By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer Fri Jul 27, 5:22 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - NATO and Afghan troops clashed with Taliban insurgents and called in airstrikes, killing at least 50 suspected militants and dozens of civilians, local officials and villagers said Friday.
The fighting started Thursday night in the village of Kumbarak in Helmand province, and NATO forces told residents to evacuate their homes because of the clashes, said Gereshk district chief Abdul Manaf Khan.
The airstrikes killed 50 Taliban and 28 civilians, Khan said, citing villagers' reports. He said the bodies have already been buried, and the fighting continued Friday.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force said it did not have any information about the incident and was looking into it.
The report could not be immediately verified due to the area's remoteness and instability, although a local lawmaker and a resident also said there were civilians among the dead.
Malim Mirwali, a member of Parliament for Gereshk, said that more than 40 civilians were killed in the airstrikes a figure that one local resident also cited.
"The war planes came and bombed these villagers more than 40 civilians killed, including women and children," said villager Nimatullah Khan.
"The villagers' bodies were buried this morning because the weather was hot. Right now, the people are scared, and the operation is ongoing between these forces and the Taliban," he said.
The latest violence comes a day after reports of U.S.-led coalition and Afghan troops battling with militants in the south, leaving more than 60 suspected Taliban dead. A NATO soldier was killed in another incident.
Violence has risen sharply in Afghanistan in the last two months. More than 3,500 people, mostly militants, have been killed in insurgency-related violence this year, according to an Associated Press tally of casualty figures provided by Western and Afghan officials.
Civilian deaths are a recurring problem that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly deplored, demanding foreign forces take greater care to avoid such incidents.
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Taliban deadline passes amid fresh S Korean hostage talks
by Shah Marai Fri Jul 27, 8:56 AM ET
GHAZNI, Afghanistan (AFP) - Frantic negotiations continued for the release of 22 remaining South Korean hostages on Friday with no word on their fate after a deadline set by their Taliban captors expired.
A South Korean envoy was due to arrive in Kabul to seek an urgent hearing with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai and US-led forces following a desperate appeal by one of the captive Christian aid workers for help.
Taliban militants had set a midday Friday (0730 GMT) deadline to arrange the release of the remaining 22 Christian aid workers now in their ninth day of captivity. The leader of the group has already been killed.
The Islamic guerrillas are insisting on the release of eight Taliban prisoners held in Afghanistan in return for the aid workers' freedom, although Seoul has said the rebels' demands are "considerably fluid and not unified."
Neither officials nor the Taliban were available to comment on the expiry of the deadline, but police earlier said they were hopeful of a result from the ongoing talks.
"The negotiations continue for the release of the South Koreans. We are optimistic for a desired positive outcome," said Alishah Ahmadzai, the police chief of southern Ghazni province, where the group was kidnapped.
But authorities did not want to break President Hamid Karzai's pledge not to release more rebel prisoners after his government in March released five Taliban in exchange for an Italian reporter, Ahmadzai said.
"Our goal is to seek ways on how we can free the hostages without compromising our laws and regulations in regards with such cases," the police chief told AFP.
The move came as one of the hostages made an emotional plea for help in a reported telephone interview with US television network CBS, apparently conducted in the presence of her captors.
"We are in a very difficult time. Please help us," said the woman, who CBS said gave her name as Yo Cyun-ju, after the interview shown Thursday organised by a Taliban commander.
"We are all pleading for you to help us get out of here as soon as possible. Really, we beg you."
"All of us are sick and in very bad condition," she said, begging Seoul and the international community to make a deal with the Taliban to win their freedom.
She went on to describe her captivity as a "very difficult life every day," and "a very exhausting situation," CBS reported.
The bullet-riddled body of one hostage was dumped in a desert area on Wednesday. The rebels said they had killed him because talks with the Afghan government and South Korean officials had stalled.
South Korea named him as 42-year-old Bae Hyung-Kyu, a Presbyterian pastor and the head of the mostly female aid mission based at a Seoul church, which was reportedly in the country to provide free medical services.
The South Koreans were seized while travelling on the highway between Kabul and Kandahar last Thursday in Ghazni province about 140 kilometres (90 miles) south of Kabul.
The Taliban have also demanded that Seoul withdraw its 200 troops serving with US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan. South Korea responded by saying it would pull them out as previously scheduled by the end of the year.
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun's special envoy is to arrive in Afghanistan later Friday and will meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to try to resolve the crisis, Roh's spokesman said in Seoul.
Envoy Baek Jong-Chun, chief presidential secretary for foreign and security affairs, would not seek direct talks with the extremists, spokesman Cheon Ho-Seon said.
During the meetings in Kabul, Baek was expected to urge government officials to be flexible in negotiations with the Taliban, Yonhap news agency said.
The militants are also holding a hostage from Germany. The rebels have also demanded the withdrawal of all German forces from the war-torn country, as they step up their use of kidnap as a negotiating tool.
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Tracking the Taleban's kidnap tactics
By Daud Qarizadah BBC News, Kabul Friday, 27 July 2007
Foreigners in Afghanistan have rarely been targets of kidnappings in the past.
But all that changed some four years ago, when a Turkish engineer was abducted by the Taleban in the south.
In subsequent years, the kidnapping of foreigners has become more common, and in recent months there has been an unprecedented increase in the practice.
Foreign aid workers and journalists have been seized, as well as Afghans working with foreign organisations.
Last week, the Taleban took 23 South Koreans - most of them female Christian workers - hostage in Ghazni, south-west of Kabul. The body of one hostage has been already found.
The Taleban want the release of eight of their members from jail, and say more hostages will be killed if their demands are not met.
A Taleban commander has called the abduction of foreigners, to be traded for Taleban prisoners, "a very successful policy".
Afghan officials acknowledge that the Taleban insurgents are using kidnappings as a useful tool of pressure against the Western-backed government of Hamid Karzai.
The kidnappers have usually demanded the withdrawal of foreign forces, the release of Taleban prisoners and ransom in exchange for their hostages.
The Afghan government has also been under tremendous pressure from foreign governments in securing the safe release of the hostages belonging to their countries.
One of the most talked-about kidnappings was early this year, when Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo was abducted along with two Afghans - his driver and a young journalist who worked as his interpreter.
The Italian government is believed to have put huge pressure on President Karzai to get Mr Mastrogiacomo released, and at one point even threatened to withdraw the 2,000 Italian troops from Afghanistan.
