By Hamid Shalizi Fri Jul 20, 8:03 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Taliban insurgents have kidnapped 23 Korean Christians from a bus in Afghanistan, officials said on Friday, the biggest group of foreigners seized so far in the militant campaign to oust the government and its Western backers.
The Taliban have increasingly turned to what Afghan officials call "terror tactics" -- kidnapping, suicide attacks and roadside bombs to demonstrate that the Afghan government is incapable of providing security to the people.
"Twenty-three Korean citizens, 18 women and five men, were very carelessly traveling in a chartered bus from Kabul to Kandahar yesterday, on the way to Kandahar their bus was stopped by armed men ... and they took them away," said Interior Minister spokesman Zemari Bashari.
He said the incident happened in the Qarabagh district of Ghazni province, some 175 km (110 miles) south of Kabul.
"We are still investigating which organization they were with, and why they were traveling to Kandahar," he said.
A Korean embassy official said a search operation and also negotiations were under way with the kidnappers, who were demanding the release of Taliban prisoners held in Afghan jails.
The Taliban said they had seized 18 Koreans.
"They are safe with us, we are investigating them and our demands and reaction will be announced later," said Taliban spokesman Said Yousuf Ahmadi by telephone from an undisclosed location.
A South Korean Foreign Ministry official in Seoul said about 20 South Korean Christian volunteers were feared to have been kidnapped by Taliban insurgents.
Last year, the South Korean government tried to stop a group of 2,000 Korean Christians traveling to Afghanistan for a peace conference, fearing for their safety.
But 900 of them still came to Afghanistan, causing an uproar in the staunchly Muslim country -- where many accused them of being evangelical missionaries -- before they were all deported.
Afghanistan's ambassador to South Korea was later sacked for issuing the group with visas, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
South Korea has no combat troops in Afghanistan, but has a contingent of 200 engineers, doctors and medical staff.
Two Germans and six Afghans were abducted southwest of Kabul on Wednesday and are still missing.
"The German citizens are safe with us. Our demand is the withdrawal of German troops from Afghanistan and also the release of our prisoners," said Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi.
Germany said it was aware of the Taliban claim.
"We will carefully and calmly pursue developments. All necessary steps have been taken. The emergency task force is working very intensively on a quick release of both men," a German Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement.
One German national was kidnapped in western Afghanistan this month, but was released unharmed after a few days.
The Taliban kidnapped two French aid workers and three of their Afghan colleagues in southwestern Afghanistan in April, but later released them unharmed.
(Additional reporting by Saeed Achakzai in Spin Boldak and Ismail Sameem in Kandahar)
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FACTBOX - Foreign hostages in Afghanistan
Reuters - Friday, July 20 10:59 am
November 2004 - U.N. workers Annetta Flanigan from Northern Ireland, Shqipe Hebibi from Kosovo and Filipino diplomat Angelito Nayan are freed almost four weeks after they were abducted at gunpoint in Kabul. A Taliban splinter faction, Jaish-e Muslimeen (Army of Muslims) - (Reuters) - Taliban insurgents stopped a bus in Afghanistan and kidnapped some of the passengers, including 18 Korean citizens, a local police chief said on Friday.
Following are details of reported kidnappings of foreigners in Afghanistan.
November 2003 - Turkish engineer Hassan Onal is released by Taliban kidnappers after a month in captivity. Onal was seized from a U.S.-funded highway project on October 30.
December 2003 - Two Indians, kidnapped while working on a U.S.-funded road project, are released unharmed.
March 2004 - One Turk is shot and a second kidnapped in an attack in southern Afghanistan. They had been working on the Kabul-Kandahar highway. The kidnapped Turk was later released.
November 2004 - U.N. workers Annetta Flanigan from Northern Ireland, Shqipe Hebibi from Kosovo and Filipino diplomat Angelito Nayan are freed almost four weeks after they were abducted at gunpoint in Kabul. A Taliban splinter faction, Jaish-e Muslimeen (Army of Muslims), said it held them.
December 2004 - A Turkish engineer working on a road-building project between Jalalabad and Kunar is kidnapped. The Interior Ministry later said the body of a kidnapped Turkish construction engineer had been found in eastern Afghanistan.
May 2005 - Clementina Cantoni, an Italian working for the CARE International aid agency, was seized by gunmen in Kabul. She was released unharmed after more than three weeks.
August 2005 - David Addison, a British engineer, was kidnapped when gunmen attacked a convoy in the western province of Farah and killed three police escorts. Addison's body was found on September 3. Taliban rebels said they killed him.
November 2005 - Taliban guerrillas kidnap P.M. Kutty, an engineer with India's state-run Border Road Organisation, in the Khash Rod district of Nimroz province. He was killed on November 22.
March 2006 - Taliban insurgents say they killed four hostages and dumped their bodies in the Kandahar-Helmand area in southern Afghanistan. The four were abducted on March 11. An official at the Ecolog services company in Kabul said four of its workers, ethnic Albanians from Macedonia, were missing.
April 2006 - An Indian engineer, identified as K. Suryanarayan, was found beheaded on April 30 not far from where he was kidnapped near the main road between Qalat, and Ghazni to the north. The Taliban claimed responsibility.
October 2006 - Gabriele Torsello, a London-based photojournalist who is a Muslim, was kidnapped on October 12 by gunmen after he left by bus from Lashkar-Gah, capital of Helmand province in the south. He was released unharmed on November 3.
