Karzai pardons 'suicide bomb' boy
Sunday, 15 July 2007 BBC News
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has pardoned a 14-year-old boy caught wearing a suicide vest on his way to assassinate a provincial governor.
Rafiqullah had crossed the border from Pakistan and intended to kill Arsala Jamal, governor of Khost province.
Mr Karzai said Rafiqullah had been deceived by the "enemy of Islam" while attending a religious school.
Pardoning him at the presidential palace, Mr Karzai said: "I forgive him and I wish him the best of luck."
The president said: "Today we are faced with a fearful and terrifying truth, and that truth is the sending of a Muslim child to carry out a suicide attack.
"[His parents] sent him to study at a madrassa (religious school). The enemy of Islam deceived him."
Rafiqullah's father, Matiullah, said he had been unaware of his son's actions and agreed the boy had been deceived by teachers.
He said when he had asked about his son he was not given an answer.
"I am very happy to have my son back," said Mr Matiullah, who is from South Waziristan.
Rafiqullah said: "I am very happy that I am pardoned and released."
Rafiqullah said he was trained to drive a car and shown suicide attack videos at the madrassa in Pakistan.
He crossed the border and was met by a man who gave him a suicide vest. Rafiqullah said he did not want to carry out the attack but the man threatened to kill him.
He was caught last month wearing the vest on a motorbike in the city of Khost.
Militants have launched a number of suicide attacks against Afghan, Nato and US-led forces over the past two years.
A number of would-be attackers held in recent weeks have been teenagers.
Afghanistan has urged Pakistan to do more to prevent militants from crossing the border to carry out attacks.
In a message to Pakistan, Mr Karzai called for "better relationships, not cheating the children and encouraging them into terrorism and suicide".
Afghanistan's Karzai criticises Pakistani madrassas
Sun Jul 15, 7:40 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai criticised some madrassas in Pakistan for teaching violent extremism Sunday, as he forgave a teenager who said he was sent across the border to carry out a suicide attack.
"Today we're facing a very regretful, painful fact," Karzai told a media conference, joined by 14-year-old Rafiq-Ullah and his father Mati-Ullah, from Pakistan's troubled Taliban-dominated South Waziristan tribal region.
"A child of Islam that his father had sent to a madrassa for education was tempted by the enemies of Islam to carry out a suicide attack," he said.
"I forgive you," Karzai told the boy -- who was detained in May in eastern Khost province, where the boy said he was sent to carry out a suicide attack on the governor -- giving him 100,000 Afghani (2,000 dollars) to travel back home.
Asked whether he had a message for Pakistan, the Afghan president said Kabul wanted good ties with Islamabad, a key US ally in its 'war on terror.'
"The message of the Afghan people is one of kindness, the message of mercy," he said. "It's the message of having good relations, brotherly relations.
"It's the message for trade and exchange," he added, "not to deceive the children of people and encourage them to carry out suicide attacks, destroying themselves, their families and other Muslims."
Rebel attacks including Iraq-style suicide bombings -- once unheard in this Central Asian nation -- have over the past two years increased in Afghanistan, where US-led and NATO forces are fighting an Islamic insurgency.
Some Pakistani madrassas have been accused of sponsoring religious violence, a legacy of Afghanistan's 1979-89 Soviet occupation when some seminaries, with US and Saudi funding, became training camps for Islamic holy warriors.
New US intelligence reports say Pakistan has failed to contain Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents who are hiding out in rugged areas along the border with Afghanistan.
Musharraf has failed to contain al Qaeda: US official
ANI-Asian News International
Lahore, July 15 (ANI): Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf has failed to contain the al Qaeda and must regain control over areas bordering Afghanistan, a senior Bush administration official has said.
Stephen Hadley, President George Bush's National Security Adviser said President Musharraf's strategy of giving tribal leaders more autonomy "has not worked the way it should have".
But, the US is working with the Pakistani government to thwart the latest threats, and the Musharraf government is "beginning to take some moves that will reassert control in those areas," he said in his interview with Bloomberg Television's 'Political Capital with Al Hunt'.
