By RAHIM FAEIZ, Associated Press Writer
GARDEZ, Afghanistan - A suicide bomber on foot detonated himself in a crowded market in eastern
Afghanistan on Sunday just after a U.S. convoy drove by, killing at least 14 people and wounding 31, officials and witnesses said.
The attack in the city of Gardez damaged around 30 shops, shattered windows and destroyed the stores closest to the explosion. Three vehicles were damaged, including a taxi blasted by dozens of pieces of shrapnel.
Witnesses said a U.S. convoy appeared to be the target, and Maj. William Mitchell, a spokesman for
NATO's International Security Assistance Force, said there were initial reports of injuries to ISAF soldiers, though he didn't have further details.
Six people died at the scene of the blast, police said. Another eight later died at a hospital, said Ghulam Hazrat Majedi, the doctor in charge of the Gardez hospital. He said two of the 31 people injured were in a critical condition.
Afghan soldiers donated blood for the wounded.
Nasar Ahmad, a 30-year-old shopkeeper whose three cousins were seriously injured in the blast, said he saw a U.S. convoy driving through the city just before the explosion.
"I heard a strong blast and then saw a fireball go up," Ahmad said from Gardez' hospital. "For 10 minutes I couldn't hear and I didn't know where I was. I saw a lot of people injured lying in the street."
Shah Mohammad, 19, said everyone killed or wounded by the blast were Afghan civilians.
"The convoy had already passed when the attack happened," he said.
The blast in Gardez comes one day after a suicide bomber in northern Afghanistan killed three German soldiers and seven civilians.
Violence in Afghanistan has increased sharply in the last several weeks. More than 1,600 people, have been killed in insurgency-related violence this year, according to an AP count based on U.S., NATO and Afghan officials. The dead have mostly been militants, but about 300 civilians have also died in the violence.
In Ghazni province, 30 Taliban fighters were killed during a battle with ISAF and Afghan forces on Saturday, said Mohammad Qazam Allayar, the deputy provincial governor. He said 18 Taliban were injured and 11 arrested.
A statement from NATO's ISAF said that during the last several days Afghan and ISAF operations "have resulted in the removal of over 100 enemy fighters." The ISAF press office said it wasn't immediately clear what the word "removal" meant.
The statement said local Afghans are increasing their cooperation with military and government units.
"The people have said enough to the bloodshed and intimidation and are reporting criminals and insurgents; they are also closing off their lands and villages to them," said Maj. Donald Korpi, a spokesman with the unit involved in the Ghazni battles.
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More than 30 Taliban killed in Afghanistan
Sun May 20, 5:59 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - More than 30 rebel fighters were killed in southern Afghanistan early Sunday, a police chief said, as the NATO force announced it had killed "a significant number" of Taliban leaders.
The 30 rebels were killed in a military sweep involving foreign forces in the southern province of Ghazni, provincial police commander Alishah Ahmadzai told AFP. "We have seen the bodies on the battlefield," he said.
His toll could not be independently verified. NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the separate US-led coalition said they did not have information about the operation.
Eleven other rebels were captured and 18 wounded in the sweep which moved through villages along a key highway in the province, Ahmadzai said.
Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi confirmed there had been a military operation in the area and said it involved the use of air power. His death toll was much lower.
ISAF announced separately that "a significant number of Taliban extremist leaders were successfully targeted and killed in a precision air strike last night in southern Afghanistan."
The men were gathered in a remote area, it said in a statement.
"Initial assessments indicate all of those who died were enemy insurgents."
It would not give the location of the strike or identify the "rebel leaders" targeted.
"Combined with the recent demise of Mullah Dadullah, this strike will, in the short term, push the enemy into confusion and disarray," ISAF spokesman Major John Thomas said.
Dadullah, the Taliban's top military strategist, was killed in a foreign and Afghan operation on May 11.
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US raids made 2,000 Afghans homeless: Red Cross
Sat May 19, 9:18 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Bombing by US forces in western Afghanistan last month wrecked 173 houses and left 2,000 people homeless, the Red Cross said, announcing findings of its assessment of the damage.
Preliminary UN and Afghan investigations have found that around 50 civilians were killed in the April 27 and 29 assaults, which involved US Special Forces, with final reports due this week.
The International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed in a statement that the clashes "killed dozens of civilians" and reprimanded foreign forces over civilian casualties caused in operations against Taliban militants.
The assault also "left 230 families, almost 2,000 people, in four villages homeless," it said.
A delegation from the Red Cross and the Afghan Red Crescent Society also found that "173 houses had been destroyed or were so badly damaged as to be uninhabitable."
The groups are distributing relief to the displaced families, including food, tarpaulins, pressure cookers, blankets and jerry cans.
The US-led coalition has said 136 Taliban fighters were killed in the clashes.
It is investigating claims of civilian deaths, with the reported toll one of the highest in the campaign against the militants, which has lasted nearly six years. The US military has said an "appropriate level of force" was used.
The head of the Red Cross in Afghanistan, Reto Stocker, said all sides involved in the conflict were "legally obliged to distinguish at all times between legitimate military objectives and the civilian population and civilian objects."
They must weigh up the possible incidental loss of civilian life and damage against the expected military outcome of an attack, Stocker said in the statement.
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U.S. pays Pakistan to fight terror, but patrols ebb
By David Sanger and David Rohde Saturday, May 19, 2007 The New York Times via The International Herald Tribune
WASHINGTON: The United States is continuing to make large payments of roughly $1 billion a year to Pakistan for what it calls reimbursements to the country's military for conducting counterterrorism efforts along the border with Afghanistan, even though Pakistan's president decided eight months ago to slash patrols through the area where Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters are most active.
The monthly payments, called coalition support funds, are not widely advertised. Buried in public budget numbers, the payments are intended to reimburse Pakistan's military for the cost of the operations. So far, Pakistan has received more than $5.6 billion under the program over five years, more than half of the total aid the United States has sent to the country since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, not counting covert funds.
Some American military in the region has recommended that the money be tied to Pakistan's performance in pursuing Al Qaeda and keeping the Taliban from gaining a haven from which to attack the government of Afghanistan. American officials have been surprised by the speed at which both organizations have gained strength in the past year.
But Bush administration officials say no such plan is being considered, despite new evidence that the Pakistani military is often looking the other way when Taliban fighters retreat across the border into Pakistan, ignoring calls from American spotters to intercept them. There is also at least one American report that Pakistani security forces have fired in support of Taliban fighters attacking Afghan posts.
The administration, according to some current and former officials, is fearful of cutting off the cash or linking it to performance for fear of further destabilizing Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, who is facing the biggest challenges to his rule since he took power in 1999.
