By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan villagers found the body of a German aid worker kidnapped in southern Afghanistan, a police chief said Sunday, while a delegation of South Korean officials arrived hours before a purported evening deadline set for 23 Korean hostages.
The body of the German was found in southern Wardak province, where two Germans and five Afghans were kidnapped on Wednesday, said provincial police chief Mohammad Hewas Mazlum.
A purported Taliban spokesman on Saturday said militants shot and killed the Germans because Germany hadn't pledged to pull its 3,000 troops from Afghanistan. But Afghan and German officials said intelligence indicated that one died of a heart attack and the other was still alive.
Mazlum said he did not immediately know the cause of death of the German whose body was recovered.
The eight-man Korean delegation planned to meet with President Hamid Karzai and Afghanistan's foreign and interior ministers, said Sidney Serena, a political affairs officer at the Korean Embassy in Kabul.
A senior South Korean official said the team would negotiate with the Taliban through intermediaries. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, who claims to speak for the Taliban, has said the hard-line militia would release the 23 Koreans in exchange for the freedom of 23 Afghan prisoners. The militants kidnapped the Koreans on Thursday while they were riding on a bus from Kabul to the southern city of Kandahar.
Ahmadi has said that 7 p.m. Sunday was the deadline for the Afghan government to agree to the trade. Neither the Afghan nor Korean governments have commented on the purported offer.
U.S. and Afghan forces moved into the region in southern Ghazni province where the Koreans are thought to be but haven't started any offensive operations, the Afghan Defense Ministry said.
"We will only launch rescue operations or military action at the request of the Afghan and Korean governments," said U.S. Lt. Col. David Accetta. "We do not want to jeopardize the lives of the Korean civilians, and we expect that the governments of Korea and Afghanistan can secure their release peacefully through negotiations."
Serena said the 23 South Koreans, including 18 women, work at an aid organization called the Korea Foundation in Kandahar.
Though the Koreans have been reported to be Christians, Serena said the embassy "strongly denies" that they were carrying out any sort of religious activities.
The chief of the South Korean parliamentary defense committee, Kim Sung-gon, said Sunday in Seoul that the country's 210 troops in Afghanistan have started preparations to pull out of the country by the end of the year as planned.
The Defense Ministry stressed that the process had begun well before the Taliban demanded the withdrawal of South Korean troops from the war-ravaged country.
Associated Press reporter Kwang-Tae Kim contributed to this report from Seoul, South Korea.
Back to Top
Back to Top
German's body found, fears for 23 Koreans held
by Taliban by Nasrat Shoaib
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - The body of one of two Germans kidnapped by the Taliban was found in Afghanistan, police said, sparking fresh fears for 23 South Koreans also threatened with death by the militants.
The discovery came after the Taliban said it had killed both of the German captives. Kabul and Berlin however insisted that one of them was still alive and that they were trying to rescue him.
Afghan and international troops meanwhile cordoned off areas where the South Koreans from an evangelical Christian group were being held after their capture on Thursday, one day after the Germans, the defence ministry said.
A South Korean crisis team arrived in Kabul just hours ahead of a 1430 GMT deadline set by the rebels to kill the captives, a group that includes up to 18 women, unless the same number of jailed Islamist fighters are freed.
The Taliban have also demanded that both Germany and South Korea withdraw forces from Afghanistan, where about 3,000 German troops serve under NATO command and some 200 Korean soldiers are deployed under a US-led contingent.
"We have recovered the body of one German," said Hewas Mohammad Muslim, the police chief of the southern province of Wardak, without specifying the cause of death. "That is all I know at this point."
Afghanistan's foreign ministry and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said late Saturday that they still thought one German was alive.
The other had died "due to the conditions of detention imposed by his captors" but had not been murdered, Steinmeier said, while the Afghan ministry said the German had died of a heart attack.
Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi on Sunday reiterated a claim made the day before that both Germans, along with five Afghan hostages, were killed Saturday after Berlin and Kabul failed to meet tight deadlines for talks.
"If the government wants the bodies back, we will hand them over without conditions," he said a few hours before the body was found, speaking by telephone from an undisclosed location.
His claim that both Germans were killed could not be independently verified.
Meanwhile Afghan defence ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi said troops had surrounded several areas where the hostages might be held, and that they would move in after officials met with the South Korean crisis team.
