Top Afghan law officer assaulted
Friday, 8 June 2007 BBC News
Afghanistan's most senior law officer says bodyguards of a top army general physically attacked him while travelling north of the capital, Kabul.
Attorney-General Abdul Jabar Sabet - one of President Hamid Karzai's closest aides - told the BBC that he needed hospital treatment after the attack.
The general, Deen Mohammad Jurat, says he and his men were only acting in self-defence.
Mr Sabet has a reputation for sacking officials suspected of corruption.
The BBC's Bilal Sarwary in Kabul says that the attorney-general's campaign against corruption has earned him many enemies.
Mr Sabet said the attack - in which he may have been the victim of a kidnap plot - was carried out as he was investigating the cause of a road block. He blamed it on bodyguards of Gen Deen Mohamad Jurat.
But Gen Jurat says that it was his driver and body guards who were attacked first by the attorney-general's men, and it was they who opened fire first.
The general, who holds a top position in the interior ministry, told the BBC that he was travelling with his family and just six bodyguards, when Mr Sabet stopped his car at a road block, and then slapped his driver's face.
The general said that it was Mr Sabet's 40 security staff who fired first before others broke up the fight.
Mr Sabet said that the assault on him - in which rifle butts were used - was pre-planned and was carried out because the general was angered that some of his officials had been arrested on suspicion of corruption.
"This morning I was leaving for Parwan province for a picnic along with the mayor of Kabul, the deputy governor of Parwan, and Members of Parliament," Mr Sabet told a press conference after the attack.
"The road was blocked so I got out to check what it was.
"As I got out (the general) came and asked me what I was doing: I told him that I am trying to clear the road.
"I didn't have any bodyguards on me, so he started attacking me along with his bodyguards of around 40 armed men.
"It was a pre-planned plot. He sent his man to the place where (he knew) I was going.
"My vehicle had four bullets in it afterwards, while the vehicle belonging to the head of criminal police, Gen Ali Shah Paktiwals, had nine bullets in it.
"I have arrested people who (the general) wanted to be freed. He too was on my target list, this is why he attacked me."
Gen Jurat is now serving as a top interior ministry general providing security for some American companies.
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Police die in Afghanistan blasts
Friday, 8 June 2007 BBC News
At least two policemen have been killed in Afghanistan by a bomb which blew up their patrol vehicle in the province of Kandahar, police say.
They say that two others were injured in the roadside blast near the Pakistani border.
Another policeman was killed on Thursday in neighbouring Zabul province, police say.
Kandahar has seen an increasing number of attacks by the Taleban. No group has so far said it carried out the blasts.
Kandahar military spokesman Gen Abdul Raziq told the BBC that the roadside bomb went off on Thursday in the Shoar district of Kandahar, 100km east of Kandahar city.
He said that nine Taleban members were killed in subsequent fighting, including two commanders.
However the Taleban says that 13 policemen were killed in the encounter.
Correspondents say that it is impossible to verify the claims and counter-claims made by both sides.
Violence in Afghanistan has returned to levels not seen since the Taleban were ousted in 2001.
More than 4,000 people were killed last year in fighting between militants and international-led forces.
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Bombs, battles kill 6 Afghan police
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer Fri Jun 8, 5:01 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Roadside bombs and battles with Taliban forces killed six police and left 13 Taliban fighters dead or wounded in separate incidents in southern Afghanistan, officials said Friday.
A roadside bomb exploded in Kandahar's Panjwayi district on Friday, killing three police officers and wounding four in a police vehicle, said Panjwayi district police chief Bismullah Khan.
In the nearby Spin Boldak district, a roadside bomb killed two policemen and wounded three others in a border police vehicle, Gen. Raziq Khan said.
Khan said that in nearby Arghistan district, a police operation against Taliban fighters on Thursday killed or wounded nine of the militants. He said Taliban fighters took their casualties away but that intelligence sources learned the casualty figures.
In Zabul province, a two-hour gun battle killed one policeman and four Taliban, said acting provincial police chief Hakim Khan.
Violence has spiked sharply in recent weeks in Afghanistan. Some 2,200 people have died in insurgency-related violence this year, according to an AP count based on numbers from U.S., NATO, U.N., and Afghan officials.
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Taliban strikes kill police at record rate
By Jason Motlagh THE WASHINGTON TIMES June 8, 2007
KABUL, Afghanistan -- National police are dying at a record rate so far this year and need urgent financial and technical support if a robust Taliban insurgency is to be defeated in distant provinces, the Interior Ministry says.
More than 200 police officers have been killed since late March, with a marked increase in suicide and roadside bombings compared to last year, ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary told The Washington Times.
"We've lost a big number of our police forces in attacks this year. We are witnessing big casualties," he said.
Police are more vulnerable than Afghan army and international security forces because they are often the only law enforcement on the ground in isolated areas of the southern and eastern provinces, where the Taliban are most active, Mr. Bashary said.
The deadliest recent attack on police was a Taliban ambush last week in southern Zabul province that left 16 officers dead. On Wednesday, a district police chief in eastern Paktika province was killed when a roadside bomb exploded near his vehicle.
In another incident last Friday, militants attacked a police officer's house in southern Ghazni province, killing five members of his family, according to local officials, indicating that even relatives or those who cooperate with police are targeted.
The spokesman noted that despite some improvements in staffing and training, the police force still has "low capacity and capability" to cope with an enemy that regularly strikes with heavy weapons such as mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.
"What the police have to face them and resist are AK-47s, and at the maximum, PKMs. That's it," he said, referring to a higher-caliber Soviet-made machine gun.
The combination of poor equipment and low salaries has made it difficult to recruit sufficient numbers of police, especially in risk areas, he said.
Some districts with populations of more than 100,000 have relied on just 25-30 men whose duties are stretched over law enforcement, protecting civilians from roving Taliban militants and drug eradication.
The average Afghan policeman makes just $70 a month, but the Interior Ministry still expects to boost ranks by 20,000 men from the current level of roughly 62,000 over the next two years.
Officers only will receive a raise in salary due to continued funding shortages, Mr. Bashary said.
By comparison, Afghan army troops earn $100 a month plus up to $60 more for travel expenses. The Taliban is known to pay four times this amount thanks to high drug profits.
Analysts say lackluster salaries and slim prospects for advancement have the added backlash of encouraging graft and predatory tendencies in the Afghan police to a degree that has fed distrust among the people they are meant to protect.
"Often little more than private militias, [the national police] are regarded in nearly every district more as a source of insecurity than protection," said a recent report by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank.
"Instead of gaining the confidence of communities, their often-predatory behavior alienates locals further."
To compensate, some provinces have seen the formation of traditional tribal policing systems. The Ghazni provincial police chief, for example, has said he could summon at least 500 militia if needed, with similar claims from officials in other troubled provinces.
A United Nations-World Bank report released in November says drug-related corruption has severely undercut efforts to combat opium production, which is expected to top last year's record harvest.
Mr. Bashary conceded that corruption is a grave threat in all its forms, calling on foreign partners to help the Afghan government provide better pay and equipment to police.
"The international community needs to pay much more attention to the police because it's them you'll find on the ground engaging with people and their everyday needs," he said. "They need to be much supported and much enhanced if we want good results here."
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NATO chief urges action on Afghan civilian deaths
By Mark John Fri Jun 8, 7:26 AM ET
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer urged alliance countries to take action to lower civilian casualties from fighting in Afghanistan on Friday, saying such incidents could undermine the mission.
De Hoop Scheffer called on defense ministers meeting in Brussels next week to tackle the issue, insisted any future accidents be promptly investigated and urged a greater effort to provide humanitarian aid to Afghans.
"Any loss of innocent civilian life and damage to civilian property risks eroding the support we continue to receive from the vast majority of people in Afghanistan, as well as from their government and parliament," he told a defense conference.
"It also raises real and justified concern in our own countries ... We can, must and will do better," he said.
De Hoop Scheffer said better coordination was needed between the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, the Afghan army and the separate U.S.-led coalition.
He cited a case of casualties in southern Afghanistan last year when Western forces were unaware of the presence of nomads in a battle zone only to discover later that the Afghan army had known that they were there.
Scores of Afghans have died in air strikes by NATO and U.S.-led coalition forces, stirring angry protests by Afghans and calls for President Hamid Karzai's resignation.
Aerial bombardments killed at least 50 villagers in the remote Shindand district in western Herat province last month. The International Committee of the Red Cross said 173 houses were rendered uninhabitable, leaving nearly 2,000 homeless.
The growing hostility toward the foreign troops battling the Taliban insurgency has prompted NATO commanders to review a strategy which uses aerial bombing to aid ground forces in battles with hardened Afghan insurgents.
De Hoop Scheffer insisted that NATO was doing everything it could to avoid casualties and that no comparison could be drawn with insurgents who put civilians in harms way by using them as human shields.
