Afghan parliament sacks minister over Iran refugees row
KABUL, May 10, 2007 (AFP) - Afghanistan's parliament voted Thursday to sack the refugees minister amid an uproar over Iran's forced return of thousands of illegal refugees, while the fate of the foreign minister is in the balance.
Refugees Affairs Minister Akbar Akbar lost a no-confidence vote by a large majority, while the vote for Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta was hanging on a single spoilt ballot.
Parliament said it would decide how to handle Spanta's vote when it reconvened on Saturday.
Akbar has effectively lost his job but President Hamid Karzai could decide to keep him on as acting minister until his replacement is approved by parliament, MP Shukria Barakzai said.
Parliamentarians accused him of not doing enough to accommodate the thousands of refugees who have flooded into western Afghanistan after Iran said it wanted one million illegal Afghans out of its country by March 2008.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says more than 52,000 were forced out between April 21 and May 8, according to government figures.
Spanta was accused of not doing enough to persuade Iran to ease its policy of forced repatriation.
At one stage eight million Afghans were living outside the country, giving it the world's largest refugee population. Millions have returned home since the Taliban government was toppled in 2001.
Besides the one million illegal Afghans, Iran is home to 920,000 registered Afghan refugees.
Pakistan has at least two million registered Afghan refugees, which it is also trying to force home.
Spanta told the parliament Iran was piling on the pressure because of various issues including a dispute over water, with dam projects in this country likely to affect its supply.
"We are under direct pressure for signing a direct security partnership (with the United States and NATO)," he added. The US and NATO lead military forces helping the Afghan government fight the Taliban.
There have been suggestions from officials in the United States and Britain that Iran is helping the Taliban insurgents by supplying them with weapons, a claim strongly denied by Tehran.
Spanta said he had spoken to his counterparts in Iran about the claims, which they rejected.
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Iran/Afghanistan: Repatriations Spark Debate On Tehran's Aims
By Ron Synovitz
May 10, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iran's forcible repatriation of tens of thousands of Afghan refugees has raised suspicions that Tehran is trying to destabilize Afghanistan, and prompted complaints from the Afghan Foreign Ministry.
Afghan politicians, media, and even some repatriated refugees say they think the mass evictions since mid-April are an attempt by Tehran to destabilize western Afghanistan.
With tension heightened between Washington and Tehran over Iran's controversial nuclear program, analysts say such fears are understandable.
The discovery of Iranian-made weapons that NATO says were bound for Taliban fighters has fueled further concern.
But while experts on South Asia interviewed by RFE/RL said they thought Tehran would like to prevent the U.S. military from building up a strategic airfield near Afghanistan's western border with Iran, they expressed doubt the Iranian government was using mass repatriations and weapons smuggling to try to achieve that goal.
Since 2003, the U.S. military has been developing the strategic Shindand airfield near Iran, in the western Afghan province of Herat.
Ian Kemp, an independent defense analyst in London, said the presence of U.S. forces at Shindand is seen by Tehran as a threat because Shindand could serve as a launching point if the United States decided to attack Iran's nuclear facilities from the air.
"The Iranians have a significant military capability," Kemp said. "They are likely to offer far greater resistance [on the ground] than the Iraqi forces did. And with the U.S. and its allies being bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan at the moment, any form of conventional military action on the ground [against Iran] can be ruled out of the question. I think if the United States was to decide upon military action, a combination of missile strikes using sea and air-launched cruise missiles and air strikes would probably be the preferred option."
Making Things Difficult
Peter Lehr, an expert on South Asia at St. Andrews University in Scotland, said the Iranian government might be trying to complicate the situation for U.S. forces in western Afghanistan by sending thousands of Afghan refugees there.
"That's a kind of war by proxy," Lehr said. "If you take a look at other borders between Pakistan and India -- especially the Kashmir problem -- you see that Pakistan is busily exporting many of these former Afghani fighters into Kashmir so that it can raise some troubles there and keep the Indians busy. With the same logic, you can say that Iran is trying to get as much mileage out of the refugee crisis as they can get just to annoy the Americans. That's the way to fight back against the Americans. [Iran] can't come out with [naval war ships]. They can't come out with sophisticated [war planes]. What they can do is things like hostage taking, sending out some agents. What they can do is send a deluge of refugees across the border. That's possible."
Pakistani journalist and author Ahmed Rashid said he thinks the repatriation of thousands of Afghan refugees by Tehran could destabilize the Afghan government and cause problems for U.S. forces at Shindand.
"That's a possibility," Rashid said, "but I don't think [Iranian officials] need to do that, because they have long-running relations with many of the commanders and small-time warlords in western Afghanistan -- both Pashtun and non-Pashtun."
Still, regardless of whether Afghan refugees are being used as pawns in a geopolitical struggle, Rashid said he is convinced that Tehran wants to make life more difficult for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
"I have no doubt that Iran has been involved in channeling money and arms to various elements in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, for the last few years," Rashid said. "I think Iran is playing all sides in the Afghan conflict. There are Pashtuns and non-Pahstuns who are being funded by Iran who are active in western Afghanistan. If the Iranians are convinced that the Americans are undermining them through western Afghanistan, then it is very likely that these agents of theirs have been activated."
'Confrontation By Proxy'
British Defense Secretary Des Browne has suggested that Iran might be helping Taliban forces that are fighting NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Browne told the House of Commons Defense Committee in London on May 8 that Iran has "sought confrontation by proxy" with Britain and the United States, as well as other NATO members, in the Middle East. Without elaborating, Browne said there is "some indication" that Iran is doing the same in Afghanistan.
But Lehr said he is suspicious of claims that Iranian agents slipped into Afghanistan alongside the thousands of repatriated refugees in order to instigate recent violence near the Shindand airfield.
Lehr said he also doubts suggestions by U.S. and British officials that the Iranian government has been directly involved in supplying weapons to the Taliban.
"I see a connection to this nuclear issue," Lehr said. "The United States are desperately looking for a casus belli, in my opinion. Of course, it is tempting for [Iran] to instigate even more hatred against the Americans around this very air base. They are deniable effects; if some of these people get caught, well, they can always deny that they are working for the Iranian government. But if you take a look at the context -- at this nuclear issue -- and if you take a look at the fact that the Americans tried to link up a weapons shipment from Iranian territory into Afghanistan with the politics of the Iranian government, then it starts to get a bit smelly."
One of Lehr's areas of expertise is the organized criminal groups that smuggle illegal drugs from Afghanistan to Western markets. He says drug payments made by those groups are much more likely to be the reason that Iranian weapons are being found by NATO soldiers in western Afghanistan.
"If you take a look at the weapons smuggling, well that's been going on for decades," Lehr said. "That is part of this drug route where heroin is shipped from Afghanistan via Iran and other countries and Russia to Europe. The best way of paying for drugs is either, of course, with money -- or with weapons. And there is not even circumstantial evidence that the Iranian state, itself, is involved with that. That is organized-crime groups."
Afghan media and politicians speculate that one reason for Iran's expulsion of refugees probably is to show that it can indirectly pressure the United States by contributing to an economic crisis in Afghanistan.
They said another reason could be the internal economic difficulties now facing Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's administration. Sanctions against Iran have contributed to inflation and unemployment there. The expulsion of 1 million Afghan refugees could be seen by Tehran as a way to increase employment opportunities for Iranian citizens.
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Iran: Expelled Afghans Face Difficult Conditions On Return
By Golnaz Esfandiari Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
May 9, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Tehran has expelled some 30,000 Afghans from Iran since mid-April in an attempt to repatriate 1 million unregistered Afghan refugees by March 2008. Afghan authorities have urged Iran to stop the repatriation effort because Kabul cannot afford to resettle them. Radio Free Afghanistan's correspondent in Helmand Province, Salih Mohammad Salih, traveled to Nimroz Province on Afghanistan's border with Iran to investigate the crisis. In an interview, Salih reports on the difficult conditions refugees are facing upon their return to Afghanistan.
RFE/RL: Could you please describe the situation and the conditions for refugees in the border region you visited?
Salih Mohammad Salih: Most of the refugees, who have been forced to return to Afghanistan, are people who had gone to Iran to work and earn a living; many of them are people who were born in Iran and had lived and worked there for years. Since [late April] the return of the refugees has begun and, according to figures [from Afghan authorities], up to more than 30,000 have now been repatriated from Iran -- there are about 1,700 families. Among them are women whose husbands worked in Iran, and police had come to their houses and taken them by force to their cars and then transferred them to the border. Some were detained by police and deported and they didn't even give them time to get their daily wages from their employers. Some have been separated from their families, half of their families are in Iran and the other half were returned to Afghanistan. There are women who are pregnant and have health problems. There's one woman here who was forcibly returned with other Afghans she didn't know; she gave birth here in the house of a resident of this area.
RFE/RL: Iran says those Afghans who are in Iran illegally will be sent back, but from what you're telling us it seems that among the returnee are also Afghans who had documents and permission to stay in Iran?
Salih: Some of them had residency permits but they had expired and were no longer valid; some other refugees had permits that were still valid and they could have stayed in Iran, but security forces did not pay any attention to that, and that is a huge problem.
RFE/RL: Afghan authorities have said they do not have enough resources to accommodate the refugees. Where are the refugees staying upon their return to Afghanistan? Are there any camps and other facilities in Nimroz for refugees?
Salih: For refugees who return to Nimroz, a camp has been set up by residents of this area though government officials have not cooperated with them. Clerics and [religious leaders] have called on people in mosques to help the refugees, so people have gathered food and other items and taken them to the camp for the refugees. They don't have clean water and there is a lack of proper medical care. So far the Red Crescent has set up some 15 tents for the refugees.
RFE/RL: So what happens to the refugees who are now living in this camp? How long do they stay there before they manage to find a place to stay or join their relatives in other parts of Afghanistan?
Salih: Some of the refugees have stayed in the camp for 20 days -- it is really difficult to live there in the heat. I saw for myself what a difficult life they have in the camp. But there are also people who have relatives inside Afghanistan and they come and help them. Some refugees told me they were born in Iran, they grew up there and had a life there; these people don't even know where is the north or south of Afghanistan, they don't know [the country], they don't know where to go, they don't have a house, and they don't know what to do here.
RFE/RL: Iran has also deported illegal Afghan refugees in the past, but it seems that the current forced repatriation is being applied in a tougher manner than before. What are the reasons for this?
Salih: I haven't been able to contact Iranian officials, but those who have been forced to return say that Iranian officials launched a propaganda campaign through state radio and television and they told [Iranians] that if [Afghan] refugees are expelled, then [the] economic situation [for Iranians] will improve; they will have the jobs that are currently occupied by Afghans and they will be able to [more fully] use Iran's natural and economic resources. Some of the refugees said that maybe Iran is opposed to Afghanistan's government, as Iran says Americans troops are in Afghanistan. Also, NATO forces have a presence in Afghanistan and the refugees say maybe Iran wants -- through the expulsion of refugees -- to cause a problem for the Afghan government and [international] forces that are on a peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan.
RFE/RL: In the past there were reports that some of the refugees who had been expelled to Iran were able to return there. Is it the same now? Have you received any reports about expelled refugees trying to return to Iran?
Salih: Some of the refugees try to enter Iran in order to bring members of their families who have stayed in Iran back to Afghanistan. Most of them do not want to go to Iran and continue their lives as before, because they have understood that Iran is serious in its drive against Afghans. Therefore, they say that it is possible that Iran will do the same in the future and the living conditions for Afghans will be tougher than before; because of that the majority of those who have been forced to return [to Afghanistan] they will do their best to create favorable conditions to work and live in Afghanistan.
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Minister: American presence in Afghanistan leads to more Afghan refugees in Iran
Tehran, May 9, IRNA
Interior Minister Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi said since the Americans and Europeans entered Afghanistan to establish security, prosperity and remove poverty, the number of Afghan refugees in Iran has increased.
Speaking on the sidelines of inauguration ceremony of "Asian Center to Decrease Risk of Tremor in Iran", the minister told reporters, "I have visited Afghans' camps here and I noticed that most of them who have been arrested recently and returned to their country, entered Iran in two or three past years.
"Why should a group of people come from the other side of the world to Afghanistan and Iranians pay the compensation, Pour-Mohammadi added.
"During the internal war in Afghanistan a large group of Afghans stayed in Iran for a long period, but there is no reason we tolerate a large number of refugees who have entered Iran during the past 2 or 3 years."
The minister said, "World community must be sensitive to this issue, many abnormalities have been imposed on us: production of narcotics have increased three to four times, insecurity, terror and trouble making are among the things being imposed on us."
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U.S.-led raid kills 40 civilians in Afghanistan: witnesses
By Saeed Ali Achakzai Thu May 10, 7:57 AM ET
SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan (Reuters) - At least 40 civilians were killed in an air strike in Afghanistan by foreign forces, witnesses said on Thursday, but the U.S.-led coalition said only rebels were hit and it knew of no other casualties.
The deaths on Tuesday in the southern province of Helmand, if confirmed, would raise the civilian toll at the hands of foreign troops to 110 in the past two weeks.
"Foreign troops are killing Afghans every day, but our government has closed its eyes and does not see our casualties," local resident Haji Ibrahim said.