The Bush administration is facing growing unrest in the Congress over the perception that the al Qaeda and the Taliban have found more freedom to operate in Pakistan since the federal government signed the September 5 armistice in North Waziristan, reports the Daily Times.
Tribal militants scrap peace accord with Pakistan government
Sun Jul 15, 7:50 AM ET
MIRANSHAH, Pakistan (AFP) - Pro-Taliban militants in a Pakistan tribal border region with Afghanistan said Sunday they had scrapped a controversial peace accord reached with the government last year.
"We are ending the agreement today," the Taliban Shoora (Taliban Council) said in pamphlets distributed in Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan, where a suicide attack on a military convoy killed 24 troops the previous day.
The government in September signed a peace agreement with tribal leaders in the region -- a deal heavily criticised by Western allies and Afghanistan -- following assurances that the tribesmen would hunt down foreign militants.
Council leaders released the statement Sunday to protest new troop movements, amid sharply heightened tensions after last week's army attack on Islamabad's pro-Taliban Red Mosque, which killed 86 people, mostly militants.
After the raid, Musharraf vowed to crack down on extremists and deployed extra troops to areas including the Swat district of North West Frontier Province and North Waziristan's Dera Ismail Khan area.
Suicide attacks using explosives-packed cars against military convoys in both regions killed more than 40 people and wounded scores more at the weekend.
North Waziristan militant commander Abdullah Farhad had on Saturday threatened "guerrilla war" if government troops did not abandon checkpoints by Sunday in a dispute that has being brewing for weeks.
Sunday's pamphlets said tribal elders would refuse dialogue with authorities who had failed to pull back troops from up to 25 checkpoints.
"We had signed the agreement for the safety and protection of the life and property of our people," the statement said. "But the government forces continued to launch attacks on the Taliban and have killed a number of people.
"The decision we are taking today is in the interest of the people."
The statement also warned local members of the tribal police and militia against taking part in any official duty with army and paramilitary forces, saying they would be held "responsible for the consequences."
Miransha residents said about 100 local families had left the town, fearing clashes, and that its main bazaar was deserted, while families of government employees had left their homes in the rugged mountain area.
Pakistan has come under increased US pressure to uproot Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents from its rugged border areas with Afghanistan.
White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley, speaking on US television, said Musharraf had failed to contain al-Qaeda and said his plan to give tribal leaders more autonomy "has not worked the way it should have."
Iran voices outrage at grenade attack on consulate in Afghanistan
Tehran, July 15, IRNA
Iran on Sunday expressed outrage at throwing grenade at its consulate in Qandahar, Afghanistan.
Iran's Foreign Ministry on Sunday condemned the grenade attack on Iranian consulate general in Qandahar, Afghanistan holding Taliban responsible for it.
"After car bombing of the consulate general, it is the second terrorist attack of the group on Iranian representative offices in Afghanistan," said a ministry official.
The Taliban criminal action is another example of its animosity with the Islamic Republic of Iran negating anti-Iran claims of British and US media.
Taliban martyred eight Iranian diplomats and IRNA journalist Mahmoud Saremi in cold-blood on August 8, 1988.
Taliban gunmen had raided Iranian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif spraying bullets on the diplomats and IRNA reporter with automatic rifle.
Eight dead in attacks in eastern Afghanistan
Sun Jul 15, 9:04 AM ET
KHOST, Afghanistan (AFP) - Eight people including five construction workers were killed in a series of weekend attacks in eastern Afghanistan, officials said Sunday.
The five construction workers were killed when a bomb exploded underneath their vehicle in Paktika province, local police chief Sardar Mohammad Zazi said, adding that the device was detonated by remote control.
Two others were wounded in the attack, which the police chief blamed on fighters with links to the Taliban, which has waged a violent insurgency in Afghanistan since being toppled from power in a US-led invasion in late 2001.
Also in Paktika, an Afghan man was killed and three people hurt when a rocket fired from Pakistani territory at a NATO base landed instead on a group of homes in Barmal district, said provincial governor Mohammad Akran Ikhpolwak.
To the north in neighbouring Paktia province, unknown assailants opened fire on the chief of Showak district late Saturday, gunning down two of his bodyguards, deputy provincial police chief Ghulam Dastgir told AFP.