March 2007 - The Taliban captured Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo of La Repubblica and two Afghans in Helmand province. He is handed over to the Italian embassy on March 19. His Afghan driver was beheaded. His translator was executed on April 8.
April 2007 - The Taliban say they have kidnapped Eric Damfreville, a Frenchman, working for Terre d'Enfance, along with their local driver and two other Afghans in Nimroz province. He is released on May 11. A French woman hostage who also worked for the Terre d'Enfance aid organisation was released in late April by the Taliban after three weeks in captivity.
July 2007 - Two Germans, travelling in a car in Wardak province, southwest of the capital, Kabul, are kidnapped. The identity of the group and who kidnapped them was not clear.
- Taliban insurgents stop a bus in Afghanistan and kidnap 18 Korean citizens.
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Taliban kill 6 police in ambush in southern Afghanistan, 5 civilians die in bombing
The Associated Press - Friday, July 20, 2007
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan: Two separate bombings in southern Afghanistan left five civilians dead Friday, while a Taliban ambush left six police officers dead, officials said.
A car bomb targeting a U.S.-led coalition convoy in Helmand province's Sangin district left two civilians dead and two coalition troops wounded, said Sgt. 1st Class Dean Welch, a coalition spokesman. One coalition vehicle caught fire after the blast, he said.
In Helmand's Marja district, Taliban militants ambushed police on Thursday, leaving six officers dead and two others wounded, said Muhammad Hussein, the provincial police chief.
Two police vehicles were also damaged in the attack, Hussein said. There were no reports of Taliban casualties.
Violence has soared in Afghanistan in the last several weeks. More than 3,300 people have died in insurgency-related violence this year, according to an Associated Press count based on numbers from Afghan and Western officials.
In other violence, a freshly planted mine exploded under a civilian car in Kandahar province's Zhari district on Friday, killing three civilians in it, said Sayed Afghan Saqib, Kandahar's police chief. A similar device exploded next to an Afghan Army convoy in Helmand's Sangin district, wounding three Afghan soldiers.
Militants regularly use such devices to target foreign and Afghan government troops.
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UAE could be first Arab nation to send troops to Afghanistan: report
OTTAWA (AFP) - The United Arab Emirates is planning to send troops to Afghanistan to fight alongside Canadians, at Ottawa's behest to put a "Muslim face" on the NATO-led coalition, media reported Friday.
The Toronto Star, citing unnamed sources, said Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government had been urging the tiny Arab nation to contribute soldiers and equipment to help stabilize war-torn Afghanistan.
Canadian authorities were not immediately available to comment.
If the report is accurate, the Afghanistan deployment is believed to be a first for an Arab nation and a diplomatic coup for Canada.
The UAE was one of only three countries that recognized the hard-line Taliban government that took control of most of Afghanistan in 1996 and was forced out in a US-led invasion in late 2001.
The Toronto daily said the UAE tactical force would be small and mostly symbolic, and serve under Canadian commanders in the field.
The UAE could also send four tanks, several armored reconnaissance vehicles, two self-propelled 155-mm guns and a detachment of unmanned aerial vehicles, according to a military briefing note obtained by the Star.
"The UAE is capable of bringing considerable financial support to development projects and would provide a Muslim face to the International Security Assistance Force operations, providing a counterpoint to insurgent rhetoric," the note said.
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Taliban Claims Shooting Down Helicopter In Eastern Afghanistan
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
ASADABAD, Afghanistan; July 20, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The Taliban claims it shot down a Black Hawk helicopter in eastern Afghanistan today, killing all aboard.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahed told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan in a telephone call from an undisclosed location that the helicopter was shot down in Nuristan Province. A NATO spokesman in eastern
Afghanistan told RFE/RL that a NATO helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing in Nuristan Province today, but all personnel got off of the helicopter safely. The spokesman was unable to confirm the cause of the forced landing.
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British medics in Helmand buy own dressings
By Thomas Harding, Defence Correspondent The Telegraph (UK) Friday, July 20, 2007
Medics on the front line in Afghanistan are so short of life-saving equipment they have to buy items on the internet, Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, has been told.
The aunt of a combat medic working in Helmand province informed Mr Browne that her nephew had to buy two £10 chest seals from a website.
The scandal of poor medical provision comes after The Daily Telegraph disclosed this week that casualty rates in Afghanistan and Iraq were close to passing the 11 per cent rate sustained by units in the Second World War.
The troops are still experiencing kit shortages more than a year after deploying to Afghanistan despite Tony Blair's promise that the military would have any equipment it needed before he left office.
In a letter to Mr Browne, Alison Wiltshire, the aunt of the medic she names only as "Dan", quoted directly from a letter he sent her.
He wrote: "If the public knew what was happening out here then they would demand an end to it instantly."
Colleagues would die unnecessarily because a lack of funding meant that he was ill-equipped to deal with emergencies, the soldier said.
A pouch containing vital first aid equipment was taken from him and "given to people in more hostile areas".
"What do we have to treat them? Well I have nothing, despite being a team medic."
Miss Wiltshire, from north London, told Mr Browne: "I am utterly appalled that we are sending young men and women to war without even the most basic of medical care. This Government should be ashamed of itself."
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AFGHANISTAN: Malaria cases set to rise in 2007
KABUL, 19 July 2007 (IRIN) - Flooding, armed conflict and population displacements are factors likely to increase malaria cases in Afghanistan this year, public health officials warn.
