Road diplomacy: India names street after Afghan war hero
Press Trust Of India New Delhi, April 05, 2007
Reflecting their growing bilateral relations, Indian government named a road on Thursday in the national capital after the slain Afghan war hero, Ahmad Shah Massoud, the first such honour extended to a leader from that country.
The road near the Afghanistan embassy in the diplomatic enclave of Chanakyapuri, was a "symbol of ties" that bind the two nations that have always "enjoyed excellent relations", said External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee unveiling the plaque with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai in the capital on Thursday.
Describing Massoud as a visionary and a friend of India, Mukherjee said the Lion of Panjsheer as he is better known, understood the threat of "globalisation of terror" and fought, dreamt and prayed all his life for a free Afghanistan, which is a reality today.
"This road is a symbol of ties that bind India and Afghanistan and I am confident that it will pave the way for even stronger ties between our two countries and in our region," the minister added.
Expressing his gratitude, Karzai remembered Massoud as a friend who waged a struggle against "Al-Qaeda, interference from neighbours and the rule of terror in Afghanistan."
"He was so important in the war against terror and for the freedom of Afghanistan that terrorism found every possible way to get him out of their way and that was to assassinate him. Afghanistan is privileged to have him as our hero," he said.
Massoud joins personalities like Uruguay's national hero Jose Artigas, Kazakh poet Abai Kunanbaiuly, Irish leader Eamon De Valera, novelist Andre Malraux and Argentinian icon Jose De San Martin who have roads named after them in Delhi.
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New Al-Qaeda leaders emerging in Pakistan: US experts
by Jerome Bernard Thu Apr 5, 2:30 AM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - New Al-Qaeda leaders appear to be emerging in Pakistan near the Afghan border, casting doubt on the idea of a sustained weakening of the global terrorist network, US experts say.
"There is a sense that Al-Qaeda is reconstituting sort of high-level operational leadership in Pakistan, particularly in the area near Afghanistan, certainly one of the best places for them because there is little (Pakistani) government there," John Lumpkin, senior fellow at Globalsecurity.org, said in an interview with AFP.
According to an article this week in The New York Times, citing US intelligence and counter-terrorism authorities who spoke on condition of anonymity, the new Al-Qaeda leaders have grown more important after the death or capture of the members of the network who had formed Al-Qaeda before the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US.
"There are a number of new players who have advanced through the ranks as a result of the death or capture of key Al-Qaeda senior-level managers," such as September 11 mastermind Khaled Sheikh Mohammed and the Indonesian suspect Hambali, Bruce Hoffman, a professor at Georgetown University, recently told the US House of Representatives Armed Services subcommittee on terrorism.
Both Mohammed and Hambali are among the "war on terror" suspects being held at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The New York Times said the emergence of these new Al-Qaeda leaders had surprised the US intelligence authorities, who became aware of them through communications intercepted in Pakistani tribal areas and interrogations of suspects accused of trying to blow up commercial aircraft between London and the United States last year.
The US intelligence community also concluded that an Egyptian paramilitary commander, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, a veteran of wars in Afghanistan, had orchestrated that attack.
According to the Times, other names are also surfacing, such as Khalid Habib, a Moroccan, and Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi, a Kurd who served in Saddam Hussein's army.
This new crop of leaders is believed to be mainly in their 30s, with years of combat experience in Afghanistan and Chechnya. Pakistanis and North Africans figure strongly among them, compared with the previous leadership which was mostly Egyptian.
According to Lumpkin of Globalsecurity.org, the appearance in recent months of biographies of these people on the "Wanted Terrorists" list of the US State Department on the website rewardsforjustice.net shows "that the US government decided that those guys were growing in importance in the organization."
Nevertheless, he said, it was difficult to know whether the suspects have been important in Al-Qaeda for a long time "and the US government has just figured it out or they really are the rising stars."
In any case, Georgetown University's Hoffman said, the hardcore group of Al-Qaeda operating along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan "continues to exert actual coordination, if not some direct command and control capability, in terms of commissioning attacks, directing surveillance and collating reconnaissance, planning operations, and approving their execution.
That opinion was echoed by Daniel Benjamin, an expert at The Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.
"Al-Qaeda's organization appears to be strengthening, with its leadership based either in the Federal Administered Areas of Pakistan on the Afghanistan border, or elsewhere in Pakistan," he told the House subcommittee hearing.
Benjamin said Pakistan's tribal areas had become "a sanctuary" for Al-Qaeda which will "continue its work re-networking many of the disparate units in the jihadist world."
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200 police search for missing French aid workers, Afghans in southwest Afghanistan
The Associated Press Thursday, April 5, 2007
KABUL, Afghanistan: Two hundred Afghan police have been dispatched to search for two French aid workers and their three Afghan staff missing in southwestern Afghanistan, a provincial governor said Thursday.
The French man and woman, who work with the aid group Terre d'Enfance, left their office in Nimroz province on Tuesday morning and were traveling with their cook, driver and bodyguard, said provincial police chief Daud Askaryar.
A purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, said militants kidnapped the five in Nimroz province — a claim that could not be independently confirmed.
Nimroz Gov. Ghulam Dastagir said 200 policemen were searching houses in Khash Rod district, where the French workers' car was last seen. Nimroz officials have not heard from the Taliban or the missing people, he said.
Ahmadi, who spoke by phone to an Associated Press reporter from an unknown location, named the kidnapped Afghans as Mohammad Rasoul, Zahir Shah and Abdullah. All five were in one vehicle when they were captured and are being held by militants in Nimroz, he said.
