100 police killed in two months in Afghanistan
Mon May 7, 6:17 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - More than 100 policemen have been killed in Taliban-related unrest in Afghanistan in the past two months, with the rebels stepping up attacks across the country, the interior ministry said Monday.
Most of the killings were in southern and eastern Afghanistan where Taliban rebels are most active despite internationally aided efforts to hunt them down, ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary said.
"Police have had some good achievements but unfortunately they suffered lots of casualties too. In the past two months, 102 policemen have been martyred while providing security for their people," he told reporters.
He said attacks, especially suicide and roadside bombings, had increased in the first two months of the Afghan year, which starts March 21.
The unrest has grown this year after a winter lull. Around 150 civilians have also been killed in the violence, most of them in militant attacks but several in military action against insurgents, according to an AFP toll.
The Taliban were toppled in a US-led military push in late 2001 after the fundmentalist group refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, the man the United States says was behind the September 11, 2001 attacks on US cities.
The extremist group is now waging a guerrilla-style campaign to topple the US-backed government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and drive out tens of thousands of international forces based here to help the local government.
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New French government must withdraw troops: Taliban
Mon May 7, 6:03 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - A new French government must pull troops out of Afghanistan, the Taliban said Monday after France's presidential election, and offered to extend a deadline over the release of a French hostage.
A spokesman said the insurgent movement is ready to extend the deadline for its demands to be met for the release of the Terre d'Enfance (A World For Our Children) aid worker if the Afghan and French governments make contact.
"We ask the new French government to secure the national interests of France and Afghanistan," Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP here hours after rightwinger Nicolas Sarkozy won the election.
"It mustn't sacrifice its national interests for the interests and strategies of the Americans. It is also not fair that the French youth or the Afghan youth die in fighting.
"Our first demand from the new government of France is that before anything else they must present an exact timetable for the withdrawal of their troops from Afghanistan."
The hardline Taliban, which was in government between 1996 and 2001, is waging a growing insurgency that is being tackled by troops from Afghanistan and 37 other countries, including France which has about 1,000 troops here.
The Taliban was driven from power by a US-led coalition in late 2001 in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the United States.
The group has demanded the French troops leave or that Taliban prisoners be freed from Afghan jails in exchange for volunteer Eric Damfreville and three Afghan co-workers captured more than a month ago.
"As we said earlier, our deadline extends at the end of the election process in France," Ahmadi said.
He said Sunday that this meant until the new government was in place, which should be around late June.
"If anybody contacts us, either the Afghan government or the French government, about the hostages, we are ready to further extend the deadline," Ahmadi said.
Another Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said the group did not yet have an exact date for the deadline.
"We will wait for a while after the election of the president. He will be busy with internal issues of his government but he will also pay attention to foreign issues," he said.
The spokesmen said last week that a Taliban council of leaders would decide what to do with the hostages, should the demands not be met.
The Taliban's policy "regarding the foreign hostages is clear," Ahmadi said.
While the extremists have beheaded several Afghans -- many accused of spying -- their foreign victims have mostly been Turkish and Indian roadworkers and engineers helping to develop southern Afghanistan.
The Afghan government is "working very hard to secure the release of the French national and Afghans," spokesman Zemarai Bashary told reporters in Kabul.
"We request from those who have taken them hostage to free them because they are not political and military personnel, they were here just to help people," he said.
The Afghan government was severely criticised for releasing in March five Taliban prisoners in exchange for an Italian captive and has vowed not to repeat the deal. The Italian's Afghan driver and interpreter were beheaded.
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Report: Afghan who shot soldiers was ill
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghanistan's Defense Ministry said Monday that an Afghan soldier who shot and killed two U.S. troops the day before outside a top-security prison was mentally ill.
The gunman was shot dead by other Afghan troops at Pul-e-Charkhi prison, some 20 miles east of Kabul, said Maj. Sheldon Smith, a spokesman for Combined Security Transition Command, which trains Afghan security forces. The shooter also wounded two U.S. soldiers.
Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi said Monday that the Afghan soldier had been hospitalized twice for mental illness. Azimi said the man had been in the army for a year and a half, and that shortly before the shooting, he had been behaving nervously around his fellow soldiers.
The four American soldiers were working as mentors to Afghan troops providing external security for the prison, Smith said. The prison is being revamped to house Afghans transferred from Guantanamo Bay.
The victims were not identified.
