By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL (Reuters) - Thousands of Afghans protested outside the Pakistani embassy in Kabul on Wednesday, chanting "Death to Pakistan, Death to Musharraf," after the bloodiest clash in decades on the disputed border last weekend.
The protests, part of a series held against Pakistan in several areas of the country in recent days, ended peacefully, residents said.
Pakistani forces crossed into Afghan territory and killed 13 people, including children and police, in two days of clashes, according to the Afghan Foreign Ministry.
Security was tight outside the embassy and there was no violence, police said. Protesters have stormed Pakistan's missions in Kabul several times in the past.
"We will teach you a lesson, Pakistan," shouted Hazrat Mir Zazai, joining other protesters yelling anti-Pakistan slogans on loudspeakers.
Relations between the neighbors, both U.S. allies in a war on terrorism, have deteriorated sharply in the past 18 months as an insurgency in Afghanistan gathered strength,
Both sides blame the other for a resurgence of Taliban militants.
Many of the protesters come from Paktia, the southeastern province where the clashes occurred.
The Foreign Ministry issued a strongly worded statement on Monday urging "Pakistan to prevent such action that would entail dangerous consequences for the stability of the region."
Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta -- who was removed from office by parliament at the weekend but is still working until a court ruling -- had sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to protest "the attacks of Pakistani forces."
Pakistan said the clashes began when Afghan troops, without provocation, fired on a handful of border posts in the Kurram tribal district in northwest Pakistan.
A NATO soldier was killed and four wounded on Monday in an ambush by "unknown assailants" while returning to the Afghan side after a flag meeting with Pakistani officers to discuss how to end the skirmishes on the border, a statement by the Western military alliance said.
The latest blow to relations comes just a little over two weeks after the presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan met in the Turkish capital Ankara. They agreed to end their disputes and intensify cooperation.
There are plans to hold a 700-strong jirga, or council, in Kabul in August, incorporating tribal leaders and elders from the ethnic Pashtun lands on both sides of the border to persuade people of the region to reject the Taliban and their allies.
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Afghan tribesmen protest against Pakistan
KABUL (AFP) - More than 1,000 Afghan tribesmen chanting "Death to Pakistan" rallied outside the Pakistani embassy in Kabul after deadly clashes between the two countries' border guards.
Fighting between Afghan and Pakistani forces at the weekend left 14 people dead, including a NATO soldier who was shot after a meeting on the Pakistani side of the border aimed at calming the tension.
The demonstrators blocked a road leading to the embassy for several hours as policemen in anti-riot gear kept the mob away from the embassy gate, an AFP reporter said.
"Pakistan invaded Afghanistan" and "Death to (Pakistani President Pervez) Musharraf" were among the slogans shouted by the protesters, mostly tribesmen from the eastern border province of Paktia where the clashes occurred.
They later dispersed peacefully.
Afghanistan said on Tuesday that the clashes, the worst for decades between the two supposed allies in the US-led "war on terror", would further strain ties between Islamabad and Kabul.
The previous day, the Afghan government summoned Pakistan's ambassador, accusing the neighbouring army of an "intrusion" into Afghan territory and of being provocative.
Pakistan denies the charges.
Pakistan-Afghanistan relations have suffered for months amid recriminations over the bloody Taliban insurgency raging mostly in Afghanistan's southern provinces bordering Pakistan.
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Afghan refugees clash with Pakistani forces
By Saeed Ali Achakzai Reuters
PIR ALIZAI CAMP, Pakistan (Reuters) - At least two people were killed and five wounded on Wednesday in an exchange of fire between Pakistani security forces and Afghan refugees in southwestern Pakistan, police said.
Both sides blamed each other for initiating the fire in Pir Alizai, one of the oldest camps set up for Afghan refugees after the Soviet invasion in 1979, which the Pakistani authorities plan to shut down by next month.
"The police and paramilitary soldiers went there to supervise demolition of abandoned houses. All of a sudden a few people came out of the camp and started firing," Naseebullah Ghilzai, local police chief told Reuters.
But refugee, Abdul Shakoor, gave a different version.
"They started demolishing our houses without any reason. When we resisted, they opened fire on us.
Ghilzai said two people were killed in the attack while a doctor running a private clinic near the camp said he had seen three bodies.
The slain men were local residents, officials said.
Witnesses said hundreds of refugees, shouting slogans against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, blocked the road linking Quetta, capital of the southwestern province of Baluchistan, and the border town of Chaman to protest against the demolition.
Pir Alizai, a sprawling settlement of mud houses for about 150,000 refugees, is one of two camps Pakistani authorities plan to wind up by June 15. Two more will be closed later this year.
Pakistan has hosted millions of Afghans for more than a quarter century but is now pushing for the closure of camps after complaints from Western and Afghan officials that Taliban militants launch cross-border attacks from their bases on Pakistani soil.
Authorities say these camps, mainly in Baluchistan, have turned into safe havens for the Taliban.
Pakistani cabinet last week approved a plan for a voluntary and gradual repatriation of around 2.5 million refugees in next three years in line with an agreement signed with Afghanistan and the U.N. refugee agency in 2003.
LACK OF SECURITY
Observers say it is an uphill task for Pakistan to persuade Afghans to return to their country because of lack of security in their country and also because a large number of them have established businesses in cities.
They have set up showrooms for traditional, hand-woven Afghan rugs in posh neighbourhoods and they also run hotels and restaurants.
Afghanistan has struggled to cope with the return of more than 4.6 million refugees since the Taliban were overthrown.
Aid officials say the country would be overwhelmed if Pakistan sent refugees in large numbers as was being done by neighbouring Iran.
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Afghans kill Taliban exchanged for reporter
KABUL (AFP) - Three senior Taliban freed in return for the release of an Italian journalist were killed during an operation in which top Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah also died, security forces said Wednesday.
The trio, including a brother of Dadullah, were travelling with him when they were attacked and killed in a district in the south at the weekend, the Afghan intelligence service said.
"Mullah Shah Mansoor -- Dadullah's brother -- Mullah Hamdullah and Mullah Ghafar, all Taliban commanders, were killed in the same operation," it said in a statement.
The three were among five senior Taliban who were released in exchange for Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo, who had been kidnapped by Dadullah's men in early March, the statement added.
Mastrogiacomo was held captive for three weeks but his interpreter, Afghan reporter Ajmal Naqshbandi, and driver were beheaded. Dadullah was blamed for the killings.
The US-led coalition said earlier this month that another of the prisoners freed in the same swap had been killed in fighting in the west.
Blamed for kidnappings and beheading of hostages and organizing a spate of suicide bombings, Dadullah was the most senior Taliban leader to die since the regime was driven from power in 2001.
The statement said the rebel commander was pursued "with (the) most modern intelligence technology from the Pakistani border before being killed."
