By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - Taliban militants attacked police posts in southern Afghanistan, triggering NATO airstrikes that left 25 civilians dead, including three infants and the local mullah, a senior police officer said Friday.
NATO said its overnight bombardment killed most of a group of 30 insurgents and blamed them for the deaths of any innocents, saying they had launched "irresponsible" attacks from civilian homes.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai criticized the mounting civilian toll from NATO and U.S.-led military operations as "difficult for us to accept or understand."
The police posts came under fire late Thursday in Gereshk district of Helmand province, Mohammad Hussein Andiwal, provincial police chief, told The Associated Press.
NATO responded by calling in airstrikes, which killed 20 suspected militants, but also 25 civilians, including nine women, three babies and the mullah at the local mosque, Andiwal said.
Taliban used at least two civilian compounds for cover during the clashes, which lasted into early Friday, Andiwal said.
"NATO was targeting the areas where the fire was coming from ... and two compounds were completely destroyed, and the families living in those compounds were killed," he said.
Villagers loaded the victims' bodies onto tractor trailers to take them to the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, to prove they were innocent victims, but police stopped them, Andiwal said.
NATO said the aircraft struck after insurgents attacked troops from its International Security Assistance Force nine miles northeast of Gereshk town.
"A compound was assessed to have been occupied by up to 30 insurgent fighters, most of whom were killed in the engagement," an alliance statement said.
Lt. Col. Mike Smith, a NATO spokesman, expressed concern about the reports of civilian deaths, but claimed that as insurgents had chosen the time and location for the attack, "the risk to civilians was probably deliberate."
"It is this irresponsible action that may have led to casualties," he said.
If confirmed, the casualties in Gereshk would bring the number of civilians killed in NATO or U.S.-led military operations this year to 177, according to an AP tally of figures provided by Afghan officials and witness report.
Some 169 civilians were killed in militant attacks this year, which have included a spate of suicide bombings.
Aid groups and other observers warn that anger at the mounting civilian toll is undermining support for the presence of foreign troops and setting back their goal of securing Karzai's Western-backed government against a Taliban comeback.
NATO acknowledged late Thursday for the first time that civilians had died in a three-day battle that began last weekend in Chora district of Uruzgan province.
Afghan officials have said that more than 100 people, including militants, civilians and police, were killed.
"Some may have been killed at the hands of the Taliban, some may have been caught in crossfire and some may have died in airstrikes against enemy positions," NATO spokesman Smith said.
He said it was impossible to say how many people died before NATO and Afghan forces re-established control of the area after the Taliban overran three police checkpoints.
"No matter the cause, we mourn any loss of innocent life. We are here to help provide safety and security to the people of Afghanistan, so even a single death is cause for sadness," Smith said in a statement.
Karzai's government has protested repeatedly at NATO's frequent resort to massive firepower, and pleaded for closer coordination with Afghan officials to avoid civilian losses.
Karzai told the British Broadcasting Corp. in an interview Thursday that the issue of civilian deaths is "becoming difficult for us to accept or understand."
"Every effort has to be made for it to stop ... every detail has to be worked out for it in order for civilians to stop being casualties," Karzai told the BBC.
Associated Press Writer Fisnik Abrashi in Kabul contributed to this report.
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Senior Afghan hopeful on beating Taliban
Fri Jun 22, 2:48 AM ET
TOKYO (AFP) - A senior Afghan leader said Friday the Taliban were on the wane and he was optimistic about the country's future despite a series of high-profile insurgent attacks.
"We are hopeful about our future because the Taliban's attempts to expand their influence have failed so far," Afghanistan's second vice president Karim Khalili told a news conference in Tokyo.
The Taliban are waging an insurgency and claimed responsibility for a blast Sunday on a Kabul police bus that killed 35 people, the deadliest attack since the extremist regime was toppled in a US-led military campaign in 2001.
But Khalili said: "The Taliban's activity is weakening if you compare the number of terrorist attacks attempted by them this year and last year."