Afghan soldiers with their U.S. trainers have been deployed at the prison since the opening last month of a new high-security wing designed to eventually house Afghans released from the U.S. jail for terrorist suspects.
The revamp is supposed to improve security at the jail, which is infamous among Afghans for tales of torture and appalling conditions dating back to communist rule in the 1970s.
Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 that toppled the Taliban, hundreds of al-Qaida and Taliban suspects have been incarcerated there, some of whom have been involved in a series of deadly riots and breakouts.
Across Afghanistan, violence is escalating as insurgents and the military ramp up operations after a winter lull. On Monday, a rocket slammed into a street in the Afghan capital, Kabul, killing a man and wounding five others including a small boy, while a roadside bomb in the east killed a policeman, officials said.
An Associated Press tally has counted at least 43 suicide bomb attacks so far this year, which have killed about 100 people. Nearly half of the suicide attacks have left only the bomber dead.
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Man in Afghan army uniform shoots dead two US soldiers
Sun May 6, 4:28 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - A man dressed in Afghan army uniform shot dead two US soldiers Sunday outside Afghanistan's main, high security prison on the outskirts of the capital Kabul, the US-led coalition said.
The attacker was then shot dead by Afghan troops, coalition spokesman Major Sheldon Smith told AFP.
First indications were that he was a rogue soldier, but this was under investigation, Smith said.
"He fired shots into a vehicle being driven by US service personnel as they were leaving the prison. This action resulted in the death of two soldiers and left two other soldiers wounded," he said.
Afghan soldiers stationed outside the jail "rushed to the aid of the US personnel and fatally shot the rogue soldier."
It was not known if an earlier event had led to the shooting, or if the attacker was linked to Taliban insurgents behind much of the unrest in Afghanistan.
The mid-afternoon shooting occurred outside the Pul-e-Charki jail on the outskirts of Kabul. The jail houses criminals, Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters.
The soldiers attacked were mentors to the prison's personnel, Smith said. Details about the dead troops were yet to be released.
The US-led coalition, which led the offensive into Afghanistan that toppled the Taliban regime in 2001, has troops embedded with local security forces to help them rebuild.
"We have personnel there at the prison. They are mentoring and training the Afghans on how to run a prison properly," Smith said.
Around 50 foreign soldiers have lost their lives in Afghanistan this year, most of them in incidents linked to the insurgency. Nearly 30 of them were US nationals.
The United States leads the counterinsurgency and reconstruction effort in Afghanistan, which it invaded after the Taliban government failed to hand over Al-Qaeda leaders in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
The US has about 27,000 soldiers in Afghanistan with the coalition and a separate NATO-led force.
In another recent attack on US personnel in Kabul, a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-filled car into a US embassy convoy on March 19, wounding five embassy staff and guards, one of whom later died.
Late February a suicide attacker blew himself up outside the main US base in Afghanistan at Bagram, about 60 kilometres (nearly 40 miles) north of the city, while US Vice President Dick Cheney was visiting.
Around 23 people were killed, most of them Afghan civilians but also a US and a South Korean soldier and a US contractor.
Anti-US sentiment has risen in parts of Afghanistan in the past week after claims of civilian casualties in operations against Taliban and other militants.
In the western province of Herat, UN and Afghan investigations have found that about 50 civilians, including children, were killed in battles last weekend.
The coalition has said 136 Taliban fighters were killed in the fighting, which involved US Special Forces as well as other coalition and Afghan soldiers.
There were days of demonstrations near the eastern city of Jalalabad last week in which protestors, who torched a US flag and an effigy of US President George W. Bush, accused coalition soldiers of killing six civilians.
The force countered that four militants were killed in the raid on a suspected suicide bombing cell and that a woman and a teenager were caught in the crossfire.
In March a unit of US Marines was withdrawn from Afghanistan after being accused of opening fire indiscriminately on civilians following an ambush in Nangarhar province. About a dozen people were killed, including two children.
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Rocket attack on Kabul kills 1
Mon May 7, 1:00 AM ET Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan - A rocket slammed into a street outside an apartment building in the Afghan capital Monday, killing one man and wounding five other people including a small boy, officials said.
The missile struck a residential building complex in Kabul's east, said Gen. Ali Shah Paktiawal, the Kabul police director of criminal investigation.
One young boy was seriously wounded and was taken to the hospital, said Hasib Arian, a local police chief.