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NATO braced for insurgent backlash from Dadullah death: ISAF commander
Tue May 15, 9:40 PM ET
LONDON (AFP) - NATO forces in Afghanistan are braced for a backlash from the killing of top Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah, their commander said in an interview published Wednesday.
Speaking to the Financial Times, US General Dan McNeill warned that no one should interpret Dadullah's death as the end of the insurgency, adding that he expected Taliban insurgents to recover "in a matter of weeks."
"Clearly that (death) will cause a setback but I wouldn't want anybody to believe that this is the end of the insurgency," McNeill, who heads the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, told the daily.
"It will set them back a little bit but they will recover. Probably in a matter of weeks.
"The coming wave of the offensive is going to be suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices."
Linked to the beheading of hostages and training of suicide bombers, Dadullah, aged about 40, was one of the Taliban's top commanders and the most important rebel leader to be killed since the regime was driven from power.
McNeill is leading a force of some 37,000 troops from 37 nations in Afghanistan.
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U.S. says 6 ex-Gitmo detainees active
By MICHAEL MELIA, Associated Press Writer Tue May 15, 8:07 PM ET
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Former Guantanamo detainees have organized a jailbreak in Afghanistan, kidnapped Chinese engineers and taken leadership positions with the Taliban, the U.S. military said Tuesday.
The former detainees were released from the prison at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba between 2002-2004 by claiming to be innocent or low-level figures, the military said in a statement, responding to questions about ex-prisoners who have allegedly resumed fighting.
The Pentagon gave brief descriptions of six detainees, including two it said were killed in fighting in Afghanistan, which the U.S. invaded to oust the Taliban regime following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.
The statement suggested that the six were released from Guantanamo by mistake.
"These former detainees successfully lied to U.S. officials, sometimes for over three years," said Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman.
Last week, a Pentagon official, Joseph Benkert, testified to Congress that about 30 former detainees have rejoined the fight against the United States. Other U.S. officials have made similar claims about prisoners at Guantanamo, where the military now holds about 380 men mostly on suspicion of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban.
Guantanamo critics have been skeptical of the claims, saying it is part of a U.S. campaign to justify the detention of hundreds of men without charges at the remote base.
H. Candace Gorman, a Chicago-based attorney for two Guantanamo detainees, noted that three of the names on the Pentagon list do not appear on official rosters of detainees. She said she believes they were never actually held at the prison in southeast Cuba.
"To say detainees are back on the battlefield has become one of their justifications for indefinite detention," Gorman said. "They have to justify the cruelty of what they're doing."
The military said two of the men were killed in Afghanistan: Mohammed Yusif Yaqub, a commander of Taliban operations in southern Afghanistan who died in May 2004 while fighting U.S. forces, and Maulavi Abdul Ghaffar, a Taliban leader killed in a September 2004 raid by Afghan security forces.
A third man, Mohammed Ismail, was captured during an attack on U.S. forces near Kandahar.
The military also said Abdullah Mahsud, released in March 2004, was discovered after his release to have links to the Taliban and al-Qaida. He allegedly directed the kidnapping of two Chinese engineers in Pakistan in October 2004.
The other two on the list were Abdul Rahman Noor, who was released from Guantanamo in July 2003 and "has since participated in fighting against U.S. forces near Kandahar," and Mohammed Nayim Farouq, who "renewed his association with Taliban and al-Qaida members," after his July 2003 release.
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Mystery Afghan gave Padilla evidence to U.S.
By Jane Sutton Tue May 15, 3:36 PM ET
MIAMI (Reuters) - An Afghan man drove up to a CIA outpost in Kandahar in December 2001 and delivered a truckload of documents, including what prosecutors say is U.S. citizen Jose Padilla's al Qaeda pledge form, according to trial testimony on Tuesday.
The CIA agent who received the documents said he had never seen the man before but understood that he was loyal to a tribal leader cooperating with U.S. forces who were then driving out Afghanistan's Taliban government.
"He said this item came from an office that had previously been used by Arabs," said the agent, who was given permission to testify under a false name and wore a beard and glasses to hide his identity. "Basically he cleaned out the office."
Padilla, 36, and two co-defendants are on trial on charges of conspiring to "murder, kidnap and maim" around the globe and providing material support for terrorists. Prosecutors said they were part of a Florida support cell that provided money and recruits for Islamists waging a violent international jihad, or holy war.
The government initially accused Padilla of plotting to set off a radiological "dirty bomb" in the United States and President George W. Bush sent him to a U.S. military jail for 3-1/2 years as an "enemy combatant."
That designation was dropped amid a challenge to Bush's wartime powers, and Padilla was added to an existing indictment in Miami, which makes no mention of any bomb plot.
Prosecutors say Padilla attended an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in 2000, and presented a document they said was an enrollment form for the camp, bearing Padilla's fingerprints. Prosecutors have said the document was Padilla's al Qaeda training camp enrollment form.
The agent was handed a blue binder containing several pages. He testified that he recognized it as one he unloaded from the heap of documents in the unidentified Afghani's truck and later delivered to the FBI in Pakistan in a cardboard box that once contained cooking oil.
He said he handled it with his bare hands and could not read it because he does not understand Arabic.
"You do realize that you degrade the quality of a piece of evidence by handling it with your bare hands?" asked one of Padilla's lawyers, Orlando do Campo.
"Yes," replied the CIA agent.
PADILLA FACES LIFE IN PRISON
The agent said he did not know who had filled in the form nor when. Nor did he know the motive of the tribal leader he presumed had directed the load of documents to be delivered.
"I'm not in a position to gauge the level of reliability," he said.
An FBI agent who received and inventoried the documents in Islamabad testified that she sent them on to an FBI office near Washington to be translated. That agent, Jennifer Keenan, said she could not read the form alleged to incriminate Padilla but recognized it as similar to another that had been partly translated from Arabic.
"I knew the content as being a pledge form with personal identification," said Keenan.
She did not elaborate on the nature of the pledge but said the form contained "the rules of going to the camp."
Padilla, who faces life in prison if convicted, sat stoically, as he has throughout the proceedings.
The FBI arrested the former street gang member at Chicago's O'Hare airport in May 2002 as he returned from the Middle East, where he had lived for about five years.
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Italy to send helicopters, tanks to Afghanistan
People's Daily - May 15 5:50 PM
Italy is for the first time to send helicopters and tanks to Afghanistan to protect its peacekeeping contingent against a growing wave of attacks by rebel groups.
Italian Defense Minister Arturo Parisi told parliament that Italy's 2,000 troops in Afghanistan would soon receive five Mangusta helicopters, eight Dardo tanks and an additional 10 Lince armored cars.
