Taliban were toppled in 2001 by a U.S.-led coalition for refusing to hand over leaders of al Qaeda after the group's Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. cities.

Dadullah did not give further details about the role bin Laden was playing in operations in the two countries where the United States deploys troops.
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Canada could utilize private security partnerships in Afghanistan
Kevin Dougherty, CanWest News Service Wednesday, April 25, 2007 Article tools
QUEBEC - Canada is considering greater use of public-private partnerships to help bolster security both in Afghanistan and here at home, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day told a counterterrorism conference Tuesday.

Already Canadian troops in Afghanistan are housed at the Kandahar Airfield base run by Kellogg, Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, the company U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney used to run.

Halliburton has been awarded close to $10 billion in contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq.

Asked what partnerships the Conservative government is considering in Canada, Day said the controversial formula, granting turn-key contracts to private-sector companies, could be used for Canada's border security.

"That's going to require massive infrastructure," Day told reporters. "To get the best system of delivery at the best price and there's a possibility for the private sector there."

In a wide-ranging speech to counterterrorism experts from Canada and the United States, Day recalled that western powers equipped Islamic fundamentalists in the 1980s with modern weapons to drive the Soviets from Afghanistan.

He said the Taliban, one of those Islamic groups armed by the West, "wanted a better country" and were "extremely zealous" in cracking down on corruption.

But drawing on the allegory of George Orwell's novel Animal Farm, Day said once in power the Taliban wielded "unbridled force."

"(They had) no understanding of the rule of law. No understanding of the need for an independent judiciary. Certainly no understanding of the democratic process where people can choose their leadership," Day said.

"These people have no compunction about machine-gunning, mowing down little children. They have no compunction about decapitating or hanging elderly women. They have no compunction about the most vicious types of torture you can imagine."

And he said Canadian and American troops, defending crews drilling wells and building schools, are shot at by the Taliban.

But he admitted there have been difficulties convincing the present Afghan authorities that Taliban prisoners, who are questioned up to 72 hours by Canadian troops before they're turned over to the Afghans, should have humane treatment.

"This is a priority for us," the minister said."In many ways this is a new area for them, the proper care and respect for prisoners, for instance.

"For some people, that's kind of a new concept.

"And they're learning it. It's not moving as quickly as we would have hoped, but progress is being made and we are going to continue to insist that human rights of everybody, even people who are being detained, are respected."

Day rejected Liberal Leader Stephane Dion's suggestion Canada bring its Taliban prisoners home to Canada.

"We want the Taliban to stay in Afghanistan," he said.Back to Top

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Taliban captured by Canadian troops will be handed over to Afghan police: Day
Jocelyne Richer, Canadian Press Tuesday, April 24, 2007 Article tools
QUEBEC (CP) - Taliban prisoners captured by Canadian troops will continue to be handed over to Afghan police, despite allegations of abuse, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said Tuesday.

Day said Canada will urge the Afghan government to ensure human rights are respected, including in its prisons. "It's important to insist that the Afghan government respects all people, even prisoners," he said at a news conference.

Day noted that human rights in Afghanistan, especially for prisoners, is "so to speak, a new concept" that must become common practice.

"It's not going as quickly as we would like, but we see some progress."

Day was at an international meeting on public security and counter-terrorism in Quebec City.

There have been reports that Afghan prisoners turned over by Canadian troops have been tortured in custody.

Canadian troops regularly hold detainees for a few days of questioning at Kandahar Air Field, then give them to the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan's feared intelligence police.

A Liberal motion calling for Canadian troops to withdraw from combat in Afghanistan by 2009 appeared to be headed for defeat on Tuesday. Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives will oppose the motion, aimed at guaranteeing the combat mission won't be extended.

Day said also there's no way that Canada will bring Taliban prisoners held by the Afghans into this country.

"We want the Taliban to stay in Afghanistan, that their human rights are respected, but we don't want them to come here," he said.

"We don't support Mr. Dion's idea of bringing Afghan prisoners here."

Liberal Leader Stephan Dion first suggested Canada should bring prisoners captured in Afghanistan back to Canada but then dismissed the idea.

A treaty signed between Canada and Afghanistan in December 2005 says that prisoners captured by Canadian soldiers must be turned over to Afghan police.

Day told the conference that it's important for Canada to be in Afghanistan to fight against terrorism.
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Japan mulls option of sending police officers to Afghanistan with EU
Wednesday April 25, 2:08 AM
(Kyodo) _ The European Union has asked Japan to send a team of civilian police officers to Afghanistan for a multinational mission to train local police there, and Japan has begun mulling the idea, Japanese-EU sources said Tuesday.
The move comes at a time when security conditions are worsening in Afghanistan due to a series of suicide bombings and as the European Union prepares to dispatch a police mission there to help improve the situation.

Due partly to the increasing demands for personnel contribution to Afghanistan to keep it from degenerating into lawlessness, Washington has been calling on Tokyo to send personnel in some fashion, the sources said.

A dispatch of police officers to the war-torn country is likely to revive bitter memories of a Japanese officer killed by an armed group in Cambodia in the early 1990s, however.

The officer, 33-year-old Haruyuki Takada from Okayama Prefecture, had been sent to the strife-ridden country as part of Japan's police mission to U.N. peacekeeping activities there in 1992-1993.

Before being able to send officers to Afghanistan, the Japanese government would face questions about the safety of its personnel and the propriety of sending a police mission to a country where antiterror activities continue.

The sources said the European Union has recently asked Japan to join a 160-member multinational police mission. Led by Germany, which holds the current presidency, the European Union has already decided to provide training to Afghan police as part of its security policy.

The European Union has also called on other countries including Canada, New Zealand and Ukraine to join the mission, according to the sources.

An EU official in Tokyo made it clear that Japan's participation would be highly appreciated, but the official also showed understanding about constraints Japan faces in dispatching personnel to countries like Afghanistan.

Washington last year asked Tokyo to consider whether it is possible to dispatch transport aircraft of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force to Afghanistan, according to Japanese sources.