One resident in the building said that his 27-year-old neighbor died later at the hospital.
Insurgency violence has escalated in recent months after a winter lull, especially in the volatile south and east, but Kabul has also seen a rise in attacks this spring.
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AFGHANISTAN: Gov't questions effectiveness of foreign aid billions
07 May 2007 12:48:56 GMT
KABUL, 7 May 2007 (IRIN) - Billions of dollars spent by the international community on war-ravaged Afghanistan's reconstruction and development have had a limited impact on the country's economic growth, Afghan officials said.
Since the ousting of the Taliban regime in late 2001, donors have spent some US$13 billion on various rebuilding and development activities in the country, of which only 12 percent has been channelled through the government, the country's Finance Ministry said.
Speaking in the wake of Afghanistan's Development Forum (ADF) held on 29-30 April in Kabul aimed at assessing development outcomes and the country's future needs, Finance Minister Anwar-ul-Haq Ahady said: "We are accountable for only US$3.7 billion of the US$12.8 billion of aid money that has been spent in the country in the last five years: the rest has been spent by donors themselves," said Ahady.
Foreign aid bypassing government systems
Some Afghan legislators have criticized the way aid money has been distributed through a cascade of foreign subcontractors which, they say, siphons off international funding to one of the world's least developed countries.
Mustafa Kazimi, chairman of the economy committee of the Afghan parliament's lower house, said: "Out of every US dollar spent by donors on Afghanistan 's reconstruction 80 cents finds its way out of the country".
"We have about 60 donors," said Ishaq Nadiri, senior economic adviser to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. "There is a need for the international aid money to be rationalised and made more meaningful to the citizens of Afghanistan".
Praful Patel, South Asia Regional Vice-President of the World Bank, said at the forum that the coordination of aid to Afghanistan had been poor. He confirmed that two-thirds of all development expenditure in Afghanistan bypassed the government's systems. "No wonder we ask ourselves why there is so little capacity built despite the fact that about $1.6 billion has been spent on technical assistance in the last five years".
"But then we get cases when a school is built but no teachers are available simply because the ministry did not know about it and did not staff it. Or infrastructure is provided that will deteriorate rapidly because the ministry is unaware of it and does not include maintenance costs in the budget," Patel said.
The EC allocates about 50 percent of its overall funding to Afghanistan to government-managed trust funds and programmes, an official in Kabul confirmed.
Lindy Cameron, a representative for Britain's Department for International Development in Kabul, told IRIN that the organisation spends 80 percent of its aid money through Afghan government channels.
The asymmetric expenditure of international aid money by the government of Afghanistan and some donors, will be fixed once public institutions start functioning efficiently and the capacity to implement and monitor development projects is established, added another donor who preferred to remain anonymous.
At the ADF, "the government of Afghanistan conveyed a very convincing message to donors about aid effectiveness," Alastair J. Mckechnie, World Bank's director for Afghanistan, said.
The UN's top official for Afghanistan acknowledged some limitations which were affecting the issue of aid management by the Afghan government.
"Some donors' have constitutions that restrict aid money channelled through the recipient country's government," said Koenigs.
Acknowledging concerns about low capacity in Afghanistan's nascent public institutions, the Afghan government has called on donors to ensure sustainable effectiveness and better coherence in their engagements in Afghanistan.
"The Ministry of Finance itself acknowledged that there is a problem in the budget execution capacity of many ministries. Presenting the 1386  budget to the parliament, the minister showed how around 500 million dollars of resources are carry-over funds not yet spent in 1385," remarked Mario Ragazzi, a communications officer for the European Commission (EC) in Kabul.
Some Afghan officials challenge the current criticism of weak capacity in state bodies, saying it is an ineffective metaphor.
"Only in the last three months," said Ehsan Zia, Afghanistan's Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD), "we have lost eight professional staff all of whom have been absorbed by international organisations offering attractive salaries."
"Donors and international organisations buy capacity in our modest human resource market at the cost of public institutions," she added.
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Most Canadians want troops out of Afghanistan
Sun May 6, 6:23 PM ET
MONTREAL (AFP) - Most Canadians want troops to come home from Afghanistan if deaths climb and believe the mission has increased the risk of terror attacks in their country, according to a poll published Sunday.
Fifty-five percent of those surveyed by the SES Institute study for the Sun-Media group said they wanted Canadian troops to withdraw if military losses were to rise.