Helmand governor, Assadullah Wafa, said earlier 21 civilians, including women and children, were killed in Tuesday's air strike in Sangin district -- a major opium-growing area and the scene of a large anti-Taliban operation by foreign troops.
The U.S.-led coalition said its troops and Afghan soldiers on patrol in the area had come under fire on Tuesday and there were no reported injuries to any civilians.
"During the 16-hour battle, Afghan National Army and coalition forces fought through three separate enemy ambush sites while dozens of Taliban fighters ... reinforced enemy positions," the coalition said in a statement.
It estimated 200 Taliban fighters were involved in the clash, in which one coalition soldier died, and said the air strikes destroyed three rebel compounds and an underground tunnel network.
Governor Wafa said the Taliban hid in civilian homes during the air strike and that they must take responsibility for the deaths.
Residents disputed that Taliban fighters were involved. "There were no Taliban in our area," Mohammad Rahim, a resident of Sangin, told Reuters by phone, adding he had seen 24 bodies in three houses.
One resident said President Hamid Karzai should travel to Sangin and see for himself the civilian casualties.
Civilian deaths are a growing issue for Karzai who is also under pressure over the country's slow economic recovery and rampant corruption since the Taliban's overthrow in 2001.
Karzai has repeatedly urged the troops to avoid civilian casualties while hunting militants, to stop searching people's houses and to coordinate attacks with his government.
Last week, Karzai said the patience of Afghans was running out over civilian killings by foreign troops.
Irate Afghans in the east and west, the scenes of last month's operations by coalition forces, have protested against civilian casualties reported by Afghan officials, and demanded the withdrawal of foreign forces and Karzai's resignation.
A U.S. military commander on Tuesday apologized for the deaths of 19 civilians in the east. They were killed by U.S. troops early last month.
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Only 2 Taliban in bombed village: Afghan governor
Thu May 10, 6:39 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - Residents say only two Taliban were sheltering in a village bombed by the US-led coalition that killed 21 civilians, an Afghan governor said Thursday.
Helmand province governor Assadullah Wafa sent a team to the Sangin district on Wednesday to investigate the damage after an overnight strike called in during 16 hours of intense fighting between soldiers and militants.
He confirmed the death toll as 21 killed, including women and children, and 19 wounded.
The coalition said some of the fighters had taken shelter in compounds during the fighting.
Wafa told AFP that residents of the area where the civilians were killed had said only two Taliban militants -- one identified as Haji Wali Mohammad and another said to be a Pakistani national -- had attacked foreign forces from the village.
The locals "eliminated" the men before the bombing started, he said. He did not say how they were killed. This could not be independently confirmed.
A parliamentarian from Sangin said he had been told 100 people were dead and wounded.
"It was a savage bombing which destroyed over 40 houses and killed and wounded 100 civilians, kids and women," said Amer Dad Mohammad, vowing to bring the issue before the national parliament.
It is difficult to establish death tolls after battles in remote parts of Afghanistan, with casualties often exaggerated or downplayed.
The military forces say high civilian casualties arise when fighters put themselves among ordinary people.
Mohammad said 14 people from a single family were among the dead.
"How long can this disaster of continued civilians casualties continue?" he said, reflecting public anger over mounting civilian deaths in Afghanistan's battle against the Taliban.
After allegations that nearly 60 people were killed in other action involving the US-led coalition last month, President Hamid Karzai last week summoned the commanders of the foreign military forces and said civilian casualties were no longer acceptable.
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Pakistan builds anti-Taliban fence on Afghan border
by Rana Jawad
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (AFP) - Pakistan has erected the first section of a controversial fence on the Afghan border, severing a key corridor used by Taliban militants, the chief military spokesman said Thursday.
The building of the barbed wire anti-insurgent fence however provoked anger from Kabul, which says it does not recognise the porous frontier between the two pivotal allies in the US-led "war on terror."
"We have completed 20 kilometres (12 miles) of fencing in North Waziristan's Lwara Mundi area," spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad told AFP in an interview at his office in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.
"This is that difficult part where most militants reportedly were crossing over."
Another 15-kilometre stretch would soon be fenced in the neighbouring South Waziristan tribal area, Arshad said. The army has also deployed extra troops and increased patrols in the area, which faces southeastern Afghanistan.
Lwara Mundi is tiny and remote settlement located in a gap between two mountain ranges through which Arshad said militants were driving vehicles and heavy weapons.
North and South Waziristan and other Pakistani tribal areas along the rugged border have been branded by US and NATO officials as havens for Taliban and Al-Qaeda insurgents launching attacks into Afghanistan.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf formally announced plans in February to build a fence along parts of the frontier. He said plans to mine it had been postponed after international criticism.
More than 1,000 people have died in Taliban-related violence in Afghanistan this year including around 50 foreign soldiers. The majority of the bloodshed has been in provinces bordering Pakistan.
But Kabul does not recognise the international border first drawn up by colonial Britain in 1893 and wrote to United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon earlier this year to express "deep concern" over the fencing plans.
Afghan foreign ministry spokesman Sultan Ahmad Baheen said Thursday that "the Afghan government is against fencing the border. It separates families and people living on both sides."
Arshad angrily rejected Kabul's objections, saying that the fencing was done on Pakistani soil and "we do not need to ask anybody how we should manage our borders."
"In any case ordinary tribesmen are not suppose to use unauthorised routes to cross the border," he said. "There are designated routes for them and there is no barbed wire over there."
He said coalition troops operating across the border had welcomed Pakistan's measures to tighten border controls.
Hundreds of Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants fled to Pakistan's tribal regions after US-led forces ousted the fundamentalist Taliban regime in late 2001 following the September 11 attacks on the United States.
US Vice President Dick Cheney said during a visit to Pakistan in February that Osama Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network has regrouped in the tribal belt and was planning fresh attacks on Western targets.
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Pakistan fences part of Afghan border
Thu May 10, 8:46 AM ET Associated Press
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Pakistan has completed building a fence on a first section of its border with Afghanistan, a disputed measure designed to prevent militants from crossing the mountainous frontier, the army said Thursday.
President Gen. Pervez Musharraf announced in February that the army would go ahead with the fence amid pressure on Pakistan to do more to stop militants from using its soil as a springboard for attacks in Afghanistan.
Troops have completed the first 12-mile section of the fence at Alwara Mandi, a notorious insurgent crossing point in North Waziristan, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad told The Associated Press.
Building a fence already was under way in several other locations along the long, mountainous frontier, he said.
Afghanistan has criticized the plan to fence the border, which is disputed and not clearly demarcated at places. Kabul dismisses it as a distraction from Pakistan's failure to tackle alleged militant hide-outs on its soil.
Last month, Pakistani troops fired shots toward Afghan soldiers who Kabul said were trying to dismantle part of the fence near Alwara Mandi. There were no reports of casualties.
Musharraf has challenged Afghan and foreign forces to match Pakistan's effort to seal the border, which officials say include the deployment of 90,000 troops and the establishment of 110 border posts.
However, he has shelved plans to lay mines along the border amid objections also from the United Nations, which warned it would likely lead to civilian casualties.
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INTERVIEW-Stability cuts Afghan opium output in north-U.S.
10 May 2007 14:14:27 GMT By Daren Butler
ISTANBUL, May 10 (Reuters) - Political stability has helped cut opium poppy production in northern Afghanistan and output is concentrated in southern areas where the Taliban is active, U.S. drug czar John Walters said on Thursday.
Afghanistan is the world's number one producer of opium poppy, the key ingredient for heroin. Opium production rose as much as 50 percent last year to supply more than 90 percent of global heroin, according to a United Nations estimate.
"This year it looks like what we are seeing is concentrated growth in the southern part of the country where the violence and the Taliban have been active," said Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Afghanistan's Western allies regard the heroin trade as a major factor in a revival of the Taliban-led insurgency. Last year was the bloodiest since 2001 when U.S.-led forces forced the hardline Islamist group from power.
Walter said production was declining in the northern and central parts of the country. The number of poppy-free provinces may double this year to 12 as the political leadership in the north radically reduces cultivation.
"It looks like the northern part of the country is reducing its involvement in poppy as it gets more stable," he told Reuters in an interview in Istanbul, where he was attending a conference.
Afghan officials have complained that not enough money and resources are being spent on reconstruction and development to discourage farmers from getting involved in the trade.
Walters said it was a misunderstanding to think farmers were choosing opium solely to make money.
"What we have seen are warlords, drug traffickers and the Taliban threatening people with guns, saying: 'You will grow poppies'," he said.
Tackling the problem required the Afghan people to build an institutional structure in the form of police and a judicial system after decades of war.
Globally, Walters said progress was being made in the fight against illegal drugs that included a sharp decline in the production of heroin in east Asia.
"What we've now seen is a containment of demand and supply which has been growing over the last several decades globally. So we begin to have a boundary which we now obviously want to squeeze down," he said.
He said part of this fight was focused on identifying and sharing intelligence internationally about the criminal networks involved in the trade.
"The global war on terror has shown us how we need to analyse networks to show inner connections between individuals and begin to pull out larger chunks of those networks to cause their capacity to act to collapse," he said.
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Taliban says it abducted local spokesman
KABUL, Afghanistan - A Taliban commander said the militant group kidnapped the spokesman for a provincial governor Thursday, and a police chief said authorities were investigating.
The Taliban kidnapped Uruzgan governor spokesman Qayum Qayumi while he was traveling in a vehicle near Tirin Kot, the provincial capital of the southern province, said Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Bari.
Gen. Abdul Qassim, the provincial police chief, said Qayumi was last seen at Tirin Kot's main market just before noon Thursday. He said police were investigating Qayumi's whereabouts.
In Helmand province, meanwhile, Afghan civilians fought with Taliban militants who hit a checkpoint near Sangin on Wednesday, leaving three of the attackers dead, the Interior Ministry said.
Sangin was the site of a major battle Tuesday between U.S. Special Forces and more than 200 militants, a fight that killed 21 civilians after airstrikes were called in, the provincial governor said.
The U.S.-led coalition said a "significant" number of militants were killed in the battle but did not say how many. American and Afghan forces fought through three ambushes during the fight, the coalition said.
Gov. Assadullah Wafa said a team of Afghan investigators was heading to the site of the bombings.
Elsewhere, a suicide car bomber killed two Afghans and wounded five when he detonated his car in the eastern Paktika province Wednesday, NATO's International Security Assistance Force said.
More than 1,300 people, mostly militants, have died in Afghanistan's fighting this year, according to an Associated Press count based on U.S., NATO and Afghan officials.
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Afghan rebel faction 'rejects' kidnappings, beheadings
Thu May 10, 12:56 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - The militant faction of rebel Afghan Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has said it does not believe Taliban tactics of kidnappings and beheadings are a solution to "Afghanistan's problem".
The Hizb-i-Islami (Islamic Party) of former prime minister Hekmatyar is suspected of carrying out bombings in its efforts against foreign troops supporting the government.
But, "Kidnapping aid workers and journalists and beheading ordinary people is not the solution to Afghanistan's problem," Hekmatyar's spokesman Haroon Zarghon told AFP in a telephone call from an undisclosed location on Wednesday.
Zarghon raised in particular the beheading last month of 25-year-old Afghan reporter Ajmal Naqshbandi by Taliban fighters who had captured him with an Italian journalist, whom the militants had released.
"We express sadness over the killing of Naqshbandi," he said. "It's not fair to kill an Afghan and free a foreigner."
Hekmatyar, who carries a multi-million-dollar US bounty on his head, leads his campaign separately to that of the Taliban but has called for unity among the groups opposing the government and its allies.
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Iran denies British claims of helping Taliban
Thu May 10, 4:02 AM ET
TEHRAN (AFP) - Iran on Thursday rejected British accusations that there were signs it was helping the Taliban fight coalition forces in Afghanistan.
"The British, like the Americans, have learned a good lesson and that is to divert attention from themselves at the height of media pressure," Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told Iran's Arabic language Al-Alam channel.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran believes in the continued support of (President Hamid) Karzai's government to prevent extremism and terrorism appearing in Afghanistan again," he said on a visit to Denmark.
He accused the British themselves of holding secret talks with the Taliban, the Islamist force ousted by a US-led coalition. "It is their overt and covert relations which have to be topic of discussion," he said.
British Defence Secretary Des Browne on Tuesday told a parliamentary defence committee that there were signs that Iran was helping the Taliban fight coalition forces in Afghanistan.
"Demonstrably they have sought confrontation by proxy with us and the United States and other NATO members elsewhere in the region and there is some indication that they are doing the same in Afghanistan," he said.
Iran is already under fire from the United States which accuses it of aiding insurgents in Iraq, allegations that are vehemently denied by Tehran.
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Afghanistan: What Unites The New 'United Front'?
By Amin Tarzi
May 10, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- In Afghanistan, more than 30 people announced in Kabul on March 13 the formation of a political grouping called the United Front of Afghanistan.
The initial membership list includes representatives of about 15 political parties, as well as independents that include former communists and a grandson of the last Afghan monarch. Members have since talked about the group's agenda and intentions in general terms, but much of the coverage so far has ignored what unites the front -- beyond the well-worn slogans of "national unity."