"We have also inflicted great damage to the Taliban in a joint military campaign with NATO through the death of a famous Taliban leader," he added. "The Taliban must be psychologically damaged by this campaign."
A joint operation on May 11 killed Mullah Dadullah, considered the Taliban's top military strategist.
Khalili was in Tokyo for a conference on the Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG), a UN-backed project with Japanese funding that aims to improve central government control in Afghanistan.
He held talks Thursday with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
"The success of the DIAG programme is essential in the true reconstruction of Afghanistan, and I beg you, our friends in Japan, to keep support for this programme," Khalili said.
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Afghan vice president says SDF dispatch up to Japan
Friday June 22, 2:37 PM
(Kyodo) _ Visiting Afghan Vice President Karim Khalili called for broad Japanese support Friday to help rebuild the war-torn country, without ruling out the dispatch of Japan's Self-Defense Forces as one means of such support.
"Whether to dispatch the SDF or not is what Japanese people should decide on, but our friend Japan's support is very important for Afghanistan's reconstruction, development, disbandment of illegal armed groups, and other areas," the 57-year-old vice president told a press conference at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo.
"We would very much like to receive support," he added.
Khalili stressed that the country has made improvements since the fall of the Taliban leadership in 2001, but called for the international community to cooperate in preventing terrorists from being supported by outside countries and to strengthen control of drugs connected to boosting terrorist activities.
The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force has been conducting refueling operations for warships from the United States and other coalition forces in the Indian Ocean in support of the U.S.-led antiterrorism campaign in Afghanistan since December 2001 under the special antiterrorism measures law.
But dispatching the SDF to Afghanistan has been a controversial issue under the current constraints of Japan's pacifist Constitution.
Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma told reporters in May that the government will study enacting a law to send the SDF to Afghanistan to provide support to facilitate reconstruction, but the top government spokesman Yasuhisa Shiozaki has swiftly denied any such intention.
In Japan, Khalili attended an international conference on stabilizing Afghanistan on Thursday. He also met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe the same day and was promised continuing contributions from Japan, such as the SDF's refueling support for ships as well as foreign aid.
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Taliban are not a long-term threat, says Karzai
Fri Jun 22, 1:40 AM ET
LONDON (AFP) - The ousted Taliban militia are not a long-term threat to Afghanistan, the country's President Hamid Karzai said in an interview with the BBC.
"Now all that they can do is to blow bombs and not really have the guts to confront us," Karzai told the broadcaster, in quotes published on its website.
"So it is not a threat to the survival of Afghanistan, its government, its future objective."
The president said, however, that the ongoing violence had to stop, because civilians were being killed in the process.
"Every effort has to be made for it to stop ... every detail has to be worked out for it in order for civilians to stop being casualties," he said.
"This is a suffering that increasingly is becoming difficult for us to accept or understand."
The Taliban launched an insurgency soon after being removed from government in 2001 by a US-led coalition that had asked them to hand over Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden.
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On patrol in eastern Afghanistan
By Damian Grammaticas BBC News, Khost, Afghanistan Friday, 22 June 2007, 10:27 GMT 11:27 UK
The voice on the radio crackles into life "at this time I am going to switch to green, let me know if you are green, One Two, Three."
The reply comes: "One Two, roger out... One Three, roger out," and a column of vehicles grind into gear.
It is eastern Afghanistan, close to Pakistan, inside a heavily armoured Humvee. The air is sticky, hot, swirling with dust. From a forward American base we have just set out on a day's patrol.
We are with a company of men from the 82nd Airborne, led by Captain John McGrady, and their task is to try to tame these wild borderlands.
Police post attacked
Deep in the barren hills, we stop by a ruined building. A hole has been blown through one of its walls by a rocket-propelled grenade. The ceiling is pitted with shrapnel marks.
This was a police post sited at a strategic spot on the road leading into Pakistan. A few weeks ago it was destroyed in a Taleban attack.