Mr Mastrogiacomo was released in a much-criticised exchange for five senior Taleban prisoners, including the brother of the slain Taleban commander, Mullah Dadullah. But the two Afghans were beheaded.
In a separate case, a substantial ransom was said to have been paid to release another Italian hostage, Gabriele Torsello, a London-based photographer.
The governments of Afghanistan and Italy have been criticised for the way they dealt with the Taleban in securing the release of these hostages.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had called on member states to draft common rules on how to deal with hostage-taking.
Observers believe cutting "deals" to secure the release of hostages have only helped the Taleban.
The Afghan interior ministry says the number of kidnappings could be reduced if potential targets sought advice before their journeys and co-ordinated their security arrangements with the police.
Officials are putting the blame mainly on the carelessness of foreigners and Afghans working with foreign organisations.
"Look at the nationals of South Korea. They hired a bus to travel from Kabul to Kandahar without seeking advice from the government about the security situation," says Zamarai Bashari, interior ministry spokesman.
"We cannot travel that route without a convoy of security personnel. We know the security threat is high and the insurgents have taken root in areas along the road," he said.
"So the kidnappings are partly blamed for the insecurity and mainly for the carelessness of foreigners who are considered soft but important targets."
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Korean hostages alive in Afghanistan, say Taliban
By Yousuf Azimy Friday, July 27, 2007
GHAZNI, Afghanistan (Reuters) - The remaining 22 South Koreans held hostage in Afghanistan are alive, a Taliban spokesman said on Friday, and the group will not set further deadlines as it negotiates with the government on freeing them.
A government official also said the Christian volunteers, whose leader was killed two days ago by their Taliban captors, were alive, adding an Afghan delegation was in talks with the militants.
"They are alive and fine," Munir Mangal, a deputy interior minister who also heads an Afghan team trying to secure the freedom of the hostages, told reporters in Ghazni. Medicines had been sent for some of the captives who are ill, he added.
Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousuf said the government had assured the group it would release eight members of the Taliban as part of an exchange deal for the freedom of a similar number of the hostages.
"They are alive. The talks are going on and we are not giving further deadlines for the government has assured us that it wants to resolve the issue through talks," he told Reuters by phone from an undisclosed location.
Earlier, he had accused the government of "killing time and playing tricks" and had said the Taliban would kill the captives if rebel prisoners were not released by the Afghan government by Friday noon (0730 GMT).
On Wednesday, the Taliban killed the leader of the 23 volunteers they snatched last week from a bus on the main highway in Ghazni, which lies to the southwest of the capital Kabul.
But several previous deadlines have passed without them carrying out their threats to kill others.
South Korea's chief presidential national security adviser, Baek Jong-chun, arrived in Afghanistan on Friday to step up efforts to free the hostages, an Afghan official said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has pledged not to swap prisoners for hostages after being criticized for releasing five Taliban from jail in March in exchange for an Italian reporter.
The president and ministers have remained silent throughout the latest hostage ordeal.
One German and four Afghans snatched separately are also still being held hostage by the Taliban.
The past 18 months has seen rising violence in Afghanistan, with daily clashes between Taliban insurgents and Afghan and foreign troops.
(Additional reporting by Sayed Salahuddin in Kabul)
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Muslims in S. Korea urge immediate release of hostages in Afghanistan
By Kim Young-gyo Yonhap News (South Korea)
SEOUL, July 27 (Yonhap) -- Hundreds of Muslims in South Korea gathered Friday and urged Taliban insurgents to immediately release South Korean hostages they have been holding for more than a week.
During their weekly prayer session at the Seoul Central Masjid, the Muslims also spent five minutes grieving over the death of Bae Hyung-kyu, a 42-year-old pastor who was killed by Taliban forces six days after he was taken hostage by the militia along with 22 fellow church volunteers.
A purported Taliban spokesman said Wednesday the militants killed Bae because the Afghan government didn't accept their demand to release Taliban prisoners. His body was found by Afghan police later in the day.
"We, Korea Muslim Federation and the Muslims in Korea, express our deepest condolences for the Korean victims in Afghanistan and share his family's sense of bereavement," said Abdul Rashid, who gave the sermon, called "Khutbah."
Quoting a verse from the Koran, "kill not anyone whom Allah has forbidden, except for a just cause," Rashid stressed that it would not be "true Islam" if the Taliban killed the hostages.
"Islam respects human life," he said.
More than 400 Muslims participated in the gathering.
"I had wished that all of the 23 hostages come back to their homes without any accident," said Kamal Kaair, a first secretary at the Sudanese Embassy in Seoul, who also attended the meeting.
"Whether the hostages are men or women, their lives must be held in high respect," he said. "The Taliban must refuse the use of violence or abduction."
A Moroccan woman at the service, who declined to give her name, said, "I have read about the abduction in the paper." "I believe all of the Muslims in the World are praying for the immediate release of the South Koreans."
She said she was in South Korea for a two-week training program, arranged under government-sponsored exchange programs.
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Divisions Among Taliban Kidnappers Reportedly Delay Negotiations
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
KABUL, July 27, 2007 -- Afghan negotiators say differences among Taliban kidnappers have caused an indefinite extension of a deadline for a deal on the release of 22 South Korean Christian aid workers.
The governor of Ghazni Province, Mehrajuddin Patan, says the kidnappers extended their deadline because they are not yet ready to meet with Afghan negotiators.
Khawaja Mohammad Sedeqi, a member of the government's mediation team, says the kidnappers want more time to settle differences among themselves. He said the abductors are divided into three groups with different demands for the release of the hostages.
RFE/RL spoke to a member of the negotiating team, Deputy Interior Minister Major General Muhammad Munir Mangal, about the situation today:"So far they (eds: the hostages) are alive. We will see. Our
negotiations with the Taliban are continuing. So far nothing has happened (to the 22 hostages who are still alive.)"
Mangal also said some kidnappers want members of Afghanistan's parliament to be involved in the negotiations.
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Korean envoy's hostage mercy dash
Friday, 27 July 2007 BBC News
A Seoul envoy is due in Afghanistan to step up efforts to save 22 South Korean hostages held by Taleban captors.
Baek Jong-chun is expected to meet Afghan government officials to discuss negotiations to free the aid workers, who were abducted a week ago.