"In 14 high-risk provinces the number of malaria patients will surpass that of 2006," Abdulwase Ashaa, director of the national anti-malaria department, told IRIN on 19 July in Kabul.
"Malaria harms the health and wellbeing of our nation and thus affects our efforts for development and prosperity," Ashaa said.
After 2002, malaria cases declined when the country received international assistance to improve its shattered public heath system.
However, over 260,000 cases of malaria were confirmed throughout Afghanistan in 2006, the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) reported.
Officials say floods and heavy rainfall caused extensive destruction across the war-torn country in the last eight months. Water became contaminated which created an environment conducive to the spread of the malaria parasite.
This year, thousands of confirmed malaria cases have already been reported from some eastern, southern and northern provinces, where the disease is considered prevalent.
August and September are malaria's peak months when thousands of people, mostly women and children, fall prey to the disease.
Children under five and pregnant women are considered the most susceptible victims, experts say.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over one million people die of malaria every year in the world, most of them children and pregnant women.
In Afghanistan, almost 30 percent of Afghan children suffer anaemia for which malaria is a major contributing factor, a joint WHO and government of Afghanistan report found in 2005.
"Displaced and repatriating families are particularly vulnerable to malaria infection due to their insecure living conditions," said Najibullah Sapai, a WHO expert in Kabul.
Health officials say up to 90 percent of malaria cases in 2006 were non-lethal 'Plasmodium Vivax' and the remainder were 'Plasmodium Falciparum', which can be fatal.
Although Afghanistan's first malaria control organisation was established in 1948, the country will start recording numbers of malaria deaths from 2007, government officials said.
In an effort to curb the spread of the disease in 2007, some 454,000 insecticide-treated mosquito nets will be distributed to vulnerable families in 14 provinces, Ashaa added.
Public health officials have also started work on a five-year anti-malaria national strategy through which over US$28 million - provided by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria - will be spent on various preventive as well as curative measures.
Health workers say they will be able to curb the spread of the illness should an outbreak occur in the coming months.
However, growing insecurity in south and southeast of the country has impeded counter-malaria efforts. "Insecurity has also affected our efforts to prevent the disease in some parts of the country," Ashaa said.
"We do not have access to some districts in Kandahar Province where malaria is a major health problem," said Abdulbari Hairat, a public health official in Kandahar.
Health officials in Kandahar's neighbouring Helmand Province - where more than 1,800 cases of malaria have been confirmed over the past few months - expressed similar concerns and condemned unrelenting armed conflict as a main obstacle in their anti-malaria efforts.
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India rejects "baseless" reports on RAW-trained Afghan bombers
Press Trust Of India
Islamabad, July 20, 2007 - Amid a spate of suicide bombings in Pakistan following the Lal Masjid operation, officials and an opposition leader have reportedly alleged that most of these attacks were carried out by "Afghan" bombers trained by Indian intelligence agencies, a charge rejected as "baseless" and "mischievous" by the Indian mission here.
Pakistani intelligence agencies during a meeting chaired by Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao on Wednesday claimed that 25 "Afghan terrorists" had links with RAW agents in Indian consulates at Jalalabad and Kandahar, 'Daily Times' reported quoting officials.
Also, Gen Nasarullah Babar, former Interior Minister and a senior leader of ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP), alleged during a meeting of lawyers in Nowshera in NWFP that agents of RAW working through the Indian consulates in Afghanistan were responsible for the current bomb blasts in Pakistan, 'The News' reported.
Reacting to the reports, an Indian diplomat in Islamabad told PTI that "these are baseless and mischievous allegations and we reject them entirely. As we have said before when such reports surfaced, a stable peaceful and prosperous Pakistan is in India's own interest.
"The sources for such reports seek to vitiate the current friendly atmosphere and dialogue process between the two countries. India is determined not to fall into their trap. We are sure the government of Pakistan shares this determination."
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Islamabad to take up issue of ‘171 RAW-trained terrorists’ with Kabul
Daily Times (Pakistan) Friday, July 20, 2007
ISLAMABAD: Islamabad is set to take up with Kabul the issue of “171 RAW-trained
Afghan terrorists” who intelligence agencies say sneaked into Pakistan two months ago and are yet to be traced.
Intelligence agencies suspect that these Afghans were involved in the recent spate of suicide bombings in Pakistan. Sources told Daily Times that intelligence agencies informed a meeting chaired by Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao on Wednesday that 25 of the 171 Afghans had links with RAW agents in Indian consulates at Jalalabad and Kandahar.
The sources said that the Afghans had crossed the border via Torkham and Chaman two months ago and had spread in the settled areas of the NWFP, Sindh and Punjab for suicide bombings.
The sources said that the intelligence agencies ruled out Al Qaeda’s role in the recent terrorist incidents and held the RAW network responsible for the suicide bombings in Islamabad, NWFP and other parts of the country.
The sources said that the government had decided to take up this issue with the Afghan government through diplomatic channels. They added that the Foreign Office representative present at the meeting had been asked to prepare a draft of all evidence of RAW activities for taking up the matter with the Afghan government.
The sources said that the meeting had also decided to deploy Punjab Rangers for the security of the Diplomatic Enclave, foreign missions, sensitive installations, important personalities and maintaining law and order in the federal capital. They said that 60 platoons of the Frontier Constabulary were being sent back to the NWFP to tighten security in the restive province.