"They attacked from that mountain," says the local police chief Major Bismillah. "They used heavy weapons."
"You just need to sandbag it, put a roof on here, done," says Capt McGrady.
It is a wild and windswept location. Maj Bismillah says it is vital that he can control this spot.
"We have problems with this route. All of the suicide terrorists they come along that road because that is the main road from Pakistan," he says. "This is what we call Ghulam Khan border. Most of the terrorist people are coming through that way to Khost city."
This mountainous border is one of the key fronts in the global struggle against terrorism. The coalition forces must control the area.
It was here that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda found the sanctuary and space to plot the attacks of 9/11. It was across here that they and many Taleban fled six years ago.
And now, from inside Pakistan, fighters launch attacks and smuggle weapons which fuel the insurgency in Afghanistan.
Our column of Humvees drives into a mountain village close to the border with Pakistan There is just one street, lined with mud and stone houses. Donkeys are struggling up the hill laden with freshly-harvested wheat.
Under a tree, the village elders are sitting sharing a cup of tea with Capt McGrady. Last night the Taleban came to this village and told people not to co-operate with the Americans.
"They are telling us that 40 guys came from the mountain and were broadcasting messages telling people not to work for the coalition," says Capt McGrady.
"We asked them where they came from, they pointed due south," he adds. "Pakistan is to the south. This is very good because this is the first time we have been told about this. This is them demonstrating their trust in us."
But the reality is US and Afghan government forces still come under daily attack along the border.
In many villages the Americans get a hostile reception. Coalition soldiers have been before and promised new wells and schools. Villages that do not get them feel angry, let down.
In one such village, Shapur tells me angrily: "Before when they came, the Americans, they just wrote something down and then left."
"We don't have water, we don't have electricity, we need a barrier to stop the river flooding. We are just asking for this from the American people."
Lieutenant Tom Roth is in charge of assessing the needs in villages in this area. He is trying to placate the man. He explains he will pass on Shapur's request to the local Afghan authorities, as they, not the Americans, decide where wells get dug and which schools get built.
The whole coalition strategy is designed to build up Afghanistan's own government, to extend its reach right out into these borderlands.
"What we are really trying to do is to stress government competence," says Lt Roth. "We are trying to take our face off it and put an Afghan face onto it."
That evening, we gather at the local police station, outside in the courtyard under a star-lit sky to listen to one of the most famous singers in all of Khost.
As the man sings and the drummers beat out their rhythm, a single figure twirls across the courtyard, dancing. Clapping him are about 50 Afghan soldiers and policemen cradling their Kalashnikovs. The men of the 82nd Airborne look on politely.
"The war is a counter-insurgency war. The word we use is non-kinetic. And the main efforts are very much non-kinetic," Capt McGrady tells me.
"That means talking to a lot of people and becoming friendly with them, and showing them that we are here not to put a gun in somebody's face. But we are here to pay somebody to turn in mines or build schools."
What are the challenges, I ask Capt McGrady? "Definitely I have to gain trust of the people," he says.
"They have to realise that coalition forces are here doing positive things, and not just running around kicking up dust with a bunch of Humvees and splashing dust on their yard. That's definitely a challenge."
In the background the drums beat and the song rises to a crescendo. The words are all about Afghanistan and Khost. The singer is exhorting all those listening to work together, night and day, to rebuild this land.
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In Afghanistan, soldier dies after vehicle rolls over mine
By JASON STRAZIUSO The Associated Press June 22 2007
GHAZNI, Afghanistan A NATO vehicle rolled over a mine in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday, triggering a blast that killed one soldier, the 90th foreign military fatality in a year of surging violence.
The United Nations, meanwhile, said it had suspended shipments of food aid to seven volatile provinces after 85 of its trucks were attacked, set ablaze or looted in the past year by Taliban insurgents and thieves.