In volatile southern Helmand province, where insurgent attacks occur almost daily, three "very important" Taliban figures were killed on Saturday in clashes with security forces, the defence ministry said in a statement.
And a suspected suicide bomber died late Saturday in eastern Khost province when the explosives he was carrying apparently blew up prematurely, a local spokesman said.
More than 50,000 Western troops, the bulk of them under a NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, are deployed in Afghanistan.
Bin Laden message in website film
BBC News / Sunday, 15 July 2007
Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden has appeared in a video clip on a militant website, the first time he has been heard for more than a year.
But the clip, less than a minute long, is undated and correspondents say it may be re-run footage. Its authenticity also cannot be independently verified.
Osama Bin Laden is filmed outdoors in army fatigues and praises those who die in the name of "holy war".
The US Senate on Friday voted to double the reward on him to $50m (£24.5m).
The clip of the al-Qaeda leader features in a 40-minute video on a militant web site that carries the logo of al-Qaeda's media wing.
The video mainly shows fighters paying tribute to fellow militants killed in Afghanistan.
Bin Laden says: "The happy [man] is the one that God has chosen to be a martyr."
He says the Prophet Mohammed "wished upon himself this status".
The last Bin Laden message - an audio tape in July 2006 - referred to identifiable events, including the situation in Somalia.
However, BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner says this time he makes no reference to recent events, unlike his strategic adviser Ayman al-Zawahiri, whose frequent videos are far more specific.
The bulk of the new video pays tribute to dead militants.
The self-proclaimed leader of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, Mustafa Abu al-Yazeed, praises "courageous knights" who have answered the call "for the sake of God to kick out the occupier who has desecrated the pure soil of Afghanistan".
Another key figure identified on the video is Abu-Yahya al-Libbi, who escaped from US custody at the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan two years ago.
He says the Muslim world is "offering the best of its men and sacrificing the good of its sons... to protect its ideology".
On Friday, the US voted 87-1 to double the reward for the death or capture of Osama Bin Laden.
The vote came amid warnings that al-Qaeda had rebuilt its capacity to mount attacks and was trying to insert agents into the US.
A leaked draft of a new US intelligence report says al-Qaeda is at its strongest since just before the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US.
Ben Laden's capture will be announced when his time is up, editorial
Tehran, July 15, IRNA
As soon as the time is up for Osama Ben Laden, US President George W. Bush will announce capture of the al-Qaeda leader, a Persian daily, Iran, said on Sunday.
The daily said in an editorial that the September 11 terrorist attack in 2001 was made under suspicious circumstances for which Ben Laden was held responsible, but, political observers were aware of the fact that Ben Laden had connections with the US where he had undergone training arranged by the Central Intelligence Agency.
"The CIA had helped Ben Laden organize Taliban in Afghanistan and it was clear that Ben Laden's possible involvement in twin towers terrorist attack could not be successful in the absence of coordination with the neo-conservative war mongers in the White House."
The events which took place in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in the United States helped raise the theory of complicity of the White House in the twin towers explosion, the editorial said.
"Declaration of crusade against Islam and subsequent propaganda campaign against Muslims led to a war against the Muslim Ummah as the great nation standing up to the US hegemony.
"Invasion of Afghanistan put the US on the forefront of clash of civilizations which was the strategic depth of the United States in advancing its hegemony," part of the editorial written by IRNA Managing Director Jalal Fayyazi said.
Citing the occasions when the US media broadcast videotapes of Osama Ben Laden for their own political gains, the editorial said that they released Ben Laden's videotape just three days ahead of presidential election claiming that he will launch another terrorist attack similar to that of September 11.
"The videotape served to divert the US public opinion on the eve of the presidential election, thus ensuring the second term in office for President Bush."
International observers believe that in light of the US intelligence and military superiority, it is very unlikely for the US to be unable to destroy the terrorist networks, it said, adding that the US does not want to arrest Ben Laden.
"Taliban Radio station back On air"
via reporterassociati.org by Nasim Fekrat (*) Arabica Report
Kabul. July 15, 2007 -Radio Voice of Shariat has been launched again by the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. Locals and authorities have accepted that they started broadcasting in the southern provinces.
