KABUL (AFP) - Afghanistan's parliament voted to sack the war-torn country's foreign minister Saturday amid an uproar over Iran's forced return of thousands of refugees.
Foreign minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta lost a no-confidence vote by a large majority in a second round of voting, after the first round on Thursday hinged on a single spoilt ballot.
Refugees Affairs Minister Akbar Akbar lost his job in Thursday's vote.
Spanta was accused of not doing enough to persuade Iran to ease its policy of forced repatriation, while Akbar allegedly failed to help accommodate thousands of refugees forced out by Iran this month.
Nearly two million Afghans are still living as refugees in Iran -- more than half of them illegally -- despite millions of Afghans having returned from Iran and Pakistan after the toppling of the Taliban in late 2001.
Iran says it wants the 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.
According to the Afghan constitution, Spanta has lost his job, but President Hamid Karzai could decide to keep him on as acting minister until he chooses a replacement for him, officials said.
Female member of parliament Shukria Barakzai alleged that a "foreign conspiracy" was behind the parliament's decision to sack Spanta.
"It was a conspiracy by Pakistan and Iran," the MP said, without giving details.
On Thursday, Spanta told parliament that Iran was piling on the pressure because of various issues, including a dispute over water, with dam projects in this country likely to affect Iranian supply.
"We are under direct pressure for signing a direct security partnership (with the United States and NATO)," Spanta said.
The US and NATO have tens of thousands of troops in Afghanistan helping the government of embattled Karzai to fight a strengthening Taliban insurgency.
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Afghan foreign minister removed over refugees row
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta was removed on Saturday by parliament for failing to stop the expulsion of Afghan refugees from Iran, the second cabinet minister to lose his seat over the row this week.
Western-educated Spanta, one of the few technocrats, in President Hamid Karzai's government lost his position in a secret ballot in the lower house of the parliament.
Out of the 217 lawmakers present, 141, voted against the minister who was appointed last year by Karzai.
Iran has expelled nearly 50,000 Afghan refugees over the past month as part of a new campaign to repatriate Afghans living illegally in the country.
Afghanistan has urged its neighbor to suspend the repatriations because the country lacked the resources to resettle them.
The lower house of parliament, which is made up of factional leaders, ex-communist officials, several former Taliban members and women rights activists, on Thursday voted against the refugees affairs minister Ustad Akbar Akbar.
Spanta's removal also comes amid reports of a rift in recent weeks with Karzai over government policies and a planned reshuffle of the administration.
Spanta was seen as opposing Karzai's proposal to reach out to the Taliban and other opposition leaders to end the ever growing violence the country is going through since the rebel group's ouster in 2001.
He also opposed the offer of a blanket amnesty passed by the lower house for those who committed war crimes during the country's nearly three decades of conflict.
Spanta however denied any differences with Karzai.
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Water, other projects behind Iran deportations, hints Afghan minister
Text of report by Afghan independent Tolo TV on 10 May
[Presenter] At the parliamentary impeachment meeting today, MPs gave a vote of no confidence to the minister of refugee affairs, and postponed the decision on the foreign minister until Saturday for technical reasons.
Foreign Minister Dr [Rangin Dadfar] Spanta says there were political motives behind the parliamentary impeachment meeting, but added that he respected the vote by the MPs.
[Correspondent] A number of MPs said Afghan refugees were deported from Iran for political reasons. The MPs said Iranian authorities knew that the deportation of refugees would create several problems for the government of Afghanistan and the international forces.
The minister of foreign affairs says some neighbouring countries, which for several years used to appoint ministers and directors for Afghanistan, could not tolerate the presence of an independent Afghanistan. He did not name a specific country.
[Dr Rangin Dadfar Spanta] I am very sorry to say that your questions force me to mention issues that I should not speak about for diplomatic reasons. But I should mention them for the sake of my honour and not for the sake of my position as foreign minister. There are sensitivities with regard to developments in the region: Iran's nuclear issue, and the tremendous waters that we have in our country, especially in the Harirod River and several other places. Any foreign minister, or any other minister, who tries to defend these interests should understand that this will provoke the hostility of some countries. For quite a long time, we have been under systematic pressure from our neighbouring country [probably means Iran] over the Harirod River waters and the Salma water dam.
[Correspondent] The minister of refugee affairs repeated the comments he made yesterday about the lack of budget funding and resources in his ministry. He said proper services could not be delivered to the returnees because of the lack of funding.
At today's meeting, 195 out of the 248 MPs were present. The absence of 53 MPs on such a day can be a questionable issue.
MP Shukria Barekzai considers Mr Spanta's doubtful vote as invalid. She says, according to the internal rules and regulations of parliament, the vote should be considered null and void.
[Correspondent] This is parliament's first experience in impeaching ministers. Speaking on the phone in reaction to the parliamentary decision, Dr Spanta said:
[Dr Rangin Dadfar Spanta] Parliament had a political move to make today and a series of specific objectives. As a democratic person, I respect any decision by parliament, and I wish the MPs success.
