by Sardar Ahmad
KABUL (AFP) - A suicide bomber destroyed a police bus in Kabul Sunday, killing 35 people and wounding dozens in the deadliest attack in Afghanistan since the Taliban regime was toppled in 2001, police said.
Most of the dead were instructors going to work at the city's police academy but bystanders were also killed, police said. The wounded included five foreigners.
The Al-Qaeda-linked Taliban movement claimed responsibility for the blast, which reduced the bus to a skeleton of blackened and mangled metal. Body parts and bits of human flesh were flung across a wide area.
"We have got 35 people martyred and 52 wounded," Kabul province police chief Esmatullah Dauladzai told AFP. "Those killed include mostly officers and civilians."
Among the wounded were two Japanese, a Korean and two Pakistani nationals, he said. This could not be immediately confirmed by the relevant embassies.
The city's criminal investigation department chief, Alishah Paktiawal, also said 35 people were killed.
"It is the work of terrorists, Al-Qaeda and murderers of the people," Paktiawal said.
It was the deadliest bombing in the country since a September 2002 when a car bomb in Kabul killed around 30 people.
Dauladzai said the blast appeared to have been caused by a suicide bomber on the bus.
"Our investigations indicate that it was a suicide bombing carried out by an individual inside the bus. He was seen by witnesses wearing black clothes and was in the bus," he said.
Claiming responsibility, the Taliban said the attacker had infiltrated the police on the orders of one of the group's most senior commanders, Jalaluddin Haqqani.
"The man who carried out the attack was a mujahed (holy fighter) who under Haqqani's orders had entered the police ranks," spokesman Saluhuddin Ayobi told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.
"And again under his direct orders, today he strapped explosives on his body and exploded himself inside the police bus."
There had been rumours that Haqqani, who was a minister in the 1996-2001 Taliban government, had died. He was "alive and leading the jihad (holy war) against the US forces and the puppet Kabul government," Ayobi said.
The sirens of ambulances wailed across the city as the wounded were ferried to hospitals. Twenty-four people were hospitalised, health ministry director genera Salam Jalali said.
The blast struck in a crowded part of the city centre. Two nearby minibuses were damaged and witnesses said bystanders may also have been hit.
"When I arrived you could see dead and wounded lying everywhere," said one young man who gave his name only as Abbas.
"Many of them were torn into pieces. Many of them were headless and others had no legs or arms."
The blast followed a suicide attack on Friday aimed at foreign forces in the west of the city that killed three labourers. It was the fourth such attack in the country in two days.
It came hours before a ceremony on the other side of the city to mark the handing over of the police training programme from German authority to that of a European Union mission.
"We will change the ceremony to an act of solidarity," public information officer for the mission, Michael Freienstein, told AFP. "We have a lot of colleagues dead right now."
There have been a handful of blasts on police buses in the capital in the past months with the fledgling police force bearing the brunt of insurgent attacks throughout the country.
"The police are the tip of the spear in Afghanistan's fight against the Taliban so the Taliban would like very much to set back police training," said Major Sheldon Smith from a US-led coalition team training Afghan forces.
"The Taliban want to roll back all the progress that has been made here," he said.
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Four foreigners among dead from Afghan suicide bomb
Sunday, June 17 08:53 am
KABUL (Reuters) - Four foreign nationals were among those killed in a suicide bombing against a police bus on Sunday in the Afghan capital, the interior ministry said.
The foreigners, whose identities were not immediately clear, served as instructors for Afghan police, it said. Germany leads the training of the Afghan police.
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CHRONOLOGY-Major bomb attacks in Afghanistan
June 17 (Reuters) - A Taliban suicide bomber blew up a police bus in the Afghan capital on Sunday, killing around 35 people in one of Kabul's deadliest explosions in recent months amid rising nationwide violence, police said.
Here is a chronology of major bomb attacks mounted by suspected Taliban or allied militants in Afghanistan since 2002:
Sept 5, 2002 - A car bomb explodes near Kabul's Information Ministry killing at least 26 and injuring 150 in the worst bombing since the Western-supported government came to power.
June 13, 2005 - A suicide bomber wearing a police uniform kills 20 people, including a police chief, in an attack on a mosque in the southern city of Kandahar, as mourners gathered to pay respects to an assassinated anti-Taliban cleric.
Jan 17, 2006 - Taliban suicide bombers kill at least 20 people in the town of Spin Boldak, bordering Pakistan.
Aug 3, 2006 - A suicide car bomb attack aimed at a convoy of NATO troops in Kandahar kills at least 21 people.
Sept. 8, 2006 - Fourteen people including two American soldiers are killed in a suicide car-bomb blast near the U.S. embassy in Kabul.
Sept 30, 2006 - A suicide bomber detonates explosives at the gate of the Interior Ministry in Kabul, killing 13 people.
Feb 27, 2007 - A suicide bomber kills 14 people outside the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan, at Bagram north of Kabul.
May 17, 2007 - Roadside explosions kill 11 Afghan police officers, Information Minister Karim Khurram is wounded in a suicide bombing in Kandahar province. Earlier in the day, two blasts killed 10 police officers in Kandahar city.