"There has not been any fighting or engagement yet, so far. We'll move in after hearing from the South Korean delegation. But the first phase of the operation has been started," Azimi said.
The Korean Christians were seized by Taliban fighters on Thursday while travelling on a bus along the highway linking southern Kandahar and Kabul, during an aid mission in the war-torn country.
The South Korean team led by Vice Foreign Minister Cho Jung-Pyo touched down in the capital on Sunday to spearhead efforts to secure the freedom of the country's nationals, officials in Seoul said.
"Contacts are being made with the armed group through some different channels," South Korean foreign ministry spokesman Cho Hee-Yong told journalists.
"The government will work to win the safe return of the kidnapped," said Cho.
South Korea also reaffirmed that it would withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by year's end as planned. Seoul defence ministry officials have told lawmakers that they have already begun the paperwork for the move.
The Taliban, whose radical regime was toppled by a US-led invasion after the 9/11 attacks on the United States, have been waging a fierce insurgency that increasingly involves Iraq-style suicide attacks and kidnappings.
The Taliban freed a kidnapped Italian reporter in March after the Afghan government, under pressure from Rome, released five senior Taliban prisoners.
Back to Top
Back to Top
Army 'surrounds Taleban captors'
Sunday, 22 July 2007, 11:43 GMT 12:43 UK BBC News
Security forces have surrounded the location where Taleban fighters are holding 23 South Korean hostages, an Afghan defence ministry official says.
But - amid talks to secure their release - the official said a military operation had not yet begun to free the hostages in Ghazni province.
A team of hostage negotiators arrived in Kabul from Seoul earlier on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the body of one of two German nationals abducted on Wednesday has been found, local police said.
There had been confusion over the fate of the two Germans, taken in a separate kidnapping incident to the South Korean group.
A Taleban spokesman had said both men were killed on Saturday because Germany refused demands to withdraw its 3,000-strong force from the country.
But Berlin said it believed one hostage was still alive and the other died of a heart attack or stress.
Mohammad Eawaz Mazlooam Yar, a senior police officer in Wardak province, told the BBC: "We have found a dead body of a German in Jaghatu district. At this time we don't have any further details."
The Koreans were abducted in Ghazni, south-west of Kabul, from a bus travelling from Kandahar to Kabul on Thursday.
The Taleban say they want to swap the 23 men and women for jailed fighters and are also demanding that South Korean forces leave Afghanistan.
A council of tribal elders is said to be trying to negotiate the hostages' release and a South Korean diplomat is already in the province.
Gen Mohammad Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for the Afghan defence ministry, told the BBC: "We have surrounded the area. We haven't launched an attack right now and we are assessing the situation."
The ministry toned down initial reports that an operation to free the hostages had begun.
A spokesman for Nato forces said it was unaware of an operation but was ready to help the Afghan and South Korean governments if asked.
The Taleban initially said there were 18 hostages but have revised up the figure to 23. They are reportedly Christians on an evangelical and aid mission. At least 15 are said to be women.
A Taleban spokesman said on Sunday the hostages were in good health.
The seizure is the largest-scale abduction of foreigners since the fall of the Taleban regime in 2001.
An eight-strong South Korean delegation, including a presidential envoy, arrived in Kabul on Sunday and will meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other officials.
Seoul confirmed on Sunday that preparations for its troops to withdraw by the end of the year were under way but that the withdrawal had already been announced and had not been affected by the abductions.
President Roh Moo-hyun appeared on South Korean television on Saturday to urge the release of the citizens held captive.
Relatives of the abductees gathered at churches on Sunday to pray for their release.
On Sunday Taleban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi reiterated a claim that both Germans had been killed and that the bodies would be returned "without conditions" if requested.
Germany's foreign minister earlier backed Afghan government reports that one of two Germans died of natural causes and was not shot.
The Germans, whose identity has not been revealed, were seized with a number of Afghans in Wardak, where they had been working on a dam project.
The Taleban spokesman said both men were killed on Saturday because Germany refused to withdraw its forces.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: "We must assume that one of the kidnapped Germans died in captivity.
"Nothing points to murder, all signs tell us that he fell victim to the strain to which his kidnappers subjected him."
One Afghan provincial official said the German who died was a diabetic who had no access to insulin.
