By Sayed Salahuddin June 29, 2007
KABUL (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a surprise visit to Kabul on Friday to hold talks with President Hamid Karzai ahead of a conference in Rome next week that will seek ways to improve law and order in Afghanistan.
The meeting took place amid heavy security at the presidential palace, which still bears the scars of the past 30 years of conflict in the central Asian state.
Journalists were called to the palace, but there was no news conference.
Earlier this month, U.N. Special Representative to Afghanistan, Tom Koenigs, said Ban would make the establishment of the rule of law in Afghanistan a top priority at a conference to be held in Rome on July 2 and 3.
Koenigs said he was dissatisfied with the progress made in the last three to five years and an era of lawlessness, corruption, unprofessional police and an unreliable justice system had to end.
Karzai was hand-picked by Western governments to lead Afghanistan after U.S.-backed forces ousted the Taliban in 2001, following al Qaeda's attacks on New York and Washington.
Afghans are growing increasingly impatient with Karzai, having voted for him as president in 2004, in the belief that he would bring about an economic revival and improve security for ordinary people.
Critics say Karzai has failed to stamp out corruption in government, and has little influence outside Kabul.
Afghanistan is the world's leading supplier of opium and heroin, and money from the drugs trade is helping to finance the Taliban insurgency.
But, some criminals and drug barons are linked to former warlords who helped U.S.-led forces evict the Taliban six years ago and who now serve inside government.
The lower house of parliament, populated by ex-warlords and former militia leaders along with suspected drug dealers, has also proposed a blanket amnesty for those who committed war crimes over nearly 30 years of conflict.
Meanwhile, Afghan police are poorly trained and ill equipped, and violent street crimes often go unpunished.
Ban also met General Dan McNeill, the U.S. commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, with Afghan anger growing over the growing number of civilian casualties resulting from U.S. and NATO military operations against insurgents in the south and east of the country.
On Friday, according to an Afghan rights group, U.S. soldiers killed an 85-year-old man, two of his sons and a grandson during a raid in the eastern province of Nangarhar.
The soldiers arrested 15 people during the pre-dawn raid in Khogiani district, on the outskirts of the provincial capital of Jalalabad, Lal Gul, the head of Afghanistan's Human Rights Group said.
A U.S. military official confirmed the operation and said coalition soldiers killed three militants after they came under fire and arrested 16 more militants.
But a provincial official said four civilians were killed in the operation. Villagers later protested chanting anti-U.S. and anti-Karzai slogans.
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Afghans Face a Loss of Health Care
Medical Teams Scale Back As Attacks on Them Rise
By Griff Witte Washington Post Friday, June 29, 2007; A15
JALALABAD, Afghanistan -- This month, two Afghan medical workers drove off into the hazy blue mountains that rise above this dusty provincial capital. They have not been seen since.
No one knows who took them, but their disappearance has had far-reaching consequences. With security in doubt, other health-care workers have been ordered off the roads. Clinics are fast running out of medicine because supplies can't be delivered. Doctors are searching for safer places to work.
The problems here mirror a developing crisis across Afghanistan. Just as violence is heating up, with civilian casualties rapidly escalating, the health-care system is breaking down, according to Afghan and international medical experts.
The deterioration has been especially pronounced in rural areas, scene of some of the most intense fighting between Taliban and international forces. In those places, clinics are shutting their doors because the medical workers have become targets.
"Day by day it's becoming worse," said Nadera Hayat Burhani, a doctor and the government's deputy health minister. "In each country, it's a rule that you let the medical staff do their work. Unfortunately, in Afghanistan it is not that way. Here, they kill the medical staff."
Insurgents have been campaigning for years to prove to Afghans that their government has little to offer. Police officers, schoolteachers and local political leaders have been targets of violence. Now medical workers fear that they are in danger as well.
The International Committee of the Red Cross recently said it faces a more restrictive environment than it has in two decades of work in Afghanistan. "It's not a conflict where there are clear front lines," said Franz Rauchenstein, the agency's deputy chief in Kabul. "It's more complicated than in the good old days, when you had Party A controlling one area and Party B controlling another. Now that can change every day."
Rauchenstein said his organization has had to pull back from many areas because it has not been able to get security guarantees. Other groups have pulled back, too. The ones that remain in the most dangerous regions are reconsidering their operations with each new attack.
There has been a series of disturbing episodes in recent months. A nurse was beheaded by Taliban fighters, who blamed his death on the government's failure to turn over the body of their former commander. Six medical workers in the northeastern area of Nuristan have been taken hostage. Overall, 39 government medical workers have been killed in less than two years, according to Health Ministry statistics.
Mohammad Naseem, a doctor who manages health care in the Jalalabad area for HealthNet TPO, a Dutch nonprofit organization, hopes his two workers aren't added to the list.
The two -- 35-year-old Shiraz and 40-year-old Wali Jan -- were helping with an immunization drive in the remote district of Shirzad when they were abducted June 13. Since then, the kidnappers have periodically used Jan's cellphone to make demands and to threaten to kill their hostages if they don't get what they want.
HealthNet TPO has worked in this eastern Afghan province for 12 years, but this is the first time its workers here have been seized. Now the organization, which runs 54 health facilities in the province, is contemplating getting out.
"If something goes wrong, there will be a very, very negative impact on health care in this area," Naseem said. "At the moment, our health facilities are open. But the time may come when we will not be able to supply drugs, and the services will collapse."
Even before the kidnappings, health facilities in the area were showing signs of strain.
While up to 80 percent of Afghans have access to basic health care, about 70 percent -- 22 million people -- lack a nearby hospital capable of treating more serious conditions.
That's why the health facility in the Shinwar district, a rural outpost an hour's drive from Jalalabad amid corn and poppy fields, has become so popular. The campus of spare concrete buildings looks rudimentary from the outside, but the two surgeons inside -- along with a pediatrician and a gynecologist -- are enough to draw patients from 50 miles away along rough mountain roads. Many die making the journey.
The facility is equipped to receive 1,800 patients a month; these days, it gets 6,000. Lately, more and more of them are war wounded.
On March 4, a patient arrived at the clinic with a gunshot wound to the neck. A second showed up minutes later with a bullet hole in his jaw. Over the next several hours, 21 additional trauma patients arrived -- victims of an attack by U.S. Marines that the military later called "a mistake" and apologized for.
The staff was overwhelmed. Anyone in the area who knew basic lifesaving skills was brought in to help. The local pharmacy was emptied of medication. Patients who were not in imminent danger had to give up their beds.
"If two or three trauma patients come in at once, we can cover that very well," said Aman Gul Amani, a doctor and the hospital manager. "But 23 is too much."
Similar mass-casualty events have been reported across Afghanistan in recent weeks. According to an Associated Press estimate, NATO and U.S.-led forces have killed 203 civilians this year; Taliban fighters have killed 178 civilians. Hundreds more people have been wounded.
NATO and U.S.-led forces say that they do everything they can to provide care to civilians and that they routinely offer medical evacuations by helicopter or plane.
But the areas where airstrikes occur are often exceptionally remote, and some are even beyond the reach of international forces.
