U.S. and Afghan officials invoke the memory of legendary guerrilla Ahmed Shah Massoud, hoping it may unite citizens.
By Tony Perry Los Angeles Times May 18, 2007
PANJSHIR VALLEY, AFGHANISTAN — On a hill overlooking this verdant valley, U.S. and Afghan officials came together Thursday to praise the legacy of a legendary guerrilla fighter in hopes that his memory will serve as a rallying cry against a Taliban resurgence.
Ahmed Shah Massoud, 48, was killed in a suicide blast two days before the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The assassination was ordered by Osama bin Laden, apparently as a way to eliminate a natural ally of the United States if it invaded Afghanistan looking for the Al Qaeda leader.
Now, with those who succeeded the Taliban and their Western allies seeking to provide a continuing sense of unity, Massoud, known as the Lion of Panjshir, is considered an ideal symbol for that cause.
Massoud's tomb, housed inside a 75-foot-high concrete, domed mausoleum, has been declared a national shrine by President Hamid Karzai's government, which replaced the Taliban.
In the capital, Kabul, where a main street is named National Hero Massoud, the commander's picture adorns lampposts and car windshields. There also are banners with his visage and the slogan "Unity is Massoud."
At the ceremony Thursday, a U.S. Marine Corps general compared Massoud to a rather notable American as he presented a plaque at the tomb.
Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis, speaking before a gathering of Afghan officials, soldiers and villagers, said that visiting the tomb of Massoud gave him "some of the same emotions I felt when I visited the grave of George Washington, the father of our country."
Massoud was a hero in the struggle against Soviet domination of Afghanistan and later the Taliban regime, but he was kept mostly at arm's length by the United States. The CIA, although eager to help topple the Soviets, had an on-again, off-again relationship with Massoud, preferring sometimes to back rivals favored by ally Pakistan.
But on this day, Massoud was hailed as a visionary by both Afghan and U.S. officials. The latter included two Marine generals, an Army general and a State Department representative.
At the ceremony, Ahmed Wali Massoud, wearing a pin with the U.S. and Afghan flags, said of his brother: "Although he is not with us, his vision and ideals live within us. Afghan people live through his vision: an Afghanistan without terrorists, Al Qaeda or Taliban. This is our dream."
Later, during a tea-and-cookies reception, a former Massoud confidant was more blunt. Unless the Americans help defeat the Taliban and their allies, the insurgency will spread to other nations in the region, said Abdullah, a former foreign minister in the Karzai government who uses one name.
"This is the next strategic step for Al Qaeda," said Abdullah, a physician who gave up his Kabul practice to come to this valley and fight alongside Massoud.
Many analysts have predicted a springtime offensive by the Taliban, and attacks are occurring frequently.
In the restive southern city of Kandahar, 10 people died Thursday in three bombings, one of them an apparent assassination attempt against the governor of Kandahar province. The governor escaped injury, but three bystanders were killed in the suicide car bombing.
Earlier, four security guards were killed in a roadside explosion, Afghan officials said. As rescue workers responded, a second blast went off, killing three police officers.
Authorities said the tactic of staggered bombings, with the second of two explosions aimed at those arriving at the scene to provide help, was a rarity in Afghanistan.
But Taliban fighters have been borrowing methods from insurgents in Iraq, where such dual attacks are common.
Many officials expect an even larger Taliban offensive in late summer after the opium poppy crop is harvested.
The poppies, which are used to make heroin, provide money for the insurgency, officials said.
Most of the preparation by U.S., North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Afghan forces has involved additional training, better weaponry and changes in key leadership spots. But the information war, including memorializing Massoud, is also considered important.
Massoud "was a leader who could fight like a lion but kept compassion for the innocent," said Mattis, who is the commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and the Marine Forces Central Command.
The U.S. has more than 20,000 troops in Afghanistan, among them about 250 Marines who specialize in training the Afghan army, police and border patrol. A NATO force, led by a U.S. Army general, has about 30,000 troops. So far this year, 33 U.S. military personnel have been killed in combat with insurgents, according to icasualties.org, which tracks injuries and deaths in the war.
"We stand here as partners in Massoud's vision," Mattis told the group.
Special correspondent M. Karim Faiez in Kabul contributed to this report.
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Top Afghan leader laments deteriorating conditions in country
National Post Tom Blackwell CanWest News Service Friday, May 18, 2007
KABUL - As one of Afghanistan's most seasoned statesmen, Abdullah Abdullah has seen it all: the epic fight to oust the Soviet occupiers, the vicious war that followed between mujahedeen factions, and the oppressive years of the Taliban regime.
Then the Islamists fell, replaced eventually by an elected government that included him as foreign minister, and he felt a new era of hope had arrived.
But Abdullah, pushed out of his job last year, says he is fast losing the optimism he once felt. The regime, he complains, has become isolated from the people, seems incapable of improving ordinary Afghans' lives, and is rife with corruption.
"The people need to see progress," the veteran politician said in a blunt assessment of the situation. "Three years ago, the people were more hopeful than today. This trend cannot continue ... We shouldn't let them lose hope forever."
Abdullah said President Hamid Karzai has asked him to return to government, but he told him he would only do so if the administration takes a new direction, more responsive to the needs of ordinary Afghans.
Calling Canada one of the top-six foreign powers in his country now, he urged Arif Lalani, the new Canadian ambassador, to keep his mind open and take a "fresh look" at Afghanistan. Canada has so far offered unwavering support for Karzai.
Yet Abdullah said he also believes that international forces now fighting and dying in Afghanistan should stay put, and hopes his comments will not become fodder for politicians calling for Canadian troops to pull out. "Leaving it alone is not the answer."
Abdullah has been prominent in Afghan politics for more than 20 years. During the Soviet occupation, he was an aide to Ahmed Shah Massoud, the popular mujahedeen leader assassinated in 2001. He reportedly learned his elegant English from British MI6 agents supporting the anti-Soviet rebels.
He served as foreign minister during the ill-fated mujahedeen government of 1993 to 1996. Going into exile when the Taliban took over in 1996, he was part of the Northern Alliance and lobbied western governments for help in toppling the fundamentalist regime long before the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
He became foreign minister again under Karzai, only to be shuffled out of cabinet last year.
At his home in suburban Kabul, where the dirt road outside belies the elegant decor and lush garden within, he spoke out this week for one of the first times since his departure.
Apart from "weakness and incompetence," the government is growing ever farther from ordinary Afghans, running the country from cloistered offices in Kabul, the soft-spoken former ophthalmologist said.
But the idea of decentralization is "taboo" among Karzai's people, he charged. Meanwhile, provincial governors, who are appointed by the president, tend to simply be shunted to a different province if they perform poorly, presenting an unflattering face of the central authority, he added.
Abdullah also argued that corruption can take different forms. Excess bureaucracy and high business taxes force some to take illegal action, smuggling their goods to Pakistan where the costs and hassle are lower.
International contracts tend to be subcontracted several times, with each person taking a piece of the pie. The result is that only about $30,000 of an international donation of $100,000 will end up being applied to the actual project, he said.
Then there are the police involved in bribery and other crime.
"One thing that shouldn't happen is the law enforcers violate the law themselves. It shouldn't be tolerated."
He also said people are baffled that the government and foreign forces like Canada's have been unable to vanquish the Taliban, creating an uncertainty "that is the worst thing a nation can have."
His gloomy perspective, though, is not shared by Col. Don Dixon, the enthusiastic commander of the Canadian Forces strategic advisory team, which provides top-level management aid to Afghan ministers.
Critics should remember that, in just five years, Afghanistan has developed a parliament, a constitution and a nascent army and national police force out of nothing, he said.
"Look how far they've come ... I think it's quite miraculous."
Nor should the country be judged by the tumultuous state of the south, or even by Kabul, where extreme poverty is still evident, Dixon said. The region around Balkh, in northern Afghanistan, for instance, is "almost like the land of milk and honey" now, with well-paved roads and people heavily employed in the fields.
The Canadian program is the only of its kind among the foreign countries heavily involved in Afghanistan's reconstruction. Members, almost all military officers with management expertise, serve as chiefs of staff or other senior officials, helping ministers implement their priorities and develop the civil service.
The British government has indicated that it plans to set up a similar operation, modeled after Canada's, Dixon added.
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Army apology to Afghans called mistake
Baltimore Sun (USA) May 18, 2007 By Peter Spiegel
WASHINGTON // The Marine Corps' top general said yesterday that a senior Army officer was wrong to apologize to the families of the 19 Afghan civilians killed and the 50 injured by Marines in March because investigators have yet to determine whether any wrongdoing occurred.
Gen. James T. Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, said Army Col. John Nicholson should not have issued the apology last week, particularly because he is a brigade commander in Afghanistan, which puts him in the chain of command that might be asked to decide whether charges should be brought against the Marines.
Conway said during a Pentagon news conference that he felt it was proper to pay condolence allowances, called solatia, to the families but that the apology, in which Nicholson said he was "deeply, deeply ashamed" by the "terrible, terrible mistake" made by the Marines, went too far.
"He's not wrong to make solatia payments," Conway said, referring to the payouts of $2,000 for each death. "But I would just as soon that no one at this point, in any chain of command, apologize or talk about 'terrible, terrible mistakes' or those types of wrongdoings. I think it's just premature."
An Army spokesman could not be reached concerning Nicholson's response to Conway's remarks.
Nicholson issued the apology to the Afghan families two months after the March 4 incident, in which a Marine special forces unit reportedly opened fire on a group of Afghans after its convoy was struck by a roadside bomb.
Shortly after the incident, the unit was ordered to leave the country, and Army Gen. Frank H. Kearney III, head of special operations in the Middle East, ordered a criminal investigation of the incident, which continues.
Nicholson said he apologized because keeping civilians on the side of the U.S.-led coalition was essential in combating the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan.
Peter Spiegel writes for the Los Angeles Times.
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Taliban claim capture of Dadullah's betrayer
May 18, 2007
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - The Taliban said Friday it had arrested a close aide to the rebel movement's slain commander Mullah Dadullah for treachery that led to his killing.
"We have captured the spy who helped US forces kill Mullah Dadullah," Taliban spokesman Shohabudin Atal told AFP from an undisclosed location.
Dadullah, known as the Taliban's top military strategist, was killed in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province last Friday in a joint Afghan and international operation.
One-legged Dadullah was the most senior Taliban figure to be killed since the 2001 toppling of the extremist group's government.
Spokesman Atal declined to disclose the name of the captured man but said Dadullah had stopped at the house of the suspect in Helmand's Bahramcha district when he came under attack from coalition forces.
Atal said the fate of the suspected informer was undecided, but the hardliners have previously executed people they have accused of spying for foreign forces operating in the country.
The spokesman said Dadullah's body was removed by his fighters but the same suspect passed on the information to coalition forces, who moved in and seized the corpse, which was later displayed to the media.
Asked how the rebels knew the man was a spy, Atal said: "Each time there was a (coalition) strike the man would disappear and then reappear after the bombing was over."
Atal said the man had confessed to being a spy for the United States.