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Freed French hostage returns from Afghanistan
VILLACOUBLAY, France (AFP) - A French aid worker freed by the Taliban after 38 days as a hostage in Afghanistan arrived back in France early Saturday, and said he had been well-treated by his captors.
A plane carrying Eric Damfreville, who was freed in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar on Friday, touched down at Villacoublay airport outside Paris at 0630 GMT, an AFP journalist there said.
Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy and Antoine Vuillaume, head of Terre d'Enfance (A World for Our Children), the aid organisation for which he worked, boarded the plane as soon as it came to a halt on the runway.
Damfreville looked feeble and unsteady as he came down onto the tarmac, one eye covered in a white bandage, a blanket draped over his shoulders and with a drip attached to his arm.
In a brief statement he told journalists he had been "well treated" by his captors and that his poor physical state was due to the primitive conditions in the region of Afghanistan where he had been held.
"My joy is great to be here, and will be even greater when the three Afghans are also freed," he said referring to the Afghans seized with him on April 3 and still being held. A French colleague, Celine Cordelier, taken at the same time, was released on April 28.
Damfreville, who had been accompanied by a doctor during his flight from Kabul aboard a French air force Falcon 900, was immediately whisked away by a waiting ambulance.
Vuillaume said earlier that Damfreville had been chained up and gagged for most of his 38-day ordeal.
His release was "obviously a great joy" but there would only be real relief when the three Afghans -- identified as Rasul, Azrat and Hashim -- were also freed.
President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy issued a statement welcoming Damfreville's release and wishing him a rapid recovery, and vowed to work for the release of the three remaining hostages.
"Nicolas Sarkozy hopes the other people held hostage will be quickly released. He will do everything to ensure they are," the statement said.
The Taliban has killed several of its Afghan hostages, including a driver and a reporter abducted early March with an Italian journalist who was freed in exchange for five Taliban prisoners, some of them high-profile militants.
The Taliban had said it would release the Terre d'Enfance hostages if France set a date for pulling its about 1,000 troops out of Afghanistan or if certain Taliban prisoners in Afghan jails were released.
Ahmadi said Friday the Taliban, which calls itself the Islamic Emirate, decided to free Damfreville because Sarkozy had suggested France might pull its troops out of Afghanistan.
Sarkozy had "said in his speeches that he will think about the withdrawal of French troops from Afghanistan," Ahmadi said.
"The Islamic Emirate hopes that the French president implements into action the promise he has made.
"About the fate of the three Afghans, the leading council of the Islamic Emirate will decide later."
The Terre d'Enfance group was captured while driving through the southwestern province of Nimroz, where they had been working on a small children's project in the town of Zaranj on the border with Iran.
The Taliban-led insurgency has steadily grown in Afghanistan since the hardliners were toppled from government by a coalition led by the United States.
Few foreigners travel by vehicle in the southern parts of the country because of the threat of kidnapping, with the insecurity hampering efforts to stabilise and development the destitute south.
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Four policemen, dozen rebels killed in Afghanistan
Fri May 11, 11:09 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - Four policemen and more than a dozen Taliban insurgents were killed in fresh violence in southern Afghanistan, officials said Friday.
Ten militants were killed when war planes bombed a village in the southern province of Helmand late Thursday, a district governor said.
The air strike was in Sangin district, where provincial authorities said 21 civilians were killed in coalition bombing raids targeting the Taliban late Tuesday.
Afghan and coalition forces estimate a "significant number of Taliban fighters" were killed, the US-led coalition said in a statement Friday. It said there were civilian casualties but the number was being investigated.
In a separate incident, four policemen and two more insurgents were killed when fighting erupted late Thursday after a group of the extremist militants attacked a police post, provincial police chief Ali Shah Ahmadi told AFP.
"Four police were martyred, two police were wounded and two Taliban bodies were left at the battlefield," Ahmadi said.
Four suspects were arrested in a follow-up operation on Friday, he said.
Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi said his group was responsible.
A roadside bomb exploded near a NATO convoy in the southeastern province of Paktika on Friday, leaving two soldiers wounded, a spokesman for the alliance's International Security Assistance Force said.
One of the four vehicles in the convoy was badly damaged, Major Donald Korpi told AFP. ISAF does not give the nationalities of its casualties.
Militants ambushed a police convoy in the same province late Thursday, sparking a gun battle in which one militant was killed and another was wounded, provincial governor Mohammad Akram Khepelwak said.
Remnants of the ultra-Islamic Taliban regime have waged a bloody insurgency since their ouster in a US-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.
The insurgency has led to thousands of deaths.
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Dozens of Taliban killed in Afghan south: official
KABUL (Reuters) - Western and Afghan troops have driven out the Taliban from a southern area after a week-long battle in which more than 70 militants have been killed, an Afghan security official said on Saturday.
Violence has surged in recent months in Afghanistan after the traditional winter lull and following last year's bloodiest fighting since the Taliban's ouster in 2001.
