May 17, 2007
KABUL (AFP) - Afghanistan's parliament demanded that President Hamid Karzai accept its decision to sack the foreign minister over the forced return of thousands of Afghans in Iran illegally.
Rangeen Dadfar Spanta lost a vote of confidence in the lower house of parliament on Saturday, which meant he should lose his job.
But Karzai referred his case to the Supreme Court, saying his dismissal may be unconstitutional.
"It's absolutely constitutional," Mohammad Younus Qanooni, Speaker of the powerful lower house of the parliament, told reporters in Kabul.
"We want the president to respect the decision of the people's representatives."
Karzai said this week Spanta would remain in office until "clarification" from the Supreme Court, including on whether a minister could be subjected to a no-confidence vote on an issue not directly related to his work.
Spanta was accused of not doing enough to persuade Iran to ease its policy on the forced repatriations.
"It's a matter involving a million Afghans living abroad," Qanooni said. "It's related to the foreign minister -- he could do a lot if he wanted."
Iran said last month it wanted about one millions Afghans in the country illegally to be out by March 2008.
About 55,000 had been forced out since April 23, UN officials said this week.
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Afghan refugee crisis brewing
By David Montero The Christian Science Monitor May 17, 2007
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - A severe crisis threatening Afghanistan is unfolding just over its borders.
In the past three weeks, Iran has forcefully deported 85,000 Afghan refugees back over Afghanistan's southern and southeastern borders, where fighting between the Taliban and coalition forces is escalating. And in neighboring Pakistan, security forces yesterday killed four Afghan refugees during an eviction drive at a camp in Balochistan, according to reports from Agence France Presse (AFP) and other news outlets.
The forceful evictions of the refugees, who have lived in Iran and Pakistan for nearly three decades, are part of the two countries' larger plans to repatriate all Afghan refugees within a few years. Iran says it will send 1 million by next March. Pakistan, according to local media reports, plans to use force and economic sanctions to compel thousands of Afghans to leave camps that many call home.
On Saturday, Afghanistan's parliament, outraged by Iran's expulsions, ousted the Aghan foreign minister, Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, citing his gross mishandling of the situation. Mr. Spanta's dismissal followed Repatriation and Refugee Minister Mohammad Akbar Akbar's ouster by lawmakers last Thursday. Iran responded by agreeing to slow the rate of deportations, AFP reported.
The flare-ups heighten international concerns that both Iran and Pakistan have accelerated measures to purge their Afghan populations. With violence in Afghanistan at record levels and basic services already overwhelmed, their moves could be catastrophic for the region, analysts say.
"Certainly having very large numbers of Afghans return all of a sudden, especially to the south, would be disastrous," says Paul Fishstein, the director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, a think tank in Kabul.
Almost 30 years after Soviet tanks rolled into Afghanistan, Pakistan is still home to more than 2 million registered refugees and Iran to more than 900,000. As many as 1 million more Afghans live in Iran as illegal immigrants.
Iran, Pakistan blame refugees for violence
As terrorism flares in Iran and Pakistan, both governments have blamed Afghans for the violence and intensified efforts to send them home.
The Iranian government says that those deported were all illegal immigrants, according to Iranian TV reports, and that registered Afghans can stay.
But international agencies are concerned. "Sending so many people home will overwhelm the government … simply because Afghanistan has so little absorption capacity," says Vivian Tan, a regional spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), speaking from Tehran. "We do believe it should be done in a more humane way."
Iran says it would like all Afghans to leave eventually, though it hasn't specified a timetable.
Developments in Pakistan are also a cause for concern. Quoting a local police officer's account, AFP reported on Wednesday that four Afghan refugees were killed when a team of Pakistani paramilitary troops stormed the Jungle Pir Alizai refugee camp in Balochistan, seeking to evict inhabitants.
Four camps in Pakistan, which together hold 230,000 refugees, are scheduled to be closed by 2009, the first two beginning this summer.
Inhabitants are supposed to have a choice: either go home or be shifted to other camps, which authorities insist are adequate for their needs. But during a high-level meeting this week, members of the Pakistani government reportedly considered using force to expel camp inhabitants, according to Pakistani newspapers. In some areas, economic sanctions – including bans on renting to Afghans – have already been promulgated to force refugees to other areas.
"The message is, we are closing the camps and you have to go home," says Aimal Khan, of the Islamabad think tank, the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI).
Abdur Rauf Khan, chief commissioner of Afghan refugees in Islamabad, has denied that Pakistan will use force. Responding Wednesday to claims that four Afghan refugees were killed by Pakistani security services in Balochistan, he said that while not in a position to confirm or deny the reports, "I have it on the authority of my secretary that no such incident took place."
