Afghan warlord splits with Taliban
By ZARAR KHAN, Associated Press Writer Thu Mar 8, 6:29 PM ET
KARACHI, Pakistan - A veteran Afghan warlord wanted by the U.S. distanced himself from the Taliban and gave his strongest indication yet that he was open to talks with embattled President Hamid Karzai.
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's overtures are unlikely to blunt a Taliban offensive against NATO troops in southern Afghanistan. But security experts said they could herald a new phase in efforts to reconcile the country's warring factions.
In a video response to questions submitted by The Associated Press, Hekmatyar indicated that his Hezb-i Islami group contacted Taliban leaders sometime in 2003 and agreed to wage a joint jihad, or holy war, against American troops.
"The jihad went into high gear, but later it gradually went down as certain elements among the Taliban rejected the idea of a joint struggle against the aggressor," Hekmatyar said, framed against a white wall in the video received Thursday.
"It was not a good move by the Taliban to disassociate themselves from the joint struggle," he added. "Presently we have no contact with the Taliban."
The Taliban has vowed to intensify its resistance this spring, and says it has thousands of forces deployed in southern Afghanistan, where NATO this week launched its biggest offensive yet.
There has been no indication that Hekmatyar's Hezb-i Islami, which is more active in eastern Afghanistan, would also ramp up its attacks.
Hekmatyar, who once served as Afghan prime minister, said his forces were now mounting only restricted operations, partly due to a lack of resources. But he insisted he had a large pool of fighters who could sustain a long struggle, and sent a defiant message to President Bush that the United States had no hope of defeating the insurgency.
"You must have realized that attacking Afghanistan and Iraq was a historic mistake," Hekmatyar said, addressing Bush. "You do not have any other option but to take out your forces from Iraq and Afghanistan and give the Iraqis and Afghans the right to live their own way."
However, his tone was more conciliatory toward both the West and Karzai than in past messages. He gave his most explicit offer yet to negotiate with Karzai, though he suggested there must be a cease-fire before talks, a condition unlikely to be accepted by the U.S.-backed government.
"We say that dialogue can only be fruitful if the aggressors truly allow the Kabul government to halt the fighting, negotiate with the mujahedeen and honor what Kabul and the resistance decide," said Hekmatyar, wearing spectacles and a black turban.
"This is the prime and basic demand of the Afghan nation, and if such a conducive environment could be provided, we can go for dialogue with Karzai," he said.
According to the March 5 edition of the Germany weekly Der Spiegel, Karzai said he intends to conduct talks with the more pragmatically minded of the insurgents' supporters. He cited Hekmatyar and fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
"Mullah Omar and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar are welcome, if it's about securing peace and stability in Afghanistan; however, the people must pass judgment on their atrocities," Karzai is quoted as telling the magazine.
Karzai has repeatedly offered amnesty to former militants willing to reconcile with the government. It is unclear, however, if that invitation — which few have taken up — extends to Hekmatyar, or whether it has the support of Afghanistan's Western backers.
Neither Karzai's office nor Taliban spokesmen could be reached for comment late Thursday.
Analysts urged caution, however.
Seth Jones, a political scientist at the Rand Corporation, said he was skeptical of Hekmatyar's motives. "It's an odd time for Hekmatyar to jump ship," said Jones. "His organization has been so deeply involved and successful in attacks. To suddenly disassociate himself from a strong Taliban and speak to Karzai is really an interesting development. I'd be shocked if he actually means it."
Daniel Markey, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, agreed.
"On the one hand, this could be a major blow to the Taliban. But there are deep concerns for the Afghan government about reeling Hekmatyar in. He's on the list of the worst terrorists in the country, and if Karzai takes him in, it would be seen as a sign of weakness by the Afghan people," Markey said. "I'd be leery of anything Hekmatyar says. He's switched sides so many times through the years."
Steven Simon, senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, suggested Hekmatyar may simply be trying to deflect criticism from himself and his former backer, the Pakistani government, which is under increasing pressure by the U.S. to step up its anti-terror efforts.
Hezb-i Islami was a central player in the CIA-backed mujahedeen resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, and in the civil war that followed, but it was sidelined by the Taliban militia's rise to power in the mid-1990s.
Many Hezb-i Islami commanders defected to the Taliban in the 1990s, and both groups find their main support among Pashtuns, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group.
Hekmatyar opposed the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001 that pushed the Taliban from power. His followers have since waged a campaign of violence against American and allied forces. His exact whereabouts have been unknown since he returned from exile in Iran in 2002.
In the video, Hekmatyar called Hezb-i Islami "the only party in Afghanistan which has the capability to form a strong, stable Islamic government." AP's questions were submitted through an intermediary three weeks ago, and there was no indication of where or exactly when the video was made.
Patrick Cronin, a South Asia expert at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London, said Hekmatyar may be positioning himself as a successor to Karzai.
"Politically, what we see here is the jockeying for future power in a country where Karzai's political support is still high, but diminished, and eventually is a fading asset," Cronin said.
In a recording aired on Pakistani television in January, Hekmatyar claimed his fighters had helped al-Qaida leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri escape intense U.S. bombardment in Afghanistan's Tora Bora mountains five years earlier.
In the latest video, he said his men had helped the al-Qaida leaders "because they were the guests of the Afghan nation," but that Hezb-i Islami had never had any organizational links with al-Qaida.
Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general working as a defense analyst, said Hekmatyar's influence has eroded but his knowledge of militant networks in the region could help him negotiate a comeback.
"He must be one of those who has some idea where Osama is," Masood said. "He's not a man of conscience."
Hekmatyar defended the use of suicide attacks, but said his group had "felt no need" to use an Iraq-style tactic increasingly favored by the Taliban.
The United States considers Hekmatyar a terrorist, and a CIA drone fired a missile at him near Kabul in 2002, but missed.
Hekmatyar said American forces had twice come close to him on the ground. Once, U.S. special forces approached along the road leading to a house where he was staying, forcing him to flee up a mountainside.
"I was just two hundreds yards up from them. They reached my neighbor's house," he said. "I was watching them and I could hear their voices. But they searched and left with mission un-accomplished and I came back to my place in peace."
The second time, Hekmatyar said he camped for two nights in the mountains to avoid a U.S. military patrol. He did not say when or where the encounters occurred.
"Since then, I am sorry that we were not in a position to fight. Had we had enough men and weapons, there was no better chance to beat them. Not a single American of that group could have survived," he said.
Associated Press writers Stephen Graham and Matthew Pennington contributed to this report from Islamabad, Pakistan.
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Afghan official a convicted trafficker
By MATTHEW PENNINGTON, Associated Press Writer Thu Mar 8, 4:17 PM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - When the deal went down in Las Vegas, the seller was introduced only as "Mr. E." In a room at Caesars Palace hotel, Mr. E exchanged a pound-and-a-half bag of heroin for $65,000 cash — unaware that the buyer was an undercover detective. The sting landed him in Nevada state prison for nearly four years.
Twenty years later and Mr. E, whose real name is Izzatullah Wasifi, has a new job. He is the government of Afghanistan's anti-corruption chief.
Wasifi leads a staff of 84 people charged with rooting out the endemic graft that is fueled in part by the country's position as the world's largest producer of opium poppy, the raw ingredient of heroin.
President Hamid Karzai's office won't say if he knew about the drug conviction when Wasifi was appointed two months ago as general-director of the General Independent Administration of Anti-Corruption and Bribery. Wasifi, a childhood friend of Karzai, is the son of a prominent Afghan nationalist leader.
An Associated Press review of criminal records in Nevada and California revealed that the 48-year-old Wasifi was arrested at Caesars Palace on July 15, 1987, for selling 650 grams (23 ounces) of heroin. Prosecutors said the drugs were worth $2 million on the street.
Wasifi served three years and eight months in prison before winning parole.
In an interview in his modest office at the anti-corruption bureau in Kabul, Wasifi confirmed to AP that he had been imprisoned in Nevada for a drug offense, although his account of events differed from the court records of his case.