An extra 145 soldiers will also be sent to operate and maintain the new equipment, Parisi said, stressing that the reinforcements should increase the contingent's security, at least in part, by a "deterrent effect."
According to reports that two Italian soldiers were slightly injured on Monday when a device exploded on the road between Herat, where Italy has 1,150 soldiers, and the airport. Two weeks earlier two others were injured in the same way.
Parisi stressed that the reinforcements being sent to the central Asian country did not mean Italian troops would be taking part in any offensives.
Italy's presence in Afghanistan is a source of tension in Prime Minister Romano Prodi's center-left coalition, with some leftwingers keen for Italian troops to be pulled out.
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Bush chooses Pentagon official to be 'war czar' for Iraq, Afghanistan
Anxious to show progress to a nation weary of war, U.S. President George W. Bush is hoping a military leader with proven organizational skills can make the government's vast bureaucracy march in step in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bush's selection of Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute as war czar does not bring the promise of a change in policy, speedier progress or an end to the fighting for U.S. troops. Instead, he is billed as a bureaucracy-buster.
Nothing is more important, Bush said Tuesday, than getting the commanders and ambassadors in the war zones what they need.
"Douglas Lute," Bush said, "can make sure that happens quickly and reliably."
Lute, 54, is the latest new face on the Iraq front. He serves as the Pentagon's director of operations and is a former leader of U.S. military forces in the Middle East, part of an extensive background of military service.
He now heads to the White House to focus on Iraq and Afghanistan - and nothing but - subject to confirmation by the Senate.
Lute's job will be to work through conflicts among the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies. He will seek to cut through bureaucracy and deliver fast responses when requests come in from U.S. military commanders and ambassadors.
"General Lute is a tremendously accomplished military leader who understands war and government and knows how to get things done," Bush said, capping a difficult search for new leadership in the wars that have defined his presidency.
In the newly created job Lute would serve as an assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser, and would also maintain his military status and rank as a three-star general. That, by design, gives the White House a high-level point person on the wars.
Meghan O'Sullivan, who handled day-to-day coordination of Iraq as an assistant to national security adviser Stephen Hadley, recently announced she is leaving. So is Hadley's chief deputy, J.D. Crouch, who coordinated the White House review of its options in Iraq.
It was a difficult job to fill, given the unpopularity of the war, now in its fifth year, and uncertainty about the clout the war coordinator would have. The search was complicated by demands from Congress to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq and scant public support for the war. The White House tried for weeks to fill the position and approached numerous candidates before settling on Lute.
The creation of the new job has also raised questions about whether it will help - or just add more confusion.
One senior administration official dismissed that possibility. "His job is to work very closely with Steve Hadley, but everybody reports to the president," the official said, speaking anonymously to avoid getting ahead of the president.
The White House has avoided the term "war czar." Bush called Lute the "full-time manager" for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lute has been director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff since September. Before that, he served for more than two years as director of operations at U.S. Central Command, during which he oversaw combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
His addition will help Hadley, whose broad portfolio includes such hot spots as Iran and North Korea.
Until now, Hadley and other West Wing officials have tried to keep turf-conscious agencies marching in the same direction on military, political and reconstruction fronts in Iraq.
Meanwhile, the public's patience for the war has long eroded, and lawmakers - including members of Bush's own party - are pushing a harder line in ensuring that the Iraqi government is making progress toward self-governance.
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SAF to provide medical aid, establish dental clinic in Afghanistan
By Ashraf Safdar, Channel NewsAsia | 16 May 2007 1752 hrs
SINGAPORE: The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is sending a five-man medical team to establish a dental clinic in central Afghanistan.
The team will bring specialised equipment, set up the clinic, and provide dental services to the local community.
The SAF personnel will also train local Afghan staff to run the clinic on a long-term basis.
This humanitarian assistance project is part of Singapore's overall contribution to the international reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. - CNA/yy
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Poppy Fields Are Now a Front Line in Afghanistan War
By JAMES RISEN May 16, 2007 The New York Times
KABUL, Afghanistan — In a walled compound outside Kabul, two members of Colombia’s counternarcotics police force are trying to teach raw Afghan recruits how to wage close-quarters combat.
Using wooden mock AK-47 assault rifles, Lt. John Castañeda and Cpl. John Orejuela demonstrate commando tactics to about 20 new members of what is intended to be an elite Afghan drug strike force. The recruits — who American officials say lack even basic law enforcement skills — watch wide-eyed.
“This is kindergarten,” said Vincent Balbo, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration chief in Kabul, whose office is overseeing the training. “It’s Narcotics 101.” Another D.E.A. agent added: “We are at a stage now of telling these recruits, ‘This is a handgun, this is a bullet.’ ”
It is a measure of this country’s virulent opium trade, which has helped revive the Taliban while corroding the credibility of the Afghan government, that American officials hope that Afghanistan’s drug problem will someday be only as bad as that of Colombia.
While the Latin American nation remains the world’s cocaine capital and is still plagued by drug-related violence, American officials argue that decades of American counternarcotics efforts there have at least helped stabilize the country.
“I wanted the Colombians to come here to give the Afghans something to aspire to,” Mr. Balbo said. “To instill the fact that they have been doing this for years, and it has worked.”
To fight a Taliban insurgency flush with drug money for recruits and weapons, the Bush administration recognizes that it must also combat the drug trafficking it had largely ignored for years. But plans to clear poppy fields and pursue major drug figures have been frustrated by corruption in the Afghan government, and derided by critics as belated half-measures or missteps not likely to have much impact.
“There may have been things one could have done earlier on, but at this stage, I think there are relatively limited good options,” said James F. Dobbins, a former State Department official who served as the administration’s special representative on Afghanistan.
Poppy growing is endemic in the countryside, and Afghanistan now produces 92 percent of the world’s opium. But until recently, American officials acknowledge, fighting drugs was considered a distraction from fighting terrorists.
The State Department and Pentagon repeatedly clashed over drug policy, according to current and former officials who were interviewed. Pentagon leaders refused to bomb drug laboratories and often balked at helping other agencies and the Afghan government destroy poppy fields, disrupt opium shipments or capture major traffickers, the officials say.
Some of the officials declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and military leaders also played down or dismissed growing signs that drug money was being funneled to the Taliban, the officials say.
And the C.I.A. and military turned a blind eye to drug-related activities by prominent warlords or political figures they had installed in power, Afghan and American officials say.
Not so long ago, Afghanistan was trumpeted as a success, a country freed from tyranny and Al Qaeda. But as the Taliban’s grip continues to tighten, threatening Afghanistan’s future and the fight against terrorism, Americans and Afghans are increasingly asking what went wrong. To that, some American officials say that failing to disrupt the drug trade was a critical strategic mistake.