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Sarkozy says French troops to stay in Afghanistan
HEILIGENDAMM, Germany (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Friday France would not pull its troops out of Afghanistan for now, echoing comments by his prime minister that there was no plan to withdraw forces.
Speculation that France may cut down on its engagement in Afghanistan grew shortly after Sarkozy was elected last month, when he said he saw no long-term role for French troops there.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon said on Tuesday there was no plan to disengage from the country, and at an annual meeting of the Group of Eight industrialised nations in Germany, Sarkozy said France would stay by its allies' side.
"I told our Canadian and American friends and our allies that we will not break the allies' solidarity in the battle that is under way against terrorism in Afghanistan and that is under way to stabilise the Afghan state," Sarkozy told reporters.
"Secondly, we will reinforce our means to train the Afghan army," he told a news conference.
Sarkozy's spokesman David Martinon said the number of French troops would be increased by 150, or three groups of 50 soldiers to train Afghan forces.
"I wanted France's effort to be more of a training effort to prepare the Afghan state for the transition," Sarkozy said.
The troop increase will bring the number of French troops in Afghanistan to 1,150.
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Promises, threats in Afghan valley rid of Taliban
By Peter Graff Thu Jun 7, 10:10 AM ET
SANGIN, Afghanistan (Reuters) - The message couldn't have been clearer.
Keep out the Taliban and we will bring millions of dollars in aid, create thousands of new jobs, and build hospitals, schools and roads.
But let the guerrillas return, and you will get nothing but more war.
British and U.S. forces offered lavish promises of aid -- but also remarkably blunt threats of more violence -- to Afghan elders on Thursday at their first meeting since a battle to clear Taliban guerrillas from a mountain valley that could be a key to controlling southern Afghanistan.
The meeting had a friendly start but broke up suddenly in an atmosphere of tense unease, making clear the challenge NATO forces face if they hope to end fighting and launch a long-awaited large-scale reconstruction and development mission in the opium-growing heartland of the Taliban.
More than 100 bearded elders assembled, sitting shoeless and cross-legged behind sandbag fortifications in the portico of the Sangin district centre.
The building, clinging to the banks of a swift-flowing canal along the Helmand River, has been part of a British base for the past year, during which some of the heaviest fighting of the war laid waste to the surrounding area.
The town is now largely quiet after NATO operations to flush Taliban fighters out of the valley to the north, which culminated with a combined U.S.-British assault, Operation Axe Handle, last week.
The operation's British commander, Lieutenant Colonel Stewart Carver, told the elders it had been a success. The Taliban were gone, some having fled, others killed.
"Clearing them out in the first place was the easy part. The more difficult part is making sure they do not come back," he said.
A U.S. official promised that Afghanistan's biggest aid project, the reconstruction of the Kajaki Dam at the head of the valley, could soon begin, with work starting within weeks on a new road up the valley to reach the dam.
The road project will create 2,500 thousand new jobs, the project's head, Stu Willcuts of USAID, told the elders. It will link their villages to market year round. Reliable electricity and improved irrigation will follow.
"We need your help. We need the wisdom of those of you who worked on this project before. We need the strength of the arms of the young people."
Other British and U.S. officials, military and civilian, rose in turn with promises of schools, hospitals, roads and canals.
There were polite speeches of gratitude from the elders, and carefully worded requests for faster aid.
But then a U.S. Special Forces commander sprang to his feet, silencing the gathering.
"My job is to assist the district chief with security by killing as many Taliban as I can. Period," he said.
"All these gentlemen here want to bring aid to Sangin district. They can bring millions of dollars to assist you," said the bearded American commander, who wore a uniform with no insignia and identified himself as Major Gill.
"Honestly, what I have seen is you don't actually want that assistance. Because you continue to allow the Taliban to enter your villages," he said.
"I have seen you allow the Taliban to use your women and children as human shields. I have seen you allow Taliban to use your women and children to resupply ambush sites."
"You say you want schools, hospitals, electricity. How are we going to do that if you continue to let Taliban come into your villages? The workers will not come and build anything if they're going to get killed," he said.
He offered pardons for any Taliban who surrender and turn in weapons, and help for farmers looking for crops to plant other than opium poppies.
When the Special Forces commander fell silent, the elders erupted in murmurs and shouts. Several leapt to their feet.
"The troops have taken over my land! They are using my land to make a checkpoint!" shouted one.
"I have just two acres of land and 20 people to feed. I have to grow poppies. Otherwise, I cannot feed my family!" yelled another.
Afterwards, sitting on a carpet in an outbuilding with a small group of neighbors eating chicken and rice, one of the elders, Haji Mohammed Yaqub, said he believed the valley was indeed now quiet enough for the road work to begin.
"Many places have been cleared of Taliban, so they can start reconstruction," he said.
But he added, it was probably too late for the NATO forces to be welcomed by most residents.
"They have destroyed people's houses and their lives," he said. "So, what do they expect?"
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In pivotal Afghan town, an uneasy peace follows battle
By Peter Graff
SANGIN, Afghanistan, June 8 (Reuters) - More than an hour into an Afghan-British patrol through the battle-scarred town of Sangin, the British captain is sucking on a sweet.
He offers a candy to one of the Afghan policemen and, with gestures and a few words of Pashto, tells him to keep the bag. The Afghan smiles widely, and pulls a small gift out of his own pocket to offer in return: a tiny plastic bag of hashish.
The British officer, Captain Alex Firmin of the Worcestershire and Sherwood Forester Regiment, politely declined the policeman's illegal narcotics.
But the exchange, witnessed by Reuters, highlighted the sometimes strange friendship evolving between local forces and NATO troops, which the international force's commanders hope might at last bring peace to one of southern Afghanistan's most violent valleys.
For the past year, Sangin was the scene of nearly constant combat, some of the heaviest battles in Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.
British paratroops entered the town a year ago and fought here to nearly the last round of ammunition. The district beyond their base remained largely in the hands of Taliban guerrillas.
Today, the town is eerily quiet. A series of joint American-British offensives over the past several weeks has driven Taliban militants out of the area.
Afghan government troops with British mentors have set up three outposts and three checkpoints guarding the main highway. A new district chief, loyal to the pro-Western government of President Hamid Karzai, has moved into a compound beside a British base.
The area around the base for a few hundred metres is still a devastated ruin. But turn a corner onto the main street and there is life in the bazaar.
Market traders who fled the fighting are returning. Some said they had arrived in the past week. Mounds of fruit, heaps of spices and bright cloth are now for sale. Cheerful little boys in skullcaps scurry in the street.
If the calm should last, it would be a major victory for NATO forces: the first time such a major Taliban stronghold in the province was brought under peaceful government control since NATO arrived here last year.
"This is probably one of the first places where it has gone from being a complete war zone, where there seemed to be no chance of it dying down, into a bit of a success story," says the British commander in the town, Major Jamie Nowell.
"Sangin's been cleared, the government has come in, the police have come."
But NATO will have a hard time winning over a population that survives mainly on the production of illegal drugs.
Sangin is the centre of Afghanistan's opium heartland, a bazaar town where the Helmand and Musa Qala Rivers meet at the foot of two large mountain valleys.
It is brutal desert country, but a centuries-old system of irrigation canals has turned a crescent along the river into fertile territory that allows bone-dry Helmand Province to produce the opium for as much as a third of the world's heroin.
As the main road leaves the town, the fertile area is visible along the river. Scattered throughout neatly tended wheat fields are small opium plantations, the plants already harvested a week or so ago and now shrivelled to grey husks.
The British are trying to reassure the locals that they are not here to destroy their livelihoods. Before the recent offensives, they distributed leaflets saying they were here to fight the Taliban, not eradicate drugs crops.
The Afghan troops are reaching the point where they will be able to guarantee security, said Sergeant John Summerscales, leader of a group of six mentors that live with an Afghan army unit on the north edge of the town.
"You go out on patrol with them, they're great. They're keen as mustard," he said. "They know the people. They are the people. We're getting some really good (intelligence). We're finding things."
Inside the town, trader Ali Mohammed returned last week to the market stall he had abandoned when he fled a few months ago. He has a fridge filled with cold Pepsis for sale, and mounds of ripe tomatoes, potatoes and onions.
"As long as we are safe, that is enough," he says.
So will the Taliban come back?
He shrugs uneasily. "God knows," he says.
But next to him a teenaged boy smiles.
"Of course they will," the boy says.
(Read more from Peter Graff's reporting trip to Afghanistan on his blog http://blogs.reuters.com/category/from-reuterscom/embedded-in-af ghanistan/)
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Afghanistan: The Winnable War
By Michael Fumento The American Spectator / June 8, 2007
"This war is winnable." I can't say how often during my recent embed in the southern Afghanistan Province of Zabul, just north and east of Kandahar, I heard officers and noncoms say that. Implicit is that it's also losable; but what they really mean is winnable in comparison to Iraq.
