Afghan rally demands amnesty for war crimes
By Sayed Salahuddin Fri Feb 23, 6:29 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - About 30,000 Afghans rallied at what was once a Taliban execution center in Kabul on Friday to press President Hamid Karzai to approve a blanket amnesty for 25 years of war crimes.
Karzai on Thursday said he needed legal advice before making any decision over the bill, which has already been approved by both houses of parliament. His foreign minister has said it can't be done, due to international agreements to punish those responsible for such crimes.
The peaceful rally was held in the Ghazi soccer stadium, where people were executed, tortured or maimed for crimes against Islam, during the Taliban rule.
The bill sets an amnesty for war criminals in the government, the parliament and also for wanted Taliban leaders and former prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who leads a separate insurgency against government and foreign troops.
The parliament which was elected in 2005, is made up of Mujahideen (holy warriors) leaders, ex-communist and Taliban members, among many others.
Most of the rally's participants were supporters of the Mujahideen groups that fought the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan until 1992, but then fell into a bitter and bloody power struggle after victory.
More than a million people died during the Soviet backed rule and Western funded opposition, and tens of thousands more died during the civil war that followed.
"Whoever is against the Mujahideen is against Islam," Abdul Rabb Rasoul Sayyaf, a Mujahideen leader and an MP, told the gathering which also included dozens of women.
An estimated 10,000 police were stationed across the city to prevent any possible violence.
Human rights groups have demanded war crimes trials as the only way to bring peace and reconciliation, but Mujahideen groups say the amnesty bill is aimed at uniting Afghans after 30 years of war.
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Former mujahedeen stage rally in Kabul
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer Fri Feb 23, 6:55 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Thousands of former fighters, including top government figures, rallied Friday to support a proposed amnesty for Afghans suspected of war crimes.
Some former fighters called for the death of those demanding prosecution of warlords who were involved in a quarter-century of fighting, first against the Soviet Union and then among themselves.
About 25,000 people, many holding pictures of leaders of the mujahedeen, or holy warriors, flocked to Kabul's National Stadium as thousands of police deployed throughout the city.
"Whoever is against mujahedeen is against Islam and they are the enemies of this country," Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, an influential lawmaker and former mujahedeen leader, told the rally.
Later, youths marched through the city, chanting "Death to enemies of Afghanistan!" and "Death to America!" They also shouted "Death to Malalai Joya!" — a female lawmaker who is among the most outspoken critics of Sayyaf and other prominent mujahedeen leaders.
There were no reports of violence.
Friday's rally followed a resolution by both houses of Afghanistan's parliament calling for an amnesty that would cover the mujahedeen leaders who led the anti-Soviet resistance in the 1980s and then plunged the country into a civil war that cost tens of thousands of lives.
War crimes accusations include the killing of thousands of civilians in Kabul by indiscriminate shelling and rocketing during the 1992-95 civil war.
International rights groups and the United Nations have condemned the parliamentary proposal.
The rally appeared to be an attempt by the former warlords to pressure President Hamid Karzai into signing the resolution into law.
Karzai on Thursday told reporters he had yet to receive the resolution and would study it and hold consultations before issuing a decision based on the Afghan constitution and Islamic law.
Among those attending the rally were prominent members of the government and parliament, including Sayyaf, Vice President Karim Khalili, Karzai senior security adviser Mohammed Qasim Fahim, an army chief of staff, Abdul Rashid Dostum, Energy Minister Ismail Khan and former President Burhanuddin Rabbani.
All were leaders of the Northern Alliance that toppled the Taliban regime with U.S. military support in 2001.
Former fighter Azizullah, 50, who goes by one name, said said he lost three sons during the anti-Soviet war. He was carrying a large, framed picture of Rabbani.
"I lost my sons for Afghanistan and for the pride of jihad," he said.
Ghulam Hazrat, 40, a former officer with Sayyaf, hailed the fact that mujahedden leaders of Uzbek, Tajik, Pashtun and Hazara factions that fought bitterly among themselves after the anti-Soviet war were now sharing the same stage.
Surrounded by bodyguards, the leaders arrived separately in convoys of SUVs to accolades from their respective supporters.
"It's a very big step toward the stability and prosperity of Afghanistan," Hazrat said. "The international community should respect mujaheddin. They are the heirs of 2 millions Afghan martyrs (during the Soviet war). These people also fought against terrorists and al-Qaida."
The New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch has called for officials including Khalili and Dostum to face trial before a special court for alleged war crimes during the civil war — although no such tribunal has been organized or appears imminent.
In a report, the rights group also listed Fahim, Ismail Khan and Rabbani as among the "worst perpetrators."
Others who should be brought to trial include Taliban leader Mullah Omar and fugitive warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, it said.
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Thousands gather to support Afghan warlords
KABUL (AFP) - Around 25,000 supporters of former Afghan warlords, including some senior government figures, have filled a Kabul stadium Friday in a noisy show of support for a controversial proposed war crimes amnesty.
Men from around the country held up posters of leaders of the resistance to the 1980s Soviet occupation and chanted "Long live the mujahedin (holy fighters)" and "God is great."
The stadium, which holds at least 25,000 people, was filled to near capacity and many in the crowd had travelled in from the provinces.
Hundreds of police were on hand, but the rally passed off without violence.
Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a notorious former anti-Soviet commander and now a parliamentarian, said the bill passed this week ruling out prosecution for war crimes was intended to "bring peace, stability and reconciliation."
Sayyaf is one of a host of commanders implicated in abuses in the 1992-1996 civil war, when mujahedin factions turned on each other after defeating the Soviets. Around 80,000 were killed in Kabul alone.
"Before more food and roads, we need peace and stability," Sayyaf said, referring to internationally-backed efforts to reconstruct the war-torn nation.
Another notorious warlord, Mohammad Qasim Fahim, a former defence minister who was appointed to the upper house of parliament, warned the media against "insulting" mujahedin leaders.
The bill has to be approved by President Hamid Karzai to become law, which officials say is unlikely.
It runs counter to the constitution and international treaties, and puts Karzai and his weak government in a difficult position, an official said this week on condition of anonymity.
Abibullah, an elderly supporter of ethnic Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, also accused of severe abuses, told AFP at the rally: "Human rights groups are saying they should be tried. We came here to condemn this."
"The mujahedin are the ones who brought freedom to us," said Abdul Razaq, 25. "Their wives became widows and their children became orphans. How can anyone say they should be tried?"
"Death to human rights," shouted a female MP who took the podium. "Death to dog washers," shouted a man in the crowd, referring to pro-Western politicians who fill the government and are mocked for having had lowly jobs in exile.
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) in December called for a truth and reconciliation court to deal with 30 years of war crimes and human rights abuses, including by some who still "hold high office."
It named Sayyaf and Fahim, as well as former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, energy minister Ismail Khan and vice-president Karim Khalili -- all of whom were at the rally.
Analysts have said parliament pushed through the amnesty bill after the HRW statement and the hanging of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Karzai rejected the report, but in December he formally adopted a plan on reconciliation. The plan included the establishment of a justice and accountability mechanism, which could lead to trials for suspected war criminals.
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Afghanistan: Amnesty Bill Places Karzai In Dilemma
By Amin Tarzi
February 23, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The Afghan National Assembly's passage of a resolution granting blanket amnesty for human rights violations to all sides in more than two decades of fighting in Afghanistan has presented President Hamid Karzai with a dilemma. The explosive debate over the bill could lead to a constitutional confrontation.
Tens of thousands of Afghans rallied at a Kabul stadium today to show support for the measure -- many of them carrying placards of prominent warlords and former mujahedin -- indicating the highly charged nature of the topic.
The Meshrano Jirga (Council of Elders) passed the controversial "National Stability and Reconciliation" resolution by a 50-16 majority on February 20. That vote came three weeks after the lower house -- the Wolesi Jirga (People's Council) -- approved it on January 31, sparking calls at home and abroad for Afghan President Hamid Karzai to reject it.
What It Says
The 12-point resolution contains four primary clauses dealing with the amnesty issue.
First, it calls on all "opponents who fought each other for different reasons in the last 2 1/2 decades" to forgive each other and consider the Karzai-backed national reconciliation process. Such "opponents" technically include communists, mujahedin, and the Taliban antagonists and their allies. They are then offered immunity from any "legal or judicial" proceedings. Also, those involved in the jihad or resistance to protect Afghanistan's religion or territorial integrity are to be lauded by Afghanistan's "history and people." The draft law goes on to prescribe that such people "should not be subjected to any criticism."
Second, the resolution rejects reporting by the New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW). HRW has recommended that Afghan authorities hold accountable a number communist and mujahedin figures accused of major human rights abuses since 1979. The draft calls HRW reports "inaccurate" and based "on malicious intentions."
Third, the resolution invites "all parties that are against the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan" -- without exception -- to join the national reconciliation process by abiding by constitutional and other laws. If they did that, all "opposition parties and armed groups" would be granted the blanket amnesty.
Fourth, the resolution appears to attempt to circumvent Afghanistan's international obligations. It says that following the establishment of the Afghan National Assembly in 2005, "all laws and international principles should be compared with constitutional and other" Afghan legislation to avoid local norms being superseded (eds: set aside) by Afghanistan's international obligations. Those obligations include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The clause also stipulates that laws approved by the National Assembly should be respected by the government of Afghanistan -- perhaps a subtle hint to Karzai not to oppose the current bill.