He said he was arrested on the third day of his honeymoon. His then-wife, named in court records as Fereshteh Behbahani, bought cocaine for her own use in a bar of a Las Vegas hotel and brought it to their room where they were arrested, he said.
"My wife made an error," said Wasifi, looking dapper in a navy suit and waistcoat.
"A lot of people go to Las Vegas for fun and for snuff," he continued, pointing to his nostril and sniffing. "This thing happened."
In Los Angeles, Wasifi's ex-wife Behbahani, 50, who was sentenced to three years probation for conspiring to traffic drugs with Wasifi, declined to be interviewed by an AP reporter.
"My mother says they are all political lies. This incident happened a long time ago and she has moved on. We are a very private family," her son Tony said.
Wasifi is the son of Azizullah Wasifi, a former agriculture minister and aide to former Afghan King Mohammed Zaher Shah. Wasifi said he grew up in Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan, with Karzai and has known the 49-year-old president since childhood. Both men studied in India at the same time — Wasifi earning a bachelors degree at Punjab Agricultural University.
Wasifi's family went into exile after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, first in Pakistan, then in the United States.
According to Wasifi, Karzai's elder brother, Qayyum, now an Afghan lawmaker, gave Wasifi his first job after he moved to the U.S. in 1983, working as a waiter at a hotel restaurant he ran in Maryland. Wasifi later ran a restaurant himself in Los Angeles. He and his brother Bashir had a franchise of Ameci Pizza & Pasta between 1994-1999, company president Nick Andrisano confirmed.
Wasifi remained politically active in the expatriate community during exile, as his father sought to bring different Afghan factions together under the leadership of the aging king. He returned to Afghanistan in 2001 after the U.S.-led ouster of the hard-line Taliban regime.
Wasifi is adamant his drug conviction in the United States should not affect his ability to serve in government in Afghanistan, and compares his situation to President Bush, who was once arrested in 1976 for drunk driving.
"Everybody through their lifetime has done something, fallen somewhere or done some mistake," said Wasifi, who wears a neat beard and mustache and gold-rimmed reading spectacles. "That's the only thing I can say about it."
He pointed to his record as governor of western Farah province, where opium production dropped 25 percent during his 14-month tenure before he took his current position. Counternarcotics officials said the drop was mostly due to drought, but also due to poppy eradication campaigns led by Wasifi.
Afghanistan produces more than 90 percent of the world's opium. The drop in Farah bucked an alarming nationwide trend that saw poppy cultivation rise 59 percent between 2005 and 2006 to an all-time high — producing enough for about 670 tons of heroin. U.N. officials warn that this year could see a record crop.
Officials who worked with Wasifi in Farah mostly commended his work. They said he promoted development, persuaded Iran to open a border crossing to increase trade and also got on well with U.S. forces who ran a provincial reconstruction base in the Afghan province.
"Roads were built during his time. He built clinics and schools. Most of the time he consulted with Farah elders to hear what they had to say. He was from Kandahar, but he would not discriminate," said Shah Mohammad Noor, the head of official archives in Farah.
In his new job, Wasifi is charged with tackling bribery and administrative corruption rather than pursuing counternarcotics cases. He is vowing to tackle graft "from the top down" and wants to place anti-graft investigators to monitor every ministry.
But allegations of corruption and immorality have swirled around Wasifi too. Such accusations are common in Afghan officialdom, where graft is endemic and many police and administrators profit from the $3 billion narcotics trade.
He categorically denies any involvement. Anti-narcotics officials in Afghanistan, speaking on condition of anonymity, say there is no evidence to prove that Wasifi is still involved in Afghanistan's booming heroin trade.
Nafaz Gul, a female lawmaker from Farah, also accused him of un-Islamic behavior, such as drinking alcohol. She said Wasifi was replaced as governor after locals last August staged a protest over deteriorating security in the province.
Those allegations pale next to accusations leveled at Afghan faction leaders suspected of war crimes during years of civil conflict.
But Wasifi's record as a convicted felon stands out in a country just starting to re-establish its justice system.
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department report that was submitted as evidence at his trial describes how an undercover police detective, posing as a drug dealer, met Wasifi in a bar of the Caesars Palace on the evening of July 15, 1987 — Wasifi's 29th birthday.
A confidential police informant with Wasifi introduced him as "Mr. E."
The three went together to a room in the hotel, where Wasifi produced 650 grams of brown "Persian" heroin packed in a gray plastic bag from behind one of the pillows on the bed. He offered to sell it for $65,000. When the detective later handed over the money, Wasifi said he was getting 13.2 pounds of heroin within the next 20 days from Afghanistan.
As Wasifi left after the transaction, he was arrested. His wife, Behbahani, who appeared to be acting as a lookout in the hallway, was also nabbed, the police report said.
Court records show Wasifi pleaded guilty to trafficking in a controlled substance and was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Aug. 10, 1988. That was reduced to six years after he got a new lawyer and appealed, on Nov. 4, 1991, saying he was duped by ineffective counsel into pleading to a no-parole sentence.
He was freed by the end of 1991 — in line with state policies which allow for release after about two-thirds of time served. He was also fined $50,000.
According to Wasifi's written plea at his appeal, police had wanted him to work undercover for them, and they freed the couple without any type of bond after their initial arrest.
But Wasifi could not find more drug dealers for police to arrest. He was unable to locate his original heroin supplier and "did not know anyone in the drug underworld," the plea said.
The couple were rearrested on a charge of unlawful flight in March 1988 at their Los Angeles home and then tried for drug trafficking. According to Wasifi's plea, they had not attempted to flee and were unaware that they had been indicted in September 1987, 163 days after their original arrest in Las Vegas.
Karzai spokesman Khaleeq Ahmed said he could not immediately comment on whether or not the president had been aware of Wasifi's record when he appointed him.
But Western diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, say Wasifi's criminal record is known to U.N. officials and international donors and that Karzai is under pressure to replace him. They have not gone public with their concerns in expectation that Karzai will take action, the diplomats said.
Wasifi, in the AP interview, warned that publicizing his drug conviction would only "sharpen the knives" of corrupt critics in government who wanted him out because of his threats to expose them.
"How many people do we see in this country who are killers, the biggest drug traffickers? They are ruining this administration, this regime," he said. "What about them?"
Associated Press writers Ken Ritter in Las Vegas, Andrew Glazer in Los Angeles and Brendan Riley in Carson City, Nev., as well as Fisnik Abrashi and Amir Shah in Kabul contributed to this report.
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German aid worker shot dead in Afghanistan
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (AFP) - Unknown gunmen shot dead a German aid worker in northern Afghanistan after letting three Afghans he was travelling with go free, Afghan officials said.
The man's organisation, German Agro Action (Deutsche Welthungerhilfe), confirmed he had been shot in the northern province of Sari Pul but said it had not verified he had been killed.
The group had been travelling by vehicle to assess newly built schools and bridges, a media officer in Berlin said. Governor Sayed Iqbal Munib told AFP they were stopped by armed men.
"They were threatened and the Afghans were released. They kept the German national and he was killed later," he told AFP on Thursday.
"The Afghans reported to the district police and as police approached the site of the incident, the foreign national was killed."
The Afghan interior ministry confirmed that a German national had been killed.
"This is the work of bandits not Taliban," spokesman Zemarai Bashary said in Kabul. "Police have launched a heavy search in the area to find the bandits."
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier strongly condemned the attack.
"The German government will do everything possible to establish the circumstances of this terrible crime and to see to it that those responsible are brought to justice," he said from Brussels.
The Taliban are waging an insurgency that is focused on southern and eastern Afghanistan. An Italian journalist and two Afghan colleagues have been held by Taliban fighters since Sunday and are accused of being spies.
The north of Afghanistan is relatively stable but sees factional fighting and banditry. Gunmen shot dead two German journalists in the northern province of Baghlan in October in a case that has never been publicly resolved.
A media officer for Deutsche Welthungerhilfe, which is working on food security and infrastructure development in Afghanistan, said the group had been told the man was shot but "we still don't know if he is really dead."