“This is the Afghan equivalent of failing to deal with looting in Baghdad,” said Andre D. Hollis, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for counternarcotics. “If you are not dealing with those who are threatened by security and who undermine security, namely drug traffickers, all your other grandiose plans will come to naught.”
Administration officials say they had believed they could eliminate the insurgency first, then tackle the drug trade. “Now people recognize that it’s all related, and it’s one issue,” said Thomas Schweich, the State Department’s coordinator for counternarcotics in Afghanistan. “It’s no longer just a drug problem. It is an economic problem, a political problem and a security problem.”
More American Help
To step up efforts, last fall President Bush privately prodded President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan to curb opium production, then vowed publicly in February to provide more help.
While the D.E.A. has imported Colombian trainers in Kabul, United States Justice Department officials are helping build from scratch an Afghan judicial system to deal with drug cases. State Department officials, meanwhile, have helped found the Afghan Eradication Force to wipe out opium poppy crops. The American military is providing logistical support for D.E.A. raids and eradication.
The symbolic heart of the Bush administration’s efforts is a construction site amid tin shanties and junkyards near the Kabul International Airport: a new $8 million Counternarcotics Justice Center. After its scheduled opening in July, the center will be a one-stop shop for drug cases, with two courts, offices for 70 prosecutors and investigators and jail cells for 56 suspects.
But while new Afghan drug prosecutors are charging hundreds of messengers and truck drivers with drug offenses, major dealers, often with ties both to government officials and the Taliban, operate virtually at will.
An American counternarcotics official in Washington said a classified list late last year developed by several United States agencies identified more than 30 important Afghan drug suspects, including at least five government officials. But they are unlikely to be actively sought anytime soon, several American officials caution.
In part, that is because the Afghan drug prosecutors are eager, but their legal skills are weak. “You look at the indictments, and it looks like a sixth grader wrote it,” said Rob Lunnen, a Salt Lake City federal prosecutor assisting the Afghan drug task force.
Another American prosecutor said, “If we try to go after deputy ministerial or ministerial level corruption cases, then you are not going to have a system that can handle it, and they would just get released.”
The few times that influential drug figures have been investigated, the resistance has been intense. In January, for example, the D.E.A. and the Afghan national police arrested two drug suspects in remote Kunduz Province, only to find themselves hauled before the provincial governor as a crowd gathered outside. The drug team had to leave their suspects in custody in Kunduz.
“It’s happened several times that there will be a raid, and a mayor is involved, and nothing happens,” Mr. Lunnen complained. “Every day we feel frustrated.” He added that the Karzai government did not adequately support the Afghan drug task force because it was viewed “as a creation of the West.”
Failing to charge major traffickers feeds Afghans’ skepticism about American intentions, said counternarcotics officials, lawmakers and experts on Afghanistan.
“To Afghans, our counternarcotics policy looks like a policy of rewarding rich traffickers and punishing poor farmers,” Barnett R. Rubin, a New York University professor and an expert on Afghanistan, told a Senate panel in March.
Many Afghans are hostile to opium eradication, saying it deprives farmers of their livelihoods. Mr. Rubin and others say that destroying crops drives villagers into the arms of the Taliban. But the United States has not embraced large-scale aid and employment programs that might deter farmers from planting poppies. Instead, the antidrug teams venture out into the countryside, where some have been killed by suicide bombers and Taliban forces allied with drug lords.
Fearing a backlash from the populace, the Afghan government has rejected American proposals for chemical spraying, permitting only manual eradication. That requires hundreds of men with sticks and tractors — often surrounded by American contractors for protection — to knock down poppy bulbs by hand. It is agonizingly slow and largely ineffective.
So far this year, about 20,000 acres have been destroyed, just a fraction of the record 407,000 acres planted with opium poppy, according to the United Nations. The crop is expected to yield more than 6,500 tons of opium, exceeding global demand. The export value — about $3.1 billion — is equivalent to about half of the legal Afghan economy.
Like the law enforcement efforts, the eradication program is rife with corruption. Farmers know they must offer bribes to avoid having their crops destroyed, American and Afghan drug officials said. It is often only those who lack money or political connections whose fields are singled out.
“I would go out to an eradication site, and we would be driven past miles and miles of poppy fields, and the Afghans would say, ‘You can’t do that field,’ because it belongs to such and such a commander, ‘You can’t do that field, you can’t do this field,’ ” recalled one American counternarcotics official. “Finally, we would arrive at one field where we could set up for eradication, and you had to wonder, why had they chosen this one?”
Gen. Sayed Kamal Sadat, chief of the Afghan national drug counterforce, acknowledges that many officials are for sale.
Opium Used as Currency
“We have security chiefs, police chiefs, who traffic in drugs,” he added. “Traffickers give money to governors to allow cultivation in their areas. So far, I haven’t seen any governor or security commander willing to crack down.” Drug production is now greatest where the Taliban is strongest. In Helmand Province, which the insurgents mostly control, opium is so abundant that blocks of it serve as local currency.
Farmers growing poppies in Taliban-controlled areas pay a tax to the insurgents, who then hire “day fighters.” For their part, drug traffickers pay the Taliban for security. Smugglers who take opium and heroin out of Afghanistan bring weapons and bombs back for the insurgents, officials say.
In Nimruz Province, in southwest Afghanistan, the Taliban demanded that traffickers provide $4,000 a month and a Toyota Land Cruiser to support 10-man fighting units, according to United Nations officials. An Afghan official said Taliban forces were given five Land Cruisers for attacking the Afghan border police so traffickers could move drugs more easily.
The Bush administration was reluctant to take on the drug issue even from the start of the war. Soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, military and intelligence analysts turned over to the Pentagon a list of targets linked to Al Qaeda — and its Taliban hosts — inside Afghanistan. It included military targets, as well as drug labs and warehouses, where the Taliban was believed to have stockpiled opium after banning poppy cultivation in 2001.
Destroying the government’s principal source of revenue would help put the Taliban out of business, the analysts figured.
But when the air campaign over Afghanistan began, top military officials removed all drug-related targets, according to one analyst who attended meetings where the bombing raids were discussed.
After the Taliban collapsed in late 2001, farmers began to plant opium across the countryside.
Some warlords and commanders that the C.I.A. and military helped put in power — including tribal figures who had been in exile in Pakistan and others in the American-backed Northern Alliance — quickly began to enrich themselves through drug trafficking, several American officials say.
“At the time of our intervention, there wasn’t an active drug trade going on,” said Mr. Dobbins, the former State Department official. “But some of the people we supported became involved and active as the drug trade took hold.” American officials say that the postwar chaos left them with no choice but to work with militia leaders involved in drug dealing.
