President Karzai calls for 'terror' focus outside Afghanistan
Wed Dec 19, 6:57 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Wednesday the US-led "war on terror" should be directed at Islamist sanctuaries outside his country which he said was not a "hideout for terrorism" but a victim.
Karzai's comments to media come days after the Pentagon said the US military and its NATO allies were reviewing plans for the troubled nation, where violence from a Taliban-led insurgency has soared in recent years.
The president told a press briefing to mark the first day of Eid al-Adha, the Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice, that for almost three years he had called for the international community to "revise their strategy in the war on terrorism."
"Their presence in Afghanistan must be against terrorism which has hideouts that are outside (of Afghanistan), its training and support bases that are outside," he said.
There are more than 60,000 international troops helping the Afghan government to battle Taliban and other insurgents and to train up its own forces and establish its authority across the fractured country.
The foreign troops are not allowed to conduct their operations outside Afghanistan even though it is acknowledged that many militants are trained in extremist sanctuaries in neighbouring Pakistan.
Karzai has argued that the intense fighting here exacts a high cost in civilian life and damage to property but does not target the roots of the problem.
"Afghanistan is not a hideout for terrorism," he said Wednesday. "It is the victim of terrorism."
Karzai also reiterated that the international forces should reduce the use of air power -- said to cause the most civilian losses -- as it "takes the struggle on terrorism to nowhere."
Afghanistan has seen a sharp spike in violence in the past two years, with 2007 the bloodiest since a US-led invasion toppled the brutal Taliban regime six years ago.
Karzai has this year increased his emphasis on reconciliation with Taliban fighters who accept the country's new constitution.
He repeated the message in his Eid address, particularly reaching out to Taliban forced from a key stronghold in the southern province of Helmand in a high-profile military operation last week.
"I call on Taliban brothers, the Taliban in Musa Qala, you are the sons of this land, come back to your homes and lands and live in Musa Qala and avoid war," he said.
Musa Qala was recaptured last Monday after being in Taliban control for 10 months.
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Afghan president calls for forgiveness of Taliban
Wed Dec 19, 6:05 AM ET
KABL (Reuters) - President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday asked God to forgive Afghan Taliban killed in the fighting in their homeland, but called on international forces to hit the insurgents at their training bases outside the country.
Afghanistan is suffering from a steady increase in violence that has killed more than 5,000 people this year alone, with neither the Western-backed Afghan government nor the Taliban having gained any significant advantage.
"Today ... is a day we should remember those families who have lost loved ones in different terrorist acts like bombs and suicide attacks," Karzai said after prayers to mark the Eid al-Adha Muslim festival.
"Today I also ask forgiveness from God for those Afghans who have been killed in the fight against the homeland if they are Taliban or otherwise," he said.
Taliban insurgents are fighting a guerrilla campaign in the south and east of the country, backed by suicide bomb attacks across the country aimed at sapping the will of Karzai's government and NATO-led troops to fight a war without end.
Karzai has repeatedly called on Afghan Taliban to make peace with the government and has offered talks with moderate insurgents to try to bring an end to the conflict.
Afghanistan, he said, "is not a stronghold of terrorism, Afghanistan is a victim of terrorism. The strongholds are outside Afghanistan, they get trained and equipped abroad."
Karzai did not mention any country, but Afghan and foreign officials have repeatedly said Taliban and allied al Qaeda fighters use Pakistan's lawless tribal regions bordering Afghanistan as a safe haven.
International forces, Karzai said, "should fight against terrorism together with the Afghan people. They should go to the bases, the hideouts and to places that terrorists get training."
Pakistan acknowledges Taliban fighters are present on its territory, but insists its own forces will tackle the problem, strongly opposing the intervention of U.S.-led and NATO forces based in Afghanistan.
Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, in his Eid message, called on foreign forces to withdraw from Afghanistan.
(Writing by Jon Hemming; editing by Roger Crabb)
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ANALYSIS-NATO risks losing the war in Afghanistan
By Jon Hemming
KABUL, Dec 19 (Reuters) - The Afghan president says his country is improving -- schools and hospitals are being built and the economy is stronger, but problems remain with insurgents.
"The construction of new schools and hospitals ... are the characteristics of our social policy," he says. "Our brave armed forces have significantly developed ... carry out combat operations, smash extremist bands."
But the time is is not 2007, it is 1987, and the president is Soviet-backed Najibullah, not the Western-backed Hamid Karzai. Yet 20 years later, Karzai is delivering a similar message.
Just two years after Najibullah made that speech his Soviet backers, worn down by constant casualties, withdrew their troops and abandoned the Afghan government to its fate.
Now diplomats and the military fear unless something is done to revitalise strategy against the Taliban, Western governments will also lose their will and pull out their troops. Without Western backing, Karzai's government may not last very long.
"If we cannot show progress in the next year or two, or at least show we are moving in the right direction, we will have serious difficulty in keeping some of our partners engaged in Afghanistan," said one senior Western diplomat.
Six years after the Taliban were ousted following the Sept. 11 attacks, support for the war is waning and Canada, Germany and the Netherlands could withdraw troops by 2010, leaving a big hole that other NATO nations may be unwilling or unable to fill.
The 38-nation NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan is already hobbled by restrictions that mean most European nations only allow their troops to fire in self-defence and bar them from the more violent south.
U.S. appeals for 3,500 more military trainers, more helicopters and ground troops have largely fallen on deaf ears.
The shortage of troops means NATO, in the words of one analyst, "is left chasing the pieces round the chess board".
Some now question the validity of an alliance that won the Cold War, but is struggling against a rag-tag lightly armed militia. Failure in Afghanistan might damage NATO beyond repair.
Afghan and international troops have killed large numbers of Taliban fighters during clashes, but the insurgents are showing no signs of suffering from a shortage of recruits.
The almost inevitable civilian casualties resulting from reliance on air-strikes has led to a growing alienation of the population, especially in the south, analysts report.
Tactical victories, then, are not being translated into the strategic defeat of the insurgents.
"We are winning the battles and not the war, in my view. We have been very successful in clearing areas of the Taliban, but it's having no real strategic effect," said Australian Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon after a meeting in Scotland of nations with troops in Afghanistan.
The harsher security environment has also curtailed the ability of U.N. agencies and NGOs to deliver humanitarian assistance, the United Nations said this week.
Waking up to the prospect of losing a campaign that was declared won six years ago, the United States and NATO have ordered a series of reviews of policy in Afghanistan.
Washington is also pushing for a civilian 'super-envoy' to lead and coordinate NATO and U.N. efforts in Afghanistan. Former Bosnian envoy Paddy Ashdown is widely tipped for the post.
"Wherever you look in Afghanistan, the signs are bad, but there is a growing awareness of what the remedies are," said another senior Western diplomat.
The question is whether those plans can work and the West does not end up withdrawing troops as the Soviets did before.
While Najibullah's government held out for another three years after the Soviet pullout, Afghanistan endured a civil war that killed tens of thousands and made millions refugees.
"It is now like 1984-85, we have lost the countryside, Afghans cannot work for us because it is too dangerous for them, and in the next couple of years, allied countries will start dropping out and then it will be the end," said Kees Rietveld, a consultant working on Afghanistan for more than 20 years. (Editing by Alex Richardson and Jerry Norton)
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Khalilzad and the Gangs of Afghanistan
by Bahlol Lohdi antiwar.com / December 19, 2007
Hamid Karzai is the grandson of Khair Mohammed of the village of Karz, not far from Kandahar. He was an indigent member of the Popalzai tribe with a large family who migrated to Kandahar seeking a better life. Normally, when a Pashtun is of noble stock he's known by a patronym, but more humble tribal members do not have that privilege. Therefore, perforce they resort to descriptive names like Karzai, Pashto for "born in Karz."
Not finding adequate employment opportunities in Kandahar, Khair Mohammed moved his family to Kabul. There he prospered because Kabul lacked hotels, so the nobility of Kandahar visiting Kabul were invited to stay at Khair Mohammed's modest home. They provided him with money to buy provisions for their stay with him, and Karzai's grandmother cooked their food and took care of their laundry.
Soon, Khair Mohammed came to the attention of the government as an ideal source of intelligence about the situation in Kandahar, garnered from the conversations of his paying Kandahari guests. His loyal service to the government resulted in his being given a deputy-head post in one of the government departments. He became known as "Mueen Khairo Jan," a term of contempt, for the Kandaharis had realized the extent of his perfidy.
Karzai's father, Ahad Karzai, benefited from Mueen Khairo Jan's connections and was admitted to the lower social circles of the Afghan royal family. He became one of the numerous court jesters. However, Ahad was dimwitted and insolent enough once to crack a joke at the expense of a minor royal family member. He was rewarded by being crowned with a crystal ashtray and, bleeding profusely, dismissed – obviously Ahad Karzai did not appreciate the fact that a royal appointment to the Afghan parliament didn't raise him to the status of someone who could poke fun at even minor royalty. His son, the British-ennobled Sir Hamid Karzai, seems to suffer from the same predilection to the folie de grandeur that afflicts parvenus and predisposes them to inappropriate behavior and comments. His public clash with U.S. President George Bush regarding Iran is just one of the more well-known examples of Hamid "Jan" Karzai's public faux pas.
During the Soviet occupation, Ahad Karzai joined "the usual suspects" in Peshawar. Where there was money to be made, the Karzais were bound to congregate.
While some of Ahad Karzai's sons were sent to America to invest the family's dubiously obtained fortune, Hamid, the constant butt of Karzai family jokes, was thought to be ill-suited to life in the United States, and left to pursue family interests in Peshawar, attached to the mercurial Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, one of the minor jihadi leaders.
In an article last year, The Economist wondered how an inept individual like Hamid Karzai had managed to obtain the post of president of Afghanistan. The answer is found in the development of the relationship between Zalmay Khalilzad and Hamid Karzai.
The symbiotic relationship between the ambitious hyphenated American, Khalilzad, and the nominal Pashtun hustler, Karzai, began when Khalilzad obtained an adjunct position at the State Department, as adviser on Afghan affairs, during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. At the time, both Mr. Ks were in their twenties.
Khalilzad, lacking name recognition or connections in Afghanistan, needed the local knowledge and connections of the Karzai clan. The Karzai family, for its part, thought Khalilzad's contacts at the State Department and elsewhere could be useful in furthering the cause of their erstwhile benefactor, Zahir Shah, and consequently themselves.
