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March 4, 2007 

Ambush on U.S. convoy leaves 16 dead
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - A "complex" ambush involving a suicide car bomb and militant gunfire killed 16 Afghan civilians and wounded 25 people during an attack on a coalition convoy in eastern  Afghanistan on Sunday, officials said.

Several wounded Afghans said they were shot by U.S. forces fleeing the scene.

The suicide bomber hit the American convoy with an explosives-packed minivan, said Noor Agha Zawok, the spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar province, and militants then fired gunfire from several directions, the U.S. military said. Coalition forces returned fire in defense of the attack, the U.S. said.

It wasn't immediately clear if the Afghans were killed by the militants gunfire or that of the U.S. soldiers. One U.S. soldier was injured in the attack.

Hundreds of Afghans gathered to protest the violence, blocking the road and throwing rocks at police, with some demonstrators shouting "Death to America! Death to Karzai," a reference to President Hamid Karzai.

Maj. William Mitchell, a U.S. military spokesman, said the suicide attack was a "complex ambush," with militants firing guns at the soldiers from three different points, meaning Afghan civilians could have been killed or wounded by militants.

"We certainly believe it's possible that the incoming fire from the ambush was wholly or partly responsible for the civilian casualties," he said.

The incident was under investigation, the coalition said.

Mohammad Ishaq, 15, who was recovering in the Jalalabad hospital from two bullet wounds, said he and his father had pulled their vehicle over when they saw an American convoy approaching.

"When we parked our vehicle, when they passed us, they opened fire on our vehicle," said Ishaq, who was wounded in his left arm and his right ear. "It was a convoy of three American humvees. All three humvees were firing around."

U.S. soldiers at the scene deleted photos taken by a freelance photographer working for The Associated Press and video taken by a freelancer working for AP Television News. Neither the photographer nor the cameraman witnessed the suicide attack or the subsequent gunfire. It wasn't immediately known why the soldiers deleted the photos and videos. The U.S. military didn't immediately comment on the matter.

The freelance photographer, Rahmat Gul, said he took photos of a four-wheel drive vehicle with four bodies that had been shot to death inside.

An American soldier then took Gul's camera and deleted the photos. Gul said he later received permission to take photos from another soldier, but that the first soldier came back and angrily told him to delete the photos again. Gul said the soldier raised his fist as if he was going to strike Gul but that he didn't.

The U.S. soldiers involved in the attack and ensuing gunfire were part of the U.S.-led coalition, not  NATO's International Security Assistance Force. An official who asked not to be identified said the troops were Marine Special Forces.

The casualty toll cited by Afghan officials was not as high as the numbers given by the U.S.-led coalition. Jalalabad hospital director Ajmel Pardus said four of the dead had been taken to his hospital. He said at least 22 people were injured. It wasn't clear how many Afghans were killed or injured by the suicide blast or from the gunfire.

Lt. Col. David Accetta, a coalition spokesman, said the attack demonstrated the militants' "blatant disregard for human life" by attacking forces in a populated area. NATO officials repeatedly say that suicide bombs aimed at international and Afghan forces kill far more civilians than soldiers.

A man claiming to speak for Hezb-e-Islami, a group he said is linked to the Taliban, claimed responsibility for the bombing and identified the attacker as an Afghan named Haji Ihsanullah in a telephone call to the AP.

The purported spokesman, who identified himself as Qari Sajjad, said the explosion "destroyed two vehicles, killing or injuring American soldiers."

Sajjad said the attack was in revenge for "cruel acts" done to Afghans by U.S. forces.

In southern Afghanistan, meanwhile, two soldiers were killed during a combat operation Saturday, though NATO's International Security Assistance Force did not identify their nationalities or say where the violence happened.

Helmand province, where British troops operate, has seen a number of clashes the last several weeks. Canada also has large numbers of troops in the south, in neighboring Kandahar province.
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Two NATO soldiers killed in southern Afghanistan
Sun Mar 4, 1:08 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Two soldiers with the  NATO-led International Security Assistance Force were killed in combat in southern  Afghanistan, the force said Sunday.

The latest death takes to 20 the number of foreign soldiers killed in Afghanistan this year, most of them in the volatile south of the country where Taliban-linked militants are most active.

ISAF did not give the nationality of the latest victims or where they were killed, leaving such announcement to the home nation.

Most of the soldiers in southern Afghanistan are British or Canadian.

The British are based in the southern province of Helmand which has seen the most fighting this year with regular clashes with Taliban forces.

Two soldiers from the 37-nation ISAF force -- an American and a South Korean -- were killed on Tuesday in a suicide bombing outside a military base being visited by US Vice President  Dick Cheney.
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Pakistanis arrest 5 suspects; "Taliban gloomy"
By Gul Yousafzai Sun Mar 4, 3:15 AM ET
QUETTA (Reuters) - Pakistani police arrested five suspected Afghan militants in a raid in the southwestern city of Quetta, as a Pakistani newspaper said on Sunday the Taliban had conceded the arrest last week of one of their top leaders.

The five suspected militants were among 32 Afghans rounded up in Quetta, where Pakistani security officials said senior Taliban leader Mullah Obaidullah Akhund was arrested last Monday.

"They are Afghans aged between 20 and 25 and they came from Waziristan," said senior Quetta police officer Qazi Abdul Wahid, referring to a volatile Pakistani region on the Afghan border where Taliban and al Qaeda operate.

Wahid did not say if the five were members of the Taliban but said they were seized with compromising Islamist documents. They were being interrogated, he said.

He said 27 other Afghans had been picked up in raids in the city on Saturday night and they were also being questioned.

The Afghan government and foreign officials in Kabul have long said the Taliban were organizing their insurgency against the Afghan government from Quetta, capital of Baluchistan province, which borders  Afghanistan.

The insurgents have threatened to unleash a spring offensive in Afghanistan in coming weeks after the bloodiest year since their ouster in 2001.

Pakistan has been coming under mounting pressure from the United States and other Western governments with troops in Afghanistan to take action against Taliban operating from sanctuaries on the Pakistani side of the border.

Akund's arrest came hours after a visit to Pakistan by Vice President  Dick Cheney in which he asked Pakistan to do more against the Taliban.


The Pakistani government has not confirmed the arrest of former Taliban defense minister.

Officials say the government is worried about a backlash from militants and Islamist political parties bitterly opposed to President Pervez Musharraf's alliance with the United States in its war on terrorism.

Taliban spokesman have denied Akhund was captured, but Pakistan's the News newspaper said on Sunday a top Taliban commander and some Taliban officials were reluctantly admitting reports of his arrest appeared to be true.

"One indication that the reports of his arrest are true is the fact that most of our military commanders and spokesman have turned off their satellite phones," a Taliban military commander told the newspaper.

"This has happened in the past also whenever someone important among the Taliban was captured," said the unidentified commander.

Another Taliban official told the newspaper: "There is gloom in our ranks. It would take some time to overcome the shock of the arrest."

In Quetta, extra security forces has been deployed at government buildings and in various public places.

Pakistan has been in the grip of a security scare as militant groups sympathetic to al Qaeda and the Taliban have carried out a series of suicide and bomb attacks in various cities following a mid-January air strike on militant compounds in Waziristan.

Separately, Pakistani security forces arrested five foreign militants on Saturday in the southwestern city of Tuftan near the Iranian border, a security official said.

The five, from Russia, Turkey and Kyrgyzstan, were arrested after crossing in from  Iran, the border security official said.