There were no casualties among the Afghan and Western troops in the fighting in Nahri Saraj of Helmand province, scene of a series of operations by foreign-led forces in recent weeks, the security official said.
Five Taliban commanders were amongst those killed, the official said, adding there were no casualties among civilians.
"We have driven out the Taliban from the district and it is under our control," he said.
Foreign troops led by the U.S. military and NATO as well as the Taliban could not be immediately contacted for comment about the battle.
Nahri Saraj lies some 25 km (15 miles) from Sangin district where witnesses said more than 40 civilians were killed last Tuesday in an air strike by U.S.-led coalition troops.
The coalition has confirmed civilian casualties in the battle of Sangin.
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US authorities charge Afghan man over alleged drugs plot
Sat May 12, 1:23 AM ET
NEW YORK (AFP) - US authorities have charged an Afghan man allegedly linked to the Taliban with conspiracy to import around 25 million dollars' worth of heroin into the United States, prosecutors said.
Mohammad Essa was arrested in Afghanistan in December last year and arrived in the United States last month after consenting to be moved, prosecutors said. He appeared in court Friday and was charged and ordered detained without bail.
US attorneys allege that from around 1990 until 2005 Essa was a member of the Baz Mohammad trafficking organization, which allegedly processed heroin in Afghanistan and Pakistan for export to the United States and other countries.
Essa is alleged to have managed the distribution of heroin by the organization's operatives in the United States and elsewhere.
The Baz Mohammad Organization also allegedly provided financial support to the hardline Islamic Taliban regime that ran Afghanistan until it was overthrown in a US-led military campaign in 2001, prosecutors said.
They further allege that Essa and his alleged co-conspirators collected drugs proceeds in the United States for the Taliban from 1994 through 2000.
According to Karen Tandy, administrator with the Drugs Enforcement Agency, Essa also used drug profits to support the insurgency against foreign troops in Afghanistan.
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Karzai Says Afghanistan Is 'Not a Narco State'
Voice of America
PRESS RELEASE - Washington, D.C., May 11, 2007 - Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai in an exclusive television interview told the Voice of America (VOA) that Afghanistan is "not a narco-state."
"It is not a narco-state, but it does produce a lot of poppies. There is a difference between being a mafia-dominated, state-run economy - that you can call a narco-state," said Karzai. "A state that fights narcotics, a state that suffers the consequences of that fight, a state that has gone through 30 years of extreme desperation and displacement of its population, will have problems."
Karzai said that better security has led to better government institutions and better performance of the civil services and the police, and that better trade, education, and reconstruction have helped to decrease the reliance on growing poppies.
In the wide ranging interview, President Karzai talked about a number of important topics including his recent trip to Turkey and the security situation in Herat.
VOA TV's in-depth profile covering their day-long visit at the Palace with President Karzai will air on May 19. The profile will discuss his plan for drug eradication; how he is dealing with civilian deaths in Afghanistan; his perspective of being a Muslim; his excellent working relationship with Washington; how he began his career in politics; his love of poetry, especially Tennyson; and what it means to be a father for the first time.
VOA's Afghan Service broadcasts TV Ashna in Dari and Pashto to Afghanistan where it is heard from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. daily on National Afghan TV and by satellite on Asiasat Channel 24 and on IOR for Europe on Channel 409. The Service's Radio Ashna also broadcasts 12 hours of Dari and Pashto programming daily on radio.
The Voice of America, which first went on the air in 1942, is a multimedia international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. government through the Broadcasting Board of Governors. VOA broadcasts more than 1,000 hours of news, information, educational, and cultural programming every week to an estimated worldwide audience of more than 115 million people. Programs are produced in 45 languages.
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Canadian militant arrested in Afghanistan: Canada
(AP) 12 May 2007 via Khaleej Times Online
OTTAWA - A Canadian citizen has been detained by Afghan police on suspicion of attending a militant training camp in southern Afghanistan, Canada’s foreign minister said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay said Canadian officials have visited the man, who is being held for investigation in Kabul.
He’s being given consular services from our embassy there,’ MacKay said Friday.
Authorities did not say when or where in Afghanistan the man was detained and offered no other details.
But the Globe and Mail newspaper reported Friday he is a 24-year-old of Pakistani origin who had previously lived in Calgary. The newspaper said he was taken into custody at a Kabul bus station within the past few days.
At this point in time, for privacy reasons, we’re not at liberty to say a lot about this case, but it is somewhat unusual,’ MacKay said.
Foreign Affairs officials would not release the man’s name, citing the Privacy Act.
The man was carrying a Canadian passport at the time of his arrest, officials said.
Canadian officials say they expect to have access to the man as long as he remains in custody.
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EU envoys briefed on ties with Afghanistan
By Qudssia Akhlaque Dawn (Pakistan)
ISLAMABAD, May 11: Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri on Friday briefed European Union ambassadors based in Kabul and Islamabad on the current status of Pakistan-Afghanistan relations, and they all agreed that both countries should avoid ‘megaphone diplomacy’.