Pakistan's government insists it has worked closely with UNHCR and Afghanistan to devise the terms for repatriation. Afghanistan says it will certainly support the efforts of Afghan refugees to return, but only so long as it is voluntary.
A May UNHCR report, along with other studies, suggests that returnees would likely congregate in a few already overburdened Afghan cities like Kabul, further straining housing stocks, water, and electricity supplies.
Expelled refugees could turn to extremism
While closing camps and deporting undocumented refugees may help in the short term, it will create regional problems down the line, observers say. "There will be some kind of resistance. And the situation in Afghanistan is not that ideal for the refugees to go back," says Mr. Khan of SDPI.
According to the May UNHCR report, 82 percent of Pakistan's refugees do not want to go home. Some three-quarters are below the age of 28, and nearly as many have no formal education – a combination that could make them susceptible to extremism. "You just have uprooted people who are [angry] and who may be more susceptible to creating mischief," says Mr. Fishstein in Kabul.
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Pakistan and Afghan forces clash
Thursday, 17 May 2007 BBC News
Pakistani troops have exchanged fire with Afghan soldiers across their common border in the latest in a series of similar incidents this week.
A Pakistani military official said mortars and small arms were used in the overnight clash.
No casualties were reported in the skirmish across the line dividing the Pakistani tribal region of Kurram from Paktia province in Afghanistan.
The two countries share a mountainous 2,640km-long border.
On Sunday, at least three people were killed after Pakistani and Afghan forces traded fire on the border.
At a meeting later to discuss the fighting, a US soldier and a Pakistani soldier were shot dead in disputed circumstances.
Both sides accuse each other of trying to establish posts on a disputed hilltop in the Terimangal area in the border region.
Reports say four Afghan troops and a Pakistani soldier have been injured in the latest clashes.
The governor of Afghanistan's Paktia province told the Associated Press that his border police told him that Pakistani forces began firing mortars at their positions early on Wednesday.
"I told my police forces, be patient and tolerant, because fighting is not the solution," Governor Rahmatullah Rahmat said.
Last month, Afghan troops tore down part of a new anti-Taleban fence being erected by Pakistan on the border between the two countries.
Afghan officials had said the move led to fighting between Afghan and Pakistani troops. Pakistan had denied the fence claim, saying the clashes had started after one of its patrols came under fire.
Afghanistan disputes the border between the two countries - known as the Durand Line - saying it cuts off part of its territory.
The Durand Line was drawn up in 1893 by the colonial British administration in India. It left the powerful Pashtun tribes split between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
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Afghans saddened at clashes with Pakistan
By Sayed Salahuddin May 17, 2007
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan is saddened by the ongoing border clashes with Pakistan but hopes they will not affect a planned bilateral meeting to find ways of curbing the Taliban insurgency, President Hamid Karzai said on Thursday.
The skirmishes, which began at the weekend and resumed sporadically on Thursday, are the bloodiest in decades between the two uneasy neighbours who are also major U.S. allies in its fight against terrorism.
Afghanistan says Pakistani troops seized some high ground in a southeastern border region. Islamabad accuses Afghan troops of firing without provocation.
"We want an end to these skirmishes. It is not in the interest of any country," Karzai replied when a reporter asked him to comment on the clashes, which Afghan officials say killed at least 13 police and soldiers and several civilians.
"Afghanistan is very sad about these incidents. Afghanistan does not like casualties on either side ..." he said.
Karzai said he hoped there would be no repeat of the clashes and expressed the wish that a planned peace jirga, or council, aimed at finding ways to stop the Taliban cross-border infiltration and insurgency, would take place as planned between the two countries.
The meeting, to involve 700 politicians, tribal elders, scholars and writers from the two countries, is expected to be held in August.
The Taliban's ability to operate from sanctuaries in the tribal areas of Pakistan has been a thorny issue in ties between Kabul and Islamabad since U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban government in Afghanistan in 2001.
The two countries have historical disagreements over the border and the skirmishes have further soured relations.
The clashes came more than two weeks after Karzai and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf met for the first time in months and agreed to step up security cooperation.
Relations between the two leaders have deteriorated sharply over the past 18 months, amid an increase in Taliban attacks on Afghan and Western troops in Afghanistan.
Kabul and Islamabad accuse each other of not doing enough to stop Taliban violence.
Karzai repeated on Wednesday that the violence in his country emanated from Pakistan, once a major backer of the Islamists.