The White House would not directly answer the question of why Pakistan is being paid the same, very large amount now that it has publicly declared that it is significantly cutting back on its patrols in the most important border area. But Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, emphasized Pakistan's strategic importance in the region.
"Pakistan's cooperation is very important in the global war on terror and for our operations in Afghanistan," Johndroe said. "Our investments in that partnership have paid off over time, from increased information sharing to kills and captures of key terrorist operatives. There is more work to be done, the Pakistanis know that, and we are engaged with the Musharraf government to ramp up the fight."
The Pentagon, in response to inquiries, said Friday that the payments to Pakistan since October 2001, when the war in Afghanistan began, had averaged $80 million a month. The Congressional Research Service estimated last year that they accounted for about a fifth of Pakistan's total military expenditures.
The administration told Congress in January that the Pakistanis performed operations that "would be difficult for U.S. Armed Forces to attain," and the Pentagon said those included carrying out joint operations, commanding observation posts and conducting land and maritime interdictions.
But President Musharraf announced in September that under a peace agreement with local militants his regular army troops in North Waziristan, the center of Al Qaeda's operations, would no longer operate checkpoints and that they would stay in garrisons, a decision that came after Pakistani forces suffered heavy casualties in the lawless tribal areas.
Soon after, appearing with President George W. Bush, President Musharraf promised that tribal leaders and local militia would handle Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the tribal areas. Outside powers have long struggled to gain firm control of the remote and impoverished region, where fiercely independent tribes have largely ruled themselves for centuries. American officials believe that Osama bin Laden and other senior Al Qaeda members fled there in 2001.
Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, Mahmud Ali Durrani, said in an interview that the agreements were working and that his country's military activities on the border itself were increasing. He said that Pakistan was being properly reimbursed for fuel, munitions and wear and tear on military equipment. "There are multiple small and big operations going on, we have deployed troops along the border," he said. "There is a lot of coordination."
American officials tell a different story, saying that Pakistani cooperation was mixed at best in 2005 and 2006, though they acknowledge that the Pakistanis have been more responsive to NATO and American requests in recent months. Still, they complain that the Pakistanis are paid whether they go on operations or sit in their barracks.
"They send us a bill, and we just pay it," said a senior military official who has dealt extensively with President Musharraf. "Nobody can really explain what we are getting for this money or even where it's going."
After visiting Pakistan last year, Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, wrote in a report that the Defense Department's military office in Islamabad, the capital, recommended changing the aid program so that it was "paying for specific objectives that are planned and executed, rather than simply paying what the country bills." A senior military official engaged in battling the Taliban said that many commanders and diplomats in the region agreed with that recommendation.
Johndroe, the national security spokesman, said the White House was unaware of any such debate and was not currently considering changing the program.
"I'm not aware of any serious discussion to cut off the funding," Johndroe said. The payments are critical to bolstering the military. President Musharraf's greatest source of support, particularly as he faces growing street protests over his removal of an independent-minded Supreme Court chief justice as the court was about to consider the legality of the president's decision to hold the nation's top military and political posts at the same time.
"In funding the Pakistani military, we are making it easier for Musharraf to fulfill his objectives, and we are keeping the military off his back," said Xenia Dormandy, a former director for South Asia for the National Security Council who is now a scholar at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
"It is a very good question to raise," he added. "If we are giving a billion dollars to the military each year, would that money not be better spent building schools, roads and health services in that region?"
A study of the roughly $10 billion sent to Pakistan by the United States since 2002, conducted by Craig Cohen and Derek Chollet of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, found that $5.6 billion in reimbursements was in addition to $1.8 billion for security assistance, which mostly finances large weapons systems.
But those weapons are more useful, the authors concluded, in countering India than in fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The United States has also provided about $1.6 billion for "budget support," which Pakistan can use broadly, including for reducing debt.
In contrast, only about $900 million has been dedicated to health, food aid, democracy promotion and education, in a country where illiteracy rates are about 50 percent, and American policy makers say the education gap has opened the way for religious schools that can become hotbeds of extremism.
The Pentagon says that the Pakistani expenses are reviewed by the Central Command and the American Embassy in Islamabad, and reported to Congress. But current and former commanders and diplomats say that the review is cursory and that there is no real way to audit the Pakistani operations.
Meanwhile, American and NATO military frustration with Pakistan's performance in the border area is growing, say current and former senior American military officials. They said that Taliban fighters had been seen regularly crossing the border within sight of Pakistani observation posts, but that the Pakistanis often made little effort to stop them.
Pakistani and American military commanders established direct radio communications between Pakistani and American border posts about two years ago, after a series of meetings on border issues. Since then, the system has worked well on some parts of the border and poorly in others, they said.
General James Jones, the former NATO supreme commander, said that when American or NATO forces saw Taliban fighters crossing the border and radioed nearby Pakistani posts, there sometimes was no answer. "Calls to apprehend or detain or restrict these ongoing movements, as agreed, were sometimes not answered," Jones said. "Sometimes radios were turned off."
Jones said he raised the problem with General Ehsan ul Haq, the chairman of Pakistan's Joint Chiefs of Staff, during Haq's visit to NATO headquarters last fall.
Durrani, the ambassador, denied that Pakistani troops were failing to stop Taliban fighters at the border. He said the troops were carrying out joint operations with American forces based inside Afghanistan.
Two American analysts and one American soldier said Pakistani security forces had fired mortars shells and rocket-propelled grenades in direct support of Taliban ground attacks on Afghan Army posts. A copy of an American military report obtained by The New York Times described one of the attacks.
"Enemy supporting fires consisting of heavy machine guns and RPG's were provided by two Pakistani observation posts," said the report, referring to rocket-propelled grenades. The grenades killed one Afghan soldier and ignited an ammunition fire that destroyed the observation post, according to the report. It concluded that "the Pakistani military actively supported the enemy assault" on the Afghan post.
James Dobbins, an analyst at the RAND Corporation and a former senior American envoy to Afghanistan, said soldiers had relayed similar complaints to him. "I've heard reports of Pakistani units providing fire support from positions inside Pakistan for Taliban units operating against Afghan Army units inside Afghanistan," he said.
A second American analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said American soldiers had told him that Pakistani forces supported Taliban ground attacks with mortar fire and rocket-propelled grenades at least two dozen times in 2005 and 2006. Senior American military officials said they had not heard of the incidents, but said Pakistani tribal militia, not Pakistani soldiers, could be supporting the Taliban attacks.