Radio Voice of Shariat has been heard in the provinces of Paktia, Paktika and Khost. In June 1996, when the Taliban captured the capital of Kabul, they controlled the Radio and TV. They cancelled what they considered ‘female stuff’, and turned off the TV, after which broadcasting through Radio in MW and FM was started. Playing music and broadcasting female sounds was stopped; meanwhile they changed Radio Afghanistan to Radio Voice of Shariat.
Following September 11 and after opposition forces entered Kabul with the help of the US, Radio Voice of Shariat was stopped. And Radio Afghanistan started its broadcasting. According to locals, the programs were already heard during the last few years. According to locals Radio Shariat broadcasts every night from an unknown place on FM band, which can be heard for over a week. Most of their programs are propaganda against the Karzai government and international forces based in Afghanistan.
Their propaganda calls the country occupied and they encourage the people to fight against the government and international forces. Parts of the program are messages of Mullah Mohammad Omer, the Taliban leader that provokes people for Jihad. They do broadcast songs, but without music, the same music was heard during the times when Afghanistan was under their control. The songs do have music; are more provocative and remind the history of Taliban as a good period of their rule. In the songs the Taliban played during their time of rule, the Northern Alliance was described as un-Islamic, and fighting them was called the holy war.
The Taliban used to distribute letters throughout the night, dropping them in the front of house doors, throwing them inside shops, hanging them on walls and especially in mosques. As long as Radio Shariat broadcasts, they are able to have easily access to people, and this will make it easier too for them to reach people and harass them. Without doubt they’re getting more powerful day by day, but this is just one of the signs, now that they launched a mobile FM radio that makes it difficult to trace the place from where they are broadcasting.
(*) - Nasim Fekrat, aged 23: "I was born in the land of pain & injustice. Whatever I want for myself, I wish for others. I write from Kabul, what I see and what I hear from. I am the winner of freedom of_expression blog awards in RSF 2005 - France among seven Bloggers through the world."
AFGHANISTAN: War and lack of commitment hinder transitional justice
KABUL, 15 July 2007 (IRIN) - More than 18 months after its adoption in The Hague, the Netherlands, and seven months after its formal launch, the Action Plan for Truth, Justice and Reconciliation (APTJR) in war-torn Afghanistan has been hindered by lack of political commitment and armed conflict, UN and Afghan officials told IRIN.
"Thus far, the action plan has been almost a complete failure," Ahmad Nader Nadery, a commissioner at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), said this week in the capital, Kabul.
The action plan, also referred to as 'transitional justice', was devised in 2005 – three years after the fall of the Taliban - as a means to address crimes committed by various warring parties over the past three decades in Afghanistan.
The UN and several other international organisations supported AIHRC and the Afghan government in inking a blueprint to deal with rights abuses in the past and reconcile Afghans for a shared future.
Of the five key points of the plan, only one - acknowledgement of past crimes - has been partly executed by the government, Nadery said.
He added that here had been little tangible progress on the other four: a call for truth-seeking and the documentation of past injustices; the promotion of reconciliation and unity; the establishment of an effective accountability mechanism to end impunity; and the establishment of credible and accountable state institutions to ensure the sound and fair distribution of justice for all.
Deadlines not met
Centred around these five points, the action plan sets out recommended actions for the implementation of each point with given deadlines, most of which have already passed with very little or no achievement, officials say.
For example, the first point calls on the Afghan government to assign a national victims' remembrance day, albeit through a formalised event; to establish national memorial sites in the country to honour victims of wars; and to identify a location for a national war museum. A year after the deadline for these tasks passed, none have happened.
The third action point assigns primarily to the AIHRC and to the UN the task of documenting, processing and evaluating all the abuses inflicted on civilians during decades of armed conflict in Afghanistan. The deadline is July 2007, but AIHRC says it will not be able to complete even half of the given task until July 2008.
Lack of commitment
"Due to a lack of political commitment in the government, the action plan has been sidelined," Nadery said. He added that the UN's Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) - an entity that has played a crucial role in the post-Taliban period – should also share some of the blame for the action plan's lack of progress for making "unnecessary political compromises".