(Additional reporting by Kamran Haider)
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Taliban confirms key leader Obaidullah captured in Pak: Report
Islamabad, Mar 4: After initial denials, an "important" Taliban commander and a few other "officials" have admitted that their former Defence Minister Mulla Obaidullah Akhund has been captured in Pakistan`s Quetta city.

"One indication that the reports of his arrest are true is the fact that most of our military commanders and spokesmen have turned off their satellite phones. This has happened in the past also whenever someone important among the Taliban was captured," the Taliban military commander was quoted as saying by media.

Requesting anonymity, he told the media from an unknown location that "he was now 80 per cent convinced" that Mulla Obaidullah has indeed been arrested last week.

He had also confirmed the death of top Taliban military commander Mulla Akhtar Mohammad Usmani in a US and NATO airstrike in Helmand province in December last year at a time when Taliban spokesmen were vehemently denying the claim by Western forces about the target killing of one of the most wanted men in Afghanistan. Subsequently, the Taliban confirmed Usmani`s death.

"There is gloom in our ranks. Our Taliban comrades everywhere are sad. It would take some time to overcome the shock of the arrest," a Taliban "official" told media.

Close to Taliban supremo Mullah Omar and Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, Obaidullah is the most senior Taliban leader to be captured since the militia was ousted from Afghanistan in 2001 by a US-led coalition that is still hunting its top leaders.

The Taliban members said switching off of phones by their senior military commanders and spokesmen always brought bad news. They said this is a sign that something has gone wrong for the Taliban and before long their apprehensions turn out to be true.

One other reason for switching off phones is to evade arrest. After such high-profile arrests, important Taliban figures also try to change their satellite and other phones and change their place of hiding.

Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousaf Ahmadi, earlier, denied that Mulla Obaidullah had been arrested. He insisted their former Defence Minister was in Afghanistan and leading Taliban fighters. It was also suggested by certain Taliban quarters that another man named Obaidullah rather than Mulla Obaidullah was arrested in Quetta. A few reporters were also told that a videotape of Mulla Obaidullah would be made available to prove that he was still a free man. But it wasn`t said when the tape would become available.

Taliban sources said Mulla Obaidullah`s arrest appears to have been made on the basis of information that had come from US military authorities in Kandahar. However, Pakistani security officials have been telling reporters that the raid to net Mulla Obaidullah was carried out by members of law-enforcing forces and intelligence agencies. They gave no hint that the US military and secret services provided intelligence or other inputs that led to the arrest

The Pakistan government hasn`t officially and publicly confirmed the arrest of Mulla Obaidullah and certain other Taliban figures.

Interior minister Aftab Sherpao earlier said that five people had been arrested in Quetta and they appeared to be fairly "important". "We are still carrying out investigations. We cannot say anything about their identity," he added.
Bureau Report
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Looking for a new home in Iraq
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / March 3, 2007 For Part I please see March 2, 2007 News
KARACHI - Having solidified its leadership and opened up financial lifelines, al-Qaeda is preparing for its next major step - establishing a new base in the heart of the Middle East, Iraq.

This will position al-Qaeda to step up attacks on Europe in an effort to force Western countries to cut their strategic alliances with Washington, and to serve as a nerve center to bring new al-Qaeda groups into action in the Arab world.

According to people familiar with al-Qaeda's thinking who spoke to Asia Times Online, Osama bin Laden's deputy and the group's ideologue, Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, sees potential for the group to capitalize on a possible US war over Iran. Relocating the al-Qaeda leadership from the Afghan-Pakistani border areas would put it closer to this new "epicenter".

In addition, the relationship between al-Qaeda and the Taliban has cooled after the Taliban's decision to strike a deal with Pakistan over support for the insurgency in southwestern Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda refuses to deal with any state, including Islamabad (see Pakistan makes a deal with the Taliban, Asia Times Online, March 1).

The al-Qaeda leadership is biding its time, banking on sufficient chaos in Iran and Iraq for it to move to the Middle East, according to Asia Times Online interactions with various sources.

Wars devastate people, but they are a blessing for organizations like al-Qaeda. When the Pakistan Army led operations in the tribal areas to root out Taliban and al-Qaeda elements, all it did was alienate the people and make them actively support these groups. Radical clerics across Pakistan issued edicts in favor of al-Qaeda and against the army. As a result, many thousands of members of banned jihadist organizations who had been sitting idle joined hands with militants in North and South Waziristan.

Likewise, the US invasion of Iraq served to mobilize jihadis to join either the Iraqi resistance or militant outfits in their country.

Al-Qaeda's online operations through videos and speeches show a clear way for young man of the Middle East to go. According to Egyptian intelligence, mosques are the safest, easiest and most natural forum for like-minded people to interact and eventually to form separate cells. Al-Qaeda's ideology serves as a cohesive force among all such groups.

Egyptian intelligence agencies are aware of new groups in their country exclusively tied with al-Qaeda, but they have been unable to pinpoint them or their plans. This has come as a surprise to the intelligence agencies, as they have in the past been successful in rounding up breakaway renegade factions from the Muslim Brotherhood, the traditional source of opposition to the government in Egypt.

A pointer to what's coming

A manual called Muswatul Jihad al-Afghani (The Encyclopedia of Jihad) has 11 volumes and is authored by Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi. It is a good reflection of al-Qaeda's tactical ideas and deals with chemical weapons and explosives and their application, such as planting them on bridges and at strategic installations to get optimum results.

It is intended to equip international operations with clear tactical ideas on how upcoming battles should be fought. The encyclopedia is available in jihadist circles in book form as well as on compact discs. It was written in Arabic and translated into Pashto, Urdu and English.

Al-Qaeda envisages that groups will mushroom and then link in Egypt, Algeria, Palestine, Lebanon and Somalia, among other countries. They will then be oriented locally, rather than sent to Afghanistan or Iraq.

Al-Qaeda has keenly shown the white American face of "Adam" in its videos. This Muslim convert sits next to Zawahiri and threatens "American devastation". Certainly this is a scare tactic, but such converts as Adam - many of whom keep their change in faith a secret - are extremely difficult to track down in their own countries as they don't fit any standard "terror" profile.

They will be some of al-Qaeda's new foot soldiers in the heart of Europe and the United States.

A falling out in Pakistan

Osama bin Laden remains the hero of many Muslims. Nevertheless, when groups, parties or individuals side in any way with the state apparatus, al-Qaeda sees them as unreliable and potentially harmful to al-Qaeda's mission. This has happened with the Taliban over their deal with Islamabad.

Some Pakistani religious leaders have angered al-Qaeda, including the leader of the opposition in Parliament, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, who is chief of the Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam, which in turn is part of a six-party religious alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA).

Rahman's closeness to the Libyan government and President Muammar Gaddafi is one reason, and al-Qaeda believes that at the behest of the Libyans, Rahman facilitated the arrest of a Libyan group that was hiding in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, including Abu Dahda al-Barah. Mosa-i-Saiful Islam al-Khayria, a Libyan welfare organization headed by Gaddafi's son Saiful Islam, was used as a cover for the intelligence operation.

Another person to have drawn al-Qaeda's ire is Hafiz Mohammed Saeed of the Jamaatut Dawa Party (formerly the Lashkar-i-Toiba). He is suspected of embezzling about US$3 million that he was given by al-Qaeda to move Arab-Afghan families to safety after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Abu Zobaida handed over the money to Saeed, and when Saeed did not deliver on his part of the bargain, Abu Zobaida demanded that the money be returned. Then Abu Zobaida's hideout in Faisalabad was exposed and he was arrested. Saeed is believed to have betrayed him.