Taliban militants will conduct an investigation, and the group's higher authorities will decide what to do with them, Ahmadi said.
Terre d'Enfance is an organization that works on children's education projects in Afghanistan, and the group has been working in Nimroz for four years, Dastagir said.
The purported kidnapping comes one month after Italian reporter Daniel Mastrogiacomo of the Italian daily La Repubblica and two Afghan colleagues were kidnapped by the Taliban in Helmand province.
Mastrogiacomo was released March 19 after the Afghan government released five Taliban prisoners, an exchange that Afghan lawmakers, analysts and international workers criticized.
Mastrogiacomo's translator, Ajmal Nashqbandi, is still being held. His driver was beheaded.
The Taliban last week also claimed to have kidnapped four missing Afghan medical workers and their driver in Kandahar province. The Taliban said the Afghan government would have to release prisoners before the medical workers would be freed.
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Taliban says it kidnapped two French aid workers
Wed Apr 4, 3:39 PM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - The Taliban said on Wednesday they had kidnapped two French aid workers -- a man and a woman -- along with two Afghan colleagues in the southwest of the country.
Rebel spokesman Qari Mohammad Yusuf told Reuters by satellite phone the four were abducted on Tuesday in Nimroz province, between Iran ad Afghanistan's opium heartland of Helmand province.
Afghan and French officials said two French nationals and at least two Afghans have been missing in Nimroz since Tuesday. They did not confirm they had been abducted.
In Paris, foreign ministry spokesman Denis Simonneau said the two working for Terre d'Enfance had been reported missing along with three Afghan guides.
"The foreign ministry as well as our embassy in Kabul are following this matter closely in cooperation with the local authorities as well as with the French NGO," he told an online news conference.
Nimroz police chief Mohammad Dawood Askaryar said the pair, their Afghan driver and their translator went missing while driving to neighboring Farah province.
Taliban insurgents have been active in the area recently.
Terre d'Enfance focuses on education and other projects for children in Nimroz.
The disappearance follows the kidnapping of Daniele Mastrogiacomo, a reporter for the Italian daily La Repubblica last month in Helmand.
He was released after two weeks when Kabul freed five Taliban officials, but his driver was beheaded and his translator remains hostage.
That deal drew strong criticism in Italy and security officials in Afghanistan warned it would embolden the insurgents into taking more Western captives.
(Additional reporting by Saeed Ali Achakzai in Spin Boldak and Paris newsroom)
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Friends and foes form front to curb Karzai's powers
By Sayed Salahuddin Wed Apr 4, 9:44 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Key members of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government have joined forces with some of his arch rivals to form a party that aims to curb his powers.
Launched on Tuesday, the National Front is largely made up of veterans of the mujahideen resistance war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
The party wants to change the constitution so that a prime minister is appointed to share control with the president over government affairs and oversee elections for governors and mayors.
"We do not want presidential system," said Sayed Mustafa Kazimi, a parliamentarian, and spokesman for the National Front.
"We want the role of a prime minister in order to improve democracy in our society," he said.
Burhanuddin Rabbani, who led a mujahideen government that collapsed in civil war during the early 1990s, is the leader of the party.
The former president, a soft spoken, turbanned Islamic scholar, was a leader of a key faction within the Northern Alliance that helped U.S.-led troops overthrow the Taliban in late 2001, and is now a member of Afghanistan's lower house.
National Front members talk of seeking reconciliation with the Taliban, stamping out corruption and weaning Afghanistan, the world's leading producer of heroin, off the narcotics trade.
Disenchantment with Karzai is running high, but many ordinary Afghans will hardly be filled with confidence at the sight of so many former factional commanders banding together in a common front, analysts say, as several of them are regarded as being as responsible as the Taliban for Afghanistan's current woes.
Members of the National Front include first Vice President Ahmad Zia Masood, Mohammad Qasim Fahim, Karzai's adviser on security affairs, and the head of the lower of house of parliament, Yunus Qanuni, along with several former and current members of Karzai's cabinet.
At least two top former communist generals who are now members of parliament, and Mustafa Zahir, a grandson of Afghanistan's ailing former king, are also members of the party.
After being installed as president and backed by the West after the overthrow of the Taliban, Karzai was elected in 2004 to serve as president for another five years in an election regarded as triumph for democracy after nearly a quarter century of chaos and violence.
As the president and commander in-chief of the armed forces, Karzai chooses his cabinet, although ministers have to be endorsed by parliament. He also has the power to appoint or replace governors and mayors under a constitution drawn up by a grand assembly in 2002.
One National Front member said the party would call for another loya jirga, Afghanistan's traditional grand assembly of tribal chieftains and elders, to amend the constitution.
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Afghanistan eyes Bangladesh's Grameen Bank to help poor
Wed Apr 4, 7:03 AM ET
NEW DELHI (AFP) - Afghanistan may seek to copy micro-credit programmes pioneered by Bangladesh's Grameen Bank to help alleviate crushing poverty in the war-shattered nation, officials said.
Afgan President Hamid Karzai sought details of the loan scheme during a meeting with Fakhruddin Ahmed, chief of Bangladesh's caretaker government, on the sidelines of a summit of South Asian nations in New Delhi late on Tuesday.
Karzai "was very impressed with our Grameen Bank and he showed interest in its possible replication," said Bangladesh government spokesman Syed Fahim Munaim.
Afghanistan was officially accepted on Tuesday as the eighth member of the South Asian Association of Region Cooperation (SAARC) whose two-day meeting was slated to wrap late on Wednesday.