A study of the character profiles of both Khalilzad and Karzai leaves little doubt that both individuals have always been motivated by self-interest, irrespective of either Afghan or American national interests. This destructive nexus, aided and abetted by other unprincipled hyphenated Americans and ruthless Afghan mujahedeen warlords, is largely responsible for the tragedies visited on both countries.
And legions of foreign Afghan affairs "experts," some with little knowledge of the country's culture, ethnicity, and history, pontificating in the written and broadcast media, played supporting roles. Unfortunately, this tidal wave of "informed opinion," some ignorant and others tendentious, served to stifle any debate about the wisdom of the West's policy regarding Afghanistan and its consequences.
How Khalilzad ascended to the upper echelons of policymaking in the course of the two Bush presidencies is well documented. It only needs to be noted that, in addition to his neocon affiliations, his alleged expertise about the Muslim world in general, and Afghanistan in particular, were major determining factors in his advancement. Otherwise, his career may well have followed a similar path to that of his fellow American University of Beirut's Afghan alumni – nothing spectacular.
What is less known is Khalilzad's ambitious career goals in Afghanistan. For as it became increasingly obvious that, after the departure of Soviet forces from Afghanistan, the Najib regime would fall, Khalilzad reportedly suggested to the "Peshawar Seven" that, after the fall of Najib's communist regime, he should lead the successor regime in Afghanistan. This surprising proposal by Khalilzad was given a Bronx cheer by the mujahedeen leaders based in Pakistan, all of them quarreling about, and vying for, the same position in Kabul. This episode may explain why Khalilzad acquired the "King Zal" sobriquet in Washington.
It is a widely accepted view now that the Bonn Accord was a hastily drawn-up document, meant to give a semblance of order to the situation precipitated by the Northern Alliance's power grab in Kabul. Although John Simpson of the BBC was the first to walk into a deserted capital, the Northern Alliance claimed to have "liberated" Afghanistan from Taliban rule. They behaved as if U.S. ground and air forces had been minor factors in bringing about a change of regime in Kabul.
At Bonn, the international community, as represented by the UN, conferred legitimacy on the fait accompli presented by the Northern Alliance. The only concession that its members were willing to make was to have the hapless Karzai as the nominal Pashtun leader of the transitional authority. Nevertheless, Khalilzad bragged that he was, and would remain, the king-maker in Afghanistan. Subsequent events were to prove this not to be an empty boast, and one with disastrous consequences.
The situation facing the international community when the Taliban regime was toppled was analogous to the situation facing the Allies when France was liberated and the Vichy government collapsed. At that time, the French Communist Party, as well as criminal gangs in the guise of the Milice, had infiltrated all the organs of state – the government in Paris, announced and headed by Charles de Gaulle, was nominally in charge of France. It took great statesmanship and deft handling by de Gaulle and a handful of his supporters to finesse the ouster of the French Communists and members of the Milice from the ranks of "power ministries" and marginalize them in French society. The period between the signing of the Bonn Accord and the installation of a transitional government in Kabul should have been used to effect a similar process, distancing the Afghan mujahedeen warlords and their criminal gangs from the levers of power.
Unfortunately, the various loya jirgas, or "grand assemblies," attended and choreographed by Khalilzad as George Bush's special representative, instead of bringing forth the required apolitical, technocratic regime in order to begin the country's physical and social reconstruction, only served to entrench the status quo set in Bonn. Whether Khalilzad was outmaneuvered by the Northern Alliance or he was ordering things so that he would have a long-term position as "the power behind the throne," is a moot point.
However, his subsequent appointment to the U.S. ambassador post in Kabul, his eagerness to hold patently sham elections in order to have Karzai "elected" president, and the nature of his relationship with Karzai provide food for thought. It is perhaps worth noting here that, of all those who were involved in the shabby shenanigans misnamed a "peace process," only Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN secretary-general's special representative in Afghanistan, has had the decency and integrity to admit that the international community has failed the Afghan people.
The Afghan government is now widely described as being made up of various competing mafia groups. Initially, it was dominated by the Northern Alliance mafia. With the advent of Khalilzad's "vice-royalty" in Kabul, there was an influx of the "hyphenated American mafia" – people who rushed to Kabul either just to make a fast buck or to hold government posts both to enrich themselves and gain the status they lacked. In initiating and promoting this process, I suppose Khalilzad hoped to rule Afghanistan by acting as "the decider" in the turf battles that would inevitably occur between the competing mobs. In essence, Khalilzad fashioned himself capo di tutti capi, a position that suited both his temperament and his love of power.
The relationship between Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Kabul, and Karzai, the Afghan president, was described in graphic and cringe-making detail in a New Yorker piece. And though it accurately portrayed the Afghan "leader" as a servile and ridiculous moron whose every action was being choreographed by the American plenipotentiary, it was a gratuitous insult to Afghan national pride.
While I'm sure that King Zal enjoyed reading the piece, in the spirit of "Look at me, Ma, I'm on top of the world," his petty arrogance and stupidity did immense harm to the image of the United States in Afghanistan.
Fortunately, he was recalled from Kabul soon thereafter, and his hopes of a sinecure as America's viceroy in Kabul, irrespective of which political party ran Washington, were dashed. Unsurprisingly, even the manner of his departure lacked grace: he encouraged Karzai and others to write pleading letters to President Bush, begging him to leave Khalilzad at his Kabul post. And his drawn-out departure from Kabul was marked by metaphorical heel marks leading from the gates of the U.S. embassy to the doors of his departing plane.
With the departure of Don Khalilzad, the hapless Karzai was left to fend for himself, with only the British as his main source of military and political support. But with the British military failure in Helmand, and an understandable reluctance by many NATO allies to expend blood and treasure to ensure the survival of a kleptocratic regime, Karzai's mantle of power began to look increasingly threadbare. Consequently, Karzai's erstwhile supporters and opponents regrouped to ensure their own future, and the misnamed National Front was formed last year. As predicted by the perspicacious Gen. Eikenberry some time ago, and substantiated by subsequent events, the regime is imploding.
So what policy choices are available to the international community to ensure a positive outcome of the Afghan "project"?
Before this question can be addressed, some "received wisdom" needs to be debunked.
Until quite recently, it was widely assumed that applying "hard power" to solve the Afghan problem would ultimately bear positive results. In fact it has had the opposite effect. Therefore, a giant step forward was taken when it was admitted that there is no military solution to the Afghan problem. The British trumpeting of their preparations to "destroy the Taliban," thus "securing the back end of the country" and reordering things in Kabul so that it would "cut the mustard," and their subsequent rude awakening from such neo-imperial dreams, at least served this useful purpose.
The shibboleth that "Afghanistan is a democracy" with "a constitution, an elected president, and an elected parliament" must be consigned to the dustbin of bad jokes. The Afghan people certainly don't believe it, nor do those foreign professionals whose careers have not depended on inventing and perpetuating the myth.
The claim, often forwarded by the supporters of the current Kabul setup, that there's no alternative to replace Karzai is nonsense. It is an artifice through which they hope to bamboozle the rest of the international community to help continue maintaining Karzai and their associated assets in place, despite the fact that these people are part of the problem as well as a bar to implementing a solution.
The unnatural prominence of the Karzai clan and the gallimaufry of self-styled politicians brings to mind the story of a ship that was hit and sunk during the Russian civil war. The captain, a competent and kindly man, was drowned, but the corrupt, cruel political officer survived. A member of the crew wondered aloud about the injustices of fate. His shipmate answered, "Well, comrade, you should know that gold sinks and sh*t floats!"
Extending this analogy to the current Afghan situation, in order to arrive at a solution to the deepening Afghan crisis, the international community will have to flush out the prevailing system and pan for Afghan "gold" to replace it – that is, of course, if it is tired of holding its nose and wants to stop thrashing about hopelessly in the Kabul cesspool while continuing to bleed men and material in Afghanistan.
But, some people would argue, these social flotsam have the support of their ethnic groups, so perforce one has to give due weight to their demands. This is hogwash. They no more represent their fellow Tajiks or Uzbeks than, say, Italian-American mobsters represent America's Italian community or Hispanic-American gangs represent America's Hispanic community – they represent no one but themselves and their gangs of cutthroats. In fact, their own ethnic groups would be happy to be rid of the lot of them, since they're raping and pillaging in their own community, but these inconvenient facts go unreported in the Western media, although the local IWPR reporters do write about it.
Moreover, the majority of Afghans, irrespective of ethnicity, are appalled that the international community accepts these people as their legitimate representatives – it is as if Al "Scarface" Capone, Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Jack "Legs" Diamond, Abe "Kid Twist" Reles, and their ilk had been deemed to be legitimate political representatives of their respective communities during the violent Prohibition era in America.
A final assumption that must be discarded, before moving on to consider the factors essential for a viable political solution, is the shibboleth that conflates NATO's future survival with that of its success or failure in Afghanistan. From the shrill and persistent vocalization of this meme, one would think that the NATO acronym stands for North Afghanistan Treaty Organization!
NATO's "success" or "failure" in Afghanistan depends on how its mission is defined: if NATO's intent is to preserve the status quo in Kabul, then it will fail. On the other hand, if NATO's objective is to prevent the installation of an extremist regime in Kabul, then its mission has a chance of success, provided that it restricts military operations to the minimum necessary to keep things stable, until a political solution for the Afghan problem is found.
The identification and rectification of past factual errors and assumptions are a necessary but not sufficient condition for ending the violence in Afghanistan, because the current mess has both external and internal causes. Moreover, the external factors are more important and determinative of future events in Afghanistan than the internal factors.
The local actors on the Afghan scene are only pawns in a chess game between competing foreign interests. They are fully aware that their political and physical survival depends on pursuing their foreign masters' national interests. The recent violent death of a National Front leader, and the perceived mysterious circumstances surrounding his removal from the Afghan chessboard, has rattled members of the "charmed circle" in Kabul. This is no bad thing and should make them inclined to reasonableness in the future.
Members of the National Front have been agitating for some time for the convening of an international conference about Afghanistan. Forgoing an analysis of their reasons here, it can be taken as an article of faith, based on their past behavior, that their motivation is chicanery aimed at achieving personal ambitions, contrary to the best interests of Afghan society.
Given the catastrophic results of the Bonn conference, it would be unwise to hold such a conference again. Moreover, the UN, which would be the convener, has been totally discredited in Afghan eyes by the partisanship and behavior of its local staff.
Consequently, the most productive course of action would be for the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to hold closed-door meetings in order to agree on a common approach to resolving the Afghan conflict that not only safeguards Afghan national interests but also satisfies the minimum requirements of the majority of the Security Council five.