The situation in Afghanistan is likely to be on the agenda during talks between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President George W. Bush on Friday in the United States.
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NATO: Afghanistan, Missile Defense Top Meeting Agenda
By Ahto Lobjakas
BRUSSELS, April 25, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- NATO foreign ministers will attempt to look beyond military solutions in Afghanistan at their informal meeting in Oslo on April 26-27, according to an alliance official.

NATO officials are keen to stress that the alliance's mission in Afghanistan remains its most important engagement.

Speaking to journalists in Brussels on April 24, NATO's assistant secretary-general for political affairs and security policy, Martin Erdmann, said Afghanistan will be at the top of the agenda at the ministerial meeting in Oslo this weekend.

"Afghanistan remains NATO's No.1 top priority."

"Afghanistan remains NATO's No.1 top priority," Erdmann said. "Only last week, the North Atlantic Council, at ambassadorial level, went to Afghanistan for a three-day visit. The [NATO] foreign ministers will [now] review the progress made and ways to sustain and reinforce the progress."

Training And Regional Cooperation

NATO officials say the alliance's strategy in Afghanistan has two main elements. One is to continue extending the training provided to Afghan national security forces. The other involves building closer ties with Afghanistan's neighbors, especially Pakistan.

Officials in Brussels say there has been a shift away from last year's frequent calls for more troops. Erdmann said that after contributions made at the Riga summit in November 2006, the "situation has improved a lot."

He said offers by some member states to remove restrictions on the use of their troops, known as caveats, had also helped.

In addition to extending its training responsibilities, NATO is also hoping to engage other international organizations in the Afghan reconstruction effort. It is particularly interested in establishing closer coordination with the European Union.

However, NATO spokesman James Apparthurai said calls by outgoing French President Jacques Chirac and others to set up an international "contact group" have gone largely unheeded. He said most allies feel there should be "more contact, [but] less group."

Reaching Out To Pakistan

Erdmann stressed that NATO believes that a sustainable solution for Afghanistan's problems can only be found with the cooperation of its neighbors. Among them, he said, Pakistan is seen as key.

"Pakistan clearly is a key factor in the region and therefore ministers should have the opportunity to involve Pakistan -- and possibly other countries of the region -- into the reconstruction process and stabilization process," he noted.

Apparthurai said NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer will travel to Pakistan "in the coming weeks" to meet President Pervez Musharraf.

Apparthurai also pointed to NATO's role running a joint intelligence center with Afghanistan and Pakistan in Kabul, the alliance's efforts to promote joint border controls between the two countries, and the help individual NATO countries are giving Pakistan to help improve its ability to control its borders.

The NATO spokesman appeared to acknowledge that Pakistan's agreements with tribal elders in North and South Waziristan -- territories bordering Afghanistan inhabited by ethnic Pashtun tribes -- have not curbed the influx of militants or weapons into the territory of its neighbor.

NATO is also trying to enlist India's assistance. A NATO assistant secretary-general last week visited both India and Pakistan.

Apparthurai said NATO ministers will not discuss U.S. claims that Iran is supplying weapons to the Taliban at their Oslo meeting.

General Agreement On Missile Defense

The other main topic on the ministers' agenda will be missile defense. Erdmann said all NATO allies share the U.S. belief that the missile threat from Iran is real, and accept U.S. plans to build installations in Poland and the Czech Republic.

But Erdmann also said there is as yet "no consensus" within the alliance itself on how it should respond to the U.S. move.

"I would not go as far as to say that there is a consensus," he said. "I would even go as far as to say that the discussion has just started, [doing so] last week at the level of political directors or security policy directors -- so at senior official level-- but this time we are embarking on a political debate among foreign ministers."

NATO last year conducted a "feasibility study," which reportedly supported the idea of creating a missile shield for the European allies.

NATO ministers will also sound out Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's views at an evening meeting of the NATO-Russia Council on April 26.

Erdmann described as "sobering" Russia's irate response on April 23 to U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' attempts to dispel Moscow's suspicions about the purpose of the shield.

The NATO ministers meeting will also discuss the future of Kosovo and enlargement.

Erdmann said that in Kosovo, NATO will take its cue from the UN Security Council and only perform an "implementing role."

Croatia, Albania and Macedonia remain the only three countries formally on the shortlist to join the alliance -- though Erdmann reiterated NATO's standard position that its "doors will remain open."
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Rice to meet with NATO colleagues on Afghanistan, other issues
The Associated Press Tuesday, April 24, 2007
WASHINGTON: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to Norway on Thursday for an informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers on Afghanistan, missile defense and Kosovo, among other issues.

Also expected in Oslo is Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whose government is strongly at odds with U.S. plans for missile defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic, and with a U.N. plan for a supervised independence for Kosovo.

In Oslo, Lavrov would be attending a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, which seeks areas in which the alliance and the Kremlin can cooperate.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the only bilateral meeting Rice was planning as of Tuesday is with Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere.

On Afghanistan, McCormack said Rice will raise U.S. concerns about NATO countries that refuse to allow their troops in the South Asian country to be deployed in combat areas.

On missile defense, Russia is the strongest voice in the region in opposition to the U.S. plan to install 10 interceptors in Poland and a missile tracking radar in the Czech Republic.

Russia is particularly hostile to the proposal, and the Russian military's chief of general staff warned on Tuesday that the country could target elements of the system once it is installed.

McCormack reaffirmed U.S. willingness to work with Russia on the issue. But Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov has dismissed the offer. "I honestly see no grounds to talk about potential cooperation on strategic missile defense," he said.

Russia has also indicated that it may block in the United Nations a plan for granting conditional independence to Kosovo, which has been under U.N. and NATO control since 1999. Russia, a member of the U.N. Security Council with veto power, has said the only Kosovo status plan it can support is one that has the backing of both the Kosovar Albanians and Serbia.
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Pakistani president arrives in Spain for official visit
Tue Apr 24, 10:32 AM ET
MADRID (AFP) - Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf arrived in Spain on Tuesday, part of a four-nation tour of Europe, for talks expected to focus on Islamic radicalism and NATO's mission in  Afghanistan.