"If and when al-Qaeda gears up its global strategies, these hypocrites will be the immediate targets," an al-Qaeda source told Asia Times Online, referring to Saeed, Rahman and Maulana Abdul Rahman Makki of the Jamaatut Dawa, among others.

The Pakistani Taliban in the North and South Waziristan tribal areas, under the influence of al-Qaeda, have already murdered the uncle of the MMA's chief minister of North West Frontier Province and sent death threats to Rahman's brother.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
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Afghan Minister Accuses Pakistan Of Terror
March 3, 2007-- (RFE/RL) -- Afghanistan's Foreign Minister, Rangin Dadfar Spanta, accused Pakistan today of using terror as its foreign policy.

"I wish that the international community wouldn't give rewards to countries that are supporting the Taliban," Spanta told lawmakers in Kabul.

Afghan officials frequently accuse Pakistani elements of harboring Taliban militants.

Pakistan says it does all it can to fight terrorism. Pakistani intelligence officials say one of the Taliban's top leaders, Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, was arrested in Quetta on March 26, the highest-ranking Afghan militant to be captured since the fall of the hard-line regime in 2001.

The reported arrest -- yet to be formally announced by Pakistan's government -- came on the same day U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney made a visit to Islamabad to express concern about Al-Qaeda regrouping along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
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Afghanistan is skating on thin ice
By Neena Gopal, Special to Gulf News
The arrest of a top Taliban commander by Pakistani authorities, within 24 hours of the departure from the Afghanistan-Pakistan theatre of war of the US Vice- President Dick Cheney, target of a failed assassination attempt, marks a key turning point in relations between Islamabad, Kabul and Washington. It demonstrates that the lame-duck US President George W. Bush has no intention of allowing the only strategy he has got even half-way right to be repudiated, and impact the larger agenda in Iraq and Iran before he demits office.

Indeed, a collision of Sunni-Shiite faultlines in both Middle East countries could shatter the delicate sectarian arrangement - in Afghanistan, where Muharram processions this year were far more overtly aggressive than at any time since the fall of the Taliban; in Pakistan, faced with its own intra-faith conflicts, accused by Shiite Iran of providing sanctuary to perpetrators of the recent Zahedan car bombings. If the road has been bumpy in the run-up to Mullah Obaidullah Akhund's dramatic detention, the one ahead can only get progressively more rocky.

The repercussions in this troubled region will be far-reaching as an impatient US steps up the pressure for results in the short-term, without fully examining the consequences of its actions on allies in Islamabad and Kabul that may or may not be able to withstand the internal dynamics of forces unleashed when Washington decides to keep its friends close and its enemies closer. In both South Asian capitals, an American embrace that reinforces the imagery of doing the US's bidding even if only at the point of withdrawing vital developmental aid to the tune of billions of dollars, could be stifling.

Discredited policy

While turning back the Taliban tide is all too necessary if Afghanistan is to be secured from those committed to retaining their own version of Pakistan's discredited policy of strategic depth, the Islamists ranged against the United States now have the perfect excuse to whip up an anti-establishment frenzy, making both governments - neither standard issue democracies - more vulnerable than ever to accusations of being puppet regimes. A vulnerability underlined when Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's envoy in Washington raised the bogey of an Islamist takeover if the "enlightened Islam" of the president fails to win currency at home.

Complicating matters further may be the fact that the Taliban, kept in abeyance until the moment is right, have run away with the story; the dramatis personae in a script being written on the run have new stars in the rungs of the reconstituted puritanical army. As Akhund's arrest shows, despite the denials, the capital of Pakistan's Balochistan province did become the command and control centre that US and Afghan officials said it was.

It's no longer the one-eyed preacher Mullah Omar, but Akhund who calls the shots in the Quetta Council along with Mullah Barader and the new star of the jihad, the one-legged Mullah Dadullah, who commands a 200-man army. His threat to unleash 2,000 more on the "infidels" in the coming spring single-handedly set off the frenzy in Washington faced with the prospect of seeing their Kabul policy unravel.
Akhund, a former defence minister in Omar's dispensation, survived the bloody trap set for raw recruits who poured across the Pakistan border during the militia's last stand in Kunduz against the US-Northern Alliance onslaught in November 2001. He escaped the death traps of articulated lorries into which Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum packed the benighted, bare-foot, bedraggled army, and melted away as did hundreds of thousands into the craggy, mountain fastness of lands that straddle the Afghan-Pakistan border.

This is when Washington, blinded by anger at 9/11, made its series of tactical errors. It demanded Pakistan hunt down remnants of the Arab-dominated Al Qaida, but turned a blind eye to the homegrown Taliban who with their Pashtun ancestry would always be vulnerable to calls to reclaim their lost emirate. It followed Pakistan's line on bringing in "moderate" Taliban to offset Pashtun anger at being sidelined in a Northern Alliance government in Kabul, a laughable nomenclature given that no talib would ever accept the tag. As Afghan President Hamid Karzai was lulled into a false sense of security by the presence of international troops, the Taliban made a comeback.

But the architects of the Quetta Council, certain to face a stepped up manhunt even in the face of the Akhund sop to the Americans, made their own errors of judgment. They mistook confusion in a Washington distracted by Iraq for weakness, misread talk of a drawdown of British troops for a withdrawal, a power vacuum they could fill. Primarily, they failed to see that war-weary Afghans were unwilling to take dictation from another set of foreigners. Indeed, tribal leaders in Kandahar urging the US to talk directly to their counterparts in Pakistan, could undercut Islamabad's already precarious writ in the tribal areas.

The biggest blunder may have been in taking the war right up to Nato forces who led by a tough talking US general unlike previous forces fed faulty intelligence and manoeuvred into flawed deals, are simply not prepared to walk away. The new generals in charge of Nato have said they will not hesitate to follow insurgents back into Pakistan territory. Hot pursuit. As the snow melts in the mountains, there's certain to be some skating on very thin ice.
Neena Gopal is an analyst on Asia.
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Corrupt cops slow Afghan reform
Some police 'don't provide security for the people - they are the robbers of the people'
By JOHN COTTER, CP Edmonton Sun, Canada
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- One of the first lessons that Afghan police recruits are taught is not to steal.

That shows the challenge faced by Canadians working to reform a police system ravaged by years of corruption and neglect.

"There are some parts of Afghanistan where the last thing people want to see is the police showing up," said Brig.-Gen. Gary O'Brien, former deputy commanding general of police for the Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan.

"The police (in some areas) are corrupt. They are part of the problem. They don't provide security for the people - they are the robbers of the people."

Much of that corruption is by police who steal to feed their families, to survive.

Why? Because in some cases their own senior officers steal part of their wages under an archaic payroll system, O'Brien said.

To deal with the problem the Afghan government has established a plan where police payroll is deposited in banks instead of doled out at the local police station.

Police reform in Afghanistan is as daunting as navigating the country's rugged landscape.

In the 1990s when Canada and other countries helped reform the 5,000-member police force of Kosovo, the autonomous province of Serbia, about 3,000 people were assigned to the project, O'Brien said.

In Afghanistan there are 62,000 police, but barely 500 people are assigned to forging them into a credible force.

The challenges include dealing with recruits and non-commissioned officers who can't read, the lack of a basic management system, poor equipment, low pay and little or no formal training - and all within a struggling criminal justice system in a country battered by decades of war.

To make headway, O'Brien said the focus has been on the very basics.

"We are not training a police officer for the streets of Woodstock, Ontario. We are training a policeman for the wilds of Uruzgan. The training has to be right," he said.