"He was driving with local staff members in two cars and two people with weapons stopped the car and shouted at the staff, saying 'Why are you working with German people,'" Stefanie Koop told AFP from Berlin.
"They sent them (the Afghans) away and they heard shots and when they came back they say saw him lying in the car, or on the floor, and they thought he was dead." He was taken to hospital in Sari Pul.
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Central authority proposed on international relief in Afghanistan
by P. Parameswaran
WASHINGTON (AFP) - Afghanistan needs a powerful central authority to coordinate critical international relief operations amid the worsening narcotics and corruption problems there, the recently retired NATO supreme commander said.
US Marine Corps General James Jones, who stepped down in December as Supreme Allied Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), said the United Nations was not playing an effective coordinating role at present.
Testifying at a US Senate hearing, Jones warned that international efforts to contain the narcotics problem, bring about judicial reforms and train a national police force in Afghanistan were on "life support" and called for immediate remedies.
He said Afghanistan needed a figure like British politician Paddy Ashdown, who oversaw the civilian aspects of Bosnia's post-war reconstruction since the Dayton peace accords in 1995.
UN High Representative Lord Ashdown retired last year as the top international official in Bosnia and Hercegovina. He was known to have frequently used robust methods, including sacking Bosnian Serb officials, in his bid to strengthen central institutions.
"What is lacking in my view in Afghanistan is that central authoritative figure that can in fact focus the international relief effort in a way that it tackles three or four things that absolutely have to be done," Jones told the hearing that assessed the global strategy in the insurgency-wracked nation.
"If you look back to Bosnia, you remember Paddy Ashdown who was such a figure, and when Paddy Ashdown spoke, Bosnians, Serbs and Croats listened," Jones said.
"There is no Paddy Ashdown that I have seen in the effort in Kabul, in Afghanistan, and I think that either a person or a group of people -- whatever the solution is -- that can bring discipline to the effort that we are doing in Afghanistan is necessary," he said.
The current structure of the UN envoy in Afghanistan and the overlapping amalgamation of organizations, like the EU, NATO, UN list of groups and non-governmental organizations was a "loose relationship" and "is not bringing about the focus that is necessary," he explained.
Jones said he was still convinced there could be success in Afghanistan but if greater efforts were made in three critical areas -- the British-led fight against narcotics, the Italian-led introduction of judicial reforms and the German-led training of an Afghan national police force.
"Narcotics is the killing fields of Afghanistan, it affects every aspect of that society, it fuels crime, corruption, violence," he said.
He regretted the "failure" of the international community to coalesce around the British-led campaign against narcotics, saying there was "much more backsliding than anything else" during his watch.
"Narcotics to me is the number one problem, number two -- and which has to be tackled at the same time -- is judicial reform, which is an Italian-led commitment and it is also on life-support," he said.
Jones cited the wide disparity in the income of the average prosecutor in Afghanistan, who makes 65 dollars a month, and the average interpreter for the United Nations, who makes about 750 dollars a month.
"There are a thousand prosecutors in Afghanistan and the court system is not up to task of prosecuting people, trying them and and then putting them away. Instead, what we are seeing is a little bit of a revolving door.
"The really big fish is still out there and operating," he said.
Corrupt officials also have been skimming pay before it gets to policemen who were already lowly paid, US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher said in his testimony.
He said a new pay distribution system that used electronic transfers instead of cash and a police ID system to reduce opportunities for fraud were being devised.
On the Taliban militia-led violence in Afghanistan blamed on neighboring Pakistan, Jones said the last big meeting he had before his retirement was with a senior military official in Pakistan.
"I showed him graphic evidence of what was happening across the border," he said, adding that the Pakistani military had provided him with some stated "goals."
Jones said that the test of their sincerity would be in spring, when the much anticipated new offensive by the Taliban would occur.
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HOW AL’QAEDA REVIVED ITS STRUCTURE
AHMED RASHID IN LAHORE Daily Telegraph. March 9, 2007
Osama bin Laden could not have imagined as he fled the battlefield in Tora Bora in 2001 that he would have lived to see his 50th birthday.
But he has done that and more - restructuring al’ Qaeda despite its losses, creating new base areas in Africa and Iraq, expanding into Europe, drawing in thousands of new recruits around the world, reviving the Taliban movement in Afghanistan and turning Pakistan into terrorism central.
Last month US intelligence officials revealed that Bin Laden had wanted to die fighting in Tora Bora alongside his followers, but they forced him to flee into Pakistan’s mountainous tribal. From here he and his deputy Ayman al’ Zawahiri have reshaped al’ Qaeda.
Although bin Laden takes part in strategic decision making, day to day running of the movement is in the hands of al’ Zawahiri, the Egyptian doctor who has placed fellow Egyptians in many of the key leadership positions in the movement.
Before 9/11 senior posts in al’ Qaeda were largely staffed by Saudis and Yemenis. There have been long standing rumors of tensions among the Arabs, but bin Laden has always been weak on organization and is reported to have accepted al’ Zawahiri’s major contribution in al’ Qaeda’s revival.
While bin Laden remains the spiritual and military inspiration for the movement, al’ Zawahiri has fashioned a core group of no more than 100 Arab trainers - all experts - in the fields of explosives, finances, communications, military training, urban warfare and propaganda who lend themselves out to all comers.
Unlike before 9/11 when al’ Qaeda camps in Afghanistan taught the whole jihad compendium to recruits, tight secrecy and deliberate compartmentalization means that today’s trainers only expose themselves to new recruits in those fields where they need training.
Thus at least two of the 7/7 London bombers were trained in explosives, while the Taliban have been helped in fund raising and organization and Pakistani extremists who back up al’ Qaeda have been taught logistics, communications and propaganda.
Zawahiri, a long time believer in suicide bombings and so called ‘fedayin attacks’ where militants attack soft targets in order to maximize enemy casualties but still have a chance of escape, has injected these modes of warfare into places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq where they were not part of tradition or culture. Afghanistan saw 139 suicide bombings in 2006 compared to just 27 in 2005.
Zawahiri’s trainers have also helped encourage the cross fertilization of expertise and experience so that the Taliban now travel to Iraq, Pakistanis to Somalia and European Muslims sign up for suicide bombing in the Middle East.
At the same time the centralization of al’ Qaeda before 9/11 has been replaced by a decentralized organization where groups such as those in Iraq or Algeria exercise independence in decision making and strategy planning – even as they still pledge allegiance to bin Laden.
What unites and inspires all these groups remains the global jihad ideology of the original al’ Qaeda. In his most recent speeches rather than talk about day to day events as al’ Zawahiri does, bin Laden expounds on the theory and practice of global jihad – the toppling of corrupt Muslim rulers, uniting the Muslim world under one leader, spreading Islam and taking on the West.
However the truth remains that Bin Laden has survived half a century, not due to luck or competence but due to the failed policies of the United States which declined to chase him down when it was much easier to do so and instead focused on invading Iraq.
Those truly celebrating today will be the al’ Qaeda foot soldiers who urged bin Laden to flee the snow bound freezing Tora Bora mountains, allowing al’ Qaeda to survive and thrive. If bin Laden were to die tomorrow his message and organization will still remain a major threat to the world.
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Soldier killed in grenade attack
Thursday, 8 March 2007, 19:16 GMT BBC News
A soldier has been killed in a grenade attack in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence has said.
The soldier, from 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, died from his injuries after the attack on a British base in Sangin, in Helmand province.
Four British soldiers and marines have been killed in the province in less than a week as fighting intensifies.
His death brings to 52 the total number of UK troops to die while serving in Afghanistan since 2001.
The soldier was among 4,500 troops involved in Operation Achilles, as fighting intensifies in the province.
He died in hospital at British base Camp Bastion from injuries sustained when the grenade was fired at the base.
The MoD said his next of kin have been informed and have requested a period of grace before further details are released.
UK Task Force commander Brigadier Jerry Thomas said: "Regrettably I must report a further death today.
"At this very difficult time our thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues and I want to convey my sincere and heartfelt condolences to them."