The sources said that the Interior Ministry had sanctioned the recruitment of 7,500 personnel for the Islamabad Capital Territory Police, and asked the Punjab police to recruit more personnel as well.
The Interior Ministry has ordered the Islamabad district administration and the police to submit a report on the criminal record of militant suspects in the federal capital as well as information about the staff and security situation of all private organisations.
The meeting also decided to issue orders to the provincial home departments and the Islamabad administration to tighten security for the Pakistan People’s Party leadership after the blast at the party’s camp set up to welcome Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry on Tuesday night.
The meeting issued directions to the district coordination officers and district police officers to ensure that no Islamic organisation arranged big gatherings so that anti-state elements could not exploit the situation.
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Afghanistan: NATO Sees 'Tribal' Nature To Taliban Insurgency
By Ahto Lobjakas
BRUSSELS, July 20, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- NATO's top intelligence officer in Afghanistan, Canadian Brigadier General Jim Ferron, says the tribal nature of the dominant Pashtun population makes the Taliban insurgency difficult to contain.
Speaking to a small group of journalists over a video link from Kabul on July 19, Ferron also said NATO believes the insurgency's roots are in the economic deprivation prevalent in Afghanistan, and not in implacable religious fundamentalism.
At the midpoint of his yearlong stint as chief intelligence officer of NATO's International Stabilization Force for Afghanistan (ISAF), Ferron readily admits there is little that is tangible or clear-cut about the problems he's grappling with.
Given the complexity and hermetic nature of Afghan society, NATO officials say there is no hard data on the number of insurgents, their precise composition, or motives.
Ferron says NATO is "very concerned" about the possible financial support, training, and ideological guidance the Taliban movement might be providing to what he describes as "traditional" Afghan insurgents. But he adds the caveat that NATO "does not have enough of an understanding" of the specifics of this relationship.
Tribal, Not National Organization
Much of what NATO has to go on is limited to deductions from basic facts. Ferron repeatedly highlighted the importance of the fact that Pashtun society, which provides most recruits to the Taliban, straddles the Afghan-Pakistani border and traditionally pays little heed to the frontier.
"As we all know, the Afghan insurgency is essentially a tribal-based organization, and tribes -- and this is not a political statement about borders -- but tribes, such as the Pashtun, do not recognize borders," he said.
"They base their movement along traditional lines and along their historical culture. So the fact that we see the insurgency moving across the Pakistan-Afghan border is not secret, [the question] is how we interdict or how we stop that," Ferron concluded.
Ferron said that puts Pakistan in an immensely influential position. He said Afghanistan is likely to be affected by the events that have followed the recent storming by Pakistani forces to wrest the Red Mosque from militants barricaded inside. Ferron said Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has promised NATO to follow up the siege of the Red Mosque with further initiatives against the frequently Pashtun insurgents.
Ferron said that the insurgents -- mostly concentrated in North and South Waziristan along the border with Afghanistan -- face a choice: They must either fight the Pakistani Army or cross over to Afghanistan.
Ferron said NATO is ready if they choose the second option. But Ferron also warned that the spillover of a growing radicalization of ethnic Pashtuns in Pakistan into Afghanistan may be unavoidable if it allowed a "stranglehold" on one region.
"So, if you take a communications network which is a tribal network -- and [given] that the Pashtuns are tribal, something that would be in effect in Pakistan, [that is] the 'Talibanization' [referred to in the question] -- if it does have an opportunity to take a stranglehold or to become stronger in one region, there is a definite potential that it moves stronger throughout that entire 'Pashtun belt,'" Ferron said.
Ferron identified the rejection of Western influence as an important motivating factor in the mostly Pashtun-derived insurgency in southern and eastern Afghanistan.
"If you take the component parts of these combatants and this theater, there are certainly those elements which have an ideological basis, an ideological belief, that what is happening in their country does not meet with their ideals in terms of governance, and, yes, I'll say religion," he said.
But Ferron quickly qualified this by saying he does not like to use the term "fundamentalism." He also emphasized that there are many Pashtuns who have not joined the insurgency.
Ferron said he believes the deeper causes of the insurgency are social in nature -- poverty, lack of economic opportunities, and insufficient levels of education. He says these factors might trump ideological fervor when it comes to the motives of the young men joining the insurgency.
"Who is 'the enemy' in Afghanistan? Who is 'the enemy'? 'The enemy' is illiteracy, it's poverty, it's unemployment," he said. "It is the social factors that do not allow a vibrant economy. So when you have young men, primarily, who may or may not be in a Pashtun tribe, [and who] have nothing else, they go potentially to the insurgency motivated by money, not necessarily by an ideological foundation."
Opium As Livelihood
Ferron said opium-poppy cultivation in Afghanistan further complicates matters. For many farmers, poppy growing constitutes their livelihood and, faced with the eradication drive, they have two options -- give up their livelihood or fight for it.
Ferron noted that if they fight, the poppy farmers automatically become insurgents from NATO's point of view. He said poppy growers, the criminal gangs trafficking heroin, and the Taliban live in a "symbiotic relationship." They all may have different aims, but they all need money to achieve them, and that is why all need the drug trade.
Ferron observed that in Afghanistan's north, the insurgency is mostly "criminal" in nature, linked to the interests of drug traffickers.