"UNAMA has not been outspoken and has not followed it [APTJR] seriously," Nadery said.
Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for UNAMA in Kabul, rejected these allegations, saying the organisation had been a strong advocate for the implementation of transitional justice in the country. "We are making efforts to encourage all parties to identify the bottlenecks and remove them so that we can see a faster implementation of the action plan," Siddique said.
Action plan very ambitious
About 1.5 million Afghans died in the Soviet war from 1979 to 1989, according to numerous accounts. Tens of thousands more died in factional fighting following the overthrow of the Moscow-backed government in April 1992. The Taliban and their opponents have also been widely accused of systematic crimes against humanity from 1996 to late 2001.
Years after their overthrow by a US-led Western coalition in October 2001, the Taliban has resurged in Afghanistan and plunged large swathes of the country into violent insurgency. Thousands of people have died in recurrent armed clashes between Taliban insurgents and Afghan forces, backed by international forces.
Javier Leon-Diaz, a UN expert on transitional justice, said insecurity in the south and east of the country has impeded the implementation of the action plan.
"Transitional justice is a transition from a situation of war to a situation of peace. The problem in Afghanistan is that time [deadlines] is true for parts of the country but not for all the country. I do not think we can begin talking about transitional justice in the south and east while there is war going on there," Leon-Diaz told IRIN in Kabul. "Those who prepared the action plan were very ambitious."
Afghan secret service releases editor
Sat Jul 14, 4:39 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - The editor-in-chief of a government publication, detained two weeks ago by the Afghan secret service, has been released on the orders of President Hamid Karzai, Afghan press associations said on Saturday.
A secret service official, who wished to remain anonymous, confirmed to AFP that Asif Nang had been released on the orders of the president. The secret service did not give an official reason for his arrest.
Arrested on June 30 in Kabul, Nang was "released at the request of President Karzai, because there was no proof of guilt against him," Abdul Mujeeb Khalwatgar, director of Nai, an organisation which supports the Afghan media and journalists, told AFP.
"He was arrested for having published an article in the governmental review Jirga of Peace.
"We asked the government to act, in the future, through the legal framework of justice if it has something against the media or a journalist," he added, pointing to the brief detention by the secret service, also without official explanation, of another Afghan journalist at the beginning of the month.
Nang, who is also a spokesman for Parliamentary Affairs Minister Farouq Wardak, had published an extract, critical of Karzai, of the essay "Wars and globalism: who benefits from September 11?" by Canadian academic Michel Chossudovsky.
Karzai is introduced in the book, published in 2002, as a "puppet" in the pay of the Americans. Afghan media however, quoting anonymous secret service sources, said Nang was suspected of spying for Pakistan.
A$1m bad hair day in Kabul
Dean Nelson July 15, 2007 From The Sunday Times (UK)
Debbie Rodriguez tells how her Afghan beauty salon turned from Hollywood dream to a nightmare
Debbie Rodriquez is tucking into muffins and sipping coffee in one of Delhi’s smart hotel patisseries. She’s laughing loudly, turning heads and drawing stares from onlookers who can’t quite place the tanned brassy woman in her plunging smock top, scarlet toenails and jangling silver bling.
She may be a 46-year-old hairdresser from Michigan but she’s also the author of The Kabul Beauty School, the publishing sensation that made the New York Times top 10 bestseller list in April. Her true story has now been sold to Hollywood for $1m (£490,000).
The Kabul Beauty School charts Rodriguez’s flight from an abusive marriage to a violent preacher in Michigan to Kabul, where she volunteered to help rebuild the country after American and British forces toppled the Taliban.
As a hairdresser, she wasn’t top of the list of what war-ravaged Afghanistan needed most – the only things she could repair were split ends, bad home haircuts, spiny fingernails and overgrown undergrowth – but they turned out to be highly sought after skills in Kabul where the Taliban had banned beauty treatments as “unIslamic”. So with two other westerners she set up the Kabul Beauty School, taught students to transform the city’s women from ghosts in black burqas to Brazilian-waxed goddesses and married an Afghan warlord after a three-week romance. “I guess I have a problem with impulsivity,” she explains.