Such was the case this month in the southern province of Uruzgan. There, 120 people were wounded and more than 60 killed over three days of intense clashes between NATO and Taliban forces.
Jan Mohammed, who is in his late 50s, was asleep at 4 a.m. in the Uruzgan district of Chowreh when a bomb tore through his home. Lying amid the wreckage, he could see the bodies of his wife, children and grandchildren. Overall, 22 members of his family were killed.
He was barely alive himself, with severe bleeding from his arm, abdomen and legs. For four hours, he lay there, desperately hoping for help. It finally arrived, but not in the form of an ambulance or military convoy. Instead, it was his neighbor, who put together a makeshift rescue squad to ferry the injured on the treacherous two-hour journey to the nearest medical facility.
"The hospitals didn't help us. The government didn't help us. The foreign people didn't help us," said Mohammed, breathing heavily through tears. "Only my neighbor came to help me."
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NATO never 'intentionally' kills civilians: de Hoop Scheffer
by David Vujanovic June 29, 2007
OHRID, Macedonia (AFP) - NATO forces in Afghanistan would never "intentionally" kill civilians, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told a conference of the alliance and its partners Friday.
The comments were apparently in response to criticism last week from Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who accused the NATO-led ISAF force and separate US-led coalition of killing about 90 civilians this month, most of them in air operations.
"Let me make one point unmistakably clear -- NATO has never killed and will never intentionally kill innocent civilians," de Hoop Scheffer said in an address to the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) security forum.
The forum, only the second since the loose grouping was established 10 years ago, was held at the lakeside Macedonian resort town of Ohrid, around which there was a tight security net involving speedboats, helicopters and around 5,000 police.
"The majority of civilian casualties in Afghanistan have been caused by Taliban suicide bombs and roadside bombs," the NATO chief told the meeting of some 600 delegates.
"They, our opponents, show absolutely no hesitation to slaughter or maim the Afghan people with their indiscriminate attacks -- they even take their wives and children with them on suicide missions to reduce the chances of them being caught."
De Hoop Scheffer said ISAF could achieve success in Afghanistan by winning over the people of the war-torn country.
"In Afghanistan, especially in the southern part of the country, we have faced and continue to face serious combat action to counter those forces who want to frustrate our reconstruction efforts," he said.
"But despite this, I remain convinced that we will succeed in our UN-mandated mission... Our ultimate success will not come by way of military victory, but will depend primarily on reconstruction and development."
The alliance chief called on all EAPC members -- NATO and 23 Euro-Atlantic partners -- to contribute to efforts to help Afghanistan's development.
Energy security and Kosovo were among the other issues topping the agenda in Ohrid.
Turning to the latter, de Hoop Scheffer said NATO would guarantee the peace there despite delays in resolving its status and threats of violence.
"The biggest issue affecting this region at the moment is Kosovo," said the NATO secretary general.
A proposal by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari for the supervised independence of Kosovo was "fair, firm and comprehensive," he said while warning against any lengthy delays to the status process.
"I think we should prevent unnecessary delay in trying to find a solution for the status of Kosovo," de Hoop Scheffer said in his keynote address to the forum.
"The 16,000 men and women of KFOR are there to guarantee this climate of security and stability in Kosovo," he said.
"No-one should have any illusion that he or she could change the situation by means of violence. KFOR is there to provide and will provide it."
De Hoop Scheffer made the statement a day after the NATO-led KFOR troops intervened heavily during a rally by Serb extremists to mark the anniversary of a medieval Kosovo battle.
Kosovo has been administered by a United Nations mission since mid-1999, when a 78-day NATO bombing campaign drove out Serb forces waging a brutal crackdown on the province's ethnic Albanian majority.
The international community hopes to resolve its status in the coming months through the adoption of a new UN Security Council resolution.
Serbia, which is adamantly opposed to Kosovo's independence, has won the backing of veto-wielding permanent Council member Russia.
Since last month, Moscow has rejected three draft resolutions based on the Ahtisaari proposal.
Following the forum, the NATO secretary general is scheduled to travel to the Kosovo capital Pristina to meet with ethnic Albanian leaders later Friday.
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Four killed in anti-Taleban raid
Friday, 29 June 2007 BBC News
US-led coalition and Afghan troops have raided houses in the east of the country, killing at least four people.
Villagers said the four men who died in Nangarhar province, 50km (30 miles) west of Jalalabad, were civilians who had nothing to do with militancy.
But the coalition said it had raided compounds suspected to be "harbouring Taleban and foreign fighters".
Violence has soared in recent months, and foreign forces have frequently been accused of causing civilian deaths.
Friday morning's incident happened in the village of Nokrukhel in Sherzad district of Nangarhar province.
Coalition forces said credible intelligence had led them to three separate compounds suspected of harbouring Taleban and foreign fighters who had previously targeted Afghan and coalition forces.
"Taleban forces inside two compounds attempted to engage coalition forces as they approached," a coalition statement said.
It said coalition troops had shot the militants dead and found weapons in the houses. Sixteen "militants" were also detained during the operation, the statement added.
But a local villager Ketab Jan told the BBC that the forces had killed "four innocent people from one family - the father, two sons and a grandson".
Mr Jan said the soldiers had recovered opium and not weapons from the four men.
Human rights activist Lal Gul, who is from the same area, also said the four men were "innocent civilians".
He told Reuters news agency that an 85-year-old man, Mohammada Jan, two of his sons and a grandson had been killed by troops who first "blew up the gate of [the man's] house".
"From there they went to several other houses, broke into them and arrested 15 civilians," he said.
A local police spokesman, Col Ghafoor Khan, partially supported the American account by saying weapons were found in the houses. He said the four people killed were regarded as suspects by the Afghan police.
Ten days ago, there was a similar incident in the south when the coalition raided a house and killed a man, saying he was a militant. But the family and local people insisted he was innocent.
Last week, President Hamid Karzai blamed foreign troops for ignoring Afghan advice and said "innocent people were becoming victims of [their] reckless operations".
He was speaking after a week in which up to 90 Afghan civilians were killed.
More civilians have been killed this year as a result of foreign military action than have been killed by insurgents in suicide bombings and other attacks, correspondents say.
Separately, one Afghan was killed and six others wounded during a suicide bomb attack near a convoy carrying foreign troops in Paktika province, a statement issued by the combined forces said.
The injured included two foreign soldiers.
Initial reports suggest that a transport truck, carrying wood, drove into the convoy and exploded.
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U.S. soldiers kill 4 Afghan civilians: rights group
By Sayed Salahuddin Fri Jun 29, 3:38 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - U.S. soldiers killed four civilian members of the same family during a raid on Friday in Afghanistan's eastern province of Nangarhar, an Afghan rights body said.
The soldiers also arrested 15 civilians during the pre-dawn raid in Khogiani district which lies in the foothills of the provincial capital Jalalabad, Lal Gul, the head of Afghanistan's Human Rights Group said.
Those killed in the raid were an 85-year-old man, Mohammada Jan, two of his sons and a grandson, Gul told Reuters.
"The American soldiers blew up the gate of Mohammada Jan's house and then martyred him along with his three family members," Gul said.
"From there they went to several other houses, broke into them and arrested 15 civilians," he added.
A provincial spokesman confirmed Gul's accounts.