Strange but true that Afghanistan -- with four major ethnic groups, two official languages, and almost countless lesser languages -- is far more of a proud, united nation than Iraq. They have Sunni and Shia, but their differences are just an excuse for a chat over chai tea. Further, while it's way too early to say if the Iraqi "surge" is working, the much-anticipated massive Taliban spring offensive in Afghanistan has thus far proved more a trickle than a deluge.
Still, as I note in my article "The Other War" in the June 11 Weekly Standard, it would be a mistake to assume time is on our side. Afghans seem to be losing patience with the war effort, and while that may not help the Taliban (over 90 percent of Afghans dislike them), it can certainly hinder President Hamid Karzai in his efforts to keep the warlords at bay. It's warlords, not sectarianism, that pose the internal threat.
The most threatening is General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a major Northern Alliance leader against the Taliban. But before that, he fought on the side of the Soviets and the Communist government. Probably to undercut the government, which has essentially excluded him, he (announced in May that he can raise an army and drive out the Taliban in six months.
Further, despite major setbacks this year, including the May 13 killing of Mullah Dadullah, a butcher frequently called "the military mastermind of the Taliban insurgency" whose headquarters were in Zabul, there have been increasing calls for negotiating with "moderate Taliban." This includes the Afghan senate itself , which has grown weary of the Taliban tactic of hiding their forces among civilians to cause the deaths of innocents from U.S. and NATO fire. Yet the enemy itself insists "moderate Taliban" is oxymoronic.
I've only visited parts of Iraq on three occasions and part of Afghanistan, but I've seen enough to know that while the Iraq effort is awash with money but lacking in men, the war in Afghanistan is being fought on a shoestring in terms of both. There will be about 155,000 U.S. troops in Iraq when the buildup is complete, but there are only about 27,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, a country larger in both geography and population.
A massive concrete blast wall in Iraq is a mere mud wall in Afghanistan. "It takes four weeks here just to get cement," 1st. Lt. Keith Wei, executive officer of the American unit with which I was embedded, told me. "We need to help build and to provide security, but we just don't have the funds. Everybody here understands what needs to be done but their hands are tied by a lack of resources in both funds and people. We could pacify Zabul in probably a year if they pumped money into here like they do Iraq."
Yet together, both wars plus all other defense spending consume about 3.8 percent of gross domestic product, or just over a third of the GDP percentage spent at the height of the Vietnam War. Total U.S. forces currently in both Iraq and Afghanistan amount to just a third of the 540,000 employed for the limited purpose of driving Saddam's forces out of Kuwait in 1991.
Still, that might not be a problem in Afghanistan if NATO nations didn't refuse to pull their weight -- in total personnel contributed, combat soldiers, or defense expenditures. Only six of 37 NATO countries with troops in Afghanistan will even allow them to fight, namely the U.S.; the U.K.; Canada; the Netherlands; Romania; and tiny Estonia. Only six spend as much as 2 percent of their GDP on defense. Even as they refer to America as a bellicose "cowboy" nation, they sit back and let us and a handful of other countries expend the money and blood.
"You can see victory on the horizon," says Wei. "We just don't have the means to get there."
Michael Fumento has been embedded three times in Iraq's al Anbar Province and once with U.S. and Romanian forces in Afghanistan.
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Expelled from Iran - refugee misery
By Alastair Leithead BBC News, Afghanistan Friday, 8 June 2007
The queues of refugees start to pour over the border shortly from first thing in the morning - as they have been doing for the last month.
Ninety thousand people have so far been forcibly returned to Afghanistan from Iran since 21 April, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Every hour or so another bus arrives on the Iranian side, the people are unloaded, carrying the few possessions they had when they were arrested.
A policeman meets them on the Afghanistan side, and they join a long line of people waiting to pick up the few pieces of charity an aid agency has gathered for them.
They get water, biscuits and a bundle of clothes. They can also make a free phone call to relatives to let them know where they are.
Then they get a free 120 km bus trip from the border post to the city of Herat where they are left to start all over again in a country where they used to live.
In the gathered crowd waiting to tell their stories I see a young man, a tear rolling down his cheek.
"My wife and children are left there, even though I asked the authorities to let us go together," he said, a reference number scrawled on his hand in thick black ink.
"I didn't even have time to get my wages from my employer. Now that they deported me who will look after my children? If someone throws them on the street who will give them shelter? This is cruelty."
Among the lines of men was a 12-year-old boy who said he had been deported on his own.
And passions are high. An older man, emphasising his point by striking his fist into his hand, says he has lived in Iran for 28 years and now he is back in Afghanistan, he cannot even afford the bus fare to Kabul, and doubts there is any work there anyway.
"We are Muslims and they are Muslims as well, so why have they done this to us? We don't have any one to look after us."
Iran received millions of refugees during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the later civil war. It has been deporting refugees for some time, but never on this scale - never so many in such a short space of time.
Josep Zapater is from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which under its remit can do little to help most of the returnees - only the vulnerable such as the old, the young and families.
While many of the single men were living in Iran illegally, almost 22,000 of those deported have been families.
"This wasn't happening last year," Mr Zapater explained. "Also there are the human rights concerns that we have seen at the border like separated families, some cases of maltreatment.
"The process definitely needs to be sorted out in a more humane manner."
An Afghan delegation visited Iran earlier this month and they returned saying the Iranian government had promised to suspend forced expulsions, but as they delivered their report hundreds more refugees continued to be deported.
And the Iranian director general of the Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrant Affairs, Ahmad Hosseini, defended their decision.
"We are determined once and for all to resolve the problem of illegal immigrants in Iran and this doesn't mean only Afghans but any other nationalities who have illegal immigrants here," he said.
"The money we were supposed to spend on reconstruction for our own country has been spent on refugees. Today when we count the cost, it is $7bn a year, or $6 per Afghan every day."
In Herat the arrival of tens of thousands of unemployed men is starting to have a real impact on the city and the whole region.
Each morning they queue up for daily work, but there is little around.
"I had my passport but they just tore it up" one man said. "What kind of law is that?"
Iran is doing a great deal to help development in Afghanistan, particularly in Herat, but there are complaints so many desperate people arriving in a short time maybe undoing efforts to stabilise and assist the people.
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Iran forces the issue in Afghanistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / June 8, 2007
ISLAM QALA, Iran-Afghanistan border - When Iran announced in February that it was undertaking a thorough regularization of aliens on its soil, ears in the West pricked up, but not much was read into it.
However, the subsequent expulsion of thousands of Afghan refugees indicates the twofold motive behind the move. First, Iran wanted to weaken Sunni-led insurgents in its bordering areas, and second, it believed that the return of the refugees would fuel the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan.
The second calculation, compounded by a political miscalculation on the part of the Afghan government, has already borne fruit, in the process providing the United States with another area on which it needs to consult Tehran.
On April 23, Iran sent back 4,000 undocumented Afghans to Zaranj, Nimroz province, followed the next day by the same number. All of them had been living in the Iranian Sunni-dominated Zabol-Zahedan region of Sistan-Balochistan province and had originally hailed from Nimroz and Farah provinces. An estimated 1 million Afghan refugees live in Iran.
According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, up to the beginning of this month, 98,712 persons had been deported since April 23 - the largest number ever send back from Iran in such a short period. Almost all of them were sent from the Zaranj border crossing. They were said to have refused to comply with a decision by the Iranian government to declare the Zabol-Zahedan area a "no-go" zone for "foreigners".
In fact, observers claim that Tehran wants to clear all people, local or foreign, from the Sunni-dominated area to minimize the chances of insurgents securing safe sanctuaries in the remote regions of Zahedan and Zabol.
Zahedan has traditionally been the base of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK - People's Mujahideen), which has conducted terror acts in Iran. And recently an organization called Jundallah emerged from the area to carry out terrorist activities against Iranian security forces.
Jundallah is a hardline Sunni Islamist group drawn from the Baloch population of Iran, as well as Balochs from Pakistan (Balochistan province) and Afghanistan (Farah and Nimroz provinces).
Zabol's vastness has served as a safe haven for the Taliban, as the local population is sympathetic to them. One of Osama bin Laden's sons, Saad, was arrested from Zabol by Iranian authorities. This was never officially announced, and some reports say he was released last July.
According to field officers of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, although they made every effort to stem the flood of refugees, they have had little success and they are struggling to cope with the numbers. About 1,300 a day are still streaming across the border, most of them headed for their home provinces of Farah and Nimroz.