On the meeting's agenda, Afghanistan's future international role should figure prominently. As I have argued elsewhere, the temperament of the Afghan population demands that Afghanistan play a neutral role in international affairs. If left alone, "malice toward none, charity toward all," along with fierce pride and jealously guarded independence, is as natural to Afghans as the air they breathe.
Consequently, the contentious matter of the deployment of foreign troops in Afghanistan must be addressed.
Unfortunately, the presence of Western forces on Afghan soil has become part of the Afghan problem and therefore can no longer be considered part of any future solution. Despite the ridiculous claims of a deluded Afghan ex-minister while in Canada, the Afghan civilian population neither appreciates nor forgives being bombarded, even by mistakenly dropped "friendly bombs."
So, until Afghan security forces are capable of ensuring internal and external security, there will be a need for a new security architecture.
The proposal that forces drawn from Muslim countries should be used to provide interim stability in Afghanistan, at the conclusion of U.S. military operations, is not new. It was already being considered prior to the Bonn conference. However, the British-inspired ISAF project, which later morphed into a NATO mission, caused the idea to be shelved. The idea now needs to be seriously considered anew, competent and experienced forces need to be identified, and the phased manner of their planned deployment needs to be discussed.
Lastly, there's the matter of how to provide the Afghans with honest and competent governance that can shepherd Afghan society toward the desired goals of security, stability, economic prosperity, and representative government.
The film Brewster's Millions provides an answer. In it, the title character is left hundreds of millions in a will, provided he can spend tens of millions in a very short period of time. Finding (like the UN's recent electoral effort in Afghanistan) that the only way to do this is to become engaged in a political campaign, and devoid of other planks for his political platform, he enters the race with the slogan "None of the Above," meaning his fellow candidates, who are known scoundrels. To everyone's surprise, Brewster wins the election by a landslide.
Similarly, were the international community to approach the Afghan people with a "None of the Above" proposal and suggest the installation of an interim government of competent, apolitical technocrats in Kabul, it would have the overwhelming support of the Afghan population.
However, even if this path were to be chosen, peace and stability in Afghanistan would not be achieved overnight. For the Afghan technocrats who are co-opted to take on the burden of cleansing Afghan society of the present gang culture would face a situation similar to that faced by the FBI task forces that were assembled to fight organized crime in America during the 1920s, '30s, and '40s. But, if foreign support for the various gang leaders is removed, the desired objectives are achievable.
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Pakistan Says Afghan President To Visit Next Week -AFP
ISLAMABAD (AFP)--Afghan President Hamid Karzai will pay an official visit to Pakistan next week as the two countries face a raging insurgency by Taliban militants, Pakistan's foreign ministry said Wednesday.
Karzai's December 26-27 visit to Islamabad was "essentially a goodwill visit and expression of solidarity with Pakistan," ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq said.
Karzai will be the second head of state after Turkish President Abdullah Gul to visit since President Pervez Musharraf's October re-election, Sadiq said.
The Afghan leader would hold talks with Musharraf and caretaker prime minister Mohammedmian Soomro, he said.
"The meetings are expected to focus on bilateral relations and reconstruction in Afghanistan, as well as the regional and international situation," Sadiq said.
Musharraf visited Afghanistan in August to address a meeting of tribal elders from both sides of the porous border between the two countries.
Relations between Islamabad and Kabul, both US allies in the restive region, have been strained in recent years amid accusations that Pakistan was not doing enough to fight the Al-Qaeda-backed Taliban.
Taliban fighters launched an insurgency soon after being driven from power in Afghanistan in 2001 in an invasion led by the United States following the September 11 attacks.
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Dutch troops to leave Afghanistan from July 2010: minister
Wed Dec 19, 1:41 AM ET
THE HAGUE (AFP) - The Netherlands announced that Dutch troops would leave Afghanistan from July 2010, though it remained uncertain whether other nations would send enough soldiers to replace them.
"I do not have assurances that other countries will be ready to replace Netherlands troops, but I am certain that Dutch troops will leave in 2010," Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen told journalists.
"I indicated that in writing ... to the NATO secretary general, who has confirmed it.
The Netherlands government decided last month to prolong its Afghanistan deployment by two years to December 2010 and the parliament approved the measure late on Tuesday.
Dutch troops are stationed in the southern province of Uruzgan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Some 1,600 Dutch soldiers have been stationed in Uruzgan since July 2006. The mission, which was initially set to end after two years, is set to be reduced to between 1,100 and 1,200 soldiers in that region, with 250 troops in Kabul and Kandahar.
"The power struggles involving interior politics will not have changed in three years ... so we will leave responsibility for the situation to NATO," the minister said.
The Netherlands had hoped to receive reinforcements from other NATO countries to allow it to further reduce the number of troops in its deployment. The country has lost 12 soldiers since deploying as part of the ISAF mission.
France, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have promised to provide troops to make up for the difference, but the "reinforcements are much less than hoped", said Verhagen.
He added that discussions with other countries were continuing.
A resurgence in attacks by the former Islamist rulers, the Taliban, has seen Western countries urging each other to commit more troops to war-torn Afghanistan.
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Growing addiction a backlash of Afghan opium production
by Sardar Ahmad Wed Dec 19, 1:23 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Living in Afghanistan, the world's unrivalled producer of heroin, Faqirullah has no problem finding drugs to feed his habit. What concerns him is getting the cash to buy them.
No matter how difficult, the 27-year-old says he has to find the equivalent of four to six dollars for his daily fix: Faqirullah, who goes by a single name, is one of a growing number of Afghan drug addicts.
"I have been addicted to heroin for five years now," said Faqirullah, sleepy and half-stoned in a bombed-out building in Kabul just a short walk from the national parliament.
Faqirullah says he scrapes together a couple of dollars a day by begging and collecting scrap metal and plastic to sell to recyclers for a pittance.
"I'm doing everything, collecting Pepsi cans, scraps of metal -- don't make me tell you everything but anything you can think of, legal and illegal -- to make money to buy it," said another addict in the same destroyed building.
"I know it will kill me soon but I can't leave it," he added, as he injected his arm with trembling hands
The ruin, which served as a cultural centre for the former Soviet Union during its occupation, has become a home for nearly 200 addicts, many rejected by families and society.
Similar groups of drug users can be found across the vast city, mainly in ruined neighbourhoods that are reminders of a bloody 1992-1996 civil war that destroyed much of Kabul.
The dishevelled and filthy men are outcasts in this strictly Islamic society even though opium has long been used in some mainly northern communities as medicine, including for pain relief, or to keep babies quiet.
Nearly a million Afghans, about four percent of the population, use drugs, according to the last UN survey in 2005.
The figure is no doubt higher now, says counternarcotics ministry spokesman Sayed Amanullah Abdali, flicked upwards by the return every year of thousands of refugees from neighbouring Iran and Pakistan, where many first take drugs.
About 14 percent of the drugs takers use injections, according to the UN survey.
With growing addiction and the threat of HIV/AIDS, Afghanistan's mammoth drugs production -- which has for years supplied Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East -- is increasingly also posing a threat at home.
"There are several factors behind the increase in the number of the addicts: decades of war, lack of education and many others," said Tariq Sliman from the Nijat (Rescue) Centre, a Western-funded rehabilitation clinic in Kabul.
"But on top of all is the easy availability of drugs within the country," he said. "The problem is very serious. It need to be addressed now before it's too late."
Afghanistan is estimated this year to have produced 93 percent of the world's illegal opium -- about 8,200 tons, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
Until a few years ago, most of it was exported in its raw form. Today the lion's share, perhaps 90 percent, is turned into heroin inside the country, a UN official said in June.
This means more profits for the drug traffickers, who are said to be linked to Taliban insurgents, and more heroin for the local addicts.
"When you have the cash, it's not difficult to find the powder (heroin)," said Faqirullah. "You can buy it across the street," he added, pointing through a hole in the wall to the other side of the road.
Like many addicts, he first took drugs in a refugee camp -- in his case in neighbouring Iran from where he returned after the Taliban government was ousted in late 2001.
"The more refugees returning, the numbers goes up," he said. "If there's opium cultivation, if there are labs -- the number is going up. The risk is high and needs to be addressed."
About 37 government and non-government drugs treatment centres have been established across the country, said Mohammad Yahya Wiar, head of the Drug Demand Reduction Department at the same ministry.
But the biggest of them, in Kabul, can only treat 20 people a month, he admitted -- "with a million drug addicts, the facilities are not enough."
Faqirullah said he would go for help if he knew where to find it.
"I'm addicted. I'm going to die," he mumbled, his sleepy eyes lowered to the dirty floor. "Please help me out of this."
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Troops in Afghanistan can't wait for NATO back-up
Patrick Walters, National security editor | December 20, 2007 The Australian, Australia
AUSTRALIA'S political leaders have often bragged about the "heavy lifting" our defence force is doing in Afghanistan.
In government, Alexander Downer and Brendan Nelson made a point of criticising NATO nations for the paucity of their contribution to military operations against the Taliban.
It was a viewpoint greeted mostly with polite silence by our closest historical allies - Britain, the US and Canada, who have suffered hundreds of combat casualties in Afghanistan.
The time is fast approaching when Australia will have to put up or shut up. The Dutch decision to withdraw from Oruzgan province by July 2010 promises to be a severe test for the Rudd Government, which has publicly vowed to stay the course in Afghanistan, and for our defence leaders.
The prospects of finding a new partner with similar combat punch to the Dutch are slim.
The British, US and Canadians have been fighting hard in the south for a long time and are unlikely to fill the gap left by the departure of Dutch F16s, Apache helicopters and heavy artillery.
In two years, Australia will no longer have a significant troop presence in Iraq. The ADF's military presence in East Timor is also likely to be scaled back in the next 18 months to two years.
The likelihood now is that Australia will have no option but to fill the gap left by the Dutch with its own combat forces, including air power and additional ground forces.
New Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon says Australia will be prepared to consider lifting its ground force contribution if NATO countries first increase their troop numbers.
But the heavy fighting in southern Afghanistan will mean that Australia almost certainly cannot wait on NATO. The anticipated Dutch pullout in 2010 will make this position untenable.
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Battle against Taliban would 'collapse' under detainee-transfer ban
PAUL KORING December 19, 2007 The Globe and Mail
A top military commander says in a sworn affidavit Canadian troops would have to quit fighting the Taliban if they could not hand prisoners over to Afghan authorities.
