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March 15, 2007 

Afghan President Leaves Door Open For Negotiations With Hekmatyar
RFE/RL [ 14 March 2007 ]
In President Hamid Karzai's first public reaction to a recent message from Gulbuddin Hekmatyar -- the fugitive head of Hizb-e Islami and former Afghan prime minister -- that he may be ready for conditional talks with Karzi's government, the president's office welcomed the offer on March 12, Pajhwak Afghan News reported the next day.

Karzai's spokesman said: "Our doors are open to any group and individual who give[s] up violence and shows respect" for the Afghan Constitution. In a recorded message to AP on March 8, Hekmatyar said that if Karzai's government stopped fighting militants and pledged to honor decisions that Kabul and the "resistance" would make in talks that didn't involve foreign countries, then meeting with the Afghan government could "be fruitful," (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 9, 2007).

In his message, Hekmatyar said that the United States and its allies have lost the war in Afghanistan and that foreign forces should leave the country. After the fall of the communist regime in Kabul in 1992, Hekmatyar played a key role in the civil war, frequently shifting alliances to gain power. When the Taliban took control of Kabul in 1996, Hekmatyar fled to Iran and found himself abandoned by Islamabad in favor of the Taliban.

After the defeat of the Taliban in late 2001, Hekmatyar resurfaced in Afghanistan, mainly concentrating his terrorist activities in the eastern part of the country. In February 2003, the United States designated Hekmatyar a terrorist (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 20, 2003). AT
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Dutch minister sharply criticizes Afghanistan's war crimes amnesty
The Associated Press 03/14/2007
THE HAGUE - The Dutch government sharply criticized Afghanistan's war crimes amnesty Wednesday, with a minister saying it would allow criminals "with blood on their hands" to walk free.

The Minister for Development Cooperation, Bert Koenders, made the comments after a meeting in The Hague with Yunus Qanooni, president of Afghanistan's parliament.

Afghanistan's lower house of parliament on Saturday voted into law a resolution calling for an amnesty for groups suspected of perpetrating war crimes during a quarter century of fighting, but also recognizing the rights of victims to seek justice.

The revised resolution does not protect individuals from prosecution for war crimes, so long as their alleged victims are prepared to raise charges ? placing the burden of proof on those who suffered rather than the state.

The revised resolution grants a general amnesty from prosecution to all groups ? rather than individual members ? who led the anti-Soviet resistance in the 1980s and then plunged the country into a civil war that killed tens of thousands. Koenders said he brought up the issue with Qanooni during their meeting.

"I told him we are very unhappy with it because many people with blood on their hands will probably go free," Koenders told reporters. He said the law was "a major problem for the victims but also for the future (of Afghanistan) because you should not be able to walk around with blood on your hands."

Qanooni said he assured Koenders that the law was not intended to allow the most serious criminals to avoid justice and would help foster stability, reconciliation and unity in the war-ravaged country.
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Amnesty Law Draws Criticism And Praise
RFE/RL - 03/14/2007 By Ron Synovitz
Afghanistan's parliament has passed an amnesty law that prevents the state from independently prosecuting people for war crimes committed during conflicts in recent decades. Supporters say the law will help bring national reconciliation, but critics say alleged war criminals in the parliament are only trying to protect themselves from prosecution.

The new amnesty law places the burden of proof in war-crimes trials upon victims rather than on state prosecutors. Bill Amended And Passed

The law recognizes the rights of war-crimes victims to seek justice and to bring cases against those alleged to have committed war crimes. But in the absence of a complaint by a victim, Afghan authorities are now banned from prosecuting accused war criminals on their own.

The lower house (Wolesi Jirga) approved the bill after President Hamid Karzai revised an initial bill that had been approved by both chambers of parliament that gave amnesty to all Afghans involved in war crimes during the last three decades of fighting.

Afghanistan's highest body of Islamic clerics criticized the initial draft legislation, saying parliament cannot issue a blanket amnesty from war crimes because only the victims of war crimes can forgive the perpetrators.

Mulavi Mohammad Musa -- an Islamic scholar in Afghanistan's northeastern Nuristan Province -- told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that he agrees with other Islamic clerics who think the amnesty damages the prospects of national reconciliation.

Protecting War Criminals? - "We think it does not benefit the nation. It benefits those people who committed war crimes," he said. "And it inspires others to commit the same kind of crimes. We elected President Karzai and the parliament to safeguard our rights. But to the contrary, these people are pardoning those who are violating our rights."