The new United Front calls for amending Afghanistan's Islamic constitution to transform the political system from a presidential to a parliamentary model. It also wants provincial governors elected rather than selected by the president.
The United Front proposes changing the country's electoral system from the current system (a so-called single nontransferable voting system, or SNTV) to a proportional system, which would arguably strengthen the role of political parties. It has also outlined a series of social services that it vows to implement to improve the lives of the Afghan public.
In the area of foreign relations, the front seeks coordination of the activities of foreign forces present in Afghanistan, and official recognition of the international border between Afghanistan and Pakistan -- known in Kabul as the Durand Line.
Critical Of 'Government-Building' Effort
A member of the Afghan National Assembly's Wolesi Jirga (People's Council) and spokesman for the United Front, Sayyed Mustafa Kazemi, spoke at a roundtable in Kabul organized by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan in early April. Kazemi argued that there has been some progress in the state building -- or as he called it, "government building" -- that is envisaged in the Bonn agreement of late 2001, which served as a blueprint for post-Taliban Afghanistan. But he said no serious work has been done in second area -- that of nation building. Kazemi said the United Front essentially wants to redirect Afghanistan toward the ideals set forth in Bonn.
Kazemi dismissed suggestions that a campaign to transform the presidential system to a parliamentary one amounts to an effort to dismantle the constitution. He said that, in due time, the United Front hopes to test constitutional Articles 149 and 150, which allow amendments proposed by the president or legislative majority based on "new experiences and requirements of the time."
Once the proposal is forwarded, a presidential appointed commission would implement the proposal. It would then have to be approved by a Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly), after which a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly would be required. The change would be finalized after signature by the presidential.
Karzai vehemently opposes any effort to impose a parliamentary system on the country, and is unlikely to endorse any move to change the current presidential system.
Does the United Front represent an effort to resurrect the United National Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan -- popularly known as the Northern Alliance?
Responding to fears that the United Front's proposal to elect provincial governors is a step toward federalism in Afghanistan, Kazemi said the group is not endorsing federalism. Instead, he said, it is advocating a strengthening of provincial government. He pointed to the current Provincial Councils, which are elected, and asked why governors should not undergo similar public scrutiny. Kazemi pointed to the U.S. model, in which state governors are directly elected, although he made no mention of the federal nature of the U.S. system.
Many Afghans, especially Pashtuns, view federalism -- an idea proposed in the past by some members of the United Front -- as tantamount to a de facto partition of the country. Or, at least, an imposition of Pashtun power in non-Pashtun areas of Afghanistan.
Kazemi briefly addressed the issue of foreign troops in Afghanistan. Some have suggested that the United Front would seek to legalize the status of foreign forces in Afghanistan. He said only that the United Front would desire a "partnership," but provided no further details.
At the RFE/RL roundtable, the United Front's membership list came under particular scrutiny for two reasons.
First, a number of the members of the United Front hold senior government positions; if they are criticizing the performance of the Karzai administration, then they presumably share some of the blame. Similarly, despite claims by members of the United Front that they are not an "opposition" grouping, their stated policies reflect opposition and they arguably should resign from the current government. Members of the United Front include Afghan First Vice President Ahmad Zia Mas'ud, Energy and Water Minister Mohammad Ismail Khan, Deputy Chief of Staff of the High Command of the Armed Forces of Afghanistan General Abdul Rashid Dostum, and Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim, who currently serves as a senior adviser.
On this government-cum-opposition issue, Kazemi asserted that the United Front aims to work under the Afghan Constitution and within the Karzai administration to bring about gradual reform. Kazemi insisted that the United Front is no opposition bloc, adding that its critical evaluation of the Karzai administration is an "exercise in democracy."
The second reason that the membership list came under fire relates to the inclusion within the United Front of former high-level officials involved in the security and military apparatus under the communist regimes of Afghanistan -- such as Sayyed Mohammad Gulabzoi and Nur al-Haq Olumi. Those individuals served within the command structure of a system that left more than 1 million Afghans dead, through military actions or their treatment in detention centers.
On this second criticism, Kazemi explained that many former communists entered the new Afghan political system only after the first postcommunist government under President Sebghatullah Mojaddedi in 1992 issued a general amnesty (to former communists). Kazemi said that Gulabzoi and Olumi, for instance, have been granted legitimacy by the people, since both won election to the Wolesi Jirga. He added that Afghanistan must "close steel doors" in its effort to break decisively with its past.
The main elements of the United Front's platform -- particularly the transformation to a parliamentary system and eliminating the voting system (SNTV) -- were addressed by the current speaker of the lower house (Wolesi Jirga) in conversations with RFE/RL in 2005. Mohammad Yunos Qanuni -- as leader of the now-defunct umbrella group, the National Understanding Front -- vowed at the time that his group would behave as a "loyal opposition" that accepted the legitimacy of the Karzai administration. Qanuni, who has joined but has remained largely behind the scenes, in 2005 spoke about "rationalization and legalization of the struggle" -- words echoed by Kazemi two years later.
Not Looking Back
Does the United Front represent an effort to resurrect the United National Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan -- popularly known as the Northern Alliance -- which united against the Taliban regime? Despite the inclusion of many prominent figures from the Northern Alliance -- including Qanuni, Fahim, Dostum, and Mas'ud -- United Front spokesman Kazemi insisted that the new grouping bears no relation to the Northern Alliance.
He emphasized that the name of the new grouping is not the "United National Front" -- as has been reported -- because the new grouping wants to avoid being confused with the United National Front, or Northern Alliance.
So what unites such a diverse grouping?
The United Front seems united in opposing Karzai, despite the diplomatic niceties suggesting that it is not an opposition coalition. The strategy appears focused on gaining legitimacy by working within the Karzai administration while trying to weaken the political forces that President Karzai is trying to muster on his side. On one hand, it marks a success for Afghanistan that the United Front talks of the "rationalization" of its political struggle rather than resorting to violence -- which had been the story of Afghanistan since the 1978 communist putsch. But some might also consider it unfortunate that the president's second in command and others within his ruling circle unite in opposing the head of state, rather than work with him to address the problems facing the current administration.
Unfortunately for its supporters, if the Karzai factor was removed from the equation today, the United Front might not stay very united. Nor would the rational heads among its members be able to stop those who still command private militias.
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Opium clouds before an Afghan storm
By Philip Smucker Asia Times Online, Hong Kong
LASHKAR GAH, Helmand province - Both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Taliban have promised the world major military offensives in southern Afghanistan. The NATO-led alliance is sending thousands of soldiers into the fray to preempt the Taliban Ghazwatul Badr uprising that has been announced with a centurion call for thousands of fighters and suicide bombers to ready their ammunition belts.
Yet although Afghanistan is well into its balmy spring, the battlefield in southern Afghanistan has entered a twilight zone of cloak-and-dagger assassinations with only limited clashes.
The poppy harvest is only now ending, and growing doubts about Afghanistan's future have infested the parched valleys and high mountains passes. The Taliban have not gone on a blazing warpath, and that makes everyone a little more nervous.
In the latest political development, the upper chamber of the Afghan Parliament (Meshrano Jirga, or House of Elders) voted this week to begin dialogue with Taliban fighters to persuade them to accept the Afghan government.
A draft law says a distinction should be made among Afghan Taliban, Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. It also seeks an end to military operations by foreign forces unless they come under attack or have first consulted the Afghan National Army.
The bill still has to be passed by the Wolesi Jirga (People's Assembly), the lower house of Parliament, and signed by President Hamid Karzai before becoming law. Similar approaches to the Taliban have failed in the past. The move follows a law providing an amnesty from war crimes committed over nearly three decades of civil war.
Meanwhile, as the time-bomb ticks toward more fighting, the rag-tag Afghan insurgency is fast morphing into a 21st-century guerrilla movement.
Born out of the ashes of civil war and the US Central Intelligence Agency's unrefined efforts to stimulate a jihad against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, the Taliban are significantly changed from their days in power across Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.
More than anything, the once-xenophobic, home-grown movement is now a part of a global jihad. Operatives inside and outside the country mix and match battlefield tactics and information strategy to fit the moment.
Announcing the Taliban's "full contacts" with the larger struggle in Iraq last year, one of the Taliban's senior field commanders, Mullah Dadullah, stated, "We are united against the infidel - we are in the same trench." Dadullah later announced that he had sent some of his own foot soldiers to fight in Iraq.
Leading analysts of global terrorism believe that the Afghan "exchanges" are value-added capabilities in the realm of both "hearts and minds" and fighting skills.
The transformation of the Taliban provides a study in how a local insurgency has re-emerged as a force for al-Qaeda's global interests. Western diplomats and Afghan experts monitoring the Taliban contend that it is increasingly difficult to differentiate between the international and the local aspects of the insurgency.
"The Taliban [movement] is now a part of an internationalized jihad," said Waheed Mujda, an Afghan writer who served as a deputy minister in the Taliban's government between 1997 and 2001 and later wrote a tell-all book about the movement.
"The largest contributing factor to this internationalization has been the US attack on Iraq and a growing sense that Muslims across the Islamic world are fighting the same aggressor, the US and its allies. The Taliban's war has now moved outside the boundaries of Afghanistan and is part of a global struggle."
Videos from training camps inside Afghanistan and also in Pakistan suggest that al-Qaeda's trusted Arabs have resumed their venerated roles as military trainers for the Taliban. But apart from numerous cameo appearances in joint al-Qaeda-Taliban training videos, these senior al-Qaeda figures remain almost invisible on the battlefield, according to Afghan security and intelligence officials.
Afghan and other Islamic militants travel clandestinely among Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq and also "wave" to one another over the Internet. In one recent video, Abu Laith al-Libbi, a senior Libyan trainer for the Taliban in Afghanistan, sends a message of encouragement to Iraqi insurgents from a training base in Kunar province. His work in Afghanistan and his close affiliation with al-Qaeda operatives in Iraq suggest strong cross-pollination between anti-American insurgencies in the two countries.
Taliban tactics, which as late as last spring involved wild frontal attacks with hundreds of fighters on US and allied positions, have further morphed to fit al-Qaeda's vision of a successful jihad: spelling a notable and new preference for suicide bombing, improvised explosive devices, and assassinations of key figures, with a stress on "NATO collaborators".
The Taliban's re-emergence as a formidable foe in the sphere of public opinion and on the battlefield in Afghanistan has paralleled al-Qaeda's own equally stunning revival in Pakistan. The symbiosis has been years in the making. A nascent al-Qaeda capitalized on the Taliban's own success in the late 1990s when the religious zealots seized control of Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden's organization used the Taliban's own power base to launch his vision of a global jihad, which included dozens of training camps that served jihadis from around the world.
The Taliban have made some unexpected strides on the public relations front. Analysts put this down to the militant religious movement's ability to capitalize on the failures of the Karzai regime.
"The Taliban's comeback is one of the greatest examples I can think of [of] a ruling regime snatching defeat from the jaws of victory," said Saad Mohseni, an Australian-Afghan journalist and the owner of Afghanistan's largest private media conglomerate. "The Taliban [are] engaged in more of a rescue mission than anything else. They are admired for providing security."
But other analysts believe the Taliban should be given far more credit for their own real successes in the sphere of Afghan public opinion. A movement that once mangled its own media operations is now regularly featured in the independent Afghan media for its press statements and military gains - so much so that officials from the government of US-backed Karzai now threaten to muzzle the free press in their own country for being - in part - too sympathetic toward "the enemy".
The Taliban's military chief and local media star, Dadullah, who personally oversees the same kinds of showmanship beheadings of foreigners and locals made infamous by al-Qaeda in Iraq's dead leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, puts on a tough, defiant face that is admired by some and despised by others.
Taliban leaders frame their actions and arguments against what they say is a far more brutal US-led "global war on terror". The Taliban, mimicking al-Qaeda's own websites and video-production wing, Al-Sahab, now produce daily news pieces covering events in Afghanistan and the Muslim world and slick videotapes that depict the lives of young militants in religious schools and in al-Qaeda-led training camps inside Afghanistan and in neighboring Pakistan.
Despite the Taliban's growing "globalization", the Afghan-centric nature of the fight in the trenches remains very much the same. Afghan security officials working in the Taliban's operational heartland say they rarely catch foreign militants dead or alive in the insurgency's ranks. That is because the actual foot soldiers fighting in Afghanistan are almost all still Afghans or Pakistani Pashtuns (ethnic brethren divided by the British Raj-imposed Durand Line).
Even suicide bombers, once a rarity and carefully selected from outside the region, are increasingly originating in South Asia, say senior Afghan intelligence officials.
NATO planners, particularly the British in Helmand, are aware of the Taliban's machinations. Dealing with them is another trick entirely. Helmand province is now a nexus for both Taliban and NATO operations. A drive past poppy fields on freshly paved roads is a race to dodge NATO-Taliban firefights as well as avoid kidnappings that have left journalists and drivers beheaded in recent weeks.