The same number also said the NATO alliance had supplied insufficient resources for the troops' mission in Afghanistan to succeed.
And 67 percent said they thought Canada's presence in Afghanistan made their country more vulnerable to potential terror attacks.
Canada has deployed a contingent of 2,500 soldiers in southern Afghanistan. Fifty-four soldiers and one diplomat have lost their lives since the mission began in 2002.
The poll surveyed 1,000 people between April 26 and May 1, and had a margin of error of 3.1 percent.
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Bus crash kills 9 in Afghanistan
Mon May 7, 5:01 AM ET Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan - A bus crashed in northern Afghanistan, sparking a fire that left nine people dead and 25 injured, an official said Monday.
The bus flipped over as it sped around a corner in Balkh province and burst into flames Sunday, said Sherjan Durrani, spokesman for the Balkh police chief.
Durrani said he did not know what sparked the fire, but suspected it was something flammable loaded on the bus.
Two fire trucks dispatched to the scene arrived too late to help, Durrani said.
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Afghan media face threat of controls
By Abdul Waheed Wafa and Carlotta Gall The New York Times Monday, May 7, 2007
KABUL, Afghanistan: Afghanistan's government, competing with the Taliban for public support and trying to fend off accusations that it is corrupt and ineffective, is moving to curb one of its own most impressive achievements: the country's flourishing independent news media.
Under President Hamid Karzai, a 1960s media law was updated and has been considered the most liberal in the region. Six independent television channels have begun broadcasting, and dozens of radio stations and newspapers are now operating. All news media outlets were under government control under the Taliban government, which was ousted in late 2001.
Yet for the past year, as the government has sought to counter growing public dissatisfaction, it has tried to impose more controls over the news media, journalists and human rights officials said. Parliament is now considering amendments that the critics warn could undo many of the gains made since the fall of the Taliban.
Said Aqa Fazil Sancharaki, the director of the Afghanistan National Journalists' Union, who has been lobbying against many of the amendments with limited success, said: "We are concerned about more restrictions. We are not optimistic."
One of his main concerns is a plan to abolish the media commission, a largely independent group made up of journalists and representatives of the community, which monitors the application of the law and judges complaints, and to replace it with a commission under much stronger government control.
A spokesman for Karzai said the president remained a firm supporter of freedom of the press and would wait to see what amendments were passed in Parliament. "The president can sign the law or he can send it back to Parliament with his amendments," said the spokesman, Khaleeq Ahmad.
Yet Karzai has said there is a need to curb journalists. Ahmad said the president meant that journalists should be more responsible, and not print rumors or falsehoods.
The revisions before Parliament were initiated by Karzai's government, though the legislation has changed as it has moved through Parliament. Journalists and members of Parliament said that some of the proposed restrictions certainly emanated from the cabinet, if not from the president.
"The government does not want to see and hear about its corruption and weaknesses on the media," said Shukria Barakzai, a member of Parliament and a former journalist.
The proposal before Parliament would prohibit coverage seen as violating the provisions of Islam or insulting other religions, as well as coverage that insults individuals or corporations, without allowing truth as a defense. It would also prohibit coverage seen as endangering national stability, security or sovereignty.
Sancharaki said he had lobbied unsuccessfully to have the clause changed to the "principles" of Islam rather than "provisions," which he said was so broad that it would allow all manner of interference.
The minister of information and culture, Abdul Karim Khuram, has also scrapped the plans of his predecessor to make the government-run Afghan National Radio and Television into a public service governed by an independent board, along the lines of the BBC.
Karzai pledged in 2002 to turn the national television and radio station, and the government news agency, Bakhtar, into public service broadcasting companies and to establish independent bodies to govern them and to license broadcasting. But those promises have not been kept, said Shirazuddin Siddiqui, director of the BBC World Service Trust in Afghanistan, which conducts training for Afghan journalists.
"The problem is, our government and our Parliament are very young," he said. "Every government wants to have some control of the media."
Khuram said that in view of Afghanistan's fragile security situation, Afghan National Radio and Television should remain government controlled. "The current situation regarding security, and social, political and cultural needs is such that the government should have its own radio, television and newspapers," he said.
He said he also supported restrictions prohibiting news media coverage found to be against traditional values, the Islamic faith and ethics. He said he had received many complaints from people about nakedness shown on some channels. He also wanted to outlaw any coverage that could encourage sexual abuse of children, he said.