Durrani, the Pakistani ambassador, called the reports of direct Pakistani military support for the Taliban "preposterous." He said the Pakistani military, which has lost 700 troops fighting militants in the tribal areas, would never tolerate such activity from its soldiers. "If even once this happens," he said, "the whole system will come down like a ton of bricks on this person."
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Bush, NATO Chief Seek Ways To Bolster Afghanistan Mission
By Michael A. Fletcher Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, May 20, 2007; A20
CRAWFORD, Tex., May 19 -- NATO's top official is scheduled to arrive here Sunday for talks with President Bush amid growing anger in Afghanistan about civilian casualties from the alliance's war there and continued reluctance among many NATO members to increase their commitment to the six-year-old conflict.
Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and Bush are to meet Sunday and Monday at the president's ranch in hopes of solidifying NATO's efforts in Afghanistan. Some experts worry that the international effort is fraying as the violence in Afghanistan has intensified in the past year, exposing fissures between alliance members.
The 26 NATO member nations have assumed vastly different levels of risk in the Afghanistan mission. Countries including Germany, Italy and Spain have largely had their troops deployed in nonviolent areas of Afghanistan, leaving the volatile south to allies including Americans, Canadians, British and the Dutch.
"This mission, which was supposed to be where the alliance regained its solidarity, is not turning out that way," said Thomas Donnelly, a defense analyst at the American Enterprise Institute.
As the Taliban has resurfaced as a major force in southern Afghanistan over the past year, NATO forces have been increasingly targeted in suicide attacks and other violence. The attacks have contributed to a sharp escalation in violence as well as erosion in efforts to stabilize the country, as extremists also have targeted aid and reconstruction workers.
To compound problems, in recent weeks dozens of civilians have been killed as NATO forces or the separate U.S.-led task force battling the Taliban have engaged extremists, triggering protests by Afghans and threats by Parliament members to expel foreign troops.
The civilian casualties are also undermining support for the alliance among locals, whose backing is critical in the effort to defeat the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies.
Under increasing pressure because of civilian deaths and slow reconstruction, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has spoken out against the accidental killings, saying the nation can no longer accept them.
"In the eyes of the Afghan government, the presence of foreign troops is as much a problem as it is a solution," Donnelly said.
Meanwhile, administration officials and outside experts worry that what can be described as the Taliban's command-and-control operation has reconstituted itself in the largely ungoverned border areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Concerned that the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating, Bush in recent months has ordered additional troops and proposed stepped-up reconstruction aid to Afghanistan, an effort that has been backed by Britain. Germany, meanwhile, has sent additional helicopters and other equipment.
U.S. officials have been pushing for more international help for Afghanistan, arguing that the fight there is in the interest of all alliance members as it directly involves al-Qaeda and Taliban extremists who would like to harm them.
De Hoop Scheffer has called on NATO members to provide additional troops and other support, but so far those requests have been resisted in much of Europe, where voters are suspicious of the Bush administration.
"There is a deep reluctance among European people to get more involved in this war," said Bruce Riedel, a former special adviser to NATO and Brookings Institution scholar. "The U.S.-European relationship has been poisoned by the war in Iraq."
There are approximately 37,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan, including about 15,000 U.S. soldiers, and another 12,000 U.S. troops operate there under U.S. command.
Publicly, the Bush administration says it is fine with the effort of NATO members. "The president is satisfied with their commitment, while making it clear that this will require sustained involvement for years to come," said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council.
Still, some analysts say that NATO will need more troops on the ground to ensure victory in Afghanistan -- something they call a must for the alliance.
"This is make or break for NATO," Riedel said. "If it fails in Afghanistan, it probably will be relegated to being a footnote for the rest of the time it survives."
Administration officials said Bush and Scheffer are also likely to discuss the future governance of Kosovo, which has been run by the United Nations for the past nine years, as well as plans for NATO expansion.
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Germany vows to continue reconstruction in Afghanistan, despite suicide attack
The Associated Press Saturday, May 19, 2007
BERLIN: Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed Saturday to continue with reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan after a suicide attacker killed three German soldiers and wounded two others at a market in Kunduz.
"The German military is carrying out an important mission for the reconstruction and stabilization of Afghanistan," Merkel said in a statement. "It is the goal of the attackers to destroy the established successes of this rebuilding process. The international community is resolved to continue to help the people of Afghanistan ensure a good future for their country through reconstruction."
Gen. Noor Mohammad Omarkhail, the deputy provincial police chief of the area including Kunduz, said three German soldiers were killed and two were wounded when a suicide attacker detonated himself in a crowded market in the northern Afghan city. In addition, Afghan officials said seven civilians were killed and 15 wounded.
"These perfidious murders fill us all with disgust and horror," Merkel said. "Our deepest sympathies go out to the family and friends of our soldiers and the Afghan civilians who died. We wish the wounded a rapid recovery."
Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said the three German soldiers killed and two seriously injured had been part of a group of 10 soldiers and one German policeman that was attacked. He said others in the group received light injuries, including their Afghan interpreter.
The two seriously injured soldiers were expected to be brought back to Germany Sunday for medical attention, said Jung, who broke short a personal trip to Denmark to return to Germany after he received the news.
He added that Germany would not alter its course in Afghanistan.
"We will fulfill our mission," he said, speaking at the military's command center for deployments abroad outside of Berlin.
Germany's 3,000 troops with ISAF are responsible for northern Afghanistan, which sees relatively few attacks and is considered a much safer region than southern or eastern Afghanistan, where most of the country's fighting takes place.
Germany has resisted pressure from other NATO countries to send combat troops to the south, saying the mission in the north is also important.
"The attack again underscores that there is no quiet or safe zone," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a statement. "The mission that the German military has taken up in the north of the country is a central component of the stabilization of Afghanistan."
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Afghan battle lines become blurred
By M K Bhadrakumar Asia Times Online / May 19, 2007
New fault lines have appeared on the Afghan chessboard. While the "international community" kept watch on the obscure lawless borderlands of Pakistan's tribal agencies for the Taliban's spring offensive, templates of the war began to shift - almost unnoticed.
Things are not going to be the same again. The war is transforming. Adversarial lines are being redrawn. The enemy's contours have changed. Front lines are being abandoned. In
another six to eight weeks, hot, dry winds will have arrived, bearing fine, yellow dust that envelops everything, making appearances even more deceptive. No one will be able then to tell with certitude who is the enemy.
Looking back, the ground began to shift on New Year's Eve, when the lower chamber of the Afghan Parliament passed a bill that would grant amnesty to all Afghans involved in any war crimes during the past quarter-century. The resolution said, "In order to bring reconciliation among various strata in the society, all those political and belligerent sides that were involved one way or the other during the two and a half decades of war will not be prosecuted legally and judicially."