The Afghan national intelligence department in Kabul said Wednesday the rebel commander was tracked "with (the) most modern intelligence technology from the Pakistani border before being killed."
NATO forces, which helped in the operation, said "as soon as we had information he was in the country, we pinpointed him very well and we started tracking him."
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14 Taliban killed in western Afghanistan
By AMIR SHAH Associated Press / May 18, 2007
KABUL, Afghanistan - Airstrikes targeted a convoy of suspected Taliban militants who had left a meeting in western Afghanistan, killing 14 and wounding 10, a provincial governor said Friday.
The Taliban had met Thursday to appoint a leader in western Farah province, Gov. Muhaidin Baluch said. As they left the meeting in Bakwa district, airstrikes hit seven of their vehicles, he said.
Two of the 10 wounded lost their legs, and the 14 dead were buried near where they were killed, Baluch said.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force and the U.S.-led coalition said they had looked into the report, but had no information about it.
In the eastern Khost province, coalition and Afghan forces detained five suspected militants and destroyed a cache of weapons, the coalition said. "Credible intelligence" led the forces to the compound suspected of housing an assassination cell.
In the southern city of Kandahar on Thursday evening, a suicide car bomber rammed a government convoy, killing three bystanders and wounding Information and Culture Minister Abdul Karim Khurram, according to Kandahar Gov. Asadullah Khalid.
Earlier, two bomb blasts 15 minutes apart killed seven people, including three police officers responding to the first explosion. The first blast — a remote-controlled bomb targeting a truck — killed four private security guards, said Esmatullah Alizai, Kandahar province's police chief. About 15 minutes later, a second blast hit police inspecting the wreckage, killing three.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for both attacks.
Such double-blast attacks — a tactic often used by insurgents in Iraq — are still comparatively rare in Afghanistan.
The blasts came less than a week after Taliban field commander Mullah Dadullah was killed in a U.S.-led operation in Helmand province.
The Taliban have warned of "bad consequences" if the government did not hand over Dadullah's body to his relatives. Khalid has said that Dadullah was buried at a secret location near Kandahar.
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Afghan minister hurt in bombing
Thursday, 17 May 2007 BBC News
Three people have been killed in a suicide bombing in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar which left the culture minister slightly hurt, officials say.
The bomber rammed his car into a convoy of government vehicles carrying the minister, Abdul Kareem Khuram, said provincial governor Assadullah Khalid.
"I am fine, but the information minister is wounded," Mr Khalid said.
He blamed the Taleban, saying they wanted to avenge the killing of top commander Mullah Dadullah at the weekend.
Two policemen were among six killed in two separate blasts just metres apart in Kandahar earlier on Thursday.
There were also bomb explosions in neighbouring Helmand province, and in Badakhshan in the north of the country.
The suicide bombing in Kandahar came in the early evening. The three people killed were reported to be civilians.
Mr Khurram was receiving treatment in hospital for minor wounds to his face, Mr Khalid told reporters.
He had been travelling in the governor's armoured vehicle when it came under attack.
Interior Ministry spokesman Zmaray Bashary had earlier said the governor was also slightly injured in the bombing.
But Mr Khalid told reporters: "There was a suicide attack against my car but I was not in it."
No group has so far said it carried out the bombing.
Governor Khalid blamed the Taleban, saying Afghanistan's hardline former rulers wanted to avenge the killing of Mullah Dadullah in neighbouring Helmand province just days earlier.
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Italy's foreign minister to visit Afghanistan, Pakistan
Fri May 18, 1:19 AM ET
ROME (AFP) - Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema will visit Afghanistan and Pakistan next week to hold talks with leaders of both countries, the government announced.
The visits, set for Monday and Tuesday, come as the Italian government faces pressure at home over its military presence in Afghanistan and two months after the controversial freeing of a kidnapped Italian journalist.
D'Alema will meet with Italian soldiers in Afghanistan, where Italy has 2,000 troops stationed, as well as with President Hamid Karzai.
He will also hold talks with other government officials in preparation for a July 3 conference in Rome on Afghanistan's justice system.
Five senior Taliban were released in exchange for Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo following his abduction in March.
Three of the freed Taliban members were killed last week during an operation in which top Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah also died.
The deal for the journalist angered many Afghans and prompted London and Washington, among other Western capitals, to condemn negotiations with "terrorists". It also led to criticism from Italian opposition politicians.
In Pakistan, D'Alema will meet with President Pervez Musharraf and foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri.
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5 militants detained in E. Afghanistan
People's Daily - May 18 12:35 AM
The U.S.-led coalition and Afghan forces detained five militants and destroyed a cache of weapons in Khost province of eastern Afghanistan early Friday, a coalition statement said.
An operation was carried out by the joint forces in Nadir Shah Kot district against a compound, which was suspected of housing an assassination cell, the statement said.
A search of the compound discovered fragmentation grenades, rifles, an AK-47 machine gun and other contraband items, it said, adding the cache was taken to a safe distance and destroyed.
The detainees will be questioned as to their identities and involvement in militant activities, the statement said.
Coalition and Afghan troops have frequently detained suspected militants in Khost province.
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Afghanistan: RFE/RL Analyst Explores Pakistani-Afghan Tensions
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
May 18, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Government troops from Afghanistan and Pakistan have clashed along their border repeatedly this month -- with more than a dozen people reportedly killed in artillery barrages and gun fire. Correspondent Ron Synovitz asked RFE/RL's Afghanistan analyst, Amin Tarzi, about the roots and ramifications of the crisis.
RFE/RL: What background is essential for those who want to understand the current crisis between Afghanistan and Pakistan?
Amin Tarzi: This conflict is not new. After the Taliban government fell (in late 2001), the first instance in which Afghanistan claimed that Pakistanis crossed into Afghanistan was in 2003. And that triggered the burning and attacking of the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul. It was the beginning of open hostilities between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which has gone cold and warm since then.
RFE/RL: If this is an old conflict between what are supposed to be allies in the U.S.-declared war against terrorism, why is the situation only garnering international attention now?
Tarzi: I think the reason that there is a lot of attention right now is because, in the West and especially in the United States, there is an awareness that two of the allies of the United States in the war on terror are actually going at each other [along their] borders. And secondly, because a U.S. soldier was killed on Pakistani soil allegedly by a member of the Pakistani Frontier Corps, or at least, wearing their uniform.
Roots Of Crisis
RFE/RL: Some suggest that the roots of this crisis lie in the 19th-century demarcation of British Colonial India, known as the Durand Line. Afghanistan has never officially recognized the Durand Line as its border with Pakistan. What impact do you think this has in the crisis?
Tarzi: From the Pakistani side, that is the main grievance. When Pakistan was created as a country in August of 1947, Afghanistan was the only country in the world that voted against Pakistan's entry into the United Nations. That vote was later changed. But in my view, the first shot was fired from the Kabul side. Afghanistan has never, including the Taliban regime, recognized that boundary as a legitimate boundary. That gave Pakistan, from day one, a notion that Afghanistan has to be contained -- either by being a very friendly Afghanistan or a very weak Afghanistan -- and that the identity of Afghanistan should be an Islamist identity which Pakistan can control rather than a nationalist identity which would have claim over parts of Pakistan. This has implications in the war on terror. This has implications on Al-Qaeda's presence, the Taliban, the support of Pakistan to the militants in Afghanistan. But the core question is that of the border.
RFE/RL: Does that mean that the government of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is more concerned about its own foreign policy goals than it is about the U.S.-led war on terrorism?
Tarzi: The reason we are hearing so much about this lately is because the United States, and NATO in particular, are seeing their soldiers being killed by people who are coming from Pakistan. That is obvious. NATO is putting a lot of pressure on Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, to curtail these activities. From Musharraf's perspective, there are two issues. Musharraf cannot control this border. Nobody has ever been able to control this border. And he doesn't want to control it because Pakistan's vital interest is to have an Afghanistan that does not have claims on its territory. Even though, on one hand, Musharraf is fighting alongside the West in this war against international terror organizations, on the other hand, Pakistan's long-term policy is to keep a card against Afghanistan. And that card is the Islamist card, because that's what gives Pakistan leeway. So Pakistan is doing both of them.
RFE/RL: What do you think are the immediate causes of the cross-border clashes between government troops of the two countries in recent weeks?
Tarzi: I believe the latest tensions -- the shootings and the subsequent activities that led to the killing of a U.S. soldier -- were because of [Pakistan's efforts at] fencing. Afghanistan is vehemently against the fencing. Pakistan is now saying, 'Look. We want to fence this border because you say that [militants] are coming [across the border]. We say yes. So we're going to fence it.' But Afghanistan says, 'No, you cannot fence it.' Fencing would mean a de facto demarcation of the border, which Afghanistan doesn't want. So both sides are not working in good faith -- both Kabul and Islamabad.
RFE/RL: Who is likely to benefit most from the Afghan-Pakistan border crisis?
Tarzi: If you are the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, and if you see the two sides that you don't like -- Musharraf and the Afghan government, the two best friends of the United States, as they see it -- actually going at each other, they (Taliban and Al-Qaeda) are happy. Unless you bring the tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan to an acceptable and normal state-to-state relationship, the terrorists will win at the end of the day. They do not have to love each other. But they have to respect each other as states with defined boundaries. So it has much greater repercussions, not only in the short term with Al-Qaeda, but upon long-term stability.
RFE/RL: Do you think this crisis could deteriorate in the future?
Tarzi: Most of the hardest terrorists in the world are sitting right in that border area. If that border area is not controlled or accepted, they will use that tension and that lack of certainty to their advantage. And unfortunately, so far, neither the United States at a meeting in the White House [in September 2006] nor the Turkish attempt to bring some kind of understanding between Mr. Musharraf and Mr. Karzai has been able to bear fruit. This is one of the biggest problems in the war against terror. The escalation will go on. Afghanistan could bring Pakistan and NATO into direct conflict. Already, one [U.S.] soldier has been killed on Pakistani soil while they were trying to negotiate. If more Pakistanis retaliate and their artillery hits NATO troops, eventually there might be a [NATO] retaliation, which would be disastrous. This is very, very tense. And right now, I think some cool heads need to be working in both Kabul and Islamabad.
RFE/RL: What other factors are contributing to the crisis?
Tarzi: Unfortunately, neither Karzai nor Musharraf is capable or willing to control their own governments. Musharraf, I think, has people in the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence agency) and within the Islamists of the Northwest Frontier Province's government that want this tension to continue. And on the Afghan side, a lot of members of the security forces of Afghanistan are vehemently anti-Pakistani. And they like this tension because it also weakens Karzai. So there is a political game going on inside Afghanistan as well.
RFE/RL: How is this crisis impacting the domestic political situations for Karzai and Musharraf?
Tarzi: I think it is weakening Karzai more than Musharraf. But it is weakening both of them. People in Afghanistan who want to destabilize Karzai are not in cahoots with the Taliban or Al-Qaeda. But it will, because of a weakened Afghanistan, be indirect help to the Islamists. It goes beyond the personalities. And NATO has put all its eggs in the baskets of two individuals -- namely, Karzai and Musharraf. Even if they had the good will -- which they don't have right now, they don't even shake hands -- but even if they had it, I think it's beyond their control right now.