Wadir Safi is a lecturer at Kabul University who specializes in law and political science. He says a lot of Afghans are angry about the amnesty because many lawmakers are alleged to have committed war crimes themselves.

"Let us say that passing this legislation was not within the powers of the lower house of parliament," Safi said. "This means that the representatives of the lower house shouldn't be the judges of their own deeds."

The revised resolution grants a general amnesty from prosecution to all groups -- rather than individual members -- who led the anti-Soviet resistance in the 1980s and then plunged the country into a civil war that killed tens of thousands.

Among the alleged war crimes, it is claimed that thousands of civilians in Kabul were killed by indiscriminate shelling and rocketing from 1992 to 1995.

Even some members of Karzai's government have been accused of committing war crimes and human rights abuses.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch says Afghan Vice President Karim Khalili and army Chief of Staff Abdul Rashid Dostum are among those who should face trial before a special court for alleged war crimes.

In a report last year, Human Rights Watch also listed Energy Minister Ismail Khan, Karzai's security adviser Mohammad Qasim Fahim, lawmaker Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, and former President Burhanuddin Rabbani as among the "worst perpetrators."

Still, the amnesty law has its supporters. In February, more than 20,000 Afghans attended a rally at a Kabul stadium that was organized by parliamentary sponsors of the legislation. Sayyaf was among the speakers at that rally.

"The aim of this gathering is to support the decision of the parliament, and to gather people together for the unity, solidarity, and support for peace and stability, and to honor the mujahedin and martyrs," Sayyaf said. "That is why we have organized this gathering."

Promoting Reconciliation - Some Afghans interviewed by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan agree with lawmakers who say the amnesty is the best way to advance the process of national reconciliation and prevent the country from slipping back into civil war. Among them is Hafizullah, a medical doctor who lives in Kabul.

"All citizens know that national reconciliation will benefit this country," he said. "It is also clear that the entire nation welcomes this pardon as part of reconciliation."

But Sayid Zainabidin, a resident of Maimana in northwestern Afghanistan, says he thinks the amnesty law would not be approved by Afghan voters it were subject to a referendum.

"I think the best way [to settle] the issue of the reconciliation law is to seek the viewpoint of the people," he said. "And that means conducting a public referendum."

Meanwhile, at a prison in Afghanistan's western city of Herat, detainees have started a hunger strike to protest the amnesty. Ghulam Nabi Hakak, head of the Herat office of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, met with the striking prisoners this week to discuss their demands.

"When we first learned about their protest, we went to the prison," he said. "The prisoners submitted their demands, saying the parliament has pardoned people who have committed crimes but taken no action in their cases."

Hakak says the hunger-striking prisoners are poor Afghans who did not have the chance of a fair trial or even access to an attorney when they were convicted. Hakak says one prisoner in Herat has sewn his lips together as a protest against the amnesty law.

(RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this report.)
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US looks at plan to oust Musharraf
Bruce Loudon, South Asia correspondent - The Australian - March 14, 2007
THE US has indicated for the first time that it might be willing to back plans by elite echelons of the military in Islamabad to oust Pervez Musharraf from power, as the Pakistani President was beset by major new difficulties over his attempts to sack the country's chief justice.

Reports yesterday quoting highly placed US diplomatic and intelligence officials - previously rusted on to the view that General Musharraf was an indispensable Western ally in the battle against terrorism - outlined a succession plan to replace him.

US officials told The New York Times the plan would see the Vice-Chief of the Army, Ahsan Saleem Hyat, take over from General Musharraf as head of the military and former banker Mohammedmian Soomro installed as president, with General Hyat wielding most of the power.

The report adds another dimension to the range of challenges bearing down on the embattled military ruler following his weekend sacking of chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, whom he appointed just over a year ago.

Thousands of lawyers clashed with baton-wielding riot police yesterday during a nationwide day of action against the sacking of the top judge. About 3000 lawyers wearing smart black suits and chanting "Down with Musharraf" dismantled barriers in an attempt to stage a sit-in outside the Lahore High Court building.

More than 40 lawyers and 15 police were injured in the clashes. Police repeatedly baton-charged the demonstrators, some of them senior members of the bar, arresting 25 people.

In Islamabad, police barricaded the Supreme Court where the Supreme Judicial Council was meeting in camera to consider as-yet unspecified charges against the chief justice involving alleged misuse of his authority.