General Musharraf was welcomed at Madrid's airport by Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos. He was scheduled to meet Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and King Juan Carlos.

The Pakistani leader will travel to the southern city of Cordoba during his four-day stay in Spain where he will visit the famous ancient mosque and take part in a conference on dialogue between the West and the Muslim world.

Drug trafficking, economic ties and immigration will also be on the agenda, the Spanish foreign ministry said in a statement.

Cooperation with Pakistan is essential for the safety of the roughly 700 Spanish troops which are taking part in NATO's mission in Afghanistan since the country acts as a logistics base for the soldiers, it added.

This is Musharraf's first visit to Spain, which has an estimated 70,000-strong Pakistani community, since he seized power in 1999.

It is the first official trip to Spain by a Pakistani leader since then prime minister Benazir Bhutto came in 1994.

Musharraf's trip to Europe includes stops in Poland, Bosnia and Turkey where he is schedueld to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The meeting comes amid increasing tension between Afghanistan and Pakistan over the fight against Taliban militants along their common border.
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Media at risk under new Afghan law
By Aunohita Mojumdar Al Jazeera / April 24, 2007
Afghanistan's parliament is on the brink of passing a new media law that may considerably reduce the independence of the country's media.

The controversial amendments to the law, proposed by the religious and cultural affairs commission of the parliament, chaired by former regional commander Haji Mohammed Mohaqeq and supported by the government, will bring both private and state media under greater government control.

Proposed changes include an oversight committee that will scrutinise the functioning of the media including its content.

An earlier proposal to institute an independent commission to carry out this monitoring function has been scrapped in favour of a single body that will have officials from government ministries and departments but not media representatives.

Complaints relating to media content will be referred directly to the supreme court which, in Afghanistan, remains a conservative bastion.

Control of content will be guided through clauses which include prohibitions that prevent publicity of any other religion than Islam, prohibit the media from producing any content that is unislamic or jeopardises the stability of the nation or any false information which might disrupt public opinion.

While some of these clauses are seemingly innocuous, they are so wide-ranging as to allow them to be misused against media organisations not toeing the line.

Fact and falsehood
Interpretations of facts and falsehood, for example, are always contentious in a conflict zone.

The government's determination of what are facts will result in one-sided reportage. Already there have been several attempts to impose guidelines for reporting on the media with a wide-ranging list of subjects which should not be reported.

The recently passed amnesty bill, immunising all jihadis from prosecution also sought to introduce a clause which would force the media to honour the jihadis in any reportage. Both moves were dropped under pressure but may be reintroduced through this bill.

The growing tensions between the media and the government are evident in recent events. The government's decision to trade Taliban prisoners for an Italian reporter leaving an Afghan reporter Ajmal Naqshbandi to be murdered has angered and shocked Afghan journalists.

Tolo television
More recently the country's most popular channel Tolo TV has been locked in a standoff with the attorney general of Afghanistan after police raided the channel following allegations of "misquoting" by Tolo.

Tolo TV, owned by three Afghan-Australian brothers, hit back accusing the attorney general of having carried out an illegal action and calling for his removal from office.

"The potential crimes [of the attorney general] are of the utmost seriousness and directly affect [the] issue of rule of law and sustainability of democracy in Afghanistan, especially given that they may be perpetrated by a person holding the highest operational legal position in Afghanistan," Tolo said.

The information ministry's commission to look into the matter has asked Tolo to apologise saying the channel had "presented the attorney general's statements in a way that can lead to various interpretations and cause unnecessary public anguish. The way this news was broadcast, could be seen as ill-intentioned."

However, Zaid Mohseni, a director of Tolo, states that the commission's finding does not show how and where Tolo had reported inaccurately.

"We are not convinced there is a reason to apologise and we are looking into the matter," Mohseni told Al Jazeera.

The order is indeed ambiguous in that it refers to possible interpretations and mala fides, rather than any substantive breach of facts.

The row illustrates an increasing pattern of confrontation between Afghanistan's independent media and those in power.

As the fledgling post-conflict state comes into being, with old roles being challenged and the balance of power changing, there are few areas where the contradictions have emerged as sharply as in the area of media.

Tolo itself is no stranger to controversy, having pushed the boundaries of media content in Afghanistan with programming content that is often considered to be too forward by Afghan standards.

However, Tolo also acts as a shock absorber for most of the media outlets that also fall far short of the restrictions that conservative sections would like to impose on them.

The new media law will also reverse moves to make the state broadcaster a public service broadcaster, by bringing it under government control.

Abdul Karim Khurram, the information minister, said the government cannot afford not to have control over the state broadcaster since the county was at war.

Khurram also said he would like to ensure a ceiling on the use of foreign content in Afghan media. Channels such as Tolo are highly dependent on foreign content.

Afghanistan currently does not have the capacity to produce adequate programming to meet an increasing demand that has seen the establishment of seven different private channels in the past three years. Khurram's ministry recently banned Tolo TV from rebroadcasting Al Jazeera content.

Mohaqeq, chairman of the religious affairs commission, told this reporter that they would not want the government to use the RTA for propaganda but that the media needed to be brought under specific rules to prevent them from misusing their power to humiliate people.

The argument, which is also one forwarded by the government, has emerged as a uniting platform for those seeking to impose more curbs on media.

Resurgent conservatism as well as consolidation of power by former local commanders, an increasingly authoritative government and other power-brokers has seen increasing attacks on an independent Afghan media that had emerged as one of the strongest components of Afghanistan's attempts to form a democratic pluralistic state.
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Stability in Pakistan is Key to Peace in Afghanistan: Former Security Forces Deputy
Embassy, Canada  April 25th, 2007 NEWS STORY By Brian Adeba
Former commander of Task Force Kabul Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie says the Afghan war is winnable and corruption is being curbed, but restoring the monarchy is not a viable option.
There were no television cameras, reporters or members of Parliament at a public forum on Canada's mission in Afghanistan at Saint Paul University last Wednesday.