RFE/RL: How are the main peace brokers in this conflict?
Tarzi: The United States and NATO are very aware, and becoming more aware of this problem -- that their two allies who are supposed to work together against international terror are actually fighting against each other. So this is a very, very bad scenario. The U.S. soldier who was killed was killed in a peace mission. They were trying to lessen the tension. So the U.S. is doing that on the ground, military-to-military and person-to-person. Also, the U.S. has supported what is called the "peace jirga" -- which is supposed to bring Afghan and Pakistani tribes together with government people. U.S. President George W. Bush tried to bring Mssrs. Musharraf and Karzai together in the White House last September (2006) -- mainly to lessen the tension. And also just last month, Turkey's President [Ahmet Necdet] Sezer tried to bring them together. So there have been attempts on different platforms and on different levels as high as the U.S. president. So far, unfortunately, they have not yielded the results that everybody wants.
RFE/RL: Is there any way now to repair the damage that the border crisis has had upon relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan?
Tarzi: Even if Mssrs. Karzai and Musharraf come to an agreement personally, I do not think that Karzai controls his own security forces who like to have tension with Pakistan, or that Musharraf fully controls his own intelligence and the Islamists. Because they see their goal as the long-term stability of Pakistan and making sure that Afghanistan does not become too nationalistic and too powerful.
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Pakistan: UNHCR regrets deaths of Afghan refugees
Source: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) May 18, 2007
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at the press briefing, on 18 May 2007, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
UNHCR regrets the violent incidents and the loss of life in Jungle Pir Alizai refugee camp in Pakistan's Balochistan province on Wednesday which reportedly led to the deaths of three Afghan refugees. We appeal to all parties for a peaceful and negotiated resolution of disagreements ahead of the scheduled closure of the camp next month.
The problems appear to have begun when the local authorities started to bulldoze some walls of an uninhabited compound in the camp as a first step towards closing it. The camp residents started stoning them in protest and tear gas was fired. The authorities then withdrew from the scene. The precise circumstances of the shooting which reportedly led to the three deaths are not yet known.
Jungle Pir Alizai is one of four camps scheduled for closure in 2007. The others are Girdi Jungle (also in Balochistan province), Jalozai and Kacha Gari, both in North West Frontier Province. The camps have a combined population of 220,000 persons. The closure of the camps was agreed at the twelfth Tripartite Commission meeting between the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and UNHCR.
The inhabitants of the camps have been well informed about the impending closure of the camps and their options for either voluntary repatriation to Afghanistan or relocating within Pakistan. UNHCR continues to appeal to the camp residents to respect the government's decision to close the camps. We also call upon the Pakistani authorities to exercise restraint during this delicate exercise.
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Pakistan stops demolition work in Afghan camp
By Reuters Friday May 18, 03:05 PM By Saeed Ali Achakzai
PIR ALIZAI CAMP, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani security forces stopped demolition of abandoned houses in an Afghan refugee camp on Thursday following clashes that killed two people, officials said.
Security forces exchanged fire with refugees on Wednesday when the residents reluctant to go home resisted the bulldozing of deserted houses as part of a plan to shut down the camp.
Pir Alizai, near the Afghan border in Baluchistan province, is one of the oldest camps for Afghans in Pakistan. It was set up after the Soviet invasion of their country in 1979 but is due to be closed by June 15.
"We have stopped destroying the houses after officials and representatives of the Afghan refugees decided to find a way out through negotiations," said police officer, Naseebullah Khan.
"We will try to find a solution acceptable to all."
The protesting refugees lifted their blockade of the road to the provincial capital and the border town of Chaman.
Pir Alizai, a sprawling settlement of mud houses for thousands of Afghan refugees, is one of two camps Pakistani authorities plan to close by June 15.
Two more will be shut down later this year.
Authorities say some refugee camps have turned into safe havens for Taliban insurgents battling foreign forces in Afghanistan.
According to a census by the U.N. refugee agency in 2005, some 35,000 Afghan refugees lived in Pir Alizai.
But thousands of Pakistani Pashtuns later moved to the camp, raising its total population to more than 100,000, residents of the camp say.
The UNHCR stopped relief activities in the camp in 2005.
The Pakistani government last week approved a plan for a voluntary and gradual repatriation of about 2.5 million refugees in the next three years, in line with an agreement reached with the UNHCR in 2003.
"We have given them two options; to go back to their country or shift to another camp in Lora Lai," UNHCR official Dunya Aslam Khan said, referring to an area in Baluchistan near the Afghan border.
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Forcible expulsions from Iran put pressure on Kabul
Legal refugees as well as illegal aliens are swept up and dumped on the Afghan border.
Source: Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR)17 May 2007
By Hafizullah Gardesh in Kabul and Sudabah Afzali and Sadeq Behnam in Herat (ARR No. 252, 17-May-07)
As Iran continues forcibly expelling large numbers of Afghan nationals, many of those affected by the campaign claim they were assaulted or otherwise mistreated by Iranian security forces.
The repatriatiation drive, which began on April 21, is officially targeting only those who are in Iran illegally, but anecdotal evidence suggests many people whose residence papers or visas are perfectly in order have been detained and summarily expelled by Iranian police.
The dumping of large numbers of people in under-resourced areas of western Afghanistan which are ill-equipped to cope with such a massive influx has caused a political scandal in Kabul. Two ministers have been sacked by parliament after being accused of failing to do enough to make Tehran change its mind.
Noor Ahmad, 34, is a recent deportee now in hospital in Herat. He is bruised and his clothes are still covered in blood.
He said he was working on a building site in Iran when the security forces arrived. He alleges that they threw him and three other Afghans from the second floor of the unfinished building. One man died, and the others were injured.
Noor Ahmad was then deported, leaving his family behind in Iran. Now in Afghanistan, he has no idea what has happened to his family – and is bitter about the treatment meted out to him.
"Iranians... do not care about humanitarian or ethical issues. Be careful – do not be deceived by these people, however much they sweet-talk," he said. "I will remain an enemy of Iran forever."
According to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, there are 920,000 registered Afghan refugees in Iran and perhaps a million more who are there illegally.
UNHCR can only intervene formally on behalf of legal refugees, and has a "trilateral agreement" in place with Tehran and Kabul to ensure an orderly return. Many of the refugees from both Pakistan and Iran who have come back since the Taleban were overthrown in 2001 have found life extremely difficult, with many still living in tents without basic services.
After announcing a plan to remove all the estimated one million illegals by the end of March 2008, the Iranian authorities have made a rapid start in recent weeks. The UNHCR says more than 52,000 were forced out between April 21 and May 8. IWPR was given a figure of 54,600 in Herat and Nimroz provinces by local Afghan officials.
By May 13, the Iranian authorities were saying they had expelled 85,000 Afghans as illegal aliens in the past three weeks.
Shamsuddin Hamed, head of the government department for refugees and returned persons in Herat province, told IWPR that forced deportations of refugees from Iran represents a contravention of the trilateral agreement.
"The security forces in Iran are treating Afghan refugees in a manner that is neither Islamic nor humanitarian. We have recorded cases of beating, torture, and even killings," he said.
The Iranian ambassador in Kabul, Mohammad Reza Bahrami, denied allegations that Iranian law-enforcement officers had assaulted Afghans prior to deporting them.
"The security forces of Iran respect humanity, and the story that an Afghan refugee was killed by Iranian security forces is mere rumour," he told IWPR.
Bahrami insisted all those deported refugees were in Iran without permission, and that they had no documents to prove legal status.
But Hamed insisted this was wrong, "The Iranian authorities have arrested Afghans who had tourist documentation, and torn up their passports. They have even deported Afghans who held Iranian ID cards. There are more than 2,000 such cases."
Nadir Farhod of UNHCR in Kabul confirmed that some of the people deported had legal status as refugees in Iran and the right supporting documents. He said UNHCR had reported this to the Iranian authorities and asked them to discuss the matter with Kabul.
Mohammad Shah holds the remnants of his Iranian ID card in his hand as he talks about how he was thrown out of the country.
"When I was arrested by the Iranians.... I showed them that I have this card but I was insulted and beaten because I was an Afghan," he said. "They tore up my card and handed the pieces back to me.
Before deporting groups of refugees, Shah said they were held at a camp used at a collection point for several days and given just one loaf of bread a day. In some cases, women and children were deported immediately, and in others they were held at the collecting points – a tactic that refugees like Shah suspect was designed to pressure the men of the family to make themselves know, and then deport them all.
Nooria, 25 years old, was visiting Iran on a tourist visa when she was picked up by police outside her hotel, who used insulting language, put her in a car and dumped her on the Afghan border. She showed IWPR her Afghan passport and Iranian visa to prove her papers were in order.
"They arrested me and didn't even give me a change to tell my husband, who was still inside the hotel," she said. "Now I don't know anyone in Herat and I have no idea how to call my husband or let him know I am here."
Furious at the apparent lack of response from the government, the Afghan parliament summoned the ministers for foreign and refugee affairs this week and hauled them over the coals.
Earlier, at a May 8 press conference, Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta said he had spoken to the Iranian authorities about the deportations and asked them to review the policy in view of the damaging effect it would have both on the security situation and the social fabric of in Afghanistan.
"Deportation en masse, even of illegal refugees, goes against internationally accepted principles and standards," he said. "This action by Iran could strain our friendly relationship."
At the May 10 session, members of parliament voted to dismiss the minister for refugee affairs, Ustad Akbar Akbar. Then on May 12, Foreign Minister Spanta was also given a vote of no confidence by the legislators.
President Hamed Karzai issued a statement the same day saying he would respect the decision to remove Akbar, but that he was referring the case of Spanta to the Supreme Court for a ruling on whether the dismissal over an issue that had "no direct linkage" with the minister's job was justified, and whether parliament had the right to dismiss someone if it took two rounds of voting to achieve a majority in favour. Until the court issued a decision on the matter, the statement said, the foreign minister would remain in his post.
Afghan analysts are puzzled at the timing of the expulsions. Afghan refugees have lived in Iran for many years, and the UNHCR's trilateral agreement provides a procedure for an organised process of return.
Many believe that the policy is driven by greater geopolitical considerations. Tehran is well aware that the arrival of a wave of refugees at a time of instability in large parts of Afghanistan, and when the country is barely able to cope with refugees who have already returned, must have a destabilising effect.
The real objective, say these analysts, is to put pressure on the United States by making life even harder for its client, the Karzai administration.
"By forcibly evicting the Afghan refugees, Iran is seeking to decrease the pressures caused by the sanctions imposed on it," said Muhammad Ibrahim, a political analyst based in Herat. "It wants to shift those pressures to the US itself, given that country's active presence in Afghanistan.
"But it is the Afghan people who will suffer."
Ibrahim warned that given the poor housing and employment provision for refugees in Afghanistan, the latest incomers could be driven to join the insurgency or take part in the opium trade.
Ambassador Bahrami rejected the allegations out of hand, saying Tehran would not use its bilateral ties with Kabul as an instrument to gain leverage in its dispute with the US.
