May 22, 2007
KABUL (AFP) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Tuesday defended Canada's mission in Afghanistan amid faltering support back home, as President Hamid Karzai urged the world not to abandon his country.
Harper spoke at the start of his surprise two-day visit to Afghanistan, during which he is expected to meet some of the 2,500 Canadian soldiers here, most of them fighting the Taliban in insurgency-hit Kandahar province.
Asked at a media briefing with Karzai about growing concern in Canada over the mission, Harper said that the international community and Afghanistan "want us here."
The "Canadian men and women in uniform and who work for the various government agencies believe in their mission," he said.
Harper added that his visit to Afghanistan was not because of polls suggesting flagging support for the mission.
"I'm here because it's the right thing to do," he said.
Afghanistan is struggling to put down an insurgency by the extremist Taliban movement that was removed from power in 2001.
Karzai said it would be dangerous for international troops to leave Afghanistan before the militants were defeated properly.
"There are still remnants of the terrorism that if we leave half-the-way will re-emerge and will haunt you back home whenever they want to," Karzai told reporters.
"Let us complete that job, hard as it may look at times. It's a necessary price that we've to pay," he said.
Canada is one of 37 foreign countries in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force that is working alongside the Afghan security forces and a US-led coalition to bring the lawless country under government control.
Despite their efforts, the insurgency has grown steadily over the past six years, with the violence more intense than ever this year, especially in the south where Canadians work with soldiers from a handful of other nations.
The violence has already claimed more than 1,500 lives in 2007, with most of the dead militants, according to an AFP tally.
Fifty-four Canadian soldiers and one of the country's diplomats have been killed in Afghanistan since Canada joined the international mission in 2002.
Six were killed in a roadside bomb early April.
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German FM visits Afghan town where troops killed
KABUL (AFP) - German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier met Afghan President Hamid Karzai Tuesday after visiting the small town where a Taliban suicide bomber killed three German soldiers at the weekend.
Karzai and the minister posed for photographs at the presidential palace in Kabul before going into talks, likely to touch on the blast on Saturday in a busy market in Kunduz that also killed six Afghan civilians.
Five more Germans and a dozen Afghans were wounded.
It was the deadliest incident involving the German deployment to Afghanistan since four were killed in a suicide car bombing in Kabul in 2003.
Karzai has condemned the bombing, saying on Sunday that the country's enemies "must understand that they will never be able to hamper the progress of Afghanistan with their acts of cowardice."
Steinmeier earlier visited the German base in Kunduz, home to about 400 German troops.
The town, and northern Afghanistan in general, has seen relatively little of the violence linked to a Taliban-led insurgency plaguing the south and east, but the extremist Taliban movement has vowed to intensify attacks in the north.
A suicide bombing in Kunduz in mid-April killed nine Afghan policemen doing their morning exercises.
Germany has around 3,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, operating largely in the north of the country, as part of NATO's 37-nation International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). It has lost 21 soldiers here since 2002.
Saturday's attack shocked the country with Chancellor Angela Merkel saying, "These treacherous murders fill us with horror and terror."
But Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung said it would not dent German commitment to Afghanistan.
Berlin has however resisted calls to send troops to southern Afghanistan which suffers the most Taliban violence and where deployments from Britain, Canada, the Netherlands, the United States are under pressure.
Germany is still wary of using its resources in combat after World War II six decades ago.
It said this month it would send six soldiers to the volatile south but only for non-combat operations including assessing conditions for the deployment of an Afghan battalion and helping to win local support for the ISAF mission.
In April it sent six Tornado jets to Afghanistan on the understanding they would only carry out surveillance work.
Despite the efforts of the foreign forces, the Taliban-led insurgency has gained in momentum every year since it was launched soon after the hardline group was driven from government in late 2001 by a US-led coalition.
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Karzai tells world not to abandon Afghanistan
By Sayed Salahuddin Tue May 22, 7:58 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - The world must remain engaged in Afghanistan until the country manages to stand on its own feet or "terrorists" will strike again, President Hamid Karzai warned on Tuesday.
The Taliban and allies such as the al Qaeda network have stepped up raids in the past 18 months in Afghanistan despite the presence of nearly 50,000 foreign troops led by NATO and the U.S. military as well as some 100,000 Afghan forces.
In that period, thousands of people, including more than 200 Western troops, have died in the violence, the bloodiest since U.S.-led troops overthrew the Taliban government in 2001 in retaliation for the September 11 attacks on the United States.
In some NATO countries, public opinion is against the presence of their soldiers in Afghanistan.
Talking to reporters after holding talks with visiting Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Karzai said the world, and in particular, the West needed to stay in Afghanistan to help Afghans, but also for its own security.
"Let us complete the job as hard as it may look at times," Karzai commented when a Canadian journalist asked the two leaders about rising opposition among Canadians to having their troops in Afghanistan.