But if the killings are confirmed they would be the first of foreign hostages since the death of an Indian engineer in April last year.
The fate of the Afghans captured with the Germans is unknown.
Back to Top
Back to Top
South Koreans in Afghanistan in bid to free hostages
By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL (Reuters) - A South Korean government delegation arrived in Afghanistan on Sunday to try to secure the release of 23 of their countrymen kidnapped by Taliban insurgents demanding Seoul pull its troops out of the country.
Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousuf said insurgents would start killing the hostages if South Korea did not agree to withdraw its 200 military engineers and medics by 1430 GMT on Sunday and the Afghan government did not free Taliban prisoners.
The South Korean government has said it will withdraw its troops at the end of this year as planned.
The delegation of eight South Korean officials, including a deputy foreign minister, a special advisor to the president and Foreign Ministry diplomats, was to meet Afghan officials throughout the day. It was unclear if they would make any attempt to contact the kidnappers and try to negotiate their release.
An Afghan Ministry of Defence spokesman denied any operation had been launched to rescue the hostages. "The operation has not begun yet," said ministry spokesman Zahir Murad.
Referring to an earlier Ministry of Defence statement which said a joint operation was underway with international forces, Murad said: "It must have been a computer error."
The governor of the province of Ghazni where the Koreans were seized on Thursday said: "There is no operation, it is rubbish."
U.S. and NATO-led forces in Afghanistan also said they had no knowledge of any such operation.
Taliban spokesmen Yousuf said fighters were holding the captives at different locations and any attempt to free them with force would put the Koreans' lives at risk.
The South Korean mission was given added urgency after the Taliban spokesman said militants had killed two German hostages on Saturday after Berlin refused to yield to demands for it to pull its troops out Afghanistan.
German authorities have cast doubt on the authenticity of the Taliban spokesman and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said analysis suggested one of the German hostages was alive while the other had died of "stress and strain."
The online edition of German weekly Der Spiegel said the dead German hostage, identified Ruediger B., was diabetic and died after his kidnappers failed in their attempts to get him the necessary medications through intermediaries.
The police chief of Wardak province, north of Ghazni, Mohammad Hewas Mazlum denied media reports quoting him as saying that the body of one of the Germans had been found.
"I have not said to anyone that the body has been found. This is wrong," he told Reuters.
The 23 Koreans belong to the "Saemmul Church" in Bundang, a city on the outskirts of the South Korean capital, Seoul.
Most of them are in their 20s and 30s and include nurses and English teachers. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun said on Saturday the Koreans were providing only free medical or educational services with no missionary intentions.
The Koreans are the biggest group of foreigners kidnapped so far in the Taliban campaign to oust the Western-backed government and force out foreign troops.
Tearful relatives prayed for their safe release at their church on Sunday.
"My kids went to the war-ravaged country to do volunteer work, carrying love," said Seo Jung-bae, 57, whose son and daughter were both taken hostage. "I feel like chopping off my foot for letting you go. I hope you will return to us and the country without a single hair damaged."
The area south of Kabul where the Germans and Koreans were seized this week has seen a marked escalation of violence in the last month as Taliban militants have moved in from the south.
Residents say government troops only hold the major towns and much of the countryside is beyond their control.
(Additional reporting by Soyoung Kim in Seoul)
Back to Top
Back to Top
Pakistan troops kill 13 militants in N.Waziristan
Sun Jul 22, 2:01 AM ET
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan army has killed up to 13 pro-Taliban militants in the troubled North Waziristan tribal region on the Afghan border, the military said on Sunday.
Armed militants, in small groups, attempted to attack several army posts on Saturday night but their bid was foiled.
"Our forces were alert. They retaliated and killed up to 13 militants," military spokesman Major-General Waheed Arshad told Reuters.
Back to Top
Back to Top
Iran accused of training old Afghan enemies to fight US
By IANS Sunday July 22, 08:29 AM
Herat (Afghanistan), July 22 (DPA) Erstwhile enemies who once stood on the brink of war, Iran and the Taliban now appear linked by conflicts against the US, as officials and political analysts accuse Tehran of training and arming the Afghan insurgents.
Colonel Rahmatullah Safi, border police commander in the three western provinces of Farah, Badghis and Herat, claimed that his forces seized and intercepted weapons including anti-tank mines on the Afghan-Iranian border that were intended for the Taliban.