The ambassadors representing Germany, the EU, Portugal and Holland, collectively called on Mr Kasuri at the Foreign Office here on Friday afternoon.
The meeting that lasted for over an hour focused largely on the Ankara Summit talks between President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Mr Kasuri shared with them Pakistan’s perspective on the situation in Afghanistan, the efforts at strengthening border controls and the way forward, including the need to substitute poppy cultivation with another crop, sources privy to the meeting told Dawn.
The dominant view was that while most of the problems were essentially inside Afghanistan, the insurgents there may be getting some support from Taliban and foreign militants hiding in Pakistan’s tribal areas notwithstanding the government’s action against such elements, sources said.
On the Ankara Declaration, the ambassadors agreed with the foreign minister on the need for the two sides to refrain from making public statements blaming each other and avoiding the counter productive ‘megaphone diplomacy’, a statement said.
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Afghan ex-president seeks bigger role for ex-mujahedin
Sat, 12 May 2007 11:00:01GMT EARTHtimes.org
Hamburg - A former Afghan president, Burhanuddin Rabbani, has called in an interview with a German magazine for the former mujahedin to be given a bigger share of power in Afghanistan. The current government team in Kabul had been created "from abroad" and "has no basis in our own society," he told the magazine, Der Spiegel. Extracts were made public Saturday, two days in advance of Spiegel going on sale.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government already has some representation of mujahedin, a nationalist group who emerged from the 1980s war against Soviet control.
Rabbani, who is now a professor of theology, was president from 1992 till 1996 and again for a few months after the 2001 removal of the Taliban.
He said the nationalists, "who waged a successful war against the Soviet Union and against the Taliban," had been shoved aside.
Rabbani formed a new party in April, the Jabhey Mili or National Front. It includes some members of Karzai's current cabinet, including Vice-President Ahmad Zia Massoud.
Former mujahedin leaders and members of the former communist regime ended their differences to join the party and Rabbani has invited the Taliban into the group.
The ex-president told Der Spiegel he would abolish the presidential system and ensure that provincial governors were popularly elected.
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Turkish firm install radio stations in Afghanistan
Saturday, May 12, 2007 GÜLFEM VARLIK ISTANBUL-REFERANS Turkish Daily News
A Germany-based Turkish company won the tender to set up North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) radio stations as part of the current restructuring of Afghanistan.
A total of eight international companies participated in the tender. Antensan, the winner of the tender, will set up 25 stations in Afghanistan. The project is worth 5 million euros and is planned to be completed in three months.
"NATO chose to work with us. After completing this project, we will work on much bigger projects for NATO,” said Jürgen Jif, Antensan Technical Director.
The company has plans to build a midsize transmitter on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, said Jif, adding that the station will be for Afghanistan Radio and Television Corporation (RFT).
A $1 billion project
Turkish companies in Afghanistan so far have undertaken projects worth more than $1 billion. Those companies' investments in the region surpassed $120 million.
While many others hesitate to enter the region due to security issues, Turkish architectural companies stepped up and took a major role in the reconstruction of the country.
Antensan is currently handling nearly 100 projects, said Jijf, adding that the company has also built two 365-meter high towers for Siemens in Pakistan.
The company, which has 30 years of experience in its sector, had a turnover of 15.4 million euros in 2004.
Antensan CES International is a leading worldwide, independent manufacturer and system supplier of infrastructure facilities and solutions in the fields of communications and energy systems. Antensan was incorporated in 1976 and operates globally from its headquarters in Potsdam near Berlin, Germany. Antensan has completed several turnkey contracts with its highly qualified personnel and consultants who have extensive experience in a wide range of disciplines.
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Afghans Say Civilian Toll in Strikes Is Much Higher Than Reported
The New York Times - By CARLOTTA GALL May 11, 2007
HERAT, Afghanistan, May 10 — The toll of civilians killed in bombing by coalition forces on Tuesday night was much higher than the official figure of 21, and may be as high as 50 or even 80, residents reached by telephone said Thursday.
The tally differed from that given by a government administrator of the Sangin region, Ezatullah, who uses only one name. He said he had spent four to five hours in the village of Sarwan Qala on Thursday and said the civilian death toll remained 21. Some Taliban were also killed in the bombing, he said, but he did not specify how many.
The United States military has stuck with its original news statement, which said that it had called in the airstrikes on Taliban insurgents after a heavy 16-hour battle and destroyed three militant compounds.
But residents of the area, some of whom said they had also visited the village and helped bury the dead, said three houses were destroyed and put the number of dead variously at 56, 60 and 80.
On Wednesday, villagers brought the bodies of 21 people, mostly women and children, to the Sangin district center to show them to government officials and NATO troops there.
Hajji Mahmud, a shopkeeper who lives near Sarwan Qala, said he was one of those who brought the bodies and said 56 people had been killed, most of them women and children.
“Three houses were completely destroyed,” he said in a telephone interview. “One of the houses belonged to Faizullah. The family of seven is dead, the whole family.” “Still now they are digging out bodies from the rubble,” he said.