“You’ve got to consider the time and the context,” said Craig Chretien, a counternarcotics official at the United States Embassy in Kabul. “D.E.A. wasn’t here. There was no investigative arm to look into any of their activities of these people after whatever cooperation they gave the C.I.A.”
Some Afghans do not share that view. “The C.I.A. should have moved swiftly against those people,” said the Afghan attorney general, Abdul Jabbar Sabit, arguing that ignoring the drug dealing encouraged lawlessness.
Later, though, American officials in several agencies urged taking steps to curb opium cultivation and trafficking, and grew frustrated when nothing happened.
Mr. Rumsfeld opposed any military involvement in counternarcotics operations, several American officials say. Aside from concerns about stirring up resentment by peasants or alienating Afghan officials, the Pentagon viewed fighting drugs as a dangerous diversion from fighting terrorism.
And with a war in Iraq already quietly under discussion, Mr. Rumsfeld and his commanders did not want to commit more forces to Afghanistan.
The Pentagon also argued that countering drugs had always been a law enforcement mission, not a military one. But in war-ravaged Afghanistan, without the assistance of American troops, it was virtually impossible for other agencies to work effectively.
Seizing an Opportunity
The Pentagon’s own counternarcotics office, though, was eager to take on the fight. Soon after the American-led invasion, Mr. Hollis, the former counternarcotics official, raised the matter with top military officials.
“The commanders said we don’t do drugs, we’re just killing terrorists,” Mr. Hollis recalled. “That showed a lack of understanding of the threat. I cared about going after the drug routes. If you could smuggle drugs, you could smuggle weapons and terrorists. It concerned me that if we didn’t go after the drug trade then, we would lose a golden opportunity.”
Later, when Mr. Hollis asked the Defense Intelligence Agency to assess the link between drugs and the Taliban, the agency refused to do so, he said. It was not until the fall of 2004, when both the United Nations and the C.I.A. issued stunning estimates of Afghan opium cultivation, that the White House expressed alarm about the issue.
That November, President Bush met for the first time with his top advisers to discuss the drug strategy. Colin L. Powell, then secretary of state, pushed for aggressive measures that had been used in Colombia — aerial spraying, promoting alternative crops, singling out drug labs and disrupting drug shipments.
Mr. Bush seemed willing to adopt the measures, saying he did not want to “waste another American life on a “narco-state,” recalled Bobby Charles, a former State Department counternarcotics official who attended the session. But the president later backed off after lobbying by Mr. Rumsfeld and Zalmay Khalilzad, then the American ambassador in Kabul, according to Mr. Charles.
A spokesman for Mr. Khalilzad, now the American ambassador to the United Nations, said he did not want to discuss his recommendations to the president. A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on Mr. Rumsfeld’s decisions, as did a spokesman for Mr. Rumsfeld.
D.E.A. officials were also thwarted in their attempts to stem drug corruption. In 2005, D.E.A. agents and their Afghan counterparts found nine tons of opium in the office of Sher Muhammad Akhundzada, the governor of Helmand Province.
But the counternarcotics team was blocked from taking any action against the governor, who had close ties to American and British military, intelligence and diplomatic officials. Mr. Akhundzada, in a recent interview, said he was just storing opium that had been seized as contraband. Eventually, he was forced aside, though he now serves in the Afghan Senate.
The Taliban offensive in the spring of 2006 finally forced military officials and civilian Pentagon officials to drop their opposition to fighting drugs. The resignation of Mr. Rumsfeld, along with prodding by some House Republicans, also contributed to what Mr. Chretien, the counternarcotics official, described as a “sea change” in attitude among defense officials.
In Kabul, the D.E.A. is trying to move ahead, if only in small steps, like training the Afghan drug force. “The Colombians are here to instill the heart of the lion,” said Mr. Balbo, the D.E.A. official. But even that appears daunting.
Recruits for the 125-member National Interdiction Unit lined up in sweatsuits one day in March. Supposedly a handpicked elite, they were a ragtag group as they stretched for their morning jog. Some were young, but many were older and out of shape. During the day, they had trouble keeping up with the Colombians.
“They aren’t used to working long hours, “ said Lieutenant Castañeda, the Colombian counternarcotics officer. Trying to be diplomatic, he added: “I understand that there are cultural challenges that we have to deal with. They have a lot to learn.”
Mr. Balbo counseled patience. Drug wars are long, he said, and there are no quick solutions.
“This is going to take 20 or 30 years,” he said. “D.E.A. has been in Thailand for 40 years. Here, we’re in year two.”
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Canadians train ANA Building up Afghan army critical piece of NATO exit plan
The Halifax Daily News
Canadian, American and Afghan officers took turns barking field commands yesterday as Canada took charge of a training program for local soldiers considered vital to the coalition's exit strategy in Afghanistan.
A formation of soldiers from the 1st Brigade of the Afghan National Army's 205 Corps, clad in green fatigues and matching berets, stood ramrod-straight and saluted briskly, flanked on either side by the North American counterparts who serve as their role models.
The ceremony put Canada formally in charge of the mentoring program for Afghan soldiers deployed in Kandahar province, as well as the province of Uruzgan to the north.
Lt.-Col. Wayne Eyre, commander of the Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team - the OMLT, known colloquially as the "omelette" - hailed the fighting prowess of the Afghans, who are expected to eventually take over and allow NATO troops to pull out.
"It's the next evolution in Canada's involvement in Afghanistan," Eyre said after the ceremony.
"We're taking more mentorship responsibilities with the Afghan National Army to eventually get them to a state where they can handle security for Afghanistan on their own."
The ANA soldiers are skilled in battle, Eyre said. The challenge now comes in teaching the army itself the myriad planning and organizational "bits and pieces" required to fully support troop operations.
Getting to that stage is critical before coalition forces can pull out of the country, he added.
"If we eventually want to get out of here, we have to develop the Afghan security forces so they can take care of their own security."
It was a sentiment shared by an Afghan officer, Capt. Amrruind, who who took visible delight in delivering his commands with a throaty roar.
"We are looking forward to the day that we will be able to conduct operations by ourselves," Amrruind, who like many Afghans uses only one name, said through an interpreter.
Learning to be an army
He said most of his soldiers have had to learn to live with the rules and regulations that are the hallmark of a modern army.
"Most of the soldiers in the friendly forces are educated, and they know the purpose, the goal, the aim of this fighting," Amrruind said.
"Most of our soldiers are uneducated, and they don't have rules and regulations ... this is really important for us, having rules and regulations in our army."
Indeed, the ANA has had problems in the past with soldiers leaving the ranks - a problem that's been getting consistently better, particularly among troops being mentored by Canadians, Eyre said.
Soldiers who go AWOL are a problem for any organized military force, not just Afghanistan's, he added.
"The AWOL rate for ... the batallion that Canada's been mentoring since October is the lowest in the corps, so we've shown some significant success in that area."