June 17, 2007 - A Taliban suicide bomber blows up a police bus in Kabul killing at least 35 and wounding around 30.
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10 killed in Taliban attack on Afghan-Iran border: police
HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP) - The Taliban attacked a remote customs office on Afghanistan's border with Iran overnight, killing two policemen but losing eight of their own fighters, police said Sunday.
The fighting at the remote Qalat-i-Nazar Khan border post in Herat lasted four hours, the top police commander for the country's western provinces, Rahmatullah Safi, told AFP.
"Eight Taliban were killed and two policemen were also martyred," he said.
Safi said it appeared that the rebels wanted to capture the border post, but he could not say which side of the border they had come from.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said last week "substantial" quantities of Iranian weapons were flowing into Afghanistan, and other US and British officials have also alleged that Iranian weapons have been found here destined for the Taliban.
There has, however, been no proof the weapons are provided by Iranian authorities, who have strongly denied involvement.
President Hamid Karzai and other Afghan officials have also ruled out Tehran's involvement.
Most of Afghanistan's huge trade in opium is conducted across its western and southern borders with Pakistan and Iran.
Fighting on the Iranian border has been rare, with most Taliban activity in the eastern and southern parts of the country bordering Pakistan.
In March, however, an Afghan policeman and an Iranian policeman were killed in a 20-minute gunfight after a group of Iranians crossed the border and refused warnings to leave, Afghan authorities said.
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Taliban launch second day of Afghan suicide attacks
ABDUL SABOOR AND TAHIR QADIRY Reuters June 16, 2007 at 5:37 PM EDT via Globe and Mail, Canada
KABUL — Taliban suicide bombers launched a second day of attacks in Afghanistan on Saturday, killing at least four people in the capital and a northern city, raising tensions in areas that had been considered relatively secure.
A suicide car-bomber attacked a military-civilian convoy in Kabul on Saturday morning, killing at least three civilians and wounding five others, government and police official said.
Hours later, two bombers riding a motorcycle attacked a Swiss military reconstruction team in Mazar-i-Sharif, killing at least one Afghan civilian and wounding 15, a local security official said. The death toll could climb.
The Swiss government said it had no information that any Swiss nationals were hurt in Afghanistan.
A spokesman for the Taliban, waging an insurgency against the Afghan government and its foreign allies, said the group was behind the attacks, which included two suicide blasts on Friday in south and central Afghanistan.
"Our many Taliban suiciders are present in the all cities in Afghanistan," Taliban spokesman Zabi-u-llah Mujahid told Reuters by satellite phone. "We will increase our suicide and guerrilla attacks...in coming days," he added.
The Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies have adopted the tactics of Iraq's insurgency over the past two years, using suicide bombings, mostly aimed at foreign troops, to try to dispel the notion that foreign and Afghan forces are in control.
In Mazar-i-Sharif, seen as one of the most peaceful Afghan cities, the motorcycle bombers blew up as the convoy swept past on a stretch of road near a crowded vegetable market. It was the first suicide bombing in Mazar-i-Sharif in three years.
An eyewitness, Ahmad Jawad, said one of the bombers was wounded but appeared to have survived the blast.
"There were two people on a motorcycle and one of them was injured," Mr. Jawad said. "The cars passed and the suicide bombers exploded and the air filled with smoke."
Ahmad Zia, head of the provincial hospital in Mazar-i-Sharif, said some of the wounded were in critical condition and he expected the death toll to rise.
Amid the day's confusion and mayhem, a U.S. soldier shot and wounded two civilians near the scene of the Kabul blast, a U.S. military spokesman said. A senior police official said one of the civilians had died of his wounds in this incident.
"It appears ... that it was an accidental discharge ... and unfortunately it hit two Afghan civilians," the U.S. military spokesman said, adding the incident was under investigation.
Suicide bombings and civilian casualties from both sides in the Afghan conflict are raising security and political tensions and threatening to erode local support for foreign troops.
NATO-led and U.S.-coalition forces have more than 50,000 troops in Afghanistan and are under growing pressure to curb civilian casualties after a series of recent killings brought into question their tactics, such as aerial bombardment.
But NATO has blamed the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan until U.S.-led forces invaded in 2001, for using civilians as human shields and sucking innocent people into the conflict.
A U.S.-coalition soldier was killed in central Uruzgan province on Saturday when a rocket-propelled grenade hit his vehicle, a U.S. military statement said.
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High-profile Afghan women brave threats, intimidation
by Sylvie Briand Sun Jun 17, 3:53 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - "Women who go to work every day in Afghanistan are heroines," says journalist Friba Chalkhi Habib.
She knows what she is talking about: the 30-year-old is regularly threatened or insulted, like many Afghan women in high-profile jobs.
The recent murders of two women journalists have underlined the dangers faced by women like Habib, Afghanistan's first female political talk-show host.
On her programme "Face the Nation," which has been on public channel RTA for about a month Habib quizzes ministers and legislators with aplomb, also presenting them with questions from people filmed on the streets of Kabul.