"The relationship between Iran and Afghanistan are independent [of other matters]; this issue has nothing to do with Iranian-US affairs, or with pressuring the Afghan authorities," he said.
Inside Iran, there have also been expressions of concern about the mass deportations. A group of academics, activists, writers and journalists has written an open letter to their government asking it to halt the expulsions and other punitive measures.
According to a report published in the Iran Today newspaper on May 9, the signatories argued that the policy was unjustified given the lack of security and poor living standards that would face the Afghans on their return home.
"These inhumane, unethical actions may have irreversible consequences, and may strain the close relationship between our government and our Afghan neighbours. We are asking for the refugees to be dealt with in a more humanitarian, balanced manner. The best policy is to be friendly towards one's neighbours, and to uphold the principle that all people are equal."
On May 14, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty quoted Iranian deputy foreign minister Mehdi Safari as saying President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had agreed to a change of policy, so that the Afghans would be sent home in a "gradual and orderly way". Safari made the announcement at a meeting with President Karzai in Kabul.
Hafizullah Gardesh is IWPR's editor in Kabul. Sudabah Afzali and Sadeq Behnam are freelance reporters in Herat.
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Afghanistan: U.S. Ambassador To UN Says Global Success Tied To Afghan Progress
May 18, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan spoke recently with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad. He talked about the repatriation of Afghan refugees from Iran, upcoming talks between Iran and the United States, and a number of other issues in that exclusive interview with Radio Free Afghanistan's Zarif Nazar. What follows are excerpts from that May 17 interview.
RFE/RL: Iran and the U.S. are due to hold talks on Iraq. What is your view on that? And to what extent are you hopeful that there will be a positive result?
Zalmay Khalilzad: There have been problems in relations between Iran and the U.S. since several years ago, but several years ago the United Sates started negotiating with Iran over Afghanistan. And when I was the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, we used to meet with the Iranian ambassador and talk about Afghan issues and problems with the aim of supporting Afghanistan and encouraging Iran not to take negative steps and be a good neighbor to a [country] that is in transition. When I went to Iraq in 2005, I asked President [George W.] Bush to give me the same permission to speak to Iran over Iraq, and Mr. Bush accepted it. But because of the problems that existed in Iraq, we were not able to have a meeting there, as happened in Afghanistan. Finally a few weeks ago, before I left Iraq, there was a regional meeting; and in the framework of that meeting, there was an opportunity to exchange a few words with the Iranians and talk -- at the table we were sitting -- about issues related to Iraq. Now it has been agreed that before the end of this month, there will be a meeting with the U.S. ambassador to Iraq and the U.S. would speak to Iran about Iraqi issues.
RFE/RL: Iran has deported a large number of refugees -- even people who had permits to work and live in Iran. They've destroyed their documents and sent them back; they treat Afghans very badly. Some [observers] believe that Iran and the U.S. have problems, and Iran sends back Afghan refugees to create problems for the U.S. What is your view on this issue?
Khalilzad: The U.S. government does not want Iran and Afghanistan to have poor relations or to be enemies -- these two countries are neighbors and they have common interests, and we have said that we are not against a good relation between those two countries, and we don't want to include Afghanistan in problems the U.S. has with Iran. Iran and the Taliban had very bad relations, and Iran supported groups that were fighting against the Taliban. But in the end, it was the coming of American forces that had a big role in the change of regime. At that time, the Iranians cooperated, and elements inside Afghanistan that were supported by Iran also cooperated. I think a reasonable view for advancing the region as a whole is not to see a gain in the problems of one's neighbor but rather consider collective progress in one's interest. Unfortunately in the Middle East and Southeast Asia region, old ideas that have created failure in world history still rule. Europe learned its lesson following World War II, and now they know that by cooperating with each other there will be progress for all. Unfortunately, even though Iran in the past opposed the Taliban, they have recently helped the Taliban create problems. And it is possible that regarding the refugees, the aim has been to increase the problems of Afghanistan. We hope that Iran will not repeat its past mistakes, [will] think more positively in its policies regarding Afghanistan, cooperate with the government of Afghanistan, not interfere in Afghanistan's internal affairs, and not help the Taliban who are killing Afghans -- and instead work for the progress of Afghanistan, work for good ties between the two countries, and be a good neighbor.
RFE/RL: Pakistan is also creating problems for Afghanistan regarding refugees, and recently there have been reports of clashes between [Afghan and Pakistani forces ]. What is your view on that ? Why are the border problems between the two sides continuing?
Khalilzad: The success of Afghanistan is in the interest of Pakistan; Afghanistan's success is in the interest of the whole world. Afghanistan could become a bridge between Pakistan and Central Asia. Pakistan has benefited from the progress that has been achieved so far in Afghanistan from a commercial and an economic point of view. Pakistan and Afghanistan should enjoy good relations. I know that the Afghan government wants to have good ties [with Pakistan]. The U.S. has tried to have a positive influence, and in the coming weeks we will see what can be done through the United Nations. The problems of Afghanistan will create problems for other countries in the region. What can a poor country facing problems do aside from exporting problems, including [flows of] refugees? Since the Taliban era, Afghanistan's economic situation has improved and commerce between Pakistan and Afghanistan is over $1 billion now, while at the time of the Taliban it was not even $100 million. There are also Pakistan's internal problems, which are one reason for the problems with Afghanistan. Aside from the problems in Afghanistan's relations with Iran and Pakistan, there is a need for Afghanistan for the Afghan people -- the government to improve their situation. Because the more Afghans are united, and the more the government pays attention to the problems of the people -- confronting corruption, treating justly with people -- the fewer problems from foreigners and countries that want to create problems for Afghanistan. Progress inside Afghanistan by the government and other important elements, and also international support is important, and also better ties and cooperation from the neighbors.
RFE/RL: As you know the security situation is deteriorating in Afghanistan and enemies are becoming stronger, has the time come for the U.S and other countries to review their policies in Afghanistan?
Khalilzad: I can say in general terms that the success of Afghanistan is very important to the world, and Afghan failure is global failure. From that perspective, the world is responsible for helping Afghanistan out of its own interest. The success of Afghanistan is important for the region. The most important issue is the internal issue -- progress in the work by the government of Afghanistan and cooperation by people who care for their country. They should not provide the enemies of Afghanistan an opportunity to use the country or Afghans for their own purposes. This is a key issue. Afghans should use the opportunity that exists for them -- the attention and cooperation of the world -- this is a golden opportunity that should be used.
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Taleban Create Diversion in Northern Afghanistan
From roadside bombs to suicide attacks, northern regions are seeing the same tactics the Taleban employ in the south.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting By Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi (ARR No. 253, 17-May-07)
Insurgent attacks are on the rise in northern Afghanistan, in parts of the country not normally associated with Taleban activity.
Some say it is a diversionary tactic designed to draw the international military forces away from the south, where the Taleban have come under pressure in recent weeks. But others caution that there also is a home-grown element to the violence, partly sponsored by local drug barons and partly the product of desperation and poverty.
Security has generally been better in the northern provinces than in the south since the collapse of Taleban regime in 2001, but increased level of attacks are ringing alarm-bells. Since the beginning of spring, which officially starts on March 21, there has been a spate of killings, roadside bombs and suicide attacks.
Assassinations – successful and attempted – have targeted local officials and Afghans and foreigners working for aid groups.
Towards the end of March, a district governor was killed in Qaram Qul in the western Faryab province, and the head of Khan Charbagh district was injured in a separate attack in the same province.
Two bomb attacks targeting the governor of Saripul province, east of Faryab, injured five civilians at the beginning of April.
Also in Saripul, armed men killed an engineer with the German Agro Action aid group in March, and at the end of April, an Afghan truck driver working for the same organisation was shot dead in the Kunduz region in the northeast.
Another attack on an aid group called Rukay left a foreigner and two local staff injured in Mazar-e-Sharif in mid-April.
At the end of the month, a man who officials later said was a Taleban member ran into a group of policemen while attempting to kidnap the son of a local businessman. One police officer was killed and a second was wounded in the firefight that followed.
The regional headquarters of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, in the northeastern province of Badakhshan came under rocket attack four times in March and April. A former Taleban commander in the area, Mullah Abdul Azim, was arrested on suspicion of involvement in the attacks.
Suicide bombings, a relatively new component of Taleban tactics, have also spread to the north. On April 16, one such attack at police headquarters in the north-western city of Kunduz killed nine policemen and injured 30.
It was the most serious attack in Kunduz since the Taleban were encircled and defeated in the city at the end of 2001.
Nazar Muhammad, an eyewitness, told IWPR, "The suicide attacker was a young man, and while the police forces were drilling, he approached them and set off the explosion."
In Takhar, a province west of Badakhshan, there were was a suicide attack and a simultaneous bomb attack outside the regional governor's residence and the police headquarters on April 25. Only the suicide bomber was killed.
In addition, since spring began, at least eight roadside explosive devices have been planted in Mazar-e-Sharif. One damaged an Afghan army vehicle, but another seven were identified in time and defused by ISAF troops.
It is not clear whether some of the shootings were the work of bandits, but other attacks appear to bear the hallmark of Taleban operations. To confuse matters further, Hizb-e-Islami, the insurgent faction led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, claimed responsibility for various attacks in northern Afghanistan, and a spokesman for the group told the media that more were planned. In March, Hekmatyar said his militia were no longer cooperating with the Taleban and would fight alone.
The governor of Saripul province, Sayed Iqbal Monib, is certain it is the Taleban are behind the wave of attacks.
"Taleban terrorist groups have infiltrated these provinces to destabilise the security situation and attack government institutions,” he told IWPR. “According to the information we have, the Taleban want to carry out suicide and other bomb attacks in the north to create a lack of security, especially in Saripul. We have put our detective and intelligence units to alert to ward off possible attacks."
Police in northern Afghanistan say the rise in attacks is a consequence of a switch in Taleban tactics this year.
When the Taleban pre-announced a major spring offensive in southern provinces like Helmand and Kandahar, the United States-led Coalition and NATO forces responded by beefing up their presence. The Taleban have suffered reverses in recent weeks, and the expected onslaught has not been as fierce as expected.
General Ghulam Mujtaba Patang, the overall commander-in-chief of police in Afghanistan’s nine northern provinces, argues that the Taleban are trying to reduce the pressure on their southern positions by forcing the foreign troops and their Afghan army allies to respond over a more diffuse area.
"By the beginning of spring, the government was concentrating its military operations in the south, so the Taleban sought to turn the government's attention away from the south by organising terrorist and suicide attacks in the north," he said in an interview with IWPR. "The Taleban have therefore used a number of groups to carry out attacks, sending them into the north to hit the security situation".
General Patang said these incomers were being helped by former Taleban living in the north, and by drug barons who had an interest in creating instability to keep the opium crop safe from eradication efforts and the trafficking routes free from control.
"These groups are supported by larger groups based outside Afghanistan, but some former Taleban remnants and drug mafiosi in the north are helping them carry out the attacks," he said. "In assisting the terrorist groups, the mafia wants to play a double game. Helping terrorists means helping themselves, because they want to weaken security so that they can grow poppy and smuggle it out more easily, which becomes impossible when security is good."