"The Afghan leader said Afghanistan has been ruined (by war) and needed re-building and asked if Bangladesh could help, especially in the social sector as it had a skilled labour force," Munaim told reporters.
An aide to Karzai said Afghanistan already had some micro-financing programmes.
But he said the Grameen Bank "could be an answer" in helping relieve conditions of desperate poverty in the country where an estimated 30 million people live.
Afghanistan's infrastructure has been almost completely devastated by a series of wars.
Launched in 1976, the Grameen Bank loans money to poor people to buy their own tools and equipment -- cutting out the middlemen and helping transform their lives through self-employment.
Grameen alone has given such loans to more than six million people and the model has been replicated in more than 40 nations.
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German fighter jets land in Afghanistan
The Associated Press Thursday, April 5, 2007
MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Afghanistan: Six German fighter jets landed in northern Afghanistan on Thursday, where the planes will conduct reconnaissance missions in support of NATO-led forces in the country.
A squadron of Tornados, equipped with special camera systems, will be used for intelligence gathering. They were dispatched from Germany on Monday and will be based at a German military base outside the northern town of Mazar-e-Sharif.
Afghanistan's government welcomed the deployment of the aircraft as a "very effective" tool for operations and intelligence gathering, said Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, a Defense Ministry spokesman.
"It's very important for the security of Afghanistan, because we have no air force, and it is good news for the Afghan nation and will have a positive effect on security and stability," Azimi said.
The German Parliament last month approved the planes' deployment, which had been requested by NATO. They are being accompanied by some 200 military personnel.
The decision has irked some in Germany — particularly on the left — who worry that the Tornado deployment is a combat mission in disguise that will suck the country into fighting in southern Afghanistan.
Germany has some 3,000 soldiers serving in NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan — largely in the relatively calm north.
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2 police killed, 11 wounded in southern Afghanistan
The Associated Press Thursday, April 5, 2007
KABUL, Afghanistan: Militants ambushed and used a roadside bomb against police in two separate incidents in southern Afghanistan, leaving two officers dead and 11 wounded, officials said Thursday.
A roadside bomb hit a police patrol in Maywand district in Kandahar province late Wednesday, killing one officer and wounding eight others, said Esmatullah Alizai, the provincial police chief.
Also Wednesday, militants ambushed a police patrol in Giro district in Ghazni province, killing a senior officer and wounding three other policemen, said Mohammad Qazem Allayer, Ghazni's deputy governor.
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Local employee of U.S. base killed, 3 injured in Afghanistan
People's Daily Online, China
Unknown armed men opened fire on a car of local employees of the U.S. military-civilian Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Afghanistan's eastern Khost province Thursday, killing one and wounding three, a local official said.
Local employees of the Khost PRT were driving towards their job in Tanai district Thursday morning when unidentified armed men sprayed bullets, killing one person and injured three others, district chief Badiuzaman Sabri told Xinhua, adding all of them were local Afghans.
Taliban militants have warned locals several times not to work for the Americans.
More than 600 people have been killed in militancy and conflicts this year in Afghanistan.
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Afghan Top Diplomat Rejects German Call for Talks With Taliban
Deutsche Welle, Germany
Spanta suggested that the concept of "moderate Taliban" was an oxymoron
Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta on Thursday rejected a call by a German coalition party leader for dialog with moderate elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
"I do not think there is a moderate and 'non-moderate' Taliban. This distinction was invented by somebody who knows nothing about Afghanistan," Spanta told Germany's regional NDR radio.
He compared the proposal by Social Democrat leader Kurt Beck to forming a coalition with the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD) in Beck's home state of Rhineland-Palatinate in western Germany.
"It is like saying one can form a coalition with the NPD in Rhineland-Palatinate, or with the moderate NPD."
Beck, whose party rules Germany in coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, suggested after a visit to German troops in Afghanistan last weekend that military force alone would not put the country on the path to peace.
"We have exhausted our possibilities... It is time to explore the possibility of a national reconciliation with the Taliban," Beck said.
He suggested holding a meeting on Afghanistan along the lines of the UN-sponsored conference on the country's future that took place in Bonn in late 2001 as the Taliban were being overthrown.
But Spanta said: "At the moment I see no point in organizing and holding such a conference."
He also said he was surprised by Beck's proposal, adding that the Afghan government had been trying for some time to locate moderate Taliban.
"If Western politicians have such a thing they could give us the address and contact people," Spanta said.
Bildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Beck recently visited German troops in Afghanistan
Beck's comments drew muted support from Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is a member of the Social Democrats, but was strongly criticized by Merkel's Christian Democrats.
Observers saw it as a misguided attempt by Beck to broaden his foreign policy profile and boost his party's ratings.
NATO-led forces are battling the strongest Taliban insurgency yet since the hard-line Islamist movement was toppled for harboring Osama bin Laden.
Germany has some 2,750 troops serving in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in northern Afghanistan and this week sent six Tornado jets to carry out surveillance missions to help their NATO allies.
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U.S. Army's `Men in Black' fight Taliban
By DENIS D. GRAY, Associated Press Writer Wed Apr 4, 1:38 PM ET
BAYLOUGH, Afghanistan - As his snipers watched the Taliban fighters from hilltop hideouts, the sergeant had a flashback: He was in the Alps, dressed in an Afghan turban and vest, cradling an AK-47 and impersonating the very insurgents his unit was about to confront.
Staff Sgt. Lukas Hearn could slide easily into shoes of the Taliban in Afghanistan, picturing that when the shooting started they would flee their stronghold, veer up a narrow pass and vanish into the mountains.