Canadian soldiers and commanders also bring a perspective on human rights that Afghans might find foreign. Allegations of detainees being abused by members of Afghanistan's notorious secret service have been dominating headlines in Canada for weeks.
Maj. Peter Sullivan, the OMLT's deputy commanding officer, said Canadian soldiers have been preaching the virtues of respecting human rights since long before the detainee controversy erupted last month.
Sullivan said OMLT soldiers are constantly on the lookout for anything that has even the potential to violate Canada's own rules of engagement.
"Our rules of engagement are based on Canadian values - and Canadian law, of course - so that's what we try to emphasize, all the time, because we believe those things to be fundamentally correct," said Sullivan, from Meaford, Ont.
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NATO sees importance of secret Afghan info
Intelligence crucial in fight against Taliban
David Pugliese The Ottawa Citizen Wednesday, May 16, 2007
KABUL, Afghanistan - NATO would like to make more use of intelligence gathered by Afghanistan's secret police since such information can be fundamental in saving soldiers' lives and combating the insurgency here, says the Canadian general in charge of the alliance's intelligence section.
Canadian Brig.-Gen. Jim Ferron says he is confident that Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security or NDS is following proper procedures when it interrogates insurgent detainees.
The general also pointed out that the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force is interested in further developing its relationship with the NDS because it is a key Afghan government agency and the intelligence it is providing is highly credible in the battle against insurgents.
"We'd like to make (NDS intelligence) a significant part because the best information is the information that comes from the Afghans themselves," said Brig.-Gen. Ferron, ISAF's chief intelligence officer. "They have the cultural nuances that we may miss. So I think it's safe to say we would like to make it more of a part of our daily intelligence."
But human rights critics have raised concerns about the NDS, whose predecessor was the dreaded KhAD, the secret police created by the Soviets to hunt down anti-Communist forces. KhAD officials earned a brutal reputation for themselves and torture was a common method in dealing with detainees. Current NDS officers interviewed by the Citizen acknowledged they have worked as intelligence officers and interrogators for various Afghan regimes in their long careers.
The Afghan government maintains that the situation has changed under the NDS, although some of its officers were members of KhAD. A number of Afghan detainees interviewed by journalists allege they were tortured at the NDS facility in Kandahar.
The detainee issue has been front and centre as opposition MPs use it to criticize what they say is the Conservative government's mishandling of the Afghanistan mission. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, however, has criticized opposition MPs for even raising the issue, suggesting they are being unpatriotic.
Brig.-Gen. Ferron said he works a lot with the NDS and the agency has demonstrated that is has a credible intelligence capability. Asked about the NDS's historical links to KhAD, the general responded: "I would not want to make a judgment on how past experiences with the NDS are affecting (the) current (situation).
"But certainly in my discussions with the NDS they are aware of the international communities' concerns and at the senior levels at the NDS have assured me that they take every step and every consideration necessary to ensure their detainees are treated humanely."
Brig.-Gen. Ferron said information is key in battling insurgents and saving lives. One method is to gather information through technological means, such as intercepting communications or using drones to transmit images of enemy movements.
"The other way is through interviewing or interrogating, which is not a bad word if it's done properly and professionally," he explained. "The detainees are detained for a reason. They have information we need."
Brig-Gen. Ferron said much of the information a detainee provides is not truthful and is aimed at deceiving military forces. That's why it is up to intelligence analysts to sift through what is truth and what is deception. "But if we don't have the information we can't even start on that process," he added.
He pointed out that Canadian troops closely follow the Geneva Convention in handling detainees. The Canadian detention centre at the base in Kandahar, where prisoners are briefly held, is professionally run, the officer noted.
Detainees are held in Kandahar for 96 hours and undergo basic questioning. Soldiers will ask for their name, where they are from and why they joined the insurgency. Information about the prisoners is recorded and their photographs are taken. After that they are turned over to the NDS.
Canada is in the process of working out an arrangement with the Afghan government so Canadian officials can be reassured that detainees turned over to the NDS are properly treated.
Brig.-Gen. Ferron said he understands the public might have some discomfort with such terms as "interrogation" but that is a normal process to gather information.
"To interrogate people in a professional, humane manner in accordance with the Geneva Convention (is) to get the information we need to produce usable intelligence, which should save lives and prevent insurgent actions," he said.
Asked why the military has not developed joint interrogation teams made up of NDS and Canadian Forces officers, the general said that is a policy choice he was not involved in.
"But if you're asking me is that possible, would that be something that could be examined in the future, then I would say certainly," he explained. "Any interaction with the Afghan government, the Afghan security forces whether it's in a co-operative role or a mentoring role has got to be a good thing. But right now we're not in (that) position."
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Locals turn on Taliban as civilians die in strikes
By Philip Smucker THE WASHINGTON TIMES May 16, 2007 GIRISHK, Afghanistan
The British commander's apology for a bombing raid in which more than 20 civilians were killed was depressingly familiar; heartfelt as it was, there have been too many such incidents.
But when Brig. John Lorimer went on to accuse the Taliban of hiding among civilians and putting them at risk with "cowardly action against your people," an interesting thing happened: Dozens of Afghan men nodded in agreement.
The exchange, suggesting progress in the vital battle for the hearts and minds of the Afghan public, took place late last week at a jirga, an assembly, with several hundred men, many of them with Taliban sympathies.
Brig. Lorimer, who commands British forces in Helmand, Afghanistan's most troubled province, set the tone for the outdoor meeting with his sincere statement of remorse for a bombing raid two days earlier in which, by Afghan count, 21 civilians were killed.
It was at least the third incident in recent weeks in which Afghan civilians were accidentally killed by NATO allies and coalition troops. U.S. officers have apologized for the losses, but often belatedly and only after the Afghan government has lashed out at NATO with accusations of negligence and overkill.
"I promise you there will be an end to these civilian casualties," said Helmand's governor, Assadullah Wafa, who also attended the jirga. "The NATO troops won't repeat these actions."
But there is rising evidence that the Afghan public is as angry with the Taliban for such deaths as they are with NATO.
Days after the May 8 air strike, Afghan village leaders killed a Taliban commander and two bodyguards near the site of the U.S. bombing raid because he refused to move his operations out of their neighborhood, according to both local Afghans and Western officials.
British diplomats said the elder who ordered the killing accused the Taliban of bringing U.S. bombs against local villages by ambushing U.S. troops from people's homes. The elder himself was killed in retaliation by Taliban fighters, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported.
There have been a few other signs of progress, said Lt. Col. Charlie Mayo, the British NATO spokesman in Helmand. "In some areas, we've seen the elders -- having spotted the Taliban laying mines -- approach them and ask them to remove these mines."