The militants have already shot one of their captives and threatened to kill others unless the Afghan government released jailed insurgents.
The body of pastor Bae Hyung-kyu, 42, was found in Ghazni on Wednesday.
Mr Baek, South Korea's chief national security adviser, was set to arrive shortly after a new deadline set by the captors expired.
The fate of the remaining hostages was not known after a Taleban spokesman threatened to kill them unless the Afghan government freed prisoners by noon on Friday (0730 GMT).
Several previous deadlines have passed without the militants carrying out their threats.
One of the hostages was allowed by the captors on Thursday to make an emotional plea by telephone for help to secure their release.
The captives are aid workers for a Christian group.
The group of 23 Koreans, mostly women, were abducted in Ghazni province, south-west of the capital Kabul a week ago.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has pledged not to swap prisoners for hostages.
He was criticised for releasing five Taleban members from jail in March in exchange for an Italian reporter.
There has been an increase in kidnappings, roadside bombings and suicide attacks in recent months in Afghanistan.
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Afghan authorities accused of prisoner torture
Middle East Times - Jul 27 6:56 AM
OSLO -- Norwegian diplomats have accused Afghan authorities of torturing prisoners handed over to them by international forces in the war-torn country, local media reports said Friday.
"What is of particular concern is the degree of bad treatment and torture that takes place on the Afghan side, especially on the part of the NDS [the Afghan intelligence service], after prisoners have been delivered to them by international military forces," a classified note from the Norwegian embassy in Kabul published by communist newspaper Klassekampen said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Independent Afghan Commission for Human Rights have not been able to visit prisoners, the note said.
Several countries taking part in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force have passed agreements with local authorities to hand over prisoners they capture. Those countries include Canada, Britain, the Netherlands, Norway, and Denmark.
"States that have made a [handover] deal with Afghan authorities should ensure that the latter respect principles of international law," the note added.
Liv Monica Stubholt, the Norwegian state secretary for foreign affairs, told Norwegian news agency NTB Friday that the accusations were "very worrying."
"We will therefore work closely with the other countries that have a prisoner handover deal to investigate whether the agreements still hold," she added.
Opposition members in Denmark Friday called on the government to investigate the allegations.
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Richardson says focus must shift to Afghanistan to beat al-Qaida
By Holly Ramer, Associated Press Writer | July 27, 2007
MANCHESTER, N.H. --Seeking to shift focus from Iraq to Afghanistan, Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Richardson on Friday said America's allies will hold back unless defeating al-Qaida becomes the nation's top priority in the war on terrorism.
"We urgently must redirect our military effort away from Iraq -- where al-Qaida's leadership is not located -- and toward the Afghanistan-Pakistan border -- where they are located," Richardson told members of the World Affairs Council of New Hampshire.
"When our allies see that we finally have gotten our priorities straight and that we've revived our commitment to going after the al-Qaida leadership ... only then will they provide enough troops to overwhelm the enemy."
The New Mexico governor outlined what he called a "grand strategy" for defeating al-Qaida, mixing baseball and boxing metaphors in criticizing President Bush's approach.
"If only the president had kept his eye on the ball and finished the job when he had the chance," he said. "Al-Qaida was on the ropes in 2002, cornered in the badlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan. If our troops had been given the resources they needed, we could have finished them off."
Instead, he said, Bush diverted resources from 'that necessary war to a war of choice" and became too "lost in his delusions of an easy peace" to realize that al-Qaida was sending fighters to Iraq to provoke a civil war.
"We need to address this threat with the focus it deserves," Richardson said. "Al-Qaida benefits from our being trapped in Iraq and wants us to stay there. They know that if we were not stuck in Iraq, we could go after them where they are."
In addition to a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and redirecting them to Afghanistan, Richardson calls for encouraging nations such as Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia to send troops to stabilize the country. The United States also must rebuild its alliances with other nations, said Richardson, who served as UN ambassador during the Clinton administration.
"This administration has driven away our allies with swagger and saber rattling," he said. "I will rebuild our alliances by making common cause with partners who share our values and interests."
Efforts to bolster Afghanistan's economy should be expanded, on the scale of the rebuilding of Europe after World War II, he said. Those efforts should include providing all Afghan children with education and free lunches, he said.
"The long-term defeat of al-Qaida depends on teaching hope, rather than hate, to the next generation," he said.
At home, Richardson said his strategy would include beefing up civil defense by improving the capacity of the public health system to respond to a nuclear or biological attack. He proposed a medical GI bill that would provide full scholarships for nurses and other medical providers who agree to serve in poor and rural areas and to participate in national disaster response.
"We also need risk-based funding for homeland security," he said. "It is unpatriotic for legislators to turn homeland security dollars into pork. We need to spend homeland security funds where they are needed -- in high-risk urban areas like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles."
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Why Afghan Opium Output Keeps Growing
By GREG JAFFE July 26, 2007; Page A5 Wall Street Journal
KABUL, Afghanistan -- With this conflict-torn country on track to produce another record amount of opium this year, U.S. officials want to significantly step up efforts to eradicate poppy crops before the fall harvest.
The problem for the U.S. officials is that their Afghan and North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies oppose their aggressive plans.
The United Nations estimates that farmers in Afghanistan are cultivating about 457,000 acres of poppy, the source of opium. That would represent a 10% increase from last year and an 80% jump from the 254,000 acres harvested in 2005, according to the U.N.
"We are all disappointed with the eradication efforts so far," said U.S. Ambassador William Wood.
Profits from the opium trade are being used to fund both Taliban insurgents and local warlords' militias. These groups have sapped the influence of the central government in Kabul and contributed to increased unrest in the southern part of the country, where the Taliban movement was born.
The Taliban movement, which sheltered al Qaeda before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, was driven from power in Afghanistan by the U.S. later that year. Today, it is the base of an insurgent movement that seeks to remove the country's democratically elected, U.S.-supported government.
U.S., Afghan and European officials remain divided over how best to deal with the poppy crop, leading largely to inaction.
"There is really no clear consensus from my view for a comprehensive way forward on the counternarcotics in Afghanistan," said Adm. William Fallon, the top commander of U.S. forces in the region.
European and Afghan officials worry that a very aggressive approach could hurt the local economy and drive farmers to join the Taliban movement. U.S. officials would like to rely on aerial spraying, which is the most effective way to destroy the poppy crop. But Afghan and NATO officials in Afghanistan say such an approach is indiscriminate.