A resident of the bombed village, Abdul Nasir, who was away from the village on Tuesday night, said more than 60 people had been killed and many more wounded.
“It was around 4 p.m. when the foreign vehicles came through on the main road,” he said. “The Taliban shot at them and they turned back. Then airplanes came and bombed the village at 10 p.m.,” he said. The Taliban were in the village during the day but left later and were not in the village at the time of the bombing, he said.
Gen. Dan McNeill, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, confirmed that there were civilian casualties when American forces called in the airstrike after being ambushed “by a far superior force.”
“It does appear there were civilian casualties — exactly what caused them, we’re working our way through all that,” he said in an interview with National Public Radio, without specifying the number of civilian dead. A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, confirmed that Taliban fighters had fired on the military convoy but said they had left the village long before the bombing. He denied that any Taliban were killed in the airstrikes.
In an earlier telephone text message, he had warned, “We deeply mourn the death of civilians and soon we will take revenge for them.”
Ezatullah blamed the Taliban for drawing fire on the village. “This is the fault of the Taliban, and they are using civilian houses to fight from,” he said.
He said he had warned the villagers of Sarwan Qala not to allow the Taliban back in their village. “I told them they are here to destroy your village and women and children, and the people promised me they would not let them back,” he said.
The heavy civilian cost of the fighting has caused friction between the Taliban and local villagers, and villagers had pursued the Taliban commander who led the ambush, Wali Mahmud, to a village called Heratian and had killed him, Ezatullah said.
The shopkeeper Hajji Mahmud said he had also heard a separate report that Taliban fighters came to a village, Khangan, next to Sarwan Qala, on Wednesday night with the intention of attacking foreign troops, and the people sent a group of tribal elders to ask them not to attack because the village would likely be bombed.
There was an argument and the leader of the elders killed the Taliban commander and two of his bodyguards, he said, and had now fled the area.
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Tories flop on green plan, Afghan issue: poll
Canadian Press 11 May 07
OTTAWA (CP) - Canadians are not impressed with the Conservative government's handling of the Afghan detainee issue or its new green plan, a new poll suggests.
The two issues have dominated parliamentary debate for the last month, during which the Tories' lead in public opinion has evaporated.
A Decima poll, provided exclusively to The Canadian Press, indicates that 55 per cent of those polled believe it's likely that detainees captured by Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan wind up being tortured by Afghan authorities. And 58 per cent believe Canada has an obligation to ensure those detainees are not abused.
On that score, only 33 per cent were satisfied with the government's confused and contradictory handling of the issue; 42 per cent were dissatisfied. Dissatisfaction was highest in Ontario (49 per cent), the province that holds the key to Tory hopes for a majority in the next election, and British Columbia (50 per cent).
The Tory government fared a bit better with its new plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Nevertheless, 47 per cent were dissatisfied with the plan while 41 per cent were satisfied. Dissatisfaction was stronger than average among women and residents of Quebec - two core groups the Tories have been trying to woo in bid to secure a majority.
Moreover, two of the leading critics of the plan - environmentalist David Suzuki and former U.S. vice-president Al Gore - were deemed to be more credible than Environment Minister John Baird.
Suzuki and Gore have said the plan will do little to combat global warming while Baird insists it's a major step forward. Asked to choose whose view is more credible, 59 per cent chose Suzuki over Baird (25 per cent) and 44 per cent chose Gore over Baird (34 per cent).
While not exactly encouraging for the Tories, Decima CEO Bruce Anderson said the polls results could have been worse given the pummelling the government has taken on both issues.
"This is not as bad news as some of the coverage might have suggested, but it's certainly the case that this is the agenda that has been dominating and it's not a particularly good one for the Conservatives."
Anderson noted that the 41 per cent satisfaction rate on the green plan is much better than public reaction to the Tories' initial plan last fall and actually higher than current support for the Conservative party. Still, he said the improvement is "perhaps not" as great as the government had hoped.
On the Afghan prisoner issue, Anderson said Canadians are not necessarily blaming the government for torture and abuse of detainees. However, the poll suggests that the government's handling of the matter is at odds with the majority view that torture is occurring and that Canada has a duty to prevent it.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his cabinet ministers initially insisted there was no evidence of torture and that former detainees who'd complained of ill-treatment were not to be believed. They accused opposition MPs who raised the issue of caring more about the Taliban than Canadian soldiers - even though no one suggested any involvement by Canadian troops.
The government was embarrassed when evidence subsequently emerged that it had in fact received - and allegedly tried to hide - warnings that torture is rife in Afghan prisons.
Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor also came under opposition pressure to resign after providing inaccurate information about who, if anyone, was monitoring the treatment of prisoners handed over by Canada to Afghan authorities.
Finally last week, on the brink of a hearing asking Federal Court to block any further transfers of detainees to Afghan authorities, the government hastily signed a new agreement with Afghanistan. It sets out a new process for monitoring the treatment of detainees once they're handed over.