Pakistan denies that and says the root of the Taliban problem is in Afghanistan.
On Wednesday, thousands of Afghans chanted "Death to Pakistan, Death to Musharraf", outside the Pakistani embassy in Kabul.
On Monday, a NATO soldier was killed and four wounded in an ambush as they returned to the Afghan side of the border after meeting Pakistani counterparts in a bid to end the skirmishes.
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Reinforcements rushed to Afghan border
Villagers flee as tension grips Kurram
By Ali Afzal Afzaal The News International (Pakistan) May 17, 2007
PARACHINAR: Tension gripped Kurram Agency on Wednesday as the Pakistan Army sent reinforcements to the Pak-Afghan border following reports that the Afghan National Army had deployed in significant numbers on the Durand Line along with extra artillery and mortar guns.
The situation became even more serious in the evening when the political administration decided to make announcements from mosques and through vehicles fitted with loudspeakers about the possibility of outbreak of firing on the Pak-Afghan border. It advised the people not to become scared due to intense firing because this would be due to the situation on the border and on account of external factors. It said the firing should not be construed as a new outbreak of violence due to any internal conflict.
The authorities said the announcements were made to prevent eruption of a new round of sectarian violence. Recent sectarian strife in Kurram Agency had led to the killing of more than 70 people from the Sunni and Shia sects.
Following the public announcements and the arrival of fresh troops in the border areas, worried villagers from Teri Mangal, Sursarang and Kotri started vacating their homes so as to move to safer places. Families from the border villages such as Bhurki and Kharlachi also began shifting to villages and towns away from the Durand Line.
Reports from across the border spoke of a similar evacuation from the Afghan villages near the Durand Line. There were reports that villagers were evacuating from the border areas in the Jaji and Chamkani districts, both part of Paktia province.
Earlier, reports from Paktia said the Afghan tribal and village elders had held a big meeting in the Alikhel Garrison and overwhelmingly pledged to retake the land allegedly annexed by Pakistani forces on the border.
There were some sane voices in that meeting also, who told the crowd that the border dispute should be resolved through negotiations and must not lead to clashes. They also recalled the gesture of the Pakistan government and the people welcoming thousands of Afghans on their soil and allowing them to stay there for years. Subsequently, Afghan civilians moved to the border areas with a view to augment the Afghan National Army in case of fighting with Pakistani militiamen from the Frontier Corps.
Problems on the border arose four days ago when the Pakistani and Afghan border forces clashed following a dispute on the exact location of the border. The Afghan authorities later said 13 Afghans, including six members of their border security forces and seven civilians, were killed in the shelling by the Pakistani troops. The Pakistan Army said seven Afghan troops were killed and six people were injured in their areas.
A day later, an American and a Pakistani soldier were killed in Pakistan's border town of Teri Mangal following a flag meeting convened by International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) military commanders to resolve the issue of land ownership on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
An Afghan government spokesman later alleged that a Pakistani security official had fired at the US and Afghan military officers walking back to their helicopter and killed two American soldiers. The Pakistan government maintained that miscreants had fired at the troops, killing American and Pakistani officials.
Meanwhile, ISAF issued a statement in Kabul on Wednesday to explain the incident and demanded full investigation by the Pakistani military. The statement said: Following the meeting and prior to the ISAF-and-Afghan delegation's departure, an individual reported to be wearing a Pakistan Frontier Corps uniform, "in a heinous and despicable act, fired as an assassin, into the group that had come with peaceful aims," said Lt Col Maria Carl, ISAF spokesperson.
He said one ISAF soldier was killed and four others in the delegation were wounded. He said ISAF soldiers returned the fire in self-defence. "ISAF expects a full investigation of this incident by the Pakistani military. We will continue to dialogue with our Afghan and Pakistani allies to promote better security and greater cooperation. We are confident that our Pakistani allies seek the same goals," Carl said.
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Roadside bombs kill five in Afghanistan: witnesses
Thu May 17, 1:57 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - At least five police officers were killed in two separate roadside bomb blasts in Afghanistan on Thursday, witnesses and officials said, in the latest sign of rising violence in the country.
One of the explosions killed at least four police in the southern city of Kandahar, a bastion for Taliban guerrillas.
The second attack occurred in Faizabad, the provincial capital of northeastern Badakhshan province.
The province's top police officer was wounded. One of his bodyguards was killed and another wounded.
Police vehicles were hit in both attacks.
There has been a surge of violence in the country in recent months by suspected Taliban after the traditional winter lull.