Shielded From Criticism
The sweeping resolution not only grants blanket amnesty from prosecution -- or even criticism -- to all parties and individuals involved in gross human rights violations; it also extends a similar reprieve to the current groups who are terrorizing parts of Afghanistan.
Nowhere in the resolution is there any mention of human rights, the suffering of the Afghan people, or any public aspirations of justice -- even if merely symbolic. The bill grants full pardons to those who murdered, raped, and maimed their countrymen -- and then goes on to laud them as heroes.
Karzai faces a thorny dilemma over the resolution. On the face of it, he must approve it -- thus making it part of his country's laws -- or reject it -- inviting opposition from powerful elements within and outside his own government.
The Afghan Constitution (Article 94) says a bill becomes law after approval by both houses of the National Assembly and endorsement by the president "unless the Constitution states otherwise." If the president rejects a bill approved by the National Assembly, he "can send the document back with justifiable reasons [for his objection] to the Wolesi Jirga" within 15 days. The lower house (Wolesi Jirga) can override presidential objections with a two-thirds majority vote. But if the president takes no action on a bill for 15 days, the document becomes law.
The New York-based International Central for Transitional Justice noted in a press release on February 3 that Karzai has endorsed the recommendations of a 2004 report by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission that urged the prosecution and removal of "war criminals from positions of power."
HRW, whose work is attacked in the new resolution, said in a brief on December 12 that the Karzai administration signed on to a 2005 "Action Plan on Peace, Reconciliation, and Justice." The group added that the plan pledged five "key actions" to implement and complete a transitional justice process by 2009. They include publicly commemorating public suffering through three decades of war, vetting the civil service to exclude serious human rights abusers, documenting past events to establish accountability, promoting reconciliation and national unity, and establishing a mechanism for justice and accountability.
After the Wolesi Jirga approved the amnesty bill, presidential spokesman Mohammad Karim Rahimi told reporters on February 6 that Karzai had sent the document to legal experts for review. Rahimi did not say how Karzai planned to act on the bill, but he said that Afghan and Islamic law dictate that no one has the right or authority to forgive a criminal, apart from the victim or others harmed by the crime. Rahimi went on to "assure [the public] that the president will not take any action against the constitution." He added that the "government will never surrender to pressure in implementation of the constitution," Pajhwak News Agency reported.
Karzai now has less than two weeks to influence the fate of a resolution that appears to run counter to the wishes of the Afghan public and the country's international obligations.
Karzai can choose to reject the bill based on constitutional grounds -- which his experts can arguably find in Article 7 and in Article 6, which obliges the state to create a society "based on social justice, protection of human dignity, [and the] protection of human rights." HRW Asia researcher Sam Zarifi has noted that international law prohibits the extension of national amnesties to genocide or war crimes.
Basing a rejection argument on Afghan law, experts could conceivably turn to Islamic jurisprudence -- under which neither the state nor its organs has the right to forgive the perpetrator of a crime like murder.
Karzai's rejection of the bill would surely alienate some in his immediate circle, including powerful members of both houses of the National Assembly. And in the end, the Wolesi Jirga might muster enough votes to overturn his veto, further eroding the president's public standing.
Former warring parties have tried to flex their muscles -- including through today's rally by tens of thousands of supporters of the controversial bill.
The "amnesty" bill and the ensuing presidential quandary are ultimately a result of expediency measures -- endorsed by Karzai himself -- that allowed individuals accused of gross rights violations to escape accountability and even assume positions of power.
The bill is based on just one of the five key points of the Action Plan that Karzai's administration endorsed -- namely the "promotion of reconciliation and national unity."
Karzai might do well to remind the resolution's backers of the other four key points of that plan -- and fulfill his 2005 pledge to implement them.
Some would argue that as the head of a Muslim state, Karzai's first responsibility is to uphold justice. That suggests that the temporary loss of support among a few powerful individuals might be outweighed by the gains of defending the rights of victims of past violence and the broader public.
Karzai must be wondering whether such an approach could turn the amnesty dilemma into a presidential panacea.
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Britain approves extra Afghanistan troops: sources
By Sophie Walker Fri Feb 23, 6:51 AM ET
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain will send a wave of extra troops to Afghanistan ahead of an expected spring offensive by the Taliban, government sources said on Friday.
The decision, which comes days after British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Britain would start withdrawing soldiers from Iraq, will involve more than 1,000 extra forces, the Guardian newspaper reported. Sky television said that it would be hundreds.
Cabinet minister Peter Hain said Defense Secretary Des Browne was considering troops levels for Afghanistan at the moment and the government sources said an announcement to parliament was likely on Monday.
Britain already has some 5,000 troops based in the southern Helmand province, at the sharp end of the NATO force in areas where a Taliban insurgency flared up last year.
Last year was the bloodiest in Afghanistan since U.S.-led troops overthrew the Taliban government in 2001 for harboring Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network after September 11.
"What the Secretary of Defense Des Browne ... is considering now (is) what are the appropriate level of forces to make sure we can have an effective fight in which we roll the Taliban back and stop them recapturing Afghanistan," Hain, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, told Sky television.
NATO has more than 33,000 troops in Afghanistan but Britain and the United States have struggled to persuade other members to send more, or lift the restrictions over the deployment to southern and eastern Taliban strongholds.
Italian president Romano Prodi resigned earlier this week after his government suffered a bruising defeat over foreign policy issues, including keeping Italian troops in Afghanistan.
Blair has said Afghanistan is the frontline in the West's war against Islamist militants and warned NATO's credibility is on the line there.
His government's frustration at lack of support from European allies was evident this week.
Senior Foreign Office minister Kim Howells told parliament some European countries' helicopters "might as well be parked up in leading European airports for the amount of good they are doing in Afghanistan."
Britain said on February 1 it would send an additional 800 troops to the region. The latest push will cost the government 250 million pounds ($487.5 million), the Guardian said.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defense declined to comment.
"As always we keep our force levels in Afghanistan under constant review ... if we are going to make changes to those force numbers we announce it to parliament in the usual way," the spokesman said.
(Additional reporting by Deborah Haynes, David Clarke)
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Afghan Taliban say rearmed, ready for war
By Saeed Ali Achakzai
SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Rearmed with new guns the Taliban on Friday vowed this would be the deadliest year for foreign soldiers in Afghanistan since the Islamists were toppled in 2001.
"This year will prove to be the bloodiest for the foreign troops. It is not just a threat, we will prove it," senior commander Mullah Dadullah told Reuters by satellite phone.
"The Taliban's war preparations are going on in caves and in mountains. Our 6,000 fighters are ready for attacks on foreign troops after the change in weather and as it becomes warmer."
His comments came as Britain approved a plan to send a wave of extra troops to Afghanistan to repel an expected spring offensive by the Taliban, British government sources said.
Taliban leaders say they expect to be able to field 10,000 soldiers after the bloodiest year since the Taliban's ouster in 2001, with a big increase in suicide fighters after conventional pitched battles brought heavy losses for the rebels.
With winter snows melting, fighting has already picked up dramatically in recent weeks.
Dadullah said the extra weapons the Taliban were being supplied -- he did not say from where -- included the ability to bring down the NATO and U.S. helicopters crucial to their operations in this rugged, mountainous country.
The rebels said they shot down a twin-rotor Chinook helicopter earlier this month in southern Afghanistan that killed eight U.S. soldiers and wounded 14. The U.S. said the pilot reported engine failure.
The insurgents have claimed several foreign chopper downings, but only one has been confirmed since the 2001 war. That was in 2005 when 17 soldiers died when their craft was hit as it came in to land during combat operations.
NATO, the United States and the Taliban are promising spring offensives in what they and analysts regard a crunch year in a country still in crisis more than five years after the Taliban's fall.
More than 4,000 people, a quarter of them civilians, died in fighting last year.
But on Friday, more than 30,000 people rallied in a Taliban execution ground to support an all-embracing amnesty for war criminals, including members of parliament and government officials.
Parliament insists amnesty for those guilty in almost 30 years of war is essential for peace and reconciliation. Local and international rights groups say punishment is essential for peace and to allow the country to move on.
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Russia's foreign minister opens new embassy in Afghanistan
The Associated Press February 23, 2007
KABUL, Afghanistan: Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said during a visit to Afghanistan on Friday that all countries in the region must tackle the global menaces of terrorism and narcotics.
In his first visit to Kabul as foreign minister, Lavrov met President Hamid Karzai and inaugurated a new Russian embassy, just days after Afghanistan celebrated the anniversary of the start of its uprising against Soviet occupation in the 1980s.
Lavrov said that tackling Afghanistan's booming opium production should include arresting drug-traffickers, providing alternative livelihoods for poppy farmers and improving patrols of the roads through which drugs are moved toward other countries, including Russia.
Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium. In 2006, poppy production in the country rose by 49 percent to 6,100 metric tons (6,725 tons) — enough to produce 610 metric tons (672 tons) of heroin. That is more than 90 percent of the global supply and more than consumed by the world's heroin users in a year.
The drug economy, and the involvement of government officials and police in the illicit trade, compounds the many problems facing Afghanistan's fledgling democracy as its struggles with stepped-up attacks by insurgents loyal to the former Taliban regime.
South Korean president to quit governing party Chinese AIDS activist is finally allowed overseas Marriage brokers in Vietnam cater to S. Korean bachelorsLavrov, whose planned visit last month was canceled due to bad weather, also discussed with Afghan officials Russia's support to the country's reconstruction and its national army, a joint statement said.