Colonel Jon Palsson, commander of the ISAF-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams in northern Afghanistan, also made a connection between the Taleban attacks and the drug trade, but offered a different interpretation from Patang’s, suggesting it was the instability created by drugs that allowed the insurgents to move in.
"The security situation in north is incomparable with the delicate security situation in the south, [but] let us not forget that north is not stable, as well," he said. "The expansion of drugs and arms smuggling in the north has paved the way for some terrorist groups to become more active."
Afghan analysts blame what some describe as an incompetent and corrupt police force and other government institutions from allowing the situation to get out of hand. Some warn that the emerging security vacuum could allow the Taleban to recruit among destitute Afghans.
"The police forces have failed to gain the public’s trust, because they are poorly trained. The main reason for this is that high-ranking Afghan generals have hired their relatives to fill all the key posts, and [these individuals] are busily engaged in drug smuggling rather than maintaining security," said one analyst, Qayum Babak. "People are losing confidence in the government day by day – and that paves the way for a lack of security."
Muhammad Nabi Assir, a political analyst also based in Mazar-e-Sharif, sees the resurgence of the Taleban in the north and elsewhere as a failure of good government.
"Despite all the donations given to Afghanistan, the government has been unable to root out the Taleban in five years, and they have grown stronger and stronger," he said. "Unemployment and the lack of a proper judicial system have forced many people to join the Taleban. If you are poor, or if you have been abused by a warlord, you have no form of redress, and you will join the Taleban as a form of retaliation."
Assir believes that a surge in Taleban recruitment is giving the insurgents the capacity to move northwards. He warns that the north of Afghanistan could become as unstable as the south unless the government alters its strategy – for instance by changing the way appointments are made in the security forces, and making the courts work.
General Patang argues that it is unfair to blame the security forces for the revival in Taleban activity in the north.
“The increase in enemy attacks does not mean the police are weak,” he said. “We are doing our best – it is the enemy who is seeking to harm the security situation, and we are trying to stop him. We will seek out terrorist camps in the north and root them out quickly as possible."
The general added that the interior ministry was about to launch “extensive reforms” which would improve the police beyond recognition.
On the streets of northern towns, people are less optimistic.
"What does it mean if the government cannot establish security - why then are they ruling over us?" asked Hamidullah, a street trader in Kunduz.
“After that suicide attack [on the police HQ], I am fearful even of my customers. Everyone, wherever they are – in their car or in a hotel – lives in expectation of being attacked. It’s unbelievable."
Like many people, Hamidullah was angry that the heavy military presence was proving ineffective.
"I am surprised at all these heavily armed uniformed soldiers – what are they doing? Are they asleep? Look around: there are these local and foreign soldiers everywhere,” he said. “The whole world has arrived here to bring security, but they can’t even stop a few talebs [students] from the madrassahs, so what exactly are they doing here?"
Poverty alone may not be driving the Taleban resurgence, but it may provide them with willing footsoldiers.
At a demonstration by unemployed schoolteachers in Mazar-e-Sharif in mid-April, the mood of desperation was obvious. One protester who did not want to be named told IWPR he was quite prepared to join the Taleban.
"If the government can’t employ us, I will have to join any group that will pay me so that I can bring in food for my children. If your children are hungry, you will blow yourself up in a suicide attack rather than hear them crying for food," he said.
The wave of attacks in the north has affected reconstructive work in the region as well. Staff working for non-government organisations, NGOs, told IWPR they were now worried by the security situation.
One NGO head, who did not want to be named, said that in the wake of murders of aid workers, “NGO staff do not dare go out to the villages because they think the same will happen to them as to those engineers who were killed."
He added, "If the situation continues like this, it is possible that many projects will come to a halt or that at most, projects will be active only in the cities."
Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi is an IWPR staff reporter in Mazar-e-Sharif.
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As Pakistan goes, so goes a war
The Christian Science Monitor / May 18, 2007
After 9/11, the US had little choice but to rely on Pakistan to free Afghanistan of Al Qaeda and the Taliban – and to try to keep it that way. But since March, Pakistan's ruler has lost popular support. Gen. Pervez Musharraf looks less reliable as an ally in the war on Islamic terrorists.
Washington now faces a difficult decision. Middle-class protests against Mr. Musharraf have risen in recent months, triggered by his ouster of the Supreme Court's chief justice. Violent incidents, such as 42 demonstrators killed in Karachi last weekend, have raised alarm at home and abroad. Support by the military may be fading.
Despite his success in boosting the economy and helping to capture or kill key leaders of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the man who took power in a 1999 coup could be headed for a dangerous downfall.
Unless, of course, the US and other Western powers help arrange a peaceful transition to a less-polarizing figure and to a better form of democracy than Musharraf has tried to manufacture in Pakistan.
For too many years, the Bush administration has shown too much interest in Musharraf as a short-term strategic partner in a hot war and not enough on whether he could deliver a stable democracy that could maintain a long-term struggle against radical Islamists. And the US has largely agreed with him – and many Pakistanis – that the country's history of inept civilian rule demands some sort of strong military hand in government.
Musharraf took power on that popular assumption. But his recent missteps in trying to continue to act as both the top political and military leader indicate the limits of keeping civilian rule at bay too long. Civil liberties erode. Power becomes its own end. It may be time for him to cut a deal for a transition – although to exactly to what or to whom is unknown. Eight years in power is enough for any ruler, especially for one who wants to live in his country once out of power.
Musharraf seems determined to push ahead with elections in October that would likely reelect him as president. But his action against the chief justice and other moves are seen as stepping on the Constitution. Lawyers are leading a middle-class revolt that resonates within the military rank and file.
Pushing for democracy in Islamic countries was a key political weapon in President Bush's war on terror. Iraq is fumbling toward democracy while the US has little hope now that Iraq's key neighbors – Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Syria – will become democracies with an Islamic base, as Turkey or Indonesia are, anytime soon.
The US can't afford to keep backing Musharraf if more Pakistanis turn against him. It might lose the willingness of 160 million Pakistanis in the fight against the Taliban or Al Qaeda. But finding an able and popular civilian leader to replace Musharraf remains difficult.
Getting out of this box will be a test for US diplomacy in coming weeks and months. Top leaders of Pakistan's political opposition will need to bend as much as Musharraf and many of the top brass.
Both camps need to find a transitional figure who can bridge their differences. They must see Pakistan in its larger role as a pivotal state in a global struggle against terrorism. Such states are better off with a stable democracy.
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The Great Game moves south
By Zorawar Daulet Singh Asia Times Online / May 18, 2007
Over the past year, the northwestern frontiers of the South Asian subcontinent have emerged as a vital theater for geopolitical competition renascent of earlier eras. This episode includes the three great powers of the contemporary system - the United States, Russia and China, the latter two exploiting their vital positions in the Eurasian geopolitical landscape.
The patterns of the game cannot be discerned without a critical evaluation of the foreign-policy interests of the three protagonists and other regional powers in the region. What follows is a reflection of how the game has now decisively moved south and thereby likely to influence the "look West" policies of New Delhi and Islamabad.
In the winter of 2001, Afghanistan became the target of a spectacular air and ground assault by the United States, laying the foundations for a gradual strategy whose rationale was beyond just the annihilation of al-Qaeda. In February 2002, then secretary of state Colin Powell told Congress that the US "will have a continuing interest and presence in Central Asia of a kind that we could not have dreamed of before".
Now fast-forward to spring 2005, and the US has established an array of military bases in the heart of Central Asia, poised to crush the historic Russian hold over the region.
By the summer of 2005, it had became apparent to Moscow that the US was hardly planning a limited military deployment and what in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, appeared to be a legitimate response to terror networks was now expanding into a more traditional realpolitik strategy. Counterbalancing was inevitable.
The turning point came in July 2005, when the Russian Foreign Ministry classified US forces as "non-regional", and declared that such a military presence in the region must be rolled back. Similar calls to set a timetable for the withdrawal of US bases in Central Asia were voiced by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Moscow's and Beijing's (more discreet) intentions were henceforth made explicit.
The first manifestation of Russian resurgence in Central Asia came with a defensive alliance with Uzbekistan, militarily the most important of the five Central Asian republics, in November 2005, thus making it Russia's largest strategic bridgehead in Central Asia. Shortly after, most of the other Central Asian states followed suit and made a strategic choice to re-establish contacts with an invigorated Kremlin. Recently, there are indications that Washington's last remaining airbase in Manas, Kyrgyzstan, itself a few kilometers away from Russia's expanding Kant airbase, may be asked to exit altogether.
Suffice it so say, with the specter of US-sponsored "color revolutions" having receded, and the drive to augment a permanent US military presence north of Afghanistan not only checked but dramatically rolled back, there was a change of tactics in Washington.
In February 2006, the State Department reorganized its South Asia Division and included the five Central Asian states in its jurisdiction. The formal strategy was articulated in speeches by assistant secretary of state Richard Boucher in the spring of 2006. In what was termed the "Greater Central Asia" strategy, Washington would henceforth refocus its diplomatic attention to steer the region southward, dangling the energy issue to open Central Asian hydrocarbons to energy-deficit South Asia, and promising to provide India and Pakistan a channel for influence into Central Asia.
This tactical retreat into South Asia was predicated on the stabilization of Afghanistan, which given its location would be the pivotal link in connecting South and Central Asia. Naturally, the seminal "de-hyphenation" of US engagement with India and Pakistan whereby it achieved the historically unattainable - stable relations with both states - and arguably the enduring success of the post-September 11 US diplomacy in South Asia made such a strategy conceivable in the first place.
Anticipating that the SCO too was vying for South Asia's attention, the US timing and motive were clear - introducing another option for India and Pakistan to participate in the affairs of Central Asia, and thus nip any regional realignment in the bud.
In essence, the new US strategy is based on "multilateralism", with the US playing the role of a midwife between Central and South Asia, of which Afghanistan is the core. Yet transformation of Afghanistan from its historic buffer status toward that of a "bridge" has not been shared as an overwhelming goal by other regional actors, especially since the corollary of an open-ended US military-strategic presence in Afghanistan would impinge on the security interests of all the surrounding actors - Iran, Russia, China and Pakistan. India may be the only exception.
The extensive Russian pipeline infrastructure that transports Central Asian gas exclusively via Russia into Europe ensures that the area is integrated into the wider Russian energy strategy, and any instability or reorientation in Central Asia will directly impinge on Gazprom's export strategy.
A number of hydrocarbon deals since early 2000, and reaffirmed more recently between Moscow and the Central Asian republics, implies that even if the US does accomplish the formidable objective of creating a vibrant Afghanistan, regional surplus reserves are simply insufficient to meet South Asian demand, thus making a pipeline financially infeasible.
For instance, Russia is projected to purchase 85% of Turkmenistan's gas exports (50 billion cubic meters, or bcm) in 2008. The remainder is to be pumped into northern Iran. A Russian-Turkmen agreement valid until 2028 implies that there is little gas available for other markets. Thus the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline is truly a pipe dream.