There was chaos and confusion as the council began its hearings last night. Having been held virtually under siege and incommunicado in his residence, the chief justice refused to get into a government car sent to convey him to the Supreme Court.

Instead, he stunned officials by starting to walk, surrounded by supporters, and told reporters he rejected any suggestion he had abused his office. Police soon intervened, however, and he was forced into a car and taken to another building before being transferred to the Supreme Court.

As courts across the country remained paralysed in protest, motives for the sacking emerged when it was disclosed that last month Justice Iftikhar said in a speech that General Musharraf could not continue as army chief beyond the expiry of his term as President later this year.

General Musharraf has a highly controversial plan that would have him elected to another five-year term as President by existing federal and provincial legislatures - before general elections are held.

But he also wants to continue as Army Chief of Staff, something that is bitterly opposed by political leaders as well as the international community. The plan would be challenged in the courts, and the chief justice's strong words on the issue may have forced the President to take pre-emptive action to remove him.

The bitter wrangling lends weight to those in the US diplomatic and intelligence community who believe it is time to consider the post-Musharraf era.

The US report suggests a growing disenchantment towards General Musharraf in Washington and indicates that the longstanding view that the alternative to his regime would be chaos and a takeover by extremist Islamic mullahs is no longer ascendant.

The US officials say hardline Islamists have usually not done well in elections in Pakistan and that if General Musharraf were removed, a doomsday scenario would not necessarily follow.

The report could be an attempt by Washington to pressure General Musharraf to take stronger action against militants in Pakistan's border areas near Afghanistan, where the Taliban and al-Qa'ida are operating. But it might also indicate the President's allies in Washington are about to pull the rug from under him.
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Pakistan's 'isolated' president
By Ahmed Rashid - BBC News / Wednesday, 14 March 2007
To many Pakistanis it seems that President Pervez Musharraf is becoming increasingly isolated. The latest headache comes in the shape of who have been staging rallies across the country in protest of what they see as his politically-motivated suspension of the chief justice of the Supreme Court.

The sight of black-jacketed lawyers smattered in blood after clashes in Lahore with police does little for the image of Pakistan. But before this, there have been signs of Islamic extremism gaining strength. Ordinary citizens are complaining of worsening law and order.

And Pakistan's relations with the United States, Europe and neighbouring countries are becoming more strained. This is an election year for President Musharraf. But two issues are threatening him. The first is the military's failure to assert the government's writ over large areas of the country and its refusal to tackle Islamic extremists head-on.

The second development is the assertion of some extremists that they no longer recognise the legitimacy of the state and will only do so when an Islamic revolution takes place.

Judges, soldiers, policemen, lawyers and ordinary women and children were the victims of a dozen suicide bombings by extremists in February. The authorities have made few arrests.

In Islamabad, foreign diplomats were shocked when the government gave in to some 3,000 Kalashnikov-wielding militant women, who refused to evacuate a religious school that had been set for demolition because it had been built illegally.

In the heart of the nation's capital the women refused to recognise any orders from the state. The cabinet was divided with some ministers, including the pro-Islamist right-wing Minister of Religious Affairs Ijaz ul Haq openly siding with the militant women.

Meanwhile extremists are threatening female politicians. Law and order is breaking down in the major cities. Up to 200 crimes and robberies are being committed every a day in major cities - in Karachi the figures are double that. Much of the prevalent crime is committed by unemployed youth, who form gangs to steal cars, motor bikes and mobile phones.

Another blow to Pakistan's self-image came when most of the planes of the state-owned Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) were banned from landing in European Union capitals because of safety concerns. PIA officials and government ministers denied there was any problem.

On the international front, Gen Musharraf's credibility is at stake as his commitment to deal with terrorism is being questioned by the US and leading Nato countries.

On a five-hour visit to Islamabad on 26 February, US Vice President Dick Cheney warned the president about Pakistan's lack of action against Taleban and al-Qaeda leaders operating from its soil.

In several packed hearings in the US Congress, retired US military officers and other American experts testified that Pakistan was deliberately harbouring the Taleban to use as a political card in Afghanistan.
Nato countries not normally known for their public criticism of allies have been openly questioning Pakistan's continued commitment to the "war on terrorism".

Meanwhile, Iran has become the latest country, after India and Afghanistan, to accuse it of interference in its internal affairs.