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Insecurity holding back help for Afghan women
Thu Mar 8, 10:49 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Afghanistan's rampant insecurity is holding back efforts to improve the lives of women who still face enormous hardships five years after the fall of the Taliban fell, UN officials said Thursday.
Health and education programmes cannot penetrate volatile areas and the Taliban's burning of schools is undermining efforts to put girls into schools, they said at an event in Kabul to mark International Women's Day.
The Taliban government toppled in 2001 was notorious for its bad treatment of women who were forced to wear the all-covering burqa and stopped from going to school or work, or leaving the house without a male relative.
Despite the efforts of the new government and its international partners, Afghan women are still among the worst off in the world: most are illiterate, many have no access to health care, and child and forced marriages are common.
"The insecurity is very much an issue," UNICEF project office Suraya Dalil said at a fair in Kabul's Women's Garden, where some women in burqas queued up for advice on contraception and health and others sat on carpets for an early picnic.
"There are places where women doctors and nurses are not willing to work, even if we provide good salaries," she told AFP.
"It's affecting women a great deal because the programmes cannot be taken to some of parts of provinces," said UN Populations Fund programme officer Hossai Wardak.
"We used to have offices with women workers in the provinces but now they are not coming to work because they are getting threats," she said.
Among the priorities for women activists is to stop the practise of child and forced marriages, many linked to a custom of exchanging girls to pay off debts or settle conflicts.
Figures suggest that 43 percent of women were married under the age of 18 in 2003, a government statement said.
"If you eliminated child marriage, then you would eliminate a lot of the health issues, such as maternal mortality," said UNIFEM's Jaqui Reeves.
About 1,600 out of 100,000 women die when they have a baby in Afghanistan, one of the highest rates in the world.
In other events to mark the day, female parliamentarians and officials met in the capital to push for the registration of marriages, of which only five percent are registered, and steps to stop the practise of self-immolation.
From May to July last year 160 women set themselves alight in Kabul and the western city of Herat after psychological and physical abuse, a statement said. Most of them died.
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Italy's Prodi Says Afghanistan Policy Unchanged, Rebuffs Blair
By Flavia Krause-Jackson
March 9 (Bloomberg) -- Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said the country's policy on Afghanistan ``stays unchanged,'' rebuffing a U.K. request to boost the number of troops.
``Nothing has changed,'' Prodi told reporters in Brussels last night after a meeting with European Union counterparts. U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair had gone into the summit asking ``our NATO countries to do even more.''
Italy's lower house passed a motion yesterday to keep funding for 2,000 troops to stay in Afghanistan. Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema said after the vote that the number of soldiers stationed there would stay the same.
The measure approves more than 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) in spending in 2007 on Italy's missions abroad, including Afghanistan, Lebanon and Sudan. Italy's Afghan contingent is stationed in Kabul and Herat.
Prodi's government nearly collapsed on Feb. 21 after some of his allies refused to back the Afghan mission. The Senate, where Prodi has a one-vote majority, must approve the legislation by the end of the month.
Moreover, tensions surrounding the vote increased this week after an Italian journalist working for la Repubblica newspaper was kidnapped by the Taliban in southern Afghanistan.
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U.S. officials, Afghan elders discuss civilian deaths
Stars and Stripes Mideast edition, Friday, March 9, 2007
Officials from an American Provincial Reconstruction Team are meeting with Afghan elders in an effort to repair strained relations caused by an incident in which civilians were killed in a suicide attack in Nangarhar province, officials said Thursday.
The meetings included the governor of the province, leaders of the Afghan National Security Forces, members of the Jalalabad Provincial Reconstruction Team and elders of the provincial shura, or council.
“The governor and shura members met with Afghan local nationals wounded during the terror attack. [Gov. Gul Agha] Sherzai offered prayers alongside the people he met with,” a U.S. military news release read.
“The national government, meanwhile, dispatched national security leaders to Nangarhar Province to investigate the attack and talk to locals.”
On March 4, a suicide bomber struck a U.S. convoy moving through a crowded marketplace. Between the bombing and the ensuing crossfire, officials have said, at least eight Afghan civilians were killed and some 30 others wounded.
One American servicemember was wounded in the incident.
Afghan witnesses said the civilians were hurt or killed when U.S. Marines fired indiscriminately after the incident.
American officials — while acknowledging civilian casualties occurred — have disputed that account and are investigating the incident.
“The governor, PRT leaders and ANSF expressed sympathy with those killed and injured during the attack and explained allied actions during the aftermath of the assault,” the military news release read.
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Afghan Economy to Quicken, IMF Says, Reducing Opium Dependence
By Michael Dwyer
March 9 (Bloomberg) -- Afghanistan's economic growth will accelerate over the next two years, according to the International Monetary Fund, with increased production of wheat and fruit helping reduce the economy's opium dependence.
``Growth is expected to accelerate in 2006-07, with even stronger growth likely in 2007-08 owing to a rebound in the agricultural sector,'' Murilo Portugal, IMF deputy managing director, said in a statement on the Washington-based lender's Web site. The pace of expansion had previously been expected to slow to 12 percent this fiscal year from 14 percent in 2005-06.
Better wheat harvests and higher yields from Afghanistan's orchards may help President Hamid Karzai wean the nation from its reliance on opium, which now accounts for about a third of the economy, compared with more than 60 percent five years ago. Still, Afghanistan's production of the illicit drug, the base ingredient for heroin, jumped more than 50 percent last year.
``The drug economy is booming,'' Barnett R. Rubin, a senior fellow at New York University's Center on International Cooperation, wrote in the January-February edition of Foreign Affairs. ``The weakness of the state and the lack of security for licit economic activity has encouraged this boom.''
Opium poppy production has skyrocketed since a U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban regime in 2001. Afghanistan produces about 90 percent of the world's supply of the drug.
Afghanistan produced a record 5,644 metric tons of opium in 2006, from 4,475 metric tons in 2005, the U.S. State Department said in a report this month.
Areas under poppy cultivation increased 61 percent in 2006 to 172,000 hectares (424,840 acres) from 107,400 the previous year, according to the report. It estimates the country's illicit opium was worth $3.1 billion last year.
``It's a lot of money,'' U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher told a House of Representatives foreign affairs sub-committee in Washington yesterday. ``The overall Afghan economy last year was about $9 billion and the value of the drug trade was 35 percent.''
Afghanistan's non-drug economy, which the IMF estimates has grown at an annual average pace of about 16 percent over the past five years, is benefiting from foreign aid even as Karzai's government grapples with efforts to stamp out the opium trade.
``What we've seen in Afghanistan is the regular economy has been growing a lot faster than the economy of opium production,'' Boucher said. ``We're trying to get Afghanistan to the point where it can develop an economy, it can develop a country without the corrosive and corrupting influence of the drug trade.''
Karzai's government relies on foreign aid for more than half its budget. President George W. Bush last month asked Congress for an additional $698 million in 2007 to build roads, provide food aid and rebuild Afghanistan. The European Commission has offered 600 million euros ($790 million) over the next four years.
``We spent $2.5 billion to $3 billion a year over the last five years,'' Boucher said, in reference to U.S. aid to Afghanistan. ``We think this big push is needed to extend the effort more generally.''
Projects aimed at eradicating the drug trade can still sometimes be counter-productive, according to analysts, as they tend to encourage corruption.
``Efforts to combat opium production in Afghanistan have been marred by corruption and have inadvertently helped to consolidate the drugs trade in the hands of fewer, more powerful players,'' the World Bank said in a November, 2006, report.
Counter-narcotics campaigns like the ones conducted by Karzai's government and international aid donors provide leverage for corrupt officials to extract ``enormous bribes'' from drug traffickers, Rubin said.
``Police chief posts in poppy-growing districts are sold to the highest bidder: As much as $100,000 is paid for a six-month appointment to a position with a monthly salary of $60,'' said Rubin, author of the book, ``The Fragmentation of Afghanistan.''
Afghan policymakers recognize the need ``to address governance concerns and speed up the pace of reforms,'' the IMF's Portugal said.