In a conflict waged on unfamiliar terrain, Hearn's unit — the U.S. Army's 1st Battalion, 4th Regiment — enjoys an edge. Since 1990, soldiers from the battalion have acted as "OPFOR" — Opposition Forces — in war games staged in Germany against U.S. and NATO units. And in the German Alps, they played the part of the Taliban.
"Except for our light skin, short haircut and combat boots, we looked exactly like Afghan insurgents, and sometimes they let us wear our hair long. They even gave us glue-on beards," said Hearn, of Moore, Okla.
Now his unit is deployed in Afghanistan's Zabul province, a vital staging post for insurgents in southern Afghanistan, and the role-playing experience has paid dividends.
Recounting a recent clash, Hearn said his unit rushed in a blocking force to cut off the valley that was the site of the Taliban stronghold. Mortars were targeted on the expected escape route and airstrikes readied before fighting erupted.
"They (the militants) did exactly what we would have done if we were acting as OPFOR," Hearn said. The Taliban fighters were trapped, and a number were killed, he said.
But while the soldiers may be better able to predict how the Taliban will act, the battalion's tactical insight may not be enough.
The "Men in Black" — who get their name from their earlier roles as black-uniformed Soviet bloc troops — suffer from the problem faced by other U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan: They're too few in too large a place.
There are some 47,000 foreign soldiers here, a quarter the size of the U.S.-led force in Iraq, a country a third smaller than Afghanistan. More than 40,000 peacekeepers were sent to Kosovo, one-sixtieth Afghanistan's size with a tenth of its population.
"I can go to any place in this district, but I can't own it," said 1st Lt. Jason Cunningham, a platoon commander in Zabul's volatile Daychopan district.
Cunningham's 50 soldiers are trying to secure a destitute, largely isolated, mountainous area. There is about one soldier for every 2 1/2 square miles.
"Sometimes I feel that we're the lost platoon," said Staff Sgt. Keith Bellamy, a squad leader from Myrtle Beach, S.C.
The unit, with furry dogs Frances and Smoky and several bearded dragon lizards as pets, is holed up in a rectangular fort built of dried mud, straw and logs that seems a throwback to the Indian wars that the 4th Regiment once fought in the American West. The small base at Baylough is set in a bowl ringed by treeless hills and distant snowcapped mountains.
It's at the end of the U.S. Army supply line. Foul weather may halt helicopter flights and most supplies are hauled from the provincial capital of Qalat on rickety, Soviet-era "jingle trucks" that the soldiers say "run on pure hope."
"On a good day if the mountain passes aren't cut, you can ford the rivers and nobody is shooting at you, you can make it in seven hours," said Cunningham, 25, of San Francisco. Other times it takes days.
Almost daily, soldiers trudge out of wind-swept Forward Operating Base Baylough on high altitude operations to hold the 46-square-mile bowl, to destroy or disrupt the Taliban elsewhere and to woo villagers who have yet to see any real benefits from the Kabul government.
"They're horrible shots and they plan absurd ambushes where they face each other," Cunningham said of the Taliban. "But they've got the usual insurgents' perks — they know the terrain, they move faster than we do and they can blend in with the population."
The Daychopan district is important to the insurgents. After infiltrating from Pakistan, Taliban and foreign Islamic fighters use the district's mountain ranges and villages as havens en route to the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand where most of the heavy fighting is now occurring.
"This is their strategic rear, the backyard of their strongholds in the south," Cunningham said. "This is where they refit, rest and recuperate and get ready to move south. Our job is to make their vacations as uncomfortable as possible. If I can even raise their heartbeats, it will make my day."
In the three months since his platoon's arrival, it has killed at least eight insurgents and maybe more. It has not suffered any casualties.
"We could spend all our time hunting the Taliban. We'd do a good job and it would be fun. But it wouldn't win us the war," Cunningham said.
Bellamy said the only way to win is to keep the villagers more or less on their side. It's something the soldiers learned while playing the opposition.
"We're just 50 Americans. If the locals in this bowl turn against us we're gone. The locals are vital to our survival," the sergeant said.
It's a struggle. The Taliban circulate stories among the deeply conservative people of the foreign infidels raping women and stealing property. And five years after the fall of the Taliban regime, the central government in Kabul has had little impact in the district, which has no school or medical clinic and a minor Afghan army presence — sometimes as few as 10 soldiers.
The U.S. platoon responds with humanitarian gestures. Cunningham is pleased with the $25,000 he just received to improve roads and hopes to get more for a school. Recently, the unit evacuated a severely burned boy from a village and provided follow-up care.
"Small gestures like this can win a whole village to our side," Cunningham said.
The platoon's continued presence also reassures residents that American and Afghan troops can protect them from Taliban intimidation and violence.
In the fall of 2003, a brigade of the 10th Mountain Division was air-dropped in to clear Daychopan of insurgents. But the soldiers later pulled out and the insurgents moved back in. Now, the "Men in Black" make do, trying to apply lessons learned in Germany about roadside bombs, ambushes and insurgent cells.
"It's saved lives. When you're out on patrol spotting possible ambush sites, you can say to yourself, `If I were them I'd be out here, I'd be out there,'" said Spc. Daniel Bogota of Toms River, N.J. "But the Taliban also learn. They also change their tactics, like I change my underwear."
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Czech government agrees to donate helicopters to Afghanistan
People's Daily Online, China
The Czech government approved on Wednesday the donation of 12 redundant combat and transport helicopters to Afghanistan in response to a request from NATO.
The Czech Republic will donate six transport Mi-17 helicopters and six Mi-24 combat helicopters to Afghanistan, local media reported.