The quarter-century covered the entire period from the Saur Revolution in the spring of 1978 through the bloody years of the Soviet intervention, through the riotous mujahideen rule and the senseless civil war that followed, all the way to the Taliban takeover in Kabul in 1996 until the ouster of that regime in the autumn of 2001.
For the first time, Afghans spoke out that they no longer held the United States in awe. At a single stroke, the December 31 amnesty move deprived the US of the one weapon that it wielded for blackmailing the "warlords" into submission - powerful leaders of the Northern Alliance groups, the mujhideen field commanders, and petty local thugs alike.
The prospect of a war-crime tribunal was held like a Damocles' sword over any recalcitrant Afghan political personality - be it Burhanuddin Rabbani, Yunous Qanooni, Rashid Dostum or Rasool Sayyaf. In the able hands of former US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, it did wonders while ensuring Hamid Karzai's election as president and in consolidating US dominance in Afghanistan.
What was astonishing was that the amnesty bill covered even Taliban leader Mullah Omar and Hezb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Clearly, an Afghan "revolt" was afoot against the existing political order imposed by the US. Implicitly, it called into question the raison d'etre of the war, since the largest group in the mujahideen-dominated 249-member lower house of Parliament consists of the elected members of Hezb-e-Islami besides a sizable number of former Taliban figures (such as Mullah Abdul Salam Rocketti) who act as the Taliban's political wing in Kabul.
A lot of homework had obviously gone into the initiative. Afghan leaders, with their native wisdom, estimated that the war was going nowhere and that the chance of "victory" by the US, which was never good, had probably passed. They saw ahead that the superpower, which arrived full of hubris, might well depart humbled. They wished to be on call when the time came.
Of course, it was apparent to anyone that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was a divided house and that the United States' old European allies didn't share its apparent intention to turn Afghanistan into a client state under a NATO flag from where US power projection into the Persian Gulf and the Middle East and South Asia and Central Asia would become possible.
Most important, Afghans estimated that as in Iraq, dialogue would become unavoidable, and a regional solution involving Afghanistan's neighbors might become necessary. They were deeply skeptical whether Washington would stay the course. They could hear the Taliban's distant drums approaching Kabul's city gates.
The amnesty move unleashed a wave of political activism in the subsequent few weeks, leading to the formation of the new United Front early last month. The platform of the United Front is interesting. It calls for a parliamentary form of government; it wants to deprive the president of the power to appoint provincial governors (who should be elected officials instead); it demands changes in the electoral laws from the present so-called non-transferable system to a proportional system, etc. It speaks of dialogue, reconciliation and power-sharing.
But evidently the United Front is bent on cornering Karzai in a typical Afghan way - incrementally but relentlessly, until his political nerves give way and his US support becomes redundant. It is harshly critical of the Karzai government's ineptitude and corruption, and it draws attention to the great suffering of the Afghan people.
In the sphere of foreign affairs, the United Front vaguely seeks "coordination" with the foreign forces present in Afghanistan, and leaves it at that for the present. Significantly, it calls for the official recognition of the international border between Afghanistan and Pakistan - known as the Durand Line.
At first glance, the United Front lineup resembles erstwhile Northern Alliance - Burhanuddin Rabbani, Mohammed Fahim, Yunous Qanooni, Abdullah, Ismail Khan, and Rashid Dostum. But curiously, the United Front also includes two top Khalqi leaders from the communist era - members of the politburo of the Afghan Communist Party, General Nur al-Haq Olumi and General Mohammad Gulabzoi.
They were close associates of former defense minister General Shahnawaz Tanai, another top Khalqi leader, who staged an abortive coup attempt in March 1990 against the government in Kabul with the help of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and eventually fled to Pakistan seeking asylum.
Khalqis, who are drawn from the Pashtun tribes, have had a strong nexus with the Taliban over the years. Tanai, who is based in Pakistan, used to provide the Taliban with a skilled cadre of military officers, who flew the Taliban's "air force", drove their tanks and manned their heavy artillery, absolving the need of Pakistani regulars except in very selective roles. In the recent years, he has been a visitor to Kabul.
Therefore, questions arise. Is a far-reaching restructuring of the Taliban going on? Mullah Dadullah's killing seems part of the process. It does seem that Hekmatyar and the mujahideen/Khalqi elements within the Taliban are slouching toward mainstream politics in Kabul. A sidelining of the extremist, "jihadist" elements by ISI could be under way.
Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf could be acting, finally. Hekmatyar has certainly positioned himself somewhere in the vicinity of the United Front. He is almost visible. Mullah Dadullah's killing no doubt strengthens him. Equally, Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani (who is second only to Taliban supreme Mullah Omar) too has a mujahideen pedigree. Also, Haqqani and Hekmatyar go back a long way. In the Afghan jihad of the early 1980s, Haqqani was a camp follower of Professor Rasool Sayyaf (one of the prime movers, incidentally, of the amnesty move in Parliament).
The mystery deepens insofar as Hekmatyar also has a strong "Iran connection", having spent five years in exile in Mashhad after the Taliban takeover in Kabul in 1996. The big question is whether Iran would countenance a Taliban organization that is cleansed of murderers of monstrous ferocity like Mullah Dadullah (or rabidly obscurantist extremists like Mullah Omar) entering mainstream Afghan politics.
Arguably, it might. At any rate, almost on the heels of the consultations in Pakistan by Ambassador Ronald Neumann, US special envoy on Afghanistan, early this week, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki arrived in Islamabad on Thursday. Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is due to visit Kabul in June. Musharraf's close confidant, Railway Minister Sheikh Rashid, was received by Ahmadinejad in Tehran early this week.
While Mullah Dadullah's killing might have dealt a significant blow to the Taliban insurgency, Iran will still be cautious about the Taliban's command structure. Iran will also factor the growing anti-American sentiments among the Afghans. But Iran cannot be missing the point that it has indeed become a meaningful interlocutor for the US with respect to Afghan situation - just as over the future of Iraq.
The Afghan bazaar perceives that Ahmed Zia Massoud (brother of Ahmed Shah Massoud and vice president in the Karzai government) is the leading figure in the United Front. Some say Massoud staged a putsch against Karzai. There is bound to be speculation about ascendancy of Russian influence. Moscow went on a publicity binge over the visit by the delegation of the Collective Security Treaty Organization to Kabul on March 9-13. But these are early days.
What cannot be overlooked is that Russia and Iran are not quite on the same page. The acrimony over the Bushehr nuclear power plant has taken a toll. Ahmadinejad's public criticism of Russian policies while on a visit to the United Arab Emirates last week underscored that the trust deficit is real.
