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March 17, 2007 


1,423 Afghan artifacts return to Kabul
By ALISA TANG, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - More than 1,400 artifacts — protected from looters and the Taliban since 1999 at a museum-in-exile in Switzerland — were returned to the National Museum of  Afghanistan on Saturday.

The collection, which includes a piece from a foundation stone that was "touched by Alexander the Great" and several items thousands of years old, was assembled in Switzerland by Afghans who wanted to save their cultural heritage after decades of war.

The oldest artifact dates back 3,500 years, and the collection spans "countless" empires to which Afghanistan once belonged, said Paul Bucherer, director of the Afghanistan Museum in the northwestern Swiss town of Bubendorf. The Swiss museum, which received about 50,000 visitors since opening in 2000, is now closed.

A shipping container holding the collection arrived Friday in Kabul and was opened at the National Museum on Saturday.

"I feel released from this duty to hand over all these 1,423 objects back," Bucherer said.

Bucherer and Afghan officials ceremoniously unlocked the container outside the museum entrance, and one of the crates inside was carried up to a second-floor display case. There, Bucherer delicately pulled out artifacts that looked like they belonged in a collection worthy of New York or London — only these items were saved from looters and the international art market.

The first of the returned items to be placed in the museum included a small Buddha statue from Bamiyan, where two ancient, enormous Buddha statues were destroyed by the Taliban six years ago.

Another piece was a phallus-shaped stone that was once part of a foundation stone of a city in northern Afghanistan, Ai-Khanum, founded by Alexander the Great 2,300 years ago. A carved owl on one end of the stone represented the Greek city of Athens, Bucherer said.

"This piece is the link between Europe and Afghanistan. This piece was found in Ai-Khanum and it is, as I was told, part of the foundation stone of Ai-Khanum," he said. "We know for sure it was touched by Alexander the Great."

The National Museum of Afghanistan, founded in 1930, was looted and deliberately vandalized under the Taliban.

After restoration and reconstruction, the museum reopened to the public in October 2004.

Afghan officials sent a request to  UNESCO last summer asking that the objects be returned. International and Afghan authorities deemed Kabul safe enough for them to come back.

"I hope these items may contribute to the identity of Afghanistan," Bucherer said. "To find peace in Afghanistan ... the only way is via culture — via traditional Afghan culture, which played an enormous role in Afghanistan in the old days."
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Bomber slays child in Afghanistan
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A suicide bomber targeting a Canadian military convoy left one child dead and two people wounded Saturday in southern  Afghanistan, police said. No Canadian soldiers were wounded.

The bomber rammed his explosives-packed vehicle into a passing military convoy on the main highway linking the southern city of Kandahar with Herat in the west, said Ghulam Azrat, a regional police officer.

A child, who was at the side of the road as his family was working in nearby fields, was killed in the blast, Azrat said. Another child and man, members of the same family, were wounded in the attack, he said.

The Canadian military vehicle sustained minor damage, and there were no Canadian casualties, he said.

Meanwhile, a mortar attack in  NATO's largest base in southern Afghanistan on Friday left three soldiers wounded, said Lt. Col. Angela Billings, a spokeswoman for NATO. The attack occurred in Kandahar Air Field, a vast military base and airport on the outskirts of city of Kandahar, she said.

Billings did not identify the wounded soldiers, but said they suffered minor injuries.

There are some 36,000 troops serving in NATO's International Security Assistance Force.

Also Saturday, the  United Nations mission in Afghanistan said that those holding a kidnapped Italian reporter and his two Afghan colleagues should show their humanity by freeing them.

Daniele Mastrogiacomo, 52, a reporter for Italian daily La Repubblica was kidnapped along with two Afghans traveling with him on March 5 in the Nad Ali district of southern Helmand province. Taliban insurgents have claimed responsibility.

"Mastrogiacomo is a well known journalist whose sympathies for the people of Afghanistan should be beyond doubt to anyone," the U.N. mission in Afghanistan said in a statement.

"Throughout his reporting of this region over many years he have displayed compassion for the poor and suffering, communicating their voices to the outside world," it said. "We know of no reason whatsoever for him to be under anyone's suspicion."

Mastrogiacomo appeared in a video shown on Italian television Wednesday, appealing to Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi to work for his release. Prodi said that no efforts will be spared in trying to secure his release.

Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema said Thursday that Italy was not negotiating with the Taliban, but added that humanitarian groups were in contact with them, "and the government is doing all it can with the necessary discretion."

Mastrogiacomo, a father of two, had been on assignment in Kandahar, the Taliban's former stronghold in southern Afghanistan, when his newspaper lost contact with him on March 4.
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Afghan president leaves for Germany, France
KABUL (AFP) -  Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai left on Saturday for an official three-day visit to Germany and France, his office said in a statement.

Karzai is to receive recognition -- the "Riser Award" -- in the German city of Bochum for his outstanding leadership, the statement said.

He would hold talks Monday with Chancellor Angela Merkel on Germany's role in Afghanistan, including its mission within the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), in which Germany has nearly 3,000 troops, it added.

Karzai would also travel to France, where he would meet his French counterpart Jacques Chirac, the statement said, without giving details.

France has 1,100 troops in the ISAF.
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Afghan government probes killing of police in clash with Taliban
KABUL (AFP) - Afghan authorities Saturday launched an investigation into the killing of five police officers during an ambush by Taliban insurgents.