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Russia, Afghanistan coordinate Afghan debt settlement - FM Lavrov
13:41 | 23/ 02/ 2007
KABUL, February 23 (RIA Novosti) - Russia and Afghanistan have coordinated the terms of settlement of Afghanistan's debt to the former U.S.S.R., which, according to Russian experts' estimates, totals $10 billion, Russia's foreign minister said Friday.
"The problem of Afghan debt settlement has been coordinated, only some formalities remain to be settled," Sergei Lavrov, on a working visit to Afghanistan, told journalists in Kabul.
The minister said relevant documents are being drafted, and added the issue settlement will help the two countries cooperate in the economic and trade spheres and contribute to Russian investment into the Afghan economy.
Lavrov said Afghanistan is ready to cooperate with regional security body, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in fighting terrorism and drug trafficking.
Afghanistan has regained its position as the world's top drug producer since U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban in 2001. Illegal drug production and trade is the only source of income for many in the war-torn southwest Asian nation, and is a major source of financing for Islamist militants.
Two CSTO members, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, share borders with Afghanistan and are major trafficking routes for drug smugglers from the country. Heroin and other drugs from Afghanistan have also flooded Russia and other ex-Soviet states since the 1990s.
The Russian minister also said Russia will continue providing assistance for Afghanistan to rehabilitate the country.
He also said an agreement has been reached that the Afghan government will provide assistance to Russian companies working in the country.
A joint statement of the Russian and Afghan foreign ministers says that Afghanistan is interested in Russian businesses taking part in the country's rehabilitation and is ready to create favorable conditions for them. It also says that Russia will help Afghanistan fight drug trafficking.
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Afghanistan Needs `Marshall Plan' to Boost Economy, Aziz Says
By Ed Johnson
Feb. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Afghanistan needs a modern day ``Marshall Plan'' to boost its economy and improve the lives of its citizens, Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said, referring to the U.S. aid plan for Europe after World War II.
All stakeholders in the South Asian country must try to win the hearts and minds of the people, Aziz told a U.S. Congressional delegation yesterday in the capital, Islamabad, the official Associated Press of Pakistan reported.
Taliban insurgents are waging a guerrilla war against Afghan and international troops in order to destabilize the government of President Hamid Karzai. While battling the insurgency, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is overseeing efforts to rebuild the country's infrastructure and is appealing to allies to commit more resources and troops.
A ``Marshall Plan'' would speed up the process of reconstruction and bring about a meaningful improvement in the lives of the people, APP cited Aziz as saying.
Karzai's government relies on foreign aid for more than half its budget. President George W. Bush last month asked Congress for an additional $698 million in 2007 to build roads, provide food aid and rebuild Afghanistan. The European Commission has offered 600 million euros ($775 million) over the next four years.
The Taliban insurgency is straining relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Karzai says Pakistan isn't doing enough to secure the mountainous border and is providing a haven in tribal areas for rebels to train and arm. President Pervez Musharraf rejects the criticism. His government has deployed about 80,000 soldiers in the border region and reached accords with tribal groups to try to reduce support for the Taliban.
The two countries have agreed on the return of more than 3 million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, Aziz said, APP reported. The repatriation will be gradual and start with refugees living in four camps.
The United Nations is reviewing the repatriation plans and says any returns must be voluntary. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees agency, working with Pakistan's government, has registered more than 2.1 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, the UN news service reported.
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Winning Afghan war essential for West: NATO chief
By Sayed Salahuddin Thu Feb 22, 1:22 PM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - The West must win the war against Islamic militants in Afghanistan or face attacks in their own countries, NATO Secretary-General Jaap De Hoop Scheffer said on Thursday.
"If we like it or not, Afghanistan ... is a frontline in the fight against those people who want to destroy the fabric of our societies," he told a joint news conference with President Hamid Karzai after talks in Kabul.
"If we don't succeed in Afghanistan, I am quite sure that the spoilers will come to us to the Netherlands, to Belgium, to the United Kingdom, (as) they came to the United States," he said referring to the September 11 attacks by al Qaeda.
Last year was the bloodiest in Afghanistan since U.S.-led troops overthrew the Taliban government in 2001 for harboring Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network after September 11.
Amid warnings by the Taliban of a spring offensive, Western analysts say this year is a crunch period to win the war.
De Hoop Scheffer said NATO should focus on reconstruction, paying more attention to training and equipping the Afghan army.
For its part, the Afghan government needs to build up its institutions, fight against endemic corruption and drugs in the world's leading producer of heroin, he added.
NATO has over 33,000 troops in Afghanistan.
Some of its member countries have shown reluctance to send more troops or lift the restrictions over the deployment of troops to the southern and eastern regions, the main bastion of the militants.
More than 4,000 people, nearly a quarter of them civilians, but also about 170 foreign troops died in violence last year, mostly in the two regions.
The militants operate from safe heavens in Pakistan, the former key supporter of the Taliban until the September 11 attacks.
Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of still backing the militants, which Islamabad denies but concedes of some border infiltration by the insurgents.
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Italy's political crisis will not affect its Afghan mission: NATO
Thu Feb 22, 1:25 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he was certain that Italy will not pull out its troops out of Afghanistan despite a political crisis over the mission.
"I'm quite sure, despite what happened in Italy yesterday, our Italian friends and allies will not leave Afghanistan," Scheffer told a joint press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul.
"I'm sure about that," he added, as Karzai nodded his head in agreement.
Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi resigned Wednesday after a foreign policy defeat centred on Italy's military engagement in Afghanistan.
Karzai said the conflict in Afghanistan, mainly from a Taliban-led insurgency launched after a US-led invasion toppled the Taliban, was an international responsibility and he called on NATO to help his country.
"My message to the countries helping us in Afghanistan, to Canada, to Italy, we the Afghan people and the Canadian people and the Italian people are in the same fight," the president said.
"It was from Afghanistan where the terrorists had a base ... it was from here that they trained and motivated (people) to come and attack you in New York," he said referring to the September 11, 2001 attacks.
"I hope our memories are not short. This fight is for all of us," Karzai added.
His comments were prompted after he was asked about debates in Canada and Italy on the mission to his country.
Scheffer pledged that NATO, which has 35,000 troops from 37 nations in Afghanistan, will remain in the country despite Taliban threats to launch their biggest ever offensive when weather conditions improve in the spring.
"You can count on us," he said, adding that if the Taliban launched their promised attacks "they'll face NATO."
"NATO is committed to Afghanistan," he added. "If you like it or not Afghanistan is a front-line in the fight against those people who want to destroy the fabric of our society.
"If we don't succeed in Afghanistan ... the spoilers will come to us ... they came to United States," Scheffer said.
Taliban who were toppled for not handing over Osama bin Laden, the man behind 9/11 attacks to the United States, regularly carry out deadly attacks on foreign and Afghan forces.
A Spanish female soldier was killed Wednesday when a road side bomb exploded under her patrolling vehicle in western Herat province.
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President Karzai pleads with Italy to remain in Afghanistan
The Associated Press February 22, 2007
KABUL, Afghanistan: President Hamid Karzai urged Italy Thursday not to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, after the Italian government resigned because of a parliamentary defeat over its plan to keep its 2,000 forces in the volatile country.
Karzai, whose own shaky grip on Afghanistan is under threat from resurgent Taliban rebels, also urged another key contributor to the 35,000-strong NATO security force, Canada, to stay the course.
"My message to the countries helping us in Afghanistan, to Canada, to Italy, is that the Afghan people, the Canadian people and the Italian people are in the same fight, a fight for the security of our lives today and tomorrow," Karzai told reporters after meeting NATO's Secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in Kabul.
Italy's Prime Minister Romano Prodi stepped down Wednesday after his government lost a parliamentary vote over its foreign policy program, including plans to keep Italian troops in Afghanistan. Most of the 2,000 forces are deployed in the relatively quiet west of the country.
Karzai asked those doubting the Afghan mission to remember that it was in Afghanistan run by Taliban hard-liners that al-Qaida planned the Sept. 11 attacks on America.
Sri Lanka government gains support of Buddhist monks Bangkok's template for an air-quality turnaround Cheney concerned about China and North Korea"I hope our memories are not short," he said.
De Hoop Scheffer, joined by the alliance's top military commander Gen. John Craddock, said that he remained confident Italy "will not forsake and will not leave Afghanistan."
"I trust my Italian friends," de Hoop Scheffer said.
"Afghanistan ... is the frontline in the fight against those people who want to destroy the fabric of our societies," he said. "If we do not succeed in Afghanistan, I am quite sure that the spoilers will come to us, to Netherlands, to Belgium, to United Kingdom."
NATO has struggled to raise enough forces for its Afghan mission, particularly in the turbulent south where Taliban militants are most active.
Last week, Canada's Senate committee on national security and defense said its government should consider withdrawing from Afghanistan unless its NATO allies refuse to pitch in more troops to the international mission. Canada has some 2,500 troops in Kandahar province.
British and U.S. soldiers make up more than half of the NATO force. The reluctance of other nations such as Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Turkey to provide more combat troops for the south has irked nations on the front lines there, raising concern over a split within the alliance.
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Liberals vow 2009 Afghan troop pull-out
Thu Feb 22, 1:40 PM ET
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's opposition Liberals promised on Thursday to withdraw the country's 2,500 soldiers from Afghanistan in early 2009, as scheduled, if they win the next federal election.
The minority Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which pushed through the extension of the mission from 2007 to 2009 last year, has yet to say whether the soldiers will come back as planned.