The alignments remain fluid. Qanooni, who is close to Tehran, is keeping a low profile. "Ustad" Rabbani is doing the talking. He is a great bridge-builder. Meanwhile, Karzai alleges that the United Front is "supported by foreign embassies". Indeed, the Front includes personalities who kept links in the 1980s and '90s with Moscow, Central Asian capitals or Tehran.
The United Front has rattled Karzai (and Washington). Karzai wouldn't like the initiative to slip into the hands of the United Front. The Senate, which is dominated by his nominees, passed its own resolution on May 8 calling on the government to hold direct talks with the resurgent Taliban and other opposition forces - "direct negotiations with the concerned Afghan sides in the country".
The Senate resolution also sought that in the meantime, NATO military operations against the Taliban should cease. It said, "If the need arises for an operation, it should be carried out with the coordination of the national army and police and in consultation with the government of Afghanistan."
This partly aims at assuaging Afghan public opinion, which is incensed over Karzai's inability to protect the people from the excesses perpetrated by the trigger-happy US forces. Meanwhile, the lower house of Parliament has raised the ante by exercising its constitutional prerogative to sack Karzai's close confidant, Dadfar Spanta, pinning responsibility for the recent deportation of 52,000 Afghan refugees from Iran. Karzai promptly questioned the legality of the move.
To be sure, Karzai is coming under multiple pressures. On the one hand, there are the incipient moves by political opponents eroding his credibility and authority. On the other hand, the "international community" has become critical of him. At a high-level conference in Brussels on April 28, Richard Holbrooke, former US ambassador to the United Nations in Bill Clinton's administration, said Karzai government had "lost momentum" and transparency and was alienating its erstwhile supporters.
He added that Karzai was "walking away from democracy"; that NATO was successful in containing the Taliban but the Karzai government's bad performance was rejuvenating the Taliban's support; that there had been a "massive waste" of US and European money in Afghanistan because of very poor coordination of the aid effort; and that Karzai was losing his authority.
Holbrooke harshly reprimanded Karzai: "We don't want to see in Kabul the kind of political chaos which in Baghdad is destroying the coalition effort."
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who was present, shared Holbrooke's concerns. Given Scheffer's record of parroting US thought processes, Karzai would have felt exasperated. Indeed, within a week of the conference in Brussels, Scheffer headed for Islamabad, accompanied by the United States' supreme commander in NATO, where he and Musharraf pledged new anti-Taliban efforts.
Scheffer said in Islamabad, "It is my strong opinion that the final answer in Afghanistan will not be a military one and cannot be a military one. The final answer in Afghanistan is called reconstruction, development and nation-building."
The new buzzword is an "integrated approach" in Afghanistan. But no one has fleshed it out. There is an Afghan opinion building up over the imperative of an intra-Afghan dialogue leading to genuine power-sharing. But the US and NATO pretend they aren't seeing the groundswell of opinion.
Their emphasis is on the existential challenge posed by Afghan war to NATO's global role. They look over the Afghan ridge toward the new cold-war horizon. Meanwhile, the US is inexorably losing its monopoly over conflict resolution in Afghanistan. And regional powers include some that are against the open-ended presence of NATO forces.
It may turn out that the real "tipping point" is not over the Taliban's much-awaited spring offensive (which may not even happen), but if regional powers begin seriously to exploit the political rifts in Afghanistan for undermining the NATO strategy.
Not surprisingly, Washington shudders to think of any "regime change" in Islamabad in the present circumstances, no matter the political turmoil within Pakistan. As Scheffer put it in Islamabad on May 8 during the first ever visit to Pakistan by a NATO secretary general, NATO and Pakistan find themselves in the "same boat", and should seek an enduring, mutually beneficial partnership that goes beyond the "war against terror". And who else could hold the Pakistani end of the bargain better than Musharraf?
M K Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for more than 29 years, with postings including ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-98) and to Turkey (1998-2001).
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Taliban turn their focus on cities
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / May 19, 2007
KARACHI - With the killing of leading Taliban field commander Mullah Dadullah by US-led forces last weekend, reports of the death of the spring insurgency in Afghanistan are rife.
A North Atlantic Treaty Organization spokesperson has already been quoted as saying that the situation in Kandahar province has improved compared with last year and the only task that remains is to control restive Helmand province.
It is not as clear-cut as this, though, and despite what NATO
might say, there has been a recent upsurge of violence in Kandahar and plans for a mass uprising remain on course, although the death of Dadullah has been a psychological blow to the Taliban.
Secret Taliban cells inside Kandahar, in connivance with sympathizers in the Afghan administration - right under the noses of NATO forces - are surfacing in the city, and NATO planes can do little about it.
On Thursday, a suicide car bomber drove into the armored motorcade of Asadullah Khalid, the governor of Kandahar. Three bystanders died, but the governor - who was responsible for putting Dadullah's body on public display - was not in the procession. Two of his ministers were injured, though.
Earlier in the day, a roadside bombing killed four private security guards. This was followed minutes later by a radio-controlled blast at the same scene that claimed three Afghan police officers.
These actions mark a new phase of the insurgency in which the Taliban will conduct operations in urban areas and attempt to cripple the local administrations of the Kabul government.
The Taliban's sleeper cells, which were previously involved in assisting Taliban fighters in various districts around Kandahar by providing logistical support and money, have now decided to take center stage in the city, Taliban sources confirmed to Asia Times Online from Kandahar. The cells are scattered all over Kandahar and have even infiltrated the local administration. (See How the Taliban prepare for battle, Asia Times Online, December 5, 2006.)
These Taliban tactics had evolved before Dadullah's killing. There has been much talk of a mass uprising, which NATO misunderstood to mean people taking up arms en masse. It was believed this could easily be controlled by air strikes.
But what the Taliban aim to do this year in southwestern Afghanistan is to hold on to areas that have already been occupied, while opening up new fronts. This does not mean the occupation of new districts, rather new fronts of attack, especially in urban areas.
Young commanders trained in the Pakistani tribal areas in the techniques of suicide attacks, improvised explosive devices and other facets of urban guerrilla warfare have been removed from the structured commands of the districts and other engagements on the traditional fronts. They have been relocated in such places as Kandahar city and Herat.
These include prominent fighters such as Moulvi Abdul Jalil, who was called off from the Panjwai district of Kandahar and replaced by an old-style commander, Abdul Mannan, who was killed this week in a NATO air strike. The youthful Jalil is an expert in guerrilla operations and in working in small groups.