The policemen were killed in southern Helmand province Friday and an Afghan official initially said they died when coalition forces opened fire following a Taliban ambush but later he said the policemen were killed by the insurgents.

Foreign troops deny involvement in the incident.

The authorities were investigating how the policemen were killed, Afghan interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary told AFP.

"The actual story is that the Afghan police were ambushed by Taliban and police returned fire. Meanwhile, (US-led) coalition troops believing it (was) the enemy also sent fire," Bashary said.

The "policemen were caught in a crossfire," between Taliban insurgents and the foreign coalition troops.

"At this point we don't know if they were killed by Taliban fire or the coalition fire. This is what we're investigating at this point," the spokesman said.

But coalition forces, which have troops in the area, said they were not involved.

"Our position has not changed. There's no involvement of the coalition in this incident," a spokesman said, referring to an earlier comment by coalition officials denying any involvement.

The  NATO-led International Security Assistance Force has also ruled out the involvement of its troops in the killing.

The ISAF, which has about 37,000 troops from 37 countries, is here to stabilise the country, including by ridding areas of insurgents, to allow for development work.

The coalition, which numbers about 14,000, is focused on counter terrorism.
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Afghan police say five shot dead by NATO troops
Fri Mar 16, 6:22 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) -  NATO troops opened fire on a police patrol in southern  Afghanistan, apparently mistaking them for hostile forces, and killed five policemen, a senior police official said Friday.

Another six policemen were missing after the shooting late Thursday in the volatile Gereshk area of the southern province of Helmand, provincial deputy police chief General Isau Khan told AFP.

They had been travelling in a vehicle that was not a conventional police type, he said.

Khan was unable to say what had prompted the soldiers to open fire, adding that "the incident is being investigated."

The media office of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) could not confirm the incident.

However, a military official in southern Afghanistan said on condition of anonymity that there had been an incident between NATO forces and the police overnight which was believed to have caused police casualties.

The circumstances of the incident were unclear, the official added.

There have been a rash of incidents this year in which troops from ISAF or the separate US-led coalition have shot and killed civilians fearing they were attackers, especially suicide bombers.

On Wednesday, an Afghan truck driver was killed Wednesday in the southern province of Kandahar, which adjoins Helmand, after NATO troops opened fire on his vehicle when he ignored warnings to move away from their convoy.

In one of the most serious incidents, eight civilians were killed in the eastern province of Nangarhar on March 4 following an ambush on a US convoy that prompted troops to open fire.

The coalition says the ambush involved a suicide car bombing and small arms attack to which the troops returned fire.

It says the civilians were killed during the series of events, but Afghan witnesses and officials have said they all died under the soldiers' fire. An investigation is under way.

On the same day, nine Afghans were killed when US-led coalition warplanes bombed a compound in the province of Kapisa, near Kabul, that insurgents were seen to enter.

Five women and three children were among the dead in the bombing, which was in response to a rocket attack on a base.
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Bulgaria to send more troops to Afghanistan
Sat Mar 17, 1:47 AM ET
SOFIA (AFP) - Bulgaria's government has said it will send an extra 335 troops to

Afghanistan, of whom 200 will be stationed at Kandahar in the restive south of the country.

The troops in Kandahar, part of a 35,000-strong

NATO-led force, will take over from Romanian troops from the end of June protecting the interior of the city's airport.

Around 120 troops and 15 officers will leave for the Afghan capital Kabul at the beginning of June where they will assist in training the Afghan military.

Bulgaria, a member of the NATO military alliance since 2004, currently has 82 troops in Afghanistan, all based in Kabul.

It also has 155 stationed in

Iraq, where 13 Bulgarian soldiers and six Bulgarian civilians have been killed since the US-led invasion in 2003.
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UN Seeks Release Of Italian Reporter Kidnapped In Afghanistan
KABUL (AP)--The U.N. mission in Afghanistan said Saturday that those holding the kidnapped Italian reporter and his two Afghan colleagues should show their humanity by freeing them.

Daniele Mastrogiacomo, a reporter for Italian daily La Repubblica was kidnapped along with two Afghans traveling with him on March 5 in the Nad Ali district of southern Helmand province. Taliban insurgents have claimed responsibility.

"Mastrogiacomo is a well known journalist whose sympathies for the people of Afghanistan should be beyond doubt to anyone," the U.N. mission in Afghanistan said in a statement.

"Throughout his reporting of this region over many years he have displayed compassion for the poor and suffering, communicating their voices to the outside world," it said. "We know of no reason whatsoever for him to be under anyone's suspicion."

Mastrogiacomo appeared in a video shown on Italian television Wednesday, appealing to Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi to work for his release. Prodi said that no efforts will be spared in trying to secure his release.

Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema said Thursday that Italy was not negotiating with the Taliban, but added that humanitarian groups were in contact with them, "and the government is doing all it can with the necessary discretion."

Mastrogiacomo, a father of two, had been on assignment in Kandahar, the Taliban's former stronghold in southern Afghanistan, when the paper lost contact with him on March 4.

According to the purported Taliban spokesman, militants abducted Mastrogiacomo, Sayed Agha and Ajmal as they traveled through Nad Ali in Helmand, the world's biggest opium-producing province.

La Repubblica newspaper said Mastrogiacomo, 52, was born in Karachi, Pakistan, where his father was an engineer. He holds dual Italian-Swiss citizenship, but was traveling on his Italian passport, La Repubblica said.