The intelligence service put out a document last year calling for restrictions on journalists, including outlawing interviews with the Taliban, whose fighters continue to carry out attacks in large areas of the country. That document did not have the government's support, Ahmad said.
"My concern is if the media is against the system and have more freedom, then elements like the Taliban will use the situation and gain more supporters," said Moeen Marastial, a former member of the religious and cultural parliamentary commission, which has worked on the news media law as it moved through Parliament.
The slaying by the Taliban of the Afghan translator and reporter, Ajmal Naqshbandi, last month has badly shaken the press corps, and while pressure from local power brokers has always been a fact of life, the possibility of new strictures from the central government have alarmed supporters of an independent news media.
In the most blatant attack on news gatherers, the attorney general, Abdul Jabar Sabit, angered by coverage of his comments in Parliament, recently ordered the arrest of three journalists from the popular television channel Tolo TV. The police raided the television's headquarters, roughed up members of the staff and detained the three journalists for a short while.
Khuram, the information minister, refused to condemn Sabit's action, saying that the attorney general had the right to make arrests. Instead, Khuram asked Tolo TV to apologize to Sabit for its coverage. Tolo TV refused, and filed a complaint with the Supreme Court.
In another matter that has caused widespread interest in Afghanistan, the upper house of Parliament passed an amnesty bill on Sunday, granting factions and political groups involved in past hostilities freedom from state prosecution.
Supporters of the bill said it was necessary for peace and reconciliation in the country. But the United Nations, human rights organizations and liberal members of Parliament have criticized it for granting immunity to suspected war criminals.
Karzai rejected an earlier version and introduced an amendment that recognizes the individual's right to seek justice for individual war crimes. It is not clear whether he will sign the new version.
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Afghan News Media Find Foes on All Sides
Violence, Politics Imperil Press Freedom
By Pamela Constable Washington Post Staff Writer Monday, May 7, 2007; A16
KABUL -- Ajmal Nakshbandi was not the first Afghan journalist to die in this increasingly dangerous and corrupt country since the advent of civilian rule more than five years ago.
But the young interpreter's gruesome beheading by Taliban insurgents last month -- after the government negotiated a deal to release his Italian employer -- struck a well of outrage in an Afghan public that feels whipsawed between a violent insurgency and a government it no longer trusts.
"I am angry at the Taliban because they are wild men who would do anything, but I am also angry at my government, because it was their job to save my brother," said Munir Nakshbandi, 23. "He was an innocent person, and he had just been married. Was the life of an Italian journalist worth more than his?"
In recent months, the Afghan press -- a struggling institution that was virtually extinct less than six years ago but has gradually emerged as a powerful force for social and political change -- has come under attack from all quarters of this conflicted and confused society.
The greatest physical danger comes from the insurgents, who regularly attempt to use local journalists as conduits for their declarations but also target them for kidnappings and bombings. The Taliban has repeatedly warned Afghan journalists or interpreters like Nakshbandi not to work for the foreign or government media. One Afghan reporter was killed by a suicide bomber last year.
According to journalists associations and human rights groups, however, intimidation and harassment of the Afghan news media have come from a variety of sources, including government prosecutors, police, regional militias, parliament, Islamic clerical councils and U.S.-led military forces. Unlike their foreign counterparts, Afghan journalists cannot easily leave the country and are more vulnerable to official pressure.
"We are very concerned about the state of press freedom. The security situation is getting worse and worse, and the behavior of the authorities is getting worse and worse," said Fazel Sangcharaki, a former deputy minister of information who now heads the National Union of Journalists. "Some officials want more control of the press. The government is getting weaker, and they do not want the media to expose its flaws."
A comprehensive list of threats to press freedom from January 2006 to February of this year, compiled by Media Watch Afghanistan, an advocacy group, included the beating and jailing of journalists, among other incidents. One provincial radio station was set on fire, a TV discussion show was dropped under government pressure, and a magazine editor was detained by U.S. forces for three weeks without charge.
In many cases, the problems stem from resistance by officials or influential groups to press investigations or negative attention, a new phenomenon in a country where for a full generation the media were essentially an arm of the state or political factions during successive phases of communist rule, civil war and Islamic oppression.