Unarmed Taliban fighters can be seen in the fields assisting villagers as they scrape oozing opium paste from the buds of poppy flowers. The estimated US$3 billion opium and heroin trade is heavily taxed, say residents. Government eradicators, who appear to have surrendered to the inevitability of this year's predicted bumper crop, demanded stiff fees for not destroying the crop several weeks ago. In addition, Afghan landowners with poppy fields just outside the ancient city of Lashkar Gah say they are paying a zakat, or religious tax, to Taliban insurgents, which is used to support the movement and buy arms.
So in addition to massive support from al-Qaeda's strengthened base across the border in Pakistan, including financial ties inside leading Sunni states bordering the Persian Gulf, al-Qaeda is financially sound on the ground in Afghanistan.
Cracking the nexus of drugs and terror amounts to fighting two wars at once. "The Taliban's Tier 2 members, mostly farmers and villagers, [are] usually doing it for the money," said Lieutenant-Colonel Charlie Mayo, the NATO spokesman in Helmand province. "We don't really want to fight Tier 2 - if we don't have to. If we are able to push the Tier 1 out, we can provide breathing space for economic development without Taliban intimidation."
But distinguishing the hardened ideologues from mere poppy farmers with Kalashnikovs is easier said than done. Helmand's provincial police chief, Nabi Jan Mulla Kheal, said he now favors the US government's own efforts to persuade NATO allies to allow Taliban-controlled poppy fields to be eradicated by chemicals sprayed from the air. But other Afghan officials as well as locals in the capital, Lashkar Gah, say aerial spraying would only drive more poor Afghans into the waiting arms of the Taliban.
Philip Smucker is a commentator and journalist based in South Asia and the Middle East. He is the author of Al-Qaeda's Great Escape: The Military and the Media on Terror's Trail (2004).
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Pentagon to fortify force in Afghanistan
By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer Wed May 9, 11:11 AM ET
WASHINGTON - The Pentagon said Wednesday that it will maintain a heightened level of U.S. troops in Afghanistan well into 2008 by sending elements of the 101st Airborne Division as a replacement force.
The 101st Airborne's commanding general and his headquarters staff, plus the division's 4th Brigade, will deploy early next year, the Pentagon said. They will replace the 82nd Airborne Division's headquarters and its 4th Brigade.
Extra combat troops are in Afghanistan in anticipation of a tougher fight in coming months against the Taliban militants who have demonstrated a more organized, better trained resistance, particularly in the southern part of the country.
The Pentagon did not say how long the new units would stay in Afghanistan, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently said all units in Afghanistan and Iraq would deploy for up to 15 months instead of the normal 12 months.
While President Bush's troop increase in Iraq has aroused widespread public and congressional opposition, there has been little dissent over efforts to intensify U.S. operations in Afghanistan. Both conflicts, however, are continuing to put severe strains on a military that is constantly scrambling to find fresh troops and equipment to send to the war zones.
At the start of this year the Pentagon decided to double the number of U.S. combat brigades in Afghanistan, from one to two, and in February it announced that the higher level would be maintained through the end of the year. With Wednesday's announcement, that level would be maintained into 2008 and possibly well beyond.
The other combat brigade in Afghanistan is the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, which is due to be replaced this summer.
The total number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is about 25,500, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said. They include about 14,000 who are operating as part of a NATO force known as the International Security Assistance Force.
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1,000 Polish troops more to Afghanistan
WARSAW, Poland, May. 10 (UPI) -- Poland plans to sent 1,000 more troops to Afghanistan to join NATO forces fighting Taliban and al-Qaida rebels, Poland Radio reported Thursday.
Polish troops already in Afghanistan number about 500, of whom 100 were deployed last year and 400 earlier this year.
Abdul Haider, Afghan ambassador to Poland, said Warsaw's efforts to beef up its contigent symbolize the strength of strong links between the two countries.
Krzysztof Bobinski of the Polish Institute of International Affairs said dispatching additional troops to Afghanistan "will be a hard pill to swallow for plenty of Poles."
Bobinski said firing rockets and guns is not the way to win the war. He suggested government reform and economic development as more effective tools.
The report said a recent public poll indicated nearly 80 percent of Poles are against involvement in Afghanistan.
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Ambassador: No third option in Afghanistan
WASHINGTON, May. 9 (UPI) -- The top U.S. diplomat to Afghanistan remains hopeful about the U.S.-led fight against the Taliban.
U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann said he was "relatively more optimistic" now than when he took the top post in Kabul nearly two years ago.
The ambassador spoke to a Washington audience on Tuesday at an event sponsored by the Asia Society, a Washington-based non-profit.
Neumann noted positive developments in the capacity of the Afghan National Army and ability of the Afghan Parliament to avoid potentially debilitating ethnic divisions. But he was careful to qualify his optimism by saying, "but that's this week; I can't tell you what will happen next week."
The ambassador said that the United States has a choice between "audacious success" and "dismal failure" in the fight against the Taliban, and that the outcome of the war is "by no means certain."
"There is no third option" in this conflict, Neumann said, because there is no leader or dictator who appears to be stepping up; the military does not have the ability to rule by force. Therefore, the outcome will likely be clear-cut, either in the interest of the United States or not.
He defined "success" in Afghanistan as "a moderate government with a sufficient amount of popular support" to remain in power and that is "quasi-democratic."
In the meantime, the Taliban continues to assert its control. The Combined Joint Task Force at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan reported Monday that "an apparent Afghan National Army soldier" fired into a U.S. military vehicle on Sunday, killing two U.S. service members and wounding two others.
News reports following the incident indicated that the killer was a Taliban fighter who had infiltrated the Afghan National Army.
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Former Afghan warlord says he can defeat Taliban
David Pugliese For CanWest News Service Thursday, May 10, 2007
SHEBIRGHAN, Afghanistan - A former Afghan warlord who helped the U.S. defeat the Taliban in late-2001 says he can do the same thing again if President Hamid Karzai and his international military backers just give him the word.
Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum says he could raise 10,000 seasoned combat veterans from the days of fighting the Taliban to crush the ongoing insurgency. His proposal would involve Afghan soldiers from all the country's ethnic groups, fighting alongside another 10,000 troops from the international forces.
"Then you would see what will happen in just six months," he said through an interpreter in a rare interview from his stronghold in northern Afghanistan. "If President Karzai gives me the power, I can guarantee him and assure the international community and the people of Afghanistan that we can play a significant role in defeating and breaking the back of the Taliban."
The joint force would pursue and destroy the Taliban, Dostum says, even if it has to go into the lawless Pakistani territories along the border with Afghanistan, a key recruitment and operational base for the Taliban.
Dostum, 53, is currently chief of staff of the Afghan army, but his position is considered largely ceremonial. In fact, some senior government members don't trust him and worry that he is consolidating his power and secretly rearming his forces.
Dostum denies this, pointing out that he was the first to disarm and support Afghan's elected government.
The general has survived over the decades by making deals with various powerbrokers in Afghanistan. He fought with the Soviets during the bloody occupation and war that engulfed the country from 1979 to 1989. Later, he threw his support behind anti-Communist forces.
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida attacks on the United States, Dostum's troops helped American special forces and CIA operatives defeat the Taliban. The general's tanks and cavalry, backed by U.S. air power, routed the Taliban in a matter of months.
Dostum, whose men have a reputation as ruthless and skilled fighters, has been accused of war crimes for his actions both during Afghanistan's earlier wars and following the Taliban defeat.
Dostum says NATO and the U.S. are making a mistake by building the Afghan national army along the lines of a western military force because ANA troops are no match for seasoned Taliban fighters. The answer, he maintains, are the hardened combat veterans from Afghanistan's past wars.
"The Taliban are recruiting people who know war and suffering and have nothing to lose," he explained. "Of course they will be tougher than the ANA recruits."
NATO and the U.S. see the ANA as key to their eventual withdrawal from Afghanistan. Afghan troops are already fighting alongside international forces and NATO hopes that the Afghan army will take on an increasing role on the battlefield.
Dostum says he warned Karzai in 2002 that although the Taliban were on the run, they should be pursued and destroyed. In the following years, he continued to caution the Afghan government that if something wasn't done about Taliban remnants, they would regroup. His warnings were ignored, he says.
"What I had forecast came to pass. The Taliban are now becoming more and more powerful, they are regrouping and bringing more fighters from Pakistan."
In fact, over the past year, the Taliban have rebounded and launched attacks on civilians and international and Afghan forces.
The general insists his presence in the north is key to preventing the Taliban from operating there. Certainly there have been only a few attacks on international forces in the north. Almost all Taliban activity is focused in the the south, where Canadians and British forces are stationed.
Some western diplomats in Kabul say the general is no longer a force to be reckoned with in Afghanistan. They say it would be impossible to use his troops because of Dostum's past abuses on the battlefield.
Others, however, contend that he remains a major powerbroker in the north and that few major Afghan leaders don't have blood on their hands from the country's ongoing wars.
Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former senior Taliban official, agrees that Dostum is a serious force on the battlefield, adding that he is "a big killer," but the mullah says that if Dostum, an Uzbek, were allowed to command a new army, he would face an uprising from Afghanistan's Pashtun ethnic group.
Dostum argues Afghanistan is in a once-in-a-lifetime position because the international community wants to help the country rebuild. It's a chance that may never come again and it is too important to allow the Taliban to jeopardize.
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Suicide bombing kills three in Afghanistan
By IANS Thursday May 10, 12:05 PM
Kabul, May 10 (Xinhua) A suicide bombing has killed three civilians and injured seven in eastern Afghanistan's Paktika province, media reports said Thursday.
The explosion occurred in Barmal district bordering Pakistan on Wednesday, district chief Azizullah Hayayee was quoted as saying.
The bomber detonated himself in a market after he failed to reach a base of the US-led coalition forces, Hayayee said. He added that three of the injured were in a critical condition.
A purported Taliban spokesperson claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the bomber named Abdullah was from the eastern Khost province.
Due to rising Taliban-linked insurgency, over 1,200 persons, mostly Taliban militants, have been killed in Afghanistan this year.
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AFGHANISTAN: Thousands of child labourers in eastern province deprived of education
10 May 2007 07:49:09 GMT
SORKHROAD, 10 May 2007 (IRIN) - From dawn to dusk black smoke rises from the towering chimneys of brick-making factories in the Sorkhroad district of Afghanistan's eastern province of Nangarhar.
There are about 60 such factories in Sorkhroad which produce most of the red bricks used for construction in the densely populated Nangarhar province.
Seven-year-old Rahatullah works with his father and elder brother, Habibullah, aged 12, in a brick factory for over 12 hours a day.
"It is always vexing when my father wakes me at 4:00 am to go to work," the slim and deeply tanned boy told IRIN at a factory. "I feel constant pain in my back and legs. We have long working hours and sometimes I feel very sleepy."
Rahatullah and his brother have never been to school, but he says he has always wanted to study like other boys. "When I see boys and girls of my age who go to school, I really want to join them, but we are poor and I have to work," the young brick maker said.
Some 5,000 child labourers in Nangarhar
According to Save the Children (Sweden), there are up to 5,000 child labourers working in brick factories in Nangarhar.
Haneef Shinwary, an official for Save the Children in Nangarhar said: "Twenty to 25 families live in these factories and their children, along with their parents, work in harsh conditions."
Children face various risks at work and some of them sustain serious injuries such as broken bones, the children's protection body said.
Poverty is seen as a major reason driving many parents to let their young children work.
For Abdul Mohammed who works at a factory with his two daughters, Shano, 8, and Meeno, 10, it seems impossible to feed his eight-member family without his daughters' support.
"Even if I work 20 hours, I will only earn 200 Afghani [about US $4] which does not meet our basic needs. So I have no other option but to ask my daughters to give me a hand. I feel very uncomfortable about this," Mohammed said.
The country is a signatory to the UN Convention on Children's Rights and other treaties which prohibit child labour, but institutional mechanisms which should translate formal commitments into appropriate action are absent, Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) said.
"There is also widespread ignorance about child rights which is exacerbated by the lack of law enforcing capacity, thus child labour has been interwoven into the very fabric of our society," said Najibullah, a children's rights commissioner at AIHRC.
In an effort to mitigate the suffering of these child labourers the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) is thinking of establishing community schools near brick factories in Sorkhroad.
"Obviously UNICEF alone cannot solve all the economic and social problems of parents whose children work at brick factories, but we have plans to build community schools in Sorkhroad and other areas where access to education will be made easier for these children," said Saeed Mohammed Saeed, UNICEF office director in Nangarhar.
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Revived Taliban restrict Afghan aid effort
By Rachel Morarjee, Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor Thu May 10, 4:00 AM ET
Kandahar, Afghanistan - The three armored vehicles roll into the village of Niki Kaz on the outskirts of Kandahar. As the Canadian soldiers pass out candy and notepads to a crowd of gathering villagers, a village elder wearing a gray turban warns them about local militants.
Two weeks earlier, "there were Talibs coming through in a convoy with two land cruisers and four motorbikes.We are trying to prevent them placing bombs," says Pir Mohammed.
The patrol, part of the Canadian Provincial Reconstruction Team based in nearby Kandahar City, stays less than 20 minutes before moving on to the next village. That leaves locals under the protection of Afghan police, who Pir Mohammed says are too scared to leave their offices.