Instead, U.S. officials are pushing a program to spray poppy crops from the ground. While the Europeans and Afghans believe that some modest eradication must be done through ground-based spraying, they argue that this should be accompanied by a push to provide a realistic economic alternative to growing poppy. The problem is that there is no crop or industry in Afghanistan that can match its profitability.
The U.S., to blunt the impact of spraying on the economy, plans to flood the major poppy-growing provinces in the south with aid. Helmand Province, a Taliban stronghold dominated by the opium trade, is on pace to get about $270 million in aid next year. If it were a country, it would be the fifth-largest recipient of U.S. development aid in the world, Mr. Wood said.
European officials caution that even the massive influx of aid won't make up for the impact of the poppy eradication on the Afghan economy. "The economy of this country is based on the opium trade," said one senior European official in Afghanistan. "You can't just pull it away. It is a moral dilemma."
U.S. officials counter that the aid programs, which are focused on building schools, roads and health clinics, aren't having the impact they should because of the violence associated with the opium trade and the growing Taliban presence. In many instances the Taliban have attacked projects in the area. Contractors are reluctant to work in areas where there is intense fighting.
Intensifying eradication efforts would also put major demands on U.S., Afghan and NATO forces. Senior U.S. military officials say large numbers of Afghan troops may have to be redirected to protect eradication teams.
Those troops are focused on patrolling Afghan cities in the south and east where the Taliban are seeking a foothold, and if they are pulled to focus on poppy eradication, some military officials worry that the Taliban would fill the void.
As NATO troops take part in a surge in fighting in the south, largely against Taliban forces, a doubling of the U.S. military force in the restive eastern part of the country has blunted an expected enemy Taliban offensive from across the border in Pakistan, U.S. officials say. Some Afghan troops would also likely have to be pulled from the border region with Pakistan, where the U.S. says they have played a significant role in turning back an expected spring offensive by the Taliban.
"It takes a significant amount of manpower to secure an eradication effort," said Brig. Gen. Robert Cone, who oversees the training of the Afghan army and police forces.
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Bring 'em on: Militants in Pakistan await US
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / Friday, July 27, 2007
KARACHI - Efforts by the Pakistani establishment to defuse the volatile situation in its tribal areas have failed, despite the carrot of large amounts of money being dangled before the Pakistani Taliban there.
Islamabad is now caught between militants spoiling for a fight and US and coalition troops in Afghanistan ready to give them one - and there is little Pakistan can now do to prevent this from happening.
"There is no chance for any peace deal that allows Pakistani troops to stay in the tribal areas. If this situation allows NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] to enter Pakistan, let them come. It is better to fight against NATO than to fight Pakistani troops. But if they fight together against us, we are ready for that too," Rasool Dawar told Asia Times Online from the North Waziristan tribal agency on the border with Afghanistan.
Dawar is a close associate of Moulvi Sadiq Noor, one of the several hardline Pakistani al-Qaeda leaders who have taken control of the militancy in the area, along with the Pakistani Taliban. Another prominent commander is Moulvi Abdul Khaliq.
As if to back up Dawar's words, on Wednesday militants fired several rockets into the town of Bannu in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), killing 10 people and injuring more than 40.
Since President General Pervez Musharraf sent in the troops against the radical Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad this month to root out militants, Pakistan has sent thousands of troops to the tribal areas, where they have been met with open hostility resulting in the death of scores of military personnel.
The United States has seized the opportunity to threaten its own military action on Pakistani soil against militant targets, which Washington says includes al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Other emerging young al-Qaeda leaders include Gul Bahadur and Baitullah Mehsud. Their opposition is centered in North Waziristan and South Waziristan, where they aim to expel Pakistani troops (or any others who might venture there). In addition, they support the Taliban movement in the cities of Bannu, Tank, Dera Ismail Khan, Swat Valley (all in NWFP) and nearby Bajaur Agency. The ultimate objective is to boot Musharraf from power.
Asia Times Online has learned of increased Pakistani military activity in the Waziristans in preparation for a large-scale operation, possibly augmented by NATO forces from across the border in Afghanistan.
However, given the topography of the region, with its high mountains, there is more likelihood of foreign troops entering Pakistan in Bajaur, from where the largest infiltration into Afghanistan takes place.
For the Waziristans, where the US says it has identified "high-value" targets, pin-point air strikes are a better option. Certainly, the US would prefer quick strikes from safe bases in Afghanistan to committing troops to what would become a protracted battle a la Iraq and Afghanistan.
The balance is tipped
Since 2001, when Pakistan joined the US in the "war on terror", it has tried to strike a balance between its alliance with Washington and the jihadi establishment that the Inter-Services Intelligence had built up.
In this peculiar situation, the world watched as Pakistan helped the US arrest more than 700 al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan, mount devastating battles in its own tribal areas against its own tribesmen, kill dozens of militants and have hundreds of its own security personnel killed in return.
Then Islamabad signed a peace deal with militants in the tribal areas that allowed for its troops to withdraw, leaving the militants in charge of stemming cross-border activity - a bit like placing prisoners in charge of their jail keys, and this in an area crucial to the "war on terror".
At the same time, Pakistan looked on (until the Red Mosque saga) as the Taliban consolidated their assets, breeding countless fresh militants to go and fight in Afghanistan, while also appearing deaf to repeated US calls to share intelligence on what turned out to be a highly successful spring offensive for the Taliban in 2006.
Through Pakistan's prism, there was no contradiction here, just a question of safeguarding its national interests, and for several years Musharraf managed not to fall off his tightrope. Now, though, it looks as if he's heading for a plunge as the jihadist networks and the US prepare to confront each other on Pakistani territory - regardless of what Islamabad might want.
Time running out
Musharraf's administration has been on edge since the storming of the Lal Masjid, as it was a confrontation it knew would have unpleasant consequences. And with US war drums beating ever faster, Musharraf became even more nervous. If troops going into the mosque could inflame the tribal areas, imagine the reaction foreign troops in the tribal areas could provoke.
A contact in Rawalpindi familiar with goings-on in the capital's twin city, which is home to the military's top brass, told Asia Times Online on condition of anonymity of Musharraf's desperate efforts to speak to Washington at the highest level and request some breathing space.