The mother-of-three says she is supported in her work by the men in her family. Nevertheless, "to talk politics is to put yourself more in danger," she says.
"A man told me on the telephone that if I carried on doing what I do, the same thing would happen to me as to two journalists who were killed.
"But I am not scared and I don't expect any protection from the authorities," she says calmly and with a smile.
The twin killings shocked many in Afghanistan and prompted international criticism.
Zakia Zaki, 35, the head of Peace Radio and a leading figure in women's journalism, was killed in her home at Jabal Seraj, 60 kilometres (40 miles) north of Kabul, around midnight on June 5.
A week earlier television presenter Shakiba Sanga Amaj, 22, was shot dead in her home.
The motive for Amaj's murder, according to her father, was linked to her rejection of a suitor. But the reason that Zaki was killed is still a mystery.
She was however known for being critical of the warlords who have been accused of atrocities in Afghanistan's decades of conflict, and she had had death threats.
Six people have been arrested in relation to the killing, two of whom are suspected of links with the fundamentalist Islamist insurgent group Hezb-i-Islami.
But the Afghan Independent Journalists Association says those really responsible have not been caught.
"The authorities are trying to hide something. The investigation was not handled correctly," says association president Rahimullah Samander.
In the meantime a woman journalist with private Afghan news agency Pajhwok, Farida Nekzad, has also received death threats, he says.
"Journalists, men or women, are under pressure. But for women, the weight of traditions, opposition from their family, makes their jobs more difficult and not only the domain of journalism," he says.
Barred from studying and working outside of their homes under the conservative 1996-2001 Taliban regime, women have cautiously begun throwing back the burqa in Kabul and rejoining the workforce.
But sometimes they are far from being welcomed.
"Women are not respected and the government is doing nothing for them," says Fauzia Assifi, head of the tourism department in the ministry of information, culture and tourism.
It has been a year since she has spoken to her minister, Abdul Karim Khoram, a former Hezb-i-Islami fighter. "He told me he did not want to work with women," she says.
Assifi says the minister removed several women who had held director-level positions. This is however rejected by Khoram's spokesman.
"The minister has nothing against women," says Hamid Nassery Wardak. "After administrative reforms, most employees have been treated on merit."
Afghanistan has only one female minister, the low-profile head of the women's ministry, and a quota of female parliamentarians, the most outspoken of whom was removed from parliament last month for criticising her fellow MPs.
Despite the threats from conservative quarters, Habib does not intend to abandon her new role as political talk-show host.
"If one listens to them and hides from them, nothing will change for women," she says.
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To die under the wings of B-52s
By Philip Smucker Asia Times Online / June 16, 2007
CHAKDARRA FORT, Malakand District, North West Frontier Province, Pakistan - This week I returned to a corner of the globe that represents for me one of the starting points for George W Bush's "war on terror".
It was here in November, 2001, when I had a casual chat with a Pakistani frontier cop that I realized that it was not going to be an easy war for my country, the United States, to win. Of course, the kingpin who planned and boasted about the success of the attack on the World Trade Center was somewhere out there in the snowy Afghan highlands, but he represented just the tip of the iceberg.
I had just paid a jihadi recruiter for a music cassette tape of a mother singing to her son, admonishing him to prepare for his own death for the sake of the holy war. It was a kind of a duet sung back and forth by the son and mother in the anticipation of an ensuing mission that, beneath the wings of the B-52 bombers overhead, was already looking suicidal.
On that balmy day I asked a senior prosecutor in the Malakand district, Mohammad Zaman, what he intended to do about the thousands of jihadis rallying to run into Afghanistan and meet the US ground troops. His answer did not reassure me. "They have been blocking our roads and threatening us at every turn, so our attitude is let them go and die in Afghanistan beneath the wings of the B-52s, if that is what they really want."
But that view wasn't really representative, and I felt - at the time - that he was hedging a bit. A great number of Pashtun locals in Pakistan's remote tribal regions saw the war in Afghanistan as yet another opportunity to take on Western infidels, as they had done the Soviets with such success - and so they openly or secretly supported Sufi Mohammed, the leader of TNSM (Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Laws), who was about to send a few thousand locals to their death or imprisonment in Afghanistan.
I also spoke to a regular cop, a bearded and cordial chap named Farman Ullah. He spoke to me beneath a sturdy British fort, where a young Winston Churchill, one of President George W Bush's personal heroes, reported on the efforts of British troops to subdue a local uprising and reign in Islamic radicals during the Raj's semi-glorious Victorian era.
Ullah smiled up at the crusty little embattlement and said: "Some people say he was a good man, but as far as I'm concerned he was just another infidel."
And so over five years on, I had now returned to the same wretched valley - none the wiser, but considerably more jaded - with the intent of gaining some insight into the current attitudes of the locals about the war and Westerners. There had not been much good news, particularly in the last year.
In October, 2006, there was an air strike on a madrassa in adjacent Bajaur district that left some 80 militants and students dead - as well as one Liaqatullah, a leading follower of Sufi Mohammed. Elders and local supporters said that under the rubble they discovered religious students, some of them not even in their teens.