Mastrogiacomo, who speaks English, has worked since 2002 as a staff correspondent in Afghanistan, Iran, the Middle East and Iraq.
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Western army supplies turning up in Afghan bazaars
by Bronwen Roberts Sat Mar 17, 2:13 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Packets of ready-made omlettes, catering-size bottles of American sauces, even alcohol and pork forbidden in Islam -- items somehow pilfered from foreign military bases or internationals-only stores are making an appearance in Kabul markets.

Shelves of the small shops in Bush Market, near the dirty stream that the Kabul River has become, are packed with jumbo-sized containers of products that are sometimes unfamiliar to the shopkeepers and jar with their surroundings.

Pink bottles of sun cream stand near gleaming cans of antiseptic aerosol; there are Christmas stockings, bagels, horseradish and tins and tins of Quaker Oats.

"Pork?" a shopkeeper asks a foreigner in a sly whisper, gesturing to a soggy box on the dirty pavement.

Another asks for help in identifying packets of thawing meat which turn out to be Bratwurst and veal, according to small labels written in English.

Disassembled military MREs -- Meals Ready to Eat for troops in the field -- are sorted into boxes near packets of crab sticks and huge blocks of Dutch chocolate.

In one dim store hangs an old copy of Cosmopolitan magazine, its risque cover turned to the wall; elsewhere issues of army publication Freedom Watch are tossed on the floor and military ID pouches dangle in a window.

A shopkeeper standing next to a pile of canteen-style mealtrays is asked where the items come from. "Frankly, they are stolen," he says with a shrug and a grin.

Another trader, Mohammed Najib, adds: "They are smuggled out (of the military bases) by laundry workers, kitchen workers. Or food is given away when they don't need it, like expired stuff. And stuff that is left in the garbage, the workers bring out."

Sometimes goods are "gifted" to workers after they have offloaded trucks at the military stores, another says.

"We are not stealing -- we buy it from someone," he says.

Western beauty and health products are favoured over available Chinese and Pakistani versions because they are considered better quality, Najib says. Foreigners and returned exiles are among his customers.

Most of the items come from the giant US military base at Bagram, about 60 kilometres (40 miles) from Kabul, he says.

The bazaar outside the Bagram base hit the headlines in April last year when flash memory drives containing military secrets were found to be on sale after being smuggled out by cleaners and garbage collectors.

The Kabul bazaar is popularly called Bush Market because of its association with the US military and  President George W. Bush who ordered the toppling of the Taliban government five years ago.

The tradition began with the Brezhnev Market that sold Soviet items after the 1979 invasion of the government of Leonid Brezhnev.

Najib says some of the shops used to sell beer -- which is banned in Islamic  Afghanistan -- but supplies dried up when authorities recently clamped down on stores and restaurants meant to sell alcohol only to foreigners.

Now there are regular inspections with authorities also looking for expired foods, he says.

But across town boxes of Heineken beer are boldly stacked in the sun against the flimsy walls of shacks that sell burgers wrapped in pages from the International Security Assistance Force newspaper.

There are other brands of beer, vodka coolers and a couple of cans of Guinness.

"We have got people who bring it -- I think they get a whole container (from one of the foreigners-only shops)," says 19-year-old Rishad, part-owner of a little shop bedecked with saucy Bollywood posters.

A few free beers from time to time can persuade the police to accept the version with five percent alcohol content. It is the ones with more alcohol, hidden from display, that can cause problems. "We have to pay more," he says.

Rishad says he has a steady supply of Afghan customers besides the occasional Westerner.

"I have one who is in love and he drinks to forget his love. I have one who is stuck here and his family is in The Netherlands and and he drinks to forget he is lonely," he says.

On the ban on alcohol and mutterings in parliament about ubiquitous pictures of sexy Bollywood stars, Rashid says: "I don't have an opinion. Some people say this is a democracy, some people say it is an Islamic country.

"I know I am not earning clean money out of this, but what other job can I do?"
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ADB signs $60 million grant for Afghanistan
Saturday March 17, 2007 (0444 PST) PakTribune.com, Pakistan
KABUL: The Asian Development Bank (ADB) will grant $ 60 million to Afghanistan during the next three years.

The contract was signed between the Finance Minister, Anwarul Haq Ahadi, and Brian Fawcett, Director of ADB in Afghanistan.

After inking the contract, the Finance Minister said at a press conference that the grant would be used through the government budget for development projects such as facilitating better conditions for investment, constructing schools and roads, drafting laws for trade and recruiting advisors.

According to the minister $ 28 million of the allotted grant will be delivered soon, and the rest will be delivered over the next two years.

Ahadi said ADB has put certain conditions on the grant, such as the drafting of a law for trade conflicts and the establishment of an accounting system in government administration, and that the Finance Ministry has taken the responsibility of fulfilling the condition of the grant.

According to a joint press release of ADB and the Finance Ministry, the grant will help Afghanistan to establish better conditions to facilitate the strengthening of the private sector.

The press release said the grant would enable the Finance Ministry to privatize government enterprises.

According to Finance Ministry officials, there are 72 government enterprises in Afghanistan, most of which are paralyzed or semi- active due to the decades of war.