The establishment of the country's first independent TV stations in the last several years has exacerbated the tensions, since the immediacy of the medium is so powerful. In 2001, while Afghanistan was under Taliban rule, television was legally banned in the country. Now, according to a private poll conducted this spring in major cities and provincial capitals, 67 percent of people surveyed said they watch TV every day or almost every day.
Tolo TV, a popular independent television channel that has a Western-style entertainment and news format, has clashed repeatedly with Afghan authorities. Its camera crews have been prohibited from covering parliamentary debates and its hard-hitting talk show was banned.
Last month, a nasty clash erupted between Tolo and the country's attorney general, an aggressive and flamboyant figure who took issue with a video clip of his comments suggesting that certain accused criminals would be executed soon, even though they had not yet been convicted. He accused the TV channel of misquoting him and sent a large squad of police officers to the Tolo offices, where they detained several staffers. The incident set off a high-profile bureaucratic and legal battle that is still playing out.
"Things are going wrong for the government, and they are trying to kill the messenger," said Saad Mohseni, one of three brothers who own Tolo TV. "It is the only sector that is holding the government accountable, but they see any criticism as a direct threat."
Afghan officials assert that the press is often unprofessional and sensationalistic, freely mixing opinion with news and carrying political water for various ethnic or political factions. They also complain that some TV entertainment is sexually unseemly for a conservative Muslim country where most rural women still cover their faces with veils if they leave their village compounds.
They point out that freedom of the press is guaranteed under the 2004 constitution and that the growth of private media since the collapse of the Taliban has been pell-mell. There are now about 40 private radio stations, seven TV networks and more than 300 newspapers and magazines officially doing business in the country.
A recently established media law provides general guidelines for press rights and responsibilities, and a commission has been set up by the Ministry of Information and Culture to assess and judge accusations of unfairness, bias or pressure by or against the press.
Now, however, a group of legislators led by a former Islamic militia leader is trying to enact a harsher media law that would outlaw any news coverage that disturbs the public or has an "un-Islamic" theme. It would also give the Ministry of Information and Culture full control of state-run broadcast media. Despite widespread criticism by foreign agencies here, some form of the new law is expected to pass.
"They want the word 'Islam' in every article. But how do you define what is 'anti-Islamic' news?" said Shukria Barakzai, a member of parliament and former journalist. But she said she agreed with criticisms that the Afghan press corps -- full of eager but poorly trained young journalists -- is often unprofessional and biased.
"Press freedom is very important to developing our democracy, but it does not mean being able to broadcast whatever you want," Barakzai said. "We must support media freedom, but does that mean freedom to support the Taliban, or political leaders? That is clearly crossing the line."
In several cases, reports of media harassment have stemmed from alleged misdeeds by U.S.-led coalition forces. In one high-profile case in March, U.S. troops deleted video from Afghan camera crews trying to cover an incident in which U.S. Marines fired on civilians in eastern Afghanistan, killing at least 10, according to a preliminary U.S. military investigation. U.S. military officials have said they are still investigating what happened.
Far more often, though, the pressure comes from Afghan authorities, who are widely seen as corrupt, heavy-handed and intolerant of public questioning. This growing perception helped explain the outpouring of grief and anger that came after the execution of Ajmal Nakshbandi and the quick rush to blame President Hamid Karzai, who freed five Taliban prisoners in exchange for the Italian journalist, Daniele Mastrogiacomo, but refused to release two more in exchange for the Afghan man.
"If the government had taken action, my brother would be alive today," said Munir Nakshbandi. "I thank all the world journalist groups who tried to get him released, but unfortunately my government did not help its own son. I have lost all hope in them now."
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Taleban dismiss Afghan-Pakistan “peace jirga”
(AFP) / 6 May 2007 via Khaleej Times (United Arab Emirates)
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - The Taleban dismissed on Sunday a planned traditional gathering between Afghanistan and Pakistan on the insurgency, saying it was an attempt to “deceive” ordinary Afghans.
President Hamid Karzai announced last week that the neighbours would hold the gathering, called a jirga, on August 1.
It is intended to bring together about 700 tribal leaders, politicians and academics from both sides to find a way to tackle the growing Taleban-led insurgency.
“It’s an attempt by Karzai’s government to deceive people,” said a Taleban statement read over the telephone by one of the rebels’ spokesmen.
“But Afghans know this and will never accept it. Afghans are thinking about freedom and will gain their freedom,” read the spokesman, Yousuf Ahamdi.