In the wake of Operation Medusa last summer, in which hundreds of insurgents were killed in fighting around Kandahar, military officials hoped that development workers would move into to fill the vacuum. That never happened. Almost a year later, most of Afghanistan's four southern provinces are out-of-bounds to aid workers who cannot engage with local communities while clad in body armor and traveling in Humvees.
"It is a strange time. There is Western interest in putting money in here, but little idea of how to move forward or who might do it," says Rangina Hamidi, a Kandahar-based aid worker with the Baltimore-based Afghans for Civil Society.
NATO commanders have acknowledged that there is no military solution to the conflict in southern Afghanistan and have said that improved governance and reconstruction are crucial.
The US and British governments have stepped up aid to the restive south, and the Afghan Ministry of Rural Reconstruction and Development (MRRD) has expanded its offices in Kandahar.
But finding Afghan aid agencies who are willing to work on projects in outlying southern districts has become a thorny problem – especially in areas where international troops visit districts to inspect aid work, such as the canal-clearing project in Niki Kaz.
"When they [NATO soldiers] monitor the projects themselves, they come with tanks, with weapons, and this affects our staff badly," says Abdul Salaam Siddiqi, the deputy director of the Voluntary Association for the Rehabilitation of Afghanistan (VARA).
Mr. Siddiqi says his agency has rolled back its activities steadily over the past two years and now operates only in provincial capitals in the south.
Delivering aid in outlying districts has become impossible, and eight staff members have been killed since 2002.
"We face many problems. The Taliban have arrested our engineers there and captured our vehicles," he explains.
When the Taliban ran the country, VARA operated all over Afghanistan.Now, with the lines about who is in control of villages becoming increasingly blurred, it has become more restricted.
"In some places, the Taliban will kill all government officials, and in others, the government has links with the Taliban so they cannot guarantee our safety," he adds.
The government's flagship National Solidarity Program, which allows communities to decide how to spend aid money, has taken only preliminary steps in Helmand and only operates on a very small scale in Uruzgan.
"Insecurity is obviously a threat, and in provinces such as Zabul and Uruzgan it is very difficult to find implementation partners," says Mohammad Tariq Ishmati of the MRRD's Kandahar office.
But problems with deteriorating security are not confined to Afghanistan's most violent areas. Across the country, aid agencies are finding themselves caught in factional conflicts or are the targets of criminal attacks.
A report last month by the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR) warned that donors' political objectives are distorting aid delivery.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID), by far the country's largest donor, allocates more than half of its aid to the four restive southern provinces, the report said. The report cited a disproportionate amount of aid that was being delivered to insecure or opium-producing areas.
This approach overlooks the massive development needs in comparatively stable areas and "creates perverse incentives – for provinces to create insecurity to attract resource," the report added.
The unbalanced distribution has had observable effects on the aid effort. Over the last year, the situation in the north and west – areas once branded peaceful by the international community – has deteriorated sharply.
There have been more attacks on aid agencies in the north and west than in the south during the first quarter of this year, the majority of them criminal, according to statistics from the Afghanistan NGO Security Organisation.
Only 12 percent of the attacks on aid agencies nationwide occurred in the south, where 40 percent of the incidents linked with the insurgency took place.
By contrast, 26 percent of incidents took place in the north and northeast – a region that saw only 5 percent of the actual armed military conflict.
The conflict has also spread closer to Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, where most international aid agencies are based. The past month has seen clashes between suspected Taliban and government forces in western Herat's Shindand districts and in Kapisa, just 75 kilometers north of the capital Kabul.
In this climate, entering new areas to deliver aid means first gaining the trust of local communities – a method that takes time and still more aid resources.
"Where trouble arises there is no quick fix," says Anja de Beer, the head of ACBAR.
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Afghanistan: UN to step up staff security after recent killing
KABUL, 10 May 2007 (IRIN) - The killing of a United Nations driver on Tuesday is the latest in a spate of attacks and kidnappings by insurgents deliberately targeting aid workers and journalists in Afghanistan, local and international observers say.
According to UN officials, Sadequllah, 38, was shot dead on his way to work in the southern province of Kandahar by unidentified men on a motorbike. Police are now looking for the assassins.
"I am greatly saddened by his death, which is a loss to all of us. I have sent my condolences to his family," read a statement by Tom Koenigs, the UN's special enjoy for Afghanistan.
Sadequllah had been working as a driver for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) since 1992. He leaves behind a widow and eight children.
Afghanistan's volatile southern provinces have been a matter of constant concern for the UN and other humanitarian organisations.
On 4 April, two French citizens and three Afghans working for a medical aid organisation were kidnapped by armed men. A Taliban spokesman reportedly claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.
French officials have said that one female aid worker has been released by the Taliban. The Taliban have said that the remaining four aid workers will be released only if France withdraws all of its more than 1,000 soldiers from Afghanistan.
On 17 April, four Nepalese men contracted by the UN to do security work in Kandahar and their Afghan driver died in a roadside explosion.
In early May, Taliban insurgents abducted Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo, his Afghan translator Ajmal Naqshbandi and his driver Saeed Agha in the volatile province of Helmand, also in the south of the country.
On 18 May, Mastrogiacomo was released in a deal that also saw the release of five Taliban prisoners held by the Afghan government. But both his Afghan colleagues were decapitated by insurgents, government officials said.
Taliban accused of war crimes
Afghan and international rights organisations have accused the Taliban of war crimes by deliberately targeting civilians in their fight against Afghan and international forces.
A spokesman for the UN's Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) said it was still unclear whether a terrorist motive was behind the UNHCR driver's assassination.
"Obviously, we face more threats now than any time in the past," said an Afghani UN staff member in Kandahar on condition of anonymity.
"Not only have suicide and roadside attacks increased in the southern provinces, but recently insurgents have also used another dirty tactic and that is the abduction of aid workers," added the source.
Adrian Edwards, the UN spokesman in Afghanistan, told IRIN in Kabul that "kidnapping is one of our current concerns in the southern provinces, and we constantly assess our staffs' safety".
Despite security challenges, UN officials say they will continue with their aid and development activities in all regions of war-ravaged Afghanistan to alleviate humanitarian hardships.
Given the Afghan government's limited capacity to protect the UN and other humanitarian agencies, UN spokesman Edwards said: "We are bringing security experts through UNDSS [UN Department of Safety and Security] to fill this gap."
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Afghan women's lives on the line in struggle for equality
9:41 a.m. EDT, May 10, 2007
KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Bibi Kuku, a 19-year-old Afghan woman, wanted to die. Forced to marry and soon pregnant, she set herself on fire in an extreme act of self-harm, she told the nurses who treated her.
She denies that happened now, saying the burns on her belly came from an accident with an oil lamp. Kuku and her baby survived, but her scars will always remain.
Human rights activists and officials say Kuku's case is not uncommon in Afghanistan. Although strides have been made for women's rights in the post-Taliban era, many women are still made to feel like second-class citizens. (Watch the brutal reality of life for Afghan women )
Afghan laws stipulate that men and women have equal rights, these experts say, but they are just not recognized.
"There is a thinking of men in my country that women are not real, not complete humans," said Homa Sultani, an Afghan woman and human rights activist.
"That is why they think that if they are not complete humans, then they do not have the right to go to the doctor or the other rights, to get education."
The culture allows Afghan men to go even further, she said.
"Men think that they have the right to kill their wives because they think that when they get married, their wives, or maybe their daughters, [become] their private property and ... you can do anything -- you can throw them away, you can demolish them."
Suicides on the rise
But sometimes, it is the women themselves who throw their lives away.
Officials at the hospital where Kuku was being treated say 80 percent of their burn victims are women -- about one-third of them self-inflicted injuries. Doctors say many of those are women who set themselves on fire in suicide attempts. It's a trend, they say, that's on the rise.
Post-Taliban Afghanistan does now recognize the rights of women, although Mazari Safra, the nation's deputy minister for women, admits there are still social barriers women need to break through.
But she says progress made since the fall of the Taliban and their strict Islamic law may actually be driving increasing numbers of women to try to kill themselves.
"There are three main causes behind these suicides: first is the awareness -- when their awareness increases they become aware they have very limited resources, their frustration increases and they commit suicide," she said.
"Second is economic poverty. Poverty plays an important role," she continued.
"The third reason is the psychological effects of war ... the people get impatient."
Age-old traditions difficult to overcome
Female activist Sultani says problems go back to years of war and occupation that preceded the rule of the Taliban, which was toppled in October 2001 during the post-9/11 U.S.-led invasion.
Under the Taliban, women were forced to wear burqas covering them from head to toe, and girls were not allowed to attend school. (Watch beating the Taliban through schools )
Sultani says women were "zero" under the Taliban.
"Now they can go to schools, they can go to work, they can do any social activity, they can work. For example, I can work here, I am not forced to wear burqa and these things," she said.
"This is a change, but you cannot say that this is a big change in [comparison] with life of women before Taliban."
Most Afghan women are illiterate, she says, so her organization develops videos to inform women of their human and civil rights.
The age-old traditions hamper many things -- husbands do not like their wives or daughters to be seen by male doctors, and many women still die in childbirth -- but the present-day security situation can be just as damaging, with fear of attacks keeping women at home.
"The main reason now most of the people do not let their girls go to schools is the bad security situation," Sultani said.
Crimes against women -- at home or outside -- are at least investigated now. Pashtoon Stanakzai, one of two female officers at a police station in Kabul, said many women do not understand their rights, but she tries to help.
"When they come here, they cry and they are very panicked," she said. "First I calm them down, and after that I find out what was the reason and who was blamed.
"If the lady is blamed, then I advise her. And if someone else is blamed, then in the course of the investigation, I ask the doer of that action to show up and [I] investigate."
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First HIV/AIDS Diagnostic Center Opens in Northern Afghanistan
[May 10, 2007] Kaiser network.org, DC
The first HIV/AIDS diagnostic center in Afghanistan's northern city of Mazar-I-Sharif began operations on Tuesday in one of the city's hospitals, Pajhwok Afghan News reports. The testing facility, which is equipped with modern treatment technology, was established with help and financial assistance from the Ministry of Health and the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Health officials are encouraging residents to seek HIV testing and treatment at the center. Saifur Rahman, head of the AIDS control department of the health ministry, said similar centers have been established in the capital, Kabul, and two other provinces. According to Rahman, 71 HIV cases have been reported in the country, but health officials say the number could be as high as 2,000. Rahman said he thinks refugee populations and a lack of proper testing centers are the primary reasons for the spread of HIV in Afghanistan. He added that the ministry is planning to open testing facilities in bordering provinces to prevent the spread of HIV from Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan (Pajhwok Afghan News, 5/8).
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Cdn troops spread goodwill among remote Afghan villagers
By JAMES MCCARTEN
SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan (CP) - Canadian soldiers sipped tea with farmers and handed out toys to children Thursday as they toured the desolate plains of southeastern Afghanistan, like missionaries spreading the gospel of the coalition effort to improve the lives of local tribespeople.
A convoy of Royal Canadian Dragoons, members of the Provincial Reconstruction Team and soldiers from Canada's Tactical Psychological Operations Team barrelled down dry riverbeds and over the windswept barrens, stopping to talk to anyone they saw - goat-herders, local families, even a man whose truck was stuck in the sand.
At the edge of the red sands of the Registan desert, the convoy pulled up to a ramshackle workhouse with an aging tractor and an already-harvested poppy crop out front.
Maj. Steve Graham, commander of Reconnaissance Squadron, urged one of the farmers to get in touch with police if he should see anything unusual in the area.
"Tell him I'm the new coalition commander in this area, and we're here to help him and we're here to work with the police to make sure there's good security in the area," Graham told his interpreter.
"He can help by anything he sees that's unusual or strange or that he doesn't recognize, by telling the police what he's seen and together we can make the area safe for everybody."
Inside the dark workhouse, the men laid out blankets, poured glasses of tea and served colourful hard candy to the soldiers as they met for more than half an hour.
With the interpreter's help, they talked at length about everything from the security situation to whether the local children - several of whom appeared captivated by the troops in their midst - were going to school and learning to read and write.
"There is no school, but he say others told them to apply to the government of Afghanistan that we should build a school here, but nobody help them," the interpreter said.
One man named Auob explained how a representative from the nearby village comes to inquire about any needs or problems the farmers may be having. Those complaints are aired at the village shirra - a meeting of elders - and then eventually carried to a shirra for the entire Spin Boldak district.
"Out of all the needs he's put up, has he ever seen anything actually come back, anything get done?" Graham asked.
"Nothing. Nothing come back, nothing done," came the reply. "Hospital, road reconstruction, bridge, water and especially school. But nothing was done."
The children learn to read and write in the mosque, said Auob - but all the soldiers were skeptical when they asked the name of the mullah: no one in the room knew the answer.
"What do you call him?" Graham asked.
"Mullah," the children said.
Capt. Shawn Arbing, a member of the Tactical Psychological Operations Team, commonly referred to as PsyOps, said he would return with wind-up radios and writing materials for the children to ensure they have at least some learning tools.
There are radio stations that broadcast over southeastern Afghanistan where the locals would be able to hear about the coalition efforts in their country, Arbing said.