According to the contact, Washington insisted that Islamabad press on relentlessly by military means against Taliban and al-Qaeda assets in Pakistan, saying that NATO would be supportive. Apparently, a personal request by Musharraf to speak to US President George W Bush about being given time for matters to cool off was declined.
In effect, Washington is brushing aside Musharraf's concerns over an extremist backlash of momentous proportions should foreign forces join in the fray in the tribal areas, let alone threaten the general's hold on power.
But one can understand Washington's determination to force the pace when one of the more notorious architects of the Taliban's military offensive, Libyan Abu Laith al-Libby, is sitting in North Waziristan. The hardened al-Qaeda operator is believed to have come up with the idea of stepping up the number of abductions of foreigners in Afghanistan. The seizure of more than 20 South Korean aid workers is the latest example of this.
The reasoning is that it will force coalition troops deeper into the civilian population to protect them, thereby exposing them to improvised explosive devices, rocket attacks and suicide bombers.
From the perspective of the al-Qaeda hardliners taking control in the tribal areas, they relish a confrontation with foreign troops in Pakistan as they see it as a chance to boost their broader aims in the region.
Such a confrontation would force the Pakistani jihadist community to rise up fully. This happened last year when the Pakistan Army mounted operations in South Waziristan - the ranks of the jihadis swelled by thousands within months. Such renewed fervor could be channeled to Afghanistan, and against Musharraf's administration.
While Washington wants to take action in Pakistan, it does not want the country to turn into a jihadist playing field, so it is preparing for the consequences. This includes the encouragement of liberal democratic forces to step into any power vacuum should Musharraf be forced out or choose to walk into the sunset. Quick regime changes have in the past worked to take the steam out of potentially disastrous backlashes, and given the military time to regroup.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
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Kacha Garhi refugee camp closes in Pakistan after 27 years
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, July 27 (UNHCR) One of the oldest and largest Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan has closed, with the last residents leaving for Afghanistan. The closure comes after two years of negotiations, and sets the tone for future camp closures.
Set up in 1980, Kacha Garhi camp was located in the heart of Hayatabad, part of Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province. More than 64,000 Afghans were registered in a recent government exercise in the camp, making it the fourth-largest camp countrywide after Jalozai, Old Shamshatoo and Panian camps in NWFP.
The decision to close Kacha Garhi camp was taken in 2006. It was one of four camps the governments of Pakistan, Afghanistan and UNHCR agreed to close, mainly for security reasons. But in Kacha Garhi's case, the authorities wanted to free up prime land for urban development.
As with the other three camps, the residents of Kacha Garhi were given two options: to voluntarily repatriate with UNHCR assistance averaging US$100 per person, or to relocate to an existing camp in Pakistan for those who do not wish to repatriate.
UNHCR's long-standing position is that repatriation must be truely voluntary and gradual. The free and informed decision of Afghans to return is the single most important contributing factor to their successful reintegration in Afghanistan.
By the time Kacha Garhi was closed on 26 July, some 37,000 registered Afghans had been assisted back to Afghanistan by UNHCR. Some 96 percent of Kacha Garhi's residents hail from Afghanistan's eastern and central provinces of Nangarhar, Laghman, Kabul and Logar.
No one opted for relocation to government-designated camps in Dir and Chitral in northern NWFP. Repatriating Afghans cited the remote location of the alternative camps, their lack of basic infrastructure and the limited possibilities for livelihoods as reasons for their decisions.
"I spent a major part of my life in Kacha Garhi, I married here and now I am the father of seven children," said Abdul Malik, 36, a motor mechanic. "My relatives and I have never been to Dir and Chitral before. I think it is quite difficult to start life from scratch. We prefer to return to our homeland. Even if the camp had not closed, I had decided to repatriate. After all, for how long can we live like refugees? When a person leaves his home, he has to go back one day."
Not everyone shared his view, which explains why it took two years to negotiate the camp closure. Located near Peshawar's major markets and industries, Kacha Garhi was a hub of trading and transport services. Local news reports put the market value of refugees' assets in the camp at the equivalent of about 740 million Pakistani Rupees (over US$12 million). Businessmen refused to leave, and reportedly sent delegations to lobby in Kabul.
However, it soon became clear the government was serious about closing the camp this year. Shuras were held with refugee elders to inform them about their options, and agreement was finally reached on a peaceful resolution to camp closure.
"The peaceful closure of Kacha Garhi camp has set a very good example," said Faridullah Jan, the Additional Commissioner of the Commissionerate of Afghan Refugees in NWFP. "The deadline [of June 30] was extended several times to ensure that the refugees took a voluntary decision. We are glad that the camp closed without any unpleasant incident."
What remains of Kacha Garhi today are the mud walls after which the camp is named. Most of the repatriating families had dismantled their houses and taken the wooden beams and doors to rebuild their homes in Afghanistan. Large portions of the deserted camp have been bulldozed by the authorities.
Fatima, a 45-year-old mother of four from Baghlan province, was among the last families to leave the camp. "We did not want to go back but had to dismantle our house as we were the only ones left in our compound and the rest had already repatriated," she said. "We could not go to Dir or Chitral to start a new life as it was not feasible for us. I decided to repatriate because we could not afford to rent a house in Peshawar."
She repatriated with her brother and extended family. "My husband is not returning with us," she explained. "He will settle us in Kabul, then come back to Pakistan as he is working as a fruit seller and earns a good income."
Guenet Guebre-Christos, the UN refugee agency's Representative in Pakistan, welcomed the camp's peaceful closure. "We hope the other camp closures will follow the same approach, that open dialogue will continue," she said.
By Rabia Ali in Peshawar, Pakistan
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Canada's commander in Afghanistan dodges bombing: media
Thu Jul 26, 4:01 PM ET
OTTAWA (AFP) - The commander of Canada's 2,500 troops in Afghanistan narrowly escaped a suicide bombing on his convoy of armored vehicles Thursday, Canadian media said.
The Department of National Defense confirmed the attack, saying no Canadians or Afghan bystanders were injured in the blast that left one heavily armored RG-31 on its side.
But officials would not say if Brigadier General Tim Grant was riding in the convoy.
According to reports, the suicide bomber detonated an explosives-packed minivan near the convoy around 6 p.m. local time.
The general, who is only days away from ending his nine-month tour in Afghanistan, was reportedly traveling in one of three vehicles in the convoy from the town of Shur Andan to Kandahar City, where the Canadians are based.