A U.S. military official confirmed the operation, but said coalition soldiers killed three militants after they came under fire and arrested 16 more militants.
They said there were no civilian casualties.
President Hamid Karzai and provincial officials said last week that scores of civilians had been killed recently in foreign troops operations in Afghanistan.
Facing resurgent Taliban attacks, growing dissatisfaction over rampant corruption as well as crime and lack of economic development, Karzai said foreign troops would fail in Afghanistan unless they took more care to protect non-combatants while hunting the Taliban.
Nearly 300 civilians have been killed in operations led by foreign forces this year alone, according to government officials, residents and aid groups.
Scores more have been killed in Taliban suicide and roadside bomb attacks.
Afghanistan is going through its bloodiest period since the
Taliban's fall and this year is regarded as a crunch time for all sides involved in the conflict.
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Afghan interpreter beheaded, eight rebels said killed
June 29, 2007
KHOST, Afghanistan (AFP) - The body of an Afghan interpreter working with foreign forces was found beheaded in eastern Afghanistan, police said Friday, reporting separately that eight militants were killed in clashes.
The headless body of Mir Zaman, who had been working as a translator for NATO-led troops in the eastern province of Paktia, was found late Thursday in the neighbouring province of Logar, police officer Ghulam Dastgir said.
The interpreter had been kidnapped several days ago, Dastgir said.
He blamed the crime on Taliban guerrillas who have been waging an insurgency since their ouster in late 2001 in a US-led offensive.
The Taliban have threatened to kill Afghans working with foreign troops as well for aid organisations run by Western countries.
In a separate incident, Afghan and foreign troops killed four men in anti-Taliban raids in the eastern province of Nangarhar Friday, police said, as a local insisted the dead were villagers with no links to the rebels.
The US-led coalition said Taliban forces had opened fire on troops during the early-morning operations and the soldiers had returned fire, killing some of them. It did not say how many.
Sixteen "militants" were also arrested in the raids, the coalition said in a statement.
Nangarhar police spokesman Samonwal Abdul Ghafoor said four men were killed.
A villager named Ketab Jan said the dead were a father, two sons and a nephew from the same family.
"The people who are killed and arrested by the coalition forces are innocent people," he told AFP by telephone from the area. "They were shopkeepers and farmers and labourers.
"They don't have any relationship with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda people. They (the soldiers) were operating without strong information."
There have been several cases in Nangarhar province, on the border with Pakistan, in which coalition forces have said they had killed militants whom locals said were innocent civilians.
The coalition led the drive that toppled the Taliban regime in late 2001 and is today focused on hunting down Taliban and other militants, including from Al-Qaeda, involved in an insurgency against the Western-backed government.
Police reported separately that four Taliban were killed and two policemen were injured in two clashes -- one in Zabul and one in Paktia.
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Incoming U.S. official hopes Japan will dispatch SDF to Afghanistan
June 29, 2007
(Kyodo) _ James Shinn, who will succeed Richard Lawless as U.S. deputy undersecretary of defense for Asia and Pacific security affairs in July, asked senior ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Taku Yamasaki on Friday for Japan to dispatch Self-Defense Forces to Afghanistan, sources close to Yamasaki said.
But Yamasaki, chairman of the LDP's Research Commission on Security, told Shinn during their meeting at a parliament building that such a dispatch would be difficult, they said.
According to the sources, Shinn asked Yamasaki to step up Japan's physical support in addition to its refueling operations in the Indian Ocean. The U.S. government will appreciate it if Japan cooperates in the transportation sector, Shinn was quoted as saying.
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 under the special antiterrorism measures law.
Yamasaki said an additional mission in connection with the Afghanistan operations would be difficult, noting that the special law authorizing the dispatch of MSDF vessels to the Indian Ocean will expire in November, according to the sources.
Yamasaki was quoted as telling Shinn, "It's very difficult. It will take a great deal just to have the special antiterrorism measures law extended at the extraordinary Diet session to be held this fall."
Shinn is a former national intelligence officer for Asia at the CIA.
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Germany May Pull Special Forces From Afghanistan
By Andreas Cremer
June 29 (Bloomberg) -- German lawmakers are considering scaling back the country's military commitment to the U.S.-led war on terrorism in Afghanistan, a move that could undermine Chancellor Angela Merkel's government and strain U.S. ties.
The Social Democrats, one half of Merkel's coalition, are drawing up plans to withdraw special forces engaged in U.S.-led efforts to fight the Taliban insurgency, lawmakers said. About 100 soldiers from the KSK special forces are deployed in Afghanistan under Operation Enduring Freedom, the U.S.-led military response to the September 11 terrorist attacks.
``A majority is emerging in the Social Democrats' parliamentary caucus in favor of pulling the 100 special forces out of Operation Enduring Freedom,'' Hans-Peter Bartels, who sits on the German Parliament's 30-member defense committee, said in an interview. Fellow party lawmakers view Germany's involvement as ``a burden,'' he said.
Any reduction of Germany's military engagement would be a blow to Merkel and her Christian Democrats, who have vowed to keep troops in Afghanistan, described by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as ``one of the front lines'' in the global fight against terrorism. Public opinion is against the deployment though, and the German Bundestag, or parliament, must vote by October 12 to renew troop deployments.
Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung's position ``is clear: We need parliament to back all troop mandates,'' ministry spokesman Thomas Raabe told a regular news conference in Berlin today.
Social Democrat lawmaker Walter Kolbow, a deputy defense minister under former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, said there are ``very many critical voices'' about the operation within the party. It's valid to ask ``whether or not this operation is still wise,'' given that North Atlantic Treaty Organization air raids are causing a growing number of Afghan civilian casualties, he said in an interview.
Germany currently has about 3,000 soldiers and other staff in Afghanistan with NATO-led forces and reconstruction teams. A mandate to participate in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force expires Oct. 13, the same date as the mandate for six Tornado fighter jets deployed in April to assist NATO- authorized reconnaissance and surveillance work. The special forces are under a separate mandate.
The Tornado deployment is the subject of an opposition-led legal challenge. Germany's highest court is due to rule on the case on July 3.
German voters are uneasy about Germany's military engagement in Afghanistan regardless of the mandate, polls show. Sixty-eight percent of 1,000 people questioned by Emnid oppose Germany's military deployment, according to a poll published on May 22, three days after three German soldiers and five Afghan civilians were killed in a suicide attack in Afghanistan. No more than 29 percent said they supported the engagement.
Against that backdrop, Bartels said pulling out German special forces would free Germany of a ``heavy burden'' and make it easier for him and fellow legislators to vote in favor of extending the NATO-led ISAF mandate.
``We shouldn't take responsibility for something we cannot at all influence,'' Bartels said, noting that Operation Enduring Freedom is exclusively led by the U.S.
Sixty-nine lawmakers, almost a third of the Social Democrats' 222-member parliamentary group, voted against Merkel's motion in March to deploy Tornado jets. The Social Democrats, along with the opposition Greens and Left Party, would have sufficient seats in the 613-member Bundestag to block any extension of a mandate.