Fighting is intensifying, especially in the country's south, as militants engage in daily battles with foreign and Afghan troops trying to support the embattled government of President Hamid Karzai.
The NATO soldier died after his vehicle struck a pressure-plated mine in Andar district of Ghazni province, military officials said. Four were wounded, including three treated at the scene for minor injuries, a NATO statement said.
The nationalities of the casualties were not released, though most of the NATO soldiers in the area are American.
The incident occurred during an operation to build schools and clinics and improve ties with tribal elders in Ghazni — the first time such an effort has been led by the U.S.-trained Afghan army.
Troops from the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division were supporting the 20-day operation.
The latest NATO casualty brings the number of foreign troops killed this year to 90, including three Canadians killed Wednesday when a roadside bomb struck their vehicle in Kandahar province.
The United Nations said it halted food aid deliveries to a swath of the south and west about four weeks ago because of the attacks on its trucks.
The U.N. World Food Program would run out of food for its programs in the next few weeks in the seven provinces supplied by truck from Pakistan, said Richard Corsino, the program's director in Afghanistan.
He said that, while people would not starve or migrate because of the halted deliveries, they may be forced to sell their possessions to get by.
"It makes what is already a difficult life that much more difficult," he said.
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Pakistan To Complete Afghan Refugees' Repatriation By End-2009
Friday June 22, 12:14 PM
ISLAMABAD, June 22 Asia Pulse - The Pakistani government plans to repatriate Afghan refugees in the next couple of years.
In an interview with Pakistan Television, Pakistan's Minister for States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) Sardar Yar Muhammad Rind said a phased strategy had already been finalised to repatriate Afghan refugees within a period of next two years.
The Pakistani minister said four refugee camps, two each in NWFP (North-West Frontier Province) and Balochistan, would be closed this year.
The Katcha Garhi and Jungle Pir Alizai camps would be closed by June 15, while Jalozai and Girdi Jungle camps would be shut down by the end of August this year, the minister informed.
More than three million refugees have returned home from Pakistan with UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) assistance since 2002. Another 860,000 refugees have been assisted home from Iran.
About the registration of Afghan refugees, Rind said over 2.1 million had already been registered and the exercise was near completion.
Registered Afghans are given Proof of Registration (PoR) cards with a validity of three years. Under the new arrangement, PoR holders who wish to repatriate must deregister their card before leaving Pakistan in order to receive an enhanced reintegration package when they arrive in Afghanistan, he added.
In response to a question, the minister said no camp had been razed by force. Only empty houses were razed after consultation with the locals.
(Pajhwok Afghan News)
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Afghanistan: Taliban Threatens More Attacks In Kabul
June 21, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A Taliban spokesman says militants are changing their tactics in Afghanistan and will increasingly carry out attacks in Kabul.
The Taliban's threat to increase attacks in the Afghan capital comes just days after Kabul experienced its deadliest ever suicide bombing -- a Taliban-linked attack on a police bus that killed 35 people and injured more than 50.
The announcement of new Taliban tactics also follows months of counterterrorist operations by NATO in southern Afghanistan that have killed top Taliban commanders and prevented militants from sustaining their threatened spring offensive in that part of the country.
The Taliban has managed to briefly seize several district centers in remote parts of some. But it has not been able to hold those districts for long.
RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan interviewed Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed today by telephone from an undisclosed location near the Afghan-Pakistan border.
"We are considering the impact of our operations to determine which have been the most effective," he said. "We are now bringing pressure on Kabul because [our] enemy is concentrated there."
A spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, Zemery Bashary, told RFE/RL today that Afghan security forces are preparing to meet the Taliban threat of increased attacks in Kabul.
"We are focusing much more on different places, especially on the routes that lead into Kabul, places inside of Kabul city itself, and other places that are vulnerable to attack," he said. "We are working on new plans that consider the possible threats and we are launching operations with that in mind. We hope we will have fruitful results -- and better results in Kabul city, especially in preventing suicide bombings, which have had a very negative impact on the minds of the people of Kabul."