Though President General Pervez Musharraf claimed Pakistani responsibility for the attack, calling the school a militant camp, tribal leaders and locals still insisted to me that US bombs caused most of the damage. They said the bombing actually began some 20 minutes before the Pakistani helicopter gun ships even arrived overhead.
Out here on the perimeter of the civilized universe, perceptions are everything. Retaliation came a week later, and it was massive, greater than any suicide attack ever witnessed in neighboring Afghanistan. On a Pakistani Army sports field shaded by eucalyptus trees, a lone suicide bomber blew himself up, killing 42 and injuring 39 recruits of the Punjab Regiment Center.
I asked the same group of frontier cops about all this. "People here were clearly upset at what happened at the madrassa," said Ghulam Khaliq, a police official. "There is a general feeling that the Taliban is under attack and oppressed both here in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. We have been unable to determine if more young men are going for the jihad in Afghanistan, but, on the other hand, we can't check every car."
No one really knows how many young jihadis are bolting into the highlands of Afghanistan this summer. But from US military and Afghan intelligence reporting, it is a fair number and many of them are equipped with a lot more than a Kalashnikov.
Contrast that with the demoralization that took place when most of Sufi Mohammed's minions were virtually annihilated in 2001 and 2002, and you've got a much bigger jihad on your hands. And the attitude towards Americans, I found, is pretty much "catch and kill as you can".
A grizzled Fazul Haq, a sit-in for the now imprisoned Sufi Mohammed, who is due to be released this year, told me further north in Mingora city in the tranquil Swat Valley that "American spies" will be beheaded as soon as they are apprehended by his group.
"We have informed the government in writing that if we see American spies in Swat, whatever happens to them, we are not responsible," he said. "They want us to rescind our order, but we refuse." Several of Fazul Haq's local madrassa students listened attentively as he spoke.
I asked one of them if he had seen any of the myriad jihadi DVDs available in the local market, some of which showed "live" beheadings of American soldiers in Iraq. He nodded with a smile. "I am happy to see non-Muslims beheaded," he said and then shut up to listen more.
There has been an awful lot of talk in the Western press about the frightful and new "Talibanization" of Pakistan. But the radicalization of Pakistan has been a long time coming and the West, particularly the United States, is probably as culpable as Pakistan's generals in the matter. The "Talibanization" is, in truth, a lot of what Yogi Berra would call, "deja vu all over again".
"The glorification of jihad was never a part of the Islamic mainstream here until it was introduced in the 60s and then given a major lift in the 80s from the US assistance money that was funneled toward extremists," said Afrasiab Khattak, a leading
Pakistani Pashtun human-rights activist based in Peshawar. Indeed, he insisted, "Talibanization" has been the official policy in Pakistan for decades - and still is.
It isn't going away any time soon from the looks of the hundreds of radical madrassas that line the highway from Peshawar to Chitral and back down to Quetta.
To some it might sound like a presumptuous conspiracy theory, but Khattak is not a lone voice in the wilderness when he insists that "Pakistan's generals think they can force the West to quit Afghanistan by sending body bags to back to these countries". Khattak said that the Pashtun tribesmen are being used as "canon fodder" in this Machiavellian effort that is already showing signs of backfiring on its masters.
Indeed, I hadn't believed the Malakand district prosecutor when he told me in 2001 that the jihadis could - as far as he was concerned - go die under the wings of B-52s. All those people streaming across the border of a sovereign state didn't make much sense unless there was some national interest at work.
What was really going on when those thousands of jihadis from Pakistan slipped unscathed into Afghanistan was a great deal of serious "male bonding" between angry combatants. It was something that rogue elements in Pakistan's intelligence services wanted all along, said Khattak. It set the stage for the rebirth of the jihad they had nurtured against the Soviets.
After the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban came running or straggling out into the tribal areas in 2001 and 2002, they regrouped and - to their eventual salvation - found a great deal of their Arab brethren, including the godfather of jihad himself, Osama bin Laden, right in their midst.
I wandered across the highway after talking to the cops in Chakdarra and had a word with Mullah Allam, the another TNSM leader, who fought in Afghanistan for several months right after September 11, 2001.
I asked him about Osama bin Laden and what kind of local backing he still had. "Osama is a great spiritual leader," he said. "We are not even prepared to hand over even the least important of his followers."
Several other Taliban sympathizers promised me that if anything like the capture of bin Laden took place Musharraf and his American associates would have hell to pay. Of course, they had used that same line in 2001.
But what is so astounding, Khattak told me back in Peshawar, is that George W Bush and the US government can't understand that they are - in the language of the American ghetto - getting "played" by a clique of Pakistani generals and intelligence operatives.
After a half decade of covering a war that looks more confounding by the day, I traveled to Islamabad for more answers.
I paid a visit to the now infamous Red Mosque, near to which Abdul Rashid Ghazi sits in his Internet cafe on the grounds of a militant madrassa surrounded by young men holding Kalashnikovs. Along with his brother, Ghazi, he oversees, along with several thousand angry young men, a few thousand female militants covered from head to toe in black and purportedly armed to the teeth. They are threatening to send suicide brigades into the fray if Musharraf's forces lay a hand on them. (A couple of them hissed at me for just trying to take their photograph.)
