Taliban offers more time for Italian hostage
Fri Mar 16, 3:09 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - Afghanistan's Taliban movement, which threatened to kill an Italian journalist unless its demands were met, said Friday the ultimatum was over but could be extended on request.
Daniele Mastrogiacomo, 52, was kidnapped with two Afghan colleagues in southern Afghanistan on March 4.
A top Taliban commander told AFP last Saturday that the Italian would be killed in seven days unless two captured Taliban spokesmen were released and Italy set a date for the withdrawal of its 2,000 troops in Afghanistan.
"The ultimatum is over," Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP by telephone Friday.
He said the group had however told "the Italians we are in contact with" that it could be extended. "We told them if you request for time via media, we will give you more time," he said.
"There has been some progress in negotiations and if our demands are accepted, we will release the journalist."
Ahmadi did not make clear who the group was in talks with.
Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema said Thursday his government was not negotiating with the Taliban but that there were "humanitarian sources which maintain the contacts."
Mastrogiacomo's employer, La Repubblica newspaper, on Thursday made an appeal for the "necessary time" to allows the negotiations to continue.
In a recorded message obtained by Afghanistan's Pajhwok News Agency, the correspondent said if nothing was done by Friday "it will create problems for me."
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AFGHANISTAN: Italy Seeks More Time To Negotiate Over Kidnapped Reporter
Rome, 16 March (AKI) - Italy's foreign ministry on Friday asked for more time to negotiate with the kidnappers of Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo who was seized in Afghanistan 11 days ago. "The situation is very complex and it is essential to have sufficient time to reach a desireable solution," said unnamed foreign ministry sources, adding that "intense communication" is currently taking place to try and secure Mastrogiacomo's release.
"The Italian government remains firmly and constantly committed to ensuring our compatriot's release and intense communication is occurring," the sources said.
The foreign ministry earlier on Friday said is was investigating "worrying" reports carried by the Afghan Pajhwok news agency that Mastrogiacomo's Afghan driver has been killed. He is believed to have been seized by the Taliban together with Mastrogiacomo and the reporter's Afghan translator.
In an audiotape released on Thursday, Mastrogiacomo said his kidnappers gave the Italian government a Friday deadline to meet their demands and implored Italy's prime minister Romano Prodi to do his utmost to meet the Taliban ultimatum.
A video received by the Italian authorities on Wednesday showed an apparently composed Mastrogiacomo, in which he stated "I am well" and said the date was Monday 12 March .
Sources told Adnkronos International (AKI) on Wednesday that the Taliban do not want to kill Mastrogiacomo but want to swap the journalist for several Taliban spokesmen currently detained by the Afghan government .
Mastrogiacomo and the two Afghans are believed to have been abducted near Kandahar in the restive southern province of Helmand while he was researching a story.
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Afghan driver of Italian hostage executed: report
Fri Mar 16, 6:12 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - The Afghan driver of a kidnapped Italian journalist was killed after being found guilty of spying, a man claiming to be a top Taliban commander's spokesman told an Afghan news agency Friday.
The fate of Italian Daniele Mastrogiacomo and a second Afghan captured March 4 would be decided late Friday, the independent Pajhwok Afghan News agency cited the man, identified as Shahbuddin Atal, as saying.
Pahjwok described Atal as a "purported spokesman for Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah."
AFP could not independently confirm he was a spokesman for Dadullah, said to be the Taliban's operational commander in the south.
Dadullah said in an interview with AFP last Saturday that the Italian would be killed in seven days unless Italy agreed to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan and two captured Taliban spokesman were released.
An AFP correspondent who has been in contact with Dadullah could not reach him by telephone Friday to confirm the Pajhwok report.
Yousuf Ahmadi, who regularly speaks to the media on behalf of the Taliban, told AFP earlier Friday the movement would extend its deadline on the request of the Italians they were negotiating with.
He said there had been progress in the talks.
The Pahjwok report cited Atal as saying the Afghan driver was executed after being found guilty of spying for foreign troops.
The fate of the Italian and other Afghan would be decided in the evening, he was cited as saying.
He said the Taliban were demanding the release of six men, the report said, but did not say who these men were.
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Policeman, three Taliban killed in Afghan clashes
Khost (AFP) - A Taliban fighter was killed and another was wounded in a gunbattle with Afghan police in the southern city of Kandahar Thursday, police said.
The clash erupted when two armed Taliban attacked a police foot patrol in the city, wounding one policeman, local police officer Mohammad Nasib told AFP.
One Taliban was killed and another was wounded and taken into custody, he said. Kandahar is the former bastion of the hardline Taliban militia.
In another incident a policeman was killed and three others were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded during a police patrol in eastern Paktika province on Wednesday, provincial governor Mohammad Akram Khapelwak said.
Police launched a manhunt after the incident in Wazakhwa district of Paktika and clashed with a group of Taliban, killing two militants, the governor said.
"Police surrounded the group, two Taliban fighters were killed and two others were wounded as a result of clashes," he said.
The attack came a day after a suicide bombing aimed at a police vehicle in neighbouring Khost killed nine people and wounded 34 others. Taliban insurgents, who are more active in southern and southeastern Afghanistan, have vowed to step up suicide attacks this year.
The Islamic extremists were forced from power in a US-led invasion in late 2001 over their refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden wanted for September 11 attacks in the United States.
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Warlords unite to form political party
KABUL - Commanders from the anti-Soviet resistance, ex-communist leaders and other strongmen from Afghanistan's decades of war are banding together in a political group, spokesmen said yesterday.
The multi-ethnic United National Front, still to be formally launched, "is to fill the vacuum for a powerful, strong and broad-based political party," spokesman Mustafa Kazimi said.
"We have had lots of political parties emerging over the past five years but they've had no major achievements."
The front includes leaders of the fight against the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation, often called warlords, who turned on each other in the 1992-1996 civil war that was fought for power along ethnic lines.
Kazimi, himself a resistance commander, described the new political group as a "reform-seeking formation comprised of different political and ethnic groups as well as key political figures."
The coalition is perhaps the most significant political group to emerge since the Taliban government was toppled in 2001 and Afghanistan was set on an internationally backed course to democracy at a conference in Bonn, Germany.
Burhanuddin Rabbani, Afghan president from 1992 to 1996 and head of the Jamiat-i-Islami faction in the resistance, had been chosen to head the front, faction spokesman Waqef Hakimi said.
Other key members were notorious warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostam, whose forces were pitted against those of Rabbani in the war, and parliament Speaker Younis Qanooni, once a member of the Northern Alliance faction of the revered late commander Ahmad Shah Massoud.
Former communist officials and other leaders of the jihad (holy war) against the Soviet were also in the group. "The aim of the United National Front is to work on nation-building and to practise the democracy which we had agreed on in Bonn," Kazimi said.
Many of the men in the new alliance were behind a rally of up to 25,000 people in Kabul late February that backed parliamentarians' demands for an amnesty for crimes and abuses committed in wars and conflict since 1979.
President Hamid Karzai amended the amnesty bill to allow group amnesty but enshrine the rights of individuals to seek redress and it has been accepted by parliament.
Karzai's chief of staff, Mohamed Umer Daudzai, said this week the establishment of such a group would not be considered a threat to the president and was part of the democratic process. "We gave democracy to the people and it's our responsibility to promote rights of expression, the right to form parties," he said.
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Former strongmen forms political alliance
KABUL, Mar 13 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A new political group, comprising former mujahideen and pro-communist strongmen, was formed in Kabul on Tuesday.
Formation of the United National Front was announced after several days of deliberations among stalwarts of various political groups and some government officials, spokesman for the newly-formed alliance Sayed Mustafa Kazimi, told a news conference on Tuesday.
Prominent among those joined the alliance included former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, speaker of the lower house Younus Qanuni, Minister for Energy and Water Ismail Khan, communist-era minister Sayed Mohammad Gulabzoy and Rashid Dostum, military aide to President Hamid Karzai.
Kazimi said it was a broad-based alliance representing all the ethnic communities and aimed at strengthening democracy in the country. He hoped the front would prove the first step in strengthing the political process and others would also follow the suit.
Kazimi said the United National Front was a step towards achieving the goal of true democracy that will put an end to ethnic, religious and other prejudices in the society.
Another member of the front Sayed Mohammad Gulabzoy said they had specific plans for bringing changes to Constitution, the working procedure of the parliaments and appointment of governors and attorneys.
The new alliance is mainly consisting of strongmen who are either members of the parliament or enjoying key positions in the government. Almost all of them are supporters of the recently-approved amnesty draft, which is yet to be signed by President Karzai into a law.
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US troops kill Afghan policemen
Alastair Leithead BBC News, Kabul Friday, 16 March 2007
American forces in southern Afghanistan have mistakenly killed five Afghan policemen at a checkpoint.
The shooting happened in Helmand province on Thursday night.
The deputy police chief of Helmand province said that an American patrol mistook a police check post for a Taleban position and opened fire.
The incident in a village close to Gereshk is the third time in the last couple of weeks where US troops have been accused of using excessive force.