In early March, Iranian leaders accused Pakistan of becoming a sanctuary for terrorists, after several Iranians were killed by militants who then fled across the border to Pakistan.

Iran is also suspicious that Pakistan is supporting the US agenda of trying to create a Sunni alliance of Arab countries aimed at Shia Iran. Pakistan counters that Iran is helping the insurgency by rebels in Pakistani Balochistan.

Pakistan is now the most fenced in nation in the world. Iran is now following India's example and erecting a fence on its border with Pakistan, while Islamabad wants to erect a fence on its border with Afghanistan.

All these problems come ahead of polls in which Gen Musharraf wants to be re-elected for another five years by the current parliament, while continuing to remain army chief.

Expectations of a free and fair elections are lowered daily as Gen Musharraf insists in public statements that people vote for his nominees, while newspapers report that the ubiquitous intelligence services are already interviewing prospective parliamentary candidates to ascertain their loyalty to the president.

Pakistanis are used to military rulers prolonging their innings indefinitely and also to rigged elections. But what they are not used to is the growing rise of extremism around the country from the rugged mountains of Waziristan to the pristine avenues of Islamabad. For a country armed with nuclear weapons, ordinary people are getting scared of the future.
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Another civilian falls prey to 'mistaken firing'
KANDAHAR CITY, Mar 14 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A civilian was killed in firing by NATO and the Afghan National Army (ANA) troops in the southern province of Kandahar Wednesday morning.
A statement from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said a truck driver approached their patrol and 'failed to heed repeated warnings' to stop, prompting ISAF and ANA forces to open fire at the vehicle in Spin Boldak district.

"The vehicle proceeded towards the convoy at speed ignoring commands to yield. After repeated signals by the ANA and ISAF forces, the jingle truck drove around the ANA lead element and then headed straight for the middle of the convoy," said the military statement.

It added the patrol fired three 'well-aimed' shots into the engine block and a ricochet hit the driver. Regretting the loss of life in the fresh incident of civilian casualties, the statement asked the locals to stay clear of ISAF convoys.
This is the fifth incident of civilian casualties in firing by NATO and coalition troops in the southern and eastern region so far this month.
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O'Connor meets with Afghan rights chief
JOE FRIESEN - Globe and Mail Update
Kandahar, Afghanistan — Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor said he is reasonably confident that the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission will be able to effectively monitor detainees handed over to Afghan authorities.

Speaking in Kandahar Wednesday, Mr. O'Connor said he had looked the head of the commission in the eyes and felt satisfied that he is an honest man.

He met with Abdul Qadar Noorzai at the Canadian detainee transfer facility at Kandahar airfield Wednesday morning. The pair toured the facility and discussed the agreement Canada signed with the AIHRC last month.

“He's really dedicated to human rights and he was saying he hopes that over time in Afghanistan they'll get to our high standards,” Mr. O'Connor said.

Mr. Noorzai has said that monitoring detainees will prove difficult, because he has only eight staff members to conduct prison inspections across all of southern Afghanistan, and some regions are considered too dangerous to visit.

Mr. O'Connor said it would be improper for Canada to offer financial aid to the AIHRC because that might compromise their independence. But he has offered logistic support, such as help with transportation, for AIHRC monitors.

The Defence Minister also said he thought it unlikely, given Canada's influence in Afghanistan, that the AIHRC would be denied access to any prisons.

Mr. O'Connor has been accused by the opposition of misleading Parliament about the detainee deal, which was originally signed in December, 2005, by Chief of Defence Staff General Rick Hillier.

That deal, unlike similar arrangements signed by British and Dutch forces, ceded the right to monitor prisoners taken by Canadian soldiers after they were transferred to the government of Afghanistan.

Mr. O'Connor said several times that the International Committee of the Red Cross was monitoring the situation and would notify Canada of any abuse. The ICRC contradicted those claims in an interview with The Globe and Mail last week, and Mr. O'Connor admitted he had been misinformed.
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Prisoner transferred to Afghans vanished
Disappearance calls into question pact struck with ANA for handling detainees
GLORIA GALLOWAY - From Thursday's Globe and Mail
OTTAWA — A Taliban fighter captured by Canadians last summer went missing within hours of being placed in Afghan custody.

The disappearance, recorded in documents forwarded to The Globe and Mail, underlines the pitfalls in the controversial agreement — signed between Canada and Afghanistan in 2005 — to turn over Taliban prisoners to Afghan authorities.