Her Midwest warmth and ditzy charm created a unique male-free zone where Afghan women, foreign diplomats and aid workers talked freely, and the newly trained salon girls felt able to lift the veil over the violent relationships, sexual abuse and domestic slavery endured by women throughout Afghanistan. Rodriguez tells how one of the girls had been married off by her father at 10 years old to settle a debt, while another girl revealed her father had sold her as a job lot with her mother and sisters to an older uncle. They disclosed rapes and strategies for avoiding sex with their husbands – Islamic custom dictates that men must shower after intercourse, so they often “forgot” to bring home water.
As they learnt the unIslamic arts of bikini waxing, perming and colouring they grew in confidence and began to believe they could become independent providers and buy a bigger stake in their own lives.
Today just under 200 women have passed out as qualified stylists and beauticians, but it’s unlikely Rodriguez will ever see any of them again. At the moment of her greatest triumph, as she returned to Kabul with a million-dollar Hollywood deal in her bag, she was confronted with the corruption, greed and terror Afghans have lived with for decades, but from which she had thus far been shielded.
She had just come back from Los Angeles where she had met Miss Congeniality star Sandra Bullock and Mrs Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, as rivals to play her in the film – she says she prefers Bullock because she was “so funny” – and was buzzing with excitement when the life she had built in Afghanistan was suddenly reduced to rubble. She learnt her husband was a violent cheat and the country she believed was emerging from the dark days of Taliban repression was in fact riddled with corruption and ruled by gangsters.
Until then Rodriguez had felt protected by her husband. Haji Sher Mohammad, 16 years her junior, was a veteran of the Northern Alliance army that opposed the Taliban and was close to General Abdul Rashid Dostum, the notorious Uzbek warlord accused of massacring Taliban prisoners who suffocated after being locked in sealed truck containers. He later became Dostum’s official adviser, but when they met, Sher was the only boss of a small construction firm – and he made her laugh.
Neither spoke the other’s language and they courted using friends as translators. She agreed to marry him on a whim, despite the fact that he was already married with seven children, after he told her western-style dating was unacceptable in Afghanistan.
Over time he learnt English, she picked up Dari and he became more comfortable with her public displays of affection. “Americans are touchy and affectionate, but he freaked out over it at first,” she said.
Despite her husband’s connections, she always felt safe with him and affectionately called him “Fred Flintstone with a rocket launcher”.
The first sign things were not well came shortly before she left for her book tour in April. She had given her husband her $30,000 “emergency fund” to invest in the salon building, but later discovered he’d used it to buy his own carpet factory. “I didn’t have time to fight then,” she said.
But as she was returning from her triumphant US tour with her son Noah she was given a sharp reminder she was coming home to trouble. Her husband called her during her stop-over in Dubai and told her government figures were saying her book had insulted Islam and were preparing a legal case against her.
“He said: ‘You have one month to get out or they will arrest you. We should take some of your money and buy a house in Dubai. If it’s in both our names I can work there.’ I was so scared to go back in [to Kabul],” she said.
When Rodriguez did arrive back in May her salon girls and other friends told her that her husband was involved in a plot to seize her Hollywood windfall and her son would be kidnapped to extort the money. “I didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t,” she said.
Her girls told her that while she was away, a group of well-dressed Afghan women had arrived in a black SUV with armed guards. They had pushed their way into the salon, accusing them of bringing shame on the country.
The women, who the girls believed to be government officials, were waving proof copies of the British edition of her book (published by Hodder & Stoughton), and pointing at photographs showing some of the girls with their heads uncovered. They told the girls they knew who they were and that they would pay for bringing shame on Afghan women.
Rodriguez’s husband deepened her sense of panic when he said he’d been given a copy of the book by someone in Afghan intelligence and hinted that powerful figures would have to be appeased for the problem to go away. “He was saying this can all go away Debbie if we just bribe this person.”
At the end of her first day back at work a friend told her Sher had sexually harassed one of the girls in the salon and another said he had been blackmailing them with a video of them dancing at an all-girl party. He had found it on her computer and said he would show it to their families and tell them they had been giving massages to American soldiers if they revealed his plotting to Rodriguez, she said.