Canada's troops, part of a larger NATO force, are based in the southern city of Kandahar and spent much of 2006 fighting Taliban militants. Since 2002, 44 Canadian soldiers and a diplomat have died.
"I will say unequivocally that a Liberal government led by me will not extend Canada's combat mission in Kandahar beyond February 2009," Liberal leader Stephane Dion said in a speech in Montreal.
Dion said Harper had mismanaged the file and as a result Afghans now associated Canadians with fighting rather than rebuilding the shattered country.
"Total coalition spending on military operations in Afghanistan outpaces spending on development and reconstruction by 900 percent. Today, only 20 percent of Canada's development assistance to Afghanistan is spent in Kandahar. This imbalance must be corrected," he said.
"Between now and 2009, a Liberal government I lead will adopt a more integrated strategy in Kandahar, with a greater development and diplomatic thrust, and a real effort to win the hearts and minds of Afghans."
Political observers and insiders say there is a good chance of a federal election this year. Recent polls suggest the result would be too close to call and say neither major party would win a majority of the seats in Parliament.
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Morality and propaganda put pressure on Afghan media
by Sylvie Briand Fri Feb 23, 2:22 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Television stations are trying to introduce some kind of modernity into conservative and mostly illiterate Afghanistan but their efforts are being threatened by planned changes to media laws.
Parliament, dominated by former mujahedin -- commanders of the jihad or holy war to resist the Soviet invasion -- is due in the coming weeks to amend the media law decreed two years ago by President Hamid Karzai.
The aim is to bring it line with the post-Taliban constitution which says "no law shall contravene the tenets and provisions of the holy religion of Islam."
The plans open the way for "all interpretations by censors," says Saad Mohseni, director of the media group Moby that includes a radio station and one of the most popular television channels, Tolo.
"The freedom of the press is the biggest success in this country, where there is neither security nor prosperity," he says.
"We (the media) are talking about human rights, of corruption, we are asking why these people are in control of government and offer an alternative, and we provide entertainment," he says.
"But with this new law, the authorities want to take control of the media."
Tolo, launched in 2004 and broadcast in Afghanistan's biggest cities, is perhaps the most audacious of a host of new broadcasters that sprang up after the ultraconservative Taliban were toppled from power in 2001.
It is critical of the authorities and has not held back on reporting on the insurgency, despite government efforts to curb this saying it gives too much publicity to Taliban propaganda or that it could add to a sense of insecurity.
It has also not been shy about showing parliamentarians sleeping on the benches of the assembly and is home to the enormously successful "Afghan Star", a version of "American Idol".
Two other stations, private Ariana and public Radio Television Afghanistan (RTA), also try to project a modern image in-between their religious programming, although they do obscure the cleavage of Indian stars and the legs of women in short skirts.
Those leading changes to the law are Islamists who have been appointed to the ministry of culture, says a media official who would only speak on condition of anonymity.
"They say there are too many women on television and too many Indian films that do not respect the rule of Islam," he says.
An Ariana manager Abdul Jabar Baryal, says "the spirit of modernity and freedom escapes this government of ex-communists and mujahedin who want the media to become a kind of propaganda machine."
But a deputy minister of culture, Mohammad Mobarez Rashedi, says the changes are necessary so "morality and security can be more taken into account."
"Television stations are sometimes taking it too far," he says. "The media can play a major role in security but they only report negative things. They nearly never talk about what the government does, the process of reconstruction."
A former mujahedin who is at the head of lower house of parliament's telecommunications committee, Al Haj Khalid Farooqui, says what he sees on television sometimes is "disgusting."
"The women are not wearing veils and behave in a fashion which is against Islam. They could be a bad influence on the Afghans who watch these programmes," says Farooqui.
"If in India they show men and women as almost equal, that cannot be the case in Afghanistan," he says, referring to popular India soap operas shown here.
"These programmes and pictures of women who are half naked are like a poison that could spread in our society and give a pretext to people to side with the enemies of the government who say, 'But look what is happening here.'"
Media rights groups have expressed concern, while the UN representative in Afghanistan, Tom Koenigs, said the changes were expected to "harm media development."
"It is often said that the first victim of war is the truth. We must prevent that from becoming the case in Afghanistan," he said.
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U.S. pilotless aircraft crashes in Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn 2007-02-23 20:23:27
KABUL, Feb. 23 (Xinhua) -- A U.S. pilotless aircraft crashed due to mechanical failure on Friday in Nangarhar province of eastern Afghanistan, a military statement said.
The MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft, which belonged to the U.S.-led coalition troops, crashed at about 1:00 p.m. local time ( 0830GMT) some 100 km northeast of Jalalabad city, the provincial capital, said the statement issued by the U.S. Central Command Air Force.
"Initial indications are that the crash was due to mechanical failure," it said, adding "there is no indication the Predator was fired upon."
The Predator crashed into a remote and unpopulated area with no injuries to people or damage to property on the ground. Recovery efforts have begun and no further information is available at this moment, said the statement.
The MQ-1 Predator is a medium-altitude, long-endurance, remotely-controlled aircraft.
A coalition Chinook helicopter crashed in eastern Afghanistan on Feb. 18, killing eight soldiers on board and injuring 14 others.
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'Afghanistan will soon be in a position to defend itself'
By Nissar Hoath,Gulf News Staff Reporter
Abu Dhabi: Afghan Defence Minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak believes the country will soon be in a position to defend itself as its national army continues with reforms to restore its genuine military traditions.
In an exclusive interview with Gulf News, General Wardak, who was in the UAE to attend the International Defence Exhibition 2007 (Idex 07), said Afghanistan will be able to defend itself without US and Nato support when commitments for reforms, assistance and regional cooperation are implemented.
The minister said it depends on foreign assistance, Nato, US and other allies' support as well as reforms in the Afghan National Army (ANA), which is being rebuilt from scratch.
"It depends on how well Afghans do their part, improve the army and restore genuine military traditions. I'm committed to it. The Afghan National Army is becoming disciplined, balanced, national-oriented, professional and cohesive. There have been big successes over the years," the minister said.
He added that Afghanistan needs the support of its friends, friendly countries, allies and neighbours to help restore stability in the region.
General Wardak, who is a former mujahideen commander who fought the former Soviet Army on various fronts, also said there is growing popular support among people for the Afghan Government and the Afghan National Army. He said people across the country have been gathering support and joining the national army to fight Taliban and other terrorist outfits.
In response to a recent statement from Pakistan's North West Frontier Province Governor, Ali Mohammad Jan Aurakzai, who said Taliban activities were developing into some kind of nationalist movement and liberation war against coalition forces, the minister said it was out of context.
He said: "It is not a nationalist movement. The Taliban are a group of people and terrorists with support coming from outside the country. Their activities cannot be justified by any standard. They have given a bad name to their country and Islam. [The statement] is absolutely out of context.
"It is entirely wrong what Governor Aurakzai has said. How could Aurakzai make such a statement? He was wrong in making the statement, and he was even wrong to strike a deal with Taliban supporters in Wana (Pakistan's tribal area bordering Afghanistan).
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Nakhtar literary gathering in Paktia
GARDEZ, Feb 23 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The second annual literary gathering, Nakhtar (cedar), was organised in Gardez, capital of the southeastern Paktia province, on Friday.
Besides Paktia, poets and writers from Paktika, Khost, Laghman, Nangarhar, Kandahar, Maidan Wardak and other provinces participated in the gathering held under the aegis of the Paktia Literary Society.
Opening the gathering, provincial Governor Rahmatullah Rahmat hailed the literary activities in the province and assured his government's support for carrying forward constructive activities.
Noted linguist and author Mohammad Asif Samim, in his speech, hoped the coming year would bring peace to the country and the gathering would be held in a traditional way in the mountains.
On this occasion, a poetry session was held during which poets from different areas presented their poems and verses to get applause from the participants.
With its main office in Gardez, Paktia Literary Society has branches in eight districts of the province.
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Karzai inaugurates two hospitals in Mazar
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Feb 22 (Pajhwok Afghan News): President Hamid Karzai inaugurated two hospitals during his visit to this northern city on Thursday.
The president also inaugurated construction of a 7-kilometre road linking Shadian area to Mazar-i-Sharif.
Addressing a news conference after the inauguration of the road construction project and the two hospitals, the president said opening of the hospitals pointing to their self-sufficiency in terms of health facilities.
He pointed out that three things were necessary for the reconstruction of the country; unity, education for the new generations; and collective efforts.
He said Afghanistan was one of the poorest countries of the world. He asked his countrymen to struggle hard to give emancipation to their country from poverty. At the same time, he said the enemies of Afghanistan were afraid of its progress and prosperity.
Regarding Afghanistan's ties with its neighbours, Karzai said peaceful Afghanistan was in their interest.
Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, Chief of Army Staff General Bismillah Mohammadi, Public Health Minister Mohammad Amin Fatimi and Minister for Public Works Suhrab Ali Safari were accompanied the president to the northern province of Balkh.
Earlier, in his welcome address, Balkh Governor Atta Mohammad Noor briefed the president and other officials about the security situation and reconstruction activities in the province. He said construction of the hospitals would address the longstanding demand of the people.
According to the provincial officials, construction of the 100-bed Shaheen Military Hospital and the gynecology hospital were funded by the United States and Bayat Foundation respectively.
The Shaheen Military Hospital was constructed at the cost of eight million US dollars. The two-storey gynecology hospital, having 32 rooms and equipped with all modern facilities, including two operation theatres, has been constructed at the cost of half million US dollars.