The situation is a serious concern for Kabul as well as its international supporters. The province of Farah, in western Afghanistan near Herat province, was virtually in the hands of the Taliban until last November, but constant operations by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Afghan forces forced the Taliban back. Nevertheless, in the ongoing spring offensive, the Taliban are re-establishing their influence.
After a surge in attacks since last month, the Herat-Farah highway has been declared insecure and officials of international agencies are banned from traveling on it - they have to use NATO or UN air services.
"The most alarming thing is the gradual increase in the activities of the Taliban in Farah and Nimroz and the return of the Afghan refugees. They are poor and needy and naturally will fuel the Taliban insurgency," a senior official of an international agency told Asia Times Online on condition of anonymity.
However, other factors will help make western Afghanistan a new hub of Taliban activities this year. Sayed Hussain Anwari, a Shi'ite ethnic Hazara, was installed as governor of Herat this year in the predominantly Tajik-Sunni province.
Anwari is a bitter rival of a legendary Afghan commander of the resistance against the Soviets in the 1980s, Ismail Khan, and Anwari's appointment by Kabul was an open declaration of war against Khan and his formidable support. Khan was sacked as governor in September 2004. As a conciliatory gesture, President Hamid Karzai appointed him minister of energy.
The consequences of sidelining the powerful Khan are being manifested in the re-emergence of the Taliban in the northwestern provinces of Herat (Shindand), Farah, Nimroz and Ghor through the facilitation of local warlords, many of them Khan supporters.
To date, Iranian diplomacy has been effective in keeping the US war machine at bay in the Persian Gulf and even compelled the Americans to open dialogue with Iran over its role in Iraq and the region. Northwestern Afghanistan is the latest front on which the Americans need to make a bargain with Tehran.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
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Deal on Afghan treasures is questioned
By Robin Pogrebin The International Herald Tribune Thursday, June 7, 2007
The National Geographic Society has struck a $1 million deal with the Afghan government to bring a rare cache of gold artifacts to the United States in a traveling exhibition. But some cultural experts who have followed the negotiations are questioning whether Afghanistan is being properly compensated.
Plans call for the ancient Afghan pieces - part of the storied 2,000-year-old Bactrian hoard - to be displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, although contracts have not yet been signed by those institutions.
The National Geographic Society and the Afghan government signed a protocol accord over the weekend in Kabul, outlining an exhibition schedule that would begin in May 2008 at the National Gallery. The document calls for Afghanistan to receive $1 million as well as 40 percent of "total revenue," which is defined as exhibition revenue, minus expenses.
Lynne Munson, the former deputy chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which helped finance the cataloguing of the Afghan treasures, said the arrangement would leave Afghanistan with "40 percent of absolutely nothing," because expenses would be significant.
"This is a travesty," she said in a telephone interview from Washington. "The Bactrian hoard is simply the most valuable possession of the poorest people on earth. To ask them to lend it and give so little in return is unconscionable."
She said she had ceased working for the endowment in 2005 because of internal conflicts within the agency over arrangements for the show.
The protocol accord signed over the weekend says that the exhibition revenue going to the Afghans will be derived from the fees paid by the museums as hosts of the show and from corporate sponsorships. It does not guarantee them proceeds from ticket, catalogue or merchandise sales.
Reached by telephone in Washington, Terry Garcia, the executive vice president of the National Geographic Society's mission programs, said that the financial terms "were dictated by the Afghans."
He said that no decision had been made on proceeds from the merchandising or the catalogue sales. He added, "Those categories of revenue are in fact included in what the Afghans would receive."
Ana Rosa Rodriguez, executive director of the Society for the Preservation of Afghanistan's Cultural Heritage, said in a telephone interview from Kabul that she felt the society had taken advantage of a country that has endured nearly three decades of violent upheaval.
"I think it is my duty to express my concerns about this deal," Rodriguez said, complaining of "the unacceptable manner" in which "a prestigious American society has dealt with a postconflict country with a devastated cultural heritage."
The collection includes more than 20,000 pieces of gold jewelry, funeral ornaments and personal items from the Silk Road culture of Bactria, an ancient nation that covered parts of what is now Afghanistan. The hoard was discovered in 1978 by a Russian-Greek archaeologist, Viktor Sarianidi, at a grave site in Tillia-Tepe, in northern Afghanistan. The works blend Greek, Bactrian and nomadic traditions, reflecting Afghanistan's historical position at the crossroads of ancient civilizations.
The treasures were unearthed from a bank vault beneath a former royal palace in Kabul in 2004. They were among the few examples of Afghanistan's rich cultural heritage to survive decades of war. The collection had been kept hidden by curators and employees of the Kabul Museum at tremendous personal risk under the fractious mujahedeen and then the Taliban, who ruled from 1996 to 2001.
Munson said that if the show proved to be a blockbuster, an impoverished Afghanistan should reap more of the benefit.
When an exhibition of 130 objects from Tutankhamen's tomb began touring in 2004, the Egyptian government set out to clear $10 million in every city visited and to take more than 50 percent of the gross revenue.
Thomas Hoving, who pioneered the museum blockbuster concept as director of the Metropolitan Museum from 1967 to 1977, said Afghanistan should have held out for more. "They don't get enough money," he said.
"The Egyptians are getting all admissions, 80 percent of the sales in the shop, and they should have patterned it after that," Hoving said. "Or a flat fee of a million a venue. The entity that ought to get most of the bucks should be Afghanistan."
About 100 of the Bactrian gold objects were recently on display at the Musée Guimet in Paris, along with 131 objects from three other Afghan archaeological collections, and are now in Turin, Italy. The terms of that exhibition were unclear.
Munson said that in 2005 in Kabul, Omara Khan Massoudi, who leads Afghanistan's Museums Ministry and is now the director of the Kabul Museum, expressed concern about how the National Geographic Society had handled the inventory of the hoard.
"Mr. Omara Khan Massoudi told me repeatedly and in no uncertain terms that he thought National Geographic had disrespected the Afghans and their objects during the inventory," she said. "Massoudi said the Afghans had no more need for National Geographic. So that they're being awarded the exhibition means something has gone awry."
Asked about his position by telephone, Massoudi said, "It's out of my hands," but declined to elaborate.
Munson suggested that there should have been an open competition among museums for the show to assure maximal revenue to aid in Afghanistan's cultural reconstruction, and that the National Endowment for the Humanities should have exerted greater oversight.
"Instead it seems we've ended up with a National Geographic monopoly and a very poor deal for the Afghans," she said.
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Canadian Forces accused of leaving Afghan police in lurch
Tom Blackwell, National Post Friday, June 08, 2007
ZHARI DISTRICT CENTRE, Afghanistan -- On the dusty front lines of Canada's latest battle with the Taliban, Abdul Hakim is smarting, and not just from the suicide bomber who blew up inches away from him.
The commander of a beleaguered Afghan National Police detachment in Kandahar province's Zhari district is becoming increasingly frustrated with the Canadian Forces in the area. The foreign soldiers, he charges, have repeatedly ignored police calls for help in fighting the insurgents and overlooked tips on where to find and destroy Taliban nests.
In fact, Mr. Hakim contends, a lack of co-operation between the police, the Afghan National Army and Canadian troops has helped insurgent strength in the district grow to 300 or 400 fighters from 100 six months ago .
"This is the problem: We don't have a connection with the Canadians. Never, ever," he said in an interview on the floor of his mud-walled headquarters. "We give information to the Canadians and they are not acting upon it. That is why the enemy is getting stronger and stronger."
Mr. Hakim is no general in the anti-insurgent war. He heads two checkpoints in the district, with about 30 officers under him. They're a ragtag bunch who, for the most part, lack uniforms, let alone body armour. Nevertheless, he offered a frank, unofficial assessment of the battle from his desert-level perspective.
He does not suggest the Canadians are afraid to engage the insurgents. In fact, they have had numerous firefights with the Taliban over the past several weeks, and a Canadian corporal was killed recently in a major operation.
Rather, the police and NATO seem to be waging their own, independent wars, the commander said. The Canadian offensives against the Taliban, like Operation Hoover a few weeks ago, are largely "useless," because the militants hear in advance of the large-scale missions that often involve tanks. They hide to avoid confrontation and sometimes lay down improvised explosive devices to sabotage the Canadian advance, the officer observed.
"Unity is a must among the police, the Canadians and the ANA," Mr. Hakim said, languidly brushing aside flies. "Without the co-operation of these three groups, there will be no security."
A Canadian Forces spokesman declined to comment on the officer's assertions, calling him a minor figure with a limited perspective on the strategic situation.
In the past, at least, trust has been an issue between the Canadian army and the Afghan police. Tribal prejudices and corruption among some of the underpaid officers -- like the chief in neighbouring Panjwai district who sold uniforms on the black market, and the officer arrested for theft during a village search -- have made the Canadians skeptical of the local advice.