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IMF Offers $17 Million Credit To Afghanistan, Sees Faster GDP Growth
WASHINGTON -(Dow Jones)- The International Monetary Fund on Wednesday offered a $17 million credit to Afghanistan, citing economic progress despite the country's continued security problems.
"Real GDP (gross domestic product) growth is expected to accelerate in 2006- 07, with even stronger growth likely in 2007-08 owing to a rebound in the agricultural sector," IMF Deputy Managing Director Murilo Portugal, said in a prepared statement. "Inflation has declined and is targeted to remain low."
The exchange rate for the national currency, the Afghani, has been stable, and Afghanistan's government is balancing the country's spending needs with fiscal sustainability, Portugal said.
Afghanistan has made "considerable progress" negotiating a rescheduling of its debt to Paris Club creditors, and it may be considered for debt relief under the IMF and World Bank's heavily indebted poor countries initiative, he said.
The new IMF credit is being made available under a three-year, $122 million concessionary lending program that the Fund's board approved last June.
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Taliban kills 4 pro-gov't militias in S. Afghanistan
People's Daily Online, China
Taliban insurgents killed four pro-government tribal militias in Afghanistan's southern province Helmand on Thursday, a local senior police officer told Xinhua.
"Some insurgents ambushed a group of pro-government militias in Sangin district in the morning, killing four of them," said Isan Khan.
Khan said he did not have information of casualties of Taliban rebels.
About 4,500 NATO troops and 1,000 Afghan soldiers launched the ever biggest offensive dubbed Operation Achilles against Taliban militants on Tuesday in northern Helmand, which covers Sangin district.
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Defense chief says Polish preparations for Afghanistan mission completed
People's Daily Online
Polish Defense Minister Aleksander Szczyglo said Thursday that preparations for the Afghan mission had been completed.
The minister stressed that 1,188 Polish soldiers going to Afghanistan were well-trained and well-equipped.
Szczyglo admitted that the mission in Afghanistan would be difficult and risky, the PAP news agency reported.
Chief of the General Staff of the Polish Army general Franciszek Gagor said Polish increased troops will be sent to Afghanistan in late April and early May, he said, adding the Polish contingent would be operationally ready in late May.
A ship with specialist equipment will leave for Afghanistan in the near future, Gagor added.
Poland began to send a contingent of 100 troops to Afghanistan in 2002 within the framework of NATO. The Polish government last year promised to send 1,000 more troops in the first half of this year to help NATO operations in Afghanistan.
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Afghan copper lode a key to renewal?
Where miners blaze a trail, other businesses may follow
ANDY HOFFMAN From Friday's Globe and Mail
TORONTO — Were it anywhere else in the world, its mineral riches would surely have been tapped long ago, yet millions of tonnes of copper in the Aynak deposit sit untouched.
The wealth underground has been shielded from exploitation by activity on the surface: foreign invasion, civil war, terrorism, occupation.
Aynak is in Afghanistan, a place known more for land mines than copper mines.
But the Afghan government is now trying to change all that, launching an ambitious campaign to woo foreign mining companies, despite the violence that persists in much of the country.
Kabul's first major initiative is to sell off the Aynak copper deposit and the auction is garnering plenty of interest — particularly for a site that used to be an al-Qaeda training camp.
Even though Canadian and allied forces face attacks from insurgents, some of the biggest mining companies in the world are queuing up for the chance to spend the estimated $1.8-billion (U.S.) it will cost to buy, develop and operate the Aynak project, which is in a relatively calm region 30 kilometres south of the Afghan capital of Kabul.
With metal prices soaring on demand from China, and new deposits scarce, miners these days are even willing to take on the risks that come with operating close to a combat zone.
While corporations are looking for new sources of profit, the Afghan government hopes that mining will serve as a key pillar in the war-ravaged country's reconstruction and revival.
“To develop this industry will create jobs for thousands of Afghans. Not only will it benefit Afghan workers, but also the national security of Afghanistan. It will bring a tremendous amount of income to the government of Afghanistan for years to come,” Ibrahim Adel, Afghanistan's Minister of Mines, said in an interview in Toronto.
Nine foreign mining companies have been granted permission to participate in the bidding process. They include India's Hindalco Industries Ltd., Arizona copper giant Phelps Dodge Corp. and Hunter Dickinson Inc. of Vancouver. At the end of March they are all expected to send representatives to Afghanistan to inspect the deposit.
“It's a very challenging environment, but it would be economic from our perspective. You don't get involved in these types of activities unless you've got a potential win on your hands. It's a world-class copper deposit,” said Bob Schafer, vice-president of business development at Hunter Dickinson, a privately held company that operates a stable of publicly traded mining firms.
When the bids are submitted in mid-May, Hunter Dickinson's proposal is expected to include significant capital investment in training and social spending. “We perceive this to be more than just a copper mining opportunity,” Mr. Schafer said. “We think it is very much in line with the concepts of corporate social responsibility and sustainability. This is as an integrated plan that will transition the Afghan economy from a wartime economy into a normalized economy.”
Mr. Adel was in Toronto this week for the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada conference, one of the biggest mining forums in the world. His task was to sell the merits of Afghanistan as a mining destination and he spent most of his time in meetings with international mining executives.
“The overall picture has been very positive. Obviously, companies are interested in going to Afghanistan to make money. They see that as an opportunity. Surely, there are concerns about security, but it is just an opportunity cost — the question of making so much money in Afghanistan and then weighing that against the security issues,” the minister said.
Several parts of Afghanistan are believed to be rich in metals and minerals, but Mr. Adel said only about 5 per cent of the potential deposits have even been explored.
There is no large-scale commercial mining in Afghanistan, but the minister is hoping Aynak will spur a wave of foreign investment. Soviet geologists conducted drilling in the area during the occupation of the 1970s and 1980s and it is believed to contain about 240 million tonnes of ore at a copper grade of more than 2 per cent. Copper prices traded as high as $6,330 (U.S.) a tonne yesterday on the London Metal Exchange. At around $2.80 a pound, the metal has managed to stay well above its historical average price of about $1 a pound for several years. Prices peaked above $4 a pound last May.
“We are aware the prices are going up. That helps us because we definitely need more income for Afghanistan to sustain itself,” Mr. Adel said.
However, no one is really sure how much copper Aynak may contain. Much of the Soviet survey has been lost or proven unreliable. When the mine site was used as an al-Qaeda camp in the 1990s, wooden boxes that held core rock samples were reportedly broken up for firewood. Now it is unclear which samples are from which drill holes.
All nine companies, including firms from China, Russia, Kazakhstan and Australia, will be visiting the site this month to inspect it. The Mines Ministry hopes to award an operating licence by August. If the mine becomes operational, the Afghan government will receive a royalty of at least 5 per cent from copper sales, as well as corporate income tax of 20 per cent.
The minister is betting the trailblazing mining sector will pave the way for other business development in Afghanistan. “It's an excellent door opener. We definitely believe that. After mining, other investors in other sectors and industries soon will follow,” he said.
After all, he said, there is a long history of mining in Afghanistan. “About 2,000 years ago, the residents of ancient Afghanistan were using copper to make weapons and instruments of war.”
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Tribal leaders call on Taliban to free Italian journalist
Abdul Samad Rohani
KABUL, Mar 8 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Tribal leaders in the southern Helmand province asked the Taliban to release the Italian journalist they kidnapped on Monday.
Daniele Mstrogiacomo, working for Italys La Repubblica paper, was captured in Nad Ali district of Helmand along with two local interpreters by the Taliban for entering the area without permission.
A tribal elder from Grishk district, Haji Mirajan Adil, said kidnapping journalists was violation of freedom of expression. He called on the Taliban to free the reporter and let the media reflect realities to the world.
Haji Rahmatullah from the provincial council Lashkargah said the Taliban must not hold the journalist because abducting innocent civilians was against Islam.
The Taliban, through its spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, claimed that their investigation from the kidnapped man showed that he was spying for foreign forces in Helmand and was not a journalist.