Merkel's Christian Democrats counter that any step to weaken anti-terror efforts may undermine the ISAF-led civil rebuilding program for Afghanistan. German forces under ISAF may even be forced to engage in combat against the Taliban if the country withdrew from Operation Enduring Freedom, said Eckart von Klaeden, the Christian Democrats' foreign affairs spokesman.
``The fight against terror under the auspices of OEF is indispensable for the success of ISAF,'' von Klaeden, an alternate member of parliament's defense committee, said in an interview.
A 21-member group of Social Democrat defense, foreign policy and security experts is now working on a list of demands, including possible changes to Germany's Afghanistan-related mandates. The proposals will be discussed by the party's parliamentary caucus on July 4.
``When the summer recess is over, Merkel will have some work to do to persuade her Social Democrat allies'' to stand by the Afghanistan commitment, Uwe Andersen, a professor of political science at the University of Bochum, said in an interview. ``There's no doubt that her sunny summit season is over. What's needed now is leadership at home.''
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Unrest in the provinces
By Wilson John The Washington Times Editorial / June 29, 2007
The recent bombings in Pakistan's tribal areas — one a hotly disputed explosion at an alleged terrorist training facility in Miran Shah in North Waziristan, which killed over 30 persons, followed within days by a concerted shelling by NATO forces on North and South Waziristan killing over 33 persons, including women and children — have the potential of pitting President Pervez Musharraf, this time, against U.S. interests in Afghanistan in the months ahead.
The United States wants the Taliban to remain confined to areas in southern Afghanistan and not gain more ground to threaten the fragile government of Hamid Karzai. Pakistan views the Taliban as a strategic tool to keep a finger in the pie and hence is keen to keep it alive and growing. This divergence of interest is reflected most aptly in the tribal areas, particularly south and North Waziristan where Pakistani forces, sometimes collaborating with the U.S. forces, have been trying to gain an upper hand since 2002, without much success.
After the Pakistan army's botched operation in the spring of 2004, the region has become a staging ground for global terrorists, spawning countless offshoots of extremist elements across the world.
There is growing fear in the western world, particularly in the United States about the possibility of these terror networks operating out of the region to launch another September 11 attack. The United States is therefore keen on carrying out covert operations in the region to neutralize the network at the earliest. The recent bombings are part of this campaign which has been in progress, very cautiously, since last year. It is quite obvious that any overt U.S. operation on Pakistani soil will spell serious trouble for Mr. Musharraf, besieged by a host of troubles at home.
Although the Pakistan army has denied any U.S. role in the bombing of the mosque in Miran Shah, there is increasing evidence, as reported in the Pakistani media, that the U.S. Special Forces had used a new weapon system known as High Mobility Artillery Rockets, or "Himars" which can be configured to shoot a wide array of rockets and missiles, from cluster bombs to a single missile system up to a range of up to 300 kilometers. U.S. Special Forces are deployed in the Khost province of Afghanistan which is quite close to Miran Shah.
The bombings may not really threaten Mr. Musharraf for the time being, but it is certain to raise more than merely eyebrows within his army and might add to the discontentment which has been brewing in the forces for quite sometime. The October 2006 bombing of a mosque in Bajaur agency and the January 2007 bombing of another building in the same area did trigger questions at a corps commanders' conference. The Army commanders were not pleased with the bombing of its own citizens and, according to media reports, the president was questioned on the decision to allow U.S. forces to operate in Pakistani territory.
Fears were expressed that such bombings in the tribal areas could split the army. More than 700 soldiers have been killed in the military campaign in North Waziristan alone since 2004, and at least six mid-level army officers have been court-martialed for refusing to fight. This growing dissent within the officer corps was probably one of the reasons Mr. Musharraf negotiated a truce with tribal leaders and pull back troops from Waziristan.
What might jeopardize Mr. Musharraf's calculations would be the growing impatience within NATO and the U.S. security establishment for his over-cautious approach in dealing with the Taliban and al Qaeda elements fighting the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. In the Western media, there is increasing skepticism about on Mr. Musharraf's Waziristan truce, reflecting in substantial measure the views gaining ground in the Capitol Hill. Mr. Musharraf went into the truce with the tribal leaders more in a bid to prevent any backlash from the army leadership rather than, as he presented to Washington, to prevent al Qaeda and the Taliban from regrouping in Waziristan and other areas in FATA.
Within Pakistan, there is an equally strong opinion that Mr. Musharraf's gamble in Waziristan has failed, putting him in a no-win situation. While the United States and its allies involved in Afghanistan are bound to lean heavily on Mr. Musharraf to rein in al Qaeda and the Taliban, the recent bombings are likely to raise questions about his ability to protect the sovereignty of the country and embroil him deeper in the simmering civilian and military discontent. There is no way Mr. Musharraf can send in the troops a second time without facing serious dissension within the ranks.
There are already signs of these unprovoked American bombings in the tribal areas fortifying religious hardliners and extremist forces not only in Waziristan but also in other parts of Pakistan, particularly in North West Frontier Province, threatening to upset Mr. Musharraf's fragile hold over Pakistan.
Wilson John is a senior fellow with the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.
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'I'm not resigning,' defiant O'Connor insists
Despite discontent among Ottawa Tories over his handling of Afghanistan, Defence Minister stands his ground
ALAN FREEMAN AND CAMPBELL CLARK - With a report from Gloria Galloway in Ottawa - June 28, 2007
KINGSTON, OTTAWA -- A defiant Gordon O'Connor said yesterday he has no intention of quitting as Defence Minister, and warned his critics not to assume he is about to turfed from the portfolio in a widely expected cabinet shuffle.
"I can assure you of one thing: I'm not retiring and I'm not resigning," Mr. O'Connor told reporters at a military conference in Kingston. "And if you want to run a pool, go ahead. You're going to lose."
The minister told the conference he expects to deliver the government's long-awaited policy paper, which will include elements of the government's current policy in support of the Afghanistan mission, by the end of the summer.
Mr. O'Connor has been at the centre of weeks of speculation about a cabinet shuffle, as many Ottawa Conservatives argue he is not the best figure to sell the combat mission in Afghanistan or to devise an exit strategy.
Many believe Mr. O'Connor, 68, will not run in the next federal election, and his public slip-ups have made him a less credible salesman at a time when finding the right tone on the Afghan mission may have a major effect on the government's political fortunes, especially in Quebec.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper refused to respond last week when he was asked about a potential realignment of the cabinet and whether it would involve Mr. O'Connor. But neither did Mr. Harper jump to express continued confidence in his Defence Minister, who has been criticized for his handling of several files, including the treatment of detainees and the payment of funeral costs for soldiers killed in the line of duty.
Mr. O'Connor came to the defence of the Afghan mission in his speech yesterday to the conference on "stability operations," insisting the Afghan army was making such great strides that he could foresee the day when it could take over much of the combat mission now being handled by Canada's 2,500 troops based in Kandahar.
Yet at the same time, Mr. O'Connor was blunt in his assessment of the long-term prospects for Afghanistan, using the kind of unsubtle language that has got him into political hot water before. "Afghanistan has always been a land of instability," he said in response to a conference questioner, adding later, that "I think the area is always going to be unstable."