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Double bombing hits Afghan city, seven dead
May 17, 2007
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - Two bombs tore through the centre of Afghanistan's southern city of Kandahar about 30 minutes apart, killing seven police officers and security guards, police said.
The first blast struck the vehicle of a private security company, killing four of the guards, Kandahar police chief Ismatullah Alizai told AFP on Thursday.
The interior ministry later identified the firm as US Protection and Investigation (USPI) company. It gave the same death toll.
About half an hour later, as police and reporters gathered at the site, a second bomb exploded just metres (yards) away, an AFP reporter at the scene said.
"It took place as the security chief with his investigation team arrived at the site," the ministry said. "The explosion killed three, including a police officer and two policemen."
A policeman at the scene, Mohammad Jan, said four officers were wounded including the security chief, who is also the deputy provincial police chief, Abdul Hakim Angar. A news reporter was also slightly wounded.
The bodies of the four men killed in the first blast were hurled from the vehicle by the force of the explosion, the AFP reporter said. The vehicle was destroyed and burst into flames.
Both bombs were remotely detonated, the interior ministry said in a statement.
There was no claim of responsibility, but similar attacks have been carried out by the Taliban insurgent movement that is particularly active in southern Afghanistan.
They exploded at the site where five United Nations security guards, including four Nepalese nationals, were killed in April when a roadside bomb ripped through their vehicle.
In early December a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the USPI office in Kandahar, killing two American and five Afghan employees.
Texas-based USPI is one of the biggest security firms working in Afghanistan.
In another attack on Thursday, a remote controlled bomb struck a vehicle of the provincial police chief of the northern province of Badakhshan, killing a guard and wounding the officer and his aide, the interior ministry said.
A provincial official, Shamsul Rahman, blamed the attack on the "opposition forces."
The Taliban-led insurgency sees regular attacks in southern and southeastern Afghanistan and the extremist militia has vowed to step up violence in the north and west, where other armed militia are also active.
The movement rose from Kandahar province in the early 1990s and was in government by 1996 before being toppled by a US-led coalition in late 2001.
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Denmark to return 4,000 Afghan treasures
May 17, 2007
KABUL (AFP) - Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen handed his Afghan counterpart a small, ancient replica of a lion, saying it was the first of 4,000 Afghan treasures his government would return.
Danish border police had a few years ago confiscated a hoard of Afghan artefacts that the government wanted to bring back to the country, Rasmussen told reporters at a media briefing with President Hamid Karzai.
"And symbolically, I would like to hand over one of the 4,000 pieces of this treasure to President Karzai," he said, giving his counterpart a nine-inch model of a lion.
Afghanistan has lost most of its ancient heritage through its decades of war in which looting and smuggling was rampant.
About 1,300 ethnographic and archaeological objects were returned in March from a museum in Switzerland.
Rasmussen also restated Denmark's plan to increase the number of Danish troops in Afghanistan from the present 400.
The parliament is due to vote on the boost, which the prime minister has said could take the deployment to 600, in a few weeks.
The troops are based mostly in the southern province of Helmand, which sees some of the most intense battles between troops and Taliban militants. Denmark lost its first soldier in combat there two weeks ago.
Rasmussen said his country had also decided to increase its financial assistance to destitute Afghanistan by more than 30 percent, taking it to the equivalent of more than 40 million dollars in a few years.
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'Appropriate' force used in civilian death incident: US
by Jim Mannion Wed May 16, 5:18 PM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - A US military commander used "appropriate level of force" during a battle last month in western Afghanistan in which dozens of civilians were reported killed, a senior US military official said Wednesday.
Brigadier General Perry Wiggins defended the actions of the commander on the scene as necessary and appropriate to protect his unit, which came under attack April 27 and 29 in the remote Zerkoh valley in Herat province.
Air strikes were called in by the US special operations forces during the fighting, and Afghan and UN officials later said as many as 50 civilians, including women and children, were killed.
"The on scene commander demonstrated sound judgement throughout the engagement," Wiggins told reporters here.
"All targets were positively identified as hostile, (and) were under observation at the time of the engagement," he said. "The on scene commander used appropriate level of force to respond to the continuous enemy threat and protect his unit."
Wiggins said he did not know whether the US military had established how many, if any, civilians were killed in the fighting.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who protested after the event that civilian casualties had reached "unacceptable levels," visited the Zerkoh valley on Wednesday and told villagers he had told foreign forces to take more care.
The commander of the unit was not identified.
Wiggins, the deputy operations director of the Joint Staff, said the legal findings made no mention of civilian casualties.