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Power, politics and poppies
The Guardian, UK, 07/18/2007 By Robert Fox
The Commons report on Afghanistan reaches some straightforward conclusions, but there are bigger questions that need to be addressed.
The problem with parliament's latest critique of British operations in Afghanistan is that so much of what's wrong, and needs to be done, lies beyond the control of Britain, its parliament and forces, and Afghanistan. The House of Commons defence committee has just handed down a thoughtful, detailed, sobering and, in the end, constructive report on what Britain is now trying to do there.
I would say that wouldn't I? I was one of two-dozen witnesses who reported to the committee. No off-record, hiding behind the political or diplomatic sofa, and all the omertà in which officialdom now indulges itself. After my testimony to the committee I was congratulated and vilified equally for naming names, attributing sources for ideas and statements. Quelle surprise! I told one elderly statesman I was a journalist, and that the problem with unattributed remarks on such occasions from journos, politicians or generals is that they all seem to come from the imagination and pen of that well-known sage, AJ Makeitup.
The straightforward conclusions that the Brits have problems with resources in manpower, equipment and finance, cannot be contested. That they are defeating the Taliban at virtually every turn is also true. More difficult are the bigger questions: how long can the Helmand operation be sustained at present cost to manpower and equipment, how can drug production be mitigated, and how can the government be sustained in Kabul?
The more the fighting goes on, there is a danger that the British public will lose heart and be more reluctant to see their sons and daughters committed to this particular fray. As the Commons committee says, too few of the Nato allies are prepared to put money and soldiers into the operation - they just don't see it as in their interest.
But when the likes of Lord Ashdown of Peacekeeping says that "this is the test of Nato as Bosnia was of the UN", we are all entitled to give a collective "Eh?"
To paraphrase JF Kennedy's inaugural, it is not a question of what Afghanistan can do for Nato (coherence, identity, future purpose, etc) but what Nato, its parts, its nations and peoples, can do for Afghanistan.
The central issue for the British in Afghanistan is whether their current mission, and the concept of operations for pursuing it, makes sense. The stated purposes of the Blair-Brown administration for Afghanistan is fourfold: to sustain an independent pluriform government in Kabul, to whack the Taliban insurgents, to beat the drugs business and to stop a resurgence of al-Qaida.
The problem with the first job, to sustain a new pluriform government in Kabul, is that too much is riding on Hamid Karzai. He won't be there forever, for three years more at maximum, and the outside world musty prepare for what comes next.
The fight against opium production is not going well - with production up 60% last year - admittedly that was before the Brits got to Helmand, the biggest growing area. But bashing the Taliban in Helmand and threatening eradication is not the answer - the collateral damage is too great. Farmers I spoke to earlier this year equated completely the threatened and actual violence of the Taliban and the drugs Mafiosi and the bombs and ordnance from the RAF and USAF: "They all do the same thing," one desperate farmer in Panjwei told me, "they kill our families." This will worsen if the Americans go ahead with plans for the aerial spraying of poppy fields - because they'll kill almost anything else that can grow there, too.
The poppies may grow along the Helmand valley, but that is not the centre of gravity, the nerve centre, of the opium and heroin industry - that lies in the cities, Kandahar, Jalalabad and Kabul, and uncomfortably close to what purports to be the elected government. Trashing the peasants and their meagre fields and farms is likely to drive thousands more recruits to the Taliban.
Similarly very few of the real sources of power, command and recruitment of the Taliban lie in the areas where the British, Americans, Dutch, Danes and Canadians are now fighting. So much of their succour and deep support, supplies in recruits and ordnance comes from over the border, in Pakistan and to a lesser degree Iran.
This is what makes Pervez Musharraf such a tricky ally. In a way he is South Asia's Ethelred the Unready, always paying Danegeld to foes real and imaginary, religious fundamentalists, the Baluch, Benazir Bhutto and the followers of Nawaz Sharif. The path to stabilising Afghanistan lies through Islamabad, Lahore and Quetta, and to an extent Tehran and Qom. It cannot be solved by Keystone Cops search-and-destroy operations against the enemy du jour in southern Afghanistan, alone.
The campaign against the terrorists of al-Qaida and its disciples raises the most awkward questions. Why has the rooting out of the cell of the historic founder, Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, whether by Pakistan, USD, UK, Canadian, French and Australian special forces been so unsuccessful? They haven't got near the man with soft brown eyes, long beard, and psychopathic political philosophy.
Here, the UK and the US missions diverge, and this needs to be recongised. What goes on among the preachers, promoters and practitioners of Salafist nihilistic revolution in Pakistan, and by extension Afghanistan, is of direct concern for the domestic security of the UK in a way that it isn't for the US. This needs to be recognised more candidly and publicly.
The real need of any report on the UK and its role and activity in Afghanistan is to state quite plainly what the strategic and tactical aims are - for the British people before we start babbling about notions of solidarity with Nato and other allies. This must be a priority for any future such reports. But before that we must hear the why, where, how and what Britain is about in Afghanistan now, from our new prime minister Gordon Brown - and before he goes off on holiday next week.
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Afghans eagerly awaiting Musharraf’s visit to Kabul
Karzai hopes joint Jirga to help restore peace
By Behroz Khan The News International (Pakistan)
KABUL: Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said that his government and the people of Afghanistan will accord a warm welcome to President General Pervez Musharraf and members of the Peace Jirga from Pakistan with the hope of winning peace and countering terrorism.