He said the security situation along the border with Pakistan remains difficult to police, in part because there are millions of ethnic Pashtuns in both countries. "There is a steady stream of insurgents coming across the border," he said.
Later, he tried to temper those comments when asked about them by reporters. "What I'm saying is that Afghanistan is in an unstable region and there will always be challenges to Afghanistan. Our job and NATO's job is to try and create a state that is stable enough to handle its own affairs so it can govern efficiently."
"But if you run back 2,000 years of history in Afghanistan, they'll always be challenged by outsiders."
Several Conservatives said they expect a cabinet shuffle to come soon, so that Mr. Harper can realign his cabinet team in the quiet summer months, long before they face the fire of the Commons in September.
Two senior cabinet members, Industry Minister Maxime Bernier and Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, have been touted as the most likely successors to Mr. O'Connor at Defence.
Mr. Bernier's name has been cited by Conservatives who believe a Quebec minister would make the best spokesman for the mission when the Quebec-based Royal 22nd Regiment deploys to Kandahar.
Mr. Day, meanwhile, is seen by many Tories as a surprise success because he has avoided major public pitfalls in a portfolio plagued with tricky issues and bad news, including a spate of RCMP controversies.
Most believe that Mr. Harper intends to make only small adjustments to his cabinet team, possibly shifting Mr. O'Connor to oversee spending plans at Treasury Board, and then moving current Treasury Board President Vic Toews out of his six-month purgatory there to replace Mr. Day at Public Safety.
But some Conservatives said they believe Mr. Harper's office is struggling with a decision over whether to make major changes to their governing style, as the Conservatives shift from believing they would last only 12 months in power to thinking they could govern for three years.
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Aid agency distributes tents, blankets after floods kill 50
KABUL-28 June 2007 -(IRIN) - Floods have killed at least 50 people and injured tens of others in seven provinces in the north, east and south of Afghanistan over the past two days, Afghan officials said.
"Initial reports indicate that flooding has killed up to 17 people in [northern] Panjshir Province alone," Abdul Matin Adrak, director of the Afghanistan National Disasters Management Authority (ANDMA), told IRIN on 28 June.
Several people have also died in southern Paktia, eastern Kunar, and northern Parwan provinces, and in Kabul, ANDMA said.
A joint disaster response committee comprising several government bodies, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) fear the number of people who have died in the floods that have hit different parts of Afghanistan since 24 June could be higher.
"These are only initial reports which may change once extended assessments are conducted," Ghulam Haider, a government official, said.
Afghanistan's disaster response committee has also reported the destruction of tens of houses in flood-affected areas, which has displaced many families.
"Bridges, canals, roads, agricultural land and many other things have been destroyed," a joint government and NGOs rapid assessment report indicated.
Helicopters in action
On 27 and 28 June about 2,500 individuals, surrounded by floodwaters, were evacuated by military helicopters from a remote location in eastern Kunar Province, officials said.
Forty other stranded people were airlifted from Kama District of Nangarhar Province on 27 June, according to provincial officials.
However, torrential rains halted evacuation operations late on 28 June in Kunar Province.
"Unrelenting rainfall is increasing the level of floodwaters thereby threatening the lives of some 200 people who are awaiting help on a hillside," the governor of Kunar, Shalizai Deedar, told IRIN from Kunar.
Kunar is one of the worst flood-affected provinces. According to the governor and ANDMA, at least eight people have died and many others have been injured.
Meanwhile, the airlift ran into difficulty on 27 June when a military helicopter was stranded for lack of fuel in Kunar Province.
Afghanistan's Red Crescent Society has started distributing tents and blankets to some affected families in Kunar, Paktia and Panjshir provinces.
UN agencies and some international humanitarian organisations have, meanwhile, pledged to send food and nonfood relief to those displaced and affected by the recent flooding.
However, humanitarian aid will only reach needy people after need assessments have been conducted, a UN official in Kabul said.
The UN World Food Programme will distribute foodstuffs and the UN Children's Agency (UNICEF) will distribute family kits, which include tarpaulins, plastic sheets and kitchen appliances.
"A disaster management commission chaired by Second Vice-President Karim Khalili has approved plans for the disbursement of 10,000 Afghanis [US$200] for any individual killed in the flooding," the head of ANDMA said.
More rain forecast
According to Afghanistan's national meteorology department, heavy rain, flooding and storms are unusual at this time of the year.
"There will be rain in some parts of the country in the coming three days," said the head of the meteorology department, Abdul Qadir Qadir, without specifying how heavy it would be.
"It is due to global climate change that we are seeing increasingly violent fluctuations in our weather conditions," Qadir said.
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Unusual storm breaks weather in Afghanistan
CTV.ca, Canada Thu. Jun. 28 2007 Associated Press
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -The scream of fighter jets, the rat-a-tat of the firing range, even the echoing boom of a controlled detonation perks few ears at the Kandahar Airfield where the volume on the soundtrack of military life is always set on high.
Weather this time of year in Afghanistan rarely adds to the score; the whir of a thousand air conditioners drowns out the sound of dripping sweat and sarcastic quips of "hot 'nuff for ya?"
But the silent glare of the burning sun was replaced this week by the staccato of raindrops and the slaps of wind as a three-day storm washed out roads, flooded tents and frustrated military operations.
The culprit was a storm over the Gulf of Oman, which Cpl. Glen Slauenwhite, a Canadian meteorological technician, described as an "absolute monster."
"This storm is an anomaly in that it hit us," said Slauenwhite, from Halifax.
"Much like how (hurricane) Juan hit Halifax, how the tornadoes in Edmonton hit in '87. On a climatological scale, these things don't happen - these areas aren't prone to getting hit."
The storm swirled up on Tuesday, unleashing wind and rain throughout Afghanistan over three days, including a three-hour crackling thunderstorm that at times was hard to discern from the roar of military aircraft.
At first it was the smell that gave away Mother Nature's coming fury: the harsh stench of dust muted by the moisture in the air.
Next came the brown clouds of dirt, swept along by hearty winds up the gravel roads of the airfield, taking the idea of military camouflage to a new level -- total invisibility.
The temperature plummeted and as the dust storm blew through the airfield, soldiers and civilians alike played weather tourist, taking pictures and narrating home videos of the wacky weather.
The glee turned to flee as dust rained down, coating everything in a gritty film soon to turn to muck by the rain.
Row upon row of tent lines housing Canadians at the airfield were flooded.
Though the prospect of wringing out clothes and carpets was daunting, it didn't stop a pair of civilian employees from having a water fight late Thursday afternoon as a trio of frogs jumped gamely by.
The usual rainfall this time of year for southern Afghanistan is zero. By late Thursday night, 40 millimetres had fallen.
In parts of Afghanistan, the impact of the storm was severe; Afghan National Police and coalition soldiers rescued 42 people Wednesday who were trapped on rocks in the province of Kapisa, in the eastern part of the country.
Further east, in Pakistan, the provincial relief commissioner Khubah Bakhsh estimated that some 200,000 houses were destroyed or damaged. More than 800,000 people have been affected by floods from heavy rains and overflowing rivers and dams, he said.
In Kandahar City on Thursday morning, before a further deluge of rain frustrated locals even more, children swam along muddy sidewalks, shouting with glee as irate shopkeepers vainly tried to sweep the waters away.