The audience that attended–about 60 people–was mostly seniors. The anti-war crowd of 20-somethings one would normally encounter at such university forums was absent. And so the main centre of attention, Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, chief of land staff, former commander of Task Force Kabul and deputy commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, could afford to be what soldiers usually are: a candid straight talker.

Lt. Gen. Leslie's talk on Afghanistan was not in isolation. Parliament resumed last week after a two-week Easter recess, and the mission in Afghanistan once again came up in Question Period debates as Canada lost its 54th soldier in the central Asian country.

Soon after the organizer of the gathering, Fergus Watt, executive director of the World Federalist Forum, kicked off the question and answer session, the first query was one many a skeptical MP has asked in parliament: How winnable is the military operation in Afghanistan?

Lt.-Gen. Leslie offered a long answer, which delved into the intricacies of Afghanistan's history, and elaborated that he rejects Samuel Huntington's clash of civilizations thesis, stressing that the war isn't about religion but extremism, before finally arriving at the answer.

"Is it winnable? Yes it is," he said, adding that the solution to Afghanistan's problems also depends on cooperation with the six countries bordering it, before uttering a statement never heard from his political bosses.

"One mustn't assume that Pakistan is the only source of evil [in Afghanistan]," said the general, whose job, in his own words, involves getting equipment to the Canadian Forces, and "receive soldiers when they come back dead or alive."

Later, he elaborated that a politically stable Pakistan is crucial to peace in Afghanistan. If Pakistan enters into a full-scale war with India, it could have a ripple effect in the region, the general said, although he fell short of mentioning which other countries are fueling the Taliban insurgency.

But, one man asked, is maintaining a winning scenario in Afghanistan only possible through the presence of Western troops?

"If I was a young Pashtun seeing foreign troops in my country month by month, I would be disappointed," said the audience member. Plus, he said, the people in the Afghan government are corrupt warlords who preside over the country's trade in illicit drugs.

Admitting that corruption is indeed rampant, Lt.-Gen. Leslie said certain oral codes–like the Pashtun-wali, a code that predates Islam in Afghanistan and stresses loyalty to an ethnic group–hampers the fight against graft. He added that ethnic loyalties reach deep into the country's fabric and Afghans have historically been resistant to any form of centralized government, hence some of the problems the country is currently experiencing. These loyalties, he said, also hamper the establishment of an independent judiciary. But the general stressed he believes Afghan president Hamid Karzai is serious about fighting corruption.

With the Canadian Forces now taking on the role of some NGOs by providing shovels and basic farming equipment to peasants, Lt.-Gen. Leslie said the military will continue doing the task despite criticism from some NGOs.

"Don't relegate the Canadian soldiers to killing," he said.

"We are doing minor reconstruction when no one else can."

The Canadian Forces will remain in Afghanistan as long as the politicians want them to be, he said.

"But if the Afghans want us to leave, oh boy, would that be quick."

As the two-and-a-half-hour event drew to an end, Lt.-Gen. Leslie was asked whether the restoration of the monarchy would bring stability to Afghanistan since the country was only stable when the Afghan king was ruling. He replied that the idea wouldn't work.

"I have met Field Marshall [Muhammad] Fahim [a former defence minister] who had more tanks, bullets and guns than the entire Afghan army, and he is completely against it," he said, adding that every ethnic group would want their own to be king.

"The current royal family doesn't inspire confidence among the ethnicities," he added.
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Canadians help Afghan girls go to school
Under the Taliban, girls were banned from schools -- and educators still face the threat of death. But with Canadian security, some girls are now in class, as Jonathan Fowlie reports from Kandahar.
Jonathan Fowlie The Vancouver Sun Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Hidden within the confines of a cobblestone courtyard, and just beyond the flaps of a large white tent, progress is quietly being made in Kandahar City.

Within those walls, a class of young girls was doing what their counterparts could mostly only dream about just a few years ago -- getting a daily education.

"The girls have joined the school since the Taliban regime collapsed and this new regime took over," Abdul Aziz, the school's principal said yesterday. "Fortunately, when we got the Islamic Republic state of Afghanistan, they put more attention towards education and training."

Mr. Aziz, who runs a mixed girls and boys school for almost 1,600 children in downtown Kandahar, acknowledged in an interview yesterday he faces great personal risk for running the school, but added it is something he feels he must do.

"In some cases, there are threats towards me, but I must say that I am not scared and afraid of that," he said. "The key thing is it is a holy task that we are performing right now, working as a teacher. We will continue our job no matter what."

More than 40 teachers have reportedly been killed by the Taliban in the last 12 months, all in an apparent attempt to rattle this country's already shaky education system.

The teachers, who taught in grade schools and universities, were mostly from southern Afghanistan, says one report that cites information provided by Education Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar.

When asked why he continues to take on the risk to run a school, especially one that teaches girls, Mr. Aziz said he does it because he wants to serve his country.

"Education is very important to stability in Afghanistan. It is very positive," he said yesterday through an interpreter. "Schools are one of the very important sources. If we have schools, it means we are going to have a very bright future."

In one class of almost 30 young girls at Mr. Aziz's school yesterday, many of the pupils spoke proudly and confidently of their ambitions and of their plans for the future.

"Engineer," said one girl when asked what career she wants to pursue.

"Doctor," added another.

"Teacher," called out a third.

It was a scene that would have been virtually unthinkable under a Taliban regime, one under which women could only study the Koran until age eight, and then were banned from any kind of education.

Mr. Aziz, who became a teacher about five years ago, said part of the reason he is able to operate his school is because the security situation in Kandahar City has been getting continually better.

It was a position officials at Canada's Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar said reflected what they see happening throughout the city.

"The city itself is best described, I think, as improving, but cautiously improving," Lt.-Col. Bob Chamberlain, commander of the Provincial Reconstruction Team, said in an interview.