Meanwhile, Canadian troops have begun using decoy tactics in Zhari to try to deflect the Taliban's attention and make their operations more of a surprise.
Regardless, one thing is clear. The under-equipped, out-gunned Afghan National Police are bearing the brunt of the fighting in Zhari.
"The police are in really bad, bad conditions down there," said Col. Mohammed Hussain, the national force's liaison officer at the Canadian-run provincial reconstruction team. "They are fighting 24 hours, every hour, every minute, every second of the day."
Mr. Hakim had pulled himself out of his sickbed for an interview at his headquarters and bunkhouse, which lacks running water and electricity. His face was covered in blackened sores from the bombing a week earlier.
"We have so many difficulties," the policeman said listlessly. "It's terrible for us."
He warned a visiting journalist to drive as fast as possible on the way out of the official Zhari district centre because the insurgents sometimes lie in wait on the other side of the highway, ready to take potshots at departing vehicles.
His men offered up another unsettling symbol of Zhari's dangers, too, plunking a landmine, 30 centimetres across, into the middle of the dirt floor. Mr. Hakim said it had been rigged with an antenna and battery for remote control. He had defused it, though he admitted to having no training in de-mining.
Experts say that policemen like Mr. Hakim are taking a beating everywhere in southern Afghanistan. With just 10 days of training and equipped with a minimum of firepower, they are used as a military force, a sort of "canary in the coal mine" or tripwire to flush out the Taliban, said Supt. Dave Fudge, the RCMP officer who runs a police training program for the provincial reconstruction team.
So, for every Afghan army soldier killed, 27 police officers lose their lives to insurgent attacks.
Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, a purported Taliban spokesman, said in a telephone interview that insurgents can see the Canadian operations coming and avoid a direct conflict.
"We are moving and launching a hit-and-run war against them," he said. He also confirmed that the militants have focused on destroying police checkpoints in Zhari.
"Then we are able to go around and plant mines and attack the Canadian or foreign troops," he said. "It's harder to bring the Canadians down."
Mr. Hakim's comments supported this account. He said his checkpoints are attacked almost daily and he actively avoids firefights with the Taliban -- even though he could be in the middle of one just by driving 15 minutes from his headquarters. "We are not strong enough. Our people are just trying to avoid their attacks."
When the police do come under fire, help can be hard to find. He described several examples, none of which could be independently verified.
In one recent case, Mr. Hakim said, insurgents surrounded his deputy and several men, killing two officers and destroying two police vehicles. When they requested support, the Canadian military called in an aircraft that dropped a flare over the scene, Mr. Hakim said.
A month ago in Malangan village, he said, a Canadian officer with whom they were on patrol encouraged the police to attack a Taliban position. They fought a three-hour battle, but the foreign troops never came to their aid, he charged.
In a couple of other recent incidents, Mr. Hakim said he advised the Canadians about the location of Taliban and suggested an attack, which never occurred.
Mr. Hakim recommends that Canadian troops station themselves for long periods at checkpoints like his, where they will be sure to engage with the Taliban. The Canadian commanders should also be in close contact with police, who have the best intelligence about the insurgents' whereabouts, he added.
In the meantime, the guerrilla war continues with harrowing attacks such as the suicide bomber who nearly cost Mr. Hakim his life a little over a week ago.
Mr. Hakim described how a man approached his vehicle in a Zhari town.
"He looked at me and I looked at him, so I thought maybe I had met him before," he recalled. "There was a bump so I slowed down my car and he approached. When we were passing by him, he just grabbed the door of the car. I looked at him and he blew himself up."
The bomber failed in his intended task, but left four policemen injured and a civilian dead.
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Taliban commander's body swapped for four hostages
Thu Jun 7, 2:42 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - Afghanistan's Taliban said Thursday it had received the body of its top commander killed by troops last month and had in turn freed four hostages and the body of a beheaded doctor.
The extremist group announced Tuesday it had beheaded the doctor, captured late March with three nurses and a driver, because it had not been given the body of Mullah Dadullah.
"We received the body of Mullah Dadullah last night from the Kandahar government," spokesman Shahabudin Atal told AFP.
"We have released the three nurses and a driver and very soon they will be home," said Atal, spokesman for Dadullah's brother Mansoor, who has taken over as commander. Atal did not say where the hostages were freed.
Dadullah was killed three weeks ago in the armed forces' biggest success against the extremist Taliban, who launched an insurgency after being driven from government in 2001.
After his bullet-pierced and battered corpse was shown to the media, he was buried mid-May at a secret location in the southern province of Kandahar.
Provincial governor Asadullah Khalid said since the burial that he would hand Dadullah's body to his family on their request. The interior ministry said Monday the body would be released.
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AFGHANISTAN: Pressure mounts for aerial poppy-spraying
KABUL, 7 June 2007 (IRIN) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai is under pressure from the USA to implement a controversial counter narcotics plan that should eradicate Afghanistan's poppy fields by spraying chemicals, officials confirmed on Thursday.
"We are under pressure to use chemicals for the eradication of poppy fields," Habibullah Qadiri, Afghanistan's minister of counter narcotics, told IRIN in the capital, Kabul.
In 2006, a US government plan to aerial spray poppy fields to stop opium production in Afghanistan was rejected by President Karzai, following health concerns raised by the country's Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) over the possible side effects on farmers and local residents.
"In rural areas people use stream water for drinking, washing and other purposes. The use of chemicals against poppy fields will contaminate water and that can cause grave consequences for many rural residents," the ministry warned.
"There are also risks of other useful plants being poisoned by the chemicals or farm animals being affected by them," MoPH reported to a government committee on counter narcotics.
However, according to one western diplomat, a US delegation is expected, in the very near future, to present to the Afghan authorities fresh proposals, including a safe spray that will not have side effects.
Opposition to spray weakening?
The UN Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) estimates that Afghanistan's opium production will increase in 2007 from the record level of 6,100 metric tonnes it produced in 2006.
"The government has virtually failed to counter narcotics and the boom in opium production every year is confirmation of that," a senior official at the Ministry of Counter Narcotics (MCN) who preferred anonymity, conceded.
With increasing poppy cultivation and continued pressure from the USA, some Afghan officials have now changed their "no to chemical spray" thinking.
"If we realise that Taliban insurgents and terrorists continue to profit from narcotics and we find that our strategy cannot tackle the problem then, as an ultimate option, we will use chemical spray," Minister Qadiri confirm to IRIN.
UK diplomat sceptical
Meanwhile, a British diplomat in Kabul dealing with counter narcotics doubted the usefulness of aerial or land chemical spray on poppy fields.
"It will not be an Afghan solution to their problem and, meanwhile, it will not be a sustainable solution either. Britain does not support it," added the diplomat who did not want to be named.
The US embassy in Kabul preferred not to comment on the issue until an American delegation visits Afghan officials in the coming two weeks.
Counter narcotics fund
Almost half of Afghanistan's national economy is based on illicit money earned from opium.
According to the UNODC, the country produced US$3.1 billion worth opium in 2006 alone. Although a small fraction of opium money actually remains in Afghanistan, many Afghan farmers say they need tangible assistance in terms of alternative livelihoods in order to stop cultivating poppy.
In an effort to address such demands, the Afghan government, supported by the UN and other donors, established a counter narcotics trust fund in late 2005 which, however, managed to spend less than $800,000 on alternative livelihoods in 2006.
"We admit low capacity in the government [thus] impeding our efforts to spend more funds on alternative livelihoods," acknowledged Wahidullah Shahrani, a deputy finance minister.
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Investigator: CIA ran secret prisons
By ELAINE GANLEY Associated Press / June 8, 2007
PARIS - The CIA ran secret prisons in Poland and Romania from 2003 to 2005 to interrogate al-Qaida suspects, a European investigator said Friday, detailing harsh treatment that included months of solitary confinement, shackling and sleep deprivation.
Top terror suspects Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah were held and interrogated in Poland, according to the report, which cited unidentified CIA sources. Mohammed is the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and Abu Zubaydah is a suspected senior al-Qaida operative.
"Highest state authorities" in countries involved knew of the alleged detention centers, said the report by Swiss Sen. Dick Marty, who was tasked by the Council of Europe to investigate CIA activitives after media reports of secret prisons emerged in 2005.
Poland and Romania denied the claims in the report for the Council of Europe, the continent's human rights watchdog, with Poland's former defense minister calling it "political fiction." Officials with the European Union, which is separate from the council, have said they trust the denials.
The report said detainees were subjected to months of solitary confinement, constant shackling in cramped cells, poor food, being kept naked for weeks, exposure to temperature extremes, and noise to prevent sleep.
The report did not name or locate the prisons where the abuses allegedly occured. It said testimony came from former or current detainees, human rights advocates, or people who worked in setting up or operating CIA secret prisons. Guards wore masks, it said.