The reconstruction, which cost several hundred million crowns (20.966 crowns equal one U.S. dollar), will be paid by NATO, according to the report.
The first helicopter is to be accepted by Afghan authorities this September. All the 12 helicopters are to be used in the country by the end of 2008.
NATO demanded that the republic donate weapons to Afghanistan last year.
The helicopters will significantly reinforce Afghanistan's air force, and help in humanitarian missions in inaccessible regions, the report said.
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Living Under the Taleban
Fundamentalist rule has returned to Musa Qala – and some residents have never been happier.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting By IWPR trainees in Helmand (ARR No. 249, 4-Apr-07)
The reports are grim. Three men were hanged on April 1 in Helmand, executed as spies by the Taleban regime. The body of one hung for hours in Musa Qala, where the fundamentalists chased out village elders and ran up their flag in early February.
While the news sent shudders through the capital, Lashkar Gah, residents of Musa Qala were undaunted.
“I don’t care about those three men,” said shopkeeper Zia ul Haq. “They deserved to die. I am happy. We have no problems here, except the possibility of bombardment.”
Musa Qala formally fell to the Taleban in February, barely four months after a controversial agreement under which village elders promised to keep the fundamentalists out in return for a British withdrawal.
The deal brought peace to the town, which had seen months of heavy fighting, but it sent thousands of people fleeing to more secure areas, fearing that NATO bombs would soon come to unseat the Taleban.
Two months later, the Taleban are still in charge.
“I do not want to take Musa Qala by force,” said President Hamed Karzai, speaking to residents of Lashkar Gah on March 29. “I want to solve problems by negotiations with all sides.”
But just one day earlier, provincial officials were telling a different story.
“We will recapture Musa Qala,” Helmand military chief Abdul Wahid Faizi told IWPR. “We will move the Taleban out of the town. We are working on plans now, and I am sure we will do that soon.”
While the government tries to decide on its course, local residents have had to continue with their lives.
Many say they are happier now than they have been for years – and more than willing to trade a certain amount of freedom for some peace and security.
“In my life I have only had two happy periods in which I felt safe,” said Zia ul Haq. “The first time was at the beginning of the Karzai administration and the second is now, when the Taleban is controlling the district. Security is very good: there are no thieves, no kidnappers, everyone lives in safety and is able to get on with their lives. We are all happy.”
His assessment is in sharp contrast to official pronouncements.
“We have 900 families registered as refugees from Musa Qala,” said Abdulstar Muzahari, head of the department of refugees. “None of them have gone back. The only people who returned were drug traffickers and those who are linked to the Taleban. Most people hate the Taleban, they are not good to people.”
Certainly Sayed Ahmad Akaa, father of three, agrees. He has moved his family to the capital, and says that the shift is permanent.
“You could not pay me to go back to Musa Qala,” he told IWPR. “My children cannot go to school there, I cannot live. I sold all my land and am buying a shop in Lashkar Gah. I will never go back.”
Abdul Mane, another refugee, is just as adamant.
“I cannot return, because the Taleban say that I am a spy,” he said. “They have threatened me with death. I have not seen my parents in three months.”
Bu those who remain say life has never been better.
“When the government was controlling Musa Qala, you could not leave the house with 1000 rupees in your pocket (about 25 US dollars),” said Abdul Hadi. “There were thieves everywhere. But now things are quite different. Everyone is happy and feels free, you can carry gold and no one will steal it from you.”
Security concerns among Helmandis are wider than the threat from insurgents. Official corruption and police inaction made the cities unsafe, with those in uniform being seen as just as likely to perpetrate a crime as to prevent one. And residents feared government and foreign troops as much as they feared the Taleban.
“If the government cannot control the situation, we have to let the Taleban rule,” said one shopkeeper, who did not want to be named. “We were sleeping in the desert, because there were bombs and fires in our district every night between one and three a.m. When the government launches an operation, they give no warning.
“People were dying – we buried five or six bodies every day, most of them civilians. The graveyards were full. A bomb fell on one house and five members of the family were killed. The Taleban notify us when they intend to operate.”
“We hate the local authorities, because they destroyed our family,” said another local resident. “On March 22, the Taleban came to us and said ‘we are fighting tonight, protect yourselves’. So we packed up the car and went to the desert. The fighting began at seven p.m. As we were driving, the Taleban shot at our car and my wife and uncle were killed.
“We sat all night in the desert, and when we came home we found the doors to our house broken and all our belongings stolen by the local authorities. What are we supposed to do? We cannot sue the government or the Taleban, and both sides just come and beat us on our heads.”
In addition to the violence, Helmand’s most important revenue source, opium poppy, is under threat from foreign-backed eradication campaigns.
According to a 2006 report by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, UNODC, Afghanistan now produces over 90 per cent of the world’s heroin. And the undisputed champion of Afghan production is Helmand, where this season, according to provincial officials, more than 70 per cent of the land has been planted with poppy. Last year’s harvest made up more than 40 per cent of the Afghan total.
This means that an overwhelming majority of Helmand’s farmers have invested their economic survival in the fields of bright red flowers that dot the landscape.
The government launched a widely publicised eradication effort in February, but, once again, it has bogged down in corruption, and the results have fallen far short of expectation. The one undeniable effect seems to have been to drive farmers right into the arms of the Taleban.
“We are growing more poppy this year than ever before,” said Hamidullah, a farmer in Musa Qala. “The Taleban tell us ‘as long as we are here, no one can destroy your poppy’. The government cannot come here now, because there is another power here. It is the government of the Taleban.”