"The basics need to be the understanding of the rule of law - that a policeman is there to protect the people. "

A team of RCMP and municipal police has been advising Afghan police.

RCMP Staff Sgt. Alan McCambridge said that while Afghan police are keen to learn, the vast majority have never been in a classroom and can't read or write.

"Progress is slow because the literacy rate is so low. But when you see the pride they exhibit when they learn a new skill, that's the reward.

"It is going to take years to really change the way the Afghan people look at the police as a respected profession."
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Top commander: Afghanistan needs reconstruction and more forces for security 
Sunday, 04 March 2007 
WASHINGTON, March 3, (APP): The top commander of international forces in Afghanistan has observed that security and stability in the country have a linkage with reconstruction and economic growth and said greater coordination between Pakistan and Afghanistan is essential to check cross-border movement of militants.

Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe, who has the ultimate responsibility for international forces in Afghanistan, said the country is making progress but many challenges remain.  

Craddock spoke of international reconstruction and security efforts and underlined the need for “greater control of the border areas with Pakistan and greater cooperation and coordination between Pakistan and Afghanistan” for NATO control and overall success.

Referring to two million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, he said they are a source of Taliban fighters.

“There are 2 million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, and they are a great source of Taliban fighters because they don’t have any choice,” he said, according to a Pentagon press service.

The United Nations and refugee agencies will have to be brought in to work a solution to this problem, he added.

The military-to-military contacts among Afghanistan, Pakistan and NATO, which work well, can extend to the political side, and there is some hope that will happen, he said.

The commander stated that the international community should continue efforts to train the Afghan National Army and police. The problem is there are not enough forces right now to spread the control into all regions of the country.

“We have to have the numbers, which is why we have to train the Afghan security forces and have all the NATO forces that countries have pledged,” he said.

Conditions are getting better, with NATO nations pledging more forces for the effort. The United States, United Kingdom, Norway and Poland are among the nations that will contribute more forces to the effort. Overall, 7,000 more troops will be part of the effort.

This will help NATO do more stability operations, Craddock said. In the past, NATO forces had to move from place to place to “put out security fires.” Now the troops will be able to dwell in an area and provide that long-term stability that is needed for economic growth.

Gen Craddock told reporters that in addition to dealing with Taliban fighters and other insurgents in the country, Afghanistan is plagued by problems caused by opium cultivation and the drug trade.

ISAF has about 35,000 troops from 35 different nations in Afghanistan. The United States has 15,000 troops serving there under the ISAF banner and a further 11,000 separate from the command.

Craddock recently returned from a visit to Afghanistan. He said he believes the Taliban and other insurgent groups will continue to test ISAF in the spring and summer, but that NATO will be up to the challenge.

Reconstruction and construction are keys to winning in Afghanistan. One reason Afghan farmers turn to growing opium poppy is because there is no alternative. In many areas of the country, there are no decent roads. In other areas, the irrigation system has been destroyed. In many places, drug lords have replaced warlords, and insurgents ­ including the Taliban ­ are receiving much of their money from the drug trade.

World Bank and United Nations reports say that Afghanistan is in danger of becoming a “narco-state.” U.S. estimates are that between 30 percent and 50 percent of the gross domestic product on the nation comes from drugs.

Such a problem does not have an easy answer, Craddock said. Security and stability are tied to reconstruction and economic growth, and all aspects must work together for progress.
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Japan to boost NATO Afghan aid
Kyodo News via The Japan Times, Japan Sunday, March 4, 2007
Japan plans to step up cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for provincial reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan by increasing the number of local Japanese Embassy staff and financial resources, Foreign Ministry officials said Saturday.

The government has decided to increase the staff number to around 30 from the current 25 to strengthen coordination with NATO's Provincial Reconstruction Teams, the officials said. Tokyo is also considering diverting to the PRTs the bulk of an additional $ 300 million Afghan aid it plans to disburse.

A total of 23 countries, mainly from Europe, have supplied the PRTs with troops and civilians engaged in assistance projects, including security duty, building up infrastructure and constructing educational and medical facilities.

When U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney visited Japan last month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his intention to step up cooperation with the PRTs in Afghanistan.

A senior Foreign Ministry official said the government sees it as important to "raise the embassy's capabilities to mobilize resources" in such areas as researching financial assistance for PRT projects.

Besides the additional aid disbursement planned, Japan has provided some $ 49 million to support a Germany-led PRT project designed to repair schools in northern Afghanistan.

Japanese officials are scheduled to hold a senior working-level meeting with NATO in Tokyo on Wednesday and explain Japan's plans.
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The Source of Instability in Afghanistan
Afghanistan Times March 4, 2007 by Dr. Omar Zakhilwal and Hekmat Karzai 
One of the pressing international issues that the US Congress will have to continue to address is the worsening security situation in Afghanistan where violence increased four-fold last year.  Fighting in 2006 resulted in the deaths of over 4,000 people, mostly innocent civilians, compared to about 1500 in 2005.  Last year, suicide attacks were at a record high of 118 compared to 21 the year before.  
There are also disturbing reports of preparation in the tribal belt and provincial city of Quetta, in Pakistan, by the regrouped Taliban to launch a spring offensive, to consolidate their rule on large swaths of southern Afghanistan and to attempt to overrun several major cities.  

While it is doubtful that the Taliban and their allies will succeed in achieving these goals, it is certain that Afghans and NATO forces stationed in Afghanistan face a daunting year ahead, unless a comprehensive strategy is adopted to reverse the trend.  Such a strategy will have to deal with the sources rather than the symptoms of the current instability in southern Afghanistan.

It is now commonly agreed that the Taliban receive financial and military support and an endless stream of recruits from a vast network throughout Pakistan and use the tribal areas close to the Afghan border to plan and train for operations inside Afghanistan. In response, the Musharraf government has focused too narrowly on issues of border security, such as its decision to mine and fence parts of the long mountainous border between the two countries which is neither practical nor will it be effective to stop terrorism.  Instead, President Musharraf can take concrete steps by arresting the active leadership of the Taliban believed to be residing in Quetta and along the border areas – an obligation under the UN Security Council Resolution 1267. The recent alleged capture of Mullah Obaidullah, close aid of Mullah Omar and former Minister of Defence of Taliban, is a positive achievement but it should not take another high-level visit to go after the Taliban and capture a top commander. Pakistan must also stem the preaching of violence on its soil against Afghanistan, close training facilities along the border and disrupt the flow of financial assistance for terrorist activities.

It is clear that peace cannot be established in Afghanistan without full cooperation of Pakistan due to its long history of involvement in Afghan political affairs, presence of close to three million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, and because of more than 2,400 km long open border between the two countries.  Pakistan supported the international community-backed political change after September 11 and expressed commitment to constructive engagement for the rebuilding of Afghanistan. In reality, its involvement seems to be aimed as much at maintaining options.

Pakistan must view developments in Afghanistan in accordance with its legitimate national interests.  A stable, peaceful and democratic Afghanistan would benefit Pakistan more than any other country in the region by providing it a vital economic link with Central Asia and by removing the threat of terrorism from the region. 

Afghanistan, on its part, has to assure Pakistan that its close ties with other regional countries, in particular with India, are not at the expense of its relations with Pakistan.  Afghanistan and Pakistan need to address these issues through constructive and sustained dialogue, which is currently unlikely due to the break-down of trust between the two neighbors as witnessed during the media interaction between the Governor of NWFP, Jan Aurakzai and Asadullah Khalid, Governor of Kandahar.