"I know Kandahar City Radio broadcasts in the Spin Boldak area for six hours a day, and they do get BBC Pashtun," he said.
"We do have radios that we can give out to people, so it might be a way that we can . . . educate people about our presence."
In the remotest parts of Afghanistan, information travels primarily by word of mouth and supplies can be difficult to come by, Arbing added.
"There's some kids there, so we'll try to get them some writing materials, maybe, and some wind-up radios so they don't have to use batteries."
When the conversation turned to the subject of the Taliban, Auob said insurgents have no reason to linger in their area.
"There's no facility for the Taliban. There's no water, no village, no people for the Taliban, no mountains," he said.
"The Taliban will go to the border; they want facilities like water, food - everything they need. But here there's no facilities for them, so here is safe from the Taliban."
Graham also asked whether Auob had any information about the improvised explosive device that damaged an Afghan police vehicle several days earlier, not far from the forward operating base where the Canadians are staying.
"How should I know who put mine on the road?" said Auob.
"If I see some strange person around my village, I will give information to you guys, but the explosion was three kilometres from here, so I don't know who put the mine over there."
Earlier, the convoy stopped and the soldiers hopped out to meet another farmer, waving the children over so they could hand out toy cars and small stuffed animals.
"My wife says our kids have too many toys," said one soldier. "So they rounded (them) up and sent them to me, and said, 'Give them to the Afghans.' "
Later, the convoy stopped at the edge of the Registan - a forbidding, 40-metre wall of fine red sand that's slowly crawling across the Afghanistan landscape like a giant glacier at a rate of nearly a metre a year.
Several of the soldiers, as well as some of the observers on the convoy, took up a challenge to ascend the steep incline - an experience not unlike walking across a sandy beach, only uphill.
Once they'd caught their breath at the top, some galloped back down on their feet, while others tried sliding down on their backs, toboggan-style.
"That beat the hell out of me," one panted once he'd reached bottom.
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Afghan lawmakers urge ceasefire, talks with Taliban
The motion came hours before a US strike that local officials say killed at least 21 civilians, a charge the US does not confirm.
By Eoin O'Carroll | csmonitor.com May 10, 2007 at 12:00 p.m. EDT
Amid claims of mounting civilian deaths, including an official tally of 21 civilians killed in a US-led airstrike, the upper house of Afghanistan's legislature passed a motion Tuesday calling for a military ceasefire and negotiations with the Taliban.
The Associated Press writes that NATO called the resolution, which requires passage by the lower house and approval of the president to become law, a "warning shot."
The proposal from the upper house of parliament, which also calls for a date to be set for the withdrawal of foreign troops, suggests that Afghan support for the 5-year international military mission is crumbling amid a series of civilian deaths.
The motion reflects lawmakers' belief that negotiations with militants would be more effective than fighting, said Aminuddin Muzafari, the secretary of the upper house.
"One of the reasons I want this bill implemented is because of the civilian deaths caused by both the enemy and international forces," said Abdul Ahmad Zahidi, a parliamentarian from Ghazni province. "It's difficult to prevent civilian deaths when the Taliban go inside the homes of local people. How can you prevent casualties then? You can't."
News of the resolution transpired amid reports that, during a battle between US Special Forces and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan's Helmand province Tuesday, a US airstrike killed 21 civilians, including several women and children, according to local officials. One coalition soldier also died.
The New York Times describes Tuesday's 16-hour battle in the village of Sarban Qala, near Sangin in Helmand Province.
During the battle on Tuesday, Afghan National Army troops accompanied by American Special Forces encountered more than 200 well-armed Taliban on a ridge during a patrol 15 miles northeast of Sangin, the United States military said in a statement from Bagram Air Base. The airstrikes were called in to destroy what Sgt. Dean Welch, a spokesman for the American command at the base, said were three compounds and an underground tunnel network.
"We understand there are reports of civilian casualties but don't have any confirmed reports," Sergeant Welch said, adding that an investigation would be started if reports of civilian deaths are confirmed.
The Times notes that the US Special Forces unit was one that operates independently of NATO.
According to Reuters, witnesses say that the strike killed 40 civilians. The news service also notes that Assadullah Wafa, the governor of Helmand province, blames Taliban fighters for hiding in the homes of civilians.
News of the airstrike comes a day after Col. John Nicholson, an Army commander, apologized to the families of 69 civilians killed or wounded by marines in March. The Washington Post notes that the killings, which occurred after a suicide attack on a marine convoy near Jalalabad, strained US-Afghan relations.
The incident – which resulted in the largest number of civilian deaths from a single U.S. action in the country since the war began – raised significant ire within Afghan communities in the region. U.S. commanders quickly removed the Marine company from Afghanistan after the incident because of the tensions it could have caused among the local population. Maj. Gen. Frank H. Kearney III, who heads the Special Operations Central Command, ordered an investigation.
"The people are the center of gravity here, so, first and foremost in all that we do, we seek to do no harm to the people," Nicholson said. "So events such as that do set us back with the population, and they have to be addressed very directly and forthrightly with the Afghan people."
The BBC reports that claims of mounting civilian deaths have angered Afghan president Hamid Karzai, who summoned foreign military leaders to Kabul to "express his displeasure."
"The president told Nato and coalition commanders that the patience of the Afghan people is wearing thin with the continued killing of innocent civilians," a statement from his office said.
"Civilian deaths and arbitrary decisions to search people's houses have reached an unacceptable level and Afghans cannot put up with it any longer.
Mr Karzai told journalists that civilian deaths would bring "bad consequences".
"It is becoming a heavy burden and we are not happy about it.
"I hope the international community will find with us, with our relevant ministries, a mechanism that will bring an end to collateral damage, to damage to civilians."
The BBC notes that about 1,000 civilians were killed in Afghanistan last year. There are no official tallies of the total number of civilian deaths in the five-year conflict.
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Pakistan gains from Taliban split
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / May 9, 2007
KARACHI - The Taliban are poised to launch Ghazwatul Badr to seize control of Kabul. The name of the offensive is a reference to the Battle of Badr commanded by the Prophet Mohammed in the Arabian Peninsula some 1,400 years ago.
The Battle of Badr was the key battle in the early days of Islam and a turning point in Mohammed's struggle with his opponents among the Quraish tribe in Mecca. The battle has been passed down in Islamic history as a decisive victory attributable to divine intervention and the genius of Mohammed.
In this century's version of the battle, more than 30,000 youths have been trained in the Pakistani tribal areas of North and South Waziristan as cannon fodder in a struggle that the Taliban believe will be the key turning point against foreign occupation forces and the Taliban's opponents in Kabul.
On the eve of the offensive, however, machinations within the ranks of the resistance have opened divisions among the field commanders. Plans to foment a mass uprising across Afghanistan will go ahead, but it could be that the offensive will have more than one leader and several movements, under the brand name of the Taliban.
Preparing for Ghazwatul Badr
Last year's spring offensive in Afghanistan saw a strengthening and regrouping of Taliban commanders, so much so that the resistance was the most successful since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.
As the Taliban see it, they are fighting against the subjugation of the Afghan people by the infidel armies of the West. As such, any Afghan who supports the Western armies is considered an infidel. This notion was promoted across the country, and found considerable resonance in a society with strong memories of the 10-year jihad against the godless Soviets in the 1980s.
People have been urged to leave areas controlled by North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led (NATO) forces and resettle in isolated communities. From here they are encouraged to wage war against the infidels, which includes Muslims sympathetic to foreigners.
After 2001, many small groups of Taliban militants gathered in the tribal areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and last year the tribespeople of southwestern Afghanistan welcomed them back into the heartlands. This saw the emergence of strong local warlords. With the onset of Ghazwatul Badr, the same phenomenon is likely to happen in western Afghanistan, in the east and in parts of the north.
Last year's offensive honed the command skills of Maulana Jalaluddin Haqqani and his sons Sirajuddin and Nasiruddin, as well as Mullah Dadullah and the leader of the Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and his commanders.
These would be the men, the Taliban believed, to expand the gains made in southwestern Afghanistan last year to other parts of the country, and ultimately to Kabul. But it will not be as clear-cut as that.
A mass uprising
With the spring offensive of 2006, the Taliban gained rapid support in southeastern and western Afghanistan with various warlords and tribal elders. The Taliban were no longer defined by their tunnel vision - they took on a messianic role against the destructive US war machine, notorious over the years for its indiscriminate aerial bombings and failure to deliver on promises for the reconstruction and well-being of the country.
The fierce NATO response to the resurgent Taliban led to the killing of hundreds of non-combatant tribespeople, including women and children. Tribal leaders had little or no moral ground to restrain the mounting anger among people to join in the retaliation against NATO.
This phenomenon helped the Taliban to expand their operations from the southwestern provinces of Zabul, Orzgan, Helmand and parts of Kandahar to the western provinces of Herat, Farah, Ghor and Baghdais, with the assistance of non-Taliban warlords. Similarly, they gained a foothold in the southeastern provinces of Kunar, Paktia, Paktika, Khost, Gardez and Nangarhar.
It is from this platform that this year's mass offensive will be launched.
Haqqani, the legendary mujahideen commander against the Soviets, was appointed by Taliban leader Mullah Omar as the deputy chief of the Taliban movement and the all-powerful commander of last year's offensive.
The forces of resistance took some time to make an impression against the war machine of the US and its allies, especially in the
western provinces and parts of the southeast, as these areas were practically beyond the orbit of the Taliban's influence.
So in the initial phase, Haqqani concentrated on realigning diverse tribes, fragmented religious groups and former mujahideen into well-trained combat units.
In the meantime, militants who had streamed into the Taliban's heartland of southwestern Afghanistan from all corners of the jihadi crescent gathered under the command of Dadullah to form a very strong base.
This unexpectedly big success gave Dadullah a lot of extra room in which to operate, and he spread his wings. He enhanced his influenced in North and South Waziristan and even established contacts with the Pakistani establishment.
Top commanders such as Haqqani and Hekmatyar viewed these events with some concern, although, because of Dadullah's success, they could say little.
These commanders felt that Dadullah was going beyond fighting a war of resistance against foreign forces to initiating moves that would ultimately serve Pakistan's political and strategic designs in the region. Under a deal between Dadullah and Islamabad, the Taliban, using Pakistani territory and with Islamabad's support, will be able safely to move men, weapons and supplies into southwestern Afghanistan (see Pakistan makes a deal with the Taliban, Asia Times Online, March 1).
Haqqani and Hekmatyar feared that the one-legged Dadullah would eventually leave behind charismatic figures such as themselves in all political and strategic matters.
A feature of Ghazwatul Badr was to have been a simultaneous wave of thousands of suicide bombers. The idea came from Haqqani, and he set up facilities for the orientation of new squads.
Dadullah, meanwhile, has over the past months stepped up his activities in North and South Waziristan to gather funds and human resources to fuel his struggle to hold on to southwestern Afghanistan. And as a result of Dadullah's efforts, Haqqani's suicide bombers were co-opted as ordinary fighters for the southwest, centered in Helmand province.
Baitullah Mehsood, Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Moulvi Sadiq Noor are the leading Pakistani Taliban commanders in North and South Waziristan, and as they are all close to Dadullah, they gave him their full support.
This cooperation between Dadullah and the Pakistani Taliban in the two Waziristans was unacceptable to Haqqani and his sons Sirajuddin and Nasiruddin, who are also commanders. They had been settled in North Waziristan for decades and had dreamed of the emergence of an elaborate conflict waged under their command from their bases in North and South Waziristan through tens of thousands of suicide bombers.
Haqqani, whose son Nasiruddin is from one of his Arab wives, is the only Taliban commander very close to al-Qaeda fighters. Most Arabs and other foreign militants, especially after the recent internecine strife in the Waziristans between al-Qaeda-linked militants and local Taliban commanders, now live under his protection.
Haqqani eventually raised his concerns at the Taliban's top shura (council). He pointed out that he had been installed as the main commander of the Taliban's offensives, yet Dadullah was meddling in the epicenter of Haqqani's command. The shura did not properly address Haqqani's objections.
Haqqani was not part of the original Taliban movement: he surrendered to them without firing a bullet once they emerged as a powerful force in the mid-1990s. And despite his stature as a top commander of the national resistance against the Soviets, he joined the Taliban as a second-level leader without complaint. It was only last year that he was appointed the main commander and a deputy chief of the Taliban movement.
Mullah Omar's and the shura's behavior disheartened Haqqani, and opened a rift with Dadullah as the latter diverted a flow of trained fighters to Helmand instead of their going to Paktia, Paktika and Khost, where Sirajuddin is the commander.
As a result, the intensity of attacks on NATO and Afghan troops has dropped considerably compared with last year, when Maulvi Kalam was the commander of the Taliban in these three southeastern provinces. Kalam was killed last September in a NATO air raid.
Haqqani, meanwhile, was appointed commander of the eastern province of Nangarhar, where the Taliban have marginal influence. His assignment is to sow the seeds of rebellion in the comparatively peaceful province.
During the resistance against the Soviets, Haqqani was close to Hekmatyar. Now that these legends are being sidelined by the Taliban leadership, they are finding common ground in eastern Afghanistan, where they have joined forces. In Haqqani's most recent mission, warlords loyal to Hekmatyar supported him in a successful operation.