The Director of ADB said the Bank had paid $ 700 million to Afghanistan for reconstruction and to support the country's budget. He said, $300 million of that amount was loaned and the rest was given as a grant.
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Poll shows majority of Germans want troops pullout from Afghanistan 
Sat, 17 Mar 2007 EARTHtimes.org
Berlin - A clear majority of Germans would like the German troops engaged in reconstruction operations in the north of Afghanistan to pull out, according to an opinion poll published Saturday. The poll was taken just a month before a squadron of six Tornados with high-resolution cameras takes on a controversial reconnaissance role supporting NATO troops engaged in combat operations in the south of the country.

The poll by the TNS institute commissioned by Der Spiegel news magazine found that 57 per cent of those surveyed wanted a complete withdrawal, while 36 per cent were in favour of continued engagement.

 
A meagre 4 per cent backed increasing the German military presence in Afghanistan.

Under their current mandate, the German troops are prevented from supporting the combat operations of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) that is fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the southern provinces.

Germany's NATO partners have repeatedly called for an extension of the German mandate.

On March 9, the German parliament approved the deployment of the Recce Tornados by a large majority, although there was opposition from some on the left of the grand coalition currently in power.

Two conservative members failed in their attempt to get the Constitutional Court to block the deployment as contrary to the restrictions imposed on the German military under the constitution.

Germany has nearly 3,000 troops serving with the 35,000-member NATO force, mainly in mixed civil and military provisional reconstruction teams in the relatively peaceful northern part of the country.

In addition, there are 14,000 US-led coalition troops in Afghanistan engaged in Operation Enduring Freedom.
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Teams train at Bragg for Afghanistan reconstruction work
By KEVIN MAURER : The Fayetteville Observer via The Herald-Sun - Mar 16 9:16 PM
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. -- Air Force Lt. Col. Gordon Phillips has flown over Iraq and Afghanistan, but over the next year he will be on the ground.

He will command a Provincial Reconstruction Team, or PRT, in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

Phillips was trained to control aircraft in an Airborne Warning and Control System plane -- the large planes with the Frisbee radar dish on the top.

But more and more sailors and airmen are taking over PRTs because of a lack of manpower.

"The PRT job is a lot like what I do on the AWACS," he said. "It is about understanding needs."

PRTs are the cornerstone of the reconstruction effort in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The teams work closely with the local government coordinating reconstruction efforts. A team's effectiveness depends on its ability to influence local leaders.

Building relationships is the key.

"You have to go in there and listen to their needs," said Phillips, a 48-year-old from Albuquerque, N.M.

Created in 2003 in Afghanistan, the teams are a new addition to Iraq and come in the wake of the Bush administration's new surge strategy.

In the next few months, the number of PRTs in Iraq will double, Gen. David Petraeus, commander of forces in Iraq, said during a news conference this week.

The new teams will focus primarily on Baghdad and Anbar province, where the insurgency is the strongest.

About 1,200 soldiers, sailors and airmen completed three months of training Monday before deploying to Afghanistan.

During training last week, Phillips led his PRT into the make-believe village to look at a clinic and provide medical care after a fictional earthquake hit the area.

The team arrived at the village just after lunch.

The district chief, Mohammed Olfat, met Phillips at the village's gate dressed in the thigh-length, long-sleeved gray shirt, a suede coat and brown pakul, the soft round-topped hat made famous by the assassinated Afghan Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud.

Olfat ushered Phillips into a shipping container, which served as his office, and started to discuss the many challenges facing the village.

"We have a problem with the irrigation system," said Olfat, a native Afghan contractor playing the district chief.

The town's generator doesn't work, and the clinic needs medicine.

"Please tell him today we have engineers with us to look at the clinic, and we have three medical personnel that would like to start treating people," Phillips said.

Doctor's care Outside, Capt. Debbie Dye and other members of the PRT separated the male and female patients. Dye took the females to an area covered by a poncho liner and started her examinations.

A villager, holding a small MP5 submachine gun, squatted nearby and translated.

"I am going to get a light and look into her eyes," she told the interpreter, pointing to her own eyes with the small pen light.

Standing nearby was Sgt. 1st Class Charles Richardson, an evaluator who served in Iraq. He was impressed with Dye and the team. "She is doing a great job with her triage," Richardson said. "They are reacting with everything we've taught them."

Dye, an Air Force physician assistant, volunteered for the yearlong deployment to Afghanistan.

For most of the airmen, Dye said learning the rugged Army life was an adjustment, but it helped the team jell.

"We know each other much better because of the environment we've been training in," Phillips said.

After a brief tour of the village, Phillips and Olfat met Dye outside the village.

"The biggest problem in the village is we need to get you clean water," Dye said. "I've seen a few people with tuberculosis."

Olfat thanked Dye. "If you come three or four more times, everybody will be happy and healthy," Olfat said.

The visit was a success and likely paved the way for future projects. The team can only hope for the same success a few months from now in Jalalabad.

"We've got a chance to make a difference," Dye said. "I hope that when we leave the people of Jalalabad they can do this on their own."
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Maybe Layton was right about Afghanistan
Peace deal with the Taliban only way out, analyst says
Mar 17, 2007 04:30 AM Thomas Walkom Toronto Star, Canada
When New Democratic Party chief Jack Layton suggested last fall that talking to the Taliban might bring peace to Afghanistan, he was laughed out of court.

The major newspapers dismissed him as either naive or reprehensible. The Conservative government was contemptuous, as were the Liberals.