During and after a frenzied battle in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province that left one young Canadian dead and three others wounded, Canadian soldiers claimed six prisoners, the documents show.

One of the captured men was sent by helicopter to a military hospital at the Kandahar Air Field (KAF), where soldiers hoped to question him after his recovery. He died from his injuries three days later, his identity still unknown.

Four others were also transported to the air base, where they were given medical clearance and turned over to Afghan authorities, as required under the 2005 deal.

But one man never arrived at the base because he vanished near the battle scene after Canadian troops handed him to members of the Afghan National Army (ANA).

Members of the Edmonton-based Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry battle group, who had just taken part in what was described as the fiercest fighting by Canadian troops in more than four decades, transferred him and two others to the local force after they were captured during the battle.

Hours later, “the ANA had lost contact with one of the detainees,” a Canadian military captain says in a situation report included in documents obtained under Access to Information legislation.

The Canadian force “has re-taken control of the two remaining detainees and intends to have them interviewed at KAF as soon as possible,” the report says.

It is not clear why the Canadians took back the two men. That could have been their plan all along, they could have acted out of frustration over the loss of the third prisoner, or they could have decided it was the best way to keep the men safe.

It is also possible that the Afghan army did not have the logistical capacity to return the prisoners to the Kandahar Air Field, a military spokesman said yesterday. The military could not say which of the possibilities had come into play.

Nor is it clear what happened to the lost man. He could have escaped from inept handlers during the confusion of battle. He could have bribed his way out of custody. Or he could have been killed by his Afghan guards.

The deadly battle came one month after it was reported that Canadian soldiers had twice intervened to prevent the summary execution of Taliban suspects that they had captured on operations with the Afghan army.

The military was willing to discuss the July incident in broad terms yesterday, but added it is unwilling to give information about other detainees. There were revelations this month that three captured Taliban at the heart of multiple probes of abuse by Canadian soldiers had disappeared after being turned over to the Afghans.

Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor had maintained since last spring that the International Committee of the Red Cross would monitor prisoners in Afghan custody and report any abuse back to the Canadians. But he was forced to admit last week that his initial assumption was wrong, and he has been in Afghanistan this week to ensure that a local human rights agency will do the job of monitoring the prisoners.

Unlike Britain and the Netherlands, Canada has not retained the right to verify that transferred detainees are being properly treated.

On Wednesday, in Kandahar, Mr. O'Connor said he is “reasonably confident” that the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission will be able to effectively monitor detainees handed over to Afghan authorities.

After meeting with AIHRC head Abdul Qadar Noorzai, Mr. O'Connor said he's dealing with an honest man. “He's really dedicated to human rights and he was saying he hopes that, over time in Afghanistan, they'll get to our high standards,” Mr. O'Connor said.

He brushed aside concerns that the AIHRC, which is partly funded by the Afghan government, might hesitate to criticize the treatment of terrorism suspects.

“I guess some of the proof will be down the line. If they find something wrong in the Afghan system, we'll wait to see if they tell us. We have separate sources too, unofficial sources that tell us what's going on,” Mr. O'Connor said, later declining to identify those unofficial sources.

“I've had a look at the process and it looks like a very fair, open process to handle detainees from our point of view.”

Mr. Noorzai said he was pleased with the meeting. “Today the Defence Minister of Canada and also General Grant said they were happy about us,” he said, referring to Brigadier-General Tim Grant, commander of the Canadian forces in Afghanistan.

He said he was given a complete list of detainees handed over to Afghan authorities. He was also told of one man detained on Feb. 27 who was transferred to the Afghan secret police who he wants to track down immediately.

“Today we sent an investigator to look for him,” Mr. Noorzai said. “From today, our process will start.”

Monitoring detainees may prove difficult for the AIHRC, which has only eight staff members to conduct prison inspections across all of southern Afghanistan, and one province is too dangerous to visit.
Mr. O'Connor said it would be improper for Canada to offer financial aid to the AIHRC because that might compromise their independence. But he has offered logistic support, such as help with transportation, for AIHRC monitors.

The Defence Minister also said he thought it unlikely, given Canada's influence in Afghanistan, that the AIHRC would be denied access to any prisons.

The loss of the prisoner after the July battle means that Canadian soldiers were handing men to the Afghans even though they knew the Afghans were prepared to kill Taliban insurgents, said Denis Coderre, the Liberal defence critic. “Why did we give, right away, the detainees to the ANA?” he asked.