Listing a long series of possible embarrassments and defeats, Brigadier-General André Deschamps outlined what he says would be the dire consequences, including losing the war, should a Federal Court judge rule in favour of a request by human-rights groups to issue an injunction banning the transfer of detainees to Afghan prisons because of the risk of torture or abuse.
"It strikes me as being unduly alarmist," said Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada, which along with the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, is seeking a halt to detainee transfers. Mr. Neve said the government seems to have taken an "all or nothing" position by asserting that a ban on transfers "would be so onerous that it would lead to the collapse of the entire mission."
Gen. Deschamps sketches a variety scenarios. Taliban fighters might surrender in droves, he warns, if they knew Canada would release them because it could not either hold them or transfer them. "The insurgents could attack us with impunity knowing that if they fail to win an engagement they would simply have to surrender and wait for release to resume operations," he said in a sworn affidavit.
The document is part of the Harper government's battle against the injunction.
Gen. Deschamps says such an injunction would result in Canadian Forces retreating to secure bases because they "would not be able to capture individuals who pose a threat to the Canadian Forces, our allies or the [International Security Assistance Force] mission."
In documents filed with the Federal Court, Gen. Deschamps, the chief of staff of Canada's Expeditionary Force Command that runs combat operations in Afghanistan, goes so far as to suggest the Taliban might win the war, at least in Kandahar, if the court were to grant the injunction.
He also warns that Canada's troops would be forced to cease medical treatment of Afghan children and even cancel inspections of Afghan prisons to check on previously transferred detainees. Training the Afghan army and police would also be halted, he said.
"If Canadian Forces were no longer able to transfer detainees, ... this would put the civilian population at great risk as the insurgents would re-assert themselves fully," Gen. Deschamps says.
He is expected to be cross-examined on his affidavit this week.
Amnesty International Canada and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association say the Harper government is fully aware of the danger of torture and abuse faced by prisoners transferred to Afghan prisons, and that Canada is forbidden under international law, including the Geneva Conventions and its own Constitution, from handing over detainees when it knows they face abuse.
In his six-page affidavit, Gen. Deschamps confirms that Canadian commanders have an obligation not to transfer a detainee if there exists "a reasonable belief that there is a real risk that torture or mistreatment exists."
He also confirms there are options ranging from releasing the detainee to "suspending, on a temporary basis, further transfers." Not included among the options is building a facility or converting the existing cells to accommodate prisoners for more than a few days.
Although Canada is waging its biggest war effort in more than half a century, the 2,500-soldier commitment to Afghanistan has only a limited capacity to hold prisoners temporarily. That is by design. "The Canadian Forces has no capacity or ability to hold detainees other than for transfer purposes," says Gen. Deschamps, an air force general who once commanded the Camp Mirage logistics base in the Gulf.
Although building a NATO detention facility - perhaps on the Kandahar base, which houses more than 10,000 troops - has been repeatedly suggested by international human-rights groups, Canada and most North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations are opposed.
"The long-term, indefinite detention of detainees in such circumstances would be inconsistent with the sovereignty of Afghanistan," Gen. Deschamps says. However, Canada's closest ally, the United States, runs just such a camp for Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan, with the agreement of the Afghan government and with regular inspections by the Red Cross. It was not clear from Gen. Deschamps's affidavit whether the Harper government regards that arrangement as an infringement of Afghan sovereignty.
Mr. Neve said he hoped the Harper government might be persuaded to look at other options; including a jointly run NATO-Afghan prisoner camp where detainees could be properly interrogated while Afghan security forces could be monitored and trained by Canada and other allies.
Despite intensive follow-up inspections, arranged by the Harper government only after The Globe and Mail published harrowing detainee accounts of torture and abuse in Afghan prisons, a significant number of transferred prisoners still say that they have been tortured after transfer.
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Canada urged to take diplomatic, development offensive in Afghanistan in 2008
The Canadian Press
OTTAWA - As Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan enters its third full year, there's increasing pressure on Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government to do more talking than fighting.
The opposition parties are adamant the mission end on schedule in January 2009 or even earlier. The Canadian public, meanwhile, has grown weary of - or resigned to - the steady procession of casualties since early 2006.
And the mounting calls for dialogue rather than war become harder to ignore when key allies, such as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, encourage President Hamid Karzai to give moderate elements of the Taliban places in Afghanistan's new government.
A former diplomat who knows the region intimately says the Conservatives have done little to encourage negotiation and it's time they started.
"I see very little diplomacy going on," said Louis Delvoie, Canada's former high commissioner to Pakistan in the early 1990s.
"Much of the diplomacy seems to be focused on developing relations with other NATO countries as opposed to bringing the Afghan government along in certain directions, which might make it more congenial to its own population and might make it more congenial to neighbouring Pakistan, among others."
The criticism comes as an independent panel, headed by former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley, reviews the future of Canada's military commitment and prepares recommendations early in the new year. The Conservatives made it clear in their fall throne speech they'd like to see Canada's mission extended until 2011.
But to succeed in Afghanistan, and honour the loss of 73 soldiers and one diplomat, Harper will need to emphasize discourse rather than defence, Delvoie said.
Pakistan, with its volatile political and religious insecurities, is the key to Afghanistan's future - and not just because it houses Taliban training camps, said Delvoie, now a fellow at Queen's University.
Canada, with its recognized influence in Kabul, needs to focus its diplomatic efforts in the new year and prod the Afghan government to undertake initiatives that will make Pakistan feel more secure.
A good start would be to persuade the Karzai government to accept the Durand Line, Afghanistan's 2,640-kilometre southern border with Pakistan drawn by the British, which the Afghans declared invalid in 1949, he said.
"This would go a long way towards meeting Pakistan's long-standing concerns about its territorial integrity," he said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press.
Delvoie says encouraging Karzai to portray himself as head of a multi-ethnic government would ease Pakistani concerns about restive Pashtun tribes that straddle the border of both countries and make up the bulk of insurgent fighters.
These concessions, he said, would take some of the internal pressure off the embattled and isolated Pakistani government.
Mastering the complexities and rivalries of the war-torn region was a major preoccupation of the Canadian Forces throughout 2007, says Canada's top military commander.
"We have tried to put in place (a system) where the (military) leaders get a PhD in tribal structures and the tribal culture of southern Afghanistan," said Gen. Rick Hillier, chief of defence staff, in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press.
Deployment training, straight from generals all the way down to foot soldiers, now places a special emphasis on culture, local politics and development - something that wasn't a major focus when Canadian boots hit the ground in Kandahar in February 2006.
There's a growing realization that a guerrilla war cannot be won through force of arms alone. It is a lesson that has been drilled into both the government and the army through months of bloody, frustrating combat in 2007 where Canadians have been forced to retake the same ground again and again.
"We have learned we really have to take a comprehensive approach. This is not just a gunfight," said Col. Dennis Thompson, who will take over command of Joint Task Force Afghanistan early in the new year.
Just as Canadians have grudgingly recognized this could be a long war, Thompson was careful to temper his own expectations for the coming year.
He describes his job not in terms of decisive victories but as "advancing the yardsticks."
If he can return to Canada later next year and leave his counterpart, an Afghan brigadier-general, "confident that he can perform his function in that province" by providing a better level of security, then it will be mission accomplished, Thompson said.
Throughout 2007, the Canadian International Development Agency or CIDA has faced relentless criticism - both at home and abroad - for not being seen to move aid and development along more quickly.
Conventional wisdom holds that the faster you put unemployed Afghans, particularly young men of fighting age, to work, the less likely they'll be to fall into the clutches of the Taliban.
One group in particular, the European-based Senlis Council, has called for CIDA to be removed from its position of managing some $1.2 billion being poured into the country and be replaced by a special envoy. It has also demanded the military be allowed to deliver immediate reconstruction and humanitarian aid to people in Kandahar, where organizations such as the United Nations and others face threats and intimidation.
"Bullshit," thundered Graham Lowe, former head of the UN Habitat program in Afghanistan, on recently hearing the Senlis criticism.
Through its programs of cleaning irrigation canals and sponsoring entrepreneurs through micro-credit programs, Canada is trying to encourage stable long-term economic development.
"Short-term projects are not valid," he said.
"They are humanitarian actions at best. You go in and do something quickly. It's visible. The only reason you want something visible is you want people to say how wonderful Canada is. If we're not noticed, then we're probably doing a better job."
But Lowe, who has worked on development programs all over the world, said there is a paternalistic bias in Western countries, one that Canada sometimes exhibits in Afghanistan.
"We go into development thinking we have all the answers," said Lowe, who spent the better part of two years in Afghanistan.
"There is expertise in how to get things done and that expertise comes from the locals. If you're smart, you tap into it. We're so busy showing the 'darkies' what to do, whoever they are, they could be Ukrainians, instead of listening to what their problems are and reaching out to create that marriage of (our) experience and their expertise."
CIDA argues its current approach, which involves consulting local elders, hiring local contractors and paying Afghans for make-work projects, constitutes tapping into Kandahar expertise.
But none of it is happening fast enough for Canadians or Afghans, who are impatient to see improvements in their lives.
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Shopping grounds to a halt in Afghanistan as nation prepares to observe Eid
By A.R. Khan And Tobi Cohen, The Canadian Press
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - The streets of Kandahar city, teeming with sheep peddlers and eager shoppers in recent days, are about to grow quiet as Muslims across Afghanistan settle in to observe Eid al-Adha.
Like Muslims elsewhere in Asia, the religious holiday commemorating Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice his son Ismael for Allah is a big occasion for Afghans.
The timing of the festival is based on interpretations of the lunar calendar by religious authorities. For many Muslims, Eid begins on Thursday but the anticipation had started much earlier.
In the days leading up to the holiday, thousands of Kandaharis hit the market to pick out a sheep for slaughter and a new outfit, as is tradition.
Muslims are required to sacrifice the animal - one part going to the poor, the second to a friend and the last to be kept for one's own family - and even those who could barely afford it will go to market in search of a hard-to-come-by bargain.
As such, the streets of the city where Canadian troops have been based for the last two years are virtually overrun with sheep, as business-savvy shepherds seek to make a profit.
"I have a very good business these days," said 42-year-old Ahmadulla, who's been in the sheep business for a decade.
"I don't have a lot of money and this business even can be done with a small amount ... It is a golden chance for me to feed my family for one more year."
It is not uncommon even for those not typically involved in the sheep business to buy a small herd at low cost before the holidays and sell it at a marked up rate later.