Not all Afghans are blaming the Taliban for civilian deaths: The nation's elected senate has called for a halt to NATO offensives.
But some of the men at last week's jirga, who were provided with new turbans and serenaded by a girl's choir, said they want NATO to take even tougher action on the ground.
"It has been a long time coming, but I'm finally able to return to my home village after the Taliban has been in control of my home for the last two years," said Booraga Barak, who earns about $60 a month as a teacher at a school for young girls in Girishk city.
"I'm worried, though, that the NATO forces aren't going to fight hard enough. We want all the areas controlled by the Taliban cleared out sooner and not later."
For now, the British are emphasizing the public relations side of the struggle, hoping the contrast between Taliban-run and government-run areas will persuade people to support the government.
"The Taliban need to be careful whom they are targeting," Col. Mayo said. "When you are seeing civilians killed across the board, that is bound to backfire. We hope the population rejects their brutality."
While U.S. and allied forces fight daily small battles against the Taliban, soldier-diplomats such as Brig. Lorimer work to win over "Tier 2" Taliban -- mostly impoverished farmers with no ideological interest in the movement -- with words and promises of development.
"One measure of success is the ability and will of the Afghan people to deny the enemy, the Taliban, room to maneuver," said David Slinn, Britain's senior regional coordinator in Helmand.
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Not all suicide bombers succeed, Afghan authorities say
Tom Blackwell CanWest News Service Tuesday, May 15, 2007
KABUL - If the Canadian man arrested in Afghanistan last week was, as alleged, planning a suicide bombing, he would not be alone in having his bloody mission aborted by authorities.
Though media coverage tends to focus on successful detonations, close to 50 would-be suicide bombers have been arrested alive in Kabul in the last few years, and the number arriving in the city is growing, local police say.
Most talk freely about their plans and background, and provide videos they recorded beforehand, helping build a vivid profile of the terrorists, said Gen. Alishah Paktiawal, head of criminal investigations for the Kabul police.
Most are foreigners, of Arab, Pakistani or central Asian background, trained in the tribal regions of Pakistan near the Afghan border, Paktiawal told CanWest News Service recently.
The bombers are coached to believe they are holy warriors with a calling to destroy infidels in this devout Muslim land, he said.
"They brainwash the people," said Paktiawal. "They say 'You are the honest, you are the clean guys. You are going forever to paradise.' "
The officer said prospective suicide bombers behave strangely in the first few days in custody, then seem to become more rational. This leads him to suspect some are given drugs by their handlers.
Their stories are surprisingly similar. Most suggest they "are here for paradise" and "to kill the foreigners." What's more, Paktiawal said, it is clear "the numbers are increasing."
After a period of relative peace, Kabul has seen some successfully completed suicide bombings in recent months. So far, however, this year has not been as bloody as 2006.
A 15-year-old Afghan bystander was killed in March when a bomber blew himself up near a U.S. Embassy convoy. Last September, a bombing outside the Ministry of the Interior killed 12 and, in the same month, another suicide blast close to the American mission left 16 dead, including two U.S. soldiers.
Across Afghanistan, suicide attacks rose dramatically in recent years, from six in 2004 to 136 in 2006, according to a Human Rights Watch report.
Interviews with those captured alive suggest a variety of motives and forces are at play, said the top detective.
Their families may be paid as much as $50,000, a small fortune in this region, while some are driven by religious or political ideologies, said Paktiawal.
He also suspects the heroin lords in Afghanistan are backing suicide bombers, believing that by seeding instability in the country they can keep the ground fertile for their activities.
Most of the bombers have been foreigners, some from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, with a group called Islamic Movement Unit. Others have come from the Kashmir area of Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere in the Arab world, the officer said. He added that they are trained by al-Qaida at camps inside Pakistan.
Other reports, however, have suggested many of the suicide bombers in Afghanistan are dispatched by the Taliban, and often are Afghans.
Paktiawal said the bombers' methods are changing and improving but, for security reasons, refused to elaborate. However, he insisted that police are making inroads with their intelligence gathering, although he declined again to say how, exactly, police track down potential terrorists.
"Whenever a suicide bomber comes into Afghanistan, we get the news," the officer said. "Now, it's much better. We are getting quick information."
An Afghan government source said the Canadian, identified as Sohail Qureshi, aroused police suspicions when he appeared nervous and could not answer simple questions during a routine sweep of passengers exiting a bus from Pakistan.
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China eyes Afghan market
PRESS TV, Iran 05/15/2007
While most investors view Afghanistan as a war-torn land in need of aid, China is eyeing its economic potentials for major business contracts.
"Around 1,000 businessmen from China are currently in the country (and) not just in Kabul," a Chinese diplomat was quoted as saying by the South China Morning Post.
"Our policy is clear. We believe that a stable, developed Afghanistan is in the interests of China," the diplomat, whose name was not revealed, said.
Afghanistan has vast potential for copper mining, a resource that may transform Afghan economy, but the country has a long way to go yet, especially in the south where violence prevails. For China, nothing is impossible, even in a land as insecure as Afghanistan.
Turkey is the largest single investor and accounts for over a fifth of all registered Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). The United States is second with 17 percent of investment, followed by China and the UAE at less than 10 percent and Pakistan and Iran at five percent.
Market opportunities are largely driven by Afghanistan's need to completely renovate its infrastructure.
Some of the opportunities for Iranian and international investors are architectural, construction, and engineering services; computer hardware, software and peripherals (to include Dari language capability); telecommunication services and equipment; aircraft parts and equipment, as well as oil and gas field machinery.
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Settling debts, raising cash with Afghan girls
by Shoib Najafizada Mon May 14, 11:19 PM ET
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (AFP) - Shabana, a pretty Afghan teenager with a modern haircut, was 12 years old when she was forced to marry a man 38 years her senior to settle her father's 600-dollar gambling debt.
Two years later, she is unhappy and angry.
She doesn't like her husband, 52-year-old farmer Mohammad Asef. "He is wild -- he destroyed my hopes," she said in their humble mudbrick home in the northern province of Balkh, speaking out only when Asef went into another room to take a call.
She doesn't get on with her husband's first wife, who is aged 42 and lives with them.
And she is disgusted with her father. "He sold me," she told AFP.
Her father and husband once farmed together, growing wheat and opium poppies on a plot in neighbouring Jawzjan province. Two years ago, after the harvest was in, Asef went to Balkh's Mazar-i-Sharif city to visit his family.
"When I came back, my father-in-law had gambled away all the harvest," he said. "He promised me to get my money in one month but he couldn't find it. I knew he wouldn't because he is a very poor man. It was about 600 dollars.
"When he couldn't find the money, I married his 12-year-old daughter in compensation."