"It is a necessary price that we have to pay; the Afghans are paying that price, the rest of the world is paying that price together with us ... and let us complete it and not abandon it half way," Karzai said.
Karzai said the world should bring much-needed help for the Afghan people and enable government forces to stand on their own feet to prevent the return of the militants.
"...There are still the remnants of terrorism that if we leave half the way, will re-emerge and will haunt you back home whenever they want," Karzai warned, citing the September 11 attacks.
Harper said Canada's engagement in Afghanistan, its biggest foreign deployment in the world, was the right thing to do.
He said bringing security to Afghanistan could not be achieved through military means alone and added there was need for developing Afghanistan's economy, social and government infrastructure.
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Afghan future depends on infrastructure: Harper
Updated Tue. May. 22 2007 - CTV.ca News Staff
Canadians know that Afghanistan's future will not be secured through military means alone, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in Kabul on Tuesday, after arriving in the war-ravaged country.
The surprise two-day trip follows on the heels of weeks of opposition attacks on the Harper government's handling of the Afghan detainee controversy.
"The two leaders discussed the situation in terms of the military situation in Afghanistan, but also a lot of the aid work that Canada has been doing," said CTV's Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife, who is travelling with the prime minister in Afghanistan.
Harper arrived in the Afghan capital on a military flight.
His visit to Afghanistan, his second so far, appears designed to stress Canada's non-military role in rebuilding the country.
Canadians know that Afghanistan's future "depends on creating the economic, social and governmental infrastructure that ensures lasting peace and prosperity," Harper said.
"Canada and Afghanistan have together made significant progress in the last 14 months -- progress that was unthinkable only a few years ago,'' the prime minister added.
"Yes, there remain challenges, but our determination is strong. We are not daunted by shadows because we carry the light that defines them -- the light of freedom of human rights and the rule of law.''
Harper met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the start of his visit.
Karzai said the Afghan mission's objectives are to make sure the country no longer poses a threat, and to stabilize it so that terror-support regimes don't seize control.
The Afghan leader said the first mandate has been reached and urged Canada to follow through on supporting the second objective.
"Has the job been completely done? Have we accomplished all we are seeking? No -- if we leave half the way (Islamic militants) will re-emerge and haunt you back home whenever they want to. Let us complete it and not abandon it half the way.''
Karzai outlined the benefits that his country has seen as a result of Canada's efforts: 10,000 jobs have been created in Kandahar; 30,000 people, mostly women, have had access to microcredit loans; and 40,000 more infants have survived childbirth
In one of his stops in Kabul, Harper met with students at a local school for underprivileged children and dropped in on their painting, acting, woodworking and music classes.
The Aschiana School, located in a tightly guarded compound in the capital's downtown core, received $39,500 in annual funding from the Canadian government. More than 10,000 Afghan children attend the school.
"The prime minister is making the point and certainly president Karzai made the point today -- that they need Canadian and NATO troops in here to stabilize this country," Fife told CTV Newsnet.
"They all point out that although some of the military situation has not been good there has been a lot of significant progress made throughout Afghanistan in terms of trying to make the lives of the people better."
Harper also visited diplomats at the Canadian Embassy for a briefing on progress since the Taliban was ousted in 2001.
This is Harper's second trip to Afghanistan. He made the war-torn country his destination for his first foreign trip as prime minister, barely one month after taking office last year.
On that three-day trip, most of Harper's time was dedicated to visiting military installations and soldiers.
This one, however, comes after weeks of opposition attacks targeting the Harper government's handling of the Afghan detainee controversy.
There have been concerns that suspected militants arrested by Canadians and handed over to local authorities have suffered torture at the hands of Afghan police.
A recent poll conducted by The Strategic Counsel found about one-third of Canadians are outraged by the Afghan detainee controversy and feel that Canada's reputation has been hurt.
The pollster also found that 56 per cent said Canada shouldn't be held responsible for what happens to prisoners held in Afghan-controlled detention centres.
At the news conference, Karzai said he has personally spoken with the director of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission in Kandahar and has been assured the torture charges have no basis.
Karzai vowed the days of human rights abuses are over in his country.
"My objective in life is to bring to the Afghan people the certainty of safety and security and life within the rule of law and bring a guarantee that no Afghan regardless of his status _ innocent or criminal _ will be tortured,'' Karzai said.
"It's a personal concern that I have. And it's a commitment the Afghan people would want me to make to the rest of the world. I will assure the Canadian people that if there is any such incident Afghans will be the first to take me to task on it ... Take my guarantee to the Canadian people on that.''
Harper lightened the mood by presenting Karzai with a tiny Ottawa Senators jersey for his infant son to wear.
"These are not members of our upper house. These are admired hockey players,'' Harper said. Karzai responded that he'd like his son to "play hockey as soon as he can walk on his feet.''