“We are very much hopeful of the outcome of the Peace Jirga. This will be the sign of brotherhood and friendship for the people of Pakistan from Afghanistan,” the Afghan president told a select group of Pakistani journalists at the Presidential Palace here on Thursday.
The journalists were especially invited to Kabul by the Afghan government to brief them about the arrangements and formation of the Jirga to be held in the second week of August in Kabul.
During his meeting with President Musharraf in the presence of the US President George W Bush in Washington on September 27 last year, President Karzai had proposed the joint Peace Jirga.
About the composition of the Afghan part of the Jirga, Karzai said that 350 members had been selected from all over Afghanistan representing all the ethnic groups including parliamentarians, tribal elders and Ulema. He said he would also like to see that the Pakistani politicians including Maulana Fazlur Rehman as well as Awami National Party, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party and all other parties are represented in the Pakistani half of the Jirga.
Pakistan will also send a 350-member Jirga to discuss and find solution to the problem of terrorism, which is affecting both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Afghan president hoped that results of the Peace Jirga would be positive and both the governments would ensure implementation of the joint declaration of the Jirga. The Jirga would be in session for three-and-a-half days wherein President Musharraf and President Karzai would also address the elders.
“There is a positive change on the part of Pakistan. Trust has been restored. This is a big change that Pakistan has agreed to convening of the peace Jirga,” the Afghan president said. “Extremism and terrorism are a common threat, which need to be handled jointly. Pakhtuns are dying and suffering on the one side of the Durand Line and the Afghans on the other,” he said.
The Afghan president said that what was happening in Swat and Bajaur was replicated in Helmand and other provinces of Afghanistan where these extremists stop girls from getting education or their schools were destroyed. “Who are the people who push the nation backward? They are blasting our roads, schools and hospitals,” he said.
Karzai said he did not indulge in blame game but the reality was that what was happening in the tribal areas and other parts of Pakistan was the result of what Afghanistan had been warning of. He said that Pakistan and Afghanistan were fighting a common enemy and any help Islamabad needed from Kabul would be extended. “We are of the belief that helping Pakistan in the fight against terrorism is in fact helping Afghanistan,” he said.
President Karzai said that he was not in favour of fencing the Pak-Afghan border or infesting it with mines because it would not separate the terrorists from the peaceful people but would divide the people and families.
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ISAF SAYS SOPHISTICATED BOMBS IN AFGHANISTAN DO NOT ORIGINATE IN IRAQ
7/20/07 A EurasiaNet Partner Post from RFE/RL
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) announced on July 19 that five explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) have been found in Afghanistan this year, but it said the sophisticated bombs do not appear to come from the same source as those used in Iraq, Xinhua News Agency reported. EFPs are a type of explosive device capable of penetrating armored vehicles.
Colonel Tom Kelly, a deputy chief of ISAF counterexplosives operations, told a press conference in Afghanistan that no EFPs have been found in Afghanistan before this year. But he said that ISAF does not see a link between the EFPs found in Iraq and those found in Afghanistan, which he said have "their own unique signature."
He added that most militants in Afghanistan seem to lack access to the complex technology needed to construct EFPs.
U.S. and NATO officials have previously expressed concern that EFPs may be entering Afghanistan via Al-Qaeda elements in Iraq, Pakistan, or Iran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5 and 20, 2007).
In particular, U.S. State Department officials have stated that the United States has "irrefutable evidence" that arms shipments to Afghanistan are coming from Iran’s government, an allegation both Iran and Afghanistan have dismissed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 15, 2007). JC
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Another US nudge for Pakistan
Asia Times Online Friday, July 20, 2007 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - The US intelligence community's latest assessment of al-Qaeda and the threat it poses to the homeland appears to have both renewed questions about the wisdom of invading Iraq and returned the spotlight to increasingly strife-ridden Pakistan.
The latest National Intelligence Estimate, a two-page unclassified version of which was released in Washington on Tuesday, found that al-Qaeda has largely rebounded from its eviction from Afghanistan nearly six years ago and reconstituted both its central organization and some of its training and operational capacities, leading to a "heightened threat environment" for the United States itself.
According to the report, which represents a consensus judgment of Washington's 16 intelligence agencies, the group's resurgence has been made possible primarily by the "safe haven" it has enjoyed in the tribal areas of western Pakistan and also by its association with al-Qaeda in Iraq, which has helped to "energize the broader Sunni extremist community, [to] raise resources, and to recruit and indoctrinate operatives".
Those conclusions were immediately seized on by critics, including the Democratic leadership in Congress, of the administration's anti-terror strategy. They have long argued that the invasion of Iraq in early 2003 not only diverted crucial resources and attention from Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also acted as an extraordinarily effective recruitment tool for al-Qaeda and like-minded militants.
"Iraq matters because it has become a cause celebre and because groups like al-Qaeda in Iraq and al-Qaeda central exploit the image of the US being out to occupy Muslim lands," Paul Pillar, a retired senior Middle East analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), told the Washington Post in an analysis titled "Intelligence puts rationale for [Iraq] war on shakier ground".
As he did within the CIA before the invasion, Pillar has argued that Washington's military intervention in Iraq has actually fueled radical Islamist forces, including al-Qaeda.