“I am growing poppy, and now I am happy,” agreed Muhammad Meer. “I do not have to worry about the government coming to destroy my crop. The Taleban is not saying anything against poppy, and they have not asked us for help. We are very happy now.”
The Taleban seem to have learned something from the past. At least for the present, they are refraining from the more excessive aspects of their former brutal rule.
“The Taleban this time do not punish people for their short beards or long hair,” said Abdul Mane. “They do not bother people for listening to music or watching television. We are very happy about the present situation in our district.”
Hamidullah agrees. “We have a new kind of life now,” he said. “Nobody asks us ‘why did you shave your beard?’ or ‘why are you watching a movie?’ This is the Taleban, but it’s a new kind of Taleban. We love our life. Come to Musa Qala. If you are here for a few days, I am sure you will never want to leave.”
IWPR is running a journalism training programme in Helmand province. This story is a compilation of trainee reports.
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Should the West Negotiate with the Taliban?
Charles Hawley Spiegel Online / April 4, 2007
German Social Democrat leader Kurt Beck has sparked a firestorm of criticism for his suggestion that the West negotiate with moderate elements within the Taliban. But at least one German commentator thinks that might not be such a bad idea.
It was a suggestion that almost immediately drove a wedge into Germany's governing coalition. Kurt Beck, head of the junior coalition partner Social Democrats (SPD), finished off a trip to Afghanistan on Sunday by presenting his own suggestion for how Afghanistan might be pacified once and for all: Why not invite all parties involved in the conflict to Berlin for negotiations?
Sounds reasonable enough, perhaps -- especially given that violence in the region is on the increase as the Taliban steps up efforts to battle Western troops. But in Berlin, the proposal was almost immediately seen as a suggestion that the West sit down at the table with pro-Shariah, radical Islamists. And it didn't take long for Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats to begin sharply upbraiding Beck. The SPD leader "didn't think it through properly," said CDU foreign policy expert Ruprecht Polenz, a sentiment echoed by CDU foreign policy speaker Eckart von Klaeden. Others likewise joined in the cacophony of criticism.
Beck received support from his own party and also from the Greens. But given the severity of the reactions in Berlin, he backed down a bit on Tuesday. "One should investigate whether it is possible to come to an agreement with moderate and conciliatory powers," he said before adding that negotiating with murderers is an impossibility.
Still, the clumsy proposal has left the impression in the minds of many that Beck wants to negotiate with the Taliban. It is a topic that German commentators have been eyeing throughout the week -- and on Wednesday, they pounced.
SPIEGEL's very own Henryk M. Broder, author of the book "Hurray! We're Capitulating," blasts Beck for his naiveté:
"By now, we know the destruction the Taliban has caused and what they are capable of. One can't resent them for wanting to regain power. But inviting them to a round table to give them the possibility of contributing to the solution of a problem that they themselves caused shows an irrationality that borders on voodoo. Next, Kurt Beck could suggest involving drug dealers in the fight against the drug trade and asking brothel owners how best to contain forced prostitution.
"On the other hand, it would be interesting to see just what an Afghanistan conference which included the Taliban would look like and what would be discussed. Whether one should stone or merely shoot adulteresses? Whether thieves should have just one hand chopped off or both? And how many lashes those who listen to music should receive?"
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung on Wednesday likewise can't avoid slipping into sarcasm when looking at Beck's proposal:
"The world has been trying to help Afghanistan for six years. The destruction following the civil war is huge while the steps toward reconstruction have been small. Likely, that's because nobody asked Kurt Beck. The SPD boss, during his first visit to Afghanistan, didn't even need three days to develop an idea: A peace conference, maybe even in Germany, and maybe with Taliban participation."
"There is a reason for the breathless speed with which Beck is currently developing foreign policy concepts.... The skepticism in Beck's party regarding the engagement in Afghanistan is growing. In the autumn, the extension of the mandate is up for a vote and the SPD's credibility is at stake. Those who have a reputation as a party of peace cannot show too great a respect for diplomacy...."
Surprisingly, the center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung doesn't blast Beck for his proposal, but rather upbraids him for the way he went about making it:
"There can be no peace in Afghanistan -- as in Iraq -- without the attempt to bring moderate powers among the insurgents into the fold. Western powers have come to that same realization, not least because their diplomatic and military representatives on site are insisting on it. But the proposal should come from those involved and should only be publicly discussed after discreet preparations have already been made. It could be that a peace conference ... emerges as the best formula. But a German party leader in Kabul should not be the one to introduce such an idea."
Conservative daily Die Welt also has a few suggestions for how Beck should have behaved during his visit to Kabul:
With his suggestion, Beck "grants the Taliban -- or their ostensible moderate elements as was later added -- a political status that they have not earned. The primary goal in the country is not conciliation, but that of suppressing the Taliban in the south and stabilizing the more-or-less secure conditions in the rest of the country. That is the tremendous challenge that the ISAF troops are trying to meet on a daily basis -- a challenge that necessarily has a military component. Well meant reconciliation proposals that come from far, far away are out of place."
The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung on Wednesday is one of the few voices to actually take a closer look at Beck's proposal:
"The international community made a grave mistake by not having included the moderate Islamists in the pacification process. Had some of them been at the table during the first Afghanistan conference in Bonn in 2001, the situation would perhaps not be as muddled as it is now. But at least there is the opportunity to not repeat mistakes made in the past. It could be Afghanistan's last chance."
"The existence of radical Islamists is a fact in Afghanistan and it will stay that way. This part of society may have a peculiar mentality, but it can't be simply bombed away. Trying to negotiate with this part of the society has nothing at all to do with appeasement. Rather it is recognition of reality."