Given that both countries are key US allies against terror, the US must get more involved to repair their soured relationship.  The US should facilitate a sustained dialogue at the strategic level that results in regular meetings of foreign ministers of the two neighbors with the UN, NATO and the US as observers.  A diplomatic initiative will substantially enhance the scope of structured dialogue between the two countries, which is currently limited to a military level Tripartite Commission 

The US can also support initiatives aimed at strengthening the traditional structures in the border areas of the two countries, including the proposed gathering of elders of Afghanistan and Pakistan which will weaken the influence of the Al-Qaeda and Taliban in the area.  The traditional communities in the region were known for their moderate views on Islam, peace and non-interference, prior to the influx of terrorists and extremists among them.

The goal of sustainable peace and stability in Afghanistan will also require the Afghan government to take concrete steps within the country, including credible and serious measures for good governance, accountability, rule of law, economic development and a holistic approach to fight the menace of narcotics.  It is the lack of adequate progress on these fronts which, in addition to the external factors, have provided impetus for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda insurgency.

After five years of promises of rebuilding, Afghanistan continues to remain one of the poorest countries with some of the worst human development indicators in the world. 

Thus today, Afghanistan stands at a crossroads – one leading to the all too familiar cycle of violence and another leading to stability. Despite being disappointed, an absolute majority of Afghans continue to support the process of peace and stability in their country. To succeed, however, the international community must address the source of instability rather than just symptoms.

Dr. Omar Zakhailwal is the President of Afghanistan Investment Support Agency (AISA) and Hekmat Karzai is the Director of the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies in Kabul, Afghanistan.
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Iran's education minister holds talks with Afghan president 
Kabul, March 2, IRNA - Iranian Education Minster Mahmoud Farshidi on the third day of his trip to Afghanistan held discussions with President Hamid Karzai.

The two sides conferred on expanding cooperation and relations in the cultural, educational and scientific fields within framework of spiritual relations as well as cultural, religious and historical affinities.

Underlining the need for expanding and strengthening bilateral ties, Karzai appreciated Iran's role in reconstruction of his country.

"Education is one of the principal and crucial issues in future destiny of every nation," he added.

Pointing to growth of education in Afghanistan, he noted that the government gives priority to reforms in education.

The government is implementing numerous projects to reform the education system in the country, he noted.

For his part, Farshidi described achievements of educational programs of Iran, adding that Tehran and Kabul are cooperating in this sector such as holding training courses for 200 Afghan teachers.

The minister, heading a delegation of officials of the ministry, arrived in Kabul at an official invitation from his Afghan counterpart Mohammad Hanif Atmar.

The two education ministers signed a memorandum of understanding to stress expansion of mutual cultural relations.

Iran has diverted a sum of some dlrs 1.2 million from the aid package, it has forwarded to Afghans, for commissioning educational projects in Afghanistan.

The aid will be spent on establishment of teacher training, information and research centers in Afghanistan.

Iranian minister and the delegation will return to Iran Friday afternoon.
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Chasing a chimera in Afghanistan
As the US barks up the wrong tree in Afghanistan, the Taliban is using the breather to regroup for another strike
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr Financial Express
The international forces led by Nato are waging a daily battle against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Western military commanders, including some Americans, have admitted lately that the Taliban are regrouping and recouping. It is an admission that the victory achieved during the war in November-December 2001, when the Taliban government was overthrown, has proved to be a slippery one. President Hamid Karzai’s government is living under the shadow of the Taliban for two years.

But the US interlocutors and emissaries—civil and military—choose to harp on rounding up the Al Qaeda. They rarely mention the Taliban. It is not that they cannot distinguish between the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The Americans are not opposed to the Taliban as they are to the Al Qaeda. They consider the Taliban to be local political and military players in Afghanistan. In fact, the Americans had tried in the months before and after September 11, 2001 to negotiate with the Taliban for handing over Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. But the Taliban chose not to abandon the ‘guest’. They would rather go down fighting.

And they did. There is indeed something honourable in their obdurate stance, and it would be better to recognise the virtues of the enemy! With the whereabouts of bin Laden still hazy, it should be open to speculation whether bin Laden was ever in Afghanistan!

The Taliban fled Kabul and almost disappeared into thin air in December 2001. Many of us were mistaken to believe that the Americans would have had to fight every inch of the ground. And it seemed at that time that we had overestimated the Taliban’s warrior mettle. It seems that we are wrong again. The Taliban flight has turned out to be only a tactical retreat. And that is what they have done. They have been striking back with certain regularity throughout last year.

Meanwhile, President Pervez Musharraf had entered into an agreement with the tribal leaders in Waziristan in south-west Pakistan that they would not be subject to military intrusion on the part of Pakistan army though it was clear that the Taliban and other jehadi elements had been taking shelter there. President Karzai is constantly protesting openly over the presence of Taliban in Waziristan and the adjacent areas on Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The Taliban pose a real danger to Karzai and to the democratic set-up in Kabul. The Taliban are political claimants in Afghanistan.

Washington’s arm-twisting of President Musharraf to hunt down the Al Qaeda and ‘smoke out’ bin Laden is assuming a farcical dimension. The international security forces are fighting the Taliban on the ground in Afghanistan, but the American chorus continues to chant the name of Al Qaeda.

The Pakistan establishment finds it convenient to reiterate assurances that the Al Qaeda men would be rounded up, and it is quite sincere about it. But President Musharraf and the army commanders maintain a discreet silence over the Taliban. Days before the Afghan war in 2001, Pakistan army commanders made a last-ditch effort with the Taliban leaders over the handing over of bin Laden. Pakistan had been the official intermediary with the Taliban.

Between 1996 and 2001, three countries had recognised the Taliban regime in Kabul—Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan. Soon, the UAE had downgraded its diplomatic ties with the Taliban. But Pakistan had remained a steadfast friend of the regime till the end. There is nothing surprising about the connection between Pakistan and the Taliban. There is a strong political reason for this. Pakistan had always wanted a say in Afghanistan. In its own way, Pakistan had been playing the little hegemon with its neighbour. The Afghans had always resented this.

When the Soviet troops went into Afghanistan in 1979, and with the more than two million refugees crowding Pakistan cities, Islamabad got the prefect pretext for its interest in Afghan affairs. It is never mentioned that Iran faced a similar Afghan refugee problem in its territory. Pakistan created the Taliban as a political force, and religious fanaticism was only seen as the ideological face of the political gambit. And there was tacit support for this from the Americans.

The Pakistan establishment, including its army commanders, had created this ‘religious army’, but they had no intention or desire of Talibanising themselves. It was meant as a political ploy in a neighbouring country. Of course, it was not an easy thing to do. Religious extremism has seeped into Pakistan society as well, and it poses a real challenge to Pakistan polity.

But that is another story. Pakistan policymakers still see the Taliban as a political pawn to be used in Afghanistan. So, the Americans and the Pakistanis harp on the Al Qaeda. The Americans are literally chasing a chimera. They seem be believe that they have to fight the ideological enemy called the Al Qaeda, even though there is no army of Al Qadea on the ground, either in Afghanistan or in Iraq. The Al Qaeda, including the presence of bin Laden, consists of a motley crowd of zealots from places like Sudan, Algeria, Morocco, Chechnya, and even the Philippines. They are half-mercenaries, half-evangelists. They mouth religious slogans but are not a military force to reckon with in the same way as the Hezbollah is in Lebanon or the Hamas in Palestine.