Officials said the 7-kilometre road, work on which was inaugurated by the president, would be built at the cost of nine million US dollars. The fund for the road construction will be provided by the government.
Ahmad Naim Qadiri
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Forces use tank 'oven' to keep troops from baking
DANIEL LEBLANC From Friday's Globe and Mail
OTTAWA — No, they are not testing the latest in military food rations.
The Canadian Forces are using a giant oven in Ottawa to replicate summer conditions in Kandahar, and there is nothing culinary about their goal. Instead, they want to see how their 43-ton Leopard tanks will react under the Afghan sun.
With temperatures expected to be in the 50-degree range in Kandahar, the Canadian Forces fear their soldiers will cook in the Leopards if nothing is done. The heat will reach 65 degrees inside the tracked vehicles, and testing is needed to find the best way to help the on-board crew keep their cool.
"We have to do something," Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie, chief of the land staff, told a parliamentary committee yesterday.
One of the most likely options is to provide troops with cooling vests, which use cold water flowing through tubes to bring down body temperature. Still, even if the troops are feeling chilled, there is no guarantee the radio equipment and other electronic gear can withstand the heat.
As a result, the Canadian Forces will dress up their 17 tanks in Kandahar in a camouflage-patterned jute tarp that will absorb some of the sunrays.
Still, that will remain a partial solution. Even with the heat shields, Forces officials could not keep their hands on the roasting-hot tank that was in the National Research Council's "climatic engineering facility," which produces temperatures up to 55 degrees to simulate the effects of the Afghan summer.
The Canadian Forces had even thought of putting air-conditioning systems on the Leopards, to bring them in line with the light-armoured vehicles such as the LAV IIIs that have the added luxury. But that would have been an expensive and permanent solution for the tanks, which the Forces were planning to decommission four years ago.
The Leopard tanks were sent to Afghanistan late last year after a number of deadly attacks against Canadian troops. Lt.-Gen. Leslie said the options for the cooling system have been put to the government, and that a solution will be in place this summer.
The Canadian Forces could be forced in some situations to imitate the Americans, who don't use some of their tanks in the hottest times of the day in July and August.
As he spoke about the current mission in Afghanistan, Lt.-Gen. Leslie made it clear that the army has to move to heavier equipment for the future.
Whether it's in Afghanistan or in future theatres of operation, he said, the Canadian military has to beef up to defend itself against suicide bombers and rocket-propelled grenades.
"My immediate priority is hardening the force," Lt.-Gen. Leslie told MPs studying the military procurement system.
"We're going back to heavily armoured vehicles."
He refused to say whether the Department of National Defence will obtain newer tanks to replace the Cold-War-era Leopards, but he said that plans for lighter equipment have been shelved.
He pointed out that tanks are essential in the current "threat environment."
"The Leopard is the best-protected vehicle against enormous blasts," he said.
To protect the troops, Lt.-Gen. Leslie said the military's light-armoured vehicles have been reinforced with steel plates in Afghanistan.
The added heft, however, in combination with the non-stop use in desert-like conditions, have added much wear on the Coyotes and the LAV IIIs. As a result, he said, the eight-wheeled vehicles will not last as long as initially planned, and will either need to be replaced or refurbished sooner than expected.
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Czech government approves donation of ammunition to Afghanistan
Xinhua / February 22, 2007
The Czech government on Wednesday approved to donate 20,000 automatic rifles and 650 machine guns, worth of 30 million crowns (1.4 million U.S. dollars) to Afghanistan.
The Defense Ministry said the arms were redundant, which would contribute to the international efforts to achieve security and improve democracy in the region.
Czech military pointed out that it was more expensive to liquidate than to donate the great amount of redundant weapons , which were from the previous cold-war period in Europe.
In early March, the Czech government is to decide on the donation of 12 transport and combat helicopters to the Afghan military.
NATO allies asked the Czech Republic last year to give weapons to Afghanistan.
Since 2004, the Czech Republic donated redundant ammunition to Afghanistan.
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Afghan doctors learn new medical, management techniques at Bagram
February 23, 2007
COMBINED JOINT TASK FORCE -76
COMBINED PRESS INFORMATION CENTER
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, AFGHANISTAN
By Air Force Staff Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher Regional Command-East Public Affairs Office
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Five years ago, Sadrai, an Afghan from Paktika Province, fell off a donkey and broke his arm. After a failed surgery in Pakistan two years later, he waited another three before coming to Bagram so that American doctors would look at it.
But it’s not just American doctors who gave him the use of his arm back Feb. 21.
Dr. Said Wali and Dr. Abdul Khaliq, surgeons from Qalat in Zabul Province, are working side by side with the doctors of Task Force Med while they learn new surgical and management techniques.
The doctors came to Bagram through the efforts of the Qalat Provincial Reconstruction Team.
“Zabul Province is a very poor province that has a severe lack of health care,” said Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Christopher Scharenbrock , Qalat PRT chief medical officer. “One year ago, the United Arab Emirates built a hospital there with 150 beds. The Ministry of Health has been trying to get more doctors and equipment there.”
The MoH’s effort met with limited success. Zabul is so poor, many doctors did not want to work there, but an influx of funds allowed the hospital to offer better pay and equipment.
“They’ve gone from 4 to 22 doctors over 11 months, from almost no surgeries to 120 per month,” Scharenbrock said.
Building and staffing the hospital, difficult as it was, was the easy part. Now, Scharenbrock said, the goal is to improve the quality of care. To that end, the Qalat PRT arranged to bring Wali and Kaliq to Bagram.
“We get experience in both management and medical wards,” Wali said. “If there is something new, we make notes to use it in our hospital. Since we work with foreigners, we learn some new techniques here.”
“We are working like brothers here,” Khaliq said. “They show me everything. I will take these procedures back. When we we go, we will know this is correct, and we will follow the procedures like this hospital. This is important because we compare our work in Qalat with Bagram. This is better for our hospital and our doctors.”
Maj. (Dr.) Shaun Baker, TF Med orthopaedic surgeon, has been working with Wali and Khaliq during their stay here. He said the TF Med doctors are happy to pass on some of the tricks of the medical trade.
“We enjoy having them here,” he said. “I think they’ve picked up a few things. Hopefully they’ll be able to put it to good use.”
Scharenbrock said some of the most important things the doctors are learning are not advanced surgical procedures, but simple infection control.
“A lot of times I’d go to their hospital,” he said. “When we first got there, people weren’t even wearing gloves. It’s totally different for them to see how a whole system can work together.”
Scharenbrock said change will come slowly, but surely with U.S. help.
“You can’t change everything at once,” he said. “They are able to pick and choose what they can implement at their organization.”
Whatever the eventual outcome, the program already has one fan. After waiting five years, Sardrai will be able to use his arm normally again.
“I’m so happy that Afghan doctors can learn here,” he said.
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Sell Afghan poppies for medicine: Dion
Wants Ottawa to back pilot project to turn opium into medicinal painkillers -
February 23, 2007 - BRUCE CAMPION-SMITH –TORONTO STAR
OTTAWA–Canada should back a pilot project to market Afghanistan's opium production – blamed for fuelling a deadly insurgency – as legal medicinal painkillers, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion says.
In a major foreign policy speech yesterday, Dion called for a new strategy for the Afghan mission to put a greater focus on diplomacy and development. And one key plank is a plan to cope with the country's poppy crop, which has become a mainstay of the economy.
"If we do not start to think creatively about the problem of the drug economy, the situation will never get better," Dion said in a text of his Montreal speech.
Dion said Canada should help fund a project proposed by the Senlis Council, an international security and development policy think-tank, to license poppy crops for use as codeine and morphine in the developing world.
"Such a licensed cultivation would ... offer farmers a real and profitable alternative to the heroin trade," he said. Dion, who also urged a crackdown on illegal processing labs, later conceded the drug strategy is not a sure bet.
"I know it is very risky what they are proposing. I am not naive. But what is not risky in Afghanistan? We need to try this risk and see the result," Dion said in an interview after his noon-hour speech.
During an Ottawa visit last September, Afghan President Hamid Karzai warned that the "menace" of narcotics was as serious a threat as terrorism and could undermine the country's economic progress. "If we do not destroy poppies in Afghanistan, poppies will destroy us," Karzai said.
Current efforts to eradicate the poppy crop have been controversial since destitute farmers are often left with no income to support their families.
In addition to tackling the drug trade, Dion said Canada must do more to ensure Afghans get necessary vaccinations. And he said the country needs help to rebuild irrigation networks destroyed in decades of violence.
In his speech, Dion said a Liberal government would withdraw Canada's 2,500 troops from Kandahar in 2009, but left the door open for soldiers to go elsewhere in the country.
"I will say unequivocally that a Liberal government led by me will not extend Canada's combat mission in Kandahar beyond February 2009," Dion said.
"We need a new government that will be able to say very clearly `Yes, we end the mission in 2009 ... help us in the meantime and we need a country to replace us because we are serious,'" he said in the interview.
The federal Conservatives have yet to say what Canada's role might be in Afghanistan after the current military commitment ends in February 2009.
Noting that just 20 per cent of Canada's aid funding is being spent in Kandahar, Dion said a Liberal government would push for a "real effort to win the hearts and minds of Afghans.
"It is very difficult to keep the confidence of the population if they don't identify the Canadian forces with improvement for the quality of life," he said.