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Police raids religious school in Afghanistan
PRESS TV (Iran) / April 3, 2007
Afghan police has raided a religious school in western Afghanistan and arrested 22 people, alleging the madrassa (religious school) was involved in organizing Taliban suicide attacks.
Provincial police chief Sayyed Agha Saqib was quoted by AFP as saying that the raid was carried out late Monday in the western province of Farah which last month saw several blasts.
"The school in the Bala Buluk district was being used as a terrorist centre and was supported by Pakistani nationals and Arabs," Saqib claimed.
A Taliban commander, Mullah Hayatullah, was allegedly using the madrassa to provide military training for the Taliban, who were ousted from power in 2001.
"The mullah was not among those caught in the raid and some of those arrested confessed to being Taliban," Saqib said.
Pakistan's foreign minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri on Tuesday rejected allegations that many of the men behind the almost daily attacks in Afghanistan are trained in madrassas run by the co-called extremists in areas of Pakistan along Afghanistan's eastern border.
Kasuri said he would try to settle the Kabul-Islamabad dispute by directly engaging both countries in dialog and communication.
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Yale suspect once helped U.S. in Afghanistan
Mary E. O’Leary, New Haven Register Topics Editor 04/05/2007
-NEW HAVEN — One of the Yale University students charged in the burning of an American flag is an accomplished writer who helped provide translation services for U.S. forces in Afghanistan when he visited there with his father.
Hyder Akbar, 23, a senior at Yale, wrote, "Come Back to Afghanistan: A California Teenager’s Story," after spending several summers in Afghanistan when his father was invited back to join the new government by President Hamid Karzai, an old family friend.
Akbar and two freshmen, Farhad Anklesaria and Nikolaos Angelopoulos, both 19, are facing a number of charges, including arson and reckless endangerment after police said they admitted setting fire to the flag early Tuesday morning. The flag was attached to the porch of a Chapel Street home.
Akbar and Anklesaria posted $25,000 and $15,000 bail, respectively, Wednesday, after which they were released from the New Haven Correctional Center, while Angelopoulos posted a $25,000 bail late Tuesday.
The students did not respond to requests for comment, but Akbar’s father, Said Fazel Akbar, reached in California, said the action was out of character. "He is not a kid like this. It is unusual," he said.
"He said he was sorry. I think they were joking," Said Fazel Akbar said. "He accepted it was a wrong thing."
Thomas Conroy, spokesman for Yale, said the residential colleges the three students are affiliated with "will offer guidance and assistance as appropriate. The students have a legal process to go through and probably have questions and concerns related to that." They are due back in Superior Court on Tuesday.
Akbar was born in Pakistan, where his parents were refugees from Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion. His family has deep political connections to that country, where his grandfather wrote its 1964 constitution, according to several reports.
Akbar was a pretty ordinary American teenager growing up on the West Coast. But his world was turned upside down when the United States invaded Afghanistan to root out the Taliban.
Akbar, who enrolled at Yale in 2005, came to the United States when he was 2 and lived in California, where his father ran a hip-hop clothing store in Oakland until 2002 when he became a spokesman for Karzai and then governor of Kunar province. He is back in the United States to treat heart problems.
The younger Akbar, who is a political science major at Yale, had a front row seat to the formation of the Afghan government and in his book details an account of being ambushed by al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan, as well as interviews with Karzai, whom he criticizes for dealing with warlords there.
He has also helped translate for CIA contractor David Passaro in Pakistan. Passaro was the only person associated with the agency to later be prosecuted for prisoner abuse.
Akbar told "Mother Jones" magazine that he had to stop translating for Passaro "because he was getting very aggressive."
Passaro was sentenced to eight years for beating an Afghan detainee who later died. Akbar’s father helped persuade the man, Abdul Wali, to turn himself over to U.S. authorities and sent his son to go with Wali "as a sign of trust," as the prisoner was petrified because of rumors of torture, according to a letter the father sent to the judge in the case.
Akbar put together two audio documentaries from tapes he made in Afghanistan that were aired on "This American Life" on National Public Radio. In one of them he talked about Wali and how scared the 28-year-old Afghani was.
His father told the court that Passaro’s actions increased distrust of Americans and only helped al Qaeda.
In his trips to Afghanistan, Akbar said going to the province under his father’s control was like stepping back in time several hundred years.
He has given many interviews on his experiences in Afghanistan and credits his visits there to switching from majoring in economics to political science.
He wrote in "Slate," the on-line magazine, that he couldn’t wait to graduate from college. "It feels like I’m stuck in a bubble while forces outside are transforming the world," he said.
Having transferred from Diablo Valley College, a community college, he felt that situation was less disconnected from the real world.
A fluent Pashto speaker, two years ago Akbar told "Slate" his goals in life.
"After college, my plans are to go to Afghanistan to help with the rebuilding efforts in whatever capacity I best can ... it might be possible that I am of the generation that only brings enough bare order to Afghanistan that the next generation can study mathematics and philosophy," he said, referring to a famous quote from U.S. President John Adams.
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Blair's wife touts Afghan women's rights
LONDON, April 4 (UPI) -- The wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair Wednesday kicked off a discussion group on women's rights in Afghanistan.
Cherie Booth, who has remained a practicing lawyer during her husband's premiership, is also a member of the Queen's Counsel focusing on human-rights issues.
At the roundtable on women in Afghanistan hosted by the British Foreign Office, Booth was joined by members of British non-profit groups as well as representatives from Britain's Afghan and Muslim communities.
The London meeting focused on how women could participate in government and discussed issues such as women's rights under Islamic rule and the role of women in economic as well as social development.