They called him Taliban Jack.

Eventually, Layton stopped talking about negotiating with the Taliban. Which is ironic, given that the idea is now gaining credibility among those who travel in more established circles.

Indeed, the latest figure to call for a political settlement to the Afghan conflict is a pillar of the Ottawa establishment. Gordon Smith, now director of the Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria, is Canada's former ambassador to NATO and a former deputy minister of foreign affairs. His Canada in Afghanistan: Is it Working? was done for the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, a Calgary think-tank that is not known for being squishy on matters military.

Unlike Layton, Smith does not say Canada should pull its troops out of Afghanistan. Quite the contrary. He writes that Canadian troops should remain there past 2009 as part of the NATO-led force.

But he also writes that the current NATO strategy of trying to defeat the Taliban militarily cannot work.

"We do not believe that the Taliban can be defeated or eliminated as a political entity in any meaningful time frame by Western armies using military measures," he says.

The reasons for this are fourfold. First, the Taliban are still the dominant force among Pashtuns in Afghanistan's south, where Canadian troops are operating. NATO bête noire Mullah Omar "remains unchallenged as leader of the Taliban," Smith writes. "There is no alternative representing Pashtun interests who has more clout than he."

Second, neighbouring Pakistan "is highly ambivalent about crushing the Taliban insurgency." While technically on NATO's side in this matter, important elements of the Pakistani state apparatus, Smith writes, continue to support the Taliban as their proxy in Afghanistan – mainly as a way to fend off what they see as hostile Russian and Indian influences.

To destroy the Taliban would be to end Pakistani influence in Afghanistan, he says – which perhaps explains Islamabad's less than total support for the NATO mission.

Third, the NATO strategy of using air power and heavy armour is backfiring. So is the policy of opium eradication. One destroys Afghan lives, the other their livelihoods. The net result, writes Smith (and here he echoes reports from the London-based Senlis Council), is to make Afghans even more hostile to NATO troops.

Fourth, NATO countries don't have the will to fight a protracted war in a faraway country.

"If NATO states it will only be satisfied with a decisive military victory, the Taliban will call our bluff," Smith says. "The Taliban have demonstrated greater resolve, tactical efficiency and ability to absorb the costs of war over the long term than have NATO forces."

As a result, "talking to the Taliban" emerges as the only feasible solution. "Given the costs of war," he writes, "NATO needs to look candidly at the prospects – aware that there can be no guarantee – of a political solution."

That, in turn, would involve offering the Taliban a role in Afghanistan's government, knowing full well that they would demand as their price a more obscurantist, Islamist regime.

(This wouldn't be good news for women. But, as the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission reported recently, life for many Afghan women isn't much good now – to such an extent that last year more than 200 set themselves on fire to avoid domestic abuse, forced marriage or rape by in-laws.)

Should the Taliban prove unwilling to talk, Smith writes, NATO should refocus its attention on the non-Pashtun north and, in effect, permit a return to the protracted, regionally based civil war that devastated Afghanistan in the '90s. Eventually, this might bring Mullah Omar to the bargaining table.

But if a political solution is not found, then NATO countries like Canada should think the unthinkable: We might lose; or, as Smith puts it, "there is a quite reasonable possibility that NATO may not succeed."

It's a grimly realistic paper. It's also in line with the thinking of other recent, unvarnished assessments of the Afghan war, including a report from the Senate defence committee.

Oh yes, and its key recommendation echoes that of Jack Layton. But my guess is that up in Ottawa, the people behind this war aren't going to be dismissing Smith as Taliban Gord.
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Afghanistan faces challenges from within, says Shaukat Aziz
* Pakistani media is free, no restrictions on political activity
Daily Times, Pakistan
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said on Friday that the challenges Afghanistan faced were indigenous and required a holistic approach to win the hearts and minds of Afghans.

He told a NATO parliamentary delegation at PM’s House that the causes and solutions of the Afghan problem lay in Afghanistan and that Pakistan would continue helping the Afghan government for peace and stability.

He said a stable and peaceful Afghanistan was in Pakistan’s strategic, economic and political interest and that Pakistan would lose if Afghanistan got destabilised. The PM said a stable Afghanistan could help Pakistan open avenues of cooperation and forge energy, trade and transportation links with Central Asia.

He said all stakeholders in Afghanistan needed to be recognised and involved in finding a settlement of the Afghan problem. Aziz said Pakistan was of the view that a Marshall Plan type approach needed to be adopted in Afghanistan to speed up the process of reconstruction and to bring about meaningful improvement in the lives of the Afghan people.

The prime minister said Pakistan was not an aid giving country, but it had provided $350 million in assistance to Afghanistan to hep with its economic activity. He said Pakistan’s trade with Afghanistan had reached $1.5 billion from a mere $50 million four years ago.

He said Pakistan and Afghanistan had agreed on the return of more than three million Afghan refugees who were still in Pakistan and that their repatriation would be carried out in a systematic and gradual manner.

The prime minister said Pakistan was fighting terrorism out of conviction as it was in Pakistan’s interest and in the interest of international peace.

He said, “We have started selective fencing of our side of border to prevent illegal movement on the borders from both sides.” He also expressed Pakistan’s concern over the growing drug production in Afghanistan and the nexus between drug money and terrorism. He said the international community needed to tackle the drug menace and take necessary measures to deal with it.