Officials said the attack came on the main road linking Kandahar air base to the city.
Earlier this month, one of deadliest explosions on NATO forces in Afghanistan destroyed an RG-31 vehicle, killing all six Canadians and an Afghan interpreter inside.
Canada's 2,500 troops are deployed with NATO's 40,000-strong International Security Assistance Force in southern Kandahar province, which is at the heart of an insurgency by Taliban militants.
Since the US-led occupation was launched in October 2001, 66 Canadian soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, 22 of them so far this year.
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Pakistan: Radio Free Afghanistan -- Al-Qaeda Regroup Poses Dual Threat
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
July 27, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The attempted reopening today in Islamabad of the Red Mosque complex that saw a bloody confrontation between security forces and militant Islamic radicals on July 10-11 is a reminder of the challenges confronting Pakistan's embattled President Pervez Musharraf. The event was descending into rioting as Islamic hard-liners sought to retake the facilities.
Another reminder is taking shape in Washington, where legislators are pressing to tie U.S. aid to Pakistan's success in combating Al-Qaeda. Reuters reported today that U.S. lawmakers are nearing agreement on a bill to would make funds contingent on a crackdown on Al-Qaeda, Taliban, and other militants.
With Pakistan long a source of concern in the U.S.-led counterterrorism effort, there is also new speculation about whether the U.S. military in Afghanistan might be tempted to cross the border into Pakistan to respond to any threat. In the United States, officials have declined to rule out direct strikes against Al-Qaeda targets in Pakistani territory, angering some Pakistanis.
The debate follows three shocks that reverberated in swift succession in Pakistan in the span of less than two weeks in July. First, more than 300 people died in the storming of Islamabad's Red Mosque and subsequent revenge attacks. Then Al-Qaeda's number-two man, Ayman al-Zawahri, urged a holy war against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. And last week, a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate described Al-Qaeda as having regrouped and refortified itself in Pakistan's tribal belt.
Militants 'Much Stronger'
Zahid Hussain is a senior Pakistani journalist and analyst who recently published a book on Islamist militancy since the attacks on the United States in September 2001. He told RFA that the Al-Qaeda network has been operating in Pakistan for a long time and has strengthened itself over the past six years.
"Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are much stronger and they have extended their network largely because of the support they are getting from the outlawed [Pakistani Islamist] militant groups," Hussain said. "In fact, the militants Islamist groups that were outlawed by President Pervez Musharraf in 2002 disintegrated into small cells and now they work as an extension of Al-Qaeda's network in Pakistan. Some of the planning for the attacks on Western countries had emanated from Pakistan. Some arrests have been made. But if you look, actually their capacity to attack has not [been] completely removed."
"Some arrests have been made. But if you look, actually their capacity to attack has not completely [been] removed."
Most observers agree that Musharraf's efforts to confront or contain militants have met with limited success. Critics say they've left Al-Qaeda and Taliban elements in control of large swaths of the borderlands, from which militants can extend their reach in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan.
"North and South Waziristan has really become a safe haven for Al-Qaeda and the Taliban," Hussain said. "The [Pakistani] government had been carrying out an operation for two years (2004-06) before reaching a cease-fire with the militants in North Waziristan in September of last year, but that 10-month truce was always tentative. After the truce there was a marked increase in attacks on the other side of the border, in Afghanistan. So the peace agreement gave Pakistan a period of respite, but it never resolved the problem."
Some Western analysts have argued that President Musharraf is allowing an Al-Qaeda presence in Pakistan in order to prolong his leadership.
Marvin Weinbaum, a Pakistan specialist at Washington's Middle East Institute, suggests the reality might be rather complicated.
"I believe that allowing the threat to be visible has been in Musharraf's interest," Weinbaum said. "However, certainly he could not have wanted it to progress as it has. It's one thing to be able to turn to the U.S. and the international community and say, 'You see, don't push me too hard because you see this is what I'm confronting and these are the elements that are going to succeed if I'm not here.' [But] right now the kind of extremist development that we see in Pakistan really does threaten the [Pakistani] army [and] the state -- and that in no way can be seen as a positive for Musharraf."
Much At Stake
The United States has given Pakistan some $10 billion in assistance since September 2001. The bulk of this has been to reimburse Islamabad for military operations against Al-Qaeda in the border region.
But some analysts warned that U.S. support has strengthened Musharraf's military-led government at the expense of a more democratic political order that might ultimately help curb extremism and militancy among Pakistan's 160 million people.
Peter Bergen is a terrorism analyst and author of a biography of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Ladin. He said he thinks President George W. Bush's administration should take a hard look at its counterterrorism cooperation with Islamabad.
"I think the United States needs to be a little more firm about the need for the return to civilian rule," Bergen said. "President Bush has been pretty silent on that. Other people in his administration keep supporting Musharraf, but the larger question is bigger than just one person. The return to civilian rule is important for Pakistan's long-term viability as a successful state. There are other things that the United States and Pakistan have been talking about: One is putting more reconstruction money into the tribal regions, and I think that makes a lot of sense if the money is spent in the right way."
Bergen argued that the United States should continue small-scale CIA operations inside Pakistan to hunt Al-Qaeda leaders. But he said Pakistan needs to crackdown on Taliban militants on its territory.
A 'More Serious' Effort?
"The Pakistani government also should try and go after the Taliban leadership in Quetta and Peshawar in a more serious manner," Bergen said. "And that's not something that's just in Afghanistan's interest -- that's also in the U.S. military's interest in Afghanistan and [the interest of] all the NATO countries that are participating there."
Weinbaum, however, suggested that Pakistani forces face daunting challenges in their efforts to battle Al-Qaeda. He noted that the army has already suffered significant losses in Pakistan's rugged northwestern border region, abutting the Afghan border. Violence there has resulted in more than 300 deaths in July -- roughly half of them government soldiers.
"I think it's very doubtful that the military has the capacity to deal with the threat, as [militancy] has now rooted itself in the tribal areas," Weinbaum said. "After the Red Mosque affair, there is probably more public support for more aggressive policy. But what has not changed is that the military lacks the capacity and the ability to confront groups that have taken root there. It is not capable of counterinsurgency; it doesn't have the training, the equipment, and, yes, even the motivation to really challenge that [insurgency] and be successful."
Weinbaum speculated that Musharraf's priority -- given the current state of affairs in Pakistan -- might be to contain the Al-Qaeda threat while not eliminating it altogether.