And why has there been no mention of the prisoner who died in Canadian custody? asked Mr. Coderre.

The documents say that the prisoner who eventually died at Kandahar Air Field was discovered unconscious and with minimal vital signs by Canadian soldiers. Two other dead Taliban lay nearby.

The Canadians decided that, despite the gunshot wounds and shrapnel injuries to his head and neck, they would transport him to the air base for treatment and to eventually be interrogated.

The medical staff at the Kandahar military hospital, where he arrived about six hours after being found in the field, put him into a drug-induced coma to prevent him from experiencing extreme pain should he regain consciousness. He died three days later.

With reports from Joe Friesen, in Kandahar, and Jeff Esau
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Trans-Afghan Powerline Seen as Worth the Risk
IWPR - 03/14/2007
Laying an electricity transmission line from Tajikistan to Iran via Afghanistan will be a risky venture, but NBCentralAsia experts say it will be worth the effort, giving the Tajiks an energy export route that they cannot afford to pass up.

Energy officials from Tajikistan, Iran and Afghanistan have started work on a feasibility study for a high-voltage power line from Rogun on Tajikistan?s Vakhsh river to Mashhad in north-west Iran, according to reports from Tajik news agencies on March 9. The proposed route will take electricity from hydroelectric plants at Rogun and Sangtuda to Iran. The longest section ? some 1,100 kilometres ? will cross northern Afghanistan via Mazar-i-Sharif and Herat.

Experts say the project faces two financial risks ? technical problems with laying the power line in Afghanistan, and a potential crisis in Iranian-United States relations, which could mean construction grinds to a halt.

However, most of the analysts to whom NBCentralAsia talked say that despite these risks, the electricity line is will not only be profitable for Tajikistan, but will prove essential in the long-term. ?There are risks, but we have to build the line, otherwise we won?t have any need for the hydroelectric power stations we are building,? said an energy expert based in Dushanbe.

An official with the ministry for energy and industry agreed, saying that by the time the line is up and running - about 10 years from now - Tajikistan will be in a position to export substantial amounts of electricity, and a properly designed power line will make it a player on the regional energy market.

?Tajikistan has to build a network of power lines around its borders so that whenever promising projects emerge, we simply connect them up to our grid without spending a lot of money laying new cable and building substations,? said the official.

The Afghan-Iran power line will use power generated by major new hydroelectric plants at Sangtuda and Rogun, which are due to be completed and connected to the national grid by 2007 and 2011, respectively. Both plants sit on the river Vakhsh, and a ?cascade? of smaller power stations on the same river could also feed into the power line.

Economist Hojimuhammad Umarov says that Tajikistan stands to gain a great deal since world market prices for electricity are always far higher than the domestic tariff.

He believes the risks of laying a cable across Afghanistan are actually smaller than one might think, given that the route goes through the relatively stable north of the country. Analysts say demand for power is expected to grow in Afghanistan as well as Iran.
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Afghanistan's opium tango
United Press International - 03/14/2007 By Arnaud De Borchgrave 
WASHINGTON - Sixty percent of Afghanistan's 30 million people are under 20 -- without the foggiest notion of what democracy stands for. Thirty-seven countries are involved in normalization and reconstruction -- with different agendas; some 2,000 non-governmental organizations (out of an estimated 25,000 worldwide) are now represented in Afghanistan. A former Afghan minister, speaking privately, said, "They spend over half their time coordinating among themselves... The Afghan tango is now known as one step forward, and three steps backward."

The Shiite suburbs of Kabul are now under the control of Iranian or pro-Iranian agents. The capital city has mushroomed from 400,000 at the time of 9/11 to 2 million today. Some 500,000 acres of public land was seized and sold for the benefit of the entrenched bureaucracy. To control this vast country of 30 million would require several hundred thousand troops. The U.S. and allied-trained Afghan army numbers 20,000 instead of the 35,000 projected by now.

The consensus forged in the heady days of liberation in December 2001 is broken. Fear of the B-52 bombers is gone. And today's Afghanistan is totally insecure, so much so that it has already been promoted to the ranks of failed states -- except for an all-pervasive opium culture that keeps Afghanistan from sinking into total chaos.