Privately, Nato forces are frustrated and angry that their efforts to win the support of local people are being undermined by American forces operating in Nato areas - but not under their command.
A spokesman for the interior ministry confirmed the report and said he wanted a "full explanation" as this was not excusable.
The American forces said they were looking into the incident but could give no comment.
In recent incidents, civilians were killed and injured by US forces near Jalalabad in the east, and a family died when two 900kg bombs were dropped on a mud compound.
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Norway to cooperate with relief organizations in Afghanistan
STOCKHOLM, Mar 15, 2007 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- The Norwegian Department of Defense and major Norwegian relief organizations have agreed to cooperate in the rebuilding of war-torn Afghanistan, according to reports reaching here from Oslo on Thursday.
The Department will cooperate with the Norwegian Red Cross, the Refugee Council and the Norwegian Church Aid on Norway's contributions towards the rebuilding of Afghanistan, Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported.
This means that Norway is opposing international recommendations on civilian and military cooperation in war zones, NRK said.
However, head of Norwegian Red Cross' Foreign operations, Halvor Fossum Lauritzen, believes this will be a fruitful cooperation.
Defense Minister Anne-Grete Stroem-Erichsen also said that she is not afraid that Norwegian relief workers may become identified with the occupation force.
"Unless we achieve the military security, it is not possible for the voluntary organizations to do their job. The important thing is for us to maintain a good dialogue, in order that we may help each other to reach a good result," Stroem-Erichsen said to NRK.
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Top Taleban leader sounds warning
Thursday, 15 March 2007 BBC News
The Taleban says its fighters are "fully prepared" for an offensive against foreign forces in Afghanistan.
Top Taleban commander Mullah Dadullah told the BBC that 1,800 suicide bombers were ready to go into action.
He also said Taleban finances were much better than last year. Neither claim could be independently confirmed.
Suicide bombings in Afghanistan have soared since late 2005. Foreign troops have warned for months of a planned spring offensive by the Taleban.
Mullah Dadullah spoke by telephone from an undisclosed location to BBC Urdu service reporter Abdul Hayee Kakar.
He accused Pakistan's government of failing to observe peace accords with pro-Taleban militants in Pakistan's tribal areas on the Afghan border.
"I told them that they should could concentrate their efforts on the international forces in Afghanistan" Mullah Dadullah told the BBC.
He warned that if President Musharraf continued to co-operate with the US, the Taleban would launch suicide bombings inside Pakistan.
"This is a conspiracy against the tribal areas."
Mullah Dadullah dismissed claims that al-Qaeda fighters were present in the region.
"I declare that I have strengthened al-Qaeda in southern Afghanistan."
He said the militants had been able to procure sophisticated heavy weapons with the additional cash they had received.
Some of the weapons had come from Iraq, he said.
But the Taleban commander refused to answer questions about where the extra money was coming from.
'Ally for money'
He also dismissed the recent declaration by Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
Mr Hekmatyar announced he was breaking all ties with the Taleban and was open to talks with the American-backed Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai.
"Gulbuddin Hekmatyar cannot be anybody's ally... he will be the ally of anyone who gives him money," the Taleban commander said.
Mullah Dadullah was a member of the Taleban's 10-man leadership council before the US-led invasion in 2001.
He has been called "Afghanistan's top Taleban commander" by Nato officials, and is high on the US list of most-wanted people in the country.
He has also been named as the man behind the Taleban's resurgence in Afghanistan since last year.
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Turkey pledges $1 million for health services
KABUL, Mar 13 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The government of Turkey will provide $1 million for improvement in health services in northern Afghanistan.
In this connection, an agreement was signed between Minister for Public Health Sayed Amin Fatimi and Turkish ambassador to Kabul Ethem Tokdemir on Monday.
Fatimi said the fund would be spent on training of medial staff and improvement in services of the Afghan - Turk Friendship Hospital in Maimana, capital of Faryab, Khwaja Bahauddin Hospital in Takhar, a children hospital in Shiberghan and a mother and child healthcare centre in Taloqan. The projects will be completed by the end of the current year.
Speaking on the occasion, the Turkish ambassador said they would facilitate transfer of patients suffering from serious diseases to Turkey for proper treatment. Sources in the Foreign Ministry say Turkey has granted around $200 million to Afghanistan over the previous four years.
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Japan-sponsored road project in Mazar completed
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Mar 13 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A Japan-sponsored project for the asphalting of roads in Mazar-i-Sharif was completed on Tuesday. The levelling of roads inside Mazar city was begun in 2005 by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and over 10 kilometers of road was asphalted at the cost of $10 million.
The inauguration ceremony of the new roads was held on Tuesday and was attended by the secretary of the Japanese Embassy, the Governor of Balkh and representatives of several national and international organizations working in the area.
Inoue Kenji, Secretary of the Japanese Embassy, said his government is committed to completing the construction projects initiated in the province.
He added that his country would implement uplifting projects in Balkh, Kandahar, Nangrahar and Bamyan provinces.
According to Kenji, Japan has spent $ 1.1 billion on various development projects in Afghanistan. Atta Mohammad Noor, the provincial governor of Balkh, expressed his gratitude for the support of the Japanese government, and said that the asphalting of the roads would help to solve several problems for the local population.
He said: "We are satisfied with the asphalting of the roads; we would like the Japan government to support us in constructing a stadium". Mazar-i-Sharif residents have also welcomed the asphalting of the road.
Ahmad Jan a driver in the city said the pavement of the road had made it much easier and faster to reach Mazar.
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US to provide 100-mw generators for Kabul
KABUL, March 13( Pajhwok Afghan News): The United States will provide power generators with a capacity of 100 megawatts of electricity to Kabul over the next two years, the Minister of Economy, Jalil Shams, said on Tuesday.
The US has agreed in principles to donate power generators to enhance the powers supply in the capital, but an official agreement is yet to be signed.
Shams told the Parliamentary Commission on National Economy that, if signed, the project worth $140 million, would be launched in October this year to increase electricity for the coming winter.
"The United States has told us to provide 20 per cent of the 100-megawatt power by the coming winter and the remaining 80 per cent will be readied in 2008, however we would like to have the project completed by the end of this year," Shams said.
According to the plan, all generators are expected to be brought by the end of the current year. Shams said the generators were powerful enough to last for up to 25 years without needing to be repaired.
He added that the diesel-generators were less expensive than most of the other traditional ways of getting power in Afghanistan.
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German officers protest Afghan mission
BERLIN, March 16 (UPI) -- High-ranking German military officers have accused their defense minister of deceiving the public over a reconnaissance mission in Afghanistan.
"Against better knowledge, Defense Minister (Franz Josef) Jung claims (the mission) is purely about reconnaissance," a group of officers wrote in an open letter to Germany's lawmakers, according to German online daily Netzeitung. They said reconnaissance was an "important part" of war actions.
"The results from the reconnaissance flights are to be immediately analyzed to support the fight of ground troops and bomber squads," they said.
The letter comes a week after Germany's Parliament removed the final hurdle to send eight Panavia Tornado reconnaissance aircraft -- six in constant flying, with two back-up planes -- and roughly 500 additional soldiers to Afghanistan to aid the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
The jets could arrive in Afghanistan as early as April 5, according to media reports.
Germany currently has nearly 3,000 soldiers stationed with ISAF, but they are confined to relatively peaceful northern Afghanistan. Germany has led the Provincial Reconstruction Teams in the north, and has been very successful in building up infrastructure, schools and other municipal institutions.
Nevertheless, Berlin has previously come under criticism from NATO officials for confining its troops to the north while the death toll in the south is rising. In light of the expected spring offensive of the Taliban, the Tornados are a much-needed support for the U.S., Canadian, Dutch and other soldiers fighting in the south.
Observers say the German government is eager to prove to its allies it wants to provide additional aid in Afghanistan. The deployment of reconnaissance planes is seen as a relatively safe way to do so, at least when it comes to human casualties.
The officers in their letter, however, argued that the Tornado mission lends a new, aggressive tone to the overall German presence in Afghanistan.
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Australian may send more troops to Afghanistan, says
PM Thu Mar 15, 12:29 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Australian Prime Minister John Howard said during a surprise trip to Afghanistan Thursday that his government may send more troops to combat Taliban militants in the insurgency-hit country.
Howard visited Australian troops stationed in Tirin Kot, the capital of the volatile southern province of Uruzgan, and later met Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
"We are looking at the possibility of some increase in our commitment to Afghanistan," Howard told a news conference, without giving details.
Australia, an ally in the US-led "war on terror," already has 550 troops in Afghanistan.
He ruled out any corresponding decrease of Australian troops in Iraq.
Howard also reaffirmed Australia's commitment to Karzai's government as it takes on Taliban-led militants who have waged a bloody insurgency since their ouster by US-led troops in late 2001.
"We remain committed as a nation to assisting Afghanistan in resisting terrorism, in resisting the Taliban forces," he said.
Howard acknowledged the challenging task ahead for NATO and Afghan troops. Last year was the deadliest in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, with around 4,000 people killed.