So from their eastern war theater, Gulbuddin and Haqqani are watching the Taliban's new strongman, Dadullah, gain victories in the southwest. He is doing this with the powerful backing of the Pakistani establishment, which will allow Pakistan to open a channel of dialogue between Helmand and Washington, paving the way for a power-sharing formula between Kabul and the "moderate" Taliban.
These developments have in effect separated the eastern and southwestern areas of Afghanistan, and with it the Taliban's long Ghazwatul Badr march to Kabul as a single entity. This might not derail initial plans for an uprising, but if such an uprising is successful, it does not bode well for Afghanistan's longer-term stability.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
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Afghanistan: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
By Kevin Whitelaw US News & World Report 5/10/07
With all the bad news coming out of Iraq, the U.S. effort in Afghanistan is not looking all that bad these days. For one thing, the U.S. troop presence there is surprisingly popular. More than 80 percent of Afghans want American troops to stay in their country, according to recent State Department polls. The economy is surprisingly healthy and reconstruction projects are moving ahead in parts of the country. The situation obviously is far from rosy: The Afghan government remains alarmingly weak, the Taliban is gaining ground, and suicide bombings have risen sharply.
In an effort to build momentum in Afghanistan, the Bush administration has dispatched some additional American soldiers and is proposing a major boost in aid (although the request has been stalled with the fight over Iraq war funding). The extra help will be very welcome. When the White House was preparing its request for supplemental war funding last fall, it asked the State Department to calculate how much the United States has spent training and equipping the Afghan police and military and on reconstruction aid. Foggy Bottom reported that nearly $13 billion had been spent over five years. President Bush and his aides wondered if the State Department had miscalculatedbecause they thought the number would be significantly higher. The White House asked State to double-check its calculations, but the number was correct (today, the figure has grown to over $15 billion). The episode helped persuade Bush to ask for nearly $12 billion in additional reconstruction and security aid for the next 18 months.
A look at what's going right, and what's not, these days:
Afghanistan's economy might have started from a very low point, but it has been, by some measures, the fastest growing economy in South Asia, averaging a growth rate of nearly 14 percent since 2002. Inflation has remained relatively low and foreign companies are beginning to return. In the health sector, a recent household survey by Johns Hopkins University found that infant mortality is declining—some 40,000 fewer infants are dying each year than during Taliban rule. Nearly a third of pregnant women now receive some form of medical care, up from 5 percent before 2001.
Reconstruction is uneven, but projects do not have the same degree of security constraints as do their counterparts in Iraq. On many projects in Iraq, as much as 80 cents of each dollar spent on reconstruction goes toward overhead and security. In Afghanistan's most dangerous province, that figure is 28 cents. Elsewhere in the country, reconstruction aid dollars can go even further. U.S. officials are also encouraged by the high level of support for the U.S. presence, which has remained steady for several years. "It reflects the view that they're fine as long as the Americans are here," says one U.S. official. "But they do not feel the Americans will be here long enough to correct all the problems."
U.S. military operations in Afghanistan continue to draw protests amid accusations of their causing civilian casualties. In the latest incident on Wednesday, Afghan officials claimed that U.S. airstrikes targeting Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan killed at least 21 civilians. U.S. officials could not confirm the account, but the uproar comes one day after the U.S. apologized for a previous incident and paid compensation to the families of 19 people who were killed by U.S. fire after a suicide bombing in March. The upper house of Afghan's parliament passed a bill Tuesday calling on the U.S. military and NATO to coordinate all offensive actions with the Afghan government.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government also remains very weak, and he still cannot exert much control in vast stretches of Afghanistan. "The penetration of the Afghan government throughout the country has been slow," says one U.S. official. In many areas, Taliban elements have moved in to fill the gaps. Opium cultivation has reached record levels and Afghanistan now accounts for more than 90 percent of the world's supply. U.S. officials have been focusing their counterdrug operations on a few provinces, leaving some of the biggest production areas for later.
The Taliban is in the midst of perhaps its strongest spring offensive since U.S. forces ousted the regime in late 2001. A recent United Nations report described an "insurgency emboldened by their strategic successes, rather than disheartened by their tactical failures." Even worse, the report found that the Taliban's leadership structures "remained intact."Insurgent violence in January was more than double the levels of a year ago. Suicide bombings rose throughout 2006 as well. Coalition deaths are also running higher-51 soldiers in the first four months of this year versus 36 in the same 2006 period.
Chaos in the tribal areas of Pakistan is only fueling the Taliban's resurgence. Overhead imagery from several months ago of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan illustrates how severe the problem is. U.S. spy cameras picked up images of a long column of more than 100 people being led across the border into Afghanistan. The men, clad in rags and wearing plastic bags on their feet instead of shoes, were being led by a small group of crack Taliban fighters. In an effort to avoid detection, the double-file column of men was stretched out over nearly a mile. U.S. officials believe these were a new batch of recruits for the Taliban. "It was clear that this was the fodder for the suicide bombs," says one U.S. official.
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Business at the limits: how Afghan start-ups fend for themselves
FINANCIAL TIMES (UK) By Rachel Morarjee May 9 2007 03:00
Despite paying corporate tax at a rate of 20 per cent, Afghanistan's Moby Media Group can rely on little help from the government.
Security is provided by a private firm. The police are allied with political leaders, who object to Tolo Television's coverage of their policies. In the wake of an interview last month, in which he was questioned about his failure to tackle corruption, Abdul Jabar Sabet, the attorney-general, sent policemen to arrest reporters without a warrant. The station caught the raid on camera, and after the reporters' release broadcast images of injuries they suffered while in custody.
Meanwhile, the Information Ministry is trying to push draconian media laws through parliament. It has tried to bar Lemar Television from airing broadcasts by the English arm of Al Jazeera television as part of a broader effort to rein in media that have criticised government.
"It is a pretty lonely place for most businesses," says Saad Mohseni, the media group's director. "You can't rely on the legal institutions. There is no one you can rely on."
Like many other businesses, the stations produce their own electricity using generators, which costs 20-25 US cents per kilowatt hour. "That's double what it should be," he says.
There is no public transport so employees have to be ferried to work in company cars, which break down regularly on the country's poorly maintained roads.
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Bring back Taliban to end police corruption, say Afghan truckers
By Chris Sands in Kabul The Independent (UK)10 May 2007
Abad Khan has spent much of his life on Afghanistan's roads, driving a truck through some of the most beautiful and hostile terrain in the world.
The work is hard but it gives the 30-year-old and his colleagues a view of this country rarely seen or heard about, and it is a view they are increasingly finding they do not like. Deteriorating security across Afghanistan means the country's roads are now rife with bandits, illegal checkpoints and corrupt officials.
"We pay all our bribes to criminals and they are criminals who wear police uniforms," Mr Khan said. "In the daytime they have very smart police uniforms, then in the night they become Taliban and chop drivers' noses and ears off. No real Taliban do this."
Truck drivers are an important barometer of the security situation in Afghanistan, as their work means they experience life across the country.
When the Taliban first rose to power in the mid-1990s, it was in part a response to the rampant lawlessness on Afghanistan's roads, which had been dominated by the illegal checkpoints of warlords. Travelling anywhere was a gamble, and leading figures in the transport industry supported Mullah Mohammed Omar's fundamentalists because they longed for security. According to today's truck drivers, history is in danger of repeating itself.
"The difference between when the Taliban were in government and now is the same as the difference between land and sky," 61-year-old Haji Mohammed Amin said. "Now we are sick of life and if we are sick of life, how can we enjoy it? What is the meaning of life for us? At that time it had meaning, now it is nothing."
Violence has increased across the country this spring, and colleagues of Mr Khan and Mr Amin have been among the victims.
This Monday, a trucker was injured in Kandahar by an improvised explosive device. During March there were a series of deadly attacks on Afghans transporting goods for foreign troops. In one incident, the decapitated body of a trucker was found dumped in the southern province of Zabul. But, most notoriously of all, at least three drivers had their noses and ears cut off this month in the eastern province of Nuristan.
While officials say attacks such as these are the work of the Taliban, the truckers often refuse to believe the insurgents are responsible. Even when they do blame them, they still insist the police are a bigger threat. Truckers say bribes are usually between 50p and £30 and that policemen brutalise the drivers and vandalise their vehicles or simply syphon off their fuel.
Mr Khan and Mr Amin were sitting with some colleagues waiting to eat lunch by Jalalabad Road in Kabul, the scene of a number of suicide bombings. The men gathered there hated and feared the police. One, called Rahullah, described how he paid bribes to three different policemen on a single night. "It's my dream that ultimately the government will be run by the Taliban, but we will still get financial support from the Americans," the-father-of-five said.
Pakistan-based truckers began a strike last month over the increased taxes and roadside extortion here. Anwar Ali, a 23-year-old Pakistani, was one of those intending to take part in the strike. He carries fake documents to show he is working for private businessmen, when in fact he often transports goods for the US military. He had seen trucks set on fire by insurgents and did not want to take any chances. But the militants were the least of his worries. "Forget about the Taliban, our biggest problems are with the police," Mr Ali said.
As Asif Hemat, a 27-year-old trucker, added: "This is the worst time I have ever experienced in my life."
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FINANCIAL TIMES (UK) By Rachel Morarjee May 9 2007 03:00
T o get to an interview with Afghanistan's biggest media mogul, you have to show your ID to armed guards and wait outside a fortified gate topped by barbed wire.
Once inside the Tolo Television building, Saad Mohseni holds court in a surprisingly unassuming office, juggling telephone calls in two languages as businessmen and politicians sit and wait to talk to him in front of a bank of television screens.
"The key to survival is not being recognised and being low-key," says the director of the Moby Media Group, which runs two television stations, a radio station and a magazine.
Low-key is not a word usually associated with Mr Mohseni, an Afghan-Australian former investment banker who once headed Tricom Group, a stockbroking firm in Melbourne. In 2002, he came out to Kabul to start a venture capital fund with almost $3m raised by his family and is now the most important figure in the country's fledgling media industry.
The son of an Afghan diplomat in Tokyo, he says he felt the need to see Afghanistan for himself and his commitment to the country has built up gradually over the years. "As Afghans, many of us felt compelled to come back. During the Taliban reign, many of us wondered: what if we had returned in 1989 following the Russian withdrawal? Would things have been different?"
He began by setting up the radio station Arman FM in early 2003. "I was going to be a passive investor in a sort of venture capital fund," he says.
It didn't take him long, though, to realise that a much more hands-on approach was called for. "To form a business in a market that doesn't exist you need a degree of vision to imagine a strategy," he says. The grand plan was unlikely to come from disc jockeys who had so little idea of how a radio station worked that they struggled with the challenge of filling airtime with conversation.
Starting with just five employees - including the DJs - and building up to the current 400, Mr Mohseni's media empire now encompasses Arman FM and the Persian language television channel Tolo, which broadcasts in 15 Afghan towns and cities.
Mr Mohseni recruited his brothers Zaid and Jahid, a lawyer who also worked in finance, to buildup the radio station and launch Tolo Television in October 2004, using a US Agency for International Development grant topurchase the hardware for both the television and the radio operations.
Lemar TV, a Pashtun-language channel that serves up a diet of news and current affairs programmes aimed at a conservative audience in the southern andeastern part of the country, was launched in August last year. Like the other two stations, it is available within Afghanistan and regionally on satellite.
Increasingly, the content is driven by the journalists and producers, who are young and in touch with the audience of young Afghans.
"The changes in society are reflected on TV. The content is now more sophisticated than when we started," says Mr Mohseni, adding that although the age of the country's political establishment hovers around 60, most Afghans are below 30 and have little memory of the Russian occupation or even the civil war that followed.
Tolo broadcasts a lighter stream of news, slapstick comedy, soap operas and reality shows, including an American Idol-style programme called Afghan Star and another that showcases stand-up comedy from around the country.
Afghan Star has spawned a production company, Aria Production, and a recording and distribution arm, Barbud Music, which now boasts a dozen artists, including the country's first rap star, DJ Besho.
"We write music and lyrics, produce the songs and groom the stars. We have men and women. We're creating an industry," says Mr Mohseni, in a basement television studio where announcers are preparing the 6pm news broadcast.
Yet Tolo Television and its sister channels have become a lightning rod for controversy as the content has become more political.
After the fall of the Taliban, Arman's broadcasts stirred up a furore because the shows featured male and female presenters. "Three years ago, Arman was nearly shut down because we had men and women talking on air," says Saad's sister Wazhma Mohseni, the marketing director.
When Tolo Television started and there was a lack of resources, music videos were the easiest thing to air, raising the ire of conservative clerics but delighting the urban youth.
Since then, the station has gone on to produce more of its own content as well as running Indian and Turkish dramas, raising more hackles in the process, especially with Danger Bell, a political satire that mocks establishment figures.
"No one is safe. We will make fun of everyone. We are constantly pushing the envelope working out how far we can go," says Zaid Mohseni.
Tolo created a storm last year and was banned from filming in parliament after the programme aired footage of MPs snoozing and picking their noses. A cameraman was attacked in the parliament, while armed men linked to another MP who was filmed napping paid a threatening visit to the home of a Tolo reporter.