On the other hand, the Americans are coming round to the view that they have to recognise and negotiate with Hamas and Hezbollah, though it is still not official policy. The Americans follow a similar policy with the Taliban as well. They are only too willing to talk to the Taliban once the ‘religious army’ regains political ground in Afghanistan.

The war against so-called Islamic terrorism remains a slogan on paper. There is no hard reality that corresponds to the description. Pakistan finds it a convenient to deal with American ambiguities. And the Taliban continue to prosper with Pakistan support.
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Afghan arrested for alleged involvement in courtroom blast
PTI Sunday, March 04, 2007  12:55 IST Daily News & Analysis, India
ISLAMABAD: Pakistani police have arrested an Afghan suspected to be involved in a suicide attack in a Quetta courtroom that killed 16 people.

The suspect, who was arrested in Chaman, warned of more suicide attacks, said Qazi Abdul Wahid, Superintendent of Quetta Police, on Saturday.

"He told us that there are more suicide bombers in the city who can carry out attacks," Wahid said.

Wahid said that 200 plainclothes policemen were deployed in different parts of Quetta to keep a strict vigil on movements of suspected terrorists and criminals in the wake of the courtroom attack, the Dawn reported.

On February 17, 16 people, including a judge, were killed and 24 others injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a courtroom in Quetta in restive Balochistan province.
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Revealed: scheme to legalise Afghan opium
AFGHANISTAN'S opium crop will be used to create legitimate drugs under secret plans being considered by the government, Scotland on Sunday can reveal.

The controversial move is being assessed in a desperate bid to control the booming drugs industry - and stem the tide of heroin flooding Britain's streets.

UK ministers have ordered a series of studies into the use of Afghan opium to make legal drugs, including the painkiller morphine, over a six-year period beginning before the American-led coalition ousted the Taliban from the country in 2001.

The disclosures, in a clutch of Foreign Office documents obtained by this paper, come as Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf became the first coalition leader to support buying the entire Afghan poppy crop - for destruction or for legal use.

Musharraf said: "Buying the crop is an idea one could explore. We would need money from the US or the UN. But we could buy up the whole crop and destroy it. In that way the poor growers would not suffer."

The revelation lays bare growing concerns that efforts to destroy Afghanistan's drugs industry are floundering - with devastating implications for the war on narcotics in Britain.

The UK, which is in charge of the international campaign to stamp out the historic opium trade in Afghanistan, has ploughed more than £180m into the counter-narcotics operation in the last four years. The budget, which supports the creation of new justice institutions and alternative livelihoods for farmers - as well as crop-spraying - soared from £23m in 2002-3 to £92m last year.

But the country's opium harvest last year was 50% bigger than in 2005 and 30 times bigger than in 2001, when the Taliban were driven out. It is worth £1.6bn - half Afghanistan's gross domestic product.

While the boom in production is funding the Taliban's new offensive, international governments are in a continual battle with the enormous industry that produces some 92% of the heroin making it on to British streets.

Both the Americans and the new Afghan government insist that the entire heroin trade must be eradicated before a legitimate industry can be established in its place.

But in 2001, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office commissioned consultant David Mansfield to carry out an investigation into legal poppy production in India and Turkey and to "make recommendations about how this might be replicated".

Turkey's illicit opium trade was transformed into a legal industry from the 1960s, with the help of United Nations and US support.

Government experts have highlighted a number of obstacles to making the same historic change in Afghanistan, from local resistance to the cut-throat nature of the international legal drugs market. While Australia can produce 1kg of morphine equivalent at a cost of around £30, India can do it for £75 and Turkey for £125. The current cost of 1kg of morphine equivalent in Afghanistan would be approximately £170.

But the biggest obstacles remain the political opposition of the Americans and Afghan leader Hamid Kharzai.
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Hearts and Minds battle mired in corrupt government, poor policing, civilian deaths
The Associated Press Saturday, March 3, 2007
SPIRWAN, Afghanistan: Abdullah Shah and his son made a pilgrimage to the holy Muslim city of Mecca this January, courtesy of the Afghan government. President Hamid Karzai himself arranged the trip to Saudi Arabia.

The invitation came after Shah's wife, two daughters and three other sons were killed by a wayward NATO bomb in Lagarnai, a village near here in southern Afghanistan.

Shah, in his 70s and wearing the white turban of a religious man, accepted the trip, but not the message.

Before the deaths, "I wasn't with the Taliban and I wasn't with the government," he said. "But, I tell you, now I am Talib."

In the sixth winter since the U.S.-led ouster of the Taliban government, the radical Islamists are making a comeback. Their bold confidence was apparent last week, when a suicide bomber killed 23 outside an air base during Vice President Richard Cheney's visit there.

There are many factors. But citizens like Shah, the Afghan government and key NATO commanders agree on this: The use of force is sometimes excessive and errant. In Afghanistan's tribal society, a single death — no matter if NATO labels it "enemy" — can create scores of sworn foes. And NATO, like the Taliban, has killed hundreds.

The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch estimates that more than 100 Afghan civilians died as a result of coalition assaults in 2006. An AP tally, based on reports from Afghan, NATO and coalition officials, puts the overall death toll of civilians in 2006 at 834, most from militant attacks.

"Killing Taliban is not going to get this country sorted out. That is not going to fix the problem," said Brig. Gen. Tim Grant, commander of Canada's 2,500 troop force, stationed in southern Kandahar, heartland of the resistance to Karzai's government. What's needed, he says, is an Afghan army.

While troops go after Taliban fighters, Grant says that's not a priority for ordinary Afghans; they are frustrated by insecurity and lawlessness, which they blame on a corrupt and inept government whose police extort, threaten and make them feel less secure.

The international troops are there to support Karzai's government. When they do that aggressively, even in response to deadly Taliban tactics, they are seen as brutes protecting an unpopular regime, he said.

"Are we stuck between a rock and a hard place? Yes. We are here at the request of the government and the government has issues and corruption is leading amongst them," said Grant.

The head of an Afghan human rights advocacy group, Nader Nadery, told The Associated Press that Afghans are turning away from the government and the international forces.

Yet most Afghans don't want the foreign soldiers to leave, he said. They keep local warlords and commanders — some now in government — from turning their guns on each other. Such feuds killed thousands of Afghans in the 1990s, destroyed much of the capital, Kabul, and eventually gave rise to the Taliban.

Grant said his priority, higher than chasing Taliban, was training and equipping Afghan forces to provide security on their own by 2009, when the Canadian mission ends.

There's much work to be done.

Wali Mohammad is a police officer in Kandahar, looking smart in his gray woolen hat and pants. He told the AP that a policeman's salary of US$60 (€46) a month is so low it drives police to corruption.

"There is no discipline among the police, no direction," he said. "We are given nice uniforms and weapons but that won't feed our family. We are compelled to be corrupt."

The police chief of Zabul province, Noor Mohammed Paktin, earlier told the AP that criminal gangs abetted by the police and military are as big a threat in some parts of Afghanistan as the religious militia.

With the spring thaw, fighting is sure to intensify.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates promises NATO and coalition forces will go after the Taliban rather than wait for them to strike.

"What we want to do this spring is have this spring offensive be our offensive," he said.

But aggressive action risks a backlash.

In 2006, NATO and coalition forces mounted blistering offensives, including the strongest called Operation Medusa in Panjwayi district of southern Kandahar.

Residents of Spirwan, a village in the heart of the district, fled before last year's operation and had only recently returned when the AP visited this January.

Mohammed Khan, a villager in his 50s with dirt-caked hands from scrounging through the rubble of his home, screamed abuse when he saw a Westerner approach.