The Islamist movement has promised to launch a spring offensive as the harsh Afghan winter comes to an end.
"We don't pretend the challenge is easy, but our resolve to continue to assist you remains strong," he said.
NATO forces and Afghan troops on March 6 launched a major new operation codenamed "Achilles" in southern Helmand province, where the Taliban hold control of at least one district, Musa Qala.
Karzai told reporters that the forces, in consultation with local elders, were planning to clear the area of "terrorist elements" but were being careful to avoid civilian casualties.
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Self-immolation by Afghan women rising
ALISA TANG Associated Press March 15, 2007
KABUL, Afghanistan - One woman committed suicide by setting herself ablaze after her father-in-law tried to rape her. Another set herself on fire because her brothers would not let her marry, preferring that she remain their servant at home. Yet another told her mother before she died that her husband beat her daily.
Testimony gathered by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission documents how life for many Afghan women remains so bleak that some choose a horrific and painful death instead.
The group interviewed about 800 Afghans whose sisters, daughters and daughters-in-law have killed themselves by self-immolation to escape domestic abuse, forced marriage and other misogynistic social customs.
The report and anecdotal evidence from other rights workers suggests the phenomenon is growing, with desperate women sometimes mimicking what they have seen reported on TV.
"It's really a big problem in Afghanistan," said Nabila Wafiq, who has researched the issue for the aid group Medica Mondiale, which has interviewed women who survived their self-immolation attempts.
"When we asked most people why they committed self-immolation, they said that when they take pills, they don't die, but when they commit self-immolation they believe they will die, 100 percent."
Reports from Herat, in western Afghanistan, show about 90 women set fire to themselves last year there and more than 70 percent died. Afghanistan's poor health system can do little for the badly burned.
The commission report, released last week, covers Badghis, Herat, Farah, Nimroz and Kandahar, provinces that media and other reports suggest are the worst affected. However, women's rights advocates suspect that self-immolation is a nationwide problem.
The study indicates a marked increase in reported cases in two of the provinces. Two years ago in Farah province, there were 15 cases of self-immolation reported. That figure had jumped to 36 in the first six months of last year, the commission found. Kandahar province had 74 cases two years ago, and 77 cases in the first six months of this past year.
The statistics were recorded according to Afghanistan's calendar year, 1385, which ends March 20.
Of the other three provinces, Herat and Badghis showed a slight upward trend, and Nimroz a slight decline.
"These figures are shocking and indicative of the much wider problem of violence against women, the effects of which are far-reaching," said Caroline Hames, gender and politics specialist at the U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). "Self-immolation is just one of the consequences of such violence, which is a daily reality for so many women in Afghanistan."
Despite advances in women's rights since the fall in 2001 of the Taliban regime that barred education and employment for females, UNIFEM estimates that at least one out of three Afghan women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused. The abuser is usually a family member or someone she knows. Rarely is anyone prosecuted or even reprimanded.
Hussein Hasrat, a researcher who worked on the commission's report, said the data suggested a jump in the number of women committing suicide by fire. However, he acknowledged it was possible that the recorded increase was a result of better data.
Reliable nationwide statistics are not available. Many families cover up what happened because of shame, while a lack of medical care and government services mean many such cases are never officially recorded.
Wafiq said that Medica Mondiale has definitely seen more self-immolation cases. Often, she said, women mimic what they learn from news reports, which fail to point out that those who survive are scarred and deformed.
Fourteen pages of the commission's report are dedicated to brief descriptions by family members of reasons these women committed suicide. Most are because of rape, beatings and accusations against their honor. None of the dead women or their relatives are named in the report.
The mother of a victim in Badghis is quoted saying that her daughter committed self-immolation because her fiance accused her of getting pregnant by another man and would not accept the child as his own.
The mother of another victim said that her daughter was actually a victim of domestic violence although it was portrayed by others as a suicide.
"They beat my daughter a lot, then they poured fuel on her and said that she committed self-immolation," the mother says. She did not give details of the attackers.
Associated Press Writer Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.
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Musharraf's headache for the US
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / March 16, 2007
KARACHI - Little more than a year ago, policymakers in Washington began to explore ways to establish a more democratic, civilian system in Pakistan. This was despite President General Pervez Musharraf's firm grip on the affairs of state and despite his serving Washington's interests as an ally in the "war on terror".
In December 2005, some Central Intelligence Agency operators were sent to Pakistan to find possible senior pro-US army officers who might replace Musharraf as commander-in-chief of the armed forces and to increase contacts with pro-democracy forces for the establishment of a civilian government. 
The alternative strategy was considered imperative in Washington in light of growing unrest in Pakistan's civil society against the military establishment. This unrest was breeding radical Islamists, and Washington relied heavily on strongman Musharraf out of fear that such radicals might take control of the country if he were to go.
These efforts came to nothing, and Musharraf, who has held power since taking over in a coup in 1999, remained in control. However, with the Taliban poised for a massive spring offensive (in part with Pakistan's support),  Washington is once again concerned. According to a New York Times report, Washington's frustration at doing business with Musharraf is matched only by the fear of living without him.
Musharraf's suspension a week ago of the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Chaudhary, over allegations of abuse of power have brought matters to a crisis point.
After a prolonged political lull in Pakistan, scores of lawyers blocked the main roads of Islamabad on Tuesday when Chaudhary appeared for an in camera trial in front of a judicial council to face Musharraf's charges. Proceedings were put off until Friday.
Chaudhary's case has proved a catalyst for anti-Musharraf forces to flex some muscle. Members of the six-party religious alliance the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, the Pakistan People's Party Parliamentarians, and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and other opposition leaders took to the streets. They were accompanied by human-rights groups and other civil-society organizations.
The police, too, were out in force and several clashes took place, including in other parts of the country. Federal Minister of Information Mohammed Ali Durrani has repeatedly ruled out imposing a state of emergency, but this remains a possibility. In many districts of the country, "Section 144", under which no gatherings or rallies are allowed, has already been imposed.
In insurgency-torn Balochistan province, nationalist Pashtun and Balochi elements have taken full political advantage and joined hands with lawyers and other groups to stage protests and strikes.
Former prime minister Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain, head of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, has called the situation "an internal matter of the military and the judiciary".
The military establishment faces the choice of clamping down hard on opposition or allowing the protests to run their course.
"There is undoubtedly a political eruption after a prolonged political lull in the country, and if it is sustained it could go a long way. However, there is always a threat from the establishment that it will make some moves to divide the politicians and lawyers," commented retired Lieutenant-General Hamid Gul, a former head of the Inter-Services Intelligence.
"Musharraf created the situation where a clash of the military establishment and civil society seems to be imminent. There is .... anger among the masses towards the present military rulers," Gul said.
Militants feed off such anger, so once again Washington is pondering whether Musharraf may be more the problem than the solution.
1. See US turns against Musharraf, Asia Times Online, January 12, 2006.
2. See Pakistan makes a deal with the Taliban, Asia Times Online, March 1, 2007.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
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US to give Pakistan 750 mln dlrs for tribal areas
Islamabad (AFP) - The United States is to give Pakistan 750 million dollars over five years to develop its troubled tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, a senior US official said Thursday.
US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher announced the funding after holding talks with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, a lynchpin in the US-led "war on terror."
Washington and other Western allies have expressed concern about the regrouping of Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan's impoverished tribal belt and about peace deals between the government and rebels.
"I am pleased to announce I was able to confirm to the government of Pakistan that we will be providing 750 million dollars over five years to support the tribal area development strategy," Boucher told reporters.
"This commitment to the development of Pakistan, this commitment to the long-term relationship, is another example of the very broad and deep relationship we have," he added.
The administration of US President George W. Bush will seek the approval of Congress for the aid, Boucher said.
"This is a good plan, a comprehensive plan to provide economic development, education and other opportunities to the people who live in the border regions of Pakistan, the tribal areas in particular," he added.
The Pentagon was also asking the US Congress for 75 million dollars to upgrade the Frontier Corps, Pakistan's paramilitary border force that has borne the brunt of the fight against militants, he said.
Pakistan launched military operations in 2003 to clear the tribal areas of hundreds of Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants who fled Afghanistan after the fall of the ultra-Islamic Taliban regime in late 2001.
But after the deaths of hundreds of soldiers and around 1,000 militants it signed peace deals with tribal elders and insurgents in Waziristan. US officials in Afghanistan say attacks on foreign forces have since increased.
US Vice President Dick Cheney paid a surprise visit to Musharraf last month during which he urged him to crack down on militant safe-havens in the tribal areas, saying that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda were regrouping there.
Boucher however defended Musharraf's performance. "President Musharraf has been a very strong ally, Pakistan has been a very strong ally... we work closely with President Musharraf and the Pakistan government because we have common interest," he said.
The US official, who arrived in Islamabad on Wednesday from Kabul, was cooler on Pakistan's plans to fence part of the border with Afghanistan to stop the movement of militants. Afghan officials have rejected the move.
"Militarily, fencing may have a role, that is something that is best worked out in a common discussion. We hope that discussions will take place -- we can help with that," Boucher said.