However, Italys known newspaper La Repubblica made it clear that Daniele is a journalist working for it for 27 years. La Repubblica in an emailed statement to Pajhwok said Daniele, born in Pakistans Karachi, was an Italian citizen, who worked with the paper since 1980 as in charge of foreign politics.
He has been in Afghanistan since February 28 and went to the southern province of Kandahar, neighboring Helmand, on Monday.
Meanwhile, the youth and culture affairs ministry in Kabul said they have been trying since Wednesday through different ways to release of the kidnapped journalist and his interpreters, but to no avail yet. It said kidnapping of journalists was not tolerable at all.
Helmand is usually at spotlight of news in Afghanistan for being the main stronghold of the Taliban who have surged a holy war against foreign and government forces in the country. Journalists are attracted to the most volatile province since the Taliban are more active and bold there than any other place and they have taken control of at least three districts there from the government.
Last month, a British journalist of the Arabic television channel Aljazeera was held with two of his Afghan colleagues in the same province, but he was freed soon. Two Pakistani reporters were also detained in Helmand in November, but they were quickly released safe.
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Canadian governor general meets Afghan president
March 8, 2007
KABUL (AFP) - Canadian Governor General Michaelle Jean met President Hamid Karzai Thursday on a trip to Afghanistan to visit Canadian troops in the south, the focus of a Taliban insurgency.
Jean is the representative in Canada of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and is the commander-in-chief of the Canadian armed forces.
She was also due to meet leading women politicians and representatives of civil society on the occasion of International Women's Day, the Canadian embassy said.
There are about 2,500 Canadian soldiers in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
They are based in Kandahar province, the birthplace of the Taliban movement that was in government between 1996 and 2001, and come under regular attack.
Since 2002, 45 soldiers and one senior diplomat have died in attacks or roadside explosions in Afghanistan.
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Gold price drops off in Kabul
KABUL, Mar 8 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Gold prices have gone down in Kabul markets during the outgoing week while food and fuel items maintained fairly stable rates.
One gram of Arabic gold was sold for 980 Afs and the same quantity of Iranian gold for 810 Afs on Thursday, compared to last weeks rates of 1,020 and 850 Afs respectively.
Jewelers attribute the swift change in gold price due to its up-again-and-down-again trend in the international market.
Prices of food items and fuel stayed stable.
The value of a 50-kilogram sack of Brazilian sugar was at 1,200, one kilogram of green tea was available at 120 Afs, and the same quantity of black tea at 140 Afs, the same like the previous week.
Rates of rice (2,200 Afs per 50 kgs), flour (1,360 Afs per 100 kgs) and cooking oil (280 Afs per five kgs) remained unchanged. So did liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) with one kilogram for 35 Afs and diesel with one litre for 29 Afs.
In the money exchange market, one US dollar was sold for 50 Afs and 1,000 Pakistani rupees for 825, with the latter up by one afghani.
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Pakistan to build 200-bed hospital in Kabul
ISLAMABAD, March 06 (Pajhwok Afghan NEWS): Pakistani and Afghan officials signed on Tuesday a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to build a 200-bed hospital in Kabul.
According to the (MoU), Pakistan will build a well-equipped hospital, named after Jihan at the cost of about $20 million.
The (MoU) was signed by Sayed Malok Fakhar, an official in the Afghan embassy in Islamabad, Anjum Saeed, Pakistani planning and developing officer and Sergeant Nisar Ahmad head of national logistic company which will implement the construction work.
The hospital will be built in three storeys and the number of beds will be doubled if increased to 400 if possible, officials said.
Officials said 50 beds will be allocated for thalassemia patients and there would be surgery and internal medicine wards and will have facilities for dialysis.
Sayed Malok Fakhar appreciated Pakistan help in reconstruction process, particularly in health issues.
Dr. Abdullah Fahim, Public health ministry spokesman in Kabul, told Pajhwok Afghan News, the hospital will be built in Mahtab Qala area of Kabul city.
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Bird flu confirmed in 6 more areas of Afghanistan
The Associated PressPublished: March 8, 2007
KABUL, Afghanistan: The virulent H5N1 bird flu virus has been confirmed in six additional areas in eastern Afghanistan and the country's capital, the United Nations said Thursday.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said samples collected from home-raised poultry tested positive in an FAO-supported laboratory.
It confirmed H5N1 outbreaks on Wednesday in the Khogiani, Rodat and Bati Kot districts of Nangarhar province, Khas Kunar and Kuz Kunar in Kunar province, and in the Shah Shahid area of Kabul.
The government immediately began disinfecting and quarantining affected areas and slaughtering nearby poultry, FAO said in a statement, without providing further details.
FAO had confirmed outbreaks of H5N1 in the eastern city of Jalalabad on Feb. 20, and in the Sawki district of Kunar on Feb. 24.
Afghanistan reported its first cases of H5N1 in March and April last year in Kabul and in the provinces of Kapisa, Logar and Nangarhar. There have been no reported infections of humans.
Bird flu mostly affects poultry, but has killed at least 167 people worldwide since 2003, according to the World Health Organization.
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Red Cross contradicts Ottawa on detainees
PAUL KORING - From Thursday's Globe and Mail
WASHINGTON — The International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed Wednesday that it has no role in monitoring the Canada-Afghanistan detainee-transfer agreement, in direct contradiction to assurances Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor has made to the House of Commons.
The Red Cross also said that it would never divulge to Ottawa any abuses it might identify in Afghan prisons.
“We were informed of the agreement, but we are not a party to it and we are not monitoring the implementation of it,” Simon Schorno, a spokesman for the ICRC, said in an interview.
In his most explicit statement to the House of Commons on May 31, Mr. O'Connor said: “The Red Cross or the Red Crescent is responsible to supervise their treatment once the prisoners are in the hands of the Afghan authorities. If there is something wrong with their treatment, the Red Cross or Red Crescent would inform us and we would take action.”
Weeks earlier, Mr. O'Connor told Parliament essentially the same thing: “The process is that if Canadian soldiers capture insurgents or terrorists they hand them over to the Afghan authorities and then the International Red Cross or Red Crescent supervise the detainees. If there is any problem, the Red Cross or Red Crescent would inform us and then we would become involved.”
That claim has been persistently and vigorously disputed by opposition political and human-rights groups, which contend the ICRC never divulges its findings either publicly or to third parties and that the minister is misrepresenting its role.
“The minister is wrong,” NDP defence critic Dawn Black said.
“Either he is woefully ill informed or he is misleading the House. He needs to clear this up,” she said this week in a interview from her riding in British Columbia.
Even the Foreign Affairs Department has now formally contradicted the minister's statement.
“The ICRC is not required to notify Canada,” Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Ambra Dickie confirmed in an e-mail, delivering a formal response that had been approved by senior officials to a written question from The Globe and Mail. The question was: “Is the ICRC required to notify Canada of any suspected violations of the Geneva Convention against detainees transferred into Afghan custody by Canada?”
Mr. O'Connor has never rescinded or clarified his May 31, 2006, statement, in which he claimed Canada would be informed if detainees transferred by its troops into Afghan custody were abused or ill treated or disappeared.
Isabelle Bouchard, the minister's spokeswoman, didn't return calls seeking comment from Mr. O'Connor.
Several times the minister and senior defence officials have implied that the ICRC has given a clean bill of health to Canada, or the detainee-transfer agreement or Afghan detention practices.
“I'm not aware that the Red Cross have any complaints,” Mr. O'Connor said as recently as last weekend on CTV's Question Period. “In fact, they were quite pleased with the arrangements.”
Mr. Schorno, although aware of the various statements made by Mr. O'Connor, didn't comment specifically about them.
However, he did stress that ICRC “silence doesn't mean all is well,” and that the ICRC is precluded from making known its assessments or interventions except to the government whose facilities it is visiting. The ICRC is prohibited under its own charter and by decades of confidential practice from disclosing its findings to third parties.
“Our visits should not be interpreted as a fact that we don't have concerns to raise,” he said.