"What are these foreign soldiers doing?" he said. "One day they are dropping bombs on us and then they come with three or four dishes of food. What is that? What do they think?"

The offensive against the Taliban left the common people with nothing but problems, he said.

"We hate the world community. We hate America. We hate NATO," he said. "What good are they doing for us? What good is our government doing?"

In what appeared to be the only concrete structure in the otherwise mud-brick village, local elder Dur Mohammed warned that the bombing of villages was creating more Taliban. He sat in the corner of the room, smoking and stroking his artificial leg, lost in the 1980s war against the invading Soviet Union.

"People don't like the Taliban coming into the villages, because then the bombing will come," he said. "But why are they (NATO) killing the Taliban? They are from this country. Why should the foreigners come and kill Afghans?"

Grant said the war is lost if the international community loses the hearts and minds of Afghans. More foreign troops aren't the answer, he said, and when assaults are needed they must be accurate.

A study of the Afghan war released Tuesday by the U.S.-based Jamestown Foundation reached a similar conclusion.

"As coalition troops continue to use close air support and superior artillery firepower to flush Taliban insurgents out of provinces like Kandahar, the real contest for the hearts and minds... may well hinge on the competing sides' "collateral damage" statistics," it said.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies, another Washington-based group, said that NATO and the U.S. military were wrong to emphasize their ability to kill Taliban. "The ensuing collateral damage in a culture that emphasizes revenge has created ten enemies out of one and has disillusioned most Afghans," it said.

Grant says there is more anger today toward the foreign soldiers than in 2005, when he also was stationed in Afghanistan. To turn around that perception means taking risks, he said.

"I tell the troops that there are 55,000 drivers in Kandahar city and maybe five among them are suicide bombers. But if we treat all the other 54,995 drivers like they are all suicide bombers then we have lost," he said.

Some, like Abdullah Shah, who lost so much of his family, can't be won back.

"I don't care. They can kill me. What are the foreign soldiers doing but killing us?" he said, recounting the day his wife and children were struck as they tried to flee. His youngest child, a 10-month-old baby, died with his mother.

"From whom can they protect us? The looters? The looters are the government and they are with the government."
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Presentation of film on "Afghan Women"
Sunday March 04, 2007 (0406 PST), Pakistan -
NEW YORK: The first-ever preview of the film "Afghan Women: A History of Struggle" was presented in the Big Apple as part of the on-going New York Arab and South Asian Film Festival.
Directed by Kathleen Foster, the 65-minute film documents tumultuous history of continuous change within the political landscape of Afghanistan over the past several decades, with a specific focus on impact of each turnover on Afghan women.

With interviews of Afghan women and visuals from various eras of Afghanistan, the film is centered around the third annual conference of Women for Afghan Women at Kandahar in 2003. The event is considered to be a milestone, as it discussed, drafted and signed the Afghan Women's Bill of Rights.

"It is disappointing that the provisions of Afghan Women's Bill of Rights were not included in the Afghan constitution," Foster told Pajhwok Afghan News in an interview before the screening of the film before a select audience.

Screening of the film was followed by an interesting and lively discussion on the status of women in Afghanistan by a panel of eminent speakers.

"We will not give up," said Fahima Vorgetts, an Afghan-American, adding that she and her organisation would continue to work for the empowerment of Afghan women, come what may.
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US official trains Pak, Afghan border guards
Daily Times, Pakistan
PESHAWAR: A United States military officer recently held a workshop to train Pakistani and Afghan border guards and officials in a bid to improve security at the Torkham crossing, official sources told Daily Times on Saturday.

A US military officer of the major rank crossed into Pakistan on February 28 to demonstrate new methods for body-and-vehicle search, at a military compound in the Landikotal town of Khyber Agency, said the sources.

“He demonstrated new skills to improve body searches for people crossing into Afghanistan from Pakistan, and showed how vehicles can be searched for explosives and other dangerous material,” said the officials, who also attended the demonstration. The move comes as a step to improve security following a suicide attack on the Afghan side of Torkham in January that killed a coalition soldier and an Afghan translator.

More than 2,000 people use this border crossing daily, while around 250 trucks take construction and other material into Afghanistan through the same crossing as well.

The sources said that this was the first time that an American military officer crossed the border for such a demonstration. Afghan border officials accompanied the American officer. iqbal khattak
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Taliban hiding in DP camps: Nato
By Our Correspondent Dawn (Pakistan)
WASHINGTON, March 3: In a rare endorsement of Pakistan’s position on the Taliban issue, a senior Nato commander has acknowledged that Afghan refugee camps are a “great source” of strength for the religious militia which is seeking to re-establish itself in Afghanistan.

Army Gen Bantz J. Craddock, Nato’s supreme allied commander for Europe, while briefing reporters in Washington, also urged Afghanistan and Pakistan to work together to beat the insurgency.

“Nato cannot prevail without greater control of the border areas with Pakistan and greater cooperation and coordination between Pakistan and Afghanistan,” he said.

The general conceded that Taliban insurgents were hiding among Afghanistan refugees because it was easy for them to do so.

“There are two million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and they are a great source of Taliban fighters because they don’t have any choice,” he said.

Gen Craddock also conceded that the United Nations and refugee agencies will have to be brought in to work a solution to the refugee problem.

Pakistan has long insisted that Taliban insurgents often hide among Afghan refugees in the NWFP and Balochistan.

Like other Afghans, they also carry refugee cards which allow them to move across the border and live and work on both sides of the Durand Line.

An estimated three million Afghan refugees live in Pakistan and Islamabad has proposed closing at least four major camps and repatriating those living there to Afghanistan.

While the Afghan government wants Pakistan to stop cross-border movement of Taliban insurgents, it is unwilling to accept the refugees, saying that it does not have the infrastructure to deal with the proposed repatriation of hundreds of thousands of people.
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Expo showcase for Afghan calligraphy 
By REBECCA TORR Gulf Daily News, Bahrain
AFGHAN calligraphy and artwork is being showcased at the Beit al Quran, Manama, until the end of this month.

Ink from Ashes is the first major exhibition of contemporary calligraphy from Afghanistan ever to be shown in the Middle East.

It includes 76 new and recent works by 36 calligraphers and illumination artists from across Afghanistan.

The main feature of the exhibition is the work of younger artists in their 30s and 40s, but it also includes work by Wakili Azizuddin Populzai, one of Afghanistan's greatest living calligraphers.

The exhibition also features the work of renowned artists from the new Turquoise Mountain Centre of Traditional Afghan Arts and Architecture - Muhammed Mahfouz Seyyed Khili and Abdul Sabour Omari.

Work by young students, who are on apprenticeship at the centre, is also being exhibited.

"There are 36 calligraphers - four are my students, seven are classic calligraphers and 25 contemporary," Mr Khili said.

"Afghan artwork is similar to Iranian, but it shares commonalities with all Islamic countries. "Different countries specialise in different types of calligraphy and artists in Afghanistan and Iran are good at Diwani."

The exhibition begins with a selection of artwork from the 16th century Herat School of miniature painting.

After decades of war, the exhibition signals a new renaissance of the arts in Afghanistan. The pieces on show represent artists' pride in their country and their belief in the importance of the sacred art of the pen.

"We are trying to make people more aware of Afghanistan's art. The situation of the people in my country is getting better because there is now more freedom," said Mr Khili, 47, who has been practising calligraphy since the age of seven.

The exhibition is being held in partnership with The Turquoise Mountain Foundation (TMF). It was founded in March last year as a British registered non-profit, non-government organisation with the support and patronage of Prince Charles and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai.