Traditional commanders in the Taliban rank and file will hold on to areas in Zabul, Kandahar, Orzgan and Helmand provinces while the younger generation concentrates on the cities, with the help of collaborators in the Afghan administrations.
The modus operandi of this "uprising" will be the use of mines, remote-controlled devices and suicide attacks and will be very difficult for NATO to contain. The aim is to confine NATO troops as much as possible to their bases, while the Taliban strengthen their footholds in the cities.
Placed in this picture, Mullah Dadullah was an important part of the need to hold on to districts militarily and in securing human and other resources, including foreign aid. But new leaders for the tribal-based movement will emerge, as they have in the past, to pick up his mantle.
Meanwhile, in the cities, the new phase will gather momentum.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
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Afghan child mortality drops: minister
People's Daily Online, China May 19 9:51 PM
Afghan child mortality has dropped over the past four years, Health Minister Syed Mohammad Amin Fatimi said Saturday.
The mortality of children under five dropped to 210 per 1,000 in 2006 from 257 per 1,000 in 2003 due to improving health conditions, Fatimi told a press conference.
He said infant mortality has also reduced to 135 per 1,000 from 165 per 1,000 during the same period.
Fatimi said the tuberculoses, malaria and measles-related mortality has also fallen 50 percent, 9 percent and 90 percent respectively.
More than 700 health centers have been built or reconstructed in this post-Taliban country over the past five years.
However, the minister said the country needs 500 more health centers and clinics, appealing for more international support to its health sector.
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Afghan refugees holding CNICs creating trouble
By Sohail Khan The News - International, Pakistan
ISLAMABAD: Majority of Afghan refugees in Balochistan, though not having Proof of Pegistration (PoR) cards but the Pakistani Computerized National Identity Cards, are reluctant to return to their homeland and are even instigating other registered Afghans to avoid returning to the war-torn Afghanistan.
Fifty percent of Afghan refugees residing in Jangal Piralizai refugee camp in the province are not registered but have Computerized National Identity Cards (CNIC) and registered in the electoral rolls are creating problems in the repatriation process, an official told The News on Saturday.
It is the mandate of the government and the UN agency for refugees (UNHCR) to repatriate these Afghan refugees in a dignified manner but they are creating problems that would be resolved through dialogue, he said.
He said about 34,000 Afghan refugees are living in Jangal Piralizai refugee camp in the province of which 17,000 have no Proof of Registration (PoRs) cards. These Afghan refugees have established their businesses and become influential in the area, got themselves registered in the electoral rolls after getting the national identity cards and are reluctant to return to their homeland, said the official.
He said that such DPs are playing an active role in persuading the remaining Afghan refugees having (PoR) cards not to meet the deadline of June 15, given by the government. “However, the government is committed to vacate the camp at all costs, for which we are going to initiate the process of negotiations with the elders of Afghan refugees,” the official said.
He said that federal minister for states and frontier regions (Safron) and other officials of the ministry would meet the elders of these Afghan refugees in the next two to three days to convey the writ of the government. As the process of negotiations has yielded fruitful results in the NWFP, therefore, the same strategy would also be adopted in Blaochistan.
He said that the provincial administration would be involved in the dialogue process and possibly the chief minister of the province would be actively associated in this regard. It is pertinent to mention here that the government has temporarily suspended its operation of vacating two major refugee camps in Balochistan following clashes between security forces and Afghan refugees that claimed the lives of three Afghans a few days ago in Jangal Piralizai refugee camp in Qilla Abdullah district.
During a high-level meeting held in Islamabad, it was decided to halt the on-going operation for vacating the refugee camps in the province for the time being and to concentrate on negotiations with the refugees’ elders as well as the local leaders. Similarly, the NA standing committee on Safron had also recommended to the ministry to contact Nadra to check certain loopholes to stop the issuance of CNICs on fake documents.
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20,000 Afghan refugees re-enter into Pak
Sunday May 20, 2007 (0238 PST) PakTribune.com, Pakistan
PESHAWAR: At least twenty thousand Afghan refugees re-entered into Pakistan territory due to the relaxation in strict border security at Torkham after the Peshawar blast here on Friday.
Sources told Online that Provincial government had demanded from the Federal government to increase the security at all the entrances including Torkham gate soon after the suicide bomb blast in a local hotel near Naz Cinema in Peshawar.
The stringent security measures adopted by the government continued for three days. However when on Friday, the security was relaxed at gate, about 20000 Afghan refugees again slipped into Pakistan territory.
Sources further told thousands Afghan used to enter into Pakistan soil via Mohmand Agency and other Tribal Agencies. It is further said that Political administration has failed to stop entrance of these Afghan refugees.
Provincial government had informed the center that several miscreants moved into Pakistan specially NWFP for negative activities due to the less security at border which adversely affected the law and order situation in NWFP.
However, later on Provincial government has advised the Peshawar Police to arrest all those Afghans who are residing in rural areas of Peshawar without any identity card and deport them to Afghanistan immediately.
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UAE to Build 100-Bed Hospital in Afghan Capital
Text of report in English by Afghan independent Pajhwok news agency website
Kabul, 19 May: Health Minister Mohammad Amin Fatemi on Saturday said the United States and Saudi Arabia had assured of their assistance in bringing improvement in the health sector.
Speaking at a news conference here, the minister said a 100-bed hospital would be established in the capital city with financial assistance from the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Fatemi, who attended the 60th summit of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva, said his counterparts from UAE, Saudi Arabia and the United States had promised of their support in health sector.
He said health minister of the United Arab Emirates would soon visit Afghanistan to perform the groundbreaking ceremony of the hospital north of the Kabul International Airport.
The United States would train Afghan doctors, provide equipment for laboratories and help health ministry in discouraging sale of expired medicines and food items.
[Passage omitted: WHO summit in Geneva]
Source: BBC Monitoring South Asia
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New push for talks with Taliban
Afghan leaders say it's path to peace
By Kim Barker Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent May 20, 2007
KABUL, Afghanistan -- A year ago, Mohammad Tariq and nine of his friends drove from Pakistan to Afghanistan and joined the jihad.
The young Taliban recruits met with local commanders in southern Helmand province, the heart of the Taliban-led insurgency against the U.S.-backed government. There, the men learned their fate.
"The leaders told us we would be suicide bombers," said Tariq, now 21. "I thought about it. Then I thought, 'Why should I kill myself for you?'"
Five men stayed. But within days, Tariq and four friends gave up their dreams of holy war and drove back to Pakistan. And last month, Tariq, a one-time Taliban foot soldier and former Afghan refugee, decided to join the government he once opposed. He sat in a room in Kabul with 40 other former insurgents and swore allegiance to the fledgling Afghan government, joining about 3,700 one-time insurgents who have signed up with the Afghan reconciliation program since it started two years ago.