Mr. Schorno said the ICRC has no arrangement with Canada to visit detainees in the custody of Canadian Forces and has never done so. It has no complaints or any other conclusions about Canadian treatment of detainees because it has no arrangement with Canada. Mr. Schorno said the Red Cross has never inspected any Canadian cells in Afghanistan. “The ICRC doesn't visit detainees in Canadian detention,” he said.
Last December, Vincent Rigby, the acting assistant deputy minister for policy, testified that, “We've had absolutely no information passed to us directly by the ICRC or the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission or Afghan authorities themselves as to mistreatment of detainees passed on to Afghan authorities by Canadian Forces.”
Mr. O'Conner, a former brigadier-general with 30 years experience in the army in a combat branch, could be expected to be well versed in both the Geneva Conventions and the role of the ICRC. Studies of both are part of the coursework at Canada's military staff college.
The ICRC's role was also made clear by its president, Jakob Kellenberger, when he met with Mr. O'Connor and Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay.
“This was clearly explained during our president's visit” to Ottawa last September, Mr. Schorno said. At that time, Mr. Kellenberger said, “Canada is scrupulous about notifying the Red Cross when it takes prisoners and hands them over.”
Defence officials routinely cite that quote to buttress their claim that the ICRC has come to a conclusion about either the treatment of detainees in Canadian custody or the detainee-transfer process. In fact, as Mr. Schorno pointed out Wednesday, any findings the ICRC might have about the conditions of Afghan detention would only be divulged to the government of Afghanistan.
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Afghanistan ready for Peace Jirga in four weeks
KABUL, March 7 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Afghanistan had completed all preparations for the Peace Jirga and can hold it within four weeks if the Pakistani side is ready.
Farouq Wardak, chief of the secretary of the Afghanistans Regional Peace Jirga Commission, told a press conference here on Wednesday that they have taken almost all logistical and otherwise measurements for the upcoming jirga and can organize it in four weeks.
"We can hold the first meeting of the Jirga in four weeks in Kabul if the Pakistani side was ready for it" he said.
Joint meeting of the peace jirga commissions of Pakistan and Afghanistan will be launched in Islamabad next week, he said. Seven people including chief, deputies and members of the Afghanistan commission for Peace Jirga will participate in the joint meeting.
They will discuss issues related to holding meeting in this meeting, he added.
Agreed last September by Afghan and Pakistani leaders during their visit of Washington, the Regional Peace Jirga will be attended by tribal elders, parliament and government represenattivs fo the two country. Schedule and other details of the jirga are yet not clear.
Ahmad Khalid Moahid
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Opinion: What to do in Afghanistan?
Dawn - By Najmuddin A. Shaikh
THE news that Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, a top Taliban leader, was arrested in Quetta and flown to Islamabad for interrogation by a joint Pak-US intelligence team is being seen in cynical American and Afghan quarters as the usual Pakistani gambit of offering up a major intelligence success either on the eve or the end of the visit of an important American official.
While there has been a discernible pattern of this nature in the past there are strong indications that in the present instance Obaidullah’s detention had been planned some time ago and the trap was sprung on him and his four or five colleagues in Quetta only when it became clear that a further delay would not lead to further information about his other cohorts. Instead, this information is now being sought in the interrogation to which he is being subjected.
The capture of Obaidullah is an important milestone in the battle against the Taliban. Press reports suggest that he was extremely close to Mullah Omar and spoke for him when he directed Taliban operations in Afghanistan. His arrest apparently led to many Taliban commanders in South Afghanistan switching off their satellite phones and possibly changing their hideouts thus disrupting the operations they were planning. If information can be extracted from him, both Pakistani and Nato sources will get better information on the details of the “spring offensive” the Taliban are reportedly planning.
On the other side, the American media was shocked, perhaps more so than the Nato forces, by the suicide bomber attack on Bagram airbase the main military facility of the Americans in Afghanistan while US Vice-President Dick Cheney was stranded there owing to a storm. Official spokesmen were at pains to emphasise that Cheney was at no time in danger from the attack, which killed a few Nato soldiers and a much larger number of Afghans, since the bomb was detonated around the outer perimeter of the base while Cheney was safely ensconced in the depths of the facility.
Both events lend themselves to varying interpretations. Some observers say that Obaidullah’s detention is evidence of the Pakistan’s commitment to eliminate the Taliban from its soil. Others read it as showing that the Taliban leaders, despite vehement Pakistani denials, are present in Quetta and directing operations from there. They would argue that the increased security around buildings in Quetta, apparently prompted by fears of retaliatory attacks by Taliban supporters, show that not only are the Taliban present in Quetta but that they are a formidable enough force to make the powerful Pakistani intelligence think twice before taking action against them.
There is some truth in both assertions. Pakistan has come to the belated conclusion that if there is to be a chance for the moderate Taliban to work out some arrangement with Nato forces and the Karzai regime it will only happen when the more militant diehard Taliban have been eliminated or their influence lessened. It is also true, however, that large swathes of Quetta are populated by disaffected Afghans or Afghans engaged in drug and other smuggling for whom keeping Afghanistan unstable is essential and for whom the Taliban leaders are a valuable tool in this. The fact that there are large refugee camps in Quetta’s vicinity – inhabitants from which find employment in Quetta – further exacerbates this problem.
The bombing at Bagram drove home to the Americans and the Nato forces the strength and versatility of the Taliban forces. Bagram’s distance from the Pakistan border also underlined what the Pakistanis have always maintained – the insurgency is largely indigenous and not driven by forces operating from across the border. The question that will now haunt the security forces is whether this was a one-off incident or the reflection of a new Taliban strategy to target the most sensitive American defence installations in Afghanistan.
For other observers, the attack on American forces at this facility was reminiscent of the attacks that the Mujahideen had successfully mounted on the Russians when they were in occupation of Afghanistan and when Bagram was their principal base for air operations against the resistance forces. Then the Mujahideen had spoken of the attacks on Bagram as showing that the much vaunted Russian armed forces controlled only a few cities and a few bases and that even these bases were unsafe.
The attack, therefore, suggested that the Taliban now see themselves as enjoying the same intrinsic strength and the same level of popular support as the Mujahideen did against the Russians.
On a related front, the American state department has issued its annual narcotics report and has estimated the opium crop in Afghanistan at 5,644 tons of opium as against the UN estimate of 6,100 tons. It maintains that according to the Pakistani narcotics authorities about a third of the Afghan crop transits through Pakistan. But in the press briefing the American assistant secretary of state put the transit figure at between a half and two-thirds.
The report states that of the total value of $3.1 billion only $755 million was paid to the farmers while the rest of the money went into the pockets of the traffickers. It claims that Pakistani traffickers are the main financiers of the poppy crop providing the advances the Afghan farmers need for opium cultivation.
It should be noted that Pakistan was estimated to have had 500,000 heroin addicts in 2000 and while fresh estimates will be made available by the UN drug agency later this year, a Pakistani spokesman said in parliament that there are now some four million drug users and 500,000 heroin addicts in Pakistan.
My own view is that this figure is far too conservative. We had 2.5 million users in the 1980s when the combined production of Pakistan and Afghanistan was less than a quarter of what it is today. A truer estimate which should emerge in the UN study would probably show around five million to 5.5 million users and about a million heroin addicts. In other words, about three per cent of Pakistan’s population, mostly working age male youths predominantly in Balochistan and the Frontier, are now drug users, with all that that implies for the future wellbeing of our society and for the current susceptibility of such youth to the siren call of martyrdom.
It should also be noted that the Americans believe that the drug trade finances Taliban activity. This is probably true even though the major part of the profits from this trade – I estimate 80 per cent – stays with Afghan officials and Afghan warlords as is apparent from the garish and sickeningly expensive villas that they are building in Kabul and other urban centres in Afghanistan.
This drug money is clearly not sufficient to finance Taliban activity particularly when there is some credence to be attached to reports that Taliban recruits are paid as much as $10 a day as against the $1.7 to $2 that the Afghan policeman receives in the regular force and the $1.6 that he receives in the newly established auxiliary police force. Clearly, there is financial support from other sources and that such of it as is not from Pakistani donors is routed through Pakistan via Dubai or other such centres in the Middle East from where one can assume the major zakat donors come.