The discussion is part of the Afghan professional women program sponsored by the Foreign Office to allow personnel exchange between the two countries.
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60 Killed In Pakistan Fighting
April 4, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Fresh clashes broke out today in Pakistan's South Waziristan region, where tribal militiamen are fighting foreign insurgents linked to Al-Qaeda, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported.
Local authorities say at least 60 people, mainly ethnic Uzbek militants, were killed in the latest clashes.
Ethnic Pastun tribesmen were reported to be pounding on war drums for the first time in three years as part of efforts to assemble an 1,800-strong force to battle Al-Qaeda fighters along the Afghan border.
The leader of the tribal journalist union in Pakistan's North Waziristan region, Saylab Mas'ud, told Radio Free Afghanistan by phone today:
"[Tribal militiamen] are beating war drums, and three thousands tribal men have joined the forces under the command of Mullah Nazir and they have begun fighting against Uzbek militants," Saylab Mas'ud, the leader of the tribal journalist union in Pakistan's North Waziristan region, told RFE/RL today.
(with material from agency reports)
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WB to give $3m for embankment in Takhar
TALUQAN, Apr 3 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The World Bank (WB) will provide three million US dollars for construction of protective wall on the banks of Amu Darya (River Oxus) in the northern province of Takhar.
Provincial Governor Ghulam Ghaus Abubakar told journalists they signed the contract with Tajikistan deputy prime minister during his visit to that country. Representative of the World Bank was also present on the occasion.
He said the amount would be channeled through the Ministry of Water and Energy. More than 10,000 acres of land had been washed away by river over the past four years in that region, said the governor.
He said Tajikistan had assured not to construct dam on its side on the river.
Abdul Wadood, chief of the Darquq district in Takhar, said the rise in water level had destroyed more than 500 acres of land last year.
He said a vast part of the district would be swept away by the river if the protective wall was not constructed in the coming few years.
Amu Darya originates from Victoria Lake in Hindu Kush mountain range and passes through the northern provinces of Badakhshan, Takhar and Kunduz. It also separates Afghanistan's northern parts from the neighbouring Tajikistan.
Abdul Matin Sarfaraz
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Pak deal with tribal elders fails: US official
KABUL, Apr 3 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Pakistan's decision to hand control of a remote region along the Afghan border to tribal leaders has failed, leaving foreign fighters there free to train and recruit militants, NATO's top military commander was quoted as saying in a report published in a foreign magazine.
"It has not worked since it went into effect in September," US Army Gen John Craddock told the USA Today. "That's why we think it should be ended."
Craddock said he based his criticism on regular aerial monitoring of the Waziristan region and observations by troops on the ground.
The Bush administration has "strongly encouraged the Pakistanis to ensure the agreement supports the counter-terrorism efforts of the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan and denies a safe haven to al-Qaeda and the Taliban," National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe was quoted as saying in the same report.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the agreement "needs some work," but shouldn't be abandoned.
Waziristan has been an obstacle in Afghanistan, where Craddock said US and NATO forces were "making progress". "Now we are there with a persistent presence," said Air Force Lt Gen Gary North, the commander of Central Air Forces, which oversees the air war in Afghanistan.
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Corruption a major obstacle in growth
NEW YORK, Apr 3 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Large scale corruption and lack of transparency in the government is a major obstacle in attracting foreign investment in Afghanistan, says a top Afghan - American businessman.
President and CEO of Afghan - American Chamber of Commerce Atiq Panjshiri told Pajhwok Afghan News: "A large number of companies are interested in making investment in Afghanistan but they are not because of ground realities in that country."
Besides corruption and lack of transparency in the administration, Panjshiri said non-availability of basic infrastructural facilities was another stumbling block. The Afghan - American Chamber of Commerce would plan a delegation of US businesses to visit Kabul later this month, he said.
Criticising the leadership, Panjshiri said: "Those people in power have no vision. Everybody creates plans, but there is no one to implement it."
He said millions of dollars have been spent on the electricity sector, but a reliable and affordable power supply was still a dream. Electricity was crucial to bring in private sector investment from outside, he observed.
Panjshiri said he had a bitter experience in dealing with the administration. "There is too much authority (in government), and no responsibility. This is why there has been no progress in the infrastructure sector."
He also pointed out high tax ratio for the private sector as a major hurdle. "Companies have to be there for quite some time, before they make any profit," he said.
Lalit K. Jha
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France donates equipment for Agriculture Ministry
KABUL, Apr 3 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The government of France donated vehicles and other necessary equipment worth $350,000 to the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation on Tuesday.
Head of the French Cooperation Office for Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation Mohammad Farouq Barakzai said the equipment included 12 Pick-up vehicles, 66 motorbikes, 340 chairs, 12 computers, 12 video-cassettes, 12 television sets, 12 power generators, 12 cameras, 340-metre long pieces of carpet, tables and cupboards.
The donated equipment would be provided to the agriculture departments in Sar-i-Pul, Baghlan, Helmand, Nimroz, Badghis, Paktika, Zabul, Uruzgan, Ghor, Panjshir, Daikundi and Badakhshan provinces, Barikzai said.
He said France had already extended a similar assistance worth $13,000,00 to all provinces over the previous two years.
Minister for Agriculture and Irrigation Obaidullah Ramin termed the assistance as useful for the farmers. He said agriculturists as well as farmers did not know how to use modern technology. Hence, the recent assistance will prove helpful for them.
Appreciating the French assistance in different branches of the agriculture sector, the minister said the support must continue to help bring improvement in the agri sector of the country.
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