The storm cut off power and phone access for thousands of people, bogging down side streets and main arteries throughout the city.
Farmers especially were worried about the unusual weather. One grape farmer mocked a westerner who was enjoying the respite from the heat, saying the rain would certainly ruin what had looked to be a bumper crop this season.
Some military operations ground to a muddy halt in the rain, though Slauenwhite said in some circumstances storms can be good for fighting as there's no moonlight to illuminate night time operations.
"However, trumping it is trying to live through the mud and rain and the discomfort that brings along," he said.
"Even if it is 24 degrees right now it's a relative issue. If you've been here for five months, 24 feels cold."
The weather was expected to return to normal Friday. With Kandahar having already reached last summer's record high of 45 degrees Celsius two weeks ago, extreme heat is likely to return.
The region is entering the season known as the Wind of 120 Days, an arid blast of air that sweeps over from Iran, and unstopped by the vast desert of southern Afghanistan, rips across the country with gale-force strength.
Having reviewed the weather reports on Afghanistan for the last few years, Slauenwhite said the weather-related buzzword on everyone's lips in North American hasn't found it's way into the Afghan weather lingo quite yet.
"There hasn't been any real significant climate change in Afghanistan," he said.
"It's still hot and dry and dusty."
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Pakistan to help as the US's jailer
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / June 29, 2007
ISLAMABAD - With the George W Bush administration under pressure to close the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Pakistan is readying to step in to help its ally in the "war on the terror".
Both US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have suggested that President Bush transfer Guantanamo's detainees to the United States, saying the facility is undercutting US foreign-policy efforts. Should Bush not do so, it is likely that the joint military prison and interrogation camp will be closed by the Democrat-controlled Congress. Vice President Dick Cheney's office and the Justice Department oppose having Guantanamo prisoners moved to the US.
The prison holds people suspected by the US of being al-Qaeda or Taliban operatives, as well as those no longer considered suspects who are being held pending relocation.
The camp has drawn strong criticism both from within the US military and worldwide for its extrajudicial detention of captives and acknowledgment that the interrogation rules there opened the possibility that captives were being tortured. To date, the Pentagon has only held military commissions for three al-Qaeda members, out of the 375 or so detainees currently at Guantanamo. Several hundred have been released over the past few years.
Asia Times Online has learned that the Bush administration is considering a plan under which inmates would be returned to special facilities in their countries of origin, where they would be treated on a case-by-case basis. There are an estimated 65 or so Pakistanis in Guantanamo, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US.
These special jails would be administered jointly by American and local security staff. At the same time, the new jails in allied countries would also house new suspects netted in the "war on terror".
A top Pakistani official told Asia Times Online that a special facility has already been built in the city of Faisalabad, adjacent to Faisalabad Central Prison. Another such facility is under construction in Multan and is expected to be completed within the next few months. Work on a detention center adjacent to Adyala Jail in Rawalpindi, the capital Islamabad's twin city, has just started.
These facilities are being funded by the US and will fall under the jurisdiction of Pakistan's Ministry of Interior. Special staff will be deputed to the centers to work in conjunction with US officials.
The Asia Times Online contact said similar facilities will be established in Afghanistan, Egypt and other countries sympathetic to the "war on terror". Last week, the Associated Press reported that the US is helping to expand a prison in Afghanistan to take some detainees from Guantanamo. The report said a high-security wing is being built at the Pul-e-Charki prison complex near the capital Kabul. It will be capable of holding up to 660 people, Afghan officials were reported as saying.
A special cell comprising various Pakistani intelligence agencies will reinvestigate the cases of the returnees from Guantanamo and, after coordination with US officials, will decide their fate.
On Osama's trail ... again
The detainees held by the US at Guantanamo were initially classified as "enemy combatants", and as such it was argued that they were not entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions. But the US Supreme Court ruled against this interpretation on June 29, 2006. The next month, the Department of Defense issued an internal memo stating that prisoners would in future be entitled to protection under the conventions.
Herein lies the rub.
Washington is reluctant to abandon Guantanamo without arranging alternatives where suspects can be interrogated without the interruptions of "normal" legal procedures. Guantanamo was set up in the wake of September 11 with the specific aim of tracking Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and their al-Qaeda network. This is a highly complex task in the belly of the terrorist world. It has become even more difficult since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the overlapping connections among the varied insurgency groups. Playing it by the book, it's a tough world to crack.
Already in Pakistan the establishment plays loose with the rules. Asia Times Online has learned that over the past few months several al-Qaeda members have been rounded up, but they have not been formally arrested or charged, although they are being interrogated about bin Laden and his colleagues.
The authorities fear that if they appeared in open court, information they disclosed might alert al-Qaeda or, worse, they might be set free.
For example, it apparently took a year to track Abu Faraj al-Libby. Said to be al-Qaeda's No 3, Libby was arrested by Pakistani authorities on May 4, 2005, with four accomplices in the Pakistani tribal areas in North West Frontier Province.
Pakistani security officials apprehended numerous al-Qaeda members while on the trail of Libby, who had a US$10 million reward on his head. They were never charged. "Had those persons been formally arrested, it would never have been possible to stay on the trail of Abu Faraj al-Libby," a Pakistani security official told Asia Times Online.
In theory, the facilities being built in Pakistan will not be classified as "secret" and will be subject to the laws of the land, although they will be used only for suspects in the "war on terror". Actual interrogation could be carried out elsewhere.
Contacts confirmed that suspects would be kept in detention for a long time as Pakistan does not want to be embarrassed, as happened with two men released from Guantanamo: Abdullah Mehsud of the Pakistani tribal area of South Waziristan and Mullah Shahzada of Afghanistan are both known to have joined the Taliban. Mehsud was subsequently killed in a shootout with Pakistani security forces in March 2005.
As the US realigns its detention system, so too has al-Qaeda changed. From being a well-organized group at the time of September 11, al-Qaeda's financial and logistical lifelines were all but broken. It has since regrouped and, importantly, myriad groups linked to or inspired by al-Qaeda have sprung up in any number of countries.
The "war on terror" is far from over.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
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Jihadi CDs selling in Karkhano Market
* Material about Afghanistan, Chechnya, tribal areas in great demand
By Master Ali Shinwari Daily Times (Pakistan) / June 29, 2007
PESHAWAR: Many people like to purchase jihadi CDs from the Karkhano Market, where a large number of shopkeepers are doing this business.
“The demand for jihadi CDs increases in Ramazan,” Attihad, a shopkeeper at Karkhano Market, told Daily times. Attihad said once a foreigner came to his shop and bought the whole stock of jihadi CDs available at his shop. “I sell 20 to 25 cassettes, cost ranging from Rs 30 to 60, on a daily basis,” he added.
Another shopkeeper requesting anonymity said the business of jihadi CDs fluctuates. He said he daily sold 25 to 30 cassettes, adding, “We also supply such CDs to other parts of NWFP and Afghanistan.”
“We sell these cassette, featuring fighters in jehad, secretly, as police seizes all such CDs during their raids and also arrests shopkeepers,” the shopkeeper said, adding that they were unable to desert their business though it was illegal. He said he feared secret agencies would imprison him for selling jihadi CDs, which was why he was doing his business secretly.