As on Valentine's Day in North America when the price of a dozen long-stem roses momentarily skyrockets, so too does the price of a sheep at Eid. A sheep that would typically cost $100 could sell for twice that amount during the holiday, a phenomenon that particularly aggravates butchers.
But high prices have done little to mar the joy and anticipation that mark the lead up to Eid.
"Our father bought us shoes and clothes for Eid," a beaming 12-year-old Halima said. "I am very excited to have this stuff."
A burka-clad woman who hesitated to chat and wouldn't give her name said she, too, was buying new clothes for her and her daughter.
"My husband also does shopping for me but as a matter of fact, I don't like his taste," she said.
At mosques in Kabul, the Afghan capital, religious leaders asked Afghans to pray for the jobless and for less violence. Mosque visitors gave extra money to beggars sitting outside.
"Afghanistan has gone through much conflict. Today we want unity in Afghanistan. More people are jobless in this country, pray for the jobless," said Shah Sayed Wahidi, the religious leader at a Shiite mosque.
President Hamid Karzai made a renewed call to the United States and coalition forces to take their fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban militants beyond Afghanistan's borders. In a speech at the presidential palace Wednesday, Karzai said Afghanistan does not provide shelter for terrorism but is its victim.
"We want the struggle against terrorism to go after their shelters ... and training centres," Karzai said. He did not name any country, but such comments from Afghan officials are known to mean Pakistan.
Karzai's reference was the first public criticism of Afghanistan's eastern neighbour in months.
Afghan officials regularly accuse Pakistan of not doing enough to stop the training and the movement of militants across the porous border.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has acknowledged that Taliban fighters seek safe haven in Pakistan before crossing into Afghanistan.
Karzai's remarks come at a time when the United States is reportedly reviewing its strategy in Afghanistan as the country goes through its most violent year since the Taliban was ousted in the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
Some 6,300 people, mostly militants, have died in insurgency-related violence this year. Seventy-three Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have lost their lives since Canada's mission in Afghanistan began in 2002.
With files from the Associated Press.
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US Commander Arrives in Afghanistan for Strategy Review
By Al Pessin 18 December 2007 Voice of America
One of the top U.S. military commanders arrived in Afghanistan early Wednesday to work on an assessment of American and allied efforts to defeat Taliban and al-Qaida insurgents, who continue to operate six years after the U.S.-led invasion. VOA's Al Pessin is traveling with the commander and filed this report from Kabul.
The continuing ability of Taliban and al-Qaida fighters to launch attacks and prevent the Afghan government from establishing its authority throughout the country is forcing American officials to take a fresh look at their strategy. While they point to improvements in several parts of the country, U.S. military and civilian officials acknowledge the insurgents are particularly strong in southern Afghanistan, and are able to cause problems in many other areas.
The commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, Admiral William Fallon, came on his monthly visit to Afghanistan Wednesday with a broader mission than usual - to make progress on an assessment he is leading aimed at finding a more effective way to deal with the insurgents.
"Well, I don't want to make too big a deal of it, but I've asked my staff to go back and take a look at everything we're doing here, to look at the situation, to reassess where we are so that we can have a firm understanding of the situation," he said. "And as we figure out what we want to do strategically in the country, how we can do it better."
In a VOA interview enroute to Afghanistan, Admiral Fallon said he wants to make recommendations to senior U.S. leaders on how to move forward more effectively in Afghanistan next year. He said one challenge is to get the dozens of countries and organizations working in Afghanistan to better coordinate their efforts.
In that regard, he says there has been progress in one critical area, cooperation with Pakistan on controlling the border region.
The admiral attributes the improvement to several factors.
"Things have gotten better, not cleaned up altogether, but the trends are in the right direction," he added. "The data that I have indicates that in the eastern part, for which the U.S. has responsibility under [NATO] ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] and I have a high interest, of course, the level of activity has come down significantly here in the past several months now. I would attribute that to a number of things. One, our people have been very aggressive in going out and seeking out these insurgents and these terrorists to get rid of them. [And, two] on the Pakistani side of the border, the Pakistani military has been more cooperative with us this year."
Admiral Fallon says a joint U.S.-Afghan-Pakistani coordination committee is having more success sharing information and coordinating counter-terrorism efforts along the northern part of the border. But he says he has not seen the same the reduction in cross-border insurgent activity farther south, where most of the violence has been concentrated in recent months.
Admiral Fallon has direct command of U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan, and his troops also help NATO-led security efforts in the rest of the country. The New York Times reported on Sunday that his assessment will be combined with parallel efforts by NATO and the U.S. State Department in a top level review of Afghanistan strategy early next year.
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German kidnapped in Afghanistan wanted for fraud: prosecutor
Tue Dec 18, 11:21 AM ET
BERLIN (AFP) - A German former aid worker who was abducted in Afghanistan on Sunday is wanted in Germany for fraud, a prosecutor said on Tuesday.
An arrest warrant has been issued for the man, identified by the German press as 42-year-old carpenter Harald Kleber, in connection with computer fraud, said Juergen Konrad, a prosecutor in the southern state of Bavaria.
Konrad said an international arrest warrant has not been issued for Kleber but he would be detained if he set foot in Germany.
According to the Berliner Zeitung newspaper, the Gruenhelme (Green Helmets) humanitarian organisation for whom Kleber worked in Afghanistan has also accused him of embezzling funds.
Gruenhelme could not be reached for comment.
The organisation had earlier confirmed that Kleber worked for them between 2003 and 2004 in Herat in western Afghanistan and said he remained in the country afterwards to "pursue his private life."
According to Afghan police, he was kidnapped in Herat by four armed men on Sunday. It was not immediately clear whether the Taliban was behind the abduction, as is the case with many kidnappings of foreigners in Afghanistan.
A Western police source has told reporters: "The circumstances around this kidnapping are troublesome."
A local police official in Herat said the victim had converted to Islam, married an Afghan widow and has two children.
Afghan Trade and Industry Minister Amin Farhang told a German newspaper that he knew Kleber and was saddened to hear that he had been kidnapped.
"(He) is a good Muslim, a great aid worker and a friend of the Afghan people," the Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung quoted Farhang as saying.
Four other Germans have been kidnapped in Afghanistan this year.
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India builds important road-link joining Afghanistan with Iran
New Delhi, Dec 19, IRNA
India is building a 217-kilometer Zaranj-Delaram highway, perhaps the most important road-link in land- locked Afghanistan.
According to an All India Radio report, the Border Roads Organization, BRO, is constructing the highway joining the country's border with Iran at Zaranj and the garland highway at Delaram.
The garland highway connects Kabul, Kandahar, Herat,
Mazar-e-Sharif and Kunduz. With the completion of the highway, goods from Afghanistan's main cities can be brought overland to the border with Iran and from there these will be transported to Chabahar and vice versa.
The BRO Chief Lt. Gen. A K Nanda said that the project cost was originally estimated at dlrs 70 million but there has been cost overrun because of the security situation in southwestern Afghanistan.
He said the highway runs through the drug-cultivation belt where there is huge resistance to the work being done by the BRO.
About 300 Indians are working on the project.
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Aid being distributed to displaced families in Musa Qala
KABUL, 19 December 2007 (IRIN) - Aid agencies, Afghan and international military forces and provincial authorities in southern Afghanistan are providing humanitarian relief to 1,500 battle-affected families in Musa Qala District, Helmand Province, according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and provincial officials.
Local residents and officials in Helmand Province estimate about 1,200 families left their homes and livelihoods in Musa Qala District after Afghan and international forces launched a major military operation to retake the district from Taliban insurgents on 6 December.
The Taliban had been in control of the area since November 2006 but were driven out on 10 December by the Afghan army and international forces.
UNAMA on 17 December said "significant large-scale displacement" had not occurred in the area and only about 830 families might have been displaced as a result of fighting in Musa Qala.
"The needs [of displaced people] seem to be mostly for food and medical assistance, as they are being temporarily accommodated in people's homes, and these needs are being largely met by the government through military and civilian channels," said Charlie Heggins, the head of UNAMA's humanitarian unit.
"We have received reports from government sources and international military sources which indicate that the resulting humanitarian situation is not alarmingly severe," Heggins said.
Due to security restrictions, however, no comprehensive and reliable assessment of needs has been conducted so far, UNAMA said.
Avoiding protracted displacement
Aid agencies say urgent relief needs to reach battle-affected communities in Helmand Province, particularly Musa Qala District, to avoid a protracted humanitarian emergency in the area.
People will also need sustainable recovery and development assistance to rehabilitate their affected livelihoods and re-establish their lives.
"What is needed is continuing security in the area so that infrastructure can be repaired or improved, essential services provided and livelihood opportunities opened up," Heggins said.
The Afghan government and donors have pledged US$1 million for the rapid rebuilding of houses and shops damaged during fighting in the centre of Musa Qala District, Assadullah Wafa, the governor of Helmand, told IRIN from his office.
"More development aid will flow to Musa Qala in the near future," Wafa said.
Efforts are also under way to clear the area of landmines and unexploded ordnance left behind by the Taliban insurgents, the governor of Helmand said.
In the post-conflict context aid organisations should have the freedom to deliver independent humanitarian and development assistance to the people of Helmand Province, UNAMA said.
If their needs remain unmet and problems increase "there is a risk that these people could join the 16,000 displaced people living in difficult circumstances across Helmand Province," Heggins warned.
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Child soldiers operating on several fronts
KANDAHAR, 19 December 2007 (IRIN) - Children are being recruited and in some cases sexually abused by the Afghan police and/or various militias that support the police, as well as by private security companies and the Taliban, according to human rights and provincial officials.
At least 200 boys under 18 are serving in the Afghan National Police (ANP) and a semi-formal auxiliary police force in insurgency-torn Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan, said Abdul Qader Noorzai, head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) in Kandahar Province.
Some children are recruited for military and non-military purposes by local militias who are paid by the government to supplement the fledgling ANP in volatile southern provinces. However, due to lack of proper monitoring and accountability mechanisms, and the informal nature of the auxiliary forces, the use and abuse of child soldiers remains undocumented.
"Children are used for different purposes," Noorzai said. "The majority of them experience sexual abuse, others do all kinds of jobs such as cooking, cleaning, day patrols and even fighting," he said.
Saeed Aqa Saqib, chief of police in Kandahar, told IRIN that over the past nine months a number of police officials had faced dismissal, change of duty station or other disciplinary measure because children were discovered as their immediate subordinates.