Now, some government officials want to broaden this program and negotiate directly with the Taliban, which is mounting its most serious challenge since being forced out of power in late 2001. The idea of negotiation is also gaining more support among Afghans, frustrated with the continued fighting and with international troops, increasingly accused of causing large numbers of civilian casualties.
This month, the upper house of the Afghan parliament even voted to hold direct talks with the Taliban and other insurgents, while urging foreign and Afghan troops to stop hunting for militants. This vote shows how some Afghans are leaning -- toward compromise with insurgents, and away from foreign troops. This bodes poorly for NATO unless complaints of civilian casualties decrease dramatically, experts say.
"The only way to find peace in this country is to sit with each other and negotiate with each other," said Mohammad Akram, second in charge of the nation's reconciliation program. "If there is a sense of compromise between the government and the opposition, I guarantee there will be peace in the country."
Not so clear-cut
But to the outside world, the cost of negotiation is much higher. The Taliban is considered to be a terrorist group by the U.S., Afghanistan's biggest supporter, and the U.S. will not negotiate with terrorist groups. The Taliban also has ties with Al Qaeda.
U.S. officials support the reconciliation commission used by Taliban dropouts such as Tariq. Officials do not, however, support negotiation or direct talks.
Ronald Neumann, who until March was the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, said Wednesday that the Taliban could negotiate if it wanted to do so. But "it is not going to negotiate its way into power," he added.
It's not clear what bargaining chip Afghan officials are willing to trade. Taliban leaders have so far said they will only negotiate if foreign forces leave Afghanistan. And the other concessions they want seem equally unlikely.
"We don't want the government of Kabul to give us a nice house in a nice neighborhood in Kabul, some money and some personal comfort," said Zabiullah Mujaheed, a purported Taliban spokesman. "It doesn't mean anything for us. We have bigger targets -- Islam and a true Islamic government."
Taliban leaders also say they do not want to negotiate with President Hamid Karzai because he is seen as a puppet of foreigners. Even former Taliban feel that way. "When Karzai became president of Afghanistan, I hated his face because he followed foreigners," said former Taliban member Azizullah, 22, who uses one name like many Afghans.
Efforts at reconciliation
But despite such hurdles, for the first time, momentum is building for negotiations, largely because nothing else has worked and because security keeps worsening, especially in the country's troubled south.
In January, Karzai said his government would be open to peace talks with the Taliban.
In March, the lower house of the country's parliament passed a controversial bill to encourage all former warring factions, including the Taliban, to join the process of national reconciliation. In return, they would be immune from prosecution for earlier atrocities.
In April, Karzai spoke openly about the discussions he had been having with the Taliban. "We have had representatives from the Taliban meeting with different bodies of Afghan government for a long time," Karzai said at a news conference, refusing to give any details. "I have had some Taliban coming to speak to me as well."
And on May 10, the Afghan Senate voted to hold direct talks with the Taliban and other insurgents -- and demanded that international troops stop hunting and destroying militants, largely because of the increasing complaints of civilian casualties. The bill would have to approved by Karzai and the more independent lower house.
On the same day, 21 innocent villagers were reported killed in NATO air strikes.
The Senate president, Sibghatullah Mujaddedi, a close Karzai ally, is also in charge of the reconciliation commission. At the reconciliation ceremony last month, he seemed more sympathetic to the Taliban than to foreign troops, saying that a senior Taliban leader had been "martyred" by U.S. troops.
Some Afghans who could have more influence with the Taliban are also pushing Karzai for direct talks. Earlier this year, the former Taliban foreign minister and former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan -- both of whom were held at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- and several other former Taliban met with Karzai to talk about finding peace in Afghanistan.
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Women's fates entwine as Afghanistan spirals into war
Reviewed by Julie Foster Sunday, May 20, 2007 San Francisco Chronicle
In 2006, Khaled Hosseini, author of "The Kite Runner" -- which has sold 8 million copies in 34 countries -- received the Humanitarian Award from the U.N. Refugee Agency, and was named a goodwill envoy for that agency. As a native of Afghanistan, a country with one of the world's largest refugee populations, Hosseini said he planned to "use his access to the media to give voice to victims of humanitarian crises and raise public awareness about matters relating to refugees."
With the publication of his second novel, "A Thousand Splendid Suns," Hosseini revisits Afghanistan for a compelling story that gives voice to the agonies and hopes of another group of innocents caught up in a war.
"The Kite Runner" is a father-son story written from a male point of view, but this time around Hosseini tells of the experiences of the thousands of silent burqa-clad women of Afghanistan. This mesmerizing narrative is a shining example of the awe experienced by Nancy Pearl, author of "More Book Lust," "when a male author can get inside a woman's head and write so persuasively, so authentically, that I find myself frequently turning to the back cover to see if it is, indeed, a man who wrote the book."
Told through the alternating voices of two women, the story spans the turbulent period from the 1970s to post-9/11. The multigenerational story is set mainly in the city of Kabul, Hosseini's birthplace. Afghanistan and its culture are as integral to the story as the relationship between the two women, Mariam and Laila, and their abusive husband, Rashid.
Readers will also gain a better understanding of the effects of what Hosseini calls the "cultural vandalism" of the Taliban, which shattered Afghanistan's arts and culture, and the devastating impacts of Shariah law on women's lives.
Mariam is the illegitimate daughter of a prosperous Herat businessman. Banished to a small hovel outside of town, Mariam and her mother live in impoverished seclusion. Mariam's father, Jalil, makes periodic visits bearing gifts and visions of a wider world. Mariam comes to idolize her father, though her mother warns repeatedly against trusting him.
Wanting desperately to be a part of his family, Mariam flees her mother and her desolate life at 15, traveling to her father's home in Herat. Disaster results, thrusting her onto a path of hardship she endures for the rest of her life.
After arriving at the family home in Herat, Mariam is rejected by her father and his family. Very quickly, she's forced to marry Rashid, a shoemaker from Kabul, a much older man, one she "smelled before she saw him." Though traumatized by the turn her life has taken, she attempts to acclimate herself to her life as a wife living in a new city.
Though the couple are poor, a new world of wonders that is Kabul of the 1970s opens for Mariam. She tastes ice cream for the first time. She glimpses what Rashid calls modern women, "their lips as red as tulips," wearing dark sunglasses, carrying swinging handbags, who "walked in high heels and quickly, as if on perpetually urgent business." For a time, the marriage seems to be taking hold, but soon enough Rashid's brutish nature emerges.