"You have to be prepared for everything. To have wings clipped, your staff killed, to be blown up or shut down. Ultimately, though, we can say that we tried," says Saad Mohseni.
To add to the difficulties, layers of bureaucracy laid down by successive communist, Islamist and US-backed regimesform a labyrinthine tangle for businesses. "In 2002, there was a sense of euphoria. I felt completely safe and completely at ease in Kabul. There was sense that the country really could change for the better," he says. That feeling has now dissipated.
Escalating security threats have since hampered business, with criminality as big a problem as the Taliban insurgency.
Advertising revenue dried up within weeks of riots that swept Kabul last May, as chief executives cancelled their trips to Afghanistan and international companies put expansion plans on hold.
Despite that, advertising revenues continue to grow and Tolo has about a third of the advertising market, estimated to stand at between $15m and $20m, according to figures from the Kabul-based agency Altai-JWT.
Annual advertising expenditure in Afghanistan stands at 30 US cents per capita, compared with $6 over the border in Pakistan, says Mr Mohseni, and, with the entry of multinational advertisers such as Unilever and Nestlé into the market in the past six months, it is set to grow further. "We are coming from such a low base, there is a lot of room for expansion," he says.
Despite the political and practical obstacles, Mr Mohseni is determined that public support will keep the station on air and popular.
"It has reached a stage where the media has got a life of its own and it's not always driven by politics. Sometimes it's soap operas. People will not tolerate missing out on their favourite show, even for a night," he adds.
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Afghanistan could be "endless mission"
Thursday May 10, 2007 (0314 PST) PakTribune.com, Pakistan
KABUL: Former defence minister Joris Voorhoeve warns that the Dutch peacekeeping role in Afghanistan will be an `endless mission` unless the government sets clear limits on the availability of its troops in the region.
Dutch troops are due to leave Afghanistan in August 2008 but the new cabinet is already considering extending their mandate. In an interview with magazine Vrij Nederland this week, Voorhoeve says the Netherlands will become stuck in Uruzgan if other countries do not get involved.
`If we do not make it clear to our allies that they cannot count on us indefinitely then things will go wrong,` Voorhoeve says. `We should not be the victim of our own idealism.` Voorhoeve was defence minister during the Bosnian war in the 1990s.
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Bulgaria to increase Afghanistan contingent to 400 by June
People's Daily Online, China
Bulgaria will increase sharply its contingent in Afghanistan, Bulgaria's Defense Minister Veselin Bliznakov revealed Thursday at the country's second seaside city Burgas.
The minister released the news at a wreath-laying ceremony on the occasion of the Victory Day of the Second World War.
The service members of the Bulgarian peace-keeping contingent will increase from the present 83 to a total of 400, said the minister.
He explained that at the end of 2006, NATO's Riga Summit adopted a decision on an increase of the participation of all member states so as to stabilize Afghanistan.
The Bulgarian soldiers will be sent to Kabul and Kandahar, where they will guard the airports, Bliznakov added.
As a NATO member, Bulgaria sent its first batch of soldiers to Afghanistan in Feb. 2002. Each batch has a mandate of one year.
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Refugees asked to vacate Jalozai, Kacha Garhi camps
KABUL, May 8 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The government of Pakistan's North-Western province has asked the refugees of Kacha Garhi and Jalozai camps to vacate the sites within the stipulated period.
The decision was taken at a meeting presided over by Chief Minister of the province Akram Khan Durrani and attended by senior provincial officials.
Quoting an official handout issued after the Monday's meeting, Pakistani media reported that the government would grant no further extension in stay to the residents of the two refugee camps located in the provincial capital Peshawar and Nowshera district.
The meeting also reviewed the repatriation of the unregistered Afghan nationals living in the province, says the handout, adding local property owners have been directed to stop renting out their residential buildings to refugees.
According to the decisions taken during the meeting, evacuation of refugees from Kacha Garhi camp in Peshawar should be completed by June 30 while from the Jalozai camp in Nowshera district by August 30.
It was also decided that residents of both the camps would not be allowed to move to any other place and they would be encouraged to go back to their country under the United Nations Voluntary Repatriation Programme.
Earlier, elders from the two refugee camps have requested the government and the UNHCR to extend the deadline for three years mentioning the worsening security situation in Afghanistan.
The meeting also decided that pickets would be established around the two sites to stop resettlement of outsiders there.
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Future of world linked to Afghanistan: Khalilzad
Afghan, US ambassadors to UN
UNITED NATIONS, May 8 (Pajhwok Afghan News): New US Ambassador to United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad assured on Monday the United States was committed towards making Afghanistan a strong and stable prosperous democratic nation.
Visiting the Afghanistan Mission at the United Nations early Monday morning, Khalilzad said though his trip was symbolic, yet it reflected his intent to make Afghanistan a top priority at the United Nations as permanent representative of the US.
Khalilzad, who took over the presidency of the UN Security Council for May, made a strong policy statement during the visit to the Afghan mission - his first visit to a foreign mission in the present capacity. During the 20-minute courtesy call on Afghan Ambassador to UN Dr. Zahir Tanin, the two diplomats discussed a wide range of issues related to Afghanistan.
Khalilzad said: This visit indicates that Afghanistan is very important to the US and the UN Security Council. We have already started talking about some substantive issues. The visit is just an indicator that I take the issue if Afghanistan very seriously. I think I have expressed that in my public statement too that the future of Afghanistan is my top priority as the US Ambassador to the UN.
On his agenda at the UN, Khalilzad said he would reassess the role of the UN mission in Afghanistan so that it could be more effective and constructive. In this regard, he is looking forward to a meeting later this month with Tom Koenings, special representative of the secretary general to Afghanistan.
I think there is clearly this issue: What can the UN do in Afghanistan? I would sit with him (Koenigs) to know his assessment of the situation and what can be done to make sure we have a strong and effective UN presence (in Afghanistan).
Asked if the US was mulling a review of the UN mission in Afghanistan, Khalilzad told Pajhwok Afghan News: It is always a good idea to see where we are, what could be done and how to make it more effective. I am waiting for the meeting with Tom Koenigs.
We would sit down and discuss all that. I am also doing my own review and assessment of the situation in Afghanistan. Hopefully, in the aftermath of the visit of the special envoy, we may have something to say on that.
Responding to queries from reporters at a press conference after the meeting, Khalilzad emphasised the point that the success of Afghanistan was very important for the future of the region South Asia and the Middle East but also the entire world.
Afghanistans future is very important for us. It is obviously important for the people of Afghanistan. It is also important for the future of the region and the world. What happens in Afghanistan would have an impact not only on the region, but the world over.
Looking forward to collaborative efforts with other colleagues at the UN to make sure that the world body play a stronger role in support of the people of Afghanistan and its successful transition towards a democracy, Khalilzad said:. I know the country is facing many challenges as this transition has not been that easy.
There are dilemmas with regard to building state institutions, meeting the expectations of the people in terms of rule of law, in terms of economic prosperity. There is violence which has been perpetrated by the enemies of Afghanistan that has to be dealt with.
Khalilzad said: I have a strong conviction that the people of Afghanistan want to succeed. They have seen problems caused by extremism, by terror, by backwardness. They want to be the masters of their own destiny.
Appreciating the performance of President Hamid Karzai, Khalilzad said he was playing an important role in leading the country. I wish him well in completing the unfinished business of Afghanistan. There is lot which needs to be done.
About the role of regional powers, Khalilzad said he hoped the leaders of neighbouring countries would cooperate to assist Afghanistan in this transition. To be a good neighbour is to help Afghanistan in its transition to a successful democratic nation. We have known from experience earlier that when Afghanistan is in a social turmoil, it creates a lot of problems for the region refugees being one of them. Only a successful neighbour can buy, sell and deal with problems in a cooperative way because it has the capacity to act responsibly.
He cited the example of Europe, saying its countries learnt from past mistakes of fueling problems in their neighbors and started helping them in dealing with the issues.
I hope the leaders of the region would learn from the experience of Europe, which chose after World War II a different model of cooperation in security, political, economic and other fields. Now they are more prosperous than ever but the rule by which they play and compete is very different. That is something which has to happen in this region ultimately because now the focus of the world is on it because of its problems.
On US-Iran-Afghanistan relations and the impact of Washington-Tehran hostilities, the US diplomat observed: I hope Iran would play a positive role in the transition of Afghanistan towards a strong and stable democratic nation.
Responding to a question on the perceived cold war between India and Pakistan in the landlocked country, Khalilzad said: Without conforming to your point, I would like to say that others (South Asian nations) who have rivalries do not export their rivalries into Afghanistan.
He added Afghanistan had had enough difficulties in the past including decades of turmoil, suffering of the people, lack of educational opportunities and absence of security that created problems for the entire region. They should look at Afghanistan as a collective good, he remarked.
Khalilzad said: I think this is a challenge for Afghan diplomacy to engage its neighbours. Afghanistan needs the help of the international community. The United States is committed to Afghanistans success.
Earlier, welcoming the US ambassador, Dr. Zahir Tanin said his visit carried a lot of significance for Afghanistan. This is very important for us.
Recounting the mans contribution to shaping Afghanistans future in the post-Taliban era, Tanin said: Khalilzad has played a very important role in helping the country to move towards stability, peace and democracy. During all these years of crisis and war, he played a very important role.
The Afghan ambassador said: He is very well known in Afghanistan. People have great respect for Khalilzad as a senior US diplomat and as a son of Afghanistan. He is a man with great knowledge of society, polity and history of Afghanistan.
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Thousands protest killing of religious scholar in Nuristan
ASADABAD, May 8 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Thousands of furious residents of the eastern Nuristan province have embarked on an indefinite protest against the killing of a religious scholar and the government's failure to track down the culprits.
Late Monday, around 2,000 slogan-chanting dwellers of several villages of the Brag Matal district asked the government to hand the scholar's killers over to them as soon as possible, officials said on Tuesday.
Last week, unidentified gunmen shot dead former jihadi commander Maulvi Fazl Wahid Muslim, who also headed a local tribal council of the district. Taliban insurgents later claimed responsibility for the murder.
The angry protestors including women and schoolgirls, who marched on the district, tried to attack official buildings but heavy security presence deterred them, the provincial police chief told Pajhwok Afghan News.
Ghulamullah Nuristani said the demonstrators, seeking the immediate arrest of perpetrators of ulema killings across Afghanistan, later met district chief Haji Nauroz to apprised him of their demands.
Hazrat Ali, a leader of the demonstrators who spent last night in hotels and mosques, vowed they would press on with their protest until their demands were met by the authorities.
"We would stay in the district until Friday," added Hazrat Ali, who warned of snapping ties to the government if Muslim's killers were not brought to justice. "The government knows full well who the killers are; they should be held at the earliest possible."
In response to the call, Haji Nauroz promised the government would step up efforts to net the murderers and award them exemplary punishment so that no one could dare target religious scholars in future.
Reported by Khan Wali
Translated & edited by Mudassir
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Child kidnapping cases drop in Kandahar
KANDAHAR CITY, May 7 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A two-day workshop on violence against children started in this southern city on Monday.
Officials of all the provincial departments, influential and common citizens are participating in the workshop to discuss and inform themselves about the problems faced by children in the society.
Speaking on the occasion, director of works and social affairs department Dost Mohammad Arghistani said the graph of violence against children had considerably dropped over the previous few years.
He said kidnapping of children was rampant in the province a few years back. However, the ratio had dropped as a result of the measures adopted by the provincial government.
Arghistani said some problems, like non-availability of schooling facilities and child labour were still existed and the government was trying to overcome it by organising such workshops and seminars.
Syed Abdul Sami Hashmi, official of the United Nations' Children Fund (UNICEF) in Kandahar, told Pajhwok such workshops were being organised to create awareness among people about violence against children.
He said they were going to organise such workshops in other southern provinces to create awareness among people about the problems faced by children.
One of the participants and official of the Radio Television Afghanistan (RTA) Noor Ahmad said they had picked a lot of knowledge on the first day of the workshop.
Children were the future builders of a nation and the society should train and equip them with knowledge and better skills instead of creating problems for them, said the participant.
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Afghanistan closes embassies in three countries
KABUL, May 8 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Afghanistan will have to cut the number of its consulates abroad if the financial problems persisted, says Foreign Minster Dr Rangin Dadfar Spanta.
The financial hassles had forced the government to close down three embassies abroad, said the minister while speaking at a news conference here on Tuesday.
If persisted, the government would be compelled to slash the number of consulates in several countries, Spanta warned.
"How a country can finance 61 consulates when it is unable to provide salaries for the staff and rent for the buildings housing its embassies abroad," he questioned.
About Afghanistan's diplomatic relations with the three countries, where the embassies were closed, Spanta said contacts would be established through Afghan missions in countries situated in their neighbourhood.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Sultan Ahmad Bahin told Pajhwok Afghan News embassies in Syria, Sudan and Kyrgyzstan had been temporarily closed. The decision was taken last year, he informed.
Bahin said 40 Afghan embassies were currently functioning in countries across the world.
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