'Since Americans are in a difficult situation in Iraq, Iran wants to turn Afghanistan into a second Iraq for them and their international allies,' Safi said at his headquarters, 15 km outside Herat city.
'The Iranian officials try to keep foreign forces in the country busy in the fight with Taliban, so they don't have the chance to put more pressure or attack Iran because of its nuclear programme,' he said.
Safi also said that he had intelligence information that militants including former mujahideen, who fought Soviet forces in Afghanistan and later plunged the country into a bloody civil war, ousted members of the Taliban and foreign fighters were trained in Iranian military bases.
'I have information that 45 fighters led by Yahya Khortarak, who was a mujahideen commander in Herat province in the past, are now under training in the border town of Turbat Jam in Iran and they want to enter Herat from the Kamana area of the border to carry out some terrorist acts like planting mines, or even maybe suicide attacks,' Safi said.
The brigade that Safi commands comprises 1,652 agents, but he said the actual number of men patrolling the 1186 km border is barely 900.
'We don't even have one guard per kilometre, but the Iranians have thousands, so it's impossible that they are unaware of these movements,' he admitted.
NATO and US government officials in the past have also claimed that Iranian-made weapons were found in Afghanistan but this was the first direct accusation by an Afghan regional official that Iran was involved in assisting the resurgent Taliban.
NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) spokesperson Lt. Col. Maria Carl also confirmed that Iranian-made weaponry was found in Afghanistan but said that the alliance was not sure if Tehran was supplying them.
'There have definitely been a number of weapons that we have found that have markings consistent with an Iranian origin, so that part is not disputed at all,' Carl said.
'But it is not still clear, we still don't have evidence which shows that there is any formal Iranian political backing or that the government of Iran is behind it,' he added.
Afghan and ISAF officials also recently claimed that they had seized five explosively formed penetrator bombs (EFP), which can pierce military armoured vehicles, and have been found in the hands of Hezbollah in Lebanon.
'Some EFP components may be made in Iran, but it doesn't necessarily mean the Iranian government is behind it,' said Colonel Thomas Kelly, the deputy chief of ISAF counter-Improvised Explosive Device.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is cautious to not accuse the Iranian government.
Tehran also denied that it would send arms for Islamists of the Taliban group in Afghanistan.
'These allegations are so baseless as Iran's role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan is unanimously confirmed by both friends and enemies (of Iran),' IRNA, Iran's state-run news agency, quoted Deputy Foreign Minister of Iran, Mehdi Safari, as saying.
'The accusations by the foreign forces are more an effort to cover their weakness in effectively confronting terrorism and establishing security in Afghanistan,' Safari added.
Taliban spokesman Zabeeullah Mujahed also denied that they were receiving arms or training from Iran.
'We don't get any help from Iran or Pakistan, we receive assistance from different nations. We are buying weapons from international markets and bring them to Afghanistan through different means including smuggling them,' he said.
Despite the denials, border police commander Safi believes that Iranian government is playing both sides -- arming the Taliban while making friendly overtures to Karzai government.
'I am not talking for any one, neither for Karzai nor for the Americans - whatever I see I say it. I have seen the Iranian-made mines and armed people entering Afghanistan and I know that the militants are trained there,' he stressed.
'Iran knows Afghanistan has become an important place for the US and NATO countries, so by putting pressure on Afghanistan they can make the Western countries relax pressure on Tehran,' said Dad Noorani, an Afghan writer and political analyst.
Thanks to its strategic location, Afghanistan has once again become a theatre for rival political interests to be played out.
Waheed Muzhda, an Afghan political analyst who wrote a book on Afghan-Iran relations in the 1990s, said the 'Great Game' never ends for Afghans. 'Either it is between Great Britain and Russia or between US and Russia, and now between Iran-US.
'Afghanistan has always been victimized because of foreign rivalries. Iran wants to use Afghan soil and people to combat the US forces, as they do in Iraq,' said Muzhda.
Back to Top
Back to Top
Britain almost out of troops, wails army chief
Press Trust of India via The Statesman
London, July 21: Britain has almost run out of troops to defend the country or fight abroad, a daily reported here today, citing a highly classified defence document. Head of the British Army General Sir Richard Dannatt has issued a warning to all senior commanders saying that reinforcements for emergencies or for operations in Iraq or Afghanistan are “now almost non-existent”, The Daily Telegraph reported.