The coalition initially denied there had been civilian casualties, saying 136 Taliban fighters were killed. It said later it was investigating.
The legal finding that Wiggins read said coalition ground forces were "continuously engaged by intense enemy fire after entering an area of known Taliban activity."
"On scene commander used all necessary means available and took all appropriate actions necessary to defend his unit," he said.
The commander's assessment of the situation was "consistent with and supported by reliable intelligence from varied sources."
"The thought process that the commanders go through is very calculated, and very methodical. And in this particular case, this commander did that," Wiggins added.
The battle in the Zerkoh valley was the deadliest in a string of recent incidents in which civilians have been reported killed in US air strikes.
On May 9, Afghan officials said 21 civilians were killed by air strikes during fighting in Helmand province in south central Afghanistan.
Analysts attribute the increase to stepped up coalition operations against the Taliban and a reliance on airpower to back up relatively small numbers of ground forces operating in difficult terrain.
But growing anger over civilian casualties has undermined public support for the coalition, and also raised concern among other NATO allies.
Wiggins insisted that US forces go to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties and accused the Taliban of deliberately using civilians as human shields.
He showed aerial images of a building that was targeted during fighting May 8 and 9 in Helmand's Sangin district because a senior Taliban commander was believed to be inside. He said the strike was called off when the images showed children near a group of Taliban fighters.
"I want to put up front that the bull's-eye needs to be squarely placed on the Taliban, with regard to these types of civilians at risk," he said.
"The enemy is operating in high concentrations of civilians. They're doing it premeditatively. They are putting civilians as human shields," he said.
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Forgotten women turn Kabul into widows' capital
By Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy in Kabul The Independent (UK) 17 May 2007
Glass lifts carry people up to the second floor of the shopping mall where gold jewellery and Levi's jeans are being sold in bright new stores. A large poster of a woman in a miniskirt hugging a man is plastered outside a shoe store while music blares from the mall's speakers. But outside, just around the corner, women are begging on the streets. They are the hidden face of modern Kabul.
Walking the streets of Kabul under a full burqa, the traditional garment that the Taliban insisted that women wear and which many still do, it is possible to gain access to Afghanistan's forgotten women.
There are two million war widows in Afghanistan, and their plight is easy to forget in Hamid Karzai's capital, where Western-style shopping malls, bars and French restaurants are opening up for wealthy foreign aid workers and Afghan expatriates.
Every morning Gul, who was widowed when an American bomb hit her house in 2001, leaves her two daughters to go begging on the streets of Kabul. "If I'm lucky, I'll make about 50 afghanis (80p), enough to buy two pieces of bread," she says.
Kabul, it is said, is the widows' capital of the world. As many as 50,000 women like Gul live in the city, and many make their home in the abandoned buildings that dot the suburbs, often living in horrific conditions. In a nation with a fractured infrastructure and, at £125 a year, one of the lowest per-capita incomes in the world, many widows are left without relatives able to take them in or offer even modest financial support.
Gul's blue burqa at least affords her some dignity. "The men hurl abuse at me, they make indecent gestures and I'm always being harassed, but at least they cannot see me," she says.
There is no social security system in Afghanistan. Widows are not provided pensions or housing so there is no safety net for them to fall back on. In other Muslim countries, getting remarried can resolve the economic problems of widows. But in Afghanistan's that is not so. Most Afghan men do not want to bring up children from a previous marriage.
"They are fiercely protective of their wives and the mere thought of them being married before is an insult to their honour," says Maria Akrami, a social worker who runs a small NGO in Kabul.
On the southern edge of Kabul, among the rubble and bombed-out buildings, Gul and her two daughters, Zeba and Seema, live in a simple one-room flat with no heating or water in a city where winter temperatures can plummet as low as minus 17C.
Inside, Gul's daughters prepare tea for their tired mother. They would like to attend school but do not have money to buy school supplies. "I want to become a teacher," says 14-year-old Zeba, "I wish I could go to school, I am happiest when I am learning," she says.
Sixteen-year-old Seema, meanwhile, is angry at the Afghan government's empty promises. "I don't think our lives will improve," she says. "My mother is a beggar, the government doesn't care about us. They do not offer to help us, nothing has changed for us in this new Afghanistan."
War widows often stand outside government buildings holding frayed photographs of their late husbands, hoping to be noticed. "They should be the government's top priority," says Ms Akrami. "These women are uneducated; they lack basic job skills and cannot fend for themselves. If America invaded us to liberate our women, this is a clear sign that they are failing miserably."
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