"There will be times where there are setbacks. There's going to be continued attacks. There's going to be, based on the tactics we are seeing, some bad deeds that happen -- assassinations and the like will be attempted."

That in mind, Lt.-Col. Chamberlain said he does see tangible signs of progress. "Most Kandaharians feel comfortable walking around at night, whereas before it was really bandit country at night," he said. "I don't see mass widespread terror among Kandaharians."

Yesterday, soldiers from the team brought almost 130 pairs of new shoes, pens and notebooks to Mr. Aziz's school that he could hand out to children. The shoes were sent to Afghanistan by Sonya Bata, co-founder of Bata Shoes, Canadian officials said, explaining they were part of a donation of about 500 shoes meant for poor or orphaned Afghan children.

"I am very happy," said Hayatullah, nine, an orphan and pupil who wants to be a doctor.

"I didn't have any shoes. These are very nice and very good-looking," he added as he pulled on a new pair of shiny black leather shoes.

Watching the students enjoy their new shoes, Mr. Aziz stood back with a smile. "I'm very happy we have the international community assisting us and helping us with a lot of things," he said. "We are a poor country and we have been at war for the last three to four decades and we really need help."

Before military officials left, however, the principal made one final request.

"We need a good building for a school," he said, pointing out the schools' 11 tents are not sufficient to even carry the current load.

"If we have a good building and more classes I believe the numbers could increase to 3,000 or 4,000 students."

Online Gallery

Reporter Jonathan Fowlie has produced a five-minute-plus online slideshow of his time following a Canadian battle group working in Kandahar province. The slideshow can be accessed at: www.canada.com/topics/news/features/afghanistan/slideshow/index.html
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Afghan President expresses condolence to Russia over death of Yeltsin
People's Daily Online, China
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has offered his condolence to the Russian people over the death of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, a statement said Wednesday.

Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin made tough decisions for the transformation of Russia during difficult times, Karzai said in the statement issued by the Afghan presidential palace.

Karzai expressed his heartfelt sympathies and condolences to the family of Yeltsin and to the Russian people in the statement.

Yeltsin, 76, died from heart failure on Monday.
Source: Xinhua
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Canada would need to clear multiple hurdles to jail Afghan detainees
ALEX DOBROTA Globe and Mail, Canada
OTTAWA -- Should Canada run its own prisons in Afghanistan, the government would have to clear a series of legal and diplomatic hurdles to ensure Afghan detainees are treated fairly, international law experts said.

Their comments came after Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day suggested the Canadian government is considering running its own prison in Afghanistan to solve the current detainee crisis.

"We are looking at a number of areas," Mr. Day said in Quebec City. "Nothing is being excluded."

The Canadian government would first have to decide whether to designate the detainees as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions or to treat them as suspected criminals waiting for a trial.

The first option would involve freeing the detainees at the end of hostilities, which could anger other NATO allies such as the United States, said University of Ottawa law professor Amir Attaran.

The second option would be no less complicated, he said, as the prisoners would be prosecuted within the Afghan justice system, which has yet to rise to international standards of fairness and due process.

Canada would have to negotiate with Afghanistan on the opening of a prison, experts said. It should also ask NATO to help run the detention facility, said Michael Byers, the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia.

This is important to ensure the fair treatment of detainees if Canada decides to withdraw all or part of its troops before the conflict is over, Prof. Byers said. "Whatever NATO countries are taking over from us will have to take over the detention facilities," he said.

Proponents of a Canadian-run prison in Afghanistan suggested the cost of such an option for Canadian taxpayers would be relatively low, saying Canada has only transferred about 40 detainees to Afghan authorities since the beginning of its mission there.

But Martin Rudner, a counterterrorism professor at Carleton University, said Canadian troops would be hard placed to act as prison guards for inmates who share a different culture and religion.

Beside the language barrier, cultural and religious matters such as respecting prayer times and providing appropriate food would also pose logistical difficulties, Prof. Rudner said.
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Afghan envoy not surprised by detainee allegations
CTV.ca News April 24, 2007
Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada says he's not surprised by allegations of detainee abuse in his country but he says that shouldn't overshadow the important mission being accomplished.

"I expected some of these allegations to appear in the media because there already were indications that maybe something was happening so it wasn't totally surprising for me," Omar Samad told Canada AM on Tuesday.

"I believe that the overall mission in Afghanistan is strategically so important that it shouldn't be overshadowed by something maybe not going right."

Samad said the situation needs to be addressed but that it should be considered within the "larger picture."

The Globe and Mail newspaper reported Monday that Afghans handed over to local authorities after being interrogated by Canadian soldiers say they have been beaten, whipped, starved, frozen, choked and interrogated by electric shock in Kandahar jails.

Including more than 30 face-to-face interviews with men recently captured in Kandahar province, the newspaper report chronicles claims of abuse by Afghan authorities.

Critics blasted the Canadian government Monday and called for the defence minister's resignation over the new allegations.

"If this report is accurate, Canadians have engaged in war crimes, not just individually but as matters of policy," said Michael Byers, a professor of international law, on Monday.

"Canadian forces cannot be turned into a collection agency for torturers, and Mr. O'Connor and Gen. Hillier have let it become that," added law professor Amir Attaran.

He was referring to Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor and Gen. Rick Hillier, chief of defence staff for the Canadian Armed Forces.

Afghanistan mission

The criticisms come as MPs prepare to vote on a Liberal motion Tuesday to pull out troops from Afghanistan by 2009.

The motion does not have a good chance of passing as the NDP is expected to team up with the Tories to defeat it.

But during Parliament's question period Monday, the alliance didn't stop NDP Leader Jack Layton from attacking the Conservatives over the detainee reports.

"Will the prime minister do the right thing and instruct his minister of defence to stop the transfer of prisoners now and get a full inquiry going, then ask for his resignation?" asked NDP Leader Jack Layton.

"We take such allegations seriously," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said.

"That's why we've concluded a deal with the Afghan government. It's why we'll be in discussions with them to pursue this matter."