"About the best that they can do is to contain this," Weinbaum said. "A political development in Pakistan [in which] the [political] parties and Musharraf would together see a mandate to do this, I think he would be more impelled to act. But I think right now the best we can see is some response to some of the attacks. But a full-scale approach that tries to eliminate the threat that exists in the frontier [region] would incur enormous risks -- the military knows this, and they don't want to be humiliated again as they were for 2 1/2 years."
Bergen maintained that Al-Qaeda will continue operating out of Pakistan in the absence of sufficient political will and popular backing to launch large-scale attacks against its bases there.
But he also suggested that Western determination to liquidate the militant threat emanating from Pakistan could prove a tipping point if it is found to be a launching pad for a new terrorist attack.
"If there is another attack in Britain or another attack in the United States that's traceable to the tribal regions in Pakistan, then of course there would be a lot of political pressure to do something in a larger manner than has been done in the past."
(Abubakar Siddique is a correspondent for RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan)
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Musharraf not advised to quit: Rashid Qureshi
Says US envoy's meeting with Gen Ehsan not linked to CJ issue
By Rauf Klasra The News International (Pakistan) Friday, July 27, 2007
LONDON: General Rashid Qureshi, spokesman for the president, termed as speculation the reports that President General Pervez Musharaf was advised by his close military commanders to quit.
According to sources, Musharraf, during his six-day long discussions with his top military aides in Rawalpindi after the restoration of the chief justice, is said to have been advised that the best thing for him to do is to seek an "honourable exit".
They said Musharraf did not react to these suggestions for the time being. He is expected to make a decision after his return from Saudi Arabia. He is likely to raise this issue with the Saudis to find a way out of the political "mess" without any loss of face, the sources said.
They said the absence of General Musharraf from public engagements since the historic judgment of the Supreme Court has raised questions in the minds of both politicians and media persons.
The silence of an otherwise articulate Musharraf has given currency to reports that all was not well at the presidency. His decision to visit the UAE and Saudi Arabia without any earlier announced schedule has given rise to the speculations in London that in his last ditch effort Musharraf was trying to seek help of his Saudi friends.
A source revealed that he had received reports from certain government quarters that General Musharraf was not expecting that the Supreme Court would restore the chief justice and with it his chances to get himself re-elected would be buried.
This judgment, he believed, has come as a major shock for Musharraf. It is said that during these six days of "isolation" at his Rawalpindi residence, Musharraf discussed with his top civilian and military aides and friends how to revive hopes of his re-election for next five years.
The sources said there was a consensus in the presidential camp that Musharraf was in such a situation that even the political support of Benazir Bhutto, or any other leader like Maulana Fazlur Rehman, could not bail him out.
He was told that now the ball was in the court of the chief justice of Pakistan. Sources said there was a strong perception among his friends and aides that even if the chief justice wanted to bail Musharraf out, he could not do so because of the high expectations people have developed after his restoration as the top judge.
Musharraf was now at the dead end of the tunnel, the sources said. Meanwhile, talking to The News from Pakistan, General Rashid Qureshi said he had no knowledge of any advice given to General Musharraf by his close military commanders to quit.
When asked about the reason behind the continuous silence of Musharraf since the restoration of the chief justice, General Qureshi said the president was performing his routine duties in a normal fashion.
Rashid referred to Musharraf's meeting with the visiting foreign minister of Britain on Thursday. When asked whether the meeting of the US ambassador with General Ehsanul Haq had something to do with the existing crisis in Pakistan, he replied that ambassadors do call on the chairman joint chief of staff committee and it was not a big issue. But, he said, he did not know what might have been discussed between the US ambassador and General Ehsanul Haq.
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AFGHANISTAN: UNICEF appeals for more aid to help women, children
KABUL, 26 July 2007 (IRIN) - In 2007 floods, diseases, drought and armed conflict have increased the need for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, the UN Children's Agency (UNICEF) said in its donor update report issued on 26 July. Women and children have been particularly affected, it said.
"UNICEF urgently requires US$7 million to respond to the needs of children and women," UNICEF said in its report entitled Humanitarian Action, Afghanistan - Donor Update Report.
Catherine Mbengue, UNICEF representative in Afghanistan, told IRIN on 26 July that 200,000 children would receive humanitarian assistance through an emergency programme for which urgent funding was being sought. In addition, 2.2 million children will benefit from educational interventions.
"Thousands of families have either been displaced or lost their livelihoods and face the threat of disease outbreaks," Mbengue said in her office in Kabul.
The UN agency will spend the requested funds on medical supplies, tents, sanitation services, education and protection efforts.
Complex humanitarian emergency
Since the ousting of the Taliban over five years ago and the launch of rebuilding and development efforts, war-ravaged Afghanistan is still considered a complex humanitarian emergency, aid officials say.
The country has one of the highest child and maternal mortality rates in the world, with 1,600 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, and one in four children die before their fifth birthday, according to the UN.
"Seven percent [of children] suffer from acute malnutrition and 54 percent of them are chronically malnourished," UNICEF said.
Furthermore, over 28 floods that occurred in the first half of 2007 have affected some 10,000 Afghan families across the country. According to the Afghan disaster management body, 2007 has so far seen over 150 people die in flash floods and avalanches, with hundreds of houses washed away.
Afghanistan, particularly its southern, eastern and southeastern provinces, also suffers from an armed insurgency.
More than half of primary school age Afghan children, about two million, are deprived of schooling, UNICEF says.
"The crisis is not causing new problems. It is aggravating old and current vulnerabilities," Mbengue said.
UN facing access problems
As of May 2007, the UN did not have permanent access to about 41 percent of districts in Afghanistan, UNICEF confirmed in the report.
"In inaccessible areas we operate through government institutions or non-governmental organisations (NGOs)/ third parties," Mbengue said.
UNICEF's report calls for over $15 million to respond to humanitarian needs in the country. Canada, Norway, Australia, the Netherlands and some other donors have contributed over $9 million to the requested annual emergency fund, to date, leaving some $7 million still required.
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Canadian NGO workers maintain a low profile
ALEX DOBROTA From Thursday's Globe and Mail July 26, 2007 at 12:45 AM EDT
Whether travelling in unmarked sedans, donning the traditional shalwar kameez or secretly planning itineraries, Canadian non-governmental organization workers in Afghanistan are opting for a low profile to ward off kidnappings.