Shabana, who likes to wear jeans and read novels and newspapers, was taken out of school. Now she spends most of her time doing chores in the simple house for which Asef cannot yet afford doors.
The illegal practise of exchanging girls to settle debts, including those owed to opium farmers, or to settle disputes between clans persists around the country -- with the latter more common in the north.
There are no statistics partly because there are no resources for collecting such data, said Ministry of Women's Affairs legal advisor Sayed Abdul Wahab Rahmani.
And in areas hit by the Taliban-led insurgency, the precarious security situation would prevent such research, he said.
About 670 women went to the ministry in the capital last year with complaints ranging from forced marriage to domestic violence, Rahmani said, by way of offering some sort of figure.
The number is without doubt a fraction of the total number of cases in largely rural and destitute Afghanistan, where men hold sway and often break the law with impunity, including by marrying underage girls or using them to settle debts or feuds.
About 57 percent of girls are married before the legal age of 16, according to statistics from the women's ministry and women's groups.
Between 60 and 80 percent of all marriages are believed to be "forced" -- a term that covers a range of practises including marrying off girls to repay debts or without their consent, according to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.
This is one of the main factors behind girls and women running away from home or committing suicide, including by setting themselves alight by dousing themselves in fuel and igniting it with a match.
In Afghanistan, as in many Asian and African cultures, men pay the family of their wives-to-be an agreed sum, sometimes called the bride price, as well as the cost of the wedding which can also run into thousands of dollars -- the average in Kabul is 4,000 dollars.
This can be an enormous sum in one of the poorest countries in the world where a low-grade civil servant earns about 60 dollars a month.
To be able to afford his own wife, Abdul Raheem, also from Balkh province, says he wants to marry off his 12-year-old sister as soon as he can.
The family of the woman he has set his heart on wants 6,000 dollars for her. Raheem, who earns 60 dollars a month as a cleaner in a police station in Mazar, has saved 2,000 dollars.
"It's very difficult for me to find 4,000 dollars," he said. But if he could marry off his sister, "then I can marry my girlfriend," he told AFP.
In the same district, 31-year-old Aka Rahman says he paid 14,000 dollars to marry his wife two years ago, 8,000 of which went directly to her father.
He knows his own son will one day have to face a similar expense and he hopes for a daughter to offset the cost.
"If I don't marry off my daughter, I can't get my son married. With the money from my daughter, I can get my son married. Everyone is doing this," he says.
Rahmani, from the women's ministry, said this un-Islamic practise reflects a belief among some Afghan men that women are possessions.
"They think women are their property and they can deal with women any way they like. It's in people's minds, their traditions and their thoughts. It will take a while to change," he said.
A start is new legislation on the elimination of violence that is expected to go before parliament in the coming months, he said.
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Handicrafts from eastern zone on display in Kabul
KABUL, May 14 (Pajhwok Afghan News): LeBistro Restaurant in Kabul will be serving a variety of dishes prepared with vegetables and fruit from the "Garden of Afghanistan" and hosting an exhibition of crafts made by artisans from the eastern region.
Featuring food and handicrafts from Kunar, Laghman, Nangarhar and Nuristan, the event is supported by the USAID Alternative Livelihoods Programme that is aimed to encourage growers to shun poppy cultivation.
This event stems from the success of the recent AgFair07, the first international agricultural trade show of its kind in post-war Afghanistan, which attracted between 45 and 60 thousand people over two days (April 22-23).
A press statement issued by USAID on Monday said the fair catalysed much-needed investment in the agriculture sector, facilitated trade and introduced new technologies to Afghanistan.
AgFair - organised in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock and the Afghan International Chamber of Commerce - was made possible with the support of USAID.
An informal sample of 30 exhibitors revealed that collectively their participation in AgFair will result in an average of $90,000 in new business per year per booth-holder, the statement added.
We sold every piece of equipment we brought to AgFair and we made connections for additional work in Helmand and Mazar, said Mark Henning of JDA, a US-based company selling two-wheel tractors for Afghan farms.
JDA was one of the 150 participating exhibitors, alongside equipment manufacturers, suppliers, service providers, freight forwarders and agricultural processors.
Dole Food International CEO David H. Murdock announced at AgFair07 that the company was considering investment in a cashmere-processing facility and plans on expanding commercial farming in Afghanistan by establishing a new 83-acre demonstration farm in Kabul.
An Italian-Mongolian company combined exhibiting its products at the fair with an initial fact-finding mission on the investment climate in Afghanistan. It was great for business in Afghanistan, said a participant in the AfghanMania online discussion forum.
The fair also offered practical assistance for thousands of Afghan farmers, most of them living below the poverty line. Simple farming methods and inexpensive innovations that will increase farm gate prices were demonstrated together with more advanced technologies for a growing sector.
Drip irrigation, horticulture grown with plastic mulch, improved raisin drying equipment, and laser land leveling were all on show. It is as if a blind man enters and gets his sight. AgFair gives us information about new agricultural practices, commented Obaidullah, a farmer from Qarabagh.
Nasruddin, who lost most of his grapevines during the war and is now re-planting them, said, We have Farmers Festivals in villages but AgFair is nothing like them. It is huge. It is well-organized. It is educational.
Haji Stana Gul, from the Eastern Region Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Wholesalers Association, stood proudly in front of his stand and stated, "I am happy to be here because this is how we can improve our business. Security is not the problem in Afghanistan, the economy is.
Many Afghans are now calling for a follow-up to AgFair. It is great to have it annually but I think that it will be best if we have AgFair twice a year, said Obaidullah. Mohammad, a wood seller from Kabul, said:
The Spring AgFair attracted major private commercial sponsors Afghan Wireless Communications Company, Kabul Bank, Coca-Cola, Crystal Water, Alokozay Tea, Serena Hotel, the Intercontinental Hotel, and Tolo/Lemar but in the light of the current success, hopes for attracting sponsors and exhibitors at the autumn event are soaring.
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Afghan taekwondoists leave for Beijing tomorrow
KABUL, May 13 (Pajhwok Afghan News): For the first time ever, a seven-member Afghan team will leave for China tomorrow (Monday) to participate in the 17th edition of the World Taekwando Championship.
Scheduled to get under way in Beijing from May 18, two officials of the Afghan Taekwando Federation (ATF) will accompany the players to the five-day event featuring contestants from 180 countries.
ATF President Ghulam Rabbani, speaking to Pajhwok Afghan News on Sunday, asserted: "Despite poor facilities and inadequate opportunities, our squad is fully prepared for the international championship.
Rabbani hoped the taekwondoists would bring laurels to their country, which had to skip last years championship - hosted by Thailand - for want of financial resources.
He added an ATF panel of experts picked up the seven athletes in different weight categories for the championship, which is expected to see a number of changes in the rules framed for the competition.
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