As for Kazakhstan, the other hydrocarbon oasis, the most recent statement by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev after a meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin last week underscores the robust strategic pull of Moscow: "Kazakhstan is completely committed to transporting most, if not all, of its oil (and gas) across Russian territory." (In 2006, Kazakhstan exported 80% - 42 million tons - of its total oil exports via Russian pipelines.)
This was followed by a landmark trilateral pipeline deal in Turkmenbashi, under which 20-30bcm of gas annually would flow from Turkmenistan along the Caspian Sea shore via Kazakhstan into the Russian pipeline network beginning 2012. Finally, according to a joint declaration, which included Uzbek President Islom Karimov, the Soviet-era Central Asia-Center pipeline network is expected to be upgraded.
There are indications now that Russia and Afghanistan are reviving contacts, first signaled in February when Moscow reopened its embassy in Kabul. Russia's decision to settle Afghanistan's Soviet-era debt issue, possibly in lieu of the participation of Russian companies in Afghan reconstruction, is significant.
In March, Moscow through the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization held extensive meetings with Kabul and offered military-technical and civilian cooperation, and according to Moscow the Afghan government has itself requested that Russia renew deliveries of arms and equipment, which were discontinued in 2005.
Iran looks east
There is perhaps an inverse linkage between the export of Iranian gas to South Asia and the pace of physical connectivity between Central and South Asia. And given that Central Asian hydrocarbons are destined to flow primarily northward (and a portion eastward), Iranian hydrocarbons have become a significant and natural choice for South Asian markets.
Gazprom's recent reiteration of seeking to participate in the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline alters the entire dimension of the project and frees it from the political baggage associated with Western financial options. Two recent developments are worth noting on the future prospects of the IPI project.
First, Gazprom expressed the possibility of extending the pipeline into China, which implies a convergence of interests among all regional actors. Second, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov's recent visit to Pakistan, the first by a Russian premier in 38 years, is also instructive, especially since his delegation included officials from Gazprom.
Iran's links with Central Asia too have renewed recently. A defense agreement between Iran and Tajikistan early this month, presumably with Russian acquiescence, underscores future patterns of collaboration between Central Asia and Iran, both having substantial bilateral relations with Russia. Tajik President Emomali Rahmon also called for Iran's full membership in the SCO. Kyrgyzstan too has expressed interest in intensifying bilateral relations with Iran.
A divided South Asia
India's traditional policy vis-a-vis Afghanistan was based on the geostrategic logic of denying Pakistan its "strategic depth" and thereby dividing the military attention of Islamabad from exclusively focusing on the Indo-Pakistani border. In the nuclear dimension, such a policy based on a conventional "pincer movement" loses much of its viability.
India-Pakistan relations hold the key to any inter-regional geo-economic collaboration, including the IPI project. And nothing short of an India-Pakistan entente would enable transnational integration to occur, even one that circumvents Afghanistan. While the rapprochement between New Delhi and Islamabad is proceeding apace, and there is immense geostrategic logic for an entente today, we are yet to witness the political stability and will on both sides unequivocally to bury the hatchet.
India-Pakistan relations, then, assume a significance beyond simply a bilateral dimension. Indeed, arguably none of the major powers - the US, Russia, China - would be averse to an enduring India-Pakistan rapprochement, given the primacy of geo-economic interests of all actors.
Similarly, for India to elevate its peripheral influence in Central Asia toward a more multifaceted engagement would be augmented by a partnership with Pakistan. Indeed, Russia would not be averse to South Asian nations taking a proactive stance in Central Asian affairs, and indeed may even encourage the filling of any vacuum by its strategic partners.
The Afghanistan poser
Can US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces succeed in stabilizing Afghanistan? At what cost?
Without this piece of real estate, any notions of linking Central with South Asia are absurd. Importantly, the complex US-Pakistan collaboration and Pakistan's pivotal role in augmenting current US-NATO operations provide it with sufficient leverage that it is unlikely to be abandoned any time soon by the United States, despite the recent political flux in Pakistani politics.
Anatol Lieven of the New America Foundation was perhaps a rare exception in Western commentary when he recently argued against the pattern of exclusively focusing on Afghanistan at the expense of wider US regional interests. He noted that "defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan is indeed a secondary issue. Of far greater long-term importance is the survival of Pakistan as a state, and its development as a successful modern society and economy."
Such reasoning may well be instructive for future patterns in US policy, since it is perhaps unlikely that the US would pursue a tactical annihilation of the Taliban if that came at the strategic cost of radically destabilizing Pakistan. This dilemma is nonetheless exacerbated by increasing evidence of Pakistan's resurgent leverage in Afghan affairs, primarily through the elements of the so-called "moderate Taliban".
Until the US abandons, in the words of Selig Harrison, director of the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy, the "unrealistic goal of rapid centralization in a still-feudal society that has never been centralized" will Afghanistan settle toward a modicum of normalization. The Pashtun-based Taliban are gradually being viewed by tribal Afghans as a relatively stabilizing force, after indiscriminate use of air power has further alienated these groups.
"Success" for the US in Afghanistan would then appear to stem logically from reconciling the contradictions of the surge in Pashtun nationalism as it is manifested through the resurgence of the Taliban with the overt US reliance on remnants of the Northern Alliance. Reconciling these ethnic groups with the US-friendly Northern Alliance through a grand coalition in Kabul is perhaps the only feasible path to stability in Afghanistan.
And China ...
Thus the game for all practical purposes has shifted south from its erstwhile imperial theater into Afghanistan, and perhaps into Pakistan. And it is China that is the major competitor with the US for influence. To discern Chinese interests in Pakistan in a post-post-Cold War age and in the context of accelerating Sino-Indian rapprochement requires an evaluation of China's "southwest corridor to the sea" strategy.
The decision by Beijing to enhance the development of its western regions, especially Xinjiang, is the starting point. But there is a multidimensional rationale. China's rapidly growing geo-economic links - energy, trade, investment - with East Africa, West Asia, and the Persian Gulf suggest a strategic need to gain secure uninterrupted access to these regions.
The vulnerability of Chinese energy and vital raw-materials imports in Indian Ocean sea lanes is well recognized. Thus a land route totransport West Asian hydrocarbons through Pakistan into China eliminates the possibility of naval interdiction and enhances Beijing's energy security.
In addition, a 1,500km corridor would also enable direct transport of East African commodities vital for industrialization of Xinjiang, situated 3,500km from China's east coast. The linkage is two-way. The economic rejuvenation of western China would then imply an outlet for Chinese exports into imports-dependent Pakistan and wealthy markets in the Persian Gulf.
China's assistance to Pakistan to establish and modernize its transportation infrastructure from Kashgar through the Trans-Karakoram Highway to the deepsea port at Gwadar is the initial manifestation of an envisaged geo-economic trail, perhaps no less dramatic than the historical silk routes across Central Asia.
With Pakistan offering to provide China "a window to the sea", the envisaged US-sponsored opening of Afghanistan holds little interest for China, which is able to pursue a shorter route to the Arabian Sea.
The next 'Great Game'
The United States today is facing an uphill task in shaping regional politics, as all the relevant actors are reluctant to accept the US role of a geopolitical arbitrator. The once intricately poised US advance northward in the aftermath of September 11 has become a defensive tactical retreat to steer Afghanistan toward an uncertain fate.
Remarks in February by Evan A Feigenbaum, US deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, perhaps reflect best America's belated acknowledgement of geopolitical reverses in the north:
- We reject the notion, once again so fashionable, that Central Asia is merely an arena for outside powers to compete for influence. Central Asians are not the objects of our struggles with others. They are the very focus of our policy. And if Central Asians themselves are the focus of our policy, then we have every incentive to help them tap economic opportunity in every direction on the compass: west, east, north, and south. In short, our policy is not "anti" anyone. Nor is it focused in any single geographic direction to the exclusion of any other.
A far cry indeed from the late 1990s and early 2000s, when pipeline blueprints were drafted solely on exclusive US-led plans for evacuation of Central Asian hydrocarbons. Feigenbaum went on:
- We are not talking about severing the region from other long-standing ties. And how could we, anyway? An existing - and extensive - network of pipelines, power lines, railroads and highways to Russia and other Commonwealth of Independent States countries provides the current backbone of Central Asian trade and commerce.
Putin's latest Central Asian tour is perhaps the final nail in the coffin. Well, that "Great Game" is indeed over! In the US geostrategic calculus, South Asia has evolved from a possible bridgehead into a vital theater for geopolitical influence in its own right.
The emerging trend to watch out for is how the now-transformed "defensive" strategic posture of the United States in Afghanistan and Pakistan will shape out. Given its substantial investment in blood and money, the US is likely to try to consolidate its leverage over South Asia, and especially over Pakistan, and hope to retain a long-term strategic foothold to ensure that a countervailing presence to growing Chinese influence in South Asia in general and Pakistan in particular is preserved.
Should New Delhi be worried?
Zorawar Daulet Singh, who holds a master's degree in international relations from the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, is an international-relations and strategic-affairs analyst based in New Delhi
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The second coming of Saladin
By Pepe Escobar Asia Times Online / May 18, 2007
The best lack all conviction
While the worst are full of passionate intensity.
- W B Yeats, The Second Coming
DAMASCUS - The discreet green-and-white tomb of the greatest warrior of Islam, Saladin - by the splendid Ummayad Mosque in the former seat of the caliphate - may be the ideal place to meditate on if, where and when Islam may be shaken again by the advent of a new Saladin, nine centuries after the illustrious deeds of the great Muslim general.
Saddam Hussein, not least because he was also from Tikrit (although Saladin was a Kurd), fashioned himself as the genuine article - fighting (twice) the infidel Christian armies of the US. He is now no more than a martyr for a minority. Osama bin Laden carefully fashioned his iconography as a cross between Saladin, Che Guevara and the Prophet Mohammed. But as in the immortal line in Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, "his methods are unsound"; despite the marketing success in the expansion of the al-Qaeda brand, bin Laden will never be able to capture the collective conscious of the ummah.
The new Saladin might be the son of a Palestinian refugee victim of the Nakhba ("catastrophe") 59 years ago. He might be a computer wizard too sophisticated to be tempted by al-Qaeda's Salafi-jihadism. He might be an angry young man straight out of the "sanctions generation" in Iraq - deprived of everything while he was growing up, courtesy of the "international community".
He won't be a tourism developer in Dubai, self-styled "city of captivating contrasts" (between the Western/Arab business elites and the South Asian slaves, maybe?). He won't be the pampered son of the Sunni business aristocracy in Damascus showing off his Porsche Cayenne. He won't be a billionaire international playboy posing as politician a la Saad Hariri in Beirut. He won't be a gas-dealing executive in gas nirvana Qatar.
Divide and rejoice
Conditions are more than ripe for the advent of a new Saladin - after the Nakhba, the 1967 lightning Israeli victory against the Arabs, the failures of pan-Arabism, the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Israeli attack on Lebanon, the limited appeal of Salafi-jihadism, the non-stop stifling of nationalist movements by Western-backed brutal dictatorships/client monarchies.