A lot of residents in Islamabad think that Ghazi and the Red Mosque radicals are just a front for the same rogue elements in the Inter Services Intelligence who aid and abet the jihad on the frontier. How can you explain the Pakistani military's willingness to kill hundreds of rebellious tribals in the NWFP if they can not lay a finger on the Red Mosque radicals, they ask. (It did seem suspicious.)
As far as Ghazi is concerned, it is not any of Pakistan's 13.000 madrassas that are responsible for turning out the anti-American jihadis who traipse across the border into Afghanistan or turn on authorities in Pakistan. They only goad them on a little.
"We tell them that to stop the aggression is jihad," he said. "And if they go to fight, we can't stop them. We cannot say, well, you have done the wrong thing. We will say, well, you have gone in the right direction."
It sounded to me like the way an intelligence agency would recruit and train operatives and then inculcate them with a "deniability" quotient.
In any case, Ghazi insisted that both the Taliban and al-Qaeda are a direct creation of Bush's "war on terror".
"It is Musharraf and Bush who have created these suicide bombers," said Ghazi, a polite and surprisingly erudite man of about 50 years told me. "People talk about the 'local Taliban' but why have they appeared? I mean, the more you try to suppress them, the more they appear. If you kill one Taliban, a hundred people will stand up and take the role of the Taliban." He was expressing, of course, former US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld's worst nightmare.
Ghazi, like several other leading radicals in modern Pakistan, is an old associate of bin Laden. Even the godfather of global jihad is an American production, he insisted.
"Before 9/11, he was just an ordinary mujahid," he said as his armed guards kept ducking my camera lens. "But it was America that made him al-Qaeda - or this or that. America made him a hero and now whatever he says is taken as holy scripture."
Philip Smucker is a commentator and journalist based in South Asia and the Middle East. He is the author of Al-Qaeda's Great Escape: The Military and the Media on Terror's Trail (2004).
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Deported Afghans stream home but maybe not for long
By Mark Bendeich Sat Jun 16, 11:18 PM ET
ISLAM QALA, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Thousands of deported Afghan men are destined this week to trudge across the Iranian border into their impoverished homeland -- many of them determined to sneak back into Iran at the first opportunity.
Despite Afghanistan's appeals to stem the tide, Iran keeps deporting illegal Afghan workers through the desert border post of Islam Qala, where they cross on foot in single file and are welcomed home by legless beggars and street children.
Each man carries his few belongings in a sports bag, a plastic sack or tied up in a sheet, whatever he had with him when he was arrested. Some have only the clothes they are wearing.
"I want to go back," 20-year-old Zia Akhlaqi said after crossing the border last week, clutching a blue, shoebox-sized bag in one hand and pointing back toward Iran with the other.
"My money is back there."
More than 100,000 Afghans, many of them illegal workers, have been rounded up and bused back to their homeland since April 21, when Tehran launched a major campaign to return illegal Afghan workers, estimated to number more than 1 million.
The strain is starting to tell, particularly in Herat, Afghanistan's second-largest city, less than two hours' drive from Islam Qala along a new, sealed road.
The Herat police chief said on Wednesday that crime had picked up since the waves of newly jobless young men washed into the city of 3 million people two months ago.
"Joblessness is the mother of every crime," Mohammad Shafiq Fazli said wearily at Herat police headquarters, though he insisted it was not spiraling out of control.
In the capital, Kabul, the problem is also felt: the foreign minister and refugees minister have been censured by parliament for their handling of the crisis, though the government had pleaded with Iran not to flood the country with returnees.
'I AM COMPLETELY ALONE'
Afghanistan is struggling to contain a reinvigorated Taliban insurgency and to deliver power and water to its overcrowded cities. It says the last thing it needs is more jobless men.
At the dusty, windswept border post, young men pour off Iranian buses, well aware no jobs and in some cases no family await on the other side.
Hundreds of voluntary returnees also arrive here, having chosen to return before Iranian police catch up with them. Unlike the deportees, they have been given a chance to collect their possessions and arrive bearing stereos and kitchen appliances.
Children work as porters on the Afghan side, offering to carry their loads in wheel barrows to a traffic jam of taxi touts offering to take the returnees into Herat.
The beggars also focus most of their attention on the voluntary returnees, knowing the deportees have next to nothing.
"I am completely alone," 16-year-old Safiullah said through an interpreter after crossing the border.
He said he had gone to Iran last year in search of work just as Afghanistan took a violent turn for the worse. On Wednesday, he was back, having been arrested at a Tehran building site.
Some older men said they had worked for many years in Iran and had left behind families and savings, both at the mercy of landlords. Illegal workers have no bank accounts, so they leave their money with Iranian landlords for safekeeping, they said.
Zia said he left behind a 20-day-old baby girl with his wife and around $1,100 in savings. Another man said he had been arrested while being treated for kidney disease in an Iranian hospital; another said he had left $3,000 with his landlord.