The illicit opium poppy industry is, according to a former minister in President Hamid Karzai's government, "a pyramid structure. If ever there were a management prize for the perfect supply chain," it would go to what generates from one half to two-thirds of Afghan GDP. He said there are "25 mafia dons at the top of the pyramid who control the key power levers. The Interior Ministry is owned by the drug industry." In Helmand province (40% of the country's opium production), Taliban fighters protect poppy farmers from eradication efforts, and extract millions of dollars for their services.

Managing relationships with the United States, NATO, the European Union, Iran, India and Pakistan, Russia and China is beyond the capabilities of the Karzai government. The game of nations is played below the president's radar screen. The U.S. is hoping to diversify Afghanistan's regional relationships by coaxing Gulf states to become stakeholders; but the "Gulfies" are otherwise engaged by the uncertainties of the Iraq war and Iran's nuclear ambitions.

An estimated $8 billion a year is needed to dig Afghanistan out of its narco-state status. But the funds aren't available. And only an estimated 20 cents on the dollar is used for what it was intended. Afghans cannot be bought, said another ex-minister (not for attribution), "but they can be rented." And much rental money has been dispensed in the three Afghan provinces that share borders with Iran -- by Iranian agents. Clandestine U.S. "recon" operations are also run from these provinces -- into Iran.

Russia complains about being left out of Afghan affairs, which is hardly surprising. The Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan throughout the 1990s and killed thousands of Afghans in a vain attempt to establish its dominion. But Moscow says it still has many friends in the former anti-Taliban Northern Alliance that resisted Talibanization in the northeastern part of the country, and which liberated large parts of the country when the U.S. launched the invasion in October 2001.

Many NGOs provide and perform services neglected by government-to-government aid. But it's highly dangerous work. Volunteers from all over the world have been killed and injured by Taliban guerrillas and pro-Taliban civilians. Most of them now remain in major cities and pay local staffs for fieldwork.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies' most recent report on the state of Afghanistan was based on 1,000 "structured" conversations in half of the country's 34 provinces, 13 surveys, polls and focus groups; 200 expert interviews; and the daily monitoring of 70 media sources and 182 organizations. Principal findings are:

1. Afghans are losing trust in their government due to escalation in violence;

2. Public expectations are neither being met nor managed;

3. Conditions have deteriorated in all key areas targeted for development.

Afghans are more insecure than two years ago; insurgency and counter-insurgency campaigns spawn ever more violence. Security forces are unable to combat warlords and drug lords, frequently one and the same. State security institutions are plagued with corruption and retention problems as rank-and-filers switch sides for better pay. Local mafias and their militia frequently overwhelm local governance entities set up by the Karzai government. Democratic judicial structures are also stillborn, stifled by criminal networks and bribes, or camouflaged to practice sharia (Islamic) law.

The overall situation is infinitely more complex today than when Afghanistan was liberated in 2001. Staying the course is meaningless in today's Afghanistan, which requires massive infusions of foreign aid and a multi-year commitment that would require NATO troops and billions in aid for many years to come.

The uniqueness of Afghanistan's predicament was highlighted by one of CSIS' recommendations: Shift 50 percent of the development budget to the 34 provinces and distribute direct assistance through the hawala system. Hawala is the centuries-old way of bypassing banking circuits by using word-of-mouth between two parties that trust each other. Transnational terrorists, Taliban and drug lords have been using hawala since long before western security agencies took an interest in the system's inner workings. And it wouldn't take long to co-opt or silence government hawala circuits.

CSIS also says restoring progress in Afghanistan requires dramatic changes. The Afghan army is not truly national; the desertion rate rises when soldiers are dispatched too far from home base. And NATO member parliaments anxiously debate where and how NATO commanders in Afghanistan can utilize their troops. Mighty Germany won't let its Afghan contingent do any fighting. Only the United States, British, Canadian and Dutch troops are authorized to search and destroy. The U.S. is boosting its troops by 3,200 to 27,000, the highest level of the war. Meanwhile, Taliban's much-touted spring offensive is only days away.

Pakistan and Afghanistan should be a single theater of operations as Taliban enjoy privileged sanctuaries in the tribal areas on the Pak side of a mythical frontier. But NATO and U.S. troops cannot chase Taliban fighters back into Pakistan without triggering a chain reaction that could easily lead to the fall of President Pervez Musharraf -- and the control of the country's nuclear arsenal passing into unknown military hands and their anti-American, pro-Taliban political allies.
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