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Australia backs embattled Pakistani president
Sydney (AFP) - Australia on Thursday threw its support behind Pakistan's beleaguered President Pervez Musharraf, calling him an important figure in the global fight against terrorism.
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said he hoped Musharraf could "hold on" in the face of an outbreak of protests over the suspension of the country's top judge.
"President Musharraf is a very important figure in the fight against terrorism," Downer told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
"The prospect of some alternative leader of Pakistan coming from nowhere and us having no sense of what that person's view would be on terrorism, that's a worry for us.
"We certainly hope that President Musharraf is able to hold on -- I've no reason to believe he's not." On Wednesday, Pakistani lawyers boycotted courts for a third day in protest at the suspension of chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.
Lawyers wearing black armbands and chanting anti-Musharraf slogans also staged rallies in cities including Karachi, Multan and Lahore, where opposition politicians joined in.
The protests come at a time when Pakistan is under pressure from its western allies to prevent militants in its lawless tribal regions from launching attacks on NATO and US-led forces across the border in Afghanistan.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force has 37,000 troops in Afghanistan, while there are also around 14,000 troops in the US-led coalition focussed on counterterrorism.
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Anti-Government Protests Flare in Islamabad
Protesters Clash With Police; Call for Musharraf's Resignation
By Griff Witte Washington Post Friday, March 16, 2007; 8:52 AM
KABUL, Afghanistan, March 16 -- The controversy over Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's decision to suspend the nation's chief justice escalated dramatically Friday, as thousands of boisterous protesters clashed with police in downtown Islamabad and the government detained key opposition leaders.
Musharraf suspended the Supreme Court's chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, last week, and since then anger over the move has grown. For much of the day Friday, protesters from across Pakistan's political spectrum jammed the area around the Supreme Court building, where a hearing on Chaudhry's fate was set to be held. The protesters chanted anti-government slogans and called for Musharraf's resignation.
Witnesses at the scene said that the police used tear gas, rubber bullets and baton charges in an attempt to disperse the crowd, and that they arrested numerous opposition leaders. The Pakistani media reported that perhaps dozens of opposition members also had been detained in advance of the rally.
Among those reportedly detained were a former president of Pakistan, Rafiq Tarar; Qazi Hussain Ahmad, chief of the Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal, a coalition of Islamic parties; and members of the parties of former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto.
Information minister Tariq Aziz Khan said he could not confirm the arrests, but said that the government was taking steps "to maintain law and order." Islamabad was under extremely tight security Friday. Police checked cars entering the city and areas around key government buildings were ringed with razor wire.
The government also made moves to suppress media coverage of the controversy. The regulatory agency that governs broadcasting blocked a television news show hosted by journalist Kamran Khan on the private Geo network Thursday night.
Khan, who is also a correspondent for the Washington Post, said in an interview that the government had considered his coverage of the judge's dismissal to be "too aggressive."
The information minister said the Geo program had violated a request by a judiciary council handling Chaudhry's case that the media not speculate about the situation.
Late in the day, police ransacked Geo TV's Islamabad offices.
The government has not said specifically why Chaudhry was suspended, only saying the judge abused his authority. But opposition parties and Pakistani media accounts have alleged the suspension came because Musharraf was concerned Chaudhry would require the president to step down as chief of army staff later this year.
Musharraf headed the army when he came to power in 1999 during a bloodless coup, and he has held onto that title during his tenure as president. Musharraf is due to face elections either later this year or early in 2008. Although Musharraf has maintained relatively broad popularity in Pakistan, analysts said Chaudhry's suspension has united disparate elements of Pakistan's opposition.
"Nothing like this has happened during the time Musharraf has been in power," said Ayaz Amir, a columnist for the English-language Dawn newspaper. "This has shaken the country. It has shaken the government. This is the most serious situation Musharraf has faced, and it has all the potential of getting out of hand and turning into something bigger."
Opposition parties and lawyers have held protests across the country since Chaudhry's suspension, with lawyers at times boycotting their courtrooms. But Friday's protest was by far the largest in Islamabad, witnesses said.
Special correspondent Shahzad Khurram contributed to this report from Islamabad.
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Three stoned, shot dead for adultery in Pakistan
Peshawar (AFP) - Pro-Taliban extremists in a Pakistani tribal area stoned and then shot dead two men and a woman for alleged adultery, officials and witnesses said Thursday.
Some 800 tribesmen watched the executions by the Lashkar-i-Islam (Army of Islam) group on Wednesday in the Khyber tribal district on the border with Afghanistan, they said.
The trio were tied up with ropes, and tribal elders and other men gathered at a patch of open ground and stoned them. Two masked members of the hardline group then shot them with Kalashnikov rifles, witnesses said.
The killings are likely to fuel concern about the "Talibanisation" of parts of Pakistan and the introduction of Islamic Sharia law, particularly in the tribal areas and in North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan.
"The Lashkar-i-Islam men caught them and after investigations it was proved that they were guilty of adultery," a group member told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Members of the religious group, led by cleric Mangal Bagh, raided a house on Monday and abducted the three after local residents suspected them of "illicit" activities, local residents in the Bara region said.
The victims were named as Allah Noor and Shahzad while the woman was identified as Taslima.
The local administration said it did not intervene in the situation as the restive tribal agencies are semi-autonomous and Pakistani laws do not apply.
"We had reports about the killings, but we do not interfere in the matters related to tribal customs and traditions," a tribal administration official told AFP.
Last year 25 people died in street battles in Bara between mullahs who used illegal radio stations to preach rival versions of Islam. One of the mullahs, Mufti Munir Shakir, is the spiritual leader of the Lashkar-i-Islami chief.
The latest killings come less than two months after two lovers were tied to trees and stoned to death by angry relatives in Donga Bonga village in central Punjab province, in a so-called "honour killing".
Pakistan's conservative tribal areas became a haven for Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants who fled the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001. Most people in the region are ethnic Pashtuns, like the Taliban.
Under the ultra-Islamic Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001 in Afghanistan, which was backed by Pakistan, there were numerous reports of women being stoned to death for adultery.
President Pervez Musharraf launched military operations in 2003 to rid the tribal zone of Islamic militants, but he has been criticised for signing peace deals with rebels in North and South Waziristan districts.
Militants in parts of northwest Pakistan have recently torched video shops and televisions and banned barbers from shaving beards.
US Vice President Dick Cheney told Musharraf in February to crack down on Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants who are "regrouping" in the tribal belt.
"Pakistan is paying the price for supporting extremists in Afghanistan. First we got Kalashnikov culture and heroin during the Afghan jihad and now the Talibanisation of our society," said Iqbal Haider, secretary general of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
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Ismail Khan Criticizes U.S., Karzai's Government
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
HERAT, Afghanistan; March 14, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- An Afghan minister today marked the 28th anniversary of a major uprising against Soviet forces in Afghanistan with a memorial speech critical of both the United States and the Afghan government.
Water and Energy Minister Ismail Khan told the memorial gathering in Herat that he is upset about allegations from U.S. groups that he and other anti-Soviet fighters were responsible for war crimes: "Those who sent us stinger missiles and billions of dollars in aid told us our Holy War [against Soviet occupation] was justified. Today [they are] calling us warlords and violators of human rights."
Ismail Khan also said the government in Kabul is failing to implement Islamic law as required by the Afghan constitution. He said Afghan television broadcasts showing women dancers from Turkmenistan and Tajikistan are evidence that the government in Kabul is not implementing Islamic law.
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Defence wants to stop Afghan torture investigation
March 15, 2007 - CANADIAN PRESS
The Defence Department says it may go to court to block a military watchdog from investigating a complaint about Canada's handling of prisoners in Afghanistan.
If it goes to court, lawyers might still be arguing long after Canadian soldiers have left Afghanistan.
The move could lead to a court showdown between the department and the Military Police Complaints Commission, or it could prompt the commission to take its investigation into the open with formal public hearings.
The department questions the jurisdiction of the commission to look into the complaint filed last month by Amnesty International Canada and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.
The rights groups said Canadian military police handed prisoners over to Afghan authorities, even though they should have known that Afghan police and the security directorate "routinely torture prisoners." They cited 18 specific cases of individuals who were turned over to the Afghan system.
The department, however, argues that there's no evidence that any prisoner handed over by Canadians was ever tortured.
Jason Gratl, president of the B.C. association, said a court case could drag out for years and delay the investigation to the point where "the bodies would have long been buried and the evidence lost."
"The Department of Justice is a department that is quite capable of engaging in protracted litigation," he said. "The nearly limitless resources that the Canadian government has would allow this litigation to possibly have a duration longer than the expected participation of Canadians troops in Afghanistan."
Col. Patrick Gleeson of the judge advocate general's office wrote to the commission earlier this week to say that, after reviewing commission chairman Peter Tinsley's decision to take on the case, the department and the Canadian Forces take the position that the complaint is outside the commission's mandate.
"We are therefore considering whether to instruct the attorney general of Canada to commence an application for judicial review of Mr. Tinsley's decision with respect to this specific complaint," he said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Canadian Press.