However, The Globe reported Tuesday that the watchdog agency Canada is relying on to monitor detainee abuse says it cannot properly carry out its job.

The regional head of investigations for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission told the paper in a recent interview that his staff is being blocked from visiting detainees in the National Directorate of Security's (NDS) detention cells in Kandahar.

"We have an agreement with the Canadians, but we can't monitor these people," said Amir Mohammed Ansari, chief investigator for AIHRC in Kandahar. "Legally, we have permission to visit prisoners inside the NDS prison. But they don't allow it."

Handover agreement

After a detainee is questioned at Kandahar Air Field, Canadian Forces usually hand over prisoners to NDS -- Afghanistan's feared intelligence police.

But under the handover agreement, signed by Hillier in 2005, Canada has no jurisdiction to follow up on the condition of detainees once the handover is made.

None of the captured Afghans -- including those who clearly align themselves with the Taliban -- claimed abuse at the hands of Canadians.

In fact, Canadian Forces were often praised for gentle handling of captives and humane detention facilities.

However, one impoverished farmer, Mahmad Gul, 33, told The Globe that he was interrogated and beaten for three days in May 2006 by the Afghan police -- within earshot of Canadian soldiers who visited him between attacks.

"The Canadians told me, 'Give them real information, or they will do more bad things to you,' " said Gul.

Byers and Attaran both raised the possibility that Canadian troops could be prosecuted in foreign countries, or even in Canada, if they were found to knowingly have been transferring detainees into a situation where torture would be used.
With a report from CTV's Roger Smith
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Jihadi media thrives in Pakistan despite promised crackdown, fears of Talibanization
The Associated Press Tuesday, April 24, 2007
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: A newspaper warns that Jews and Christians are engaged in "genocide" against Muslims. A Web site says children should love guns instead of cricket. A video shows a child beheading a militant accused of betraying his comrades.

Despite government promises to crack down, hate-filled jihadist propaganda is thriving in Pakistan, especially in print and on the Internet. Critics say it is contributing to the demonization of the West and the "Talibanization" of Pakistan.

Some of the most vitriolic material is produced by affiliates of groups supposedly banned after al-Qaida launched the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States and President Gen. Pervez Musharraf severed ties with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

"I feel it has increased and the tone has become more hostile," said Mohammad Shahzad, who runs a media monitoring service in Pakistan for clients including think tanks and embassies. "The level of extremism and fanaticism has gone up."

Shahzad said there are no statistics on the output of extremist groups. However, examples are plentiful.

Tayyabat, a magazine for women published by Jamaat-ud-Dawa — which was proscribed as a terrorist organization by Washington last year — says Pakistan's support of the U.S. war on terror amounts to surrendering to an America bent on eliminating Muslims.

"A white flag will not put out the fire from the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. They are thirsty for the Muslim's blood," an article in February said.

The group conducts extensive charitable works in Pakistan, but has well-established ties to the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which fights Indian troops in divided Kashmir.

A Pakistani government ban against the al-Rashid trust, an Islamic charity proscribed in February for alleged links with terrorist groups, has failed to stop the associated Daily Islam newspaper from publishing in Karachi. Its content is not overtly militant, but often inflammatory.

"Jews, Christians and their allies are engaged in genocide of Muslims but Islam is spreading and its enemies are losing their nerve," a recent article said.

Hardline religious propaganda is still far from the mainstream in Pakistan, where the thriving private media have, in particular, revolutionized TV with more liberal programming. But as in other Muslim countries, the call for jihad, or holy war, against the West has also gained resonance here amid widespread anger over the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Abdullah Muntazir, spokesman for Jamaat-ud-Dawa, defended the group as a peaceful organization exercising its right to freedom of expression. He complained that anyone publishing anti-American material in Pakistan is immediately accused of "promoting jihad."

But many observers worry that Pakistan's military-dominated government is doing too little to prevent extremists from publishing incendiary material that potentially drums up recruits and donations for militant attacks in Pakistan and beyond.

"There are laws against hate speech. They haven't even applied those," said Samina Ahmed, an analyst for the International Crisis Group.

"The fact that there are no curbs on them (extremists) or that the government backs down the moment there is the slightest resistance on the part of Islamic organizations has encouraged them to circulate their message."

Pro-Taliban forces appear entrenched in Pakistan's border regions, which are used by militants as a haven and recruiting ground for attacks on NATO and U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Islamist activists there issue draconian social edicts such as threats to barbers for trimming beards, and shops selling music CDs and movies often face attack.

But the boldest challenge to the government's authority is currently in the affluent and cosmopolitan capital, Islamabad, where firebrand clerics have launched a vigilante anti-vice campaign.

Last month, the clerics and students at the Red Mosque kidnapped an alleged brothel owner and forced her into a public confession. They then set up a court to impose their version of Shariah, or Islamic law, and threatened suicide attacks if the government tries to intervene by force.

In broadcasts on an illegal FM radio station, Red Mosque prayer leader Maulana Abdul Aziz warned his students would soon visit Islamabad residents to persuade them to burn "satanic things" such as TV sets. He also reportedly threatened action against diplomats' wives, claiming they were walking in revealing dresses around the Pakistani capital.

"We warn them to cover themselves like Muslim women before coming out from their houses, otherwise, they will learn soon how to cover their body," Aziz said.

Tariq Azeem, minister of state for information, defended the government's record against extremist media. He said any media promoting violence, including suicide bombings and sectarian attacks, were "totally illegal and will not be tolerated."

Some action has been taken.

Markets in key cities such as Peshawar and Karachi that openly stocked jihadist videos a year ago no longer do so — although some merchants still whisper they can get them on request.

That is despite an increased output of videos promoting the stepped-up Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. In a shocking example last week, a video obtained by the Associated Press showed a boy beheading a Pakistani militant accused of betraying a top Taliban leader.

Azeem said the advent of the Internet and the ease with which pirate radio operators can change frequencies made it impossible to clamp down completely.

The Web site affiliated with the al-Qaida-linked group Jaish-e Mohammed — which was banned in 2002 — still lavishes praises on those who fight jihad.