Clandestine prisons and secret CIA flights involving European countries would breach the continent's human rights treaties. The Council of Europe, which is separate from the EU, has no power to punish countries other than expelling them. The Council of Europe was set up by 10 European governments four years after World War II to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Europe.
Based in Strasbourg, France, it has 47 member states, many of them not EU members.
Any sanctions against Poland and Romania were extremely unlikely as secret prisons in both countries would need to be proven beyond reasonable doubt by the 27-nation EU.
"We have repeatedly stressed the need for the member states concerned to commence or continue in-depth, independent and impartial investigations," EU spokesman Friso Roscam Abbing said Friday.
Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Robert Szaniawski said Marty offered no proof for his allegations, adding, "there were no secret prisons in Poland."
The report said the "highest state authorities" in countries involved knew of the alleged detention centers.
Jerzy Szmajdzinski, Poland's defense minister from 2001-05, sarcastically brushed aside the accusations, saying: "Of course, I organized everything and gave them a red-carpet welcome." He declined further comment on "political fiction."
Romanian Sen. Norica Nicolai rejected Marty's findings as "totally unfounded."
CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said: "While I've yet to see the report, Europe has been the source of grossly inaccurate allegations about the CIA and counterterrorism."
President Bush did not acknowledge the CIA's secret detention program until September 2006, when he announced that the agency had just moved Mohammed and 13 other suspected terrorists to Guantanamo Bay. He did not say where the prisons were located.
In Germany, government spokesman Thomas Steg denied Marty's allegations that the government hindered the probe.
"To date, Mr. Marty has in his other reports also failed to provide any evidence that what is alleged is actually true," Steg added.
The report said collaboration by U.S. allies was critical to the secret detention program, which took place in the framework of NATO's security policy.
"The secret detention facilities in Europe were run directly and exclusively by the CIA," it said.
"While it is likely that very few people in the countries concerned, including in the governments themselves, knew of the existence of the centers, we have sufficient grounds to declare that the highest state authorities were aware of the CIA's illegal activities on their territories," it said.
Poland and Romania hosted the prisons under a special post-Sept. 11 CIA program to "kill, capture and detain" high-value terrorist suspects, wrote Marty.
Evidence of secret flights — at least 10 flights to Poland between 2002 and 2005 — show the pivotal role played by Poland and Romania as drop-off points, the report says.
"There is now enough evidence to state that secret detention facilities run by the CIA did exist in Europe from 2003 to 2005, in particular in Poland and Romania," the report said.
Marty did not identify his sources, saying they were people "who had worked or still worked for the relevant authorities, in particular intelligence agencies." The report said it cross-checked its information whenever possible.
Marty's report said Washington lured Romania into cooperating with "formidable" support for its accession to NATO — the "biggest prize."
In Italy, the first trial involving the CIA's extraordinary rendition program opened on Friday, without the presence of any of the 26 American defendants accused of kidnapping an Egyptian terrorist suspect. The case has irritated the historically robust U.S.-Italian relationship, and coincided with Bush's arrival in Rome.
Associated Press Writer Jan Sliva contributed to this report.
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Afghan Transit Trade: PSMA demands ban on sugar exports
Staff Report Daily Times, Pakistan
LAHORE: The Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA) has asked the government to ban exports of sugar to Afghanistan through Afghan Transit Trade (ATT), as misuse of the facility was causing heavy losses to the national exchequer.
This illegal trade was resulting in double losses to the country, as neither the sugar was going out of the country nor was the exchequer benefiting from it, said a spokesman for the association.
He added that fake traders in connivance with the personnel deployed at the borders under ATT are involved in this illegal trade of sugar with Afghanistan and it is high time the government brought an end to this unlawful trade through appropriate steps.
Regarding the existing import duty on sugar, the PSMA spokesman said that Indian sugar industry is all set to flood the Pakistani market with Indian sugar. He said country was already experiencing a heavy glut of sugar and further imports of sugar from India would put the local industry and sugarcane growers into trouble. He further added that the industry would not be able to make payments to sugarcane growers and wages to labourers in case their stocks got stuck up in any untoward situation. He said government should immediately increase the import duty on sugar in the coming budget.
The spokesman appealed to President General Pervez Musharraf to intervene in the situation not only to save the industry but sugarcane growers and sugar industry workers as well.
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The west has to accept that there is no military solution
The Guardian 06/07/2006 By Jonathan Steele in Kabul
The honest way forward in Afghanistan is to understand the south is lost and refocus efforts on Kabul and the north
The team that wrote President Bush's Prague speech on democracy this week have clearly never visited Afghanistan. Otherwise they would not have had the president quoting a Soviet dissident who compared "a tyrannical state to a soldier who constantly points a gun at his enemy". The guns that most Afghans see pointed at them are held by Americans, and they are all too often fired. At least 135 unarmed civilians have been reported killed over the past two months by western troops, mainly US special forces.
The deaths by ground fire and US air strikes have become so frequent that last month the upper house of Afghanistan's parliament did something it has never done before. It called on the Nato-led forces to cease taking offensive action against the Taliban and asked the Afghan government to talk to the insurgents, provided the Taliban accept the country's new constitution. It also asked for a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops. The upper house is not normally a radical body. More than half its members were appointed by Bush's friend, President Hamid Karzai. Its speaker is a moderate former mujahideen leader who was driven from power by the Taliban a decade ago. That men with this background should now be expressing doubts over Nato's tactics and even over its presence in Afghanistan sends a powerful signal. Five years after western forces arrived here, the upper house's concern reflects an impatience with them that is widespread in Kabul. Initially the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) was considered too passive. The demand was for it to deploy out of Kabul to the non-Pashtun north and west, and arrest or disarm the warlords. Although these were anti-Taliban figures, they ran their areas like fiefdoms, neglecting development and stealing revenues.
After a two-year delay Isaf did move out, and now runs so-called provincial reconstruction teams in most provinces. It still leaves the warlords alone, since confronting them is considered the Afghan government's job. Some have been sidelined by Karzai, but given good jobs in Kabul. Others were elected to parliament, after attempts to ban militia leaders from being candidates were dropped. None has been put on trial - a cult of impunity that also benefits a new generation of corrupt officials.
In the Pashtun south, the Taliban's homeland, the west did little. Instead of pumping in aid while the defeated Taliban were still demoralised, the Taliban were given three years to recover. Now that Isaf has finally gone into the south, the complaint is that it is too aggressive. Isaf troops demolish houses, empty out villages, displace tens of thousands of people, and use indiscriminate firepower that kills innocent civilians. Isaf's task is complicated by the presence of over 10,000 US troops who are not under Nato command but operate in the same zones, killing more Afghans than Isaf, and giving all foreign forces a bad name since no one can understand the difference.
Making a priority of "force protection" - which means that soldiers on patrol or in convoy treat every Afghan as a potential enemy and fire on anything suspicious - has helped the Taliban to gain recruits. Before 9/11 the connection between the Taliban and al-Qaida was only at the leadership level, and tenuous at best. Now it is pervasive and at the grassroots. Young Afghans are strapping on suicide belts, a technique imported from Iraq - it was never used against the Soviet occupiers two decades ago, and shocks older Afghans as a perversion of their warrior nation's traditions. But it helps to make Isaf and US special forces even more jittery, feeding into the instinct to over-react.
Last autumn, British commanders tried to break out of excessive reliance on military force. They made a potentially precedent-setting deal with tribal leaders in the town of Musa Qala by agreeing to withdraw provided the Taliban did not move in. The deal was sabotaged by the Americans and, as on many earlier occasions, Tony Blair failed to stand up to the White House. He let the Musa Qala experiment fizzle out.
In Kabul, some western analysts with long experience of Afghanistan are in despair. They argue that Isaf should recognise the trap it is in. Western governments and their electorates will never provide enough troops to secure the south, but the reckless use of air-power to make up for the shortage of ground troops only loses more hearts and minds. The downward spiral of anger and alienation accelerates.
The only honest solution is to accept that the south is a lost cause as far as western military action is concerned. Isaf should refocus its effort and the available foreign aid money on Kabul and the north. Turn them into an example of how development and modernisation can be done gradually and sensitively and with a real long-term commitment, rather than spending millions on advice on "good governance" from overpaid consultants on short-term contracts. There is no danger that the Pashtun-based Taliban will capture Kabul and the north again. Isaf need not announce a pullout, but it should prepare the ground by redeploying its forces to garrisons in Kandahar and the provincial capitals in the south, and quietly abandoning its isolated outposts and the futile in-and-out patrolling of the hinterland.
Some diplomats argue that, while this may be what the west eventually does, there is still time to use a mix of military attacks in a few areas combined with discreet contacts with Taliban commanders through tribal leaders. These should aim for agreement on phased withdrawals by Isaf, and promises that security will be in the hands of Afghan police chosen by local people rather than sent in from outside. The Afghan army is seen as an adjunct of the occupiers and not welcomed.