When she confronted him he stormed into the salon with his gun bulging in his pocket. “He denied it all and was shouting at the girls. He wanted to kill Zara because he knew she had told me about it. I realised I didn’t know who he was,” she said.
A customer called in a private security firm that warned Rodriguez to leave the country immediately. In 10 minutes she had packed five years of her life into two suitcases and made her escape, leaving behind her salon girls and what she’d once believed was a happy life. She moved to San Francisco where she is planning to study Arabic at college, but today is in Delhi working on her new project: rescuing the five salon girls she believes are still in grave danger.
Two are still working in the salon, which is now controlled by her estranged husband, another is in a safe house and two have managed to leave the country. Rodriguez is staying in Delhi with Zara, the girl who exposed her husband’s plotting, and who recently arrived from Kabul after a security firm helped to organise her escape.
Rodriguez feels “completely lost” in her new life, she says, and frets that her success has been at her salon girls’ expense. She fears she has inadvertently made their troubled lives worse, and says she won’t rest until they are safe and settled outside of Afghanistan.
“I thought Afghanistan was moving forward – I saw hope for the women and the country – I thought I could make a life there,” she said.
“Now I see they still don’t want women to have a voice and the women are still vulnerable. Strange women scream at them for not covering their heads, they’re scared to death of their husbands, fathers and brothers. It’s the same as it was under the Taliban. I can’t believe that after five years of so-called freedom that these girls are still running.”
It’s not the feelgood story Columbia has paid the big bucks for, but it is the real story of Afghanistan. Rodriguez is hoping her epilogue will make it to the big screen.
Interview: US to help Afghanistan in getting WTO membership
Lalit K. Jha
NEW YORK, July 13 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The United States has assured Afghanistan of all possible support for its inclusion in the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The pledge was made during the three-day visit of the Minister for Commerce and Industries Mir Muhammad Amin Farhang to Washington this week.
"During the meeting, the US officials assured us favourable consideration and their full support in enabling Afghanistan to meet the criteria and standards to become member of the WTO," Farhang told Pajhwok Afghan News in an interview.
Afghanistan's application for becoming member of WTO is pending before the world body for about a year now. Right now, the feasibility of Afghanistan's membership to the WTO is being accessed. "We hope to become WTO member in the next four-five years," the minister said. "We look forward towards integrating Afghanistan to the global economy through WTO."
During his three-day visit, Farhang, who led a nine-member high-power delegation, held consultations with US Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, besides leading the country in the second meeting of the US-Afghanistan Council on Trade and Investment. The minister also signed a joint statement on Commercial Co-operation.
"We had an opportunity to discuss additional areas of co-operation within the framework of TIFA," the minister said. One of the major issues discussed was the launch of the much awaited Reconstruction Opportunity Zone or ROZ in the tribal areas of the Afghan-Pak border, which would give manufacturers an option to export goods to the United States without any taxation.
The proposal had been in the pipeline for quite some time now, and Afghanistan was now eagerly looking towards it being implemented on the ground, he said.
The minister also discussed with his US counterparts the issue of promotion and development of seven export promotion zones in Afghanistan.
Farhang said the US has assured extending full support for the export promotion zones and helping Afghanistan in creating the necessary infrastructure so as to export Afghan goods all over the world, particularly in the American markets.
He said a major advantage to the Afghan farm products - dry/fresh fruits and vegetables - was that they were organic and do not possessed any chemical content.
As people in the developed world are moving fast towards organic products, Afghan farm products have a great export potential. "With the help of the US, we are developing necessary infrastructure to tap this huge market available for us," he said.
Farhang said several US-based companies had shown interest in investing in this sector, as they see huge potential in export of organic farm-products from Afghanistan. "We are in talks with a lot of US companies," he said.
As export of products to the international market required stringent standards, he said the US was helping the country in establishing the Afghanistan National Standard Agency.
The minister also held meeting with officials of Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). The OPIC officials agreed to send a delegation to Afghanistan by the end of the current month to assess the situation there.
During his say in the United States, Farhang also held meeting with Afghan businessmen, including officials of the Afghan American Chambers of Commerce.
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