About Pakistan’s relations with India, the prime minister said the peace process with India was moving in the right direction. He said sustainable peace in South Asia could be achieved with a just and equitable settlement of the Kashmir issue. He said Pakistan was a peaceful country and was not engaged in an arms race with any country. “Our defence strategy is based on minimum credible deterrence to ensure peace in the region,” he added.

Commenting on the Iran nuclear issue, Aziz said Pakistan was opposed to nuclear proliferation. However, he said, Pakistan recognised Iran’s right to use nuclear power for peaceful purposes under IAEA safeguards. He said Pakistan was against the use of force to settle Iran’s nuclear issue.

About the situation in the country, the prime minister said all elements of a functioning democracy were in place in Pakistan. He said the media was free and there were no restrictions on political activity and that the opposition was active. app
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Diggers injured in Afghanistan
March 17, 2007 11:30am NEWS.com.au, Australia
THREE Australian soldiers have been wounded in an overnight rocket attack at Kandahar Airfield in Southern Afghanistan.

The soldiers, who can't be named for security reasons, suffered minor injuries after the rocket struck their accommodation area.

The impact of the rocket caused minor damage to some accommodation buildings, but most of the damage was absorbed by a purpose-built barrier system.

The three soldiers received immediate first-aid and will return to duty promptly, the Australian Defence Force said.

The government is reported to be considering boosting its contingent of around 550 ADF personnel already in Afghanistan.
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RUSSIA RETURNING TO AFGHANISTAN WITH NOT-SO-SOFT POWER
By Vladimir Socor Friday, March 16, 2007 Eurasia Daily Monitor, DC -
Russian power is returning to Afghanistan in military and security terms, albeit without a military presence on the ground, at least for now. Moscow is using the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) as a thin cover.

On March 9 through 13, a CSTO Working Group on Afghanistan held talks in Kabul with senior officials of the Afghan Ministries of Defense, Internal Affairs, Foreign Affairs, and other security and civilian government departments. The Russian-led delegation proposed to institute regular contacts with Afghanistan’s military, security, and law-enforcement agencies and invited Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak to Moscow. The delegation offered assistance to Afghanistan to build its army, security agencies, and border protection units and to combat “terrorism” and the drugs trade. Specific proposals include delivering arms and military equipment and training Afghan military and border-troop officers as well as “special services” personnel. In the civilian sphere, Russia and the CSTO are offering “help in establishing the organs of executive government both at the central level and in the regions” (Interfax, RIA-Novosti, Itar-Tass, March 12, 13).

Although such assistance could only be initiated politically and supplied in practice by Russia, the official reporting presents it as an initiative of the CSTO’s Central Asian member countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan). The delegation held meetings with these countries’ embassies in Kabul. There were apparently no working meetings with Western representatives there.

Russian officials (though not the group’s Central Asian members) periodically complain that NATO and other Western organizations and governments have declined to recognize the CSTO. Just during the last three weeks, CSTO General Secretary Nikolai Bordyuzha aired that complaint at a meeting of the OSCE’s Permanent Council in Vienna, during an official visit to Tajikistan (see EDM, March 6), and at a briefing in Moscow.

According to Bordyuzha, the CSTO central staff is embarking on a needs-assessment for Afghanistan, based on the delegation’s findings. The CSTO Working Group on Afghanistan consists of members of the organization’s Secretariat in Moscow as well as national coordinators from the member countries. The Working Group is defined as a staff organ subordinated directly to the CSTO’s Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs. Afghanistan’s charge d’affaires in Moscow, identified as Gholam Sakhi Gheyrat, acts as the Afghan government’s representative at meetings of and talks with the CSTO (Interfax, March 2). Whether this appointment by the Afghan government -- or some faction within it -- is compatible with NATO’s and Washington’s non-recognition policy vis-à-vis the CSTO is unclear.

Moscow also proposes turning the CSTO’s annual anti-drug operation in Central Asia, “Kanal,” into a “permanent regional operation;” and to combat the drug traffic not only outside Afghanistan’s borders as heretofore, but also within Afghanistan. A special meeting of the CSTO on March 14 in Minsk will discuss this issue. Russia singles out the narcotraffic issue as one suitable for NATO-CSTO cooperation. Moscow’s primary motivation is to achieve a political link between the two organizations, implicit equivalence, and a step toward long-sought recognition of the CSTO by NATO.

The CSTO created its Working Group on Afghanistan with a notably limited mandate in 2005, when Russia had practically discontinued military assistance to that country. Moscow desisted at that time “in order to avoid duplicating American activities. Now, however, given the reactivation of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, President Hamid Karzai and the Afghan government have themselves requested Russia to renew deliveries of arms and equipment,” stated the Russian MFA’s Central Asia department chief Alexander Maryasov in the run-up to the CSTO delegation’s visit. According to his listing, Russia had supplied some $200 million worth of mostly old military equipment to Afghanistan from 2002 to 2005 (Nezavisimaya gazeta cited by Interfax, March 5).

Russia clearly signaled its strategic re-entry into Afghanistan on February 22-23 when Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov descended on Kabul to reopen the Russian embassy in its reconstructed building and meet with Karzai. During the visit, Lavrov offered Russian military assistance through the CSTO to Afghanistan “against terrorism and drug trafficking” and also hinted at the “work under between the security services every day, painstakingly and imperceptibly.”