Their approach seems to differ sharply from that of many Canadian business representatives who operate in the war-torn country and who rarely hesitate to hire armed bodyguards to escort them on their travels.
Both groups agreed, however, that the threat of kidnappings has always existed across much of the Afghan countryside, where the local police and army wield little authority.
It's one third good management, one third local goodwill and one third, in the end, it's good luck, said one NGO worker who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to attract unwanted attention to herself or her organization.
Those comments came as purported Taliban members killed one of 23 South Korean hostages kidnapped as they were riding a bus from Kandahar to the capital city of Kabul.
While the NGO workers interviewed insisted they remain undaunted by the latest abductions, they also said they will likely increase their security measures.
These include travelling in generic sedans, like Toyota Corollas, a popular car in Afghan cities, one Canadian NGO worker said.
It can also mean changing cars when using the same route. The NGO workers interviewed said they avoid riding in SUVs or expensive cars. They rarely talk about their travel plans and try to avoid travelling in convoys, so as not to present an obvious target to potential kidnappers.
They're out there in the mountains, they're out there in that area and observing what's going on the road, who is passing by, said the Canadian NGO worker. So we travel very low-profile.
Before setting off, they perform what they call a recce, meaning a reconnaissance procedure that involves calling local police commanders for advice about the different districts that span the itinerary.
Often, NGO representatives travel with Afghan interpreters who can navigate through the network of local leaders and police commanders. Because gaining the trust of the locals is essential for the success of most NGO projects, their workers do not usually rely on armed escorts.
On the other hand, companies that decide to take advantage of the growth potential of the Afghan market often set aside a budget for security, said Aziz Amiri, the head of the Canada Afghanistan Business Council. The group represents about 40 businesses in Canada, ranging from manufacturing companies to import-export ventures, several of which have branches in Afghanistan.
When venturing into the Afghan countryside, their officials are often accompanied by an armed private escort hired through local security companies, Mr. Amiri said.
It's a give and take. They have to pay security, but in return they can make more money in Afghanistan than anywhere else.
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Pakistan: Talk of a unilateral US military strike against al-Qaida 'irresponsible'
The Associated Press Thursday, July 26, 2007
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: Talk in Washington of a possible unilateral U.S. military strike against al-Qaida in Pakistan's tribal areas is "irresponsible" and undermines support for President Gen. Pervez Musharraf in fighting terrorism, the foreign minister said Thursday.
In a defense of Islamabad's counterterrorism strategy, Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri also said Pakistan had sent more troops to a frontier region near Afghanistan where critics say a September 2006 peace deal with local Taliban has allowed Islamic militants to thrive.
The United States has dubbed the deal a failure, saying it has given an opportunity for al-Qaida to regroup. A senior defense official said Wednesday in Washington that U.S. special forces would be able to strike an extremist target in Pakistan's tribal areas if they had urgent intelligence.
Pakistan, where public opposition to the government's anti-terror alliance with the U.S. runs high, says that would violate its sovereignty. Kasuri on Thursday dubbed talk of a unilateral U.S. attack as "irresponsible" and "counterproductive" in anti-terror cooperation.
"Even talk of that nature undermines the support for the Pakistan government and its efforts," he told a press conference after meeting with visiting British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.
Kasuri said Pakistan would use military force against those who would not "listen to reason" but ultimately, the situation in the tribal region of North Waziristan where the peace deal has floundered amid suicide attacks, leaving scores dead could only be resolved politically.
"We are told repeatedly that the North Waziristan agreement has failed. The point is, in the long-run you can only have a political approach," Kasuri said.
He said Pakistan had sent more troops so tribal elders overseeing the deal can make sure commitments are fulfilled for militants to desist from attacks on security forces, harboring foreign fighters and cross-border raids on U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Miliband stressed the need for "concerted action" on both sides of the frontier, by Pakistan and NATO forces fighting in Afghanistan, including Britain and the United States.
Insurgency-related violence in Afghanistan has also escalated this year, leaving more than 3,400 dead.
The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush told Congress on Wednesday that Pakistan was the "most indispensable partner" of the United States in fighting terror, but that Pakistan needed to do more.
Undersecretary of Defense James Clapper said U.S. forces had the capability to strike in the tribal regions, and would like them to have more freedom to take action there.
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Taliban kidnap Paktika High Court officials in Ghazni
GHAZNI CITY, July 25 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Two officials of the Paktika High Court were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen in the troubled southern province of Ghazni, a governor said on Wednesday.
The High Court employees, both residents of the restive Ghazni province, were kidnapped on their way home, Paktika Governor Akram Khpalwak told Pajhwok Afghan News.
Khpalwak said the men were taken hostage in Sultan Bagh area of Taliban-infested Andar district. Ghazni security bosses, when informed of the incident, assured they would do all in their power to secure the release of the pair, he added.
But Andar district chief Abdul Rahim Desiwal, when approached for comments on the incident, explained the court officials were abducted in Paktika, not Ghazni.
Meanwhile, a Ghazni-based Taliban commander claimed they had kidnapped four Paktika High Court judges, including the chief justice. Qari Yousaf Ahmadi also confirmed the latest kidnaps, but refused to go into details.
In another development, Desiwal said, the rebels torched a vehicle supplying food items to US-led Coalition forces stationed in Paktika. The driver and cleaner were rescued by police.
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Five brothers killed, injured as warhead explodes in Logar
PUL-I-ALAM, July 25 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Five children of a family were killed and wounded as a warhead exploded inside a house in the central Logar province late Tuesday, a police official said on Wednesday.
One of the minors was killed and four others sustained injuries in the blast that rocked the house of a driver near this provincial capital, said the official, who did not want to be named, because he was not authorised to speak to the media.
The warhead went off with a big bang as the kids played with it, according to the source, who said the injured were rushed to the Kabul Emergency Hospital for medical treatment. Two of the minors are said to be in a critical condition.
Provincial Education Director Kamaluddin Zadran informed Pajhwok Afghan News the five children were his driver Pacha Khans sons. He confirmed nine-year-old Nasrullah perished in the explosion and four of his brothers suffered wounds.
The boys brought home the warhead they found outside last evening, Zadran explained, saying the device exploded as the children hit it with stones. He panned security forces for their failure to rid the vast countryside of explosives that continued to take a heavy toll on civilians.
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