Harper's trip to Afghanistan was kept a tightly guarded secret.
His office made a call to journalists on Friday afternoon, telling them to pack for a warm climate, and to show up at a military hangar on Sunday if they wanted to accompany the prime minister to an unspecified foreign location.
Media were also warned they could be arrested if they leaked details of Harper's travel plans.
CTV's South Asia Bureau Chief Steve Chao, who is in Kandahar, reported that only the military's upper chain of command were informed of the prime minister's visit.
"Most troops on the ground right now still don't even know their prime minister is in the country," Chao told Newsnet. "So it is another example once again of how closely guarded his visit is. The main reason, of course, is security."
With files from The Canadian Press
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Iran crackdown on Afghan migrants
By Frances Harrison BBC News, Tehran Tuesday, 22 May 2007
Afghans and other foreigners are no longer allowed to live in any cities on Iran's eastern border with Afghanistan and Pakistan, officials say.
The Iranian state-run news agency, Irna, quoted a senior security official saying all cities in Sistan Baluchistan province would be off limits.
Many refugees and illegal migrants live and work in the border provinces, but have now been told to move elsewhere.
Iran has already begun a huge operation to send home illegal Afghan migrants.
The UN says 70,00 have been expelled in the past month.
The operation saw the eastern border city of Zabul virtually emptied of its sizeable Afghan population.
Now the acting commander of the police has told Irna that all cities in Sistan Baluchistan will be off limits for both legal Afghan refugees and illegal migrants - as well as other foreigners.
He said even those legally in the province should move elsewhere and no excuse such as being involved in trade partnerships with Iranians would be accepted.
Those who failed to move, he said, would be rounded up and expelled.
There have already been concerns about the way Iran is sending home so many illegal Afghan workers - the sheer numbers have been difficult for the Afghan authorities to deal with.
And there have been reports of inhumane treatment, such as families being separated in the deportation process.
Now the director-general for the employment of foreign nationals has told Irna that Iranians who employ illegal Afghans will have court cases filed against them.
He says more than 100,000 illegal Afghans have been sent home in the past month and he predicted that half a million would be returned by September and a million by next March.
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Taliban: Why Dadullah’s Death Matters
By Hekmat Karzai 22 May 2007
ON THE evening of May 11, in a swift operation by the American forces, supported by Afghan and NATO soldiers, Mullah Dadullah, the top military commander of the Taliban was killed. His body was immediately taken to the southern province of Kandahar and displayed to the media. Dubbed as Afghanistan’s Al Zarqawi, Dadullah was instrumental in the revival of the Taliban and for forging an alliance between Taliban and Al-Qaeda that included copying their tactics of suicide bombings, kidnappings and beheadings. The question is: What will be the impact of Dadullah’s death on the Taliban insurgency?
Dadullah rose to prominence as a notorious commander during the last few years of Taliban rule. He made a name for himself during the Taliban’s attempt to control the northern part of Afghanistan where Dadullah brutally killed hundreds of innocent people. His cruelty was such that even Mullah Mohammed Omar, leader of the Taliban, removed him from command for a period.
More recently, Dadullah was considered one of the main architects of the Taliban revival. He sought financial assistance from various sources, including Al Qaeda and tribesmen and visited madrasahs in Karachi, Pakistan to recruit fighters. He motivated religious fervour among the religious students and persuaded large numbers of them to join a “holy war” against foreign troops in Afghanistan. For his efforts, Mullah Omar released an audio tape in June 2003, naming Dadullah as a member of a new 10-man leadership council that would ‘confront the occupation’.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Dadullah said: ‘We and Al Qaeda are brothers. We and they are in one front. Our aim is one, our Islam is one, and our enemy is also one. We are with them in every operation. We sit down with them at the fronts and we participate in everything together, especially in fighting the enemy.” While before the Taliban did not care much for Al Qaeda’s ‘Global Jihad’, they started referring to the oppression of Muslims in Iraq, Palestine and Chechnya. They also adopted the deadly tactics of Al Qaeda, including suicide bombings -- a phenomenon that was alien to the region.
Following the footsteps of bin Laden, and unlike other Taliban leaders, Dadullah took command of the strategic communication of the Taliban by giving interviews to print and electronic media. He appeared regularly on Al Jazeera and other major networks. In various DVDs that were released for propaganda, he appeared blessing would-be-suicide attackers. Dadullah was also linked to various recent beheadings of alleged spies – some of which were taped and broadcast over the internet.