Gleeson said the complaint involves "a hypothetical determination that a detainee might have been or might in the future be, tortured by Afghanistan authorities – with no evidence or even an allegation that a detainee transferred by the (Forces) was ever tortured."
He went on to say that the matter covers "a high-level, multi-departmental government of Canada policy regarding the transfer of detainees by the Canadian Forces to Afghanistan authorities and an arrangement made with the government of Afghanistan pursuant to this policy."
He added that the practice of handing over prisoners is ``directed by the operational chair of command and is required to be followed by all (Canadian Forces) members involved in the handling of detainees, not just the military police."
The commission wrote back, saying Tinsley's February decision was clear and "the complaint in question raises grounds relating to the conduct of members of the military police in an activity which is expressly enumerated in the regulations" of the National Defence Act.
Stan Blythe, chief of staff to the commission, said the government's letter was unusual.
"They've essentially asked this commission to explain their intentions ... and that seems like a very unusual thing to ask a tribunal to do. We are, after all, an independent tribunal with a statutory jurisdiction."
The commission was also counting on the department for help in obtaining documents and witnesses. If the department goes to Federal Court, that kind of co-operation is unlikely.
However, Tinsley has the option of calling public hearings. He decided against hearings initially, but could change his mind. "If there is a lack of co-operation ... that's a factor which could lead the chair to reconsider and call a public hearing," said Blythe.
Gratl said he recognizes that the department has the right to question jurisdiction. "We believe that their right should not be exercised and the commission should be permitted to carry on with its job and fulfil its mandate to investigate the conduct of the military police," he said.
"If the Department of Defence chooses to slowly grind our complaint to death using delays at the Federal Court of Canada it may well be able to do so. "We believe, though, that they ought to let the commission carry out its mandate."
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Setting limits on our Afghan commitment
March 15, 2007 – CBC JEREMY KINSMAN: DIPLOMATICALLY SPEAKING
So it goes. Power is again shifting in the world today, making the managing of change the enduring challenge of foreign policy.
Some argue that under the strains of big tectonic shifts — America bogged down, the rise of China — the golden age of multilateralism is winding down. Others maintain that the period ahead represents its best chance for recovery.
Whichever the case, Canada has interests at stake and values to uphold, such as human rights, and an international trade and payments system that is reliable.
But the danger for us that we may be losing our ability to focus on enough of our real priorities and that we are becoming increasingly consumed by one overriding concern — our escalating commitment to Afghanistan.
From a foreign policy standpoint, the project has important merit — provided it can strengthen our broader international capacity and not reduce it. But we have to be able to chase several goals simultaneously. And this probably means we should set limits on our Afghan engagement.
In governments, the avatars of change are policy planners. Internationally, they inhabit a special zone, talking to each other under the convention of "planners' rules," which permits them to speculate independently of the positions of their political masters.
Often, their trial balloons become reality when the timing is right, such as Washington's steps at the moment to engage such George W. Bush pariahs as Iran and Syria, a policy shift presaged by the Iraq Study Group report, among others.
In Ottawa, the notion of trying to talk with moderate Taliban is on the planners' table.
Whether this will come to pass of course remains to be seen. The main role of ever-fretful planners is to serve as a "get-ready corps" to prepare governments at least intellectually for change.
Arthur J. Schlesinger Jr. (John Kennedy's favourite historian), set the tone in 1948 when he described "Western man in the middle of the 20th century," as "tense, uncertain, adrift."
Under this scenario, surprise would always be the norm. But who could have foreseen so many of the shocking events that followed, Kennedy's assassination among them.
Predictable or not, though, nations must be able to adapt to the great sea changes in world affairs like the Iranian revolution in 1979, which signalled a huge upheaval in the Muslim world; the advent of Soviet glasnost and perestroika in the late 1980s, which would end the bitter Cold War; or today's over-arching dynamic of globalization.
The rise of China and India, slated to be the world's number two and number four economies by 2025, greatly alters the global landscape. The so-called emerging economies now account for over 50 per cent of world industrial production, though in general their per capita incomes have not increased much, outside of China.
Planners hoped that the globalization of financial, trade and information would be matched by a corresponding convergence of political and cultural values. Instead, identity-based backlash is occurring.
What this means, in part, is that the rigid assumptions of international financial institutions and the World Trade Organization are consequently in for changes, particularly in the aftermath of the collapse of the Doha Round of trade negotiations, which turned out to be about very little of consequence to anybody.
In partial reaction, regional blocs are emerging. Irrespective of their testy political relations, the economies of Japan and China are becoming increasingly joined at the hip.
Asian economies are consolidating according to what some commentators call "Asian values." So, too, are some of the larger Latin American countries through the trade agreement known as Mercosur.
The U.S. is now vigorously courting these trade blocs, witness Bush's recent five-day trip through the heart of Latin America, and corporate America's unrelenting pitch to sell clean-coal technology to China. It's also talking about more economic and regulatory convergence with the European Union, which raises the question: Why isn't Canada more active in these arenas as well?
The international political and security landscape is going through a similar shift in weights and opportunities. With America's global influence on the wane because of the Iraq debacle, U.S. planners are now weighing the appeal of a more collective world leadership to co-manage key security issues, as briefly happened in 1990-92.
The question today: Will China participate as an important conservative stakeholder in stability? Will Russia join the team?
If so, the playbook is going to need adjustment to reflect the fact that, just as in economics, one size does not fit all. Altogether, the strengthening of international institutions is very much in Canada's interests. Assuming we have the wherewithal to play our cards right.
Our (UN-sanctioned) role and experience in Afghanistan could enhance our influence, if we widen our diplomacy beyond the enclosure of the Afghan theatre itself. No planner could have foreseen we would have been this engaged for so long with such an unlikely partner. Nor that it would be so costly.
When Gen. Rick Hillier sold then prime minister Paul Martin on Canada exchanging duty in Kabul for more ambitious tasks in the Kandahar region, Martin sought assurance that Canadian forces could still handle other peace-making duties abroad, having in mind a possible UN force in Sudan's Darfur.
Hillier said this could be the case but he had evidently not expected the Taliban would re-emerge in such force, with new equipment and tactics including suicide bombing.
Today, our military capacity is too absorbed by this intensified struggle to permit participation in another multinational military exercise. We've made our choice. But for how long can we keep it up?
Almost everyone acknowledges that military force alone won't help Afghanistan develop the economic, social and political stability it has never had, and the Harper government has really ramped up our development and other assistance.
In government, it is becoming an all-consuming and ever-widening cause. Public service managers have been told that if their foreign policy and aid activities aren't connected to Afghanistan they aren't on the agenda.
This may be a sound application of Stephen Harper's vaunted emphasis on focus. But with a government agenda narrowed to a few goals, the effect is to deny political-level attention to international activity of probably greater relevance to direct Canadian interests, particularly in trade.
Prime Minister Harper has taken to referring to Canada as a "global leader." And from the foreshortened perspective of a minority government, it is hard not to see Afghanistan as the one essential statement of our international bona fides.
But we can't be a "global leader" without actively deploying our credit over a much wider agenda, especially in a time of great impending change.
Even though the modus operandi of his government is that not much from the past is of value, Harper could benefit from reflection on the perspectives of some of his predecessors.
Pierre Trudeau, for example, believed our important relationships all over the world were what made Canada a global power. We need to pursue them still. For Brian Mulroney, these relationships and our multilateralist vocation allowed Canada to punch above her weight on several fronts.
This concentration on Afghanistan is welcome by many in the international community, but it does carry serious opportunity costs for us. Our planners need to get to work on keeping Canadian interests and values competitive across the board while at the same time making sure we succeed in Kandahar and get out when we said we would in 2009.
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Major batch of drugs and arms seized on Tajik-Afghan border
DUSHANBE, March 15 (Itar-Tass) - - Tajik border-guards prevented overnight a break-through of a group of armed smugglers from Afghanistan, Itar-Tass learnt at the Border Troops Department of the Tajik National Security Committee on Thursday.
According to the available information, spotting several transgressors who were trying to cross the Pyandzh River from the territory of Afghanistan, a detail of a frontier post of the Pyandzh border detachment opened precautionary fire. After a 15-minute shootout the transgressors left their homemade crossing means and under the cover of fire from the Afghan side escaped to Afghanistan.
At the site of the incident, border-guards found two sacks with opium and heroin weighing 23 kilograms, a Kalashnikov submachine-gun, a pistol, a rifle and two boats.
As of the beginning of the year, according to the department, this is the fifth armed clash with Afghan smugglers on the Tajik border. “Tension on the border will increase, taking into account that a record-high harvest of opium - - over 6,000 tonnes was raised in Afghanistan last year,” a representative of Tajikistan’s secret services explained. Since the beginning of the year, more than 500 kilograms of opium and heroin have been seized on the Tajik-Afghan border.
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Beards - and polio - in Taliban country
Asia Times Online / March 14, 2007 - By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR - "Shaving beard isn't done here. Contact only for hair cut," reads a sign pasted outside the entrance of a barber's shop in Upper Dir, a rugged and mountainous district in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) that borders Afghanistan.