It wasn't always such a sorry procession at Islam Qala.
Three years ago, thousands of Afghans came home willingly across this border every day, lured back by the promise of better times. U.S.-led forces had evicted the Taliban from power in 2001 and foreign aid donors were pouring in billions of dollars.
The United Nations built a huge handling centre at Islam Qala for voluntary returnees. The size of about six football fields, it could accommodate dozens of buses and process thousands of people at a time. Now it feels empty.
"People had high expectations then," said Naik Mohammad Azamy, head of the UNHCR field unit at Islam Qala. "Now the security is bad and people are unwilling to return."
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Afghan troops kill regional Taliban commander, capture another
People's Daily - Jun 16 8:06 PM
Afghan forces killed a regional Taliban commander and captured another one in the central Ghazni province, Defense Ministry said in a statement on Saturday.
The Afghan National Army (ANA) eliminated Mawlawi Abdul Basir, an important Taliban commander in Ghazni, and captured another one Mullah Kakar over the past 48 hours, the statement said.
However, it did not say how senior they ranked in the Taliban hierarchy.
Another five militants were also captured during the operation, which was launched on Thursday, and a number of arms and ammunitions were recovered, according to the statement.
The statement said four Afghan soldiers were killed and nine others injured in eastern and southern provinces of the country over the past three days.
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Commander Jalaluddin Haqqani is dead?
Pajhwok 06/16/2007 By Abdul Majid Arif
KHOST CITY - Intelligence officials in the southeastern Khost province said top Taliban commander Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani had died after protracted illness in the United Arab Emirates.
Haqqani's death was confirmed only two days after Taliban strongly rejected such reports. However, on Thursday, the militants said they did not know if he was alive or dead.
A commander of Maulvi Younus Khalis' Hezb-i-Islami during the era of jihad, Haqqani joined the Taliban and served as their minister for borders and tribal areas.
A senior intelligence official in Khost told Pajhwok Haqqani had passed away in Abu Dhabi some time back. One of his wives was a UAE national and he himself too, had the nationality of that country, said the official.
His body was yet to be buried, said the official, who based his statement on the secret reports received to the department.
Qari Yousaf Ahmadi and Zabeehullah Mujahid, the two men posing as spokesmen for the Taliban militants, neither confirmed nor rejected the claim by the Khost officials.
Haqqani had suffered serious injuries in an airstrike by the Coalition troops some three years back. Later he fell prey to Hepatitis C and his reported death is said to be caused by the deadly disease.
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Afghanistan: The winnable war
By Michael Fumento June 17, 2007 The Washington Times, DC
"This war is winnable." I can't say how often during my recent embed in the southern Afghanistan Province of Zabul, just north and east of Kandahar, I heard officers and noncoms say that. Implicit is that it's also losable; but what they really mean is winnable compared to Iraq.
Strange but true that Afghanistan -- with four major ethnic groups, two official languages, and almost countless lesser languages -- is far more of a proud, united nation than Iraq. They have Sunni and Shia, but their differences are just an excuse for a chat over chai tea.
Further, while it's way too early to say if the Iraqi "surge" is working, the much-anticipated massive Taliban spring offensive in Afghanistan has thus far proved more a trickle than a deluge.
Still, as I note in my article in the June 11 Weekly Standard, "The other war," it would be a mistake to assume time is on our side. Afghans seem to be losing patience with the war effort. While that may not help the Taliban (more than 90 percent of Afghans dislike them), it can certainly hinder President Hamid Karzai's efforts to keep the warlords at bay. It's warlords, not sectarianism, that pose the internal threat.
The most threatening is Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, a major Northern Alliance leader against the Taliban. Before that, he fought on the side of the Soviets and the communist government. Probably to undercut the government, which has essentially excluded him, he announced in May that he can raise an army and drive out the Taliban in six months.
Further, despite major setbacks this year, including the May 13 killing of Mullah Dadullah, a butcher frequently called "the military mastermind of the Taliban insurgency" whose headquarters were in Zabul, there have been increasing calls for negotiating with "moderate Taliban." This includes the Afghan senate itself, which has grown weary of the Taliban tactic of hiding their forces among civilians to cause the deaths of innocents from U.S. and NATO fire. Yet the enemy itself insists "moderate Taliban" is oxymoronic.
I have only visited parts of Iraq on three occasions and part of Afghanistan but have seen enough to know that while the Iraq effort is awash with money but lacking in men, the war in Afghanistan is fought on a shoestring in terms of both. There will be about 155,000 U.S. troops in Iraq when the buildup is complete, but there are only about 27,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, a country larger in both geography and population.
A massive concrete blast wall in Iraq is a mere mud wall in Afghanistan. "It takes four weeks here just to get cement," 1st. Lt. Keith Wei, executive officer of the American unit with which I was embedded told me. "We need to help build and to provide security, but we just don't have the funds. Everybody here understands what needs to be done but their hands are tied by a lack of resources in both funds and people. We could pacify Zabul [Province] in probably a year if they pumped money into here like they do Iraq."