The poll of just over 1,000 Canadians was conducted May 3-7 and is considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points 19 times in 20.
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AFGHANISTAN: COUNTRY SHOULD FOLLOW INDIA'S LEAD SAYS COMPUTER SCIENTIST
Udine, 11 May (AKI) - Computer science, which has relatively low investment costs, could be key to Afghanistan's development, Afghan robotics researcher Solaiman Shokur told Adnkronos International (AKI), citing the example of emerging south Asian economic giant, India. "The high-tech boom that has been driving India's economic development could form a model for Afghanistan, where telecommunications - especially use of mobile phones and Internet - have been developing very rapidly," he said.
Shokur is a speaker at the "Near and Far" conference in the northeastern Italian city of Udine through Sunday. The event, linked to the Tiziano Terzani literary prize, is examining cultural identity and differences in times of war. Shokur's talk described his experience of integration in Europe as an Afghan immigrant.
Students at Lausanne Polytechnic (EPFL), where the 27-year-old Shokur is completing his PhD in the pioneering field of neuroprosthetics and robotics. He and other students at EPFL have been working on a project to send recycled computers to developing countries. Afghanistan could benefit from such a project, he said.
Investment by companies in offshore computer science centres located in Afghanistan is crucial, Shokur argues. "I believe that there should be connections between education, research and industry. For example industries should invest in education to train qualified staff."
"It is also clear that a development of education without a development of industries means those who decide to do part of their studies out of the county have no motivation to return after graduation," he said.
Employment is vital to Afghanistan's stability, both to attract and retain brainpower and in combatting extremism, the opium trade and other crime, Shokur stressed.
He urged more collaboration between Afghan universities other learning institutions across the world, for example in Europe and the US, and exchange programmes for Masters and specialisation cycles. Higher educational institutions such as the Polytechnical University of Kabul also need better funding to improve their infrastructure, he stated.
Computer science has made major strides worldwide in recent years, he said, noting progress made in India, Pakistan and Iran. "Iran for example has numerous centres of scientific and technological expertise, and neuroscience, physics and mathematics students at EPFL from Iran, for example, are at a level comparable to that of European students, both at undergraduate and postgraduate level," he said.
Around 50 percent of Iranian students studying at EPFL return home to serve their country on completing their studies, Shokur said - something he hopes to do in the future. Shokur and others in his research field want to develop prosthetic limbs that can be operated by human thought - a revolutionary achievement that could transform the lives of war and accident victims in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Shokur left Afghanistan when he was 11, during the nine-year long war between the Soviets and 'mujahadeen' seeking to overthrow communist rule, and was educated in Switzerland, Italy and the United States. Shokur and his family have maintained strong ties with Afghanistan.
He and his mother are involved in a Swiss-based NGO, Enfants et femmes (EFA) that helps widows and orphans through a series of projects, including sewing and literacy workshops, day care centres, secretarial, language and computer training, an orphanage and two colleges.
Asked when he thinks he would return to Afghanistan, Shokur said: "When I feel I can bring real expertise to my country, and when it has the stability, basic infrastructure, logistics and investment to permit a longterm educational process."
The 'Near and Far' conference will discuss a range of themes, including the social and cultural impact of migration, terrorism and wars, democracy, the future of humankind in the biotechnology era, and the 'cost of progress.' Its participants include Muslim philosopher Tariq Ramadan, as well as former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami.
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Pakistan to repatriate 2.5m refugees in three years
KABUL, May 10 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The government of Pakistan has decided to repatriate around 2.5 million refugees to Afghanistan in the coming three years.
The decision was taken during meeting of the federal cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. The meeting was told that the repartition process would be conducted under a 'well-conceived strategy'.
Around 2.8 million refugees have already been returned to Afghanistan since 2002. The remaining 2.5 would be repatriated to their country in the next three years, the meeting was informed.
The Pakistani premier told the cabinet members that his country would like the refugees to return to their homeland with dignity and honour and continue to facilitate their rehabilitation in their own country. Pakistan would provide every possible help to the returning families, he vowed.
Briefing the meeting about the formation of the Jirga Commission between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Interior Minister of that country Aftab Ahmad Sherpao said a delegation from Afghanistan would come to Pakistan to finalise modalities of the Jirga Commission, scheduled to hold its first meeting in Kabul in August.
Meanwhile, military officials from Pakistan, Afghanistan and the NATO alliance held a meeting in the border town of Chaman, Balochistan, to review the security situation in the border areas.
The two-hour long trilateral meeting discussed matters relating to security, militancy and the border issues. It underlined the need for discouraging terrorist activities along the border through effective communication and exchange of information.
Canadian Brig Gen TM Grant led the NATO delegation, while the Afghan side was headed by Maj Gen Asmatullah and Maj Gen Saifullah Khan. Brigadier Zaman Nasarullah Niazi represented the Pakistani side.