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A Family Scandal
Elderly men often take young women as their brides - but their families don’t always approve.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting By an IWPR trainee in Helmand (ARR No. 242, 20-Feb-07)
Fawzia, not her real name, is twenty-one years old, I am twenty-two. So it seems strange to call her “grandmother”.
“My wife died, and I became young again!” laughed my 85-year-old grandfather. “There were some old women I could have married, but I wanted a young one. I do not think you can just divide young and old. So I decided to marry a young girl. Now I am very happy.”
Fawzia’s story is a bit different.
“My father died, and mother had to support two small boys, as well as me. We had no money, so she decided to marry me to this old man. She did not think about me, about my life. She just put my life in the river, where it drifted away.”
When he announced his wedding, my grandfather thought the family would rejoice. He has ten children with his first wife, seven girls and three boys. My mother is his eldest daughter.
“For such a young girl death would have been better than marriage to an old man,” said my mother.
On the wedding day, my grandfather could not hide his joy. He distributed sweets, nuts and raisins to the guests. But only three of his daughters came to the wedding. The rest of his children stayed away.
“Why are you not happy for me?” he asked one of my aunts, who came to the wedding.
“I am trying,” she said. “But my heart is not in it. I am so miserable I do not think I will ever be happy again.”
When she heard this, Fawzia fainted, and the wedding had to be stopped for a bit.
When she was better, the ceremony continued. My grandfather sat by her, singing to her, and saying “Don’t worry, everything will be okay. I will obey all of your commands and I will give you whatever you want.”
But Fawzia was not listening to him. She seemed to be in a trance. “This is God’s will,” she said. “I have to marry this old man. I would kill myself, but it would bring shame on my family. After all, I am not the only young girl who has been in this situation.”
Fawzia is quite right. There are many such cases, and I have seen them with my own eyes. I know a drug smuggler in Lashkar Gah who just married a 15-year-old girl. He is old, maybe 50, and has two other wives. I know that the girl went back to her family, asking them to kill her rather than send he back to her husband. But they made her return, anyway.
If I could get support, I would bring old men who marry young girls to trial. I would stop this shameful practice.
My grandfather is wealthy. He owns a lot of land in Helmand province, and he grows vegetables, not poppy, like so many other people do.
Now it has been a little over a year since the wedding, and Fawzia has changed her tune.
“At first I was very unhappy. But now I have [twin] children, a son and a daughter, and I am very happy with them. My husband is very nice to me, and brings me everything I want. I would not change him for a young man.”
But I think she is just trying to put a good face on things. It is shameful to complain about your husband.
When my grandfather is gone, Fawzia will not be able to remarry. In our culture, when a woman’s husband dies, she remains in his family. She can marry her husband’s brother, or maybe even his father. But my grandfather has no living brothers. Fawzia is now our mother and grandmother - we cannot marry her. She will be a widow forever.
My grandfather does not think of this, though. He is very happy with his new children, and teases his sons, “See, I am stronger than you. I have more children.” He says he wants many more children. In fact, he is thinking of marrying again.
“I married a twenty-year-old and am very happy,” he told me. “Now I want another one.”
IWPR has recently initiated a journalist-training programme in Helmand province. This is the work of one trainee, who wanted his name withheld to protect his family’s privacy.
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Karzai downplays Taliban ‘spring offensive’
Claims his govt is stronger than Pakistan’s; says suicide bombers are non-Afghans
By Rahimullah Yusufzai The News International (Pakistan) February 22, 2007
KABUL: Downplaying the threat of the so-called “spring offensive” by the Taliban, President Hamid Karzai has said he cannot believe that 10,000 fighters were waiting for the winter to end to launch big attacks against his government and the US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan.
“Who is this Taliban commander Hayatullah Khan who made this claim? I have never heard his name and probably you also don’t know him,” he commented in an interview with The News in his offices at the sprawling Gul Khana Palace in Kabul.
The previously unknown Hayatullah Khan, claiming to be a Taliban commander, announced recently that 10,000 Taliban fighters were ready to take part in the “spring offensive” against the foreign occupying forces in Afghanistan. The US and Nato forces have been making preparations to counter the threat by sending reinforcements of troops and weapons to Afghanistan’s southern provinces.
President Karzai argued that the Taliban cannot launch an offensive, whether in spring or another season, without outside assistance. Pointing out that Taliban attacks in Afghanistan had registered decline in recent months, he said Pakistan had taken steps to stem the flow of militants across the border with Afghanistan. “We have seen an improvement in the situation. My government is happy with some of the measures adopted by Pakistan in this regard. But we feel Pakistan needs to do more to tackle the problem,” he stressed.
The Afghan President, who will turn 50 on December 24 this year, maintained that almost all the suicide bombers who launched attacks in Afghanistan were non-Afghans. “Only one or two of them were Afghans. We have captured some of the would-be suicide bombers and their interrogation has revealed that those being sent on suicide missions in our country are non-Afghans,” he said.
Karzai accused the Taliban of attacking schools and killing teachers to deprive Afghan children of education. He said hospitals and others symbols of development were being attacked and destroyed. “Isn’t it strange that most attacks including those by suicide bombers take place near newly constructed buildings? Our enemies don’t want Afghanistan to rebuild and once again become a truly independent and sovereign country,” he contended.
He recalled that once while visiting his hometown Kandahar he saw a badly damaged five-storey building that had been constructed sometime back. “I was being driven to the Kharqa Sharif Mosque for prayers when I saw this building. I was told it was damaged in a recent suicide bombing. Afghanistan’s enemies don’t want our nation to attain progress and stand on its own feet,” he complained.
President Karzai said he didn’t want to criticize Pakistan and blame it for Afghanistan’s troubles because leaders of the two countries had decided to refrain from blaming each other publicly. Still he didn’t want to let go the opportunity to point out that almost all attacks by Taliban were taking place in Afghan provinces bordering Pakistan. And he narrated a story to explain the good security situation in provinces that were located far away from the border with Pakistan. He said: “When I visited Faryab province in northern Afghanistan sometime back, thousands of people greeted me at the airport and on the roadside to the provincial capital, Maimana. My security guards were left behind and I found them relaxed and a bit careless. When I asked them as to why they left me unguarded, their reply was that they weren’t concerned because I wasn’t travelling in a province near the Pakistan border.”
Offering peace and friendship to Pakistan, the Afghan leader opined that the two countries could pursue mutually beneficial ties. “We would prosper as friends. We could increase our trade relations. We need to attain full potential of our relationship,” he said.
President Karzai said he was at a loss to understand Pakistan’s objections to the presence of Indian consulates in Jalalabad and Kandahar. “Isn’t there an Indian embassy in Islamabad? Why has Pakistan allowed that on its soil if the Indian diplomatic missions are such a threat?” he asked.
About the Afghan government’s refusal to accept the Durand Line as an international border and, therefore, a settled issue, Karzai maintained that it wasn’t his decision and he had no authority to do so. “The Afghan nation and not Hamid Karzai would have to decide this issue,” he stressed.
When it was pointed out to him that his administration was weak and, therefore, unable to enforce its writ in certain parts of the war-ravaged country, President Karzai replied that his regime in some respects was stronger than the Pakistani government. “I can go anywhere in Afghanistan. I appoint and remove top government functionaries. All departments including the intelligence agency are fully under my control. I have been dispatching troops to different parts of the country,” he explained. However, he hastened to add that the Afghan government suffered from weaknesses in its civil services and administrative departments.
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A double spring offensive
Feb 22nd 2007 | KABUL, KAJAKI AND KANDAHAR From The Economist print edition
After a dreadful year in Afghanistan, a newly confident NATO is preparing itself to take on the Taliban. Success will be difficult, but not impossible
THE Kajaki dam, with its turquoise lake lost in the rocky wilderness of southern Afghanistan, is an unusually scenic setting for battle. On the heights above, British marines at the sharp end of NATO's war against the Taliban routinely come under fire from guns and rockets. But over the past two months the Taliban have been pushed back by NATO's firepower and their continued pot-shots are, for the moment, little more than harassment.
On a recent evening a single round from a Soviet-era anti-aircraft gun, fired from six kilometres (just under four miles) away, provoked a full pyrotechnic response: dozens of mortar rounds, bursts of red tracers from a 50-calibre machinegun, illumination flares, the flaming rush of a Javelin missile and the juddering explosion of a 1,000kg guided bomb dropped from a Harrier jet. An American B-1B bomber was on hand to follow up; an Apache helicopter provided surveillance.
After the show was over, the Royal Marines reported two Taliban sentries killed and others fleeing. An expensive operation for the end result, perhaps. When the fighting is on the ground, it is more treacherous and does claim marine lives. The wadis and labyrinthine Afghan compounds, with their metre-thick walls, provide excellent cover. The Taliban are good shots, conceal themselves well and evacuate their casualties efficiently.
Even so, the Royal Marines at Kajaki are now fighting on highly favourable tactical terms. The flight of Afghans from surrounding villages reduces the risk of killing civilians. The marines choose when and where to attack. They hold the high ground, they have high-powered observation equipment and mastery of the air. “We see them three kilometres away. They cannot see us 200 metres away,” says one officer. “It's unfair sometimes.”
The problem is the wider strategy. The Taliban have a seemingly inexhaustible supply of recruits, enjoy sanctuary in Pakistan and almost certainly have greater staying power than the foreign troops. The marines do not have the numbers to hold more than the immediate area around the Kajaki dam. From their dominant hilltops—called Athens, Normandy and Sparrow Hawk—all they survey with their high-tech gadgetry is Taliban country. So the marines now perform a strange dance: they raid Taliban hideouts (as in the picture above), they withdraw—and then they watch the enemy return.