When the future Saladin looks at the troubled and dejected Middle East, the first thing he sees is US Vice President Dick Cheney shopping for yet another war - skipping the "axis of evil" (Iran, unofficial member Syria) and ordering support from the "axis of fear" (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, the Emirates) in his relentless demonizing of Iran. After inflating sectarianism in Iraq, this time the imperial "divide and rule" weapon of choice is Arabs vs Persians.
The administration of US President George W Bush may have taken a leaf from former colonial power France - which invented Greater Lebanon as a confessional state, thus prone to perennial turbulence - to apply it in Iraq. But plunging Iraq into civil war to control better it is not enough (and there's still the matter of securing the oilfields).
Forcing a practically de facto partition of Iraq into three warring crypto-states - a Kurdistan, a southern "Shi'iteistan" and a small central, oil-deprived Sunnistan - mired in a sea of blood in the heart of the Middle East is not enough. For Cheney, the industrial-military complex and assorted Ziocon (Zionist/neo-conservative) warriors, the big prize is the subjugation of Iran. Because Iran, apart from its natural wealth, is the only power capable - at least potentially - of challenging regional US hegemony.
Yet the trademark Cheney threats - with the standard high-tech aircraft-carrier background - are not cutting much ice. Al-Jazeera has been rhetorically bombarded by everybody and his neighbor - from retired Egyptian generals to Emirati political analysts - stressing that the Middle East will not support another US war. Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, in a swift move, has just been to the United Arab Emirates - the first visit by any Iranian leader since the Emirates became independent in 1971, and all the more crucial because of a still-running dispute over a bunch of Persian Gulf islands.
The House of Saud - for which the only thing that matters is its own survival - desperately wants a solution as soon as possible for the Palestinian tragedy, before they may be buried six feet under by the terrible sandstorms blowing from Mesopotamia (think of hordes of battle-hardened Salafi-jihadis coming home after fighting the US in Iraq).
King Abdullah is not bent on antagonizing Iran. On the contrary: the most important guest at the recent Riyadh conference was Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki. Saudis and Iranians want to prevent US-provoked sectarianism in Iraq from spreading regionally. And King Abdullah wants a better deal for Sunni Arab Iraqis (hence his identification of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki as an Iranian puppet).
While Cheney wants to pit Saudi Arabia against Iran, a discreet, behind-the-scenes Saudi-Iranian pact of no aggression may be all but inevitable, diplomats tell Asia Times Online. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said as much on the record: "Stop any attempt aimed at spreading sectarian strife in the region."
Iran of course can be very persuasive, holding some tasty cards up its sleeve - such as hard-earned intelligence directly implicating the Saudis in training the Sunni Arab muqawama (resistance) in Iraq on explosive form penetrators (EFPs), which the Pentagon foolishly insists come from Iran. Everyone in Iraq knows it is operatives from "axis of fear" allies Saudi Arabia and Egypt - and also Pakistan - who have provided the Sunni Arab guerrillas in Iraq with technology and training on improvised explosive devices and EFPs.
Thus we have another Bush administration foreign-policy special: Cheney coddling guerrilla-arming Sunni Arabs - who are facilitating the killing of American soldiers in Iraq - to support an attack on Shi'ite Persians (allied with the Iraqi Shi'ites supported by the Americans ...).
Anyway, Iraqi Shi'ites are more than winning the US surge game. The surging US soldiers are fighting various strands of the Sunni Arab resistance and al-Qaeda in Iraq. Meanwhile, the officially ensconced Badr Organization and its shady death-squad spinoffs are free to apply a lot of deadly pressure on the Sunni Arab civilian population. The Mehdi Army, on Muqtada al-Sadr's orders, is just lying low - not taking the bait of fighting the Americans. Nothing will change the reality of this surge picture in the next few months.
About that clash
A possible Saudi-Iranian entente would be a classic case of local powers taking the destiny of the region in their own hands. In a parallel register, in southern Beirut - prime Hezbollah territory - there are plenty of banners in front of buildings destroyed by Israel last summer. They read: "The Zionist enemy destroys, the Islamic Republic of Iran builds."
Unity in the Muslim world is not a chimera: crypto-scientific Western babble of the "Arabs are extinct" variety is plain silly, as are nonagenarian Bernard Lewis' pontifications on the "clash of civilizations" - the "perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage". The new Saladin would tell Lewis to get a grip on reality and admit that the unabated political repression, tremendous social inequality and prevailing economic disaster all over the Middle East are direct consequences of decades of "divide and rule" Western imperialism plus some extra decades of non-stop meddling coupled with rapacious, arrogant and ignorant local elites.
The new Saladin knows how the US and Britain initially supported the Muslim Brotherhood - and then the Brotherhood supported the birth of Hamas. He knows how the US and Britain initially supported Iranian clerics - especially the late ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini - against the shah. He knows how the US and Britain initially supported the Taliban. The aim was always to stifle any form of progressive, secular movement by socialists, communists or Arab nationalists.
A possible Saudi-Iran entente is still a dream. There is the parallel emergence of a coalition of top members of the "axis of fear" - Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan - with Turkey and, of all players, Israel. Common objective: the containment of Iran. And not only Iran, but also Hezbollah and Hamas. King Abdullah was persuaded of this strategy by notorious Prince Bandar bin Sultan, aka "Bandar Bush", former Saudi ambassador in the US for 22 years, a close friend of both Bush and Cheney, and now the head of the Saudi National Security Council.
The strategy was in fact masterminded by a pedestrian version of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Cheney; Bandar; US deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams; and former US ambassador in Iraq and Afghan jack-of-all-trades Zalmay Khalilzad. What the popular masses in the Middle East think about this is of course irrelevant. In majority-Sunni Egypt, for instance, the most popular politicians are by far Hezbollah's Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Khalid Meshal from Hamas, and Ahmadinejad. Two Shi'ites and a Sunni amply supported by Shi'ites.
About that 'war on terror'
The Bush administration is cunningly trying to spin the theme of "Sunni solidarity" to push the dagger of fitna (dissent) even further into the heart of Islam, always focusing on the same target: total, unchallenged domination of the Middle East.
Cheney could not but have also enlisted Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf (who facilitates US intelligence on countless covert ops inside southeastern Iran organized from Balochistan in Pakistan). Some players are getting itchy, though. Turkey had to announce on the record that it would not join any "anti-Shi'ite alliance". Turkey cannot afford to antagonize Iran - not with the coming November referendum on the autonomy of Iraqi Kurdistan.
The new Saladin also sees that the "war on terror" is far from over - metastasized into more subtle forms of Islamophobia, and still directly related to the attempted oil grab in the "big prizes" of Iraq and Iran. The privileged strategy to conquer fabulous natural wealth in the lands of Islam has been predictable from the start; building a case against the "barbarian", "uncivilized" and "pre-modern" Muslim world; vilifying Islam as a religion and Muslim culture and mores; promoting de facto discrimination and in may cases outright racism against Muslims in the wealthy north; equating Islam with terrorism.
The new Saladin knows it as much as virtually the whole 1.5-billion-strong ummah knows it.
And then there's the Shi'ite world. As long as US so-called elites fail to understand the phenomenal power of Shi'ism, any brilliant armchair strategy they cook up is destined to fail miserably.
Shi'ites in Iraq will never be co-opted by any US agenda - no matter the Himalayas of wishful thinking involved. They will never sacrifice their collective consciousness - forged by oppression and exclusion - nor their profound sense of historic victimization to the benefit of a made-in-America "liberal" utopia. Shi'ites will continue to stress their tremendous hostility to Zionism; to their society being corrupted by Western - especially US - popular and trash culture; and most of all to imperial designs on Muslim lands and natural wealth. It's in the DNA of Shi'ites to see themselves as the guardians of true Islam.
The hour of the wolf
So where will the new Saladin come from?
He could be Nasrallah - who forced the formerly mighty Israeli army to back off, and who will inevitably prevail in a majority government in Lebanon through democratic elections.
He could be a young Sadrist who has never entered the Green Zone, and who before that was a member of the "sanctions generation", growing up in absolute marginalization. Now he goes to al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, he will get his diploma, and he will be better equipped to fight for the true liberation of Iraq. He could be Muqtada al-Sadr himself - the legitimate popular leader of a national-liberation movement.
He could be the son of a Palestinian refugee who grew up in Damascus or Beirut, got an education, emigrated to Canada to perfect his skills, learn from the best the West has to offer, and then one day come back and enter politics with a vengeance.
He could be a Muslim Brotherhood intellectual in Syria. He would fully back the Sunni Arab resistance in Iraq. He would fully back deposing the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan. He would fully back Hamas. As a Muslim Brotherhood Saladin, he would fight for a Sunni Arab Greater Syria capable of talking some sense into Israel.
He could be a Saudi-trained Sunni Arab sniper in Baghdad who posts his killing videos as manifestos on the Internet. Or he could even not be an Arab, but a Persian - a resistance hero in case of a tactical nuclear US strike.
The soul of Saladin may be impatient for an heir. So are hundreds of millions in the ummah. What rough warrior, its hour come out at last, slouches toward Jerusalem, Damascus or Baghdad to be born?
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007)
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US urges France to keep troops in Afghanistan
May 16, 2007
PARIS (AFP) - US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said Wednesday he hoped France would keep its troops in Afghanistan, and that new French President Nicolas Sarkozy would reconsider his opposition to letting Turkey join the EU.
"It is important that all of our allies, including France, recognize the importance of remaining together in Afghanistan as one unit. Each country contributes decisively to our ability to succeed," he said during a visit to Paris.
"Our NATO partners are very committed to Afghanistan and we would hope and expect that commitment continues to hold," he told a conference at the French-American Foundation.
France has about 1,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of the 37,000-strong NATO contingent from 37 nations deployed to help local security forces fight the Taliban and wrest back control of the rugged nation.
Sarkozy, who became France's new president on Wednesday, said last month that the long-term presence of French troops in Afghanistan was "not decisive."
He made the statement at a time when two French aid workers were being held hostage by the Taliban, who were demanding the departure of French troops. The two hostages have since been released.
Negroponte also said Tuesday he hoped Sarkozy would reconsider his objections to allowing Turkey, a predominantly Muslim nation of 70 million people, join the European Union.
Sarkozy has argued that most of Turkey's territory is in Asia and that the idea of a united Europe would be diluted if its borders stretched that far. "Our view is based on the thought that it would be important to integrate this strategically significant country into the European continent," said Negroponte.
"We would simply hope ... that the government of France will keep an open mind on this subject and ... think about what the consequences inside Turkey and for the region might be if the door were closed completely to Turkish membership of the EU," he said.
Turkey carried out a series of far-reaching democratic reforms to win the green light for EU membership talks in 2005, despite strong opposition among the European public, notably in France.
But a row over Ankara's refusal to grant trade privileges to Cyprus led the EU in December to freeze talks in eight of the 35 policy areas that candidates are required to complete.
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AFGHAN ATTORNEY-GENERAL ATTEMPTS TO INTIMIDATE TOLO TV STAFF
PRESS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
16 May 2007 - Abdul Jabar Sabet, the ‘former’ Canadian resident who is currently the Attorney-General of Afghanistan, has again attempted to intimidate the media in Afghanistan through the Afghan Police.