In the memorandum to fellow defence leaders, the Chief of the General Staff confessed that “we now have almost no capability to react to the unexpected”. “The undermanned Army now has all its units committed to either training for war in Iraq and Afghanistan, on leave or on operations.” There is just one battalion of 500 troops, known as the Spearhead Lead Element, available in the United Kingdom to be used in an emergency such as as major domestic terrorist attack or a rapid deployment in the overseas, according to the secret document.
The country’s second back-up unit, called the Airborne Task Force formed around the Parachute Regiment, was unable to fully deploy “due to shortages in manpower, equipment and stocks”.
Moreover, Parachute Regiment officers are concerned that with nearly all their equipment in Afghanistan, they are unable to train properly for future operations. The Paras also no longer have the ability to parachute as a 600-strong battalion due to the unavailability of RAF planes, the document said. “The situation is unlikely to be resolved until late August.” With the Army under-strength by 3,500 troops, it’s now struggling to plug the gaps on the frontline. “The enduring nature and scale of current operations continues to stretch people,” Gen Dannatt wrote. The Army now needed to “augment” 2,500 troops from other units onto operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to bring up the total force to 13,000 required. “This remained far higher than we ever imagined,” the daily quoted the Chief of the General Staff.
“When this is combined with the effects of under-manning (principally in the Infantry and Royal Artillery) and the pace of training support needed to prepare units for operations, the tempo of life in the Field Army is intense.” The Army has also been forced to call up almost 1,000 Territorial Army personnel for overseas operations.
General Dannatt has also expressed concerns that some equipment that are vital to fighting in Afghanistan but are 40 years old “may be at the edge of their sustainability”. “More needs to be done on housing and pay in order to retain troops because people are more likely to stay if we look after them properly.” In fact, the General’s revelation comes as the first serious test of Prime Minister Mr Gordon Brown’s policy on defence and it came at a time when more forces are needed to combat the Taliban in Afghanistan.
However, it is not the first time that the Chief of the Army Staff has raised concerns on Britain’s fighting ability.
A few weeks into his job last year, the general said the military was “running hot” and urged for a national debate on defence.
Back to Top
Back to Top
UN chief voices grave concern over hostages crisis in Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn 2007-07-22 09:24:31
UNITED NATIONS, July 21 (Xinhua) -- UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday expressed grave concern about the two recent abduction cases involving South Koreans and Germans in Afghanistan.
"He called on the Afghan government to do its utmost to secure an early release of the abductees," Ban's press office said in a statement.
The secretary-general had a telephone conversation with Afghan President Hamid Karzai earlier on Saturday and asked the president "to be personally engaged so as to achieve a prompt resolution," the statement said.
"President Karzai expressed profound concern, adding he was directly engaged in attempts to resolve the incidents as soon as possible," it said. "The Afghan government had established a Task Force of intergovernmental experts to address the issue."
The president said he would keep the secretary-general informed of all developments through the latter's special representative in Afghanistan, Tom Koenigs, it added.
Taliban threatened to kill 23 South Koreans kidnapped on a roadin the central Ghazni province Thursday afternoon if Afghan authorities fail to release 23 Taliban prisoners before a Sunday deadline.
Meanwhile, two Germans were abducted together with five Afghansin the central Wardak province on Wednesday. One hostage had been confirmed dead.
Back to Top
Back to Top
Afghan women are still left at home in the country's southeastern region
Sat Jul 21, 5:50 PM By Martin Ouellet
SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan (CP) - In the small southeastern Afghan village of Haji Sarfiraz, Saturday was a day of celebration.
Villagers were invited to pose for photographs beside the community's new well, built by members of NATO's International Security Assistance Force.
Close to the well, on the outskirts of town, men, children, elders, the disabled and mangy dogs bustled about.
But there were no women. The women of Haji Sarfiraz, near the Pakistan border, were not allowed to join the party.
"It's tradition here - women do not go outside," villager Mohammad Dawood said through an interpreter.
"The women stay at home while we, the men, bring them whatever they need."
As partygoers drank tea and watched water gush from the well, a few women gathered behind terra cotta walls to catch a glimpse of the action. They dispersed when one of the cameras pointed in their direction.