Impact of his Death
Undoubtedly, Dadullah’s death has dealt a serious blow to the Taliban, particularly in five key areas:
First, Dadullah led Taliban’s day-to-day operations in the South and South-Western Afghanistan. While Mullah Omar is responsible for the occasional motivational propaganda, he is no longer as central to the Taliban command and control. Mullah Omar chose Dadullah’s younger brother, Mullah Bakht Mohammed to replace him and lead the operational command in the south. Clearly, Bakht Mohammed lacks the experience and contacts that Dadullah had accumulated, thus, there will be a serious vacuum of operational leadership at least for the near future.
Second, Dadullah was one of the closest connections between Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Many of the statements regarding their growing alliance such as the claims that bin Laden organized the attack against Dick Cheney at Bagram air base came from Dadullah. He also claimed on various occasions that the Taliban had close connections with Al Qaeda in Iraq and would help them repel the US forces there. Dadullah’s death would thus weaken the influences of Al Qaeda on the Taliban and may also increase the possibility of some type of negotiation in the future between the Afghan government and the Taliban as the Afghan government has expressed its readiness to talk with Afghan Taliban, but not foreign fighters.
Third, with Dadullah’s death, Taliban have also lost their most effective spokesperson. Dadullah played the vital role in the strategic communications and he was the main connection between the Taliban and Arab media. In regular interviews with Pakistani, Afghan and Arab newspapers and television stations, he boasted of training suicide bombers, executing suspected collaborators and beheading hostages.
Fourth, Dadullah was also a key fundraiser for the Taliban and responsible for the increase in kidnappings which has been a major income earner for the Taliban, such as the. estimated $1-5 million paid for the two French hostages.
Fifth, with Dadullah’s death, Taliban also lost their most charismatic recruiter, especially of suicide bombers.
Reduction in Violence?
The death of Dadullah represents the biggest setback to the Taliban command since the insurgency began, after its Islamic militia government was toppled by US-backed forces in 2001. The loss of an experienced commander such as Dadullah will hinder the gains made by the Taliban in the past year and the impact will surely be felt in the short term. His demise will also have an impact on the morale of the foot soldiers, which could lead to a reduced level of violence in 2007.
Hekmat Karzai is Director of the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies in Kabul, Afghanistan.
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Deadly business in Afghanistan
By Philip Smucker Asia Times Online / May 22, 2007
KANDAHAR - Mohammed Naseem plays with his rambunctious two-year-old daughter in his newly built home before jumping into his car for a drive to work in what is arguably one of Asia's most dangerous cities. With a pistol tucked under his seat, he talks about a fellow businessman who has come to him for advice.
"He keeps having these phone calls in the middle of the night," explains Naseem, one of a few dozen remaining Afghan-Americans living in Kandahar. "The speaker says he is Taliban and that he wants two Toyota pickups for the jihad to fight NATO.
"I know some people who have already surrendered to such extortion, but I just told him to be strong and not give in to their demands," Naseem says. "If you give them an inch and they will take a mile."
As an Afghan-American in southern Afghanistan, Naseem is one of dozens of men raised and schooled in the United States who thought they were returning to a peaceful Afghanistan after the US military announced that it had defeated the Taliban after the invasion of 2001. Instead, these entrepreneurs now find themselves trying to make a difference in the middle of a war zone. They say they are harassed and intimidated by both resurgent Taliban and a government that does not care if they stay or return to the US.
"In 2002 and 2003, a lot of Afghans had great hopes and that actually gave some of us living abroad a sense that they could come back and try to apply the things we learned in the West in our home towns," says Naseem, who still has no plans to leave.
While those heady days are over, a core of Afghan-Americans still struggles to make an economic and moral difference in the embattled south. In just four years, Naseem now owns the largest advertising company in southern Afghanistan. He has introduced billboards across the southern Pashtun belt in a country that once learned of products and ideas mostly through word of mouth.
Along with a booming Internet cafe that serves Kandahar's young, curious and ambitious, Naseem's greatest passion is his newspaper, The Red Mountain Weekly. The color newspaper has filled a void and spread its wings across southern Afghanistan. Starting two years ago with 500 copies and six pages, it is up to a 7,000 weekly circulation and 12 pages.
The paper's offices overlook the biggest traffic circle in Kandahar, the scene of suicide bombings and police beatings, depending on the hour of the day.
"Would you like to see a cop taking a bribe?" he asks, grabbing a camera. Below, an Afghan policeman has stopped a motorist and the inevitable is about to transpire.
Naseem has the courage and tenacity to keep printing his newspaper in a dog-eat-dog city that does not reward enterprise or responsible journalism. Kandahar's mayor recently grabbed one of a Red Mountain photographer's cameras and hurled it on to the pavement after a series of stories exposing government corruption and police brutality.
"We go after pretty much anyone making tyranny or trouble," says Naseem.
In Kandahar, that can come in the form of a government official or a suicide bomber.
Red Mountain reporters race by motorbike to the scenes of suicide bombings. Last week, the first major attack in weeks involved a double bombing, the second designed to target the police who arrived at the scene for the first. Later in the day, a government convoy of the minister for information was hit.