Lieutenant Colonel Maria Carl, a spokeswoman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, told RFE/RL today that NATO will further increase its cooperation with Afghan security forces to meet the threat.
But Carl says Taliban statements will not change NATO's overall military strategy.
Carl says Afghanistan is in the midst of its "so-called fighting season" and that what is now taking place is exactly what NATO had predicted early this year -- an increase in suicide bombings and more "desperate attempts" by the Taliban to "present the illusion that they are stronger than they really are."
The main focus of NATO's strategy this year has been in southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban had threatened to launch a spring offensive using thousands of militants.
The Taliban has managed to briefly seize several district centers in remote parts of the Helmand, Farah, and Kandahar provinces.
But it has not been able to hold those districts for long. And the cost to the Taliban for those attacks has been high, with NATO and U.S.-led coalition air strikes killing dozens of militants whenever they concentrate their forces.
Several senior Taliban military commanders -- including the infamous, one-legged Mullah Dadullah -- also have been killed while trying to carry out attacks near the strategic Kajaki Dam in Helmand Province.
NATO has said that its own offensives in Helmand and Kandahar provinces this year have been aimed at pushing militants out of mortar and rocket range from the Kajaki Dam.
Important Energy Source
The dam is the largest reconstruction project in Afghanistan. When its electricity-generating turbines and power lines are repaired, it is expected to provide electricity to some 2 million Afghans as far away as the city of Kandahar.
Construction engineers originally had planned to start repairs on the main turbine last summer. But they are still waiting for the fighting in Helmand Province to subside enough to move into a workers' camp near the dam.
Still, with NATO recently declaring success against the Taliban around Kajaki, workers are now preparing to build a 40-kilometer access road that links the dam to the town of Gereshk on Afghanistan's main ring road.
Nevertheless, fierce fighting continues in other parts of southern and eastern Afghanistan with the Taliban continuing its tactic of seizing remote districts in areas where there are few foreign troops or Afghan security forces.
In the northern part of Kandahar Province overnight, Afghan police lost control of the remote Ghorak district to militants -- just hours after authorities had retaken the neighboring district of Miya Mishin from militants.
There also have been fierce clashes in neighboring Oruzgan Province, with fighting since June 16, killing more than 100 people.
(Contributors to this report include RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondents Hamid Mohmand and Fahima Hosa in Kabul and Mustafa Sarwar in Kabul)
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Van Doos rally support for Afghanistan mission
Thu. Jun. 21 2007 7:21 PM ET CTV.ca News Staff
More than 2,000 soldiers from Quebec's CFB Valcartier gathered in Montreal on Thursday night, to hold a tailgate party and watch the local CFL team play against the Toronto Argonauts.
The event was meant to drum up flagging support for Canada's mission in Afghanistan, where members of the Royal 22nd Regiment -- popularly known as the Van Doos -- are headed this summer.
"It's a break after all the training we've had," one soldier told CTV Montreal. "It's kind of our big holiday before leaving for our tour."
A recent poll by Leger Marketing suggested most Quebecers oppose sending the Van Doos to Afghanistan.
The soldiers have also received about 3,000 letters urging them to refuse to carry out their duties.
And when members of the Royal 22nd Regiment attended the national assembly on Wednesday, a shouting match erupted when some Parti Quebecois members refused to stand and applaud them.
But one member of the Van Doos said he wasn't bothered by the lack of support.
"People have the choice to manifest their rights, and to support or not support the mission," he said. "We're not paying very much attention to it."
Chaplain Charles Deogratias, who is one of the 2,500 members set to be deployed to Afghanistan, said the criticism is misplaced.
"This is a voluntary deployment," he told The Canadian Press. "The soldiers who are going now have the privilege to change somebody's life."
NATO Secretary-General Japp de Hoop Scheffer was also in Montreal on Thursday, urging all 26 NATO allies to continue their work in Afghanistan.