All the barber shops in Timergarah, the district headquarters, and Munda have stopped providing shaving services since leaflets advising them that it was Islamic to grow a beard were distributed by an unnamed group last Tuesday.
On March 4, there were explosions inside two saloons, a music shop and four other shops in the adjoining Bajaur Agency, part of the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies along the restive Afghan border. The Taliban have banned music in the tribal areas, and have started fining taxi drivers found listening to music.
According to news reports, a video shop in front of a police station in Bannu, the home town of NWFP Chief Minister Akram Durrani, was attacked by armed men suspected to be Taliban on February 27, who destroyed compact-disc players and CDs of Urdu, English and Indian films.
The district of Tank, on the border with South Waziristan, has slipped into the control of the Taliban. There is a total collapse of civil administration. Police stations remain closed after sundown and Taliban fighters patrol the streets and the bazaars riding on their favorite Datsun pickups.
Most Taliban groups and their al-Qaeda friends crossed over to Pakistan's tribal region after US-led forces toppled their government in Afghanistan in late 2001. Since then, thousands of people, including Taliban fighters and locals, have died in military attacks conducted by either the US or the Pakistan Army.
"The spillover of militancy from tribal areas to settled parts of the NWFP is understandable, because the establishment is supporting the Taliban and al-Qaeda," asserted Peshawar-based Afrasiab Khattak, a lawyer and human-rights activist who is an expert on Afghanistan.
According to Khattak, missile and air attacks by the US on alleged "terrorist" targets inside Pakistan's tribal areas have worked to the advantage of the Taliban, who have increased their support base in these border regions. There are persistent reports that sympathetic tribesmen are providing shelter and support to Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda fugitives.
Last September, President General Pervez Musharraf signed a controversial peace deal with the Pakistan-based Taliban groups, which has resulted in a new assertiveness displayed by the Islamic radicals in these Pashtun-dominated, semi-autonomous border areas.
"Both the Pakistan and Afghanistan governments are accusing one another of supporting the Taliban and al-Qaeda, but practically both have failed to stem the tide of militancy," commented Ashraf Ali, a scholar at Peshawar University who is researching the Taliban.
Administrative control in North and South Waziristan and Swat district has slowly slipped into the hands of radicals. A demoralized police force, which has been the target of suicide attacks - most recently in January - is unable to provide protection to businesses banned by the Taliban. Some music-shop owners have moved to Peshawar.
"The Taliban frequently visited our shop and asked us to close down. One day, they delivered an ultimatum: either you close it or we will do it for you," said Hamza Khan, whose family owned a chain of music shops in Tank for 20 years, and has now relocated to Peshawar.
The local Taliban burned TV sets even in Charsadda district, which is adjacent to Peshawar. "The government has lost its writ due to which the Taliban are thriving," observed Ali, who is doing his doctorate.
Even girls' schools in upscale Peshawar are receiving anonymous threats of suicide bombing. Several schools were recently forced to close after the administration received threatening letters. The Taliban are against providing education for girls and letting women work.
Last month, two government-run girls' schools in Mardan, the second-biggest district in NWFP, were shut down as a precaution after warnings from Taliban groups. Another letter warned that female students must be veiled from head to toe or the schools would be blown up.
Religious extremists in the district of Swat have derailed the government's anti-polio campaign. At the forefront is a charismatic local cleric, Maulana Fazlullah. "Anyone getting crippled by polio or killed by an epidemic is a martyr," he announced at a sermon during Friday prayers.
The cleric, who likes to ride on a horse followed by his supporters in the bazaars, said: "Vaccination of children against polio is a conspiracy by the US to make the coming generation sterile."
In February 2006, in neighboring Darra Adamkhel, religious extremists killed a senior doctor and health workers involved in the polio campaign.
Anti-US sentiments are growing even in Peshawar city, rued researcher Ali. "Some barbers are refusing to shave off beards - a sign of their hatred for the US," he said. (Inter Press Service)
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Afghanistan: Taliban blocks polio vaccination
TARINKOT , 15 March 2007 (IRIN) - Gulalai, 45, has always viewed the health of her children as a top priority and is not afraid to speak up about it. "It's been two years and still no one has come to vaccinate my children against polio," the mother-of-five told IRIN.
But living in the heartland of Afghanistan's Uruzgan province - where a growing anti-government insurgency has made vaccinations all but impossible - Gulalai has no illusions as to why.
"The vaccinators don't feel safe. They won't come and our children will suffer," she said from the town of Madabot, a dust-ridden community of 15,000 people just 15km from the provincial capital of Tarinkot.
Four other women in the area that IRIN interviewed echoed her view.
"People say the children in Tarinkot have been vaccinated, but unfortunately our children haven't," Moahboba, 28, said from the doorway of her simple mud brick home in Dorafshan, 20km northwest of Tarinkot. "The vaccinators do not come here because the security situation doesn't allow it."
Polio is a debilitating disease that mainly strikes children.
For polio vaccinators working on the frontlines of an emerging Taliban resurgence and earning just US $50 per month, the 15 or 20km trip from the provincial capital to outlying towns and villages is too much of a risk to take.
"While I was traveling to Tarinkot, the Taliban stopped my bus and forced me outside," said Hamdullah, a government polio vaccinator who was beaten and harassed on 16 February while on duty.
"They slapped my face. They held me for eight hours before releasing me," the 35-year-old said. "They made me promise that I would not vaccinate any more children - threatening to kill me if I did."
Aid workers threatened
The Taliban have long eyed aid workers with suspicion, suspecting them to be collaborating with Western military forces. Aid workers have repeatedly been warned and threatened to leave the country or face the consequences. "If they won't stop their work, we will target them, like we've targeted them in the past," said Qari Yousef Ahmadi, purportedly a Taliban spokesman, to the Associated Press late last year.
Threats of violence are having a serious impact on Afghanistan's overall polio eradication efforts.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Afghanistan had a severe polio outbreak in 2006, largely because of conflict in the south severely impeding access to children during immunisation rounds.
Health specialists agree that eradicating the polio virus is no longer a technical issue only. Polio eradication hinges on vaccine supply, the outlook of the local community, funding and, most of all, support from political leaders at all levels.
While the first three points are essentially in place in Afghanistan, getting support from political leaders will prove key to the success of a polio eradication campaign, specialists say.
Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Nigeria are the four countries worldwide where polio remains endemic, according to the WHO.
Impact of insecurity
Specialists say the transmission of the virus continues to take place in areas where insecurity is high as large immunity gaps among young children exist.
To control outbreaks and interrupt transmission, vaccinators need to reach all children everywhere through high-quality vaccination campaigns, with a particular focus on children in border areas and in mobile populations.
Of the 31 confirmed cases of polio in Afghanistan in 2006, 29 occurred in rural areas of the south - designated by UN security officials as "very high risk areas".
The WHO estimates that in 2006 alone, vaccinators were unable to access an estimated 125,000 children in the south and south-eastern regions of the country due to insecurity.
Of this number, about 75,000 were in the southern provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan, Zabul and Nimruz, and 50,000 in the south-eastern provinces of Paktia, Paktika, Khost and Ghazni.
"Security is the primary challenge we face in successfully eradicating polio from Afghanistan today," Dr Tahir Pervaiz Mir, head of WHO's polio eradication drive in Afghanistan, told IRIN in Kabul.
Each year, WHO, in collaboration with the UN children's agency, UNICEF, and the Afghan health ministry, initiates four national immunisation drives (NIDs) and has additional sub-national immunisation drives in the areas deemed to be at particularly high risk.
Supplementary rounds generally carried out in January and February annually in the south - 10 in 2006 alone - have proven especially difficult for vaccinators. "During the February vaccination rounds, our teams were not able to access around 100,000 children in the southern region because of insecurity," Mir noted.
Echoing Mir's concern on the impact insecurity was having, Saifudin Khan, a health officer for Urozgan's provincial health department, said, "We have not been able to carry out any vaccinations in areas like Dorafshan, Madabot and Charmestan because of the security situation. When any of our volunteers go to these areas, the Taliban destroy their tools and threaten to kill them."
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U.S. Pays Kin in Deaths of Afghan Boys
By JASON STRAZIUSO - The Associated Press Wednesday, March 14, 2007
CHINAR, Afghanistan -- The American colonel bowed his head at the fresh dirt graves of three young boys marked by brightly colored martyrs' flags Wednesday. Then he sat down next to the boys' fathers, expressed his condolences and handed them an envelope full of cash.
Lt. Col. Brian Mennes, commander of a paratrooper regiment in the 82nd Airborne Division, said his visit to a simple mud-brick home was a sign of respect and an attempt to mend relations after the boys were mistakenly killed during the latest NATO offensive.
"I doubt many countries in the world, particularly that have been fighting here, go to these lengths to show the people we're sorry when bad things happen, even in very complex situations when you have the enemy fighting among the people," he said. "I doubt the Soviets did this," he added, referring to fighting during the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
The display of sorrow _ and compensation _ was part of a campaign to calm Afghan anger over civilian deaths. While the U.S. made payments after a military truck crash last May set off rioting in Kabul, any restitution for deaths of civilians from combat haven't been publicized.