The officials were unanimous that there was a dire need for launching extensive patrolling on both sides of the border and stressed confidence-building measures between Pakistan and Afghanistan instead of leveling allegations against each.
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Helmand governor offers Taliban olive branch
GRESHK, May 10 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Helmand Governor Asadullah Wafa, holding an olive branch to anti-government elements, Thursday voiced willingness for open-ended peace talks with all homegrown Taliban.
Accompanied by a number of officials including NATO commanders and provincial council members, Wafa told a gathering of tribal elders here: For the sake of peace and reconstruction, Im ready for dialogue with Afghan Taliban.
The governor, who urged the tribal leaders to convince the combatants into renouncing violence, stressed negotiations alone could resolve the problems facing the residents of Helmand, where a NATO air strike killed 21 civilians in Sangin district a day earlier.
Speaking on the occasion, NATO Commander Brigadier John Lorimer said they were stationed in the region to bring stability and development to the opium-producing province. He explained their deployment to Helmand was not aimed at fighting.
Head of the Helmand Task Force, Lorimer argued they were forced into self-defence by increasing Taliban attacks. He accused the insurgents - using villages and peoples houses as trenches - of causing civilian casualties.
We dont want our soldiers to die in clashes with the rebels, the brigadier remarked, saying they too loved their parents, families and kin.
Haji Maulvi Ahmad, head of the Helmand Ulema Council, called upon religious scholars to use Friday sermons for motivating people to back the government and the fighters to lay down arms.
But a Greshk tribal elder, unhappy with the government, believed efforts at wooing the Taliban would end up in smoke. Bismillah Barakzai told Pajhwok the masses were not ready to cooperate with the rulers, who paid little heed to their plight.
How residents of many far-flung areas being controlled by the militants could support a government that had done nothing for public welfare in the countryside, Barakzai asked.
Reported by Akram Noorzai
Translated & edited by S. Mudassir Ali Shah
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US pullout from Iraq to affect Afghanistan: Jalali
KABUL, May 10 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Former Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali has said that withdrawal of US troops from Iraq at this moment or in the near future will have an adverse impact on Afghanistan.
In an exclusive interview with Pajhwok Afghan News, Jalali was also critical of, what he described as, President Karzai's accommodating approach to the regional powers.
The limited intervention capacity of the central government and its accomoditionist approach to local power holders have given an administrative leeway to the peripheral power players, he said, adding the real challenge facing the government was mal-functionality of state institutions, including the elected bodies.
Continued instability and insufficient political, military and economic investment by the international community had created a "survival" mentality among the government administration, the public and various political groups. Such a mentality can easily lend itself to political opportunism, lack of trust, corruption and suspicion, Jalali believed.
Regarding the present and future of Afghanistan, the ex-minister said the country had seen both progress and setbacks. The progress made in the health sector and the renewed US attention to building indigenous security capacity in Afghanistan were the main achievements.
At the same time, he said, failure of the government and its NATO partners to act strategically (both domestically and regionally) waned their tactical and operational achievements.
He suggested that progress in building security institutions needed to be coupled with improvement in strategic command, control and coordination in all aspects of development.
About the impact of Iraq war and withdrawal of US troops from that country on Afghanistan, he said the situation in Iraq had become a nemesis for Afghanistan.
US' premature withdrawal from Iraq could result in more suffering for Afghanistan since a great number of transnational insurgents and their effort would be unlocked from there to swell the ranks of insurgents in Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan.
Jalali was optimistic when asked about the strengthening of the Taliban and the surge in insurgency in the country. "I'm optimistic that the situation can be improved through better coordination of efforts being made by domestic and external actors and by more meaningful regional cooperation, particularly between Afghanistan and Pakistan, in counterinsurgency operations."
Commenting on the next plan of action to achieve lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan, Jalali said only a comprehensive and fast response to a multiplicity of inter-linked challenges faced by Afghanistan can move the country out of instability and economic desolation.
In this connection, he referred to the goals set in the Afghanistan Compact, adopted in London in January 2006. The compact embodies a partnership between Afghanistan and the international community for rebuilding the war-battered country. The success depended on both parties' fulfillment of their commitments described in the compact, he opined.
He added insurgency in the country was feeding on political, social and economic grievances. It was also on the rise due to frustration among people about non-availability of security, services and good governance.
Asked about the purpose behind his recent visit to Islamabad, capital of the neighbouring Pakistan, he said his visit to the region was linked to his ongoing academic work.
"There has been a number of sensational and inaccurate reporting in the local media, including Pajhwok, about my visit to the region," said Jalali, who rejected reports about talks with Pakistani officials in Islamabad. "I did not hold talks with any Pakistani officials in Islamabad, nor was my visit aimed at doing so."
Lalit K. Jha
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Truckers' strike sends prices soaring in Kabul
KABUL, May 10 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Prices of foodstuff imported from Pakistan have registered manifold increase over the previous few days due to the strike called by truckers.
Khan Ali, a shopkeeper in Kart-i-Seh locality of this capital city, told Pajhwok Afghan News price of a 100kg sack of flour had went up to 1,410 afghani from its last week price of 1,350.