"We take this issue [child soldiers] very seriously and will not let it happen within our ranks," said Saqib.
In at least two separate incidents in August and September, two under-age soldiers recruited at the Kandahar police headquarters were sacked by the provincial office of the AIHRC. "I told those kids to go home and stay away from military personnel," recalled Noorzai, adding that the recruiters had not been punished.
Private security companies
Under-age males have also been seen working for private security companies, particularly in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, said a senior government official who insisted on anonymity.
"The auxiliary police and private security contractors widely use child soldiers while the government and the AIHRC do not have the capacity to monitor, investigate and stop them," the official said.
Both the chief of police and the head of the AIHRC in Kandahar Province acknowledged that auxiliary forces and private security firms had remained immune from formal investigations and monitoring with regard to the use of child soldiers.
At least two non-government security companies declined to comment on the subject and turned down requests by IRIN to visit their headquarters.
The basic factor driving the recruitment of under-age recruits - mainly boys aged 10-17 - is poverty and unemployment, as well as a certain sense of glamour afforded by the bearing of arms.
Afghan officials also accuse the Taliban and other anti-government elements of deliberately using children for various military and illegitimate purposes. The Taliban use boys as foot soldiers and force children to engage in violent acts, they say.
Taliban rebels allegedly used a six-year-old child for a suicide attack on the Afghan National Army in Ghazni Province, in June 2007, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said.
In a Taliban video released in April, Taliban gunmen helped a young boy to behead an adult accused of anti-Taliban activity, according to the US State Department.
"UNICEF is very concerned about the increasing use of children and youth to commit violent acts in times of conflict," Patrick McCormick, a UNICEF spokesperson in New York, told IRIN.
Over 7,500 child soldiers went through Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programmes between April 2003 and June 2006 under Afghanistan's post-Taliban peace building arrangements, according to the UN.
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Al-Qaeda plays dealbreaker in Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / December 19, 2007
KARACHI - The extraordinary "escape" from police custody of Rashid Rauf, a British subject of Pakistani origin, points to a deal between the authorities in Islamabad and militants in an effort to ensure smooth national elections on January 8, but al-Qaeda remains a threat to this seemingly inventive initiative.
Police reported on Monday that Rauf, 26, had disappeared a day earlier while returning from court to Adiala jail, a high-security prison in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, near Islamabad. He is
said to have asked his two police guards for time to say afternoon prayers at a mosque. He went in handcuffed, and never came out.
Rauf was raised in Britain and returned to Pakistan in 2002, where he married and settled. He was arrested by Pakistani authorities in August 2006 in connection with a plot to use liquid explosives to blow up aircraft flying from Britain to the United States. This led to scores of arrests in Britain - the suspects are still to be charged - and prompted a major security alert at airports worldwide. Stiff restrictions on passengers' carry-on items also resulted.
But Rauf was cleared in Pakistan of terrorism charges last December and only faced charges relating to possessing chemicals that could be used in making explosives and with carrying forged travel documents.
These charges were dropped, but Rauf remained in custody over an extradition request from Britain in connection with the killing of his maternal uncle, Mohammed Saeed, who was stabbed to death in Birmingham in April 2002.
Pakistani Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz is reported to have told British Ambassador Robert Brinkely that Rauf's recapture is a "priority". It could be, though, that his release was more of a priority.
Islamabad, with Washington's support, is determined to stage credible elections next month to usher in a pro-West liberal democratic administration. President Pervez Musharraf has shed his military uniform after eight years of presidency, which has gone some way to improving the country's military dictatorship image, and the main political parties have gone back on their threats to boycott the polls.
This leaves the Pakistani Taliban militants, whose base is in the tribal areas of the country on the border with Afghanistan and who are calling for a boycott of the elections. This area, which includes North and South Waziristan and is for all intents and purposes beyond the writ of the federal government, has been proclaimed by the militants to be Islamic emirates.
The top leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, has vowed to struggle for the enforcement of Islamic law, to wage a "defensive" jihad against Pakistan, and to support the war against occupying troops in Afghanistan.
And importantly, he called for a boycott of the elections, a move that could seriously disrupt voting and undermine the credibility of the polls. Fearful of this, the authorities have tried to build bridges with the Taliban - once again - and recently bowed to their demands that scores of militants be released and that the security forces curtail their operations against militants in the tribal areas.
As a result, Baitullah reversed his demand for an election boycott. Contacts familiar with security issues who spoke to Asia Times Online are convinced that Rauf's "escape" can be seen in the context of this reversal.
The contacts point out that while Rauf might have been cleared in Pakistan of terrorist charges, he is potentially a high-value prisoner and should have been guarded by a much bigger security detail, including personnel from at least three intelligence agencies, beside the police.
It was Baitullah who announced in October that he would have former premier Benazir Bhutto killed on her return from exile. Baitullah subsequently backtracked and issued a denial of his statement after negotiating with the authorities. Nevertheless, al-Qaeda launched its own attack on Bhutto's convoy after her arrival in Karachi, with suicide bombers killing 136 people and injuring at least 450. Bhutto was unhurt.
In the same same vein, the real instigator behind the establishment of Islamic emirates in the border areas is al-Qaeda, and it will not sit idly by as the Pakistani Taliban strike deals with the establishment.
Al-Qaeda has learned from Iraq, where Baghdad made deals with Sunni militants at al-Qaeda's expense, that any peace initiatives are not in its best interests.
It is no coincidence, then, that since Baitullah's agreement not to call for an election boycott, there have been three major suicide attacks on the armed forces. In the latest incident, on Monday at least nine soldiers were killed and four wounded in an attack in the garrison city of Kohat in North-West Frontier Province. The attack is also the third since Musharraf lifted the state of emergency at the weekend, saying that "militant violence has been stopped".
The result is that the armed forces will be forced to remain proactive over the coming weeks. This is doubly troubling for them. Firstly, their efforts will be hampered as North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces across the border traditionally scale down their activities at this time. This will allow militants to easily seek haven in Afghanistan.
Secondly, as per the understanding with Baitullah, the military is meant to be backing off. The last thing Islamabad wants in the runup to the elections is highly unpopular operations in the tribal areas.
But from al-Qaeda's perspective, continued military operations are essential to keep this "war on terror" theater open and undermine any Iraq-like concessions to local militants so as to isolate al-Qaeda.
In al-Qaeda's favor, Pakistan has tried this solution many times, but it has always come to nothing. Unlike in Iraq, al-Qaeda's roots run deep in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Hundreds of Pakistani jihadis were trained in al-Qaeda's camps in Afghanistan before September 11, 2001, and al-Qaeda members have a decades-old understanding with veteran Afghan Taliban commanders.
Al-Qaeda relocated to the Waziristans after the fall of the Taliban in 2001 and immediately focused on the ideological grooming of local youths, besides introducing training programs. In the past few years, scattered Pakistani jihadis have been reorganized in al-Qaeda's camps in the Waziristans. This has led to the emergence of the neo-Taliban, a far different group from the traditional Taliban who took over Afghanistan in 1996. The neo-Taliban are strongly behind al-Qaeda and will not allow its isolation.
Al-Qaeda will continue to nurture the neo-Taliban, and the establishment of the Islamic emirates, announced by Baitullah but prompted by al-Qaeda, is an effective buffer against any Washington-backed bids to initiate peace dialogue with Taliban commanders.
Thus, the release of militants and the contrived release of Rauf hardly matter in the bigger picture of al-Qaeda's do-or-die battle in Pakistan's tribal areas and beyond.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
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Afghan troops foil insurgents' explosive device in S Afghanistan
KABUL, Dec. 18 (Xinhua) -- Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), along with the U.S.-led Coalition forces, neutralized a group of insurgents Monday who were in the process of placing an improvised explosive device (IED) on a road in southern Kandahar province, said a Coalition statement on Tuesday.
Afghan troops immediately responded when it observed a group offive insurgents placing the IED along the roadside near the village of Pada in Shah Wali Kot district of Kandahar, the statement said.
ANSF called for air support and dropped ordnance on the suspected IED location, it said.
After clearing the area, ANSF continued their reconnaissance patrol and discovered four additional roadside IEDs which were quickly neutralized, it added.
Over 6,000 people have lost their lives in conflicts and Taliban-related insurgency since beginning 2007 in Afghanistan.
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Iraq, Afghanistan force cut in envoy posts
Denver Post Wire Report 12/12/2007 11:24:21 PM MST
WASHINGTON — Diplomatic posts at the State Department and U.S. embassies worldwide will be cut by 10 percent next year because of heavy staffing demands in Iraq and Afghanistan, Director General Harry Thomas informed the foreign service Wednesday.
The decision to eliminate the positions reflects the reality that State does not have enough people to fill them. Nearly one-quarter of all diplomatic posts are vacant after hundreds of foreign-service officers were sent to embassies in Baghdad and Kabul, and Congress has not provided funding for new hires. Many of the unfilled jobs will no longer be listed as vacancies.
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The true enemy: human tribalism
Jonathan Kay, National Post (Canada) Tuesday, December 18, 2007
The clash of civilizations we're living through is widely seen as a battle between Islam and Christendom. I'm convinced it's more basic than that. The reason Iraq and Afghanistan remain unsettled battlefields isn't that our two civilizations can't agree on the nature of God. It's because we can't agree on the nature of man.
In the West, we take it for granted that human beings are autonomous individuals. We decide for ourselves how we dress, where we work, whom we marry. Our political system is an atomized democracy, in which everyone is expected to vote according to their own idiosyncratic values and interests. Our pop music and movies are about misunderstood loners. The ethos of individual empowerment fuels daytime talk shows.
Individualism has become so fundamental to the Western world view that most of us cannot imagine any other way of conceiving human existence. But in fact, there are billions of people on Earth -- including most of the world's Muslims -- that view our obsession with individualism as positively bizarre.
In most of South Asia and the Middle East, humans are viewed not primarily as individuals, but as agents of a family, tribe, clan or sect. As Rutgers scholar Robin Fox wrote in a brilliant essay -- excerpted in last month's issue of Harper's magazine -- this explains why so many Arabs marry their cousins. In tribal societies, your blood relations are the only people you can trust.
This fundamental difference in outlook explains much of what we find barbaric about traditional Muslim cultural practices. Honour killings -- to take a newsworthy example -- strike Westerners as a particularly horrific species of murder. But that's because we think of people as individuals. If you instead see a woman primarily as a low-status breeding agent of her patriarch's clan, everything changes. By taking up with an unapproved male, she is nullifying whatever value she once had as a human. In fact, her life has negative value in the sense that her shameful lifestyle is an ongoing humiliation to the men expected to enforce discipline within the clan's ranks.