Indeed, the new estimate, the first on al-Qaeda's potential threat to the United States since the attacks of September 11, appears to have revived a long-standing debate over the administration's contention that Iraq constitutes the "central front in the 'war on terrorism'," an assertion President George W Bush himself has curiously based mainly on a similar statement by al-Qaeda's leader, Osama bin Laden.
Counter-terrorism experts, particularly from the intelligence community, have long questioned that thesis, and the latest estimate, as indicated by the Post article's headline, clearly backs them up by stressing that Pakistan-based al-Qaeda and its extended network of affiliates and operatives remain "the most serious threat" to the US homeland.
The Bush administration has long prodded the government of Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf to attack suspected al-Qaeda bases in the tribal areas that border Afghanistan, and its army did so with some success between late 2001 and 2004, when it captured or killed a number of high-ranking al-Qaeda operatives, sometimes with the help of US intelligence and its Predator missiles.
But after a series of clashes with local Taliban and foreign forces, the army over the past 18 months withdrew from North and South Waziristan and other parts of the mostly Pashtun Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in exchange for pledges by tribal leaders there to expel foreign fighters and prevent infiltration of Taliban forces into Afghanistan.
In fact, the army's departure left the region in the control of the Pakistani Taliban, which provided al-Qaeda the kind of safe haven it needed not only to rebuild its capabilities, but also to begin to exert its influence aggressively over neighboring territories and even into Islamabad.
Indeed, it was last week's bloody denouement to the protracted army siege of the capital's Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) that resulted in the breakdown of the Waziristan peace accords and a series of attacks and suicide bombings, including in Islamabad. Musharraf, who was encouraged by Washington to confront the militants who controlled the Red Mosque, has responded by deploying troops into tribal areas.
"Some military action is necessary and will probably have to be taken," said Richard Boucher, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, who announced that Washington hopes to provide most of the US$350 million Musharraf has requested to help train, equip and deploy Pakistani forces, including a proposed new "Frontier Corps", to the tribal regions to enforce the central government's writ there.
Washington has already pledged some $750 million over five years to FATA to promote economic development, but total aid still amounts to less than what the US military spends in Iraq in just four days.
Boucher added that the decision by Musharraf, who also faces a growing opposition movement from the secular political parties, to attack the mosque has "pretty much crossed a line, and there's no going back".
The Bush administration indeed hopes that Musharraf and the military will carry the fight into the tribal areas and, in so doing, disrupt al-Qaeda's infrastructure there to the greatest extent possible.
"I think that what you will see is a disruption of extremists, both al-Qaeda-related extremists and also local extremists who are engaged in cross-border attacks in Afghanistan," Robert Grenier, another former CIA official, told a public-television interviewer this week.
But more aggressive military action also carries serious risks to Musharraf, who, according to some accounts, was forced into the withdrawal agreements by his own army commanders.
"They're very afraid of sparking a wider civil war among the Pashtuns of Pakistan, because one has to remember that most Pashtuns live in Pakistan, not in Afghanistan, but they identify very closely with the Pashtuns of Afghanistan," Anatol Lieven, a South Asia expert at the New America Foundation, said on the same program. "And the Pashtuns also contribute disproportionately to the Pakistani army."
That concern was echoed by Alexis Debat, a regional specialist at the Nixon Center in Washington. "There are a lot tensions now between Pashtuns and Punjabis, and if you hit the Pashtuns, then the secular Punjabis are happy, and if Pashtuns and Punjabis start killing each other, the implications would be extremely serious," he told Inter Press Service. "The thing I see as a threat, even in the short term, is that Pakistan just breaks down."
Another problem, he said, is that "the Pakistani military does not really have the capacity to fight an insurgency in the tribal areas. The few operations they mounted in [the Waziristans] really didn't go well at all, and they just threw in the towel."
If indeed the Pakistan Army proves either unable or unwilling to undertake offensive operations, pressure in the United States may grow for direct US intervention beyond the covert intelligence and limited special-operations cooperation that Washington currently provides.
White House spokesman Tony Snow commented, "We certainly do not rule out options, and we retain the option, especially, of striking actionable targets. But it is clearly of the utmost importance to go in there [Pakistan] and deal with the problem in the tribal areas."
But most analysts warn against any move in that direction. "It would lead to major riots throughout Pakistan and the Arab world, and it would lead to certainly a major insurgency against US forces," Seth Jones, a South Asia specialist at the Rand Institute, told the American Broadcasting Co (ABC News).
(Inter Press Service)
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Pakistan court reinstates top judge
By STEPHEN GRAHAM Associated Press / Friday, July 20, 2007
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - The Supreme Court on Friday reinstated Pakistan's top judge, ruling that his suspension by President Gen. Pervez Musharraf was illegal and dealing a major blow to the authority of the staunch U.S. ally.
The ruling to reinstate Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry is probably the biggest challenge to Musharraf's dominance since he seized power in a coup in 1999. It could further complicate his bid to win a new five-year presidential term this fall and comes at a time when Islamic militants are on the offensive.
Lawyers celebrated outside the court, chanting "Go, Musharraf, go!" The verdict also prompted celebrations among gatherings of hundreds of lawyers in major cities, including Karachi, Multan, Faisalabad, Quetta, Peshawar and Rawalpindi.
"Thank God, we got justice," said Ahsan Bhund, president of the Lahore High Court Bar Association, as he marched on a main city road with 500 other lawyers.