While price of one kilogram green tea increased from 120 to 130 afghanis, rate of 50kg sack of sugar registered an increase of 200 afs during the outgoing week.
The 50-kilogram sack of sugar was available for 2,300 aghanis last week, which jumped to 2,500 during the outgoing week.
The truckers called off their strike Wednesday evening after their representatives met Afghan officials, who assured redressal of their grievances.
The goods transporters stopped transferring items from Pakistan to Afghanistan saying police and other officials were extorting money from them.
Minister for Commerce and Industries Dr Muhammad Amin Farhang assured the transporters all their just demands would be addressed by the government.
He told a news conference that a commission, headed by Vice President Muhammad Karim Khalili, had been formed to review complaints of the goods transport owners.
Meanwhile, prices of gold, fuel and other commodities stayed stable during the outgoing week.
According to a quick survey of the market, prices of one kilogram black tea was 140 afs, 50kg rice 1,120 and five kilograms cooking oil 330 afghanis.
Abdul Basir, a jeweler in the Shahr-i-Naw localitiy, said price of one gram Iranian gold was 850 afghanis while that of the same quantity of Arabic gold was 1,050.
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Al-Qaeda, Taliban have safe havens in Pakistan: Gates
WASHINGTON, May 10 (Pajhwok Afghan News): US military missions are chasing al-Qaeda adherents in Pakistan's semiautonomous tribal areas near the militancy-plagued frontier with Afghanistan, the defence secretary has revealed.
At a congressional hearing on Wednesday, Robert Gates claimed the organisation - led by Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden - had re-established itself in the restive region, where it had set up camps to train new recruits in terror techniques.
Determined to crack down on the extremist leaders hiding in Pakistan's inhospitable western region, US military teams planned operations in North Waziristan, the secretary told the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Separately, the secretary said at a news conference that Taliban insurgents - blamed for increasing incursions into Afghanistan - also had safe havens in Pakistan, often hailed by Washington as a front-line ally in the war on terror.
With the Pakistan government vehemently denying any US military activity on its soil, Robert Gates said in categorical terms: We do have military operations that are planned not just in North Waziristan and Iraq, but in other places as well, to go after the al-Qaeda leadership.
The Pentagon chief, testifying before the high-powered panel, claimed having credible information that the outfit was not only training new recruits in FATA but was also establishing linkages in North Africa. "So al-Qaeda has actually expanded its organisation and capabilities."
Should US forces pull out of Iraq, the secretary warned, al-Qaeda would certainly use the embattled Gulf country as a new base for planning its operations. "I think if we don't leave Iraq with some sense of stability, the problem we face will be significantly worse."
Al-Qaeda was an adaptive enemy that changed its tactics as US forces shifted theirs, remarked the secretary, who cautioned the terrorists would have an opportunity to reorganise their forces Iraq in case of a troop withdrawal before significant political progress was made.
Gates said he had ordered the intelligence community to analyse the militant group's resurgence along three lines - places where there are al-Qaeda cells, countries where other terrorist organisations are affiliated with it and cells that would like to join the outfit.
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Over 200 uplift projects completed in Panjshir
KABUL, May 9 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The central government, in cooperation with the US-led provincial reconstruction team (PRT), has completed 226 uplift projects in the central Panjshir province over the previous three years, officials said on Wednesday.
Abdul Rahman Kabiri, deputy governor of the province, told Pajhwok Afghan News the PRT had completed more than 100 developmental projects at the cost of over $30 million.
He said the projects included construction of schools, health clinics and offices for the district officials; pavement and rebuilding of roads, and provision of facilities like clean drinking water and power supply.
Kabiri said another $8 million was provided by the then US commander Benjamin Frankley last year, and the amount would be spent on welfare projects during the current year.
Talking to Pajhwok, PRT commander in Panjshir Bill Baker said construction of roads, bridges, protective walls, offices at the governor house, district offices and launching of three power supply schemes were the main projects completed during that period.
He said the projects were implemented in consultation with members of the provincial council and keeping needs and requirements of the local people in mind.
Another 126 uplift projects were completed under the National Solidarity Programme (NSP) by the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD) at the cost of $9 million.
Serajuddin Mehraban, director of the rural rehabilitation and development department, said the NSP had implemented developmental projects in all districts of the province. He added 200 more such projects would be completed by the ministry this year.
Provincial officials said the government had collected $128 million revenues last year, while the amount is expected to increase to $180 million during the current year.
The expected boost in the revenues is attributed to recruitment of professional staff in the finance and other governmental departments, said Sayed Zaiul Haq Sakha, head of the finance department.
Speaking to Pajhwok, Sakha said the fresh recruitment of 70 professional staffers in the finance department was part of the reform programme of the Ministry of Finance.
Sakha said the revenues were mainly collected by imposition of custom duties on import and export of goods and collection of tax from industrialists and salaried class.
Farid Tanha/Ahmad Qureshi
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