One recent post by a writer identified as Abu Khabib Mardanvi urged youngsters to shun the "dirty and useless game" of cricket and opt instead for militancy. "I pray that God may staunch the love of the bat from the hearts of today's youth and bless them with love for the gun," he wrote.
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TAJIKISTAN: Polio campaign in Afghan border areas a success
25 Apr 2007 12:38:05 GMT
More  DUSHANBE, 25 April 2007 (IRIN) - DUSHANBE, 25 April 2007 (IRIN) - A three-day polio vaccination campaign targeting about 300,000 children below three years of age in Tajikistan's districts bordering Afghanistan was a success, officials said.

Supported by UNICEF, with vaccine procurement, and the World Health Organization (WHO), with technical and financial support, the campaign covered 26 districts bordering Afghanistan and ended on Wednesday.

"Polio vaccinations are conducted each year in Tajikistan districts bordering nearby Afghanistan, where polio is endemic. Every year, till the danger of getting polio from neighbouring countries is removed, polio campaigns will be conducted in the country," said Sabir Kurbanov, health programme officer with the United Nations Children's Agency (UNICEF).

Shamsiddin Jabirov, director of the immunisation and prevention centre at Tajikistan's Ministry of Health of (MoH), said that they were continuing to vaccinate children against polio although Tajikistan was certified as a polio-free country in 2002.

"Especially now, when there is an acute form of polio in Afghanistan, there is a need to conduct polio campaigns on both sides [of the border] simultaneously. The polio campaign will be conducted in two rounds; now and a month later," Jabirov said.

But rugged terrain has proved to be a challenge for vaccinators trying to reach some of the communities, particularly those in isolated villages in remote areas, officials say. Children residing in these areas are often not vaccinated on time.

Another problem that has been somewhat overcome is the limited number of health workers in remote districts. The health ministry initiated the idea of using mobile teams equipped with primary health care staff, vaccines and cold chain equipment. The teams travel from one village to another in a bid not to leave a single child out. Other children are vaccinated at existing rural medical facilities.

This year's polio immunisation campaign in Tajikistan has been well planned, specialists say, and included a week-long awareness-raising campaign just before it aimed at increasing the vaccination rate.

Kurbanov of UNICEF said such sub-national immunisation drives were a good opportunity to reach out to those children not vaccinated during routine immunisation rounds.
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Afghan Group Praised for Contribution to New York City
As magazine and Web site, Afghan Communicator celebrates 10th anniversary
By Judy Aita USINFO Staff Writer 24 April 2007
New York -- Ten years ago, a group of young Afghans met in the Khyber Pass Restaurant in New York City to plan an academic, literary and cultural magazine.  By 2007, in recognition of their work, Mayor Michael Bloomberg proclaimed April 23 Afghan Communicator Day in New York.

"Ten years ago, just as the Internet was connecting the world, various educated young Afghans around the U.S. found each other.  We were looking for ways to connect and make sense of our situation," said Afghan Communicator Executive Director Rameen Moshref Javid.

"We laid the foundation of Afghan Communicator.  A decade later, we are still an Afghan information center connecting different communities and bringing different groups together," Javid said at an anniversary celebration attended by city officials, diplomats, Afghan Communicator staff members and friends.

In its first issue, the group declared, "We, the young generation of Afghans at the Afghan Communicator, came together to form a medium that enables us to culturally and intellectually connect the scattered Afghan communities around the world.  Well into our second decade away from our shattered land, we vow to remember our roots!  With the Afghan pride and Muslim identity in common, we endeavor to build a bridge of unity among our diverse community abroad."

It vowed not to tolerate any bias based on age, gender, ethnicity, language or creed and pledged to provide a means of bringing the community together in a peaceful, social, democratic, Islamic and scholarly atmosphere.  For five years, Afghan Communicator was the magazine its founders envisioned, publishing 13 issues that still are available through its Web site.  Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the organization changed its mission, becoming a nonprofit organization that no longer publishes magazines but takes an active role in representing the Afghan community and preserving its art and culture.

In the past five years, Afghan Communicator has become a very active organization, publishing a bimonthly English/Dari community newsletter, sponsoring an annual Afghan Heritage Day, holding the only Afghan Art and Film Festival in North America, pioneering such projects as the Inter Afghan Youth and Afghan Professionals summits, and establishing the Torch Bearers of Afghan Culture Award to honor Afghan cultural and literary icons in their lifetime.  Afghans from across the United States and Canada are attending the organizations events, with some even coming from as far away as Japan.

Deputy New York City Commissioner for Immigrant Affairs Azadeh Khalili pointed out that Afghan Communicator is the only community-based Afghan organization in the city.

"Afghan Communicator works hard to meet the needs of the community," said Khalili, representing Mayor Bloomberg, who was out of town.

"We hope that this terrific organization will continue to encourage tolerance and respect as it promotes Afghan culture throughout New York, in addition to providing vital services to our city's Afghan residents," she said.

During the anniversary fete, Afghan artwork and crafts were for sale to raise money for artists in Afghanistan.  At the end of April, Javid and two Afghan artists from the U.S. and Canada will be traveling to Afghanistan to conduct arts workshops for several Afghan organizations.

"By promoting Afghan art in the U.S., not only are we building cultural bridges between Afghanistan and the United States, but we are also supporting artists by selling their artwork in the U.S. and Canada," Javid said.

Afghan Communicator is attempting to revive and enhance Afghan art by working with Afghan artists and art organizations to rebuild that segment of Afghanistan society.  During three decades of war, the demand for art severely diminished and then the Taliban declared art a crime against the state and a sin.  Many Afghan artists changed professions; few apprentices had reason to continue.

Afghan Communicator currently is working with the fine arts faculties of Herat and Kabul universities, the Herat-based Center for Visual Arts, and the Kabul-based Center for Contemporary Art Afghanistan by conducting workshops, providing equipment and supplies, selling the artists' works abroad, and creating a market for Afghan art in North America.