Lavrov also confirmed Moscow’s intentions to settle Afghanistan’s Soviet-era “debts” (largely the costs of occupation), on the understanding that the Kabul government would in return support the entry of Russian companies into Afghanistan. Apart from those Soviet “credits” to Afghanistan, Russia is also legal heir to the responsibility for Soviet military atrocities in Afghanistan during the nine-year occupation. However, Lavrov and other visiting Russian officials do not mention that issue, and neither do the beleaguered Afghan president or his factionalized government.

Yet in view of this recent history, Moscow has until now ruled out the idea of again sending Russian military personnel to Afghanistan. The proposals just made through the CSTO may signal a slight change to this policy, however. But even if a small number of Russian military advisers do make their appearance in Kabul or some corner in the north of the country, Russia will not assume any real responsibilities for security in Afghanistan. It will quietly watch NATO’s military difficulties in the country, publicly highlight the failures of Western soft-power on the anti-drug front, and use the CSTO to minimize the West’s role in Central Asian security arrangements.

From this point on, moreover, Russia will actively seek to build up political influence and clienteles in Afghanistan through the military and security assistance programs just proposed. What has long been touted as a Russian cooperative policy in Afghanistan is now acquiring a competitive edge.
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Fencing of Pak-Afghan border would strain Islamabad-Kabul relations, says Afghan FM
Saturday March 17, 2007 (0629 PST) PakTribune.com, Pakistan
KABUL: Fencing of Pak-Afghan border would strain Pak-Afghan relations, said Afghan Foreign Minister Dr. Rangin Dadfar Spanta by adding that Afghanistan government will never accept it.
Spanta expressed these Afghan National Assembly session.

BBC reports said that Afghan Officials have made it clear several times that the fencing of border would not prevent terrorism rather it would create problems for the people living on both sides of the border.

Afghan Foreign Minister Dr. Spanta made it clear that the war on the terror could be succeeded when the terrorist's bases and resources were destroyed.

He termed it very important in war against terrorism to destroy the terrorist's bases and hideouts. He said that the borderline between Pakistan and Afghanistan is not clear like other countries.

He said that the Afghan government has lodged a protest in this respect through diplomatic channel.
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INTERVIEW-Bhutto warns of Taliban threat to Pakistan
By Daniel Trotta
NEW YORK, March 16 (Reuters) - The Taliban must be defeated in Pakistan this year or the country risks falling under the sway of extremists much as Afghanistan did before Sept. 11, 2001, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto said on Friday.

Bhutto, who hopes to return from exile and run for prime minister again in elections this year, also warned that the judicial crisis gripping Pakistan could spin out of control and underscores the importance of restoring civilian rule.

"They (the Taliban) have actually established a mini-state in the tribal areas of Pakistan. My fear is that if these forces are not stopped in 2007, they are going to try to take on the state of Pakistan itself," Bhutto told Reuters in an interview.

"In my view it is a genuine threat," she said.

Other commentators have warned of the dangers to Pakistan of a resurgent Taliban, which was routed from power in neighboring Afghanistan by the U.S. invasion following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Bhutto said the Taliban comeback was particularly dire because Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was unable to suppress elements of the Pakistani security forces that remain sympathetic to the Taliban.

Musharraf also has been exploiting the presence of the extreme Islamist movement as a rationale for maintaining his military rule beyond general elections due before the end of 2007, she said.

"General Musharraf does say that he wants to go after terrorists, that he wants to go after the forces that support the Taliban, but he's unable to do it," Bhutto said from her apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where she lives with her ailing husband when she's not working for her return to Pakistani politics from Dubai.

"The people in the areas must see that it is in their benefit to kick out the extremist forces," Bhutto said.

To that end she proposes a renewed commitment to health, education and infrastructure in tribal areas. In the absence of government welfare, Islamist religious schools have stepped in, winning over the poor population, she said.

Bhutto, 53, became the first female prime minister in the Muslim world when she was elected in 1988 at age 35. She was deposed in 1990, re-elected in 1993, and ousted again in 1996.

Bhutto plans to return for the elections with her secular Pakistan Peoples Party, but there are questions about under which conditions.

Through third parties, she is negotiating her return with Musharraf, who has passed a law banning her from seeking a third term. She also faces allegations of graft which she says were fabricated.

Her immediate concern was the crisis created by ouster of the country's Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary, who was suspended a week ago after a meeting with Musharraf.

On Friday, Pakistani police fired tear gas, detained about 150 activists and raided a television station as protesters took to the streets calling for Chaudhary's reinstatement.

"The judicial crisis highlights that if you don't bring about a peaceful political transfer that events could get out of control because there is a lot of frustration. The judicial crisis has touched a raw nerve which has shown how deep-seated the frustration within Pakistan is," Bhutto said.
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Magazine features a new face of Afghanistan
3/17/2007 2:18:36 Source ::: The Peninsula  On-line, Qatar
doha • With print and television images continuously showing images of blasts and rubble in Kabul, people would be inclined to think that life is always far from normal in the Afghan capital.

A magazine called Afghan Scene, however, indicates otherwise. It features a mixture of articles by foreign correspondents and featurish writing as well.

Published by the Mohseni family, who also own Arman FM and Tolo TV, the magazine shows off some interesting advertising, for Afghanistan, that is.

Safi Landmark Hotel and Suites looks like any five-star international hotel. However, at the bottom of the ad in huge capital letters is the legend, ‘UN Security Cleared'.