Another shopkeeper on the condition of anonymity stated that most people liked CDs relating to war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and the situation in Bara and Waziristan.
Some shopkeepers said they did not sell jihadi CDs, and that they mostly sold obscene CDs. Some shopkeepers had reserved a separate corner for jihadi CDs in their shops. Asked why are people buying jihadi CDs, a buyer at Karkhano Market said when non-Muslims attack you, it is Muslims’ prime responsibility to participate in jehad. “We like watching jihadi films, and are proud of our warriors,” he added.
Anar Gul and Awal Gul, both shopkeepers, said there was no restriction on the sale and purchase of these CDs.
Assistant Sub-Inspector from the Karkhano police station Muhammad Ikram Khan told Daily Times that jihadi CDs’ sale was illegal and that, “We have given the shopkeepers June 30 deadline to wind up their illegal businesses.”
The ASI also said police had talked to the market’s owner over the issue, and that police would take action against jihadi CDs sellers after June 30.
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Conference on rule of law kicks off in Rome on Monday
Rome, 29 June (AKI) - Twenty-six delegations of governments and international institutions will gather around a table to discuss the justice system and rule of law in Afghanistan in a two-day conference which begins on Monday in the Italian capital Rome. The conference entitled "Rule of Law in Afghanistan" is being hosted by Italy and according to Italian foreign ministry officials it's aimed at developing a coordinated strategy on the reform of Afghanistan's justice system. It is also a chance to review the way money has been allocated in the reconstruction of Afghanistan and even to announce new funding.
Speaking at a media briefing ahead of Monday's conference, Italian foreign ministry spokesperson Pasquale Ferrara said that the conference was necessary to highlight the need for reform of the Afghan justice system as the war-torn country goes through the difficult process of reconstruction. Organised by Italy, the lead country for the reform of Afghanistan's justice system, the conference will also be presided over by Afghanistan and the United Nations.
After a first day dedicated to high level technical discussions, the plenary sessions will be inaugurated on Tuesday by the Italian premier Romano Prodi. Also participating are the United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon, the Afghan president Hamid Karzai and the Italian foreign minister Massimo D'Alema. Representing NATO will be its secretary general Jaap De Hoop Scheffer and the EU Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner will represent the European Union.
Ferrara said that in the conference was also necessary to make "an accurate assessment of the initiatives of the international community" to ensure that there is no risk of duplication or wastage.
On top of that, the foreign ministry spokesman also said that the meeting will be an opportunity to assess the usage of funds that have already been allocated and even to announce new funding for Afghanistan.
The initial technical sessions which will last from Monday till Tuesday afternoon will look at the reconstruction of the judicial system, whether in terms of the laws and legislation or the coordination at regional and provincial levels, with particular attention to the activities involved in the training of justice sector professionals and with the objective of creating a task force on criminal justice.
During the plenary sessions, the leaders of several other countries, including those neighbouring Afghanistan will be present, among them Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, India, Iran and Turkey. Representing the United States will be the assistance secretary of state for central and south Asia, Richard Boucher, together with the US ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, who is of Afghan origin and who has been a US ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq.
This year, Italy set aside 66 million euros for Afghanistan, with particular attention to the justice sector, and three million euros in emergency funds for the Provincial Reconstruction Team in western Afghanistan's province of Herat are already available.
Activities for the construction and rehabilitation of judicial structures have already been financed including a new programme for the training of justice sector professionals organised by the International Development Law Organization (IDLO).
In April, Italy also gave one million euros to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) for the construction of prisons and soon new funding could be provided, among others, to the Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund, which is managed by Kabul and the World Bank, as well to programmes that aim to fight violence against women.
Italy currently has 1,938 soldiers in Afghanistan who are not involved in regular combat and operate mainly in western Afghanistan and east of the capital Kabul.
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Taliban impose rule, hefty taxes in Musa Qala District
LASHKARGAH 28 June 2007 -(IRIN) -The bodies of four bearded men still hang from two tall poles at a roundabout in Musa Qala District, Helmand Province, in southern Afghanistan. Musa Qala District is controlled by Taliban insurgents.
The four were hanged two days ago allegedly for spying for the Americans and the government of President Hamid Karzai. Only a Taliban decree can bring the decomposed bodies down and allow them to be buried according to Islamic rites.
In both Islamic and international law governing conflicts, dead bodies, even those of armed enemies, should be protected from disrespect, mutilation and pillage.
The Taliban have set up a special tribunal in the territory they control at which judges sentence whomever they deem to be culprits, or against the Taliban, to death, amputation or stoning, a source who cannot be identified for security reasons told IRIN.
In February 2007 Taliban rebels recaptured Musa Qala District, about 165km north of Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand Province, after a roughly five-year interval. It happened after a deal brokered by the then governor of Helmand, Engineer Daud, under which NATO-led British forces had agreed to withdraw from Musa Qala District Centre and local elders promised to keep the Taliban away, proved ineffective.
The British Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), part of a larger NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), struck the controversial deal to impede Taliban control over the restive district in return for the withdrawal of British and Afghan forces.
Concern for civilians
Afghan officials say the government and its international supporters have delayed plans to recapture Musa Qala because of concerns that civilians might be harmed.
"We could retake the district in less than 24-hours, but we fear that non-combatants could be affected," said Gen Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for Afghanistan's Ministry of Defence.
However, nothing has stopped the Taliban from re-imposing their harsh interpretation of Shariah Law on the estimated 14,000 people of Musa Qala.
Millions of girls and women returned to schools and work after the Taliban were ousted in October 2001, but with the rebels return in Musa Qala schools have again been closed.
"There is no school for boys or girls in Musa Qala. Some boys go to mosques for religious studies," a resident of the district who did not want to be named for security reasons, told IRIN.
Even after the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, women in Helmand Province, including Musa Qala District, did not feel a tangible change in their restricted daily lives, according to local officials.
"Either due to insecurity or a lack of opportunities women in Musa Qala have always - even when the Taliban were not ruling there - suffered deprivation and violence," said Fawzia Olomi, director of the Ministry of Women's Affairs (MoWA) in Helmand.
In Musa Qala, after 2001 women could choose to wear the 'burqa' or not, but did not get punished if they failed to wear it. That has now changed.
Furthermore, even a woman who covers her head and body with a 'burqa' now needs to be accompanied by a male relative if she leaves home.
"Women are treated like slaves in Musa Qala," said Olomi.
Taliban radio launched
Under the Taliban music was banned, as were all visual depictions of living beings, and TV.
According to one resident, broken TV sets and cassettes now dangle on trees and electricity pylons in Musa Qala warning locals not to watch TV or listen to music even in their homes.
The Taliban have, however, started broadcasting a daily two-hour programme on FM radio in which calls are made for a religious war against the government of President Karzai.
The Taliban are levying heavy taxes on the impoverished citizens of Musa Qala.
"They have imposed hefty 'Ushor' and 'Zakaat' [Islamic charity] taxes and forced people to pay them. Those who fail to comply are punished," a local resident said.
Taliban elders call upon locals to support their cause by all possible means.