Yet together, both wars plus all other defense spending consume about 3.8 percent of gross domestic product, or just over a third of the GDP percentage spent at the height of the Vietnam War. Total U.S. forces now in both Iraq and Afghanistan amount to just a third of the 540,000 employed for the limited purpose of driving Saddam Hussein's forces out of Kuwait in 1991.
Still that might not be a problem in Afghanistan if NATO nations didn't refuse to pull their weight -- in total personnel contributed, combat soldiers or defense expenditures. Only six of 37 NATO countries with troops in Afghanistan will even allow them to fight, namely us, the U.K., Canada, the Netherlands, Romania and tiny Estonia. Only six spend as much as 2 percent of their GDP on defense. Even as they refer to America as a bellicose "cowboy" nation, they sit back and let us and a handful of other countries expend the money and blood.
"You can see victory on the horizon," says Mr. Wei. "We just don't have the means to get there."
Michael Fumento has been embedded three times in Iraq's al Anbar Province and once with U.S. and Romanian forces in Afghanistan.
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NATO image problem: Civilian deaths always blamed on alliance despite Taliban
The Associated Press Saturday, June 16, 2007
KABUL, Afghanistan: NATO has an image problem in Afghanistan — and a U.S. Humvee gunner who opened fire on a crowd of civilians following a deadly suicide attack Saturday shows why.
Despite the fact the Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the suicide car bombing in a crowded business district — an attack against a U.S. convoy that killed four Afghan civilians — it was the shooting by the U.S. soldier in the aftermath, which killed one Afghan and wounded two, that sparked public anger.
Some 50 to 100 Afghans chanted "Death to America," and others jabbed their fingers at Afghan police.
"They are against us. They are against Afghans," said Abdul Rahim, a man in the crowd. "They should prevent them from doing such actions, otherwise we will join hands and stand against them alongside the others," a reference to the Taliban.
"They are killing Muslims," he said.
Zalmai Khan, Kabul's deputy police chief, and U.S. officials labeled the shooting an accident, saying the gun mistakenly went off when the soldier moved it from one side to another. Witnesses said a bystander who had just bought a cell phone card was killed, and that no one in the crowd had been acting up.
But the shooting was enough to change the headlines. International news Web sites no longer led with a suicide bomber killing four Afghans. One instead said: "U.S. forces kill Afghan haphazardly." Another read: "U.S. troops kill Afghan civilians."
The apparent accidental shooting came the same day four senior officials from NATO's International Security Assistance Force called journalists to ISAF headquarters to discuss civilian casualties, a growing problem that is threatening support — both in Afghanistan and in NATO's European capitals — for the international Afghan mission.
The officials displayed a colorful graph showing that the vast majority of civilian deaths are caused by Taliban bombings, though a sizable number were also caused by soldiers of the U.S.-led coalition, a separate command structure in charge of U.S. Special Forces. Civilian deaths caused by NATO's ISAF represented the smallest sliver.
But no matter which Western soldier fires the gun, and even if the numbers pale in comparison to civilian deaths caused by the Taliban, Afghan anger is often turned toward NATO.
"I feel we're getting blamed for something we didn't do," said one senior ISAF official, who like others at the briefing requested anonymity so he could speak more freely. "We think there is a perception that we inflict civilian casualties, but we think that is not justified."
Fairly or not, Mustafa Alani, director of security and terrorism studies at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center, said Afghan deaths at the hands of foreign soldiers are seen differently than Taliban attacks, which some see as an internal Afghan-on-Afghan conflict.
"Generally people believe that the deaths of civilians at the hands of Americans are intentional. They don't think with all this technology they can keep killing civilians," Alani said. "They believe the U.S. soldier must be more disciplined and they expect a higher moral level, military discipline compared to the Taliban."
The deadliest attacks on Afghan civilians by international forces this year have involved U.S. Special Forces soldiers, which NATO has no control over. U.S. Special Forces in March killed 19 civilians near Jalalabad after a suicide car bomb attack.
U.S. military spokesman Maj. Chris Belcher said the coalition does all it can to prevent civilian deaths. He accused the Taliban of choosing to launch attacks in places where civilians are in danger.
Still, Alani said ISAF, which has 36,000 troops in a counter-insurgency fight, "cannot divorce itself" from the 13,000-strong anti-terrorism U.S.-led coalition when it comes to perceptions of the average Afghan.
"I think NATO will pay for any misconduct of American forces," he said.
President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly called on international forces to prevent civilian casualties, and a NATO defense ministers' meeting in Brussels on Friday stressed the need to avoid such deaths.
An Afghan official at the ISAF briefing Saturday said civilian deaths "are currently the main concern" of Afghan people. The ISAF officials spoke about how many casualties they have saved by calling off attacks that could have caused civilian deaths.
The suicide car attack Saturday — the fifth suicide bombing in Kabul this year — came against a convoy of U.S. contract workers with the security company DynCorp and U.S. military personnel. Four civilians were killed and five were wounded, officials said.
The blast came amid a wave of violence lashing Afghanistan, particularly the volatile south, including a suicide blast Friday that targeted a NATO convoy in Uruzgan province, killing 10 people, including five children.