The three youngsters were killed by an airstrike Saturday. Mennes said his unit, 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, launched an attack after intelligence indicated Taliban fighters had gathered.
Civilian deaths have been a growing problem during the U.S. and NATO fight against a resurgent Taliban. President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly pleaded with Western forces to avoid harming innocent Afghans, fearing deaths will turn people against the international effort and breed vengeance among aggrieved tribal families.
An Associated Press tally indicates the deaths of about 40 civilians this year could be attributed to NATO or U.S. action, based on figures from military and Afghan officials. That is out of a total of 83 civilian deaths from combat counted by AP.
AP counted at least 95 Afghan civilians killed during assaults by NATO and the U.S.-led coalition in 2006. It tallied 512 total civilian combat deaths for the year.
Earlier this month, Afghan witnesses and officials said U.S. military action may have killed up to 19 civilians in one day _ up to 10 shot by Marines after being attacked by a suicide bomber March 5 and nine killed in an airstrike when Taliban fighters took refuge in a home.
U.S. commanders say Taliban fighters often attack American troops and then hide in civilian homes, putting women and children in harm's way as they try to escape retaliation, or even to cause the deaths of innocent people as a way to kindle anger against foreign troops.
Mennes said it was possible the three boys killed Saturday were used as human shields. It wasn't known whether any Taliban fighters died in the airstrike, and he declined to share more details, citing military security.
"I can't say conclusively" that the kids were used as human shields, he said. "But the Taliban does fight among the people."
The 82nd Airborne paratroopers in this mountainous region straddling Helmand and Kandahar provinces are providing a security cordon for the heart of NATO's newest offensive, Operation Achilles. British soldiers are doing the heaviest fighting just across a mountain pass from Chinar in Helmand province.
The Americans are the first international soldiers stationed in the area since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001. U.S. commanders describe this as Taliban country, and lush green opium poppy fields grow everywhere _ including across from Chinar's police station.
After a lunch with local elders at Chinar's police compound, Mennes walked through the village accompanied by a security detail.
As children peeked from behind doors, the U.S. contingent stopped at the village cemetery, where three fresh mounds were covered in stones and marked by six tall sticks with colored pieces of cloth tied to them _ a sign that a "martyr" was buried there.
Four elderly men in turbans said a short prayer, then Mennes, his command sergeant major and an Afghan army commander met with the fathers of the dead boys, two of whom were brothers.
A prayer was said by one of 15 turbaned men squinting into a setting sun, and the Afghan officer told the gathered men: "May God bless the boys and God bless the family and may no tragedy like this happen again."
"I know there is nothing we can do to ease your pain," Mennes told the fathers, one of whom continually dabbed his eyes with his scarf. "We just came to express our condolences and compensate a little bit for the loss."
Earlier, Mennes gave the family $600 to buy food for visiting friends and relatives. On Wednesday, he gave the fathers $6,000 more, telling them the $2,000 gift for each child was on behalf of the Afghan government.
U.S. soldiers patrolling in the valley earlier ran over a farmer's crops in the area, and Mennes said he would also be paid compensation.
He said soldiers try to be "polite and respectful" during missions, and try to make up for it when things go wrong. He said he is always aware of the human aspect of war.
"This is not like going to work at Wal-Mart," Mennes said. "Everything we do affects so many people. We try to stay extremely conscious of the effects we have both on our enemy and the people we're trying to help."
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Daily Afghan Report
March 14, 2007 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
Afghan President Leaves Door Open For Negotiations With Hekmatyar
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
Afghan And Pakistani 'Peace Jirga' Delegations To Curb 'Blame Game'...
Members of the Afghan "peace jirga" visiting Islamabad to meet with their Pakistani counterparts agreed with their hosts on March 12 to stop the "blame game" between the two countries, the Karachi daily "Dawn" reported on March 13 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 13, 2007). The "peace jirga" -- officially known as the Jirga for Regional Peace and Prosperity -- hopes to enlist tribes from both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border to fight against terrorism and militancy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The two sides also discussed cross-border movement of terrorists and the repatriation of Afghan refugees. The Afghan and Pakistani delegations agreed that the discussions should begin on a governmental level before going to a tribal jirga. AT
...As Afghan Defense Ministry Says Fencing Of Border Will Have Negative Effect On Jirga
In a press release on March 13, the Afghan Defense Ministry stated that erecting barbed-wire fences across the Afghan-Pakistani border will negatively impact on the "peace jirga," the state-run Bakhtar News Agency reported. According to the statement, there are reports that Pakistan is fencing part of the border in the Barmal district in Afghanistan's southeastern Paktika Province. The Afghan Defense Ministry, reiterating Kabul's longstanding policy, stated that fences and mines will not prevent terrorists from crossing the border, but will divide communities that have historical ties. Islamabad has discussed plans to install reinforcements at strategic points along its border with Afghanistan since 2005, receiving negative responses from Kabul mainly because Afghanistan does not recognize the border, which has divided Pashtun tribes since 1893 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," January 15, 2007). AT
Three Suicide Attacks Leave Four Dead In Southern And Western Afghanistan
A suicide bomber killed "at least" one police officer and injured several others on March 12 in Farah Province, Bakhtar News Agency reported on March 13. Farah Governor Mohayuddin Baluch said that the bomber rammed his explosive-laden vehicle into a police convoy. In a separate suicide attack, three civilians were killed and eight were injured in the border town of Spin Boldak in Kandahar Province on March 13. The bomber -- driving in from Pakistan -- set off the explosives he was carrying when police became suspicious and attempted to search him, Xinhua News Agency reported on March 13. In the third incident, a suicide bomber injured two Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers in Lashkargah, the provincial capital of Helmand Province, Bakhtar reported. Speaking for the Taliban, Qari Yusof Ahmadi claimed on March 13 that the Lashkargah blast took the lives of 10 ANA soldiers, Pajhwak News Agency reported. AT
ISAF Confirms Death Of 'Extremist' Taliban Commander, Rejects Claim Of Civilian Deaths
Taliban leader Mullah Jamaluddin and several of his men were killed in "precision air strikes" in Helmand Province on March 7 by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), according to a March 13 ISAF press release. "Jamaluddin was a violent Taliban extremist commander," said Lieutenant Colonel Rory Bruce, the ISAF Task Force Helmand spokesman. After ISAF air strikes in Helmand on March 7, the Taliban claimed that women and children were killed. However, a "comprehensive assessment" of the attacks was "completed and ISAF can confirm that no women and children were killed" in the attack, the statement added (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 7, 2007). AT
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Afghan treasure heads home
[ 15 Mar, 2007 2326hrs IST AP ] – Times of India
GENEVA: It was a treasure-in-exile. Piece by piece, the cherished objects from Afghanistan were assembled in Switzerland in a rare agreement among Afghans after nearly 20 years of fighting against Soviet occupation and then each other.
Even the Taliban, who later were to destroy the gigantic Buddha statues at Bamiyan, joined in the race to save the country's national heritage - jewellery, documents, a foundation stone laid by Alexander the Great; and the simple implements of Afghan life - an ornamented copper waterpipe, a wooden pitchfork and hand-woven carpets.
Now, international and Afghan authorities have declared Kabul safe for their return, and the collection of some 1,500 pieces is going home to Afghanistan's national museum, probably on March 15 aboard a German air force plane.
In 1998, when Afghans realised that most of its national heritage had been destroyed, they asked Switzerland to take what remained, Paul Bucherer, director of the Afghanistan Museum in the north-western Swiss town of Bubendorf, said.
"It was a joint request from the Taliban and the Northern Alliance," two of the major fighting forces at the time, said Bucherer, an expert in Afghan history and culture who has often visited the country and had high-level contact with both sides.
But getting the treasure out of Afghanistan was extremely difficult. A cargo flight that would have brought thousands of artifacts to Switzerland in 2000 had to be cancelled because of problems in obtaining international legal authorisation to export the objects, Bucherer said.
In fighting the following January, the collection was destroyed, he said. But individuals had already started bringing items to the Swiss museum Afghans on trips to Europe, Europeans who had collected artifacts while living in Afghanistan in more peaceful times. The first objects were brought "by Taliban and other Afghans carried in their hand-luggage in 1999".
Alexander laid the foundation stone when he started building the Greek city now known as Ai-Khanum, in northern Afghanistan, some 2,300 years ago.
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Afghanistan wants Dutch troops to stay
Xinhua / March 15, 2007
The Afghan Parliament speaker said Wednesday in The Hague that his country wants Dutch troops to stay there longer than their two-year term, Dutch media reports said Thursday.
After meeting Dutch Development Cooperation Minister Bert Koenders on Wednesday, Qanooni said Afghanistan hopes the Netherlands will continue to be involved in the country in both a military and a humanitarian capacity even after its mandate expires in August 2008.
Qanooni said he appreciated the commitment from the international troops, whose mission is to help stabilize the war-torn country. He said security is crucial for building up democracy.