An intractably tribal outlook also makes Western-style democracy impossible -- which explains why nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq has become such a thankless slog.
The reason many of us post-9/11 hawks had such high hopes for these campaigns is that we shared George W. Bush's sunny claim that "Freedom is universal. Freedom is etched in everybody's soul." It turns out that's not true. As Fox notes, freedom and individualism are relatively recent development in human history. Tribalism, on the other hand, is a deeply rooted instinct that has been "etched" on our evolutionary psychology since simian days. Even in Western societies, you can still see it rise to the surface when tensions flare (a point Paul Haggis made with exquisite artistry in his Oscar-award winning film Crash).
Democracy requires consensus-building and shared values. But in tribal societies, politics is viewed as a battle of all-against-all, in which the strongest tribe openly appropriates the state apparatus to enrich itself at everyone else's expense.
In this regard, Saddam Hussein was the ultimate tribal leader. Not only did he restrict his inner circle to Sunnis, but they were Sunnis from his own narrow Tikriti sub-clan. The idea of creating a "representative" government that includes Kurds and Shiites with their own independent power bases would have struck him as completely insane. So would the idea of handing over power to another tribe merely because its leaders chalked up more votes in an election. During most of human history, letting another tribe lord over yours meant yielding the power to pillage your granaries and rape your women. (In parts of Africa, it still does.)
This explains why the United States and NATO have gotten nowhere with grand national political projects in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are both intensely tribal societies. Instead, progress has come at the micro level -- with military commanders sitting down with individual tribal patriarchs and, essentially, bribing them with guns and money. In the West, we call that corruption. In tribal societies, it's politics.
Is there something about Islam that serves to lock in mankind's inherently tribal instincts? Perhaps. The word Islam translates to "submission." And empirically speaking, there seems to be something within the faith that discourages individualism and the democratic freedoms associated with it.
On the other hand, the non-Muslim nations of sub-Saharan Africa are every bit as tribalized as the Muslim nations of North Africa and Asia. And for all the media focus on Aqsa Parvez, several of Canada's first honour murders actually were performed by Sikhs. In any case, the successful integration of hundreds of thousands of Muslims into Canadian society shows that, after a generation or two, at least, the faith hardly prevents immigrants from coming around to our democratic, individualistic ways.
As for foreign entanglements, it's worth noting Fox's warning that our own Western march to individualism took centuries -- a grinding process in which we moved "from tribalism, through empire, feudalism, mercantile capitalism and the industrial revolution shrugging off communism and fascism along the way."
In Iraq and Afghanistan, we are essentially asking the locals to cram all of this into a few years. We shouldn't be surprised if it takes a little longer.
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Terror Across The Durand Line
Till now, the various Talibanised Pakistani tribal groups operating against the Pakistan Army had been operating autonomously of each other, but now they are attempting to unite them..
B. Raman outlookindia.com December 18, 2007
The number of acts of suicide terrorism in Afghanistan increased from 17 in 2005 to 123 in 2006 and has already touched 140 so far this year. During the same period, the number of acts of suicide terrorism in Pakistan increased from two in 2005 to six in 2006 and has already touched 50 till now this year. The dramatic increase in suicide terrorism was a sequel to the Pakistan Army's commando action in Islamabad's Lal Masjid from July 10 to 13,2007.
There has been an average of four acts of suicide terrorism per month in Pakistani territory as against 12 per month in Afghan territory. According to Afghan authorities, the majority of the acts of suicide terrorism in Afghanistan was co-ordinated from Pakistani territory. The suicide terrorists were recruited and trained in Pakistani territory. The tribal belt of Pakistan has thus become a major recruiting, motivating and training ground for suicide terrorists meant for operations in both countries.
Since December 14, 2007 alone, there have been three acts of suicide terrorism in Pakistani territory. In the latest of these incidents, which took place on December 17, 2007, nine members of a soccer team of the Pakistan Army were killed in the garrison town of Kohat in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).
The dramatic increase in suicide terrorism in this region has been accompanied by a decrease in the number of conventional-style attacks mounted by the Neo Taliban against Afghan and NATO forces and in the number of cross-border infiltrations from Pakistan into Afghanistan by conventional fighting groups as distinguished from individual suicide terrorists.
A despatch of the Associated Press datelined December 17,2007, from Bagram in Afghanistan has quoted Brig Gen Joseph Votel of the US Army as saying that attacks along the Afghan-Pakistan border have dropped more than 40 percent since July,2007 He attributed this decrease to the onset of winter, the rise in terrorist attacks in Pakistan and an increase in communication and coordination among NATO, Afghan and Pakistani forces.
This decrease has been noticed since the killing of Mulla Dadullah, the Neo Taliban Commander, by the US forces in Afghan territory in May, 2007. It would not, therefore, be correct to attribute it even partly to winter, which is setting in only now. The suicide terrorists on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border have shown a capability for operating autonomously even in the absence of an iconic leader to motivate and guide them. But, the Neo Taliban's conventional fighting forces have not shown a similar capability. The killing of their commanders has an impact on their fighting prowess. While the killing of Dadullah has not had any impact on the wave of suicide terrorism, it has definitely affected the morale of the conventional fighting forces. Mansoor Dadullah, his successor, has not yet been able to build a similar image of himself among the conventional fighters.
The US is presently hunting for Jalaluddin Haqqani, his son Sirajuddin Haqqani and other Neo Taliban commanders in the hope that their elimination could further affect the morale of the conventional fighting formations of the Neo Taliban.
It is interesting to note the US Brig-Gen. comparing the decline in cross-border activity in Afghan territory to the increase in incidents in the Pakistani territory. Since July,2007, there has been an increase in conventional fighting between different jihadi groups and the Pakistan Army in South and North Waziristan and in the Swat Valley of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and in acts of suicide terrorism in the tribal belt as well as in the non-tribal areas of Pakistan.
Whereas the Neo Taliban's conventional operations in the Afghan territory have been both offensive and defensive, the Pakistani Taliban's conventional operations in Pakistani territory have been largely defensive. They have not so far come to notice for attacks in large formations on the Pakistani army positions in the tribal areas. Wherever there was an administrative and military vacuum, the jihadis moved into it and fiercely defended themselves when the Pakistani security forces tried to dislodge them. In the process, they managed to inflict heavy casualties--particularly on the para-military forces-- and captured a large number of security forces personnel. The Pakistan Army's operations to dislodge the Pakistani Taliban from South and North Waziristan in October,2007, ended in a stalemate after the Pakistani security forces suffered a large number of casualties. The operations in the Swat Valley, which are still continuing, have been a little more successful in the sense that the Army has dislodged the followers of Mulla Fazlullah of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) from many of the positions occupied by them, but the morale and resilience of Fazlullah's followers remain intact.
Till now, the various Talibanised Pakistani tribal groups operating against the Pakistan Army have been operating autonomously of each other though all of them are inspired by the ideology of the Neo Taliban and Al Qaeda. One has not seen instances of tribal groups from one area going to the assistance of groups in other areas, when they are attacked by the army. Now, an attempt is being made to unite the different Talibanised Pakistani tribal groups.
To promote joint action, 40 tribal leaders from South Waziristan, North Waziristan, Aurakzai, Kurram, Khyber, Mohmand and Bajaur tribal agencies and from the NWFP districts of Swat, Buner, Dir, Malakand, Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Tank, Peshawar, Dera Ismail Khan and Kohat are reported to have met at an undisclosed place in South Waziristan on December 14,2007, and formed a joint resistance movement called the Tehrik Taliban-e-Pakistan with Baitullah Mehsud of South Waziristan as the Amir. Hafiz Gul Bahadur of North Waziristan and Maulana Faqir Muhammad of Bajaur will be the deputy Amirs. They decided to step up their offensive action against the NATO and Afghan forces in Afghanistan and strengthem their defensive actions against the Pakistani security forces. They gave a 10-day ultimatum to the Pakistani government to stop its military operations in the tribal areas and to release Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi, who was captured by the security forces during the commando action in the Lal Masjid. They have threatened to launch a joint fight against the government if their demands are not met.
While the joint front, if it functions as intended, should be able to keep up the present level of suicide terrorism on both sides of the border and even step it up further, it is unlikely to be able to step up offensive conventional attacks on the security forces.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.
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Hollywood visits Afghanistan
Wednesday, December 19, 2007 THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS
Hollywood has never had a whole lot of interest in Afghanistan, save for the occasional secondary terrorist character. But with the release of "The Kite Runner" last week and "Charlie Wilson's War" this week, moviegoers are about to get a shadow movie history of a longtime global hot spot.
Indeed, watched one after another, the films even form a timeline of events. It reads something like this:
1978: The Afghan family at the heart of "The Kite Runner" laments its situation, caught between homegrown religious extremists on one side and communists on the other. As the family head, Baba (Homayoun Ershadi), puts it, "The mullahs want to rule our souls, and the communists tell us we don't have any."
1979: Baba and his young son, Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi), flee Kabul for California amid the Soviet invasion.
1980s: In "Charlie Wilson's War," based on a true story, Texas congressman Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks), aided by a CIA agent (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and a wealthy Houston socialite (Julia Roberts), work to funnel $1 billion worth of weapons into Afghanistan to defeat the Soviets. Their battle cry: "Let's kill some Russians." The Soviet Army retreats in 1989.
A blow to stereotypes
1989: Wilson complains that for all the money spent to win the war, he can't drum up $1 million to fix Afghanistan's schools: "We go in there with our ideals, then we leave."
2000: The adult Amir (Khalid Abdalla) goes home to Kabul to finish some unfinished business. His native country is now ruled by the brutal hand of the Taliban.
The films would seem to have little in common. "The Kite Runner" is an uplifting story based on a novel by an Afghan native, Khaled Hosseini. "Charlie Wilson's War" is a biting satire that springs from a non-fiction book by the late "60 Minutes" producer George Crile.
But for Abdalla, the Scottish-born Egyptian actor who plays Amir in "The Kite Runner," any film that puts a human face on Afghanistan is a valuable blow against stereotypes.
"People think scary," he said. "They think Taliban. They think beard. They think bombs. It's a list of negatives. I don't know what the first positive thing on the list is. Hopefully it's 'The Kite Runner.' "
Actually, over the last few years, they think 9/11. Afghanistan was the first country the United States invaded after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Knock out Afghanistan, the thinking went, and you knock out Osama bin Laden. To a good many Americans, Afghanistan is synonymous with al-Qaida.