Canada's mission in the war-torn country is set to end in February 2009.
With a report from CTV Montreal's Daniele Hamamdjian
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Dutch Military Chief Says Taliban Executed Civilians
June 22, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Dutch military chief General Dick Berlijn says Taliban fighters were executing civilians who refused to fight alongside them during a battle earlier this month.
Berlijn said Dutch and Afghan forces engaged some 500 Taliban fighters in the southern town of Chora about a week ago. He said Taliban militants tried to force civilians to fight for them and killed those who refused.
Berlijn said one checkpoint commander saw two brothers killed by Taliban militants for refusing to fight, and eight Afghan women had their throats slashed to force their male relatives to join the battle alongside the Taliban.
His comments came after some 25 civilians and 20 Taliban were reported killed in a NATO air strike.
RFE/RL correspondent Salihmohamad Sali reported from the southern Helmand Province that the air strike late June 21 targeted a group of homes in Helmand's Gereshk district where Taliban fighters were firing on foreign and Afghan forces.
The strike in Helmand Province came just as President Hamid Karzai urged international forces to do more to prevent civilian casualties.
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Polish lower house speaker visiting Afghanistan
People's Daily Online, China
Ludwik Dorn, speaker of the lower house of Polish Parliament met Thursday in Kabul with Afghan President Hamid Karzaj and other leaders.
They discussed political situation in Afghanistan and Poland's commitment to NATO peacekeeping force in Afghanistan, Polish PAP news agency reported.
Dorn was quoted as saying that Poland treats its commitment in Afghanistan as a long-term task.
Earlier in the day, Dorn met Polish soldiers serving in Afghanistan.
Poland has sent more than 1,000 troops as part of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
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Poland recalling about 10 soldiers from Afghanistan for shunning patrols
The Associated Press Thursday, June 21, 2007
WARSAW, Poland: Poland is repatriating about 10 soldiers from Afghanistan after they refused to take part in patrols, citing fears about the strength of their armored vehicles, an official said Thursday.
The group of officers and privates is to be brought home "as soon as possible," Defense Ministry spokesman Jaroslaw Rybak said.
The soldiers had asked their commanders not to send them on patrol outside their bases, saying the vehicles being used were not robust enough for the mission, Rybak said.
He did not say if they would face disciplinary action upon return, but Polish military police spokesman Col. Edward Jaroszuk told Poland's PAP news agency that military police had opened an investigation and were questioning witnesses in Afghanistan.
Poland has about 1,200 troops in NATO-led forces in Afghanistan. The Polish contingent started its mission in central and southern Afghanistan earlier this month.
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Pakistan scholars honour Bin Laden in Rushdie row
Islamabad (AFP) - A leading group of Pakistani Islamic scholars awarded its highest honour to Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, saying it was in reaction to Britain's knighthood for Salman Rushdie.
Meanwhile a Pakistani minister who caused outrage by remarking that the award given to the "Satanic Verses" author justified suicide attacks announced that he was set to visit Britain next month.
The Pakistani Ulema Council, a private body that claims to be the biggest of its kind in the country with 2,000 scholars, said it had given Bin Laden the title "Saifullah", or Sword of Allah.
"We are pleased to award the title of Saifullah to Osama bin Laden after the British government's decision to bestow the title of 'Sir' on blasphemer Rushdie," council chairman Maulana Tahir Ashrafi told AFP. "This is the highest title for a Muslim warrior."
Bin Laden has been blamed for the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington that killed nearly 3,000 people. He is widely believed to be hiding on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
The group, which says it is working for religious harmony, urged President Pervez Musharraf to call an emergency meeting of the 57-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference to press Britain to withdraw the Rushdie accolade.
Islamists have burned effigies of Rushdie and Britain's Queen Elizabeth for several days running in protests against the honour bestowed on the writer on Saturday, which allows him to call himself "Sir Salman".