The speaker said combating poppy cultivation and the drug trade was one of the greatest challenges faced by his country. He agreed with the Netherlands that a careful strategy is needed.
In the past the approach was to work upwards, first taking on the farmers and then dealing with the drug barons, but that is going to work the other way round from now on, Qanooni said.
Koenders said the Netherlands does not agree with the Afghan government on the controversial pardon arrangement, which he said allows warlords "with blood on their hands" to walk free.
But Qanooni defended his country's newly passed amnesty bill, saying it is the only way to bring stability to the country. He emphasized that not everyone is eligible for the pardon.
The Afghan parliament's lower house, or Wolesi Jirga, passed an amended bill on Saturday that would give amnesty to groups involved in war crimes during more than two decades of war in the country.
Qanooni also met with Dutch Defense Minister Eimert van Middelkoop, Dutch Parliament Speaker Gerdi Verbeet and other legislators. No details were given on these talks.
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The Taliban's brothers in alms
By Syed Saleem Shahzad - Asia Times Online / March 14, 2007
ISLAMABAD - The initial shots in the Taliban's spring offensive have already been fired in southwestern Afghanistan, and the chances of the insurgents winning against some of the best-equipped soldiers in the world are being keenly assessed.
At the same time, across the border in the heart of Pakistan's capital Islamabad and beyond, the Taliban's seedlings are growing into trees. The spread of Taliban-style radical Islam, which has already taken control of large areas of the tribal regions of North and South
Waziristan and North West Frontier Province, poses a renewed threat to the military-led government of President General Pervez Musharraf. And it is a battle that could also have far-reaching consequences for the Taliban in Afghanistan, who draw much of their support from within Pakistan.
Recent protests by female students from a seminary in Islamabad, which resulted in the government having to back down, illustrate the power and support of radical clerics in the country.
Since last month, female students from the Jamia Hafsa madrassa (seminary) in Islamabad have occupied a nearby public children's library over the government's demolition of what it claimed were two illegally built mosques. (The government also says that Jamia Hafsa is illegally built on public land.)
Jamia Hafsa is adjacent to Lal Masjid (Red Mosque), which lies in the heart of the city, very close to the headquarters of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Whenever there is a major terror attack in the world, such as in Madrid or London, attention immediately turns to Lal Masjid as a possible breeding ground of the perpetrators.
The mosque and the women's seminary are run by two prominent religious personalities, Ghazi Abdul Rasheed and Maulana Abdul Aziz, the sons of slain religious leader Maulana Abdullah. Abdullah was close to the late dictator General Zia ul-Haq. His Friday sermons were popular among the military and the civilian bureaucracy, and he often preached the cause of jihad.
Abdullah's sons have continued his legacy, both his calls for jihad and his mysticism, and they were the driving force behind a religious decree insisting that Pakistani army personnel killed while fighting against tribals in South Waziristan be denied a Muslim burial. The decree was signed by 500 clerics and scholars and led to open defiance within the Pakistani armed forces, which in turn contributed to their withdrawal.
Under Western pressure, Pakistan's Ministry of Interior has officially declared the brothers "wanted", but several efforts to have them arrested have petered out. Every bid to nab them only adds to their popularity, and they have emerged as the real leaders of the religious hard core of the country.
The girls' occupation - the support of the brothers - prompted the government to lay siege to Lal Masjid, but after several weeks the siege was lifted. The students (although much fewer than the original hundreds) still control the library, saying they will only leave once the two mosques are rebuilt, which the government has agreed to do.
Long-bearded youths watched suspiciously as I approached Lal Masjid. Two men with their faces covered with cloth stopped and searched me, demanding an identity document.
Once they were satisfied, another young man escorted me to the residence of the brothers. A black-hooded figure watching me from a small window in an outside gate let me into a courtyard, even though Rasheed was in the middle of a television interview.
Rasheed is far more accessible to the media than his elder brother Aziz. Both are portrayed as ideologues of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, charges they never deny, along with their open support of all of the struggles in which mujahideen are engaged, from Afghanistan to Iraq.
It was the media-shy Aziz, however, who had agreed to meet with me. Photographs were out of the question - he will not have his taken. Aziz's fiery speeches at the mosque routinely electrify the youth, and compact discs and cassettes of his sermons are widely distributed across the country.
"The situation of the country is really one of a quagmire," Aziz said. "Baloch separatists, Sindhi and Urdu-speaking sub-nationalists and tribal [people] in North West Frontier Province are seriously disgruntled over the federalization of Pakistan. Our enemies, like India and the West, are exploiting the situation, and it seems that both forces will prey on us like hungry wolves as our disintegration does not allow us any effective defense.
"The question then is, what cohesive force will gather all the disgruntled elements together and make them an effective defense against our enemies? There is only one answer: the Islamization of Pakistan," Aziz said with conviction.
Our conversation was interrupted by Aziz arranging to give sermons over the telephone to madrassas in Punjab and Sindh provinces. "Maulana, is this not a Taliban movement you are preparing in Pakistan?" I asked Aziz.
"Indeed, somebody needs to give a wake-up call and prepare the people for the Islamization of society," Aziz responded with a smile. In the meantime, Rasheed had finished his interview and I spoke with him.
"Did you see how our determination and the help of God defeated the government's commitment to arrest us?" Rasheed asked me, referring to the siege of the mosque over the girls' occupation of the library. "Actually, it was the collective determination of all of us [circle of admirers] which terrified the government, and it just had to keep its hands off us," Rasheed said.
Security sources have confirmed to Asia Times Online that when the trouble at the library began, Musharraf ordered that the brothers be arrested. But his security forces refused, saying such a move would create havoc in Islamabad and beyond.
Musharraf apparently even floated the idea of having the Lal Masjid bombed, but his air force would have none of it. As a result, the government had little alternative but to back off, lift the siege and agree to dialogue.
"I want to make it clear that protest on any issue is the right of any citizen, whether he or she is religious or not," said Rasheed. "The students of the universities and the colleges carry out processions and rampage on the streets. They set public and private vehicles on fire, but are they ever called terrorists?
"The girls of my seminary did protest and they occupied a children's library, but peacefully. They did not break anything, not even television sets or CD players, which they believe are evil, yet they were declared terrorists, and stern action was promised against us two brothers and against the girls," Rasheed said.
Rasheed took his mobile phone from his pocket and showed me messages sent by a former ISI official who was once a close friend of Osama bin Laden - retired squadron leader Khalid Khawaja. The messages warned the brothers that the government was plotting to kill them.
"Our friend Khalid Khawaja kept informing us of threats around us, and as a result of such messages he was picked up by the ISI and booked on a fictitious charge," Rasheed said.
"The government does indeed have bad designs against us. Commandos were posted all around for target killings. An environment of terror was created, so much so that the Board of Religious Schools pulled its support of us. They were terrified that if we fell, they would be next in line. The federal minister for religious affairs, Ejaz ul-Haq [former president Zia's son], came to see us," Rasheed said.
"It was a strange environment. Ejaz was aware of the whole situation and he candidly held the feet of Maulana Abdul Aziz and said, 'I beg you, for God's sake, please retreat from this issue, otherwise there are strict instructions from Musharraf against you people.'
"Maulana Abdul Aziz then held the feet of Ejazul Haq and said, 'I beg you, too, for God's sake, enforce Islam in this country. Until then we will not retreat,'" Rasheed recalled.
"Most of our girls [more than 6,000] come from North and South Waziristan. When their relations learned about the situation [protest] they came all the way from the two Waziristans and gathered in the mosque. That was a real litmus test against the government. In a way, Waziristan, which the government has failed to pacify with military operations, entered the federal capital. The establishment had the shivers and it could see [what], if any operations were taken [against us], would happen to Islamabad," Rasheed said.
"The government had every intention to crush us, but then it had to request us to remove Waziristan's militants from the mosque. We responded that first the government had to lift the siege on the mosque. Only then would we ask them to leave. Musharraf took a strict stand, but all the agencies, including the Pakistan Rangers, were not ready to clash with Waziristani militants.
"Then Haji Omar [commander of the Taliban in Waziristan] said in an interview that if the government tried to attack Lal Masjid, they would take revenge. That was the last thing the government wanted and it lifted the siege and we asked the militants to leave. But the Waziris are still in Islamabad with their relatives, so if the government makes any advances again, they will immediately come to the rescue," Rasheed said.
During the siege, Islamabad witnessed an unusually high number of suicide attacks, which obviously spooked the government. Indeed, the government reaffirmed its deals with the Pakistani Taliban in the Waziristans whereby they have de facto rule in the tribal belt along the border with Afghanistan.
The brothers at Lal Masjid remain as defiant as ever after their brush with the government so close to the ISI's headquarters. There is no doubt that their influence is spreading across the country and that their hardline teachings are filling a void left by the absence of any real political opposition in the country to Musharraf's rule.
This plays into the Taliban's hands too, for when the going starts to get tough in Afghanistan, they will know where to look among their swelling ranks of supporters in Pakistan.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
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