Just for now, this is good enough for NATO. After a dreadful year of violence in 2006, when security in the south appeared to collapse, the alliance has rediscovered a sense of confidence and believes it has regained the initiative. At the very least, say officers, NATO will not again be caught by surprise when, as expected, the Taliban step up the fight in the spring.
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a NATO-led coalition of 37 countries, strolled almost casually into the heart of Taliban country as it deployed for the first time in the south and east of Afghanistan last summer. It was ill prepared for the ensuing fight that cost the lives of some 3,700 Afghans and 191 soldiers from ISAF and the separate American-led coalition, Operation Enduring Freedom.
John Reid, who was Britain's defence secretary at the time, carelessly said he would be happy if British forces completed their mission “without a shot being fired”. Instead, the first contingent to deploy in Helmand fired nearly half a million rounds of ammunition and 11,500 mortar rounds and artillery shells as paratroopers found themselves parcelled out and besieged in towns across the province.
Last September in the neighbouring province of Kandahar, a brigade-sized force, led by the Canadians but cobbled together from disparate elements, only narrowly managed to evict an estimated 1,000 Taliban fighters from the Panjwayi valley from where they had threatened Kandahar city. In Kabul, the country's capital, repeated Iraq-style suicide-bombings sapped the confidence of the government and its international supporters. The ring road connecting the main cities, the symbol of reconstruction, became perilous.
All this has changed, at least temporarily. The level of violence has decreased sharply and the ring road is safer. There have been no bombings in Kabul for months, and reconstruction teams are again active in the south. But whether this is real progress, or the result of the Taliban taking their habitual winter break, will become clear only after the snows melt. “The blood of the oppressed people and the mujahideen will bear its fruit very soon,” promised a letter from Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, in December. Taliban commanders boast that they have 10,000 fighters, plus a swarm of thousands of suicide-bombers, ready to go into action.
Everything going their way
Nevertheless, NATO is feeling bullish. Along with Afghanistan's own forces, it is preparing “Operation Nowrouz” (new year), a spring offensive to disrupt the Taliban's spring offensive. Fighting has continued through the winter, but it has usually been at NATO's initiative. In Helmand the British have been raiding deep into Taliban areas. The Canadians have been clearing out more of the Panjwayi valley, claiming success in finding and killing key Taliban leaders and thus allowing civilians to start returning. Despite the war of words between Afghanistan and Pakistan, intelligence co-operation is improving, with the creation of a joint NATO-Afghan-Pakistan intelligence cell in Kabul.
Above all, the alliance has been energised by America's intensified commitment. On top of the surge of five brigades into Iraq, George Bush announced on February 15th that an extra brigade would be deployed in Afghanistan. He is also requesting an additional $11.8 billion in military and civilian aid over two years, mostly to pay for the expansion and training of the Afghan army and police.
Britain is beefing up its forces in the south with an extra battalion in April; additional special forces are also expected. A fresh battalion is due from Poland. Bits and bobs are being offered by other allies: six reconnaissance jets from Germany, more surveillance drones and a transport plane from Italy, military trainers from Spain and so on. But these commitments emphasise the split in the alliance. “Those with their hands in the mangle of the fighting in the south have no choice but to reinforce,” says one senior NATO officer. “The rest are trying to stay out of it.”
A recent report by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think-tank, blamed the growth of the insurgency on “the desire for a quick, cheap war followed by a quick, cheap peace”. Even with the extra resources, NATO will still be stretched thin. Afghanistan is bigger than Iraq, both in terms of size and population. But the number of security forces, whether foreign troops or local soldiers, is less than a third of those available in Iraq.
The country has seen real achievements since the fall of the Taliban, not least the growth in education and health care (admittedly more in quantity than quality) and the return of more than 3m refugees. The north and west are relatively stable. The population of Kabul has expanded eight-fold, and streets ravaged by war are bustling with street markets. People in the capital still express their strong support for the presence of international forces.
But the Afghan government remains weak, and this is as much of a problem as the strength of the Taliban. In a society wrecked by wars, poverty and illiteracy, the government lacks the human resources to run the country. In recent years it has been able to spend barely half its budget. Afghans are disillusioned by the lack of jobs and the spread of corruption, whether petty or high level. After the Taliban's collapse large parts of the country came under the control of unsavoury warlords, often linchpins of the booming opium trade. The source of nine-tenths of the world's heroin, Afghanistan is just one step away from becoming a narco-state.
When NATO belatedly expanded its remit to the turbulent south and east, the foreign soldiers were often seen as the protectors of rapacious local officials—and a threat to small poppy farmers. The Taliban seized the moment to escalate their attacks. That the alliance held its nerve is something, but success is far from assured.
“In the short term we will not remove the threat of the Taliban, but we will contain it,” says David Richards, the British general who has just completed his tour as ISAF's commander. The betting is that the Taliban will not attempt another conventional battle but will intensify ambushes and suicide-bombings. Had he had more troops last year, says the general, he could have stopped the main body of Taliban escaping the Panjwayi valley. And with more boots on the ground, he would have been less reliant on air power, with its inevitable risk of big civilian casualties.
The Afghan army is being expanded rapidly, but desertion rates are high and the quality is often poor. “When they come under fire they scatter. It's like herding cats,” says a British sergeant helping to “mentor” the Afghan army in Kandahar. The few decent Afghan army units are badly overworked. The police are in even worse shape, regarded by most Afghans as little better than robbers in uniform. The government and its backers are now scraping together a third force, the “auxiliary police” recruited locally and trained for just two weeks before being deployed.
Building the state is plainly key to winning the war. General Richards sums up the need as reconstruction, development, governance and relations with Pakistan, all wrapped up in a cloak of growing security. His central point is that there must be “synergistic” progress in all dimensions.
He has been a highly political commander, taking on the job of speaking to Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, “soldier to soldier”. He claims the effort is paying off, but in the process he has irritated the Afghan government. He has also been instrumental in organising an “action group” of Afghan, ISAF, UN and other senior officials to turn government decisions into reality. The group deals with security, intelligence, strategic communications and development. The general wanted to add a fifth pillar, governance, but was overruled by President Hamid Karzai.
America's new counter-insurgency doctrine espouses similar ideas about the need for “unity of effort” in military and civilian activity. But relations between America and Britain in Afghanistan have been tetchy. Some of General Richards's departing staff are nervous that ISAF's new American commander, General Dan McNeill, will be too “kinetic”. Rightly or wrongly, the new man is known by some as “Bomber McNeill”.
Finger in the dam
The problems that beset Afghanistan are encapsulated at Kajaki. The workers at the hydro-electric power station inhabit a surreal grey zone, sleeping with the Taliban in the villages at night and working alongside the British at the dam by day. There is an unspoken understanding by both sides to keep the plant operating; the government wants power for the cities, while the Taliban charge villagers for electricity.
First built by the Soviet Union in 1953, and upgraded by the Americans in 1975, the power station that provides most of southern Afghanistan's electricity gradually fell into disrepair. The transmission lines were blown up in 1980 by anti-Soviet mujahideen, then fixed by the Taliban government in 1996. The windows were blown out by American bombing in 2001. An American-financed project to refurbish the power station and upgrade the transmission lines is a development priority but work stopped last May when the area became too insecure. Restarting the work means reopening about 70km of road through the Taliban-controlled Sangin valley—and protecting some 100km of new transmission lines.
At Kajaki the Royal Marines are training local army recruits. Some of the hilltops around the dam are held by private militia hired by American contractors. These friendly Afghan forces complain of being low on ammunition, water and fuel (though some commanders seem to have no shortage of boys with painted nails for company). But all the fighting in Kajaki is done by the marines, who dare not tell their Afghan allies of their plans for fear of being betrayed to the Taliban.
In the view of one senior ISAF officer, “there is not a hope in hell that we can secure the road with the limited resources we have.” Indeed, the job could tie down all of the reinforcements currently planned for southern Afghanistan. The only answer, in his view, is to “engage” the population in the district to pacify the area. The offer of construction and security jobs should prove a useful enticement. ISAF officials like to display diagrams of how they intend to drive a wedge between the “irreconcilable” Taliban based largely in Pakistan and the more moderate local elements. It looks neat in the briefing rooms but in practice is a messy, ambiguous business fraught with moral dilemmas.
Local recruits to scare the TalibanA bargain to stop the fighting at Musa Qala, near Kajaki, has been particularly controversial. After months of fighting that cost the lives of six soldiers last year, British forces agreed to withdraw from the town in return for the deployment of an auxiliary police force and a promise by local elders to keep the Taliban outside a 5km radius from the town centre. The British saw it as a pioneering deal that got their forces out of static positions, gave government officials access to the town and empowered local elders. But some senior American officials denounced it as surrender to the Taliban.
In any event, the Musa Qala deal collapsed last month when the Taliban, accusing local elders of collaborating with a NATO airstrike that narrowly missed a militant leader, stormed back into town and bulldozed part of the local police station. NATO says it got its man, Mullah Abdul-Ghafour, in a later bombing attack, but the Taliban still hold the town. Some argue that the deal was worthless because it could not be enforced; the British still say it was a success because the Taliban's behaviour angered much of the local population. The question, however, is whether displeasure at the Taliban is enough to overcome fear of the Taliban.