"We spend time at the scene and then we go to the family and community leaders," says Naseem, formerly of Seattle and Philadelphia. "Inevitably, we find that men killed in suicide attacks are the primary breadwinners for their family."
And then there are the stories to be done on the Taliban's rampant school burnings.
"I think that, ethically, as a business person, you are obliged to give something back to the community," says Naseem, who hopes to reach the break-even point with his newspaper this year.
As for using too much wood to print his newspaper, Naseem is attacking that problem as well. With a group of local businessmen he has helped start a "Green Kandahar" tree-planting scheme that has 1,500 new seedlings in place across the city and a water truck to keep them growing in desert climes.
Most of the Afghan-Americans in the southern war zone are not nearly as bullish about their future as Naseem, who picked up a sixth sense for business while running a fried-chicken and cheese-steak restaurant in Philadelphia.
Launching a new business in Afghanistan is made more difficult by a government that appears to care little if investors sink or swim.
"Businessmen must survive on their own," says Wahid Faqiri, an Afghan-American who returned to his country after several years of work as a journalist in Washington, DC. "In fact, government officials often exist just to extort bribes and shut down new establishments that don't pay them."
As he talked over a meal with a reporter, the restaurant owner produced a note written by an Afghan government official informing him that his prices were "too high" and that he should report immediately "to discuss the issue".
Nevertheless, if you are an Afghan-American and a Pashtun of a certain age, Kandahar, founded in the 4th century BC by Alexander the Great, still holds a special attraction.
Many young Afghans ended up in the US or Europe during the war against the Soviets in the 1980s. Naseem, 32, was smuggled out as a child and linked up with an adoptive family, but has now returned to his real Afghan family, including an aging father.
His friend and next-door neighbor, Iqbal Durani, 37, fought from the age of 14 until 17 as a mujahideen soldier against the Soviet occupation. He finally left in 1988 and took up life in New York City, where he "worked in a kosher Jewish pizzeria, drove a Trans Am, chased American women and listened to rock 'n' roll - mostly Jimmy Hendrix".
In 2002, Durani returned and found a young wife, as did his neighbor and close friend, Naseem. As a construction contractor, Durani is building his own pizzeria and has plans to make "the best pizza in Kandahar" and run a cable-television installation business on the side.
"I had my fun in the United States, but I came to Afghanistan to settle down," he says. "You'll never get me to leave - I love it here."
Most of the Afghan-American businessmen who have stayed on amid the growing strife in southern Afghanistan say family matters anchor them.
"My instinct tells me to go, but my heart tells me to stay," says Afghan-American Abdullah Kamran, 50, whose friends Naseem and Durani describe him as a "born pessimist".
Kamran, who with his brother ran a major leather-coat business out of the Pakistani city of Karachi for nearly a decade, is building a "wedding hall". He also hopes to marry off his 20-year-old daughter in the process.
Also a major construction contractor, Kamran is appalled at the lack of basic services and the breakdown in security. "With 34 countries here to help, it is hard to know whom to blame," he says. "In 2001 and 2002, it wasn't nearly as risky as it is now. The whole world said Afghanistan would be a better place, but look what happened.
"Now you have the Iranians pushing back 30,000 [Afghan] refugees and we can't even find them decent homes to live in - much less the decent security they have in Iran," Kamran says. "If you gave me $1,200 a person, I can put a roof over every head, but that is not how the money is being spent here."
Most southern Afghan businessmen (most also ethnic Pashtuns) complain that Western development assistance, much of it spent on enhanced security for projects and Westerners, has been focused on northern Afghanistan at the expense of impoverished southerners. The US Agency for International Development has $180 million allocated to refurbish and improve the Kajaki Dam in neighboring Helmand province.
American experts trying to bolster the dam's capacity complain that ongoing battles between NATO and the Taliban inhibit their efforts to roll in giant transformers. Without a regular electrical supply, businessmen in Kandahar say that small and large industries will not take root or survive.
Philip Smucker is a commentator and journalist based in South Asia and the Middle East. He is the author of Al-Qaeda's Great Escape: The Military and the Media on Terror's Trail (2004).
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Pakistan faces the Taleban's tentacles
By Barbara Plett BBC News, Bannu, northern Pakistan Tuesday, 22 May 2007
In a remote Pakistani town, a singer lives in fear.
Zaher Uddin used to perform at weddings, now he sings only in the privacy of his home. The white walls are draped with festive garlands, tools of his newly defunct trade. Music has been banned by local religious militants, or Taleban.
Mr Uddin talks about the hardship of his job, but he won't talk about the Taleban, he's too afraid.
Vigilante vice squads have recently begun to patrol the streets of Surai Norang, located near the city of Bannu in north-western Pakistan.