The irony, as Abdalla sees it, is that most Afghans have suffered under the rule of the very regimes with which they're so often associated.
Abdalla, 27, knows the statistics: "It's a country that at one point had 1.6 million refugees, the highest refugee population in the world. It lost over a million people during the war with the Soviets. When you think what that means to a country in terms of trauma and the stories it has to tell ... it's a real shame that Afghanistan isn't associated with that. Instead it's associated with the people who have brutalized it."
Smaller films have looked at life in Afghanistan since 9/11. Most notably, Siddiq Barmak's "Osama," released in 2003, told the story of a 12-year-old Afghan girl who must disguise herself as a boy to find work and support her mother. But "The Kite Runner" and "Charlie Wilson's War" have a much higher profile.
Fears of retaliation
In "The Kite Runner," two childhood friends in Kabul, Amir (Ebrahimi) and Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada), are torn apart after a rape fueled by Pashtun/Hazara tensions leads to mutual shame.
Years later, after Amir has become a successful writer in America, he returns to Kabul and sees the destruction inflicted by the Taliban firsthand.
In "Charlie Wilson's War," the title character is hailed as a Cold War hero for his determination to drive the Soviets from Afghanistan. Though the film plays as a sort of dark comedy, it ends with a haunting question to which the answer is now known: Who and what filled the power vacuum once the Soviet war was over?
Of course, the country's turmoil continues. Four child actors involved in the rape scene, including the two leads, have been removed from Afghanistan for their own protection after fears of retaliation were raised. Ethnic tension remains high in Afghanistan, especially when an American movie is involved. The children arrived safely in the United Arab Emirates earlier this month.
Abdalla is hopeful that "The Kite Runner" will foster a greater understanding of Afghan peoples. He recalls a recent preview screening at the University of California, Los Angeles, where an Afghan woman stood up to thank the filmmakers.
"I feel represented," she told them. "You have shared part of my history."
That history is still being written -- and now, it seems, filmed for all to see.
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Senate OKs $70B for iraq, Afghanistan
By ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press Writer Tue Dec 18, 9:04 PM ET
WASHINGTON - The Senate voted Tuesday to provide $70 billion for U.S. military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, handing a victory to President Bush and his GOP allies on Capitol Hill.
The 70-25 roll call paved the way for the Senate to pass a $555 billion omnibus appropriations bill combining the war funding with the budgets for 14 Cabinet agencies.
Bush was ready to sign the bill, assuming the war funding clears the House on Wednesday. Democrats again failed to win votes to force removal of U.S. troops or set a nonbinding target to remove most troops by the end of next year.
"Even those of us who have disagreed on this war have always agreed on one thing: Troops in the field will not be left without the resources they need," said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
The year-end budget deal between the Democratic-controlled Congress and Bush ended months of battling and disappointed GOP purists who complained the bill spends too much money and contains about 9,000 pet projects sought by members of Congress.
"Congress refuses to rein in its wasteful spending or curb its corruption," said Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz. Conservatives estimated the measure contained at least $28 billion in domestic spending above Bush's budget, funded by a combination of "emergency" spending, transfers from the defense budget, budget gimmicks and phantom savings.
With Bush winning the $70 billion infusion of troop funding, other Republicans muted their criticism.
"I do think the president has a victory here," said House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo. But the win was hardly clear-cut for Republicans hoping the president would emerge from the monthslong battle with Democrats over the budget with a result that would more clearly demonstrate to core GOP voters the party's commitment to fiscal discipline.
While disappointed by ceding Iraq funding to Bush, Democrats hailed the pending appropriations bill for smoothing the rough edges of Bush's February budget plan, which sought below-inflation increases for most domestic programs and contained numerous cutbacks and program eliminations.
The omnibus bill largely yields to the President's top-line budget numbers, but it also addresses some of the bottom-line priorities of the American people," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. "The Grinch tried to steal Christmas, but we didn't let him get all of it."
Democrats were able to fill in most of the cuts by using the very budgetary sleight of hand lambasted by conservative groups such as the Club for Growth and Citizens Against Government Waste.
The White House, which maintained a hard line for months, has been far more forgiving in recent days, accepting $11 billion in "emergency" spending for veterans, drought relief, border security and firefighting accounts, among others. Other budget moves added billions more.
"Congress did come down to the president's overall top line," White House press secretary Dana Perino said. "And in regards of the emergency spending, most of that spending would have passed on an emergency basis anyway. It's not added into the baseline of the budget."
The bill passed the House late Monday. Under an unusual legislative two-step, the Iraq portion of the bill would be returned to the House on Wednesday, with Republicans supplying the winning margin. That vote, if successful, would send the entire omnibus bill to Bush for his signature.
Democrats succeeded in reversing cuts sought by Bush to heating subsidies, local law enforcement, Amtrak and housing as well as Bush's plan to eliminate the $654 million budget for grants to community action agencies that help the poor.
Democrats also reversed Bush-sought cuts to state and local law enforcement grants, aid to community action groups and airport modernization grants.
Democrats also added funding for food programs, subsidies to community development banks and Homeland Security Department grants to first responders.
Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington-based watchdog group that opposes so-called pork barrel projects, counted 8,983 such "earmarks" worth $7.4 billion. These hometown pet projects include economic development grants, aid to local transit and police departments and clean water projects, among many others.
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ANDMA compensates victims of Badakhshan avalanche
FAIZABAD, Dec 17 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority (ANDMA) distributed a cash amount of one million Afghanis among victims of heavy snowfall in north eastern Badakhshan province on Monday.
Dr. Abdul Haq, an official of the Authority told Pajhwok Afghan News the families of those killed were given about 30,000 afghanis while 10,000 afghanis were given to the wounded.
Some 17 people were killed and 16 were wounded in avalanche that occurred in Warbam valley between Baharak and Arghanchkhwa districts last week.
Meanwhile, three building one for appellate court and two for agriculture department were completed with cost a of $235,000 in the northern Kunduz province on Monday.
Chief of appellate court Muhammad Ali Murad told this news agency the double storey building which cost about 175,000 US dollars provided by Italian government completed within a year.
Kunduz Agriculture Director Abdul Aziz Nekzad said the first building of agriculture department that will be used for conferences, workshops, seminars and meetings costing $25,000 was completed with the support of the German organization named (GTZ).
He added the second building that will be used as a store for the medicines of the veterinary section which contains 20 tones of medicines costed $35,000 and was completed within a year by the support of an Argentinean organization named (PRV).
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Hike in prices makes life hell for Nimrozians
ZARANJ, Dec 17 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The unprecedented hike in the prices of daily used items has made the lives of the poor people miserable in southwestern Nimroz province.
They have appealed the government to come to their rescue and take immediate steps in this regard.
Muhammad Anwar, a parliamentarian of Nimroz was of the view that the dearness was due to the illegal export of the foodstuff to the neigbhouring Iran.
He told Pajhwok Afghan News that local government officials have not adopted a serious approach in stopping smuggling of flour, rice, cooking oil, potato and animals to bordering Iran.
"Though there shortage of eatable in the province but still these items were being smuggles to Iran through various routes further aggravating the situation in Nimroz", a local trader lamented.
Haji Jabbar a merchant in provincial capital Zaranj said prices of food stuff went up during last one and half month. Price of 12kilogram cooking oil went up from 850 afghanis to 1300 afghanis likewise price of 100kilogram flour bag raised up from 1500 afghanis to 2500 afghanis.
Muhammad Shafi, A local government employee, lamented: "with 3000 monthly salary, how can I buy a bag of flour or a tin of cooking oil?"
By the same token, prices of fuel and animals have also increased in the province.
Ahmad Shakeeb a local fuel station owner, complained diesel prices went up from 22.5 afghanis to 42.5 afghanis per liter.
Local businessmen alleged government authorities have so far failed to stop use of Iranian currency in the market in this province where all the business transactions were carried out in the Iranian Toman.
Calling it a big economical blow to Afghanistan the businessmen demanded government must take stringent efforts to control the crisis.
Zaranj city acting mayor Mohammad Salim Kashani confirming the hike assured that he had already constituted a price review commission to help reduce the prices.
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Four reconstruction projects completed in Laghman
JALALABAD, Dec 17 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Four reconstruction projects completed under the National Solidarity Program (NSP) in the southeastern Laghman province on Monday.
NSP Director Eng. Muhammad Hamayun Aksir told Pajhwok Afghan News four reconstruction projects including power supply, one canal, digging of wells and supportive wall completed with the cost of 1600,000 afghanis within six months in Alinghar district of the province.
He said these projects will benefit 230 families
Meanwhile, Afghan National Army (ANA) have donated rice, oil, shawls, jackets, shoes and blankets among 550 needy people of Zangwy village of the Behsod district in the neighboring Nangarhar province.
Selab Military Corp spokesman said the Health Group of the National Police has provided health services to 1500 patients free of cost.
He said before this they have also helped the needy people of Hisar Shahi, Shikh Mesri and Gamberi camps.
Police spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul Ghafoor said according to a decree of President Hamid Karzai the orphans of the martyred policemen will be allowed admission in University without entry test and will be provide residential land.
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Kabul beautification plan announced
KABUL, Dec 17 (Pajhwok Afghan News): City Municipality on Monday announced its master plan for the beautification of Kabul.
According to which all residential houses situated on mountains would be removed and plants would be grown on them to increase the scenic beauty of the central metropolis.
Briefing journalists about the new development plan, deputy mayor, Abdul Hassan Abdullahi said the plan will be completed in eight months.
Without stating the budget for implementing the new plan, Adullahi added, if implemented the new master plan will provide water supply, electricity to each house, pave all city roads solving all transportation problems.
He described removal of the residential houses from hill sides a great challenge in executing the plan in Kabul city, where he said, 60% of the population live in amorphous structures and houses and 20 to 25% of them on steep slopes and mountains.
"We are trying to accommodate those who live on mountain tops on plane land" he added.
They had contacted a number of NGOs for cooperation in enforcing the plan, he explained, there were great pieces of lands in premises of Kabul city that can be distributed among locals.
When contacted a number of residents of the hillsides expressed readiness for cooperation with the government initiation.
Muhammad Qasim one of the residents said he did not have water on the hillside and was buying a barrel of water by 50 afghanis which was difficult to afford at all times.
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