Parallel to Mariam's story is that of Laila. The beautiful, vivacious 14-year-old daughter of a schoolteacher father who dreams of going to California and a somewhat preoccupied mother, Laila lives a life filled with books, schooling and hope for the future. But as the war between the Pashtun and Hazaras forces ravages Kabul during the summer of 1992, Laila is thrown together with Mariam when a bomb blast ruptures both their lives.
"A Thousand Splendid Suns" is the painful and, at times violent, yet ultimately hopeful story of two women's inner lives. Hosseini's bewitching narrative captures the intimate details of life in a world where it's a struggle to survive, skillfully inserting this human story into the larger backdrop of recent history.
Julie Foster is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and also writes reviews for Western Literature Review and Publishers Weekly.
This article appeared on page M - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle
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In search of family roots in Afghanistan
The Daily Telegraph (UK)
Allan Massie reviews The Sleeping Buddha: the story of Afghanistan through the Eyes of One Family by Hamida Ghafour
The title is eye-catching, but the subtitle is more to the point.
Hamida Ghafour was two years old when the Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to prop up the Communist regime which had seized power 18 months before. She belonged to an aristocratic family.
Her grandfather had been the defence minister and the head of the intelligence services in the days of the monarchy. A great-uncle had chaired the commission which in 1964 drew up a constitution "blending Islamic law with Western-style democracy". Her grandmother, also called Hamida, was a distinguished poet. The family were all patriotic, liberal and Westernised.
"In the Kabul my parents grew up in, in the 1970s, women wore miniskirts and drove buses. In the new Kabul few women dare leave the house without the chadari ."
Her parents emigrated in 1981, and four years later settled in Canada. Ghafour grew up in Toronto. She became a journalist, working for this newspaper. After September 11, 2001, she was sent to speak to young Muslims in English cities.
"We may all have been Muslims, but to me these boys seemed... alien. Their long solemn beards, their paran tombon , the women in their dark abayas were not part of any Afghan culture I knew and recognised... Their Islam seemed angry and intolerant, nothing like the gentle strains of Sufism that permeates the Afghan culture in which I was raised."
She returned to Afghanistan as a reporter, to "witness first-hand this 'war on terror' and cover the post-Taliban reconstruction period". This book tells of what she found; also of her search for her family's roots and for what remains of the Afghanistan they knew and loved.
It is outstandingly good in its analysis of the mistakes made by the West, in its picture of a disintegrated society and in its evocation of the Afghanistan that has been destroyed.
The narrative is not linear, for Ghafour dips back into the tortuous and - it must be said - often confusing history of her country in the 20th century. But it is written with love, suffused with sadness, and often sharpened by anger. I read it at a sitting, straight through, and I imagine most readers will want to do so, too. They will find it useful to refer back to the chronology printed before the text, to guide them through the political maze.
The conclusions are sombre. Ghafour offers no easy optimism. Reconstruction has been slow and patchy. However well-meaning they may be, the various Western agencies involved in the task are groping in the dark.
They had "a remarkably naive arrogance about the country", says Ghafour. She found herself thinking "that at least the British colonisers were steeped in the language and culture of their colonies. They stayed for years, researching the cultural tribal dynamics."
But now "the rebuilding of a rural, collectivist, insular and conservative culture is being overseen by people who have been raised in post-industrial, individualistic and capitalist cultures" - and who are looking for a quick fix.
But the most important lesson she offers is this:
"The clash of civilisations wasn't between the Islamic world and the West - as much as bin Laden would like to provoke that. There was a more significant struggle being waged between Muslims, for the soul of Islam. The more important battle was within. For a brief period, my country was a catalyst for a vision of a medieval order... Do Muslims want to live under a pitiless theocracy... or with an Islam respectful of history, of culture?"
The gun and the bomb still rule, disrupting all attempts to restore order and create a state governed by law. Nevertheless, Ghafour sees one sign of hope.
The media is "transforming society... at least in the urban areas. And the conservatives, the mullahs, are not happy. They complain to the Ministry of Information and Culture about a programme, newspaper or magazine. But the ministry is powerless over the content of satellite television or the internet."
This is a work of keen intelligence. It is also often, in its evocation of the country Ghafour's parents lost, very beautiful. It is sometimes bitter, and sometimes, in the portraits of people struggling to restore order and decency, deeply moving.
It is a work of both the heart and the head, and anyone who is interested in the divisions of the world today should read it. I have learnt more about Afghanistan from these 300 pages than from anything else I have read.
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Britain's Prince Harry could be deployed in Afghanistan: report
Sun May 20, 1:58 AM ET
LONDON (AFP) - Britain's Prince Harry, who was last week stopped from joining his regiment's deployment to Iraq, could be sent to join troops in Afghanistan, a newspaper said Sunday.
News of the World said it had information about plans for the 22-year-old officer, third-in-line to the throne, to join the fight against the Taliban, but was withholding key details.
Harry is a second lieutenant in the elite Blues and Royals regiment of the British Army's Household Cavalry, responsible for 11 soldiers and four Scmitar reconnaissance vehicles.
Army chief General Sir Richard Dannatt blocked him from being sent to southern Iraq, due to threats against his life that would put his men in "unacceptable" danger.
News of the World said that insurgents planned to hit both British camps in southern Iraq with chlorine bombs -- which kill victims by burning their lungs -- to be certain of getting the prince.
Harry, known as Cornet Wales in the Army, is set to be posted to Afghanistan before 2008 and could be seconded to join a NATO command unit, Britain's biggest-selling newspaper said.
He would carry out low-risk operations and earn a campaign medal after serving for 30 days, said the weekly.
NATO troops are spread out across Afghanistan and therefore Harry could serve at any one of a large number of locations across the strife-torn country.
"He will probably serve as a very junior watchkeeper, possibly working through the night," a senior army source told the tabloid.
"He would be totally out of the way but it is an important operational role."
Meanwhile The Observer newspaper said revelations about Harry's deployment in a war zone will be censored if the government agrees to a proposal that would ban media from reporting on such aspects of his military career.
An official request to editors not to publish items on certain subjects on grounds of national security, known as a D-notice, can apply to individuals.
Ministry of Defence officials are drawing up plans to extend Notice Four -- which covers "grave danger to the state and or individuals" -- to include royals.
"It is a perfectly reasonable step to take given what has happened over the past few weeks," an MoD source told the weekly.
Harry's brother Prince William also serves in the Blues and Royals.
Dannatt said a contributing factor in his decision to stop Harry from going to Iraq was the "widespread knowledge and discussion of his deployment."
This close scrutiny has exacerbated the situation and this is something I wish to avoid in the future," he said.
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