Wheat field rendezvous
Armed Pakistani tribesmen had been imposing their own hardline version of Islam in the lawless border region near Afghanistan. But their influence is spreading, and the state seems powerless to stop it.
One music shop owner in Surai Norang has learned that the hard way. He switched to selling Islamic cassettes after his store was bombed. In the two months since he's made less than $4.
"The police are not helping or protecting us," he says. "In fact they called us and told us not to sell these music cassettes, otherwise we'd be in trouble."
The members of this radical religious movement are Pakistani, but they're inspired by the Afghan Taleban. They support its leader Mullah Omar, rather than Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf.
A Taleban commander, Qari Sarfraz, agrees to meet us.
He and his men drive across a riverbed in their pick-up trucks for a rendezvous in a wheat field. They have Kalashnikov rifles thrown over their shoulders, and pistols stuck into holsters slung across their chests.
The commander tells us he's the head of a mobile unit sent from the tribal region of North Waziristan to the Bannu area. He says the Taleban have a duty to enforce Islamic law wherever they can because the government has failed to do so.
He supports those who've tried to assassinate the president in the past - they were "doing the right thing", he says.
"We don't have the power or capacity to remove this government. We cannot bring down the Musharraf regime, so we don't intend to do that. What we are trying to do is that in our area, if we see something un-Islamic happening, we try to stop it, because we are responsible for our own area."
The Pakistani Taleban are also blamed for a recent wave of suicide bombings. Qari Sarfraz says his men haven't been involved.
"We believe that you are justified in carrying out suicide bombings against the enemies of Islam," he says. "But if you do it the way they are doing it in Pakistan, killing their own people and civilians... I don't know. Those who are doing it, sponsoring it, they have to answer Allah and justify it."
After extending an invitation to lunch the men clamber into their trucks and speed away.
All this seems a world away from the capital city, Islamabad. It's a liberal, secular place by Pakistani standards: men and women mingle freely, they're able to buy the latest Western music, DVDs and fashion.
But in the centre of town the radical Red Mosque, or Lal Masjid, has also been challenging the government to enforce Islamic law.
Its religious students have occupied a public building to put pressure on the authorities. And they've launched their own self-styled anti vice campaign: the women abducting alleged prostitutes, the men torching a pile of videos and DVDs in the middle of town.
Sign of weakness
Among their targets was the tourism minister, denounced by the mosque for an innocent hug while paragliding in France. It was reacting to newspaper pictures of Nilofar Bakhtiar embracing her elderly instructor.
But Mrs Bakhtiar says the government can't fight fire with fire.
"Now [the Taleban] are showing up in the capital and they're trying to show their strength," she says. "So we want to negotiate and convince them they're wrong; if we just start shooting tomorrow, then we will also be Taleban, and we don't want to do that."
The government's failure to enforce its authority in the heart of the capital has infuriated Pakistan's Westernised elite. Some accuse it of cultivating the Lal Masjid crisis to distract attention from growing domestic problems.
But others say the Lal Masjid shows just how far Talebanisation has reached. They say the government's refusal to act is a sign of weakness, and in the vacuum, Talebanisation grows stronger.
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Bush, NATO chief regret Afghan deaths
by Laurent Lozano
Tue May 22, 3:56 AM ET
CRAWFORD, United States (AFP) - US President George W. Bush pushed NATO allies Monday to share more of the burdens of battle in Afghanistan and deplored the deaths of Afghan civilians in alliance air strikes.
While lamenting the civilian deaths, Bush and visiting NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, after talks at the president's Texas ranch, blamed the losses on Taliban tactics.
"We grieve with you," Bush told Afghans who lost loved ones. Scheffer called such casualties "unavoidable" but stressed that any civilian death is "one too many" and said there was a moral chasm between NATO and the Islamist militia.
"We don't behead people. We don't burn schools. We don't kill teachers. We don't plant roadside bombs," he said. "Look at the number of Afghanistan civilians killed by the Taliban and by our opposing forces."
The meeting came as German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Tuesday a small northern Afghan town where a Taliban suicide bomber killed three German soldiers at the weekend.
The blast on Saturday in a busy market in Kunduz was the deadliest incident involving German troops since four were killed in a suicide car bombing in Kabul in 2003.
The minister arrived at the base in Kunduz, home to about 400 German troops, early in the morning, soldiers said. He was due to travel down to Kabul later Tuesday to meet President Hamid Karzai.
Germany has around 3,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, operating largely in the north of the country, as part of NATO's 37-nation International Security Assistance Force.
At their meeting, Bush and Scheffer insisted on the need for NATO unity in the face of the Taliban resurgence.
Amid painful Russia-NATO tensions, Bush promised to reach out to persuade Moscow that a planned US missile defense system in eastern Europe is aimed at "other nations" that could target Europe.