The organization wants to see Afghan arts and crafts become a viable economic industry as well as cultural institution -- much like the Afghan carpet industry -- with deep cultural roots so that its existence never again is threatened and it is relied upon as a job-creating institution.

"The artists really need a lot of support.  They exist with so little money and resources," Javid said.

On his upcoming trip, Javid plans to donate digital cameras, laptop computers, mat-cutting machines and other supplies.  The artists will be conducting workshops in marketing, portfolio making and composition.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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Jihadi commanders to be decorated
KABUL, Apr 23 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The government has decided to award medals to former jihad commanders for their gallantry against the invading Red Army during the era of jihad or holy war.

Briefing journalists on the cabinet meeting here on Monday, deputy at the administrative affairs office Sadiq Mudabir said the awards were being given under a decree from President Hamid Karzai.

Mudabir remained tight-lipped when asked about names of the nominees for the medals. However, he said it would be given on April 28 being celebrated as the Victory of Afghanistan Islamic Revolution Day across the country every year.

It was 14 years ago that the mujahideen or holy warriors got victory against the Russian-backed government of late Dr Najeeb in 1992.

The cabinet meeting also reviewed security of prisons in the country. The Interior and Justice ministries were asked to adopt measures to step up security at prisons and ensure proper food and accommodation facilities for the inmates.

They meeting also discussed the ongoing reconstruction process and health facilities in the country.
Abdul Qadir Sidiqi
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Govt assures probe into mass grave
KABUL, Apr 23 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Those responsible for the killing of hundreds of people in the northern Badakhshan province would be unveiled and brought to justice, the Interior Ministry announced on Monday.

Zmaray Bashari, spokesman for the ministry, told journalists a commission had been formed and assigned to investigate the discovery of mass grave in Dasht-i-Qaragh area of Faizabad, capital of Badakhshan.

The unearthing of a mass grave with over 400 bodies in Badakhshan province triggered angry protests prompting the government to send a high-level delegation into the province and investigate the incident.

Bashari said the probe commission was comprised of police personnel, members of provincial council, influential, tribal elders and family members of some of the martyrs.

He said some items, like rosaries, pens and notebooks, recovered from pockets of some of the victims indicated that they had been buried in the mass grave without any investigations.

"The government will take action against the responsible people after collecting evidence," said the spokesman.

Earlier, hundreds of people staged protest demonstrations in the province asking the government to investigate the carnage and bring the culprits to the fore and award them exemplary punishments.

Asked about the fencing move of the joint border by the Pakistani government, Bashari said such steps could not stop infiltration of terrorists.
Najib Khelwatgar
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Poppies over 21,000 acres of land eradicated
KANDAHAR CITY, April 23 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Twenty-one thousand acres of poppy crops have been eradicated so far in the southern Kandahar province that borders Pakistan.

A governmental drive to wipe out the banned crop was currently underway in seven districts of the insurgency-wracked province, Governor Asadullah Khalid said on Monday.

In an exclusive chat with Pajhwok Afghan News, the governor revealed around 4,000 acres of land was purged last week of poppies in the said districts.

Police were pressing on with the anti-poppy campaign in Kandahar, said Khalid, who voiced strong determination to cleanse the whole province of the illegal crop.

Brigadier Gen. Asmatullah Alizai, Kandahar police chief, told this scribe they had encountered no resistance during the last one week to the anti-poppy effort.

The campaign was going on at a steady clip in Shah Walikot, Daman, Arghandab, Zherai, Takhta Pul, Maiwand and Dand districts, the police chief continued.

"The drive would be extended to other parts of Kandahar once the seven districts were made completely poppy-free," promised Alizai.
Saeed Zabuli
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Bike race unites Afghans against drug use
KABUL, April 23 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Afghans joined together in the Annual 'Say No to Drugs' Bike Race 2007, an event hailed as a magnificent success.

The race, organised by the Bayat Foundation as part of the national sporting calendar, seeks to help fight the growing use of drugs by Afghan youths.

Participants from 34 provinces including Kabul, Nangarhar, Herat, Balkh and Kandahar began training for the race months in advance, many on the actual 26-kilometer race route.

Known locally as 'The Bike Race,' the event held on April 20 received a tremendous response from the Afghan people. This race featured over 1,000 riders of all ages, including a significant number of female participants.

The contest, starting from Darul Aman Palace, finished in front of a cheering crowd at Paghman. The starter's flag was waved by Ehsan Bayat, chairman of the Foundation, at 8:00am local time as the participants rushed past in a sea of orange caps.

Children, men and women cheered the cyclists and waved flags in a show of unity in the new, confident and progressive Afghanistan.

Remarked one car driver: "Just watching these participants, and the pride I feel, is worth much more than the extra wait to reach my destination. I hope the best cyclist wins."

The first position went to Fazilkhuda from Panjsher, who covered the distance in five hours, followed by Masood. The third prize was won by Salahudin.

Among the women, Zhak finished first, with Benafsha and Lialoma finishing second and third respectively. The race ended at Paghman and the first prizewinners both in the male and female categories were each presented with a cheque for 50,000 afghanis.

The second prize was 25,000 afs and the third accounted for 10,000 afs. Winners of the first, second and third positions in both categories also received trophies and medals.
Edited by Mudassir
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Celebrated Afghan poet Ustad Faani passes away
Lalit K. Jha 
NEW YORK, Apr 23 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Noted Afghan poet Raziq Faani died on Sunday in San Diego, California. He was 63.

The deceased had migrated to the United States in 1988. His funeral will be held on April 26, his family sources told Pajhwok Afghan News.

Faani's poetic work are mostly depicting the suffering of the people of Afghanistan and the destruction caused by three decades of civil war.

His most famous lines are: "Hama jaa dokaan-i-rang ast, hama rang mayforoshand; dil-i-man ba sheesha sozad, hama sang mayforoshand (everywhere is a paint store, everyone sells color; my heart breaks for the glass, everyone sells stone." Back to Top
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