Matters have not been helped by the political upheaval in Helmand, which has seen three governors in a year. The current man, Asadullah Wafa, has only just started trying to assert his authority, beginning with the partial eradication of poppy crops in the province. Poverty, warlordism and rebels have made Helmand the great opium den of the world. Poppy cultivation jumped up by nearly 60% across Afghanistan last year, mostly due to increases in the southern provinces. Helmand alone accounted for over 40% of production.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime expects a further rise in the south this year, but a “significant decrease” in the more stable north and centre. NATO believes that the Taliban are intimately bound up with the opium trade in the south, and that drugs money finances the insurgency. The debate is whether the government should first tackle the insurgents or the poppy growers, and whether eradication should take place before or after alternatives are in place.
What alternatives? Without security, electricity, reliable transport and access to markets, poppy farming is still the best bet. It is a crop that requires little water, does not need refrigeration and acts as a family's store of wealth: a hectare of poppy is nine times more profitable than wheat.
Ashraf Ghani, a former Afghan finance minister, argues that the real answer is not to find alternative crops but to modernise the economy. He advocates, for instance, giving preferential trade terms for textiles from Afghanistan. “Cotton will not compete with poppy,” he says, “ but T-shirts will.” Others have proposed the idea of licensing poppy production to make pharmaceutical opiates.
The Taliban keep their poppies
NATO officials worry that antagonising farmers with forced eradication will only strengthen the insurgency. The Afghan government has so far resisted American pressure for aerial spraying, preferring to rely on tractors. It claims to be targeting “the greedy rather than the needy” (for instance destroying poppy fields allegedly owned by a former police chief). No compensation will be offered. But uprooting is often a haphazard affair, usually affecting those who cannot bribe the eradication teams to pass over their plots. Given that there can be little or no eradication in Taliban areas, those who live under government control feel unfairly penalised.
Neither the drugs trade nor the insurgency can be controlled so long as the border remains uncontrolled. The Taliban still enjoy sanctuary in Pakistan, whether with the Pakistani government's approval (as Mr Karzai claims) or despite efforts to stop them (as Mr Musharraf insists). In the south-east, the Americans are reinforcing their presence on the border with Pakistan. But in the Canadian and British sectors, the frontier is unguarded. Despite NATO's planned reinforcements, there is unlikely to be more than a thin presence of special forces to watch over this part of the border.
Indeed, Helmand's governor gave warning on February 11th that 700 Taliban fighters had crossed over from Pakistan and were heading for the Kajaki dam. Up on Athens, Normandy and Sparrow Hawk, the Royal Marines like to soak up the sun during lulls in the fighting. But as spring advances, this area may soon become too hot for comfort.
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Afghan Ariana TV Starts Broadcasting to Helmand Province
Text of report by Afghan independent Pajhwok news agency website
Lashkargah, 22 February: Private Ariana TV has started broadcasting to [southern] Helmand Province.
An official of the TV station, Abdol Wadud Hejran, told Pajhwok Afghan News that the residents of the province could receive the channel via ordinary antennas.
He described the Ariana TV and radio frequencies as 189.45 and 95.5 respectively.
He added that the network's TV and radio broadcast reach a radius of some 45 km from the provincial capital, Lashkargah.
Expressing happiness over Ariana's broadcasts, a local shopkeeper, Qalandar, said that compared to other stations Ariana had better Pashto programmes.
Tolo and Lemar TV channels are already broadcasting to the province.
Source: BBC Monitoring South Asia
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British journalist freed after a day of captivity
KABUL, Feb 21 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A British journalist and his two Afghan colleagues, taken hostages by the Taliban in the southern province of Helmand, were freed on Wednesday.
Purported Taliban spokesman Qari Yousaf Ahmadi said the journalists, working for a foreign satellite TV channel, were captured by local fighters. They were freed after the captors came to know that they had taken prior permission from the Taliban senior commanders in the area, said Ahmadi.
Speaking to Pajhwok Afghan News, bureau chief of the Al Jazeera TV channel in Kabul Samir Allawi said correspondent James Bays was captured by the Taliban along with his two Afghan colleagues on Tuesday.
He said some misunderstanding was involved in the whole episode and they were released after a day of captivity.
He said the three people were well and had reached the southern city of Kandahar after an interview with senior Taliban commander Mulla Dadullah.
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Moot to review US-Afghan Strategic Partnership
KABUL, Feb 21 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A two-day conference on US-Afghan Strategic Partnership began here on Wednesday to assess the progress achieved by the two sides over the previous two years.
The US-Afghan Strategic Partnership covering various issues, including security, business and investment, support for Afghanistan budget and border defence, was signed between Afghanistan and the United States in May 2005.
Hamid Jalil, official of the Finance Ministry, told Pajhwok Afghan News the conference was organised by the ministry. He said senior US officials and representatives of various ministries were among the participants.
He said participants of the conference would deliberate on various aspects of the partnership and requirements of Afghanistan from that partnership. He said the Afghan and US representatives would present the report in another conference scheduled to be held next month.
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FACTBOX-Military deaths in Afghanistan
Feb 23 (Reuters) - A British Royal Marine died on Thursday from injuries sustained in a traffic accident while serving in Afghanistan this month, the Ministry of Defence said.
Another Marine was killed by an anti-personnel mine while on patrol in Afghanistan on Wednesday, bringing to 48 the number of British soldiers killed while on operations in the country since 2001.
One Spanish soldier was killed and two were wounded on Wednesday when a convoy of armoured ambulances was attacked in western Afghanistan, the first Spanish casualties there this year.
Here are the latest figures for foreign military deaths in Afghanistan since the Taliban government was toppled in 2001:
NATO/U.S.-LED COALITION FORCES:
United States 370
Other nations 34
Last year was the bloodiest in Afghanistan since U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001.
More than 4,000 people were killed in fighting in 2006, a quarter of them civilians and more than 170 of them foreign soldiers.
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Afghanistan condemns ban on TV channels
KABUL, Feb 21 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Afghanistan on Wednesday condemned the ban slapped on its four TV channels by the government of Pakistan.
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), the body controlling media in Pakistan, had banned Ariana, Shamshad, Tolo and Milli Television in that country.
Commenting on the step, Foreign Ministry spokesman Sultan Ahmad Bahin said it was against the international principles of freedom of expression. He said there were no restrictions on transmissions of Pakistani media in Afghanistan.
The Ministry of Information and Culture, in a statement, condemned the step and said this was not the first time that Pakistan was imposing ban on Afghanistan TV channels.
The statement said such practices were unacceptable in the global village. It hoped the international community would join the protest by the Afghan government.
Meanwhile, a statement released from the freshly-formed SAFMA-Afghanistan office, said the step would create problems for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan in getting access to information.
"Independent and free media can play significant role in contributing to peace and stability in the region," said Halim Fidai, president of the South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA) in the statement.
Javid Hamim/Najib Khelwatgar
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1,000 liquor bottles destroyed
KABUL, Feb 21 (Pajhwok Afghan News): More than 1,000 bottles of alcohol were set on fire near the Kabul International Airport on Wednesday.
The huge quantity of liquor was confiscated during raids on a number of local and foreign guesthouses two days back.
Attorney General Abdul Jabbar Sabit was leading the raiding party comprising personnel of his office and policemen. Besides the seizure of the alcohol, 14 people, including nine foreigners, had also been arrested during raids.
Deputy of the Attorney General in monitoring affairs Abdul Hamid Arab told Pajhwok Afghan News the seized liquor were more than 1,000 bottles.
Arab said the detainees would be presented before the concerned courts. Drinking and selling of liquor and other drugs is banned under the Constitution of Afghanistan.
In charge of the 10th police district Colonel Mohammad Qasim Aminzoy said the alcohol was recovered during raids on 27 guesthouses. He said the raids were made following complaints from residents.
Habib Rahman Ibrahimi
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Afghan documentaries at New York film festival
NEW YORK, Feb 21 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Three Afghan documentaries, including one on women and another on Kabul, are scheduled to be screened at the 2007 New York Arab and South Asian Film Festival in Big Apple, the organisers said here.
The documentary "Afghan Women: A History of Struggle" by director and producer Kathleen Foster would be presented during the 10-day festival in New York commencing February 23.
Organisers of the mega event said they had collected special feature on Afghanistan, including discussions on the issues of Afghanistan after the screening of those documentaries and films.
The 65-minute film in Persian, Pashto and English subtitles documents the development of the Afghan Women's Rights Bill that was drafted, signed and presented to President Hamid Karzai by women leaders across the country.
To hit the global stage with the film festival, the documentary was created by Afghan women, who participated in the third annual conference of "Women for Afghan Women" in 2003 in Kandahar.
The second documentary on Kabul, capital of Afghanistan, explores the soul of a city devastated by nearly three decades of war. Jointly directed by David Edwards, Maliha Zulfacar and Gregory Whitmore, the 104-minute film follows city residents in the course of their daily lives and listens to their stories of the past and their hopes for the future.
From neighbourhoods leveled by rockets, traditional mud brick homes next to modern glass towers, gleaming SUVs caught in traffic jams with rebuilt taxis, Kabul Transit is about the spirit, as much as it is about the problems of the city.
Directed by Meena Nanji, the 82-minute documentary "View from Grain of Sand" was shot over the last three years in Pakistan and Afghanistan. A doctor, a teacher and a social worker tells how their lives were violently affected by wars of international making and three different regimes in Afghanistan.
One of the significant features of the 10-day festival is said to be the screening of "War Diaries", which will introduce the American public to unseen daily experience of the people of Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan.
Lalit K. Jha
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