Kabul has been spared the worst of this year's bloodshed, which has claimed 2,400 lives so far, mostly insurgents, according to an AP count based on figures from U.S., NATO, U.N. and Afghan officials.
In other violence:
_ A suicide bomber in Mazar-e-Sharif killed one and wounded six, said deputy police chief Gen. Abdul Raouf Taj.
_ Three Afghan soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in Helmand province on Friday, the Ministry of Defense said.
_ Three "terrorists" — an Arab, a Chechen and a Pakistani — were killed during a U.S.-Afghan raid in Paktika province on Friday, the ministry said.
Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.
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Jirga demands troops' withdrawal from tribal areas
PESHAWAR, June 15 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A grand jirga of Pakistan's Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) has urged upon the government of that country to withdraw combat troops from FATA and focus on promotion of education instead of military actions.
Attended by 1,500 lawyers, tribal maliks, traders and professionals from seven agencies and six frontier regions, the grand assembly also underscored the need for representation of the tribal people in the proposed Pakistan-Afghanistan jirga to be held in Kabul in August.
Organised by the FATA Grand Alliance (FGA), headed by Senator Hameedullah Khan Afridi, the jirga was held in Peshawar, capital of the country's north-western province, on Thursday.
A joint declaration approved by the jirga asked the government to pull out troops from the region and focus on education instead of conducting military operations in the tribal belt.
The tribesmen denounced militancy and the presence of foreign elements, and termed them a major threat to peace in the area.
The representatives were unanimous in their demand for improvement in the quality of education in the remote region and setting up of colleges, vocational institutions and a university in FATA.
The assembly asked the government of Pakistan to give representation to the tribal people in the Pakistan-Afghan joint jirga, which, according to the members, could not achieve its desired objectives without their involvement.
Convener of the grand assembly Senator Hameedullah Afridi said the bone of contention between the two countries was infiltration of militants and the Afghan government's claims that Pakistan's tribal region was being used as militants' hideout.
Therefore, he suggested, it was essential for the government to involve the tribal people in the peace process.
The speakers also proposed legal reforms in the area and amendments to the Colonial-era Frontier Crime Regulations (FCR). They opposed changes in the FATA territorial jurisdiction, saying the jirga system should be kept intact.
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ANF seeks clarity in govt policy on 'terrorist groups'
KABUL, June 14 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The Afghanistan National Front (ANF) Thursday proposed the establishment of a council led by President Hamid Karzai to resolve the issues facing the country.
Speaking at a news conference here, ANF spokesman Mustafa Kazmi said reforming the system was a key objective of his alliance that brings together former mujahideen, communist leaders and other politicians opposed to Karzai.
The proposed entity - High National Council of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan - would steer the country out of the present confusing situation, Kazmi claimed.
He suggested the council should comprise high-ranking government officials like vice-presidents, ministers for defence, interior and foreign affairs, the Wolesi Jirga speaker, the Senate chairman and judges.
He went on to posit the body could have two main departments looking after security and economic issues. If need be, he said, its scope could be widened so to ensure cooperation on political affairs and national reconciliation.
If established, Kazmi hoped, the council would help forge coordination among the executive, judiciary and legislature. At the moment, he believed, the three organs of the state lacked the requisite harmony and synchronisation.
"Now is the time for these three organs to put an end to the prevailing uncertainty in supreme national interest," he stressed, insisting the ANF was in favour of reforms in the system.
The former minister for economy said: "Afghan people will continue to encounter whole new problems if the government rejects the proposal."
Kazmi also called for open-ended negotiations between the government and its opponents including armed groups. Government policy towards militants had at best been vague, he claimed.
The proposed council, through its reconciliation commission, would make clear which groups were outlawed and why. Representatives of the international community would also be asked to clarify their stance on different groups and people it had designated as terrorist, he concluded.
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Taliban warn tribe against sheltering Uzbek militants
SOUTH WAZIRISTAN, June 15 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Taliban militants loyal to Mullah Nazir have warned elders of Wazir tribe against sheltering Uzbeks in South Waziristan.
If Wazir elders failed to expel Uzbek militants from their respective areas, action would be taken against them, said a jirga held in Wana, headquarters of South Waziristan, on Thursday.
Local elders said the Taliban were angry at the presence of Uzbeks being hosted by some elders and they demand action against such people.
More than 200 Uzbek militants were said to have killed when loyalists of local Taliban commander Mullah Nazir launched a drive against them in March this year.
The Uzbeks have been accused of target-killings, kidnapping, vehicle snatching, and running private jails.
During the jirga, the Taliban threatened to disclose names of elders sheltering the Uzbeks; however, some participants advised against this fearing the step would trigger more trouble in the already restive region.
Quoting unnamed sources in Waziristan region, a Pakistani English daily newspaper reported that Mullah Nazir was reinforcing his position and that his complete control over the areas had led to increased economic activity.
The Uzbeks or the commanders supporting them, the source said, would find it "extremely difficult" to stage a comeback against Mullah Nazir, who denied that he was supported by the Pakistan Army in his drive against the Uzbeks.
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