A young man from Musa Qala who moved to Lashkargah, said he was forced either to join the insurgents or pay 50,000 Afghanis (about US$1,000) as a form of compensation.
"Many people join the Taliban simply because they do not have any other option," the displaced man said.
In addition to Musa Qala, Afghan ministers have confirmed that the insurgents now control at least two other districts in Helmand Province and one in Kandahar Province - both of which border on Pakistan.
In 2007 the Taliban have begun to establish a hold in some regions, using them as operational and logistical hubs, warned a retired military commander, Khalilurahman Siddique.
Since 2001 Taliban fighters have maintained a hit-and-run insurgency in the south and east of Afghanistan. They have increasingly been using suicide attacks, roadside bombs and bombs planted in towns designed to hit ordinary people.
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Appeal for women's protection ahead of conference on rule of law
Kabul, 29 June (AKI) - Ahead of the international conference on the rule of law in Afghanistan in Rome next week, the vice president of the Wolesi Jirga or lower house of the Afghan parliament, Fawzia Koofi has made an appeal to the international community to help protect the women of Afghanistan. "Help the legislative bodies in Afghanistan adopt and implement laws that provide protection for women, help the struggle against domestic violence for women, and raise awareness on women issues," said Koofi in an interview with Adnkronos International (AKI).
"More importantly support the system that provides justice to people", Koofi told AKI. "Security will not be guaranted if people have no justice," she said.
Rome will host an international conference on the justice system and rule of law in Afghanistan next week on 2-3 July. Italy is the lead country for the reform of Afghanistan's justice system and the conference will be attended by representatives of governments and international institutions involved in the development of a coordinated strategy on the reform of Afghanistan's justice system.
"Women don't have protection in the family," she said. "There are lots of cases of domestic violence against women, judges are not sensitive to women issues and as a result women prefer to burn or kill themselves if they are victims of violance," Koofi said.
"I think during the past 5 years, there was some progress on the justice sector, for example, juvenile code has been developed and adopted, rehabilitation centres have been established for children," she said. "However, comparing to the funds spent, there has not been much progress in terms of infrastructure," said Koofi.
Koofi believes that there is a need to concentrate on the long-term training of judges and the law faculties at the university or under Sharia, because "short term courses of one week or so will not help."
Training could also reduce the number of cases decided by local shuras. According to Koofi, 80 percent of women's and children's cases are dealt with local shuras.
The local tribunals in certain tribal areas of Afghanistan are composed of judges who "are not profession and uneducated, said the deputy president of Wolesi Jirga who stressed that in order to reform the process it is necessary to "integrate local shuras to the official justice sector of the country. The process "may take time, but it is needed for reform," she said.
"If we are not able to strengthen our system to address people's need in that sense, people may not trust us any more," Koofi told AKI. In thsi sence the "rich justice system" that Italy has could be "used in many ways in post-conflict countries like Afghanistan," she said.
In order to create an effective Afghan justice system, however it is necessary to improve the prison system, guarantee the security in the prisons and create "separate prisons for women and men," Koofi concluded.
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Pakistan camp closures: UNHCR urges continued dialogue between government and refugees
29 Jun 2007 12:48:05 GMT Source: UNHCR
With only a day to go before the June 30 planned closure of two Afghan refugee camps by the Government of Pakistan, UNHCR is calling for continued dialogue between the government and the refugees to ensure a peaceful approach to the process.
The decision to close four camps- – Katcha Gari and Jalozai in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, and Jungle Pir Alizai and Girdi Jungle in Balochistan – was taken last year during a tripartite meeting between UNHCR, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It was reaffirmed this year, and deadlines were set for June 15 – later extended to June 30 – for Katcha Gari and Jungle Pir Alizai, and the end of August for the other two camps. The Government of Pakistan stated that the camps should be closed mainly for security reasons.
The two camps closing this weekend host more than 82,000 registered Afghans – the majority of whom are women, children under 18 and the elderly, according to a 2007 registration report. The Afghans were given two options by the Pakistan government. Those wishing to return to Afghanistan can do so with UNHCR's assistance, while others unable to return can choose to relocate to an existing camp in Pakistan designated by the government.
In recent weeks, UNHCR has been closely monitoring the camp closure preparations. So far this year, more than 16,000 registered Afghans have repatriated from Katcha Gari camp and at least 600 from Jungle Pir Alizai camp. UNHCR notes the fact that the closure of Katcha Gari is now proceeding peacefully. We have no access to Jungle Pir Alizai for security reasons, and hope there will not be a replay of clashes that took place in mid-May. Some of the camp residents refuse to vacate the premises, claiming they are Pakistanis, not Afghans. No families have approached UNHCR for relocation to date.
Some of the Afghans who have returned to Afghanistan from the two camps said they felt repatriation was the best option of the two alternatives offered to them. They also cited remote locations, lack of basic infrastructure, limited livelihood possibilities and the three-year duration of their permission to stay as reasons for not relocating.
UNHCR is aware of the complex challenges that the Government of Pakistan faces with regard to the camps. However, it is noteworthy that the majority of the Afghan population from Jungle Pir Alizai and Girdi Jungle camps, mostly women and children, originate from provinces seriously affected by the ongoing conflict in the south of Afghanistan. Approximately one-third of the population of Jalozai camp originate from provinces where security is tenuous at best.
At the recent Tripartite Commission meeting in Dubai, UNHCR underlined its concerns over Afghanistan's deteriorating security situation and limited absorption capacity. The three parties discussed the implications of these factors on the sustainable repatriation of the remaining 2.15 million registered Afghans in Pakistan.
More than 3 million Afghans have been assisted home from Pakistan since UNHCR started facilitating voluntary returns in 2002, making it one of the largest repatriation operations in the world. This year 50,000 registered Afghans have voluntarily returned home from Pakistan, benefiting from the enhanced repatriation cash grant of US$100 average per person. An additional 200,000 unregistered Afghans also returned with the new assistance package.
We count on all parties to continue the camp consolidation process with full respect of voluntariness which has been a hallmark of this operation since 2002.
Over 2.15 million were recently registered as Afghan citizens living temporarily in Pakistan, and given cards valid for three years. More than half of this population lives in urban areas. Some 84 percent said they had concerns about going home, mainly for reasons of security and access to land, shelter and livelihood opportunities.
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Tajikistan honours late Afghan commander Ahmad Shah Masud
Text of report by Afghan independent Tolo TV on 27 June
[Presenter] Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has granted the highest Tajik state medal to Ahmad Shah Masud, the Afghan national hero.
The medal was granted during an international conference marking the 10th anniversary of the Tajik National Peace Accord which was held on fourth and fifth of Saratan [25-26 Jun 07] in Dushanbe city, in honour of Ahmad Shah Masud's great service to ensuring peace in Tajikistan.
The medal was handed over to the Afghan embassy in Tajikistan.
[Sultan Ahmad Bahin, spokesman, Foreign Affairs Ministry] The highest Tajik state medal has been awarded to the Afghan national hero, the martyred Ahmad Shah Masud. This shows the fact that the people of Tajikistan value efforts made by the government and people of Afghanistan, especially the martyred Ahmad Shah Masud, in re-establishing peace in our fraternal and friendly country of Tajikistan.
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