Pashtun tribal elders reject Taliban ideology, which they see as obscurantist, regressive, and hostile to development. They had six years' experience of it after 1995, and know what it means. But the Taliban are successfully expanding their reach by exploiting national pride and hostility to foreign occupation and the corrupt practices of Kabul-appointed governors. Removing the occupation and having locally chosen police would allow the elders to reassert control.
A key precondition for a new approach in Afghanistan has to be an end to the west's simplistic "war on terror" rhetoric and its latest incarnation, Bush's Prague talk of "freedom versus extremism". Promising "victory" in Afghanistan only risks the perception of "defeat" when the reality eventually dawns that there is no military solution.
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Unique marathon ran in Afghanistan
By Daniel Fritz, San Gabriel Valley Tribune Staff Writer - Jun 08 4:12AM
The prospect of running 13.1 miles probably isn't appealing to most people.
Add the arid heat, dust and sun-scorched terrain of Afghanistan and you've got yourself a deal-breaker for the masses.
For Sgt. Jacqueline Barrios, a West Covina native, this was no sweat.
At 6 a.m. on April 29 at the Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, just north of Kabul, Barrios and 27 other soldiers took part in "Operation Endurance," an extensive test of physical prowess.
Twelve hours later, about 4,000 runners across the globe did the same. This year the annual Lehigh Valley Half Marathon and 5K, which took place in Allentown, Pa., was coordinated with athletes overseas.
"The dedication these soldiers show to their country and to their sport is complete and undeniable," said Neal Novak, Lehigh Valley Half Marathon race director.
"We had over 4,000 registrants for our race, but none as special as the ones running in Afghanistan."
In a display of solidarity to the soldiers, marathon officials provided runners with personalized camouflage bib numbers.
A consummate athlete, Barrios, 22, was the first female to finish, and placed 12th among the pack of 28 who ran the perimeter road of Bagram Airfield.
Barrios, even in her two years as the leader of the South Hills High School girls' varsity cross-country team, displayed character that would allow her to positively sustain herself in the unfriendly conditions of the Middle East.
"When you think about Jackie, she's always got a big smile on her face," said David McKissick, Barrios' former track coach at South Hills. "She has the kind of fireball-type personality, and that's only going to help her squad. She also has a very strong, positive approach to cheering on other people."
Barrios has harnessed these attributes, allowing her to thrive in her training and advancement in the United States Army.
Officially reporting for duty on Aug. 25, Barrios rapidly proved her value to America. Roughly six months later, she found herself in Louisiana in support of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Two and a half years after that she was promoted to sergeant, and given several soldiers to mentor, lead and motivate.
Now in Afghanistan, Barrios supports the Combined Joint Task Force 82 on most personnel actions such as casualty info and reports, overall task force accountability, leaves and passes, finance, Red Cross messages, redeploying soldiers and mail.
"Afghanistan has been a very humbling experience so far," Barrios said. "I have had the chance to experience several stressful situations that have made me grow and mature and become very aware of my surroundings."
Although the choice to participate in "Operation Endurance" came in the form of a challenge from her command sergeant, those who know her best say it was probably mostly derived from her driven, team-oriented spirit.
"She's very eager to learn, so anything that involves a team effort she is more than exceptional at," said Sandy Asad, Barrios' close friend. "She always kept spirits up when moral is down, and in doing that she lifts a lot of people up without even knowing."
While Barrios maintains the race was a good experience, she admits disappointment in herself on a few accounts.
"I wish I had the time to fully train and prepare myself for the actual race, but because we work seven days a week and often 12 hours a day, it's difficult to train to standard," Barrios said. "Therefore, I really didn't concentrate as much as I should have for this half marathon."
Additionally, the unfavorable conditions of Afghanistan played a part in her struggle.
"The biggest difficulty faced during the race was breathing (due to altitude and dust), and the distraction of the engineers that were mining around our perimeter road," Barrios said.
Maintaining her competitive spirit, Barrios said that this race was only a "warm-up" for a full marathon in June.
Barrios has recently re-enlisted for four more years, and will remain in Afghanistan indefinitely.
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Boeing Australia Limited To Provide ScanEagle UAV To Troops In Afghanistan
The ScanEagle UAV. by Staff Writers spacewar.com Brisbane, Australia (SPX) Jun 08, 2007
Boeing Australia Limited has been awarded a AUD$20 million contract to provide ScanEagle Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) based services to the Australian Army in Afghanistan. Throughout the six-month agreement, Boeing Australia Limited will work closely with the Australian Army to provide vital surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities for Australian and coalition forces in Afghanistan.
The level of ScanEagle services to be provided will be at a significantly higher operational tempo those currently being provided for the Army's Overwatch Battle Group in Iraq.
The Afghanistan ScanEagle services contract builds on recent successes in Iraq, where Boeing Australia Limited has been under contract to the Australian Army since late November 2006, said Boeing Australia Limited President David Withers.
"Boeing Australia Limited has worked closely with the Commonwealth of Australia and our partner Insitu, Inc. to stand up this UAV capability in such a short timeframe. We are exceptionally proud of this achievement and of our team who have worked hard to instill customer confidence in the ScanEagle system," said Withers.
"We look forward to continuing support of the Australian Army during the Afghanistan deployment and delivering even higher standards of excellence for the ScanEagle UAV capability in this new theatre."
Insitu, Inc. manufactures the fully autonomous ScanEagle UAV in Bingen, Wash. Under the new contract, Boeing Australia Limited and Insitu also will provide contractor personnel to support the Afghanistan deployment.
Insitu, Inc. develops miniature robotic aircraft for commercial and military applications. Insitu introduced the first UAV to cross the Atlantic Ocean and is developing vehicles for civilian applications.
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To return or to remain - The dilemma of second-generation Afghans in Pakistan
Source: Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) 07 Jun 2007
This paper is the first in a series of three country case studies of second-generation Afghans in neighbouring countries: Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan. Funding for the studies has been provided by the European Commission (EC), administrated through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). AREU’s previous research on Transnational Networks highlighted the existence of a specific information gap regarding the experiences and interests of the large group of second-generation Afghans residing in Pakistan and Iran, which initiated this research. These second-generation Afghans are defined in this study as those males and females aged 15 to 30 years who have spent more than half of their lives in Pakistan or Iran. Also of interest to the study are those same second-generation Afghans who have now returned to Afghanistan and spent at least six months in their homeland. According to data from the Registration of Afghans in Pakistan (2007), 74 percent of Afghans in Pakistan are less than 28 years old. The majority of them were born in Pakistan, have never experienced life in Afghanistan, or did so only at a very young age, and grew up in a very different environment from that of their parents and peers in Afghanistan. Therefore, to understand the characteristics of this large group of young Afghans in Pakistan and their perceptions toward return and reintegration has critical importance for policy making, informing debates about how to facilitate repatriation and reintegration processes, and how to best manage the Afghan population remaining in exile and the continuous movement across the border. The aim of this case study is to provide such understanding by exploring beneath the surface of the Yes/No responses about return intention, represented in existing quantitative data: Census of Afghans in Pakistan 2005 and Registration of Afghans in Pakistan 2007, to illustrate what struggles exist in return decision making among youth and young adult Afghans living in mostly urban areas of Peshawar, Quetta, and Karachi. The report’s strength lies in its use of narratives and direct quotes from the purposively selected 71 respondents having varied backgrounds across gender, education level, socioeconomic status, degree of assimilation in host communities, etc.
- The process around deciding to return is highly complicated for second-generation Afghans. Various factors influence the decision — from material comforts (life facilities, shelter, and work opportunities) to the complexity of socio-cultural and emotional concerns, and the crucial interrelations between these — all of which change in relative importance over time in response to internal preferences and perceptions, and external events.
- Ideas about return are in constant flux reflecting changes in both individual experiences and regional dynamics. The majority of the respondents are observing the situation in Afghanistan and waiting for the right time to return; those having a clear negative perception of return are a minority. The option to repatriate is open-ended, with the time of action only coming when the balance of factors affecting that individual and/or family shifts to reduce the perceived risks of return.
- Although respect for elders shapes household power dynamics and the return decision making process, second-generation male heads of households and eldest sons tend to have the actual control over initiating and framing return discussions. In contrast, a limited group of single and married young females who have high interactions with external society — through work and education — also appear to possess a high level of involvement in decisions to return. Thus providing these groups with accurate information about life and opportunities in Afghanistan is important to swaying their and their families’ decisions to return.
In formulating the voluntary repatriation and sustainable reintegration policies, the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan, along with the international community should work toward:
- Improving the quality and relevance of information available about Afghanistan prior to return, especially among youth who are less familiar with the situation in their homeland, to remove perceived misconceptions and minimize the gap coming from idealistic expectations.