Improvements to women's rights, continuously brought up by International Co-operation Minister Josee Verner as justification for Canada's mission in Afghanistan, are not on the minds of those in Haji Sarfiraz.
Nor are they a concern in neighbouring Wesh, a city of more than 300,000 citizens.
On the sidewalks of this border city, men haggle, trade, sell and buy while women remain far from sight inside the walls of their homes.
"Since I've been here, I have not seen one woman during any of my patrols," said Cpl. Natacha Dupuis of the Royal Canadian Dragoons, who has been stationed at the Spin Boldak forward operating base for five weeks.
"It's shocking," she said. "I think it's a good thing that we're here. Interpreters and others come to realize that we are equal (to men)."
Cpl. Martin Duperron agrees local beliefs are beginning to change.
"During my first tour here . . . if a woman was ever caught watching you, she was beaten," said Duperron, who is completing his second six-month tour in Afghanistan.
Today, he says much of the pressure has eased. "They (women) are less hidden than before," he said.
In the desert, nobody has it easy, says Maj. Steve Graham, commander of the Reconnaissance Squadron with the Royal Canadian Dragoons.
"Women don't go outside and men can die as young as 25 or 30 years old," he said, referring to rugged life in the region.
With the Pakistan border close by, southeastern Afghanistan is not an area that has not made much social progress. Contact with the Taliban, and their ideological influences, are frequent, Graham said.
Afghan authorities, supported by about 100 Canadians from the Spin Boldak base, have had difficulty monitoring more than 400 kilometres of border in the region.
There have been recent weapon seizures and insurgent arrests at the porous border, but Graham says they are only the "tip of the iceberg."
Back to Top
Back to Top
Iran attaches importance to Afghanistan stability: spokesman
Tehran, July 22, IRNA
Iran has always attached importance to reinforcing stability and security in Afghanistan, Foreign Ministry spokesman said here Sunday.
Mohammad-Ali Hosseini made the remark at his weekly press conference when asked about a report by the defense committee of Britain's House of Commons which welcomed Iran's positive role in reconstruction of Afghanistan's western parts.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran regards Afghanistan's stability and security in line with its own national interests," he said.
He added, "We are happy that realities in Afghanistan are looked upon as they really are."
The spokesman said, "Iran regards statement by a British official on the case as a correct step in a correct path." Asked about confessions by two Iranian-born US agents detained in Iran for acting against the country's national security, he said, "The confessions showed the US long-term plan and its extensive efforts in different countries in the region."
The Channel One of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) aired a program called `In the Name of Democracy' Wednesday night featuring three Iranian-born US agents Haleh Esfandiari, Yahya Kian Tajbakhsh and Ramin Jahanbeglou, who were arrested in Iran for engaging in subversive activities.
It was a special program on Esfandiari, 67, head and founder of the Middle East Program of Wilson Center in the United States which is financed by the US Congress.
Hosseini recommended US officials to avoid any approach which would increase distrust and instead amend their approach.
Back to Top
Back to Top
Muslim youth cautioned against 'fake jihad'
KABUL, July 20 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The top Saudi cleric Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Shaikh has cautioned Muslims, especially youth, to keep themselves aloof from 'fake jihad' (holy war).
In an interview, the Grand Mufti urged Muslim youth to be aware of elements who were launching 'fake jihad' while they had their own agendas.
The top cleric's statement had been appeared at a time when Taliban militants and al-Qaeda had stepped up their suicidal missions against the Afghan and Pakistani security forces as well as the foreign troops stationed in Afghanistan.
Referring to various elements misguiding Muslim youth in the name of jihad to prepare them for suicidal missions, the Mufti noted that there were large number of such elements, which were giving lessons of fake jihad to the youth and misguiding the common man.
"Self-proclaimed mujahideen (holy warriors) with their version of jihad are only distracting Muslims," he declared.
Sheikh Aziz said jihad, in present time, was to shun evil and follow the teachings of Islam. He said it was ironic that Muslims had divided into sects, and that each sect considered itself to be on the correct path and declared the other as non-Muslim.
He advised young men not to follow such teachings and consult authentic religious scholars for proper guidance.
Back to Top
Back to Top
Afghanistan key link between South and Central Asia
NEW YORK, July 20 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The re-emergence of Afghanistan in the post-Taliban era provides the country a unique opportunity to become a bridge between South and Central Asia and benefit economically through its unique partnership.