Pakistan and Iran both summoned the British envoys to their countries on Tuesday. Britain hit back by expressing "deep concern" over the comments on suicide bombings by Pakistan's religious affairs minister, Ijaz-ul Haq.
Haq -- who later withdrew the remarks saying that he meant only that the award would foster extremism -- said Thursday that he planned to visit Britain at the invitation of a British delegation.
"Yes, I may travel to Britain next month as a British delegation has invited me to guide them on how to engage khateebs and imams (sermon deliverers and prayer leaders) in a constructive dialogue," Haq told AFP.
"The visit would also help clear many things and misunderstandings about my remarks about the knighting of Salman Rushdie by Britain," he added.
The British delegation met Haq on Monday and included representatives from Britain's Home Office and Foreign Office with responsibility for engaging with the Islamic world and preventing extremism, he said.
"I can confirm he did meet the delegation but I am not aware of any invitation," said Aidan Liddle, a spokesman for the British High Commission (embassy) in Islamabad.
Haq is the son of military dictator Zia-ul-Haq, who ruled Pakistan from 1977 until his death in a mysterious plane crash in 1988. His father introduced Islamic punishments to the country including death for blasphemy.
The religious affairs minister's comments have provoked an angry reaction in Britain -- which on Wednesday insisted it was right to knight Rushdie for his literary career, adding it was "sorry" if it had caused distress.
A comment piece in Britain's Daily Telegraph said that if Pakistan was so angry about the issue, it should return the 480 million pounds (955 million dollars) in aid promised by Prime Minister Tony Blair last year. "If this is tainted money, it can presumably be returned," it said.
But in the Pakistani parliament Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, the president of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League party, said that Blair was "personally and mentally against Muslims."
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Wheat production doubled in Kunduz
KUNDUZ CITY, June 20 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Wheat production in the northern Kunduz province has doubled as large number of farmers have stopped growing poppies under the alternative livelihood programme this year.
The yield reached 111,000 tons this year as compared to the 66,000 tons of the last year, said Abdul Aziz Nekzad, director of the agriculture and irrigation department.
Nekzad said area cultivated with wheat crop was 42,000 hectares last year while this year, the crop was cultivated on 43,000 hectares.
Mentioning the reason behind the ample harvest, the official said plenty irrigation water, counter-narcotics campaign and provision of improved seeds helped boost the wheat production in the province.
He said 250 tons of different types of seeds, including Aamo, Lalm-i-yak, Lalm-i-dow and Mazar were distributed to farmers this year.
Ghulam Muhyuddin, a farmer and dweller of Hazrat Sultan village of the province, told Pajhwok Afghan News he had received 480 to 700 kilograms of wheat per acre of land last year. However, he was provided with 1,120 kilograms seeds per acre this year.
He said improved seeds and plenty irrigation water helped boost the production. He said better harvest might lure farmers to stop cultivating opium poppies.
During his last month visit to the province, head of the counter-narcotics department at the Interior Ministry Gen. Daud Daud had said that Kunduz was among the 20 provinces where poppies would not be cultivated this year.
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Mine-clearing operation completed in TV Hill area
KABUL, June 20 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan (MAPA) will release 70,000 square metres of cleared residential area to 1,000 families on the TV Hill in this capital city on Thursday, says a press release issued here.
This area is part of the vast impacted area of landmines and Unexploded Ordinance (UXO) of 500,000 square meters.
The clearance work on the area was launched in December 2006 and a total of 103 anti-personnel mines and 2,564 UXO were found and destroyed by the de-mining workers.
Completion of the task will allow around 1,000 families to return to their houses, says the release.
Immediately after the war, 500,000 square metres of land was founded infested with landmines and UXO on the Kabul TV Hill.
However, more than 440,000 square metres area has so far been cleared by destroying 1,942 anti-personnel mines and 7,386 UXO.
The press release says almost 7,000 families have already retuned to the area and rebuilt their houses.
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