But Afghan anger at NATO strikes that have killed civilians and demolished homes loomed large over the meeting, amid complaints from Kabul and worries in Washington that such attacks may carry a high price in public support.
"To the Afghan families that have been affected by the Taliban using them as shields, you know, we have great sympathy," Bush said. "We do not have sympathy, however, for the tactics of the Taliban."
UN and Afghan investigations have found that NATO strikes have killed civilians, including women and children, while Afghan President Hamid Karzai has warned that his people's patience "is wearing thin" with such incidents.
"Let me tell you one thing: We are not in the same moral category as our opponents, as the Taliban in Afghanistan," said Scheffer, who told reporters that NATO operations still enjoy majority support there.
"We still have very much the hearts and minds of the Afghan people," he said. "Every innocent civilian fatality, death, is one too many. But in a conflict, it is, from time to time, unavoidable."
Bush signaled that he would keep pushing other North Atlantic Treaty Organization members to provide more manpower and lift restrictions some impose on their troops engaging in battle.
"I pledged to the secretary general we'll work with our NATO allies to convince them that they must share more of the burden and must all share the risks in meeting our goal," said the US president.
"Afghanistan is still one of the front lines in our fight against terrorism, and it is my strong conviction that that front line should not become a fault line," said Scheffer.
About 37,000 NATO-led troops are in Afghanistan, including 15,000 US soldiers. Another 12,000 US soldiers operate separately under their own command.
On missile defense, Bush promised: "I will continue to reach out to Russia."
"This missile shield is not directed at them, but, in fact, directed at other nations that could conceivably affect the peace of Europe," he said.
The two leaders also discussed the final status of Kosovo, where NATO has about 16,000 troops, as well as issues related to the alliance's eastward expansion -- both sore points in relations with Russia.
"I pledged to the secretary general that I'll work with nations that are interested in becoming a part of NATO over the next year to make sure they meet the requirements necessary for a country to be accepted into NATO," said Bush.
"The nations who are knocking on NATO's door need encouragement, but they also need to perform further reforms so that we can have a successful summit in the spring of next year," said Scheffer.
NATO hopefuls include Albania, Croatia and Macedonia.
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U.S., NATO officials push anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan
Thriving heroin trade funneling funds to Taliban
By JASON STRAZIUSO Associated Press May 22, 2007
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — Profits from Afghanistan's thriving poppy fields are increasingly flowing to Taliban fighters, leading U.S. and NATO officials to conclude that the counterinsurgency mission must now include stepped-up anti-drug efforts. This year's heroin-producing poppy crop will at least match last year's record haul and could exceed it by up to 20 percent, officials say, meaning more money to fuel the Taliban's violent insurgency.
"It's wrong to say that you can do one thing and not the other," Ronald Neumann, who recently stepped down as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, said of the link between anti-drug and anti-terrorism efforts. "You have to deal with both at the same time."
Afghanistan accounts for more than 90 percent of the world's heroin supply, and a significant portion of the profits from the $3.1 billion trade is thought to flow to Taliban fighters, who tax and protect poppy farmers and drug runners.
Drug control has not been part of the official mandate of international forces in Afghanistan. But there is a growing push for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, to play a more active role in sharing intelligence and detecting drug convoys and heroin labs, said Daan Everts, NATO's senior civilian official in Afghanistan.
There is "increasing international interest in seeing a more assertive supportive role in ISAF in the counternarcotics strategy implementation," he said.
International forces also might provide support for operations targeting senior drug traffickers, Neumann said.
Military commanders who viewed drugs as a minor irritant in 2002, when poppy production was much lower, have reassessed the importance of the vast fields of red and white poppies their soldiers drive past in security convoys, said a Western official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he didn't want to be seen as criticizing the military.
It's too early to say what this year's crop will be. But another Western official with knowledge of the drug trade said it could exceed last year's record 407,000 acres by as much as 20 percent. The official declined to give his name because of the nature of his work.
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U.S. official defends Pakistan as ally
By Carol Giacomo, Diplomatic Correspondent Mon May 21, 8:29 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Despite persistent unease about Pakistan's commitment to the U.S.-led war on terrorism, a senior U.S. official on Monday said Islamabad has been increasingly active in repelling Taliban and al Qaeda forces on the Afghan border.
Trying to allay doubts about Pakistan's credibility as the U.S. Congress considers new aid funding requests, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher said Islamabad has taken a more aggressive approach since December that has gone largely unacknowledged.
"They've had 80,000 troops in that (border) area who've been active and I would say, for the last six months they've been increasingly active in preventing infiltration across the border, disrupting and arresting Taliban and supporting tribal leaders who are trying to expel foreign militants," Boucher said in an interview.
But a congressional aide who follows the issue was skeptical, saying: "I haven't heard anyone make that claim."