The Taleban, toppled from government in late 2001, claim that Karzai’s government is a stooge of the West and that the thousands of foreign troops in the country to help bring security are ”invaders.”
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10 Taliban commanders killed recently in W. Afghanistan: U.S. military
May 6, 2007 Xinhua
Ten Taliban commanders were among over 100 Taliban militants recently killed in Herat province of western Afghanistan, said a statement of the U.S.-led coalition froces received Sunday.
Intelligence indicated at least 10 Taliban commanders were among the 136 Taliban insurgents killed by Afghan and coalition troops in two clashes in Shindand district of Herat on April 27 and 29, the statement said.
However, local officials said at least 50 civilians were among the killed.
One killed was a Taliban commander released by Afghan authorities to exchange for a kidnapped Italian journalist in March, the statement said.
These Taliban commanders entered Shindand district to reinforce Taliban operations against Afghan and foreign forces to destabilize security, it added.
More than 1,100 people have been killed in conflicts and insurgency so far this year in Afghanistan.
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Disfiguring skin disease plagues Afghanistan
By Robert Birsel
KABUL (Reuters) - The 10-year-old Afghan girl has big eyes, a shy smile and a dark lesion speckled with blood on her right cheek.
The girl has leishmaniasis, a disease caused by a parasite transmitted by a tiny sandfly that can lead to severe scarring, often on the face.
The girl, Sahima, wearing a purple tunic and trousers and pale blue shoes, answers "no" softly when asked if the sore hurts.
But her father is worried about the lesion, the size of a big coin.
"Of course, this doesn't look good," the father, Najibullah, said at a leishmaniasis clinic crowded with children with sores in the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Najibullah said he first noticed a mark on his daughter's face two months ago. "It was a very small dot but it grew and grew. If it grows any more it will cover her whole face."
Leishmaniasis isn't a priority for the government and its aid donors, grappling with shocking rates of infant mortality, tuberculosis, malaria and trauma.
The most common form of the disease is not fatal but it causes untold misery. Victims with scarring on their faces are stigmatized: children are excluded at school and girls often won't be able to find husbands.
Long-neglected by the rich world, the disease is attracting a bit more attention in the West, if not more funds.
Some foreign troops in Afghanistan and Iraq have also been bitten by the sandflies and have developed the disease. NATO saw about 150 cases in Afghanistan in 2005 and about 12 last year, a force spokeswoman said.
NATO camps have been fortified to try to stop the sandflies and soldiers are warned to keep sleeves rolled down, to use insect repellant and to watch for bites.
"DISEASE OF DESTRUCTION"
But it's Afghanistan's poor who are most vulnerable.
Kabul, battered and neglected for years, has the world's worst outbreak of leishmaniasis, health experts say.
"It's out of control, absolutely out of control," said Reto Steiner, a medic with the German Medical Service which helps run the Kabul clinic.
"You won't control it until the sanitation has recovered."
The deep ulcers caused by the parasites will heal if left untreated, but that invariably involves disfigurement and can take many months. That has given rise to one of the diseases many nicknames: saldana, or one-year sore.
Though present in all Afghan cities, it is in Kabul's crowded neighborhoods that the disease has exploded and spread to hundreds of thousands of people.
"When we have one case in a family, of course, it's not only one case: it will be all the family and even the neighbors," said Health Ministry official Abdullah Fahim.
The sandflies that spread the parasites are carried by animals including dogs and a species of gerbil, as well as people. The insects often breed on waste land and in rubbish.
Although they don't fly well, the insects infest the cracks and crevices in people's homes from where they emerge to bite exposed parts of the body -- noses, chins, cheeks and hands -- as people sleep, from late spring to autumn.
"It's a disease of destruction," said Toby Leslie, a researcher from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. "It will thrive in post-war areas and areas where there's poor sanitation, poor community services."
Cutaneous leishmaniasis is not fatal although a less-common form, visceral leishmaniasis, can cause organ failure and death.
"Leishmaniasis is one of the top neglected diseases, certainly outside Africa, and it just doesn't attract the funding that's needed," Leslie said.
Doctor Faquir Amin says he's been treating leishmaniasis since the 1960s. Refugees returning from abroad are particularly susceptible as they have no resistance, he said.
"No one's taking care of it. The people are coming, it's crowded, the people are susceptible and the disease is increasing," Amin said at his Kabul clinic. "It is not a killer disease but mentally people suffer. We have to deal with it."