Tolo TV staff were advised recently that the Attorney General of Afghanistan, Jabar Sabet, had instructed the Afghan police to summon Hamid Haidary (journalist) and Siddiq Ahmadzada (Director General – Tolo TV) for questioning relating to the events of 17 April 2007.
On that night, the Attorney-General ordered the 10th District Police (against the law) to raid Tolo TV’s premises and arrest Tolo TV staff, as a result of which 3 staff were beaten and detained only to be released within the hour with no charges. In addition to the Tolo TV staff, 4 Associated Press staff were also detained and abused.
Here is a brief run-down of what transpired very recently on 15 May 2007:
• At around 8.00am Monday, the Tolo TV news team received a call from the 10th District (Hauza 10) Police precinct (the same precinct involved in the illegal raid of Tolo TV on 17 April 2007) informing Tolo that the above two individuals will be summoned by the Attorney General sometime soon and that it may be best to make an appearance at the Attorney General’s Office.
• Tolo TV contacted the police to seek provision of legal documentation relating to the summons of the two Tolo TV staff. The Police claimed that it would take some time to prepare the legal documentation. Tolo TV made it clear that it required proper legal documentation.
• Naturally, the staff of Tolo TV, fearful of a repeat of the incident of 17 April 2007, where staff were beaten and arrested for no reason, are reluctant to trust the Police and the Attorney-General, especially given the brazen violations of the law on 17 April 2007 by the Police and the Attorney-General have yet to be addressed legally by anyone.
• At around 5.00pm the Tolo TV news team again received a call from the Criminal Directorate of the Police HQ (Qumandani) asking Messrs Ahmadzada and Haidary to make an appearance at the Police HQ (no specific time was mentioned).
• This was confirmed by telephone by the Kabul Police Chief Daulatzai an hour or so later when contacted by the Tolo TV legal staff. He asked for the accused to make an appearance at the Police HQ at 8.00am the following day. Daulatzai remained evasive regarding any documentation ie ‘we will provide you with this when you come in tomorrow’.
• At around 6.30pm, Siddiq Ahmadzada’s wife received a visit from the local criminal police (Hauza/District 3). As Mr Ahmadzada was not present at home, they decided to take his younger brother (who does not work with Tolo TV) into a police vehicle which was parked outside (along with another half a dozen police cars).
• Tolo TV also received news that two police vehicles were waiting outside Mr Haidary’s residence at Kolola Pushta (District 4) in Kabul.
• Based on Tolo TV investigations, Minister Zarar who is the Minister of Interior has claimed that he had received no news of the above until much later that day.
• By 10.00pm the criminal police had still not abandoned their ‘siege’ of the Tolo TV staff residences.
• By 10.15pm it was becoming apparent that Mr Ali Shah Paktiawal, Director of the Criminal Directorate of Kabul Police, and his troops were unwilling to budge.
• Minister Zarar then dispatched Commander Aghbar (Police commander on duty) to deal with the situation – with instructions to arrest the insubordinate police officers.
• By 10.30pm Mr Aghbar’s officers managed to break the siege at District 3. However the siege at District 4 (outside Mr Haidary’s house) continued up until the next morning.
• Separately on 16 May 2007, a letter was received by Tolo TV from the Ministry of Information and Culture quoting from a letter sent to it by the Attorney-General’s Office essentially asking Tolo TV to submit to the demands of the Attorney-General
Tolo TV is very concerned about the above incidents, and in particular:
• This is a continuation of the intimidation of the free media by the Attorney General Mr Sabet which started some time ago culminating in the events of 17 April 2007 (for which Tolo TV has lodged a formal complaint with the Supreme Court and the Office of the President)
• On the night of 17 April 2007 according to evidence obtained by Tolo TV, the Attorney General breached at least 11 provisions of the laws of Afghanistan, including laws relating to the specific role of the Police vis-a-vis the Attorney-General’s office
• The Director of the Criminal Directorate of Kabul Police, Ali Shah Paktiawal, refused to take instructions from his superiors (Minister Zarar and Chief of Police Daulatzai).
• The Attorney-General has been attempting to contact Police officers directly and instruct them to take specific action against the laws of Afghanistan.
• The Attorney-General is conflicted in respect of the incident of 17 April 2007 given the proceedings commenced against him by Tolo TV so he should not be investigating this matter himself
• Police officers being used to intimidate journalists and other private citizens.
• The Ministry of Information and Culture instead of standing for the rights of the media being used by the Attorney-General’s office to intimidate the media
The above incidents point to the continuing erosion of the rights of the media and journalists in Afghanistan which commenced from about the time Minister Karim Khuram became the Minister of Information and Culture. A free and vibrant media is crucial to the support of democracy in Afghanistan.
We hereby call on the support of all those who want freedom of the media in Afghanistan, and speak out against this type of physical intimidation by the Attorney-General, the Police and the Ministry of Information and Culture of Afghanistan. Specifically, we call on all countries who are active participants and contributors to Afghanistan’s development to make a stand and voice their position on the issue of media freedom and intimidation of journalists and those working in the media.
On the issue of 17 April 2007, again Tolo TV calls for independent investigations into the actions of the Attorney-General, the Police and the Ministry of Information and Culture. Turning a blind eye to actions of the past will only encourage further breaches of the law into the future.
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Pakistan derives export earnings from Afghan carpets
Reported by Zabeehullah Ihsas
Translated & edited by S. Mudassir Ali Shah
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, May 16 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Pakistan earns $130 million annually from exports of a wide variety of world-famous carpets handmade in Afghanistan, say Balkh-based weavers and merchants.
Ever since the mass refugee exodus into the neighbouring country in the wake of the 1978 Soviet invasion, they claim, Pakistan has been purchasing in bulk Afghan carpets and exporting them abroad under its own brand name.
Muhammad Qul, deputy president of the Balkh Carpet Export Association, reckons of the six million craftsmen associated with the countrys major industry, four million come from northern provinces that account for 70 percent of Afghanistans total annual production - three million square metres of rugs.
On a yearly basis, I sell Pakistan 120,000 square metres of carpets - infused with Afghanistans history - that are later sent to offshore markets as a Pakistani product, points out Haji Qandeel, who owns the countrys largest manufacturing facility spread over 15 acres of land in Mazar-i-Sharif.
Given the ubiquitous insecurity in Afghanistan, the carpet magnate argues, foreign buyers tend to err on the side of caution and eschew coming to the Central Asian country. As a consequence, he continues, foreigners wrap up multimillion transactions with Pakistanis.
One square metre of rug exported directly from Afghanistan costs 22 dollars while we pay a mere seven dollars for the same quantity sold abroad via Pakistan, explains the leading industrialist, who urges the Karzai government to open a bank to facilitate Afghan entrepreneurs.
An office-bearer of the Balkh Carpet Export Association, Najib confirms the neighbouring country reaped windfall profits from such business deals. He is optimistic the Afghan government can earn millions of dollars in foreign exchange by helping manufacturers gain access to the international market, where prices of Afghan carpets are going through the roof.
But Abdul Wakeel of the International Chamber of Commerce insists they are doing their bit to provide rug traders with all possible inducements - notably the transportation facility. He grumbles the Finance Ministry is not cooperating with the Chamber in addressing businessmens concerns, primarily impediments created by the customs staff.
For his part, provincial customs collector Muhammad Shireen Aaqa avers exports and imports have been exempted from road tolls in compliance with a decree issued by President Hamid Karzai. The allegations leveled against the customs department are malicious and unfounded, he maintains.
During the Dr Najibullah government, Muhammad Qul recalls, weekly carpet shipments to Europe from Mazar-i-Sharif alone stood at 12,000 square metres. The level has nosedived, nevertheless, thanks to decades of strife and widespread corruption. This last year, the International Chamber of Commerce could export just 7,000 square metres of carpets to Germany.
Going by credible statistics, an average carpet, produced at the cost of 3,800 afghanis, sells for Rs4,500 in the domestic market and $90 across the border in Pakistan. Significantly, the Pakistani dealer pockets $60 apiece from its overseas transaction.
If reintegrated into the global market, Afghanistan can indubitably export its way out of poverty with handmade carpets of the highest quality. Made from natural fibers, the high-value carpets have vastly different designs, motifs, colours and sizes.
Additionally, entrepreneurs suggest, expatriate weavers and industrialists should be encouraged to return from Pakistan, which derives substantial export earnings from their expertise and investments.
For tapping into this big revenue-generating source, Afghanistan needs to expand traditional hand-knit carpet production from remote villages to city centres. Proper transportation to collect and deliver the products to market locations plus sustained availability of raw materials that could cut costs and boost production capacity are urgently needed to realise the full potential of the industry.
Afghanistans braided rugs with oval, round and oblong shapes and fitted carpets with medallion patterns and delicate broken borderlines are in great demand the world over. But regrettably enough, the lions share of incomes from the artistically-woven rugs and bags end up in pockets of outsiders.
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Nangarhar legislators complain to UN against Coalition
JALALABAD, May 16 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Members of the Nangarhar Provincial Council on Wednesday complained to the UN that foreign troops were willfully conducting operations and searching houses in disregard of civilian security and local traditions.
The complaint was made during a meeting with Christopher Alexander, representative of the UN Secretary General on Wednesday.
Deputy head of the provincial council Maulvi Abdul Aziz Khairkhwah, speaking on behalf of the members, accused the foreign troops of willfully disrupting the otherwise peaceful environment in all the 22 districts of the province.
He said the unwarranted search operations by the foreign troops were responsible for the disturbance of security.
About 45 civilians were killed in Coalition's operations in the province over the previous two months, Khairkhwah informed the UN representative.
He added people were also not happy at the arrest of religious scholars at the hands of foreign troops. Ninety percent of the detained clerics were innocent, he insisted.
The peaceful Nangarhar province would soon transform into another Zabul, Ghazni or Helmand if the unwarranted search operations of the Coalition troops continued.
The UN representative said the foreign troops had come to the conclusion that the night operations were not giving positive results. They should change their strategy, he observed.
Abdul Mueed Hashmi
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169 schools in Badakhshan to reopen: Minister
FAIZABAD, May 15 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Education Minister Muhammad Hanif Atmar has promised that 169 schools in the northern Badakhshan province, closed in the wake of the firing of 2,800 teachers, would be reopened soon.
At a meeting with provincial authorities here, the minister said the schools hit by teachers sackings would shortly restart functioning after three months of closure.
The teachers in Darwazha, Shahre Buzurg and Khulum districts were fired on the expiry of their fixed-term contracts, forcing the ministry to shut the schools. The closure prompted affected students to stage a string of demonstrations.
Atmar pledged the teachers retrenched would be given their outstanding salaries amounting to 80 million afghanis, though his ministry had earlier expressed its inability to pay any educators not on its payroll.
He also announced the establishment of a laboratory, a teacher training centre and separate dormitories for boy and girl students in the provincial capital.
More than 50 percent of Badakhshan schools are working in the open air even - without tents, according to Education Director Muhammad Rahim Hesar Mahal.
But Atmar vowed the provision of tents within two months to all Badakhshan schools, which would get proper buildings over the next five years.
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