The United States enlisted Pakistan as a front-line ally in the anti-terror war after the 9/11 attacks, but since then discomfort with Islamabad's commitment has grown.
In February, Vice President Dick Cheney visited Afghanistan and Pakistan and urged Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to take tougher action against militants on his side of the lawless border where U.S. commanders say radical fighters are training.
'SOURCES OF INSTABILITY'
Late last month, top U.S. counter-terrorism officials Frank Urbanic and Russ Travers said that "despite Pakistan's effort to eliminate threats and to establish effective governance in the (border region), these tribal areas continue to be terrorist safe havens and sources of instability for Pakistan and its neighbors."
They said Pakistan's military has raided al Qaeda and other militant safe havens. But they said tribal leaders in North Waziristan, a hotbed of support for Islamist militancy, failed to fulfill promises to cooperate with efforts to quell militants under an agreement with Musharraf, leading to additional insurgent infiltration.
A U.S. official, elaborating on Boucher's comments, said North Waziristan is only one part of the region and while the September agreement led to a pullback of Pakistani troops and removal of some checkpoints, much of that has been reversed.
This includes the redeployment of Pakistani troops from the Indian border to the Afghan border, the official said.
A report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies said the United States has given Pakistan more than $10 billion since 2001 but there is little accountability.
That includes some $700 million a year in economic, military, education, health and democracy-promotion assistance plus about $100 million per month in reimbursements to cover Pakistan's counter-terrorism efforts.
Critics argue that given Pakistan's track record, the largely unregulated counter-terrorism funds, in particular, have been a waste of money.
Boucher, who oversees South and Central Asia, said much of the $700 million annual aid is for "shared" objectives to help Pakistan become a more moderate and modern society. This includes plans to spend $750 million over the next five years to develop remote tribal areas, he said.
Asked about Musharraf's decision not to allow exiled former premiers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif to return home for elections later this year, Boucher said while Washington supports free and fair polls, the exiled leaders "have issues with the Pakistani judicial system and I'm not in a position to judge. Those have to be solved by Pakistan."
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Jolie shocked by death threats for supporting Afghan refugees
Malaysia Sun - 05/22/2007
Washington - Actress Angelina Jolie has revealed that she was afraid to return to New York after she was threatened dire consequences for raising voice for Afghan refugees following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The actress says when she met the natives of Afghanistan during her visit to the country shortly after the tragedy, she realised that they themselves were victims of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
She said that her appeals to the US government not to begin war with Afghanistan were of no use, as not only did the fighting begin between the two countries, but some people also launched an attack on her.
"I went on a show a few days after 9/11... to say that we needed to be focused on the Afghan people, the refugee families. We were focused on the Taliban as an enemy, and these people were their victims too," Contactmusic quoted her as saying.
"I got a phone call and two letters that said, very aggressively, how dare I say that we should help anyone else after September 11: 'We should be helping everybody in New York and that's it. F**k you! I hope your family dies, you're anti-American.' I was so shocked that I was actually nervous the first time I went back to New York a few months later," she added.
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Anti-polio drive as two new cases detected in south
KANDAHAR CITY, May 20 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A three-day anti-polio campaign was launched in the southern Kandahar province on Sunday amid reports of two more polio cases in the southern zone.
The two fresh cases were detected in Kajaki district of Helmand and Maiwand district of Kandahar.
Kicking off the drive by administering polio drops to children at the city's Mirwais Hospital, Kandahar Governor Asadullah Khalid asked for help from people, religious scholars and community leaders to eliminate the disease.
The elders should help and facilitate the health workers and volunteers in going from door to door to administer polio drops to children below five years, while the local clerics should encourage people in their respective areas to ensure their children get the drops, said the governor.
Director of the public health department Dr Abdul Qayum Pukhla told Pajhwok that two new polio cases were detected in Kajaki district of Helmand and Maiwand district of Kandahar during the current year.
Spread of the disease was imminent if local mullahs, elders and citizens did not help the government in successfully carrying forward the recent drive, warned the doctor.
However, residents complained anti-polio teams did not visit majority of areas due to security problems.
Habibullah, resident of Karez village in Maiwand, told Pajhwok the volunteers and ministry staffers failed to come to their villages during the previous campaign.
However, Pukhla said people should inform the public health department if polio teams did not come to their areas for any reasons.
Another doctor, requesting anonymity, blamed the Health Ministry for the emergence of new polio cases in the southern zone.
Objecting to the procedure of the anti-polio drive, he said the disease would have long been eradicated had the ministry fully concentrated.
The government should create awareness among people about how to avoid other people contract the virus if a polio case is detected in an area. That could help stop the rapid spread of polio, the doctor viewed.
Of the 31 polio cases registered across the country last year, 28 were reported in the southern provinces. Seventeen were detected in Kandahar, six in Helmand, four in Uruzgan and one in Zabul.
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