There are advertisements for mineral water, ‘Cristal' proclaiming itself to be the ‘Pride of Afghanistan' as also for Ford.

However, it is worth mentioning that Ford is not advertising its Mustang or any other regular vehicle, but the rugged truck range, no doubt fit for Afghanistan's many bombed out roads.

Also advertised are generators, most likely to help people cope with the country's notoriously dodgy electricity supply.

Advertisements are as one would see in any other magazine in any other country, including for Internet services, mobile phone networks, a Thai restaurant, the QSI International school of Kabul and something that would have sent the Taleban into a tizzy, the Nova Beauty Salon, which offers up hair care, facial treatments, hand and foot treatments, and waxing.

But then reality hits. Remote Medical Solutions International (RMSI) asks: "Your convoy hits a mine, you develop chest pain in the middle of the night, who will respond?"

RMSI then says: "You may have cover with an experienced international medical provider, but if you are lying on the side of the road bleeding, can they save you?"

By subscribing to RMSI for a minimal monthly cost, they will extend cover and respond on behalf of international medical providers by road and air ambulance anywhere in the country.

Better yet, RIMS' pool of dedicated clinical specialists boast extensive experience in conflict and disaster zones.
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Heavy water flow damages Ghazni's Zanakhan Dam
GHAZNI CITY, Mar 15 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The first gate of the Zanakhand dam in Ghazni, has broken under pressure from the water, raising concerns among the people of the surrounding area and Ghazni city.

The dam, which was built fifty years ago, was a good source of irrigation water to Zanakhan district and to Ghazni city.

Zanakhan district police Chief, Abdul Wakil Hashimi, said the water-level had risen due to the melting snow, causing the first gate of the dam to collapse late Wednesday night.

Hashimi told Pajhwok Afghan News, that he had immediately sought help from the Centre and that they had begun to place some rocks to prevent the water to going into residential areas.

He added that the level of the water had decreased.

Wakil Kamyab, the Police Chief of Ghazni province, said the villages in the adjoining areas have been been alerted.

Zanakhan water flows through the southern parts of Ghazni city and then into the Ghazni River, crossing Andar and Gair districts all the way to Muqur.

Mohammad Kazimullah, the Deputy governor and Anti-Disaster Chief of Ghazni, told Pajhwok Afghan News that the water had been blocked and the people alerted in time.

Zanakhan district is 22 kilometer east of Ghazni city.
Sher Ahmad Haidar
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Taliban use border region as their base: Swedish minister
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Mar 15 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The lawless Afghan-Pakistan border region serves as a base for Taliban rebels, the Swedish Defence Minister, Mikael Odenberg, said on Thursday.

Speaking at a press conference at the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) base in Mazar-i-Sharif on Thursday, Odenberg said Stockholm was concerned about an increase in Taliban attacks in spring, but expressed his confidence that the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), has the capability to deal with the insurgency.

He added: "There is no control over the Pak-Afghan border, without any doubt Taliban use it as their base".

Odenberg said Afghanistan has unknown enemies who create instability and use it to their benefit.

He recalled that the international community has asked Pakistan to seriously support the anti-terrorism war.

The Swedish Defense Minister said, "Sweden is determined to keep its troops for a long time in Afghanistan".

Odenberg met Swedish troops deployed under the PRT in Mazar city.

Gunilla Carlsson, the Swedish Minister of Development and International Aid, who was also present at the press conference, said Sweden has given the Afghan government an annual grant of $50 million.

200 Swedish troops are deployed in Balkh province under the ISAF PRT.
Ahmad Naim Qadiri
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11 diplomats absent after end of term abroad
Najib Khelwatgar
KABUL, Mar 15 (Pajhwok Afghan News) At least 11 diplomats, serving in Afghan embassies and consulates in different countries, have not returned home despite end of period of their service abroad.

Reliable sources told Pajhwok Afghan News seven of those who failed to report to the Foreign Ministry at home were serving as first secretaries at embassies and consulates in London (UK), Rome (Italy), Amsterdam (Holland), New York (USA), Toronto (Canada), the north-eastern Iranian city of Mashad and Pakistan's port city of Karachi.

They included Dr Akbar Zewari, Abdullah Ali, engineer Rohullah, Noor Ahmad Sultani, Saeed Sardar Ahmadi, Aziz Meraj and Abdul Nabi respectively.

The other four men are the second secretaries in Germany and Australia Hazratullah Abid and Abdullah Arif, third secretary in Tehran Merajuddin and Afghan consular in Berlin (Germany) Azizullah Amin.

The sources said first secretary of the Afghan consulate in Mashad Aziz Meraj and first secretary at the Karachi consulate Abdul Nabi had gone to Qatar and Germany. All the eleven persons possessed diplomatic passports and had not reported to the Foreign Ministry in the country, said the sources

Contacted for comments, Foreign Ministry's spokesman Sultan Ahmad Bahin said it might be that some of the diplomats, after end of their service term abroad, did not want to return and resume their job at home. 

"Afghanistan consular in Berlin Azizullah Amin and second secretary in Australia Hazratullah Abid are continuing their duty." He added a diplomat had to return and report to the Foreign Ministry within three months after completion of his service period abroad.

Bahin said diplomats whose service period abroad ended were bound to submit their diplomatic passports to the concerned authorities at the airport.
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