So what should we do? We have to be clear that the Taliban are as much a danger to Pakistan as to Afghanistan and that in recognising this we have to take concrete measures to eliminate this menace. The problem must be seen as one of dealing with the Afghan Taliban and their supporters in Balochistan’s cities and border areas on the one hand and the Pakistan Taliban and their support for foreign militants in the tribal areas on the other.
For both problems one part of the solution lies in changing the current political alliances structure and bringing into prominence those elements of the domestic polity who see eye to eye with the government on the nature of the Taliban threat. Pending, however, the conclusion of the tortuous negotiations that can bring such changes about, there are still some steps, albeit insufficient, that can be taken without jeopardising the present dispensation.
In the first instance – Balochistan – there should be no qualms about the use of military force against the Afghan city dwellers since most of them are in any case illegal residents. A clear warning should be issued to their patrons in or outside the provincial government that protecting such elements would carry legal and political penalties.
The movement of the residents of the refugee camps should be restricted with the traditional elders of the camp being served clear notice to clean out the alleged facilities that exist in the camps or in their immediate vicinity and to monitor the activities of the identifiable extremist elements. This should be done pending the closure of the camps and the shifting of the refugees to new sites where a rigorous official army screening and control procedure should be put in place before the shifting.
In the meanwhile the monitoring of cross-border movement through the biometric system and the fencing of relatively inaccessible border areas must continue.
In the tribal areas we have to recognise that military solutions are not possible against our own people. Undoing the damage to the psyche of the people (done by the Talibanisation policies deliberately followed by us and our allies in the 1980s and by us alone in the mid-1990s) and restoring the authority of the tribal maliks and elders of the region is going to take time and an enormous amount of effort.
Since the accord of September 2006 there have been many announcements from the newly established Fata secretariat about the development work that is to start in the tribal areas but there is at least in published reports little to show for it. We must accept and persuade our friends both across the border and elsewhere that this is going to take time but our assertions would carry more weight if we could point to concrete steps that have been taken on the ground to generate employment and to provide the political and material support that can help rebuild the standing and authority of the traditional elders of the region.
President Bush had spoken in his February 15 speech of special assistance for development in the tribal areas. This must be made to materialise. The proposal for the Reconstruction Opportunity Zones must be pursued more vigorously, and in anticipation of the setting up of industries in the region local youth must be given vocational training either in new centres in the region or in existing ones in settled districts and they should be paid a stipend while receiving this training.
How do we overcome the problem of the foreign militants whose presence in the tribal areas prompts allegations that Al Qaeda has now established secure hideouts in the region and has even set up camps to train operatives for terrorist strikes against American and European targets? While not denying the sacrosanct nature of the “Pashtunwali” tradition let us not forget that if Bin Laden escaped from the cordon placed around Tora Bora by warlords paid by the Americans, he did so only by paying even more than what the Americans had done. We should be scouring our human resource base to find the people who can perform this task. It is not, if we put our full effort into it, an impossible task.
The writer is a former foreign secretary.
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14 militants arrested in four provinces
KABUL, Mar 7 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Fourteen suspected militants have been detained in four different areas during military operations by foreign and Afghan forces, officials said Wednesday.
A suspected al-Qaeda facilitator and improvised explosive device expert along with five other suspected militants were captured during a raid by government and US-led coalition troops in the eastern Nangarhar province. A statement from the coalition forces said the six were held during an assault on a compound near the provincial capital, Jalalabad city early Wednesday morning.
Credible information indicated that a suspected terrorist with strong ties to al-Qaeda and the Tora Bora Front was within the compound, the statement claimed.
Elsewhere, five suspected militants were arrested during an joint operation by Afghan and coalition forces on the evening of March 5 west of the southeastern Khost city.
Another statement from the coalition said the men were arrested following a thorough search of the buildings, which also uncovered a cache of grenades and armour-piercing rounds. The grenades and ammunition were destroyed at the scene.
In the southern Kandahar province, Afghan National Army forces captured a local Taliban commander while he was trying to escape on Tuesday. The defence ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi said Mullah Mahmood, who was leading a local squad of Taliban fighters in Panjwayee district, was arrested by an ANA checkpoint while trying to flee the area.
The Taliban, through its spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, have rejected any links with the detained man.
In the western Farah province, police officials say they have captured two people suspected to be Taliban commanders involved in recent attacks on government and foreign forces in the area. Provincial police chief Sayed Aqa Saqib told Pajhwok Afghan News Mullah Fatih Muhammad and Mullah Daud were arrested in near Farah city and in Dilaram district respectively during separate operations on Tuesday.
They both are said to be involved in planning attacks in the Farah province, especially in Dilaram and Bakwa districts.
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Over 1,000 kg of ammunition siezed in Balkh
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, March 7 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Balkh police have discovered over a metric ton of explosive devices which they suspect were to be used to launch attacks during Gul-i-Surkh Mila, (Festival on the first day of the Afghan year according starting two weeks later).
A source from the intelligence department in Balkh province told Pajhwok Afghan News, that the explosives were hidden in a residential house in Chamtal district of Balkh province.
The source added that the devices may have been used by miscreants during the first day of the Afghan solar year.
A week back, security forces recovered ammunition, including grenades and rocket launchers on the outskirts of Mazar city.
Atta Mohammad Noor, the Balkh provincial governor, in a meeting with governors of northern provinces of Samangan and Jawzjan, had said they have deployed secret police in the outskirts of Mazar city to avoid any security problem on the first day of the New Year.
Gul-i-Surkh Mila is celebrated on the first day of the Afghan New year, coincided with March 21, and people from all provinces of Afghanistan, as well as foreign guests celebrate the day by hanging colourful pieces of cloth in the Mazar-i-Sharif Shrine. The picnic continues for forty days.
Ahmad Naeem Qaderi
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Provincial council halts work to protest police 'ill-treatment'
FARAH CITY, Mar 7 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The provincial council in Farah has closed its office since Sunday, to protest ill-treatment by security officials, who prevented them from meeting the US ambassador to Afghanistan earlier this week.
Hangama Seddiqi, a member of the provincial council, said US ambassador Ronald Neumann officially invited the council members to meet him while visiting Farah city earlier this week, but police officials stopped them from going to visit the American envoy.
Susan, deputy chairman of the Farah provincial council, said police officials had treated them irresponsibly, confining the local legislative body's activities to symbolic ones.
"The authority that a provincial council is entitled to wield has been taken away from us, therefore, we cannot effectively discuss issues which our electorate would like us to", said Susan.
Members of the council said they would not reopen the office as long as security officials did not change their attitude towards them.
However, the Police Chief of Farah, Sayed Aqa Saqib, said they had not misbehaved with the provincial council, nor had they prevented its members from meeting the US ambassador. He said it was up to the council to decide on whether or to keep its office closed.
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Two Afghans get Women of Courage Award
NEW YORK, Mar 7 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Two Afghan women Mary Akrami and Aziza Siddiqui have got the first International Women of Courage Award announced by the United States of America Tuesday.
While, Mary Akrami runs the Afghan Women Skills Development Center, which was established in 1999 to reduce the suffering of Afghan women and children, Aziza Siddiqui is the Women's Rights Coordinator of Action Aid.
In all 10 women from various parts of the world have been selected for this US award. The Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, would be presenting them with the award at a special function in Washington on March 7 (March 8 for Kabul).
The award was established by the State Department, at the initiative of Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, to recognize women around the globe who have shown exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for women's rights and advancement.
A State Department spokesman told Pajhwok Afghan News that both Akrami and Siddiqui are in Washington at the invitation of the US government to receive the award.
Among other awardees include Jennifer Louise Williams from Zimbabwe, Dr. Siti Musdah Mulia (Indonesia), Ilze Jaunalksne (Latvia), Dr. Samia al-Amoudi (Saudi Arabia), Mariya Ahmed Didi (Maldives), Susana Trimarco de Veron (Argentina), Dr. Sundus Abbas (Iraq) and Shatha Abdul Razzak Abbousi (Iraq).
Lalit K. Jha
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