The foundation is investing in Afghanistan's traditional crafts and historic buildings to preserve its heritage, regenerate urban areas, attract visitors, develop Afghan businesses, build government institutions and raise living standards.

The exhibition will be open until March 29 and organisers are hoping it will then tour the rest of the Arab region and the world.

Standard Chartered Bank is sponsoring the event. For further information, call TMF director of cultural programmes and exhibitions Jemima Montagu on 39625028 or e-mail
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10 polio check posts set up along Pak-Afghan border
Daily Times, Pakistan
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has set up 10 vaccination posts at the crossing points on its border with Afghanistan to ensure that all children under five years of age are immunised with polio drops as cross border transmission of the virus is a major challenge in eradicating the disease.

Federal Health Minister Muhammad Nasir Khan said this while addressing the Global Polio Stakeholders meeting in Geneva. He said that jirgas (council meetings) would be held on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border to discuss and evolve a joint strategy to save hundreds of children from this epidemic.

Pakistan and Afghanistan are considered as one epidemiological block and both countries are conducting joint risk analyses with the help of international donors.

The minister claimed that most areas of Pakistan were polio-free as 60 percent of all polio cases were being reported from only six districts. “The country has been able to bring down the number of polio cases from around 30,000 a year to just 40 cases in last year. But we will not rest till the last traces of the virus disappear from the country and all resources are being employed to achieve this end,” he said.

On the sidelines of the meeting, Khan also held a meeting with Paula Dobriansky, the US under secretary for democracy and global affairs, and briefed her on steps taken by the Pakistani government to provide access to quality healthcare in the country. Referring to child health as a key element of Pakistan’s health policy, the minister said immunisation was being strengthened to prevent children from deadly and debilitating diseases and there was a commitment in the country to allocate maximum resources to initiatives such as polio eradication. Dobriansky appreciated the initiatives being taken in Pakistan’s health sector.

Khan also held detailed discussions with Margaret Chang, the World Health Organisation (WHO) director general, and apprised her of the overall health scenario in Pakistan with particular emphasis on strategies to combat diseases such as polio. staff report
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Trucks carrying foodstuff to US forces torched
JALALABAD, Mar 2 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Three trucks carrying foodstuff for US forces were attacked and torched on the Kabul-Jalalabad highway, in Laghman province last night, officials and witnesses said Friday.

Drivers of the trucks heading to a US military base in Laghman were wounded in the attack which occurred late Thursday night.

Col. Yar Muhammad, chief of the crime branch of Laghman police, told Pajhwok Afghan News that unidentified armed men ambushed the trucks in Qarghayee district just before midnight. Three guards who had been assigned to protect the trucks have been arrested by the police, he said.

He blamed enemies of the country for the attack, a term often used by government officials to refer to Taliban fighters.

Muhammad Daud, a passenger on the way from Kabul to Jalalabad early this morning said he saw smoke still billowing from the remains of the trucks, lying on the roadside.

Eng. Haron Zarghoon, a purported spokesman for the Hizb-i-Islami militant group, said his fighters carried out the attack.

Clashes in Kunar
Meanwhile, officials in the neighboring Kunar province say Taliban attacked government forces in two districts last night, but there are contradictory reports on casualties.

Provincial governor, Shalizai Didar, said an Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier was wounded in clashes with Taliban fighters in Manogai district Thursday night, as his convoy came under attack.

The Taliban has a different version of the incident. Its spokesman for eastern Afghanistan, Zabihullah Mujahid, claimed several foreign soldiers were killed when the Taliban attacked a base of the foreign troops in Tangi area of Manogai last night. He said both heavy and light weapons were used in the attack on the military base during the hour-long fighting.

In Watapur district, provincial security chief, Gen. Saboor Allayar, said a police patrol came under attack by Taliban fighters late last night. The agents suffered no casualties as they responded immediately, he added.
Abdul Mueed Hashimi
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Reviving Afghan Children song after four decades
NEW YORK, March 2 (Pajhwok Afghan News): More than three and half decades after she lived in Afghanistan as a US Peace Corpse volunteer way back in 1968, Louise Pascale, now a professor of music at Lesley University, in Massachusetts stumbled upon a worn out book in her book case one fine day.

It was probably the only book of its kind in existence, she now realized. This was Afghan childrens song, which she had herself prepared in 1968.  Suddenly her memory went back into Afghanistan of late 1960 when the country was much more open than today and songs were part and parcel of the culture.

Pascale remembers how as a young lady she went from one school in Kabul to the other singing these songs before the children and then asking them to draw paintings based on these songs. It is these paintings that she used to publish in the book of songs.

With Afghanistan in the midst of a civil-war, wherein fundamentalists tended to destroy all these reflections of a rich cultural heritage, she vowed that day that she would return to the children of Afghanistan these songs at a time when they needed them the most to bring them cheers on their faces.

Otherwise, the book in my bookcase, would have no meaning. It is useless. It should go back to the place where it rightly belongs, Pascale told Pajhwok Afghan News in an exclusive interview.

After nearly four-five years of effort, result is there for all to see. Today she has sent some 3,000 books a newer version in a package consisting of a compact disc and audio cassette to be distributed free of cost to schools in Afghanistan. She is planning to send another lot of 5,000 soon.

In the US and Canada, the book Qu Qu Barg-e-Chinar is much in demand. It has already sold the first 500 copies of the book in the first few months. Now she is planning to print another 2,000 more for sale in North America. Proceeds from this book go for the printing of the book for distribution in Afghanistan, she says.

The book now a melodious collection of songs still consists of 16 songs in four languages --  Pashto, Hazari and Uzbeki and Farsi. Eight of these songs are from the old book and the rest eight have been compiled by the Toronto-based Afghan expatriate, Vaheed Kaacemy, himself a musician and a former teacher of music in Kabul.

Composed by Kaacemy, all the songs have been sung by Afghan children who live in Toronto.  The book has another feature. For the first time, we are having a rhyme of Afghan alphabet, she said.

It took me four-five years to complete this entire project, she says.  Recognizing her contribution, the Afghan Embassy in Washington has decided to felicitate her on March 8.

Pascal said initially she thought of reprinting the book as it is. "Then I though, I should return to the children of Afghanistan as a song," she said, guessing that probably people would have even forgot about the music and tune of these songs which were once very popular.  She was right.

After listening to these for the first time, Shamim Jawad, Founder of AYENDA - The Afghan Childrens Initiative - and wife often  the Afghan Ambassador to the US became very emotional and said that she was listening these after decades, Pascal said, adding that same was the case with others.

"I did not realize that this would evoke such a positive response from Afghans all over the world," she said. Now the Afghan Government has approached Kaacemy for a second book of songs for Afghan children. "Hope this is the revival of music in Afghanistan," she said, adding that the book has been achieved in partnership with Ayenda, National Geographic Society and the Afghanistan Ministry of Education.

When asked, what is her message for the children of Afghanistan, she said: "Sing. Keep singing. Keep these songs alive. Music is an important part if the culture."  In few months for now, Pascal would not be requiring these words to send her message across the children of Afghanistan.

Come June, she would be visiting Afghanistan after a gap of as many as 39 years. It is a long time. Lot of things has happened in between both in Afghanistan and the outside world. "I am eagerly waiting for my trip to Afghanistan," she said.

"When I was in Afghanistan it was a very good time for me, I learned a lot. I think this project give me an opportunity to give something back to Afghanistan," she said.
Lalit K. Jha
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