In a brief statement, a spokesman for Musharraf said he accepted the ruling by presiding Justice Khalil-ur-Rehman Ramday that the president's order suspending Chaudhry was "set aside as being illegal."
"The president respects the decision of the Supreme Court," Musharraf's spokesman, Rashid Qureshi, was quoted as saying by state-run Associated Press of Pakistan. "The president has stated earlier that any judgment the Supreme Court arrives at will be honored, respected and adhered to."
Exiled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto declared it to be one of the most remarkable judgments in the history of Pakistan's judiciary.
The movement in support of Chaudhry had "turned into struggle against dictatorship, (for the) restoration of the Constitution and for supremacy of the Parliament," she said in a statement.
At the State Department, deputy spokesman Tom Casey said the reinistatement was in keeping with constitutional procedures and "respects the rule of law."
He also praised the fact the court is "capable of making independent decisions."
Chaudhry's March 9 suspension had sparked protests by lawyers and opposition parties that have grown into a powerful pro-democracy movement just as Musharraf faces a rising tide of Islamic militancy.
The lawyers swarmed around the justice's chief counsel, Aitzaz Ahsan, as he told reporters that the case alleging misconduct by Chaudhry had been "quashed."
"He has been restored and it is a victory for the entire nation," Ahsan said.
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said he accepted the ruling and appealed for national unity as Pakistan moves toward elections.
"I would like to emphasize that we must all accept the verdict with grace and dignity reflective of a mature nation. This is not the time to claim victory or defeat. The Constitution and the law have prevailed and must prevail at all times," he was quoted as saying by the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan.
A top Pakistani human rights activists declared the verdict as an assertion of the independence of the judiciary and a victory for civil society.
"It's very clear that guns and intimidation will not bow down civil society or civil institutions of Pakistan," said Asma Jehangir, chair of the nongovernment Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
Musharraf suspended Chaudhry for allegedly pulling rank to secure a police job for his son and enjoying unwarranted privileges such as the use of government aircraft.
The government insists the case has no political motive and that Musharraf had little choice under the constitution but to suspend Chaudhry.
However, opponents accuse Musharraf of plotting to remove an independent-minded judge to forestall legal challenges to his plan to ask lawmakers for another term.
The assertion of judicial independence in a country long dominated by its military will likely be widely viewed as an important step toward democracy in Pakistan, but the setback for Musharraf casts new uncertainty over the political future of this key ally of the West in fighting terrorism.
Aziz said the coming months "hold the key to a democratic, economically vibrant and an Islamic Pakistan."
"We must all unite against the current wave of extremism and militancy," he said.
Since suspending Chaudhry, Musharraf's support has been crumbling both among voters and his political allies, particularly after he came out in support of a pro-government party widely believed to be behind violent clashes against Chaudhry supporters in Karachi in May that killed over 40 people.
However, more recently, Pakistan's deteriorating security situation has overshadowed the judicial crisis. Suicide attacks, bombings and fighting between security forces and Islamic militants has killed about 290 people since clashes between the army and radicals in Islamabad's Red Mosque broke out July 3.
The violence has also hit the protest movement surrounding the chief justice. On Tuesday, a suicide bomber killed 18 people at a rally of Chaudhry's supporters in the capital.
In the latest violence, clashes broke out Friday between Pakistani troops and militants in North Waziristan after a suicide car bomber hit a security checkpoint, killing four people, officials said.
The attack on the outskirts of the main town of Miran Shah, which killed a soldier and three male civilians, came hours after a 45-member delegation of tribal elders began talks with pro-Taliban militant leaders to resurrect a controversial peace deal and stem spiraling violence.
The latest attack comes a day after three suicide bombings killed at least 51 people.
As the tribal elders were meeting with militant leaders in Miran Shah, a man detonated the car bomb when asked to stop at a checkpoint, according to two local security officials.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists, said security forces backed by a helicopter gunship raided an alleged militant hide-out, triggering a shootout. It was not immediately clear whether the militants suffered casualties.
Violence has spread from Pakistan's tribal areas to the capital and elsewhere since last week when militants abandoned a 2006 peace deal they signed with the government to stop attacks on troops and officials.
The militants ended the agreement after the army's bloody assault on Islamabad's Red Mosque last week.
On Friday, tribal elder Malik Nasrullah told The Associated Press before entering talks with militant leaders he was "optimistic" the peace deal with the government could be revived.
"We will meet with them to request that they reverse their decision to end the peace agreement," said Nasrullah.
The government has attached high hopes to the success of the peace talks despite criticism from the United States that it has allowed more freedom for al-Qaida to base itself at the frontier.
The meeting came a day after a suicide bomber driving a car hit a convoy carrying Chinese workers, killing 29 Pakistani bystanders and police, and prompting Musharraf to call for national unity against extremists.
Thursday's attack targeting a minibus carrying about 10 Chinese technicians occurred as their convoy was passing through the main bazaar in Hub, a town in Baluchistan province near the southern port city of Karachi.
Later Thursday, a suicide attacker detonated a bomb at a mosque in an army cantonment in the northwestern town of Kohat, killing at least 15 people, officials said.
Also Thursday, a suicide car bomber detonated his explosives when guards prevented him from entering the parade ground of a police academy in another northwestern town, Hangu. Six bystanders and one policeman died.
Associated Press Writer Bashirullah Khan in Miran Shah, Pakistan, contributed to this story.
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