The sores are treated with a course of injections, or cauterized to kill the parasites. Amin's clinic has the only laser cauterizing machine in Afghanistan. Electric cauterizing machines are also effective and much cheaper.
Prevention is also key, experts say.
Bed nets impregnated with insecticide are being distributed to stop malaria and they will also stop sandflies spreading leishmaniasis. But only a few nets are being distributed compared with the number needed.
"The ministry is battling to get funds and no one's interested. It's impossible to get funds," said Health Ministry adviser Kathy Fiekert.
"This is an issue that needs to be addressed."
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Ambassador Omar Samad on Afghanistan
Globe and Mail May 7, 2007 at 8:00 AM EDT
"While the Afghan detainee access and treatment issue has kept Canadian politicians and media very busy over the past two weeks, the people of Afghanistan continue to face a series of serious challenges on the security, economic-development and state-building fronts almost 5½ years following the ouster of the Taliban," Afghanistan's Ambassador to Canada, Omar Samad, writes today in an exclusive commentary for globeandmail.com on the current situation in Afghanistan
"As far as the detainee issue is concerned, the Afghans, having previously reached similar bilateral arrangements with some other nations, did not hesitate to update and upgrade the 2005 arrangement [a deal announced last week] to give further assurances to Canada that we are willing to work together to improve detainee conditions under the law, to provide direct access for monitoring and, more importantly, to continue with the important job of helping restore good governance practices and advance the cause of implementing rule of law in the country . . . "
But there are other bigger issues, he argues.
"The Afghan people dread their [the Taliban's] attempts at making a comeback. That would be the end of democracy, human rights, education for girls and rights for women, development and reconstruction.
"By association with extremist and terrorist groups, it would also re-create a serious threat to security at the regional as well as global levels.
"We cannot allow that to happen . . .
"Afghanistan is still a fragile country in transition from war and devastation to peace and rebuilding. It faces numerous challenges, but its people are eager for change and the international community's commitment to work on this strategic mission in one of the world's poorest and most disadvantaged nations is one key factor for success."
Do you agree?
Ambassador Samad has kindly agreed to come online today from noon to 1 p.m. EDT to take your questions on the role that Canada is playing in his war-torn country.
Join the Conversation at that time or submit a question or comment in advance. Your questions and Ambassador Samad's answers will appear at the bottom of this page when the discussion begins.
Omar Samad took up his posting as Afghan Ambassador to Canada in September, 2004. Prior to his arrival to Canada, he was the spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Afghanistan and Director General of the Information Division for three years.
Born in Kabul in 1961, he attended primary and secondary schools in Paris, London, and Kabul.
He left Afghanistan in 1979 following the Communist coup d'etat and settled in the United States where he was president of the Afghan Students Association and later the Afghan Youth Council in America.
Ambassador Samad earned a master's degree in international relations Tufts University in Massachusetts in 2006. He earned a B.A. in communications and international relations at the American University in Washington, D.C. in 1991. He studied computer science from 1980-82 at NOVA in Virginia.
Ambassador Samad worked in the field of information technology from 1981 to 2001, while pursuing a second career in media, initially with ABC News and later as a freelance television producer. In 1996, he launched Azadi Afghan Radio and ran the Afghanistan Information Center based in Virginia. As an international media commentator and analyst on Afghanistan, he covered the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan for CNN prior to his return to his homeland in late 2001.
Ambassador Samad represented Afghanistan at the 11th United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Montreal in 2005. He has been an official member of Afghan delegations to numerous international conferences, including the Afghanistan Reconstruction conferences in Tokyo (2002) and Berlin (2004), UN General Assembly sessions (2002, 2003), Non-aligned Movement and Organization of Islamic Countries summit meetings, and other specialized conferences on Afghanistan between 2002 and 2004. He represented the Afghan Foreign Ministry on the Tripartite Commission on security between the United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Mr. Samad and is fluent in French and English in addition to Afghanistan's official languages.
Editor's Note: globeandmail.com editors will read and allow or reject each question/comment. Comments/questions may be edited for length or clarity. We will not publish questions/comments that include personal attacks on participants in these discussions, that make false or unsubstantiated allegations, that purport to quote people or reports where the purported quote or fact cannot be easily verified, or questions/comments that include vulgar language or libellous statements. Preference will be given to readers who submit questions/comments using their full name and home town, rather than a pseudonym.
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When does an