- Providing an intensive package of services to the poorer and less educated Afghans in Pakistan, including vocational training, housing, cash grants, and labour intensive work, to reduce their risks of failed return.
- Ensuring young returnees can access demand-driven skills development programmes linked to current market needs in both urban and rural areas, to reduce risks of un- and under-employment, especially for those who have low levels of education, skills, capital and connections.
- Expanding small business/enterprise development skills training and access to micro-credit for second-generation Afghan returnees.
- Ensuring an expanded supply of quality primary and secondary education (formal and religious), including in rural areas in Afghanistan, and improving teacher salaries to attract qualified personnel to assist in meeting the demand for education among returning second-generation Afghans and their children.
- Clarifying accreditation/certification procedures for students and disseminating the information widely to ensure transparency and accessibility.
- Reducing the supply constraints in higher education in Afghanistan to meet the increasing demands from young Afghan returnees over the long term, and decreasing population movement among educated Afghans in pursuit of higher education.
- Formalising the status of long-staying Afghan populations in Pakistan, regarding the right to work temporarily and clarifying the procedures for access to higher education.
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Wolesi Jirga sticks to its guns on minister's removal
KABUL, June 6 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The Wolesi Jirga (Lower House of Parliament) continues to stick to its guns on voting out the foreign minister despite his reinstatement by the Supreme Court earlier in the week, says the speaker.
Dr Rangin Dadfar Spanta was unseated as a result of a no-confidence motion passed by the Wolesi Jirga on May 12, but President Hamid Karzai referred his case to the Supreme Court for interpretation.
On Sunday, the top court found the procedure adopted for Spantas removal inconsistent with the relevant constitutional procedure and ordered the foreign minister restored.
The verdict dominated Wednesdays proceedings of the house, with Speaker Younus Qanuni insisting the no-confidence vote was fully in keeping with the relevant law. The court ruling could not force a change in the positions taken by the president and the house on the issue, he observed.
He reiterated the minister was removed by a majority vote and the situation arising out of his sacking had to be tackled in a logical manner. The speaker, claiming the ruling was weak, pointed out: Under the Constitution, we expect, the court wont give its view on a subject falling outside its jurisdiction.
Abdul Sattar Khawasi, first secretary to the Wolesi Jirga, echoed Qanunis remarks, saying: A minister sacked by MPs cant be restored to his office. Parliaments very existence would be open to question if Spanta is not relieved.
And should the minister continue in his job, the secretary argued, there would be every reason to believe Parliament was a mere rubber stamp. After a heated debate on the judgment, the house was prorogued for a 45-day summer recess.
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Opposition alliance queries legality of peace jirga
KABUL, June 6 (Pajhwok Afghan): An opposition alliance of several dozen political parties Wednesday challenged the legality of an upcoming grand peace jirga between Afghanistan and Pakistan, scheduled for the first week of August in Kabul.
Afghanistan National Council (ANC) leader Ahmad Zia Rafaat claimed any decisions taken by the much-discussed forum would neither be legally binding nor worthy of implementation in that the jirga had no legal status.
Addressing a news conference here, Zia stressed UN involvement in negotiations between the bickering nations, and that such talks must take place in line with established international principles.
But the multiparty alliance head would not elaborate on the so-called international principles or the illegality of the peace jirga, which would confer on security in restive areas along the porous Pak-Afghan frontier.
Government-sponsored jirgas amounted to running away from the law on the one hand and undermined public confidence in Parliament and key state institutions on the other, the ANC chief contended.
He recalled the alliance, as indeed other groups, had had been averse to the idea of constituting the jirga since its inception. The grouping hailed all peace efforts but Pakistans blatant meddling in the internal affairs of Afghanistan could not be halted by any traditional mechanism, he maintained.
With the involvement of the international community and government as well as civil society organistaions, he believed, the problem could be addressed in a more effective way.
If this substantive approach is adopted, Im sanguine about Pakistan coming under greater pressure and the global fraternity noting which of the two countries genuinely desires a solution to the problem, he remarked.
On Tuesday, President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani Prime Minister hoped the jirga would be able to sort out all irritants between the neighbours and open many avenues of enhanced interaction and understanding between Kabul and Islamabad.
Presidents Karzai and Gen. Pervez Musharraf will likely address the inaugural session of the jirga, to be attended by 700 people including ministers, parliamentarians, politicians, tribal chiefs and intellectuals.
Zia also launched a vituperative attack on Karzai for referring to the Supreme Court for interpretation the sacking of Foreign Minister Dr. Rangin Dadfar Spanta by Parliament over a recent refugee crisis.
The ANC leader cited the no-trust vote passed by the Wolesi Jirga against Spanta as a manifestation of democracy in Afghanistan. But the presidential step was corrosive of Parliaments power, he alleged.
Reported by Zubair Babakarkhel
Translated & edited by S. Mudassir Ali Shah
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Greshk children schooled on landmine dangers
GRESHK, June 6 (Pajhwok Afghan News): ISAF and Afghan National Security Force engineers hosted a land-mine awareness day to provide potential life-saving education for children on the dangers of land mines and other explosive device.
We hope to save thousands of young lives ended needlessly by making the children aware how dangerous mines are, said Capt. Anna Swan, ISAF engineer, who arranged the event.
Sponsored by Sayed Darani Shah, Greshk mayor, and the commanding officer of the 1st Kandak Sher Khan, more than 250 local children and their families attended the first event of this kind in Helmand province.
Seventy varieties of mines still scar the earth. Over an average month up to 100 Afghans are injured or killed from mines, and most of those are women and children, Swan said.
After training by ISAF engineers, Afghan soldiers showed the children the types of mines littering the country, and how to mark and report them.
Following the success of this event, the director of education in Lashkargah has given permission to conduct similar events in schools throughout Helmand before the three-month-long vacation, Shah said.
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Nurses Day celebrated in Kabul
KABUL, June 6 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The Nurses Day was celebrated in Kabul on Wednesday.
Speaking at a ceremony organised in this connection, Deputy Health Minister Nadira Hayat underscored the need for training of more nurses in the country.
She said there was a need for recruitment and training of 7,000 nurses to be staffed at hospitals and health clinics all over the country.
The ceremony was attended by around 300 doctors, nurses and other staffers of the Health Ministry.
Dr Abdullah Fahim, spokesman for the Ministry of Public Health, told Pajhwok Afghan News around 3,500 nurses were working in health clinics in the country at the moment. The number would go up to 21,000 in the coming three years, he hoped.
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EU grants over 0.6m euros for Afghan orchards
KABUL, June 5 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The European Union has awarded a four-year 674,000 euro grant to the Global Partnership for Afghanistan (GPFA) for growth of orchards and gardens in four districts of Logar, Paktia and Maidan Wardak provinces.
The project is designed to increase job opportunities, generate rural incomes and farm production through the development of local fruit industry in each of the four districts.
It is expected to regenerate 1,000 hectares of fruit and nut tree orchards in the four clusters, resulting in 20,000 tons of high quality commercial fruit production, says a press release issued here on Tuesday.
Along with a focus on improvement in farming practices, market knowledge and use of modern technology by formers, GPFA would endeavour to connect the production and marketing segments - suppliers, growers, wholesalers and traders - of the horticultural industry.
According to officials, the project will also create a network of 40 private nursery businesses - 10 each in the four target areas - to produce high quality, disease-free planting stock closely tied to domestic and export demand.
Owners of the private orchards will be trained in modern orchard techniques, such as integrated pest management, water management and irrigation, reducing losses during harvest, storage and transportation and effective business planning.
The project will be accomplished in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock and other relevant agencies.
The New York-based Global Partnership for Afghanistan began its community-based, environmental and economic development programmes in 2004 to revive the agriculture sector in this war-battered country.
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Trials for women spikers squad begin in Kabul
KABUL, June 5 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Week-long trials for the selection of Afghanistans women volleyball squad got under way in this capital city Tuesday morning, an official said.
As many as 10 Kabul-based clubs, divided into two groups, are participating in the trials being held on a league basis - something virtually unimaginable during the oppressive Taliban regime that banned girls education.
National Olympic Committees media officer Muhammad Arif Paiman told Pajhwok Afghan News an 18-member national team of women spikers would be picked on the basis of the trials.
Provincial clubs could not take part in the competition because of restrictions from families, he said, adding Wolesi Jirga member Sabrina Saqib was among the officials who attended the opening ceremony.
The female parliamentarian, speaking on the occasion, voiced pleasure over the girls ability to break the traditional inhibitive mould and step into the national mainstream.
She hoped the emerging Afghan sportswomen, like their male counterparts, would succeed in bringing home laurels by winning international competitions.
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