This was the gist of a discussion on South and Central Asia hosted by the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher in the US capital.
"The re-opening of Afghanistan has created promising new possibilities and opportunities for these nations to develop infrastructure and economic links to the south, especially in the areas of trade, transportation, energy and communications," the State Department said after conclusion of the meeting.
The day-long meeting was attended by top officials from the Central Asian nations Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmen and Uzbekistan.
Senior officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan and India also attended the meeting, which was convened at the initiative of Boucher to find ways in which the US can support Central Asian nations' development.
Officials said the State Department would like to see Afghanistan develop more or less as a crucial link between South and Central Asia, which would boost the economy of this war-ravaged country.
Lalit K. Jha
Back to Top
Back to Top
Feature: Old palaces in need of reconstruction
KABUL, July 20 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Once reckoned among the glorious construction of this capital city, three prominent pre-war era palaces and buildings are in dilapidated condition and presenting a worn out look to locals as well as foreign visitors.
The crumbled and bullet-riddled walls of the once glorious edifices telling the stories of three decades of war and civil strife which thrust a never-ending insurgency upon the coming generations of Afghans.
Despite enormous funds committed by the international community for reconstruction process, none of the government functionaries has ever showed interest to renovate the buildings which are corroding with the passage of time.
While residents accuse government officials of daydreaming as for as the renovation and reconstruction of those structures is concerned, officials complain non-availability of budget was the main impediment in their way.
Constructed on European style, Darul Aman Palace or place of peace is one of those old buildings. Located some eight kilometres from the centre of the city, the historical structure needs attention of the incumbent government.
According to Abdul Sabir Junbish, member of the Afghanistan Academy of Sciences, Darul Aman Palace was constructed during the 1920s as part of the reformist king Amanullah Khan's modernisation drive.
It is an imposing building on a hilltop overlooking a flat, dusty valley in the western part of the Afghan capital.
The edifice was gutted in 1969. It was restructured to house the Kabul Museum and later the Defense Ministry during the 1970s and 1980s.
During the Communist coup of 1978, the Palace, which was housing the Defence Ministry, was set on fire. The destruction of Darul Aman marked the end of the Saur Revolution, which lasted two days. But it was destroyed again as rival mujahideen factions fought for control of Kabul during the early 1990s. Heavy shelling after the end of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan by the mujahideen converted the splendid building into a skeleton.
Tajibaik is another such building which needs renovation and reconstruction to restore its old grandeur. Located in the southwestern side of Darul Aman, the palace was erected in 1924 which is also in poor condition. The third such palace is the Chilsitoon which dates back to the 1930s.
Habibullah Rafi, a noted historian and advisor to the Afghanistan Academy of Sciences, said Chilsitoon was being used as a guest house for kings while Darul Aman was the official residence of the Royal family. He said the Tajibaik Palace was housing a military department some 80 years back.
Basking under a tall green tree at the remnants of the Chilsitoon Palace, 93-year-old Haji Tamim recalled high-profile guests and foreign dignitaries used to be greeted and welcomed at this crumbled building.
"I don't know why the government does not pay attention to this historical heritage," questioned the aged man who is living in a mud house close to the old structure.
Those buildings were the pride and cultural heritage of Afghans, said Abdul Wahab, 60, who also loathed the government for not reconstructing it despite huge expenditures on other projects.
According to the Ministry of Finance, nearly $17 billion has been spent on reconstruction projects over the previous five years in the country, but the government has a priority list and there are more projects to be accomplished first before kicking off work on reconstruction of the palaces.
Muhammad Dawood Nazim, press information officer at the ministry, said the government's priority list included construction and reconstruction of schools, hospitals, roads and other infrastructure to facilitate the people. He said a boundary wall was being constructed around Chilstoon Palace at the cost of $200,000 provided by the government of Japan.
General Zahir Azimi, spokesman for the Defence Ministry, termed reconstruction of Darul Aman and Tajibaik palaces as important and said it would be reconstructed in the days ahead.
Back to Top
|Back to News Archirves of 2007|
Disclaimer: This news site is mostly a compilation of publicly accessible articles on the Web in the form of a link or saved news item. The news articles and commentaries/editorials are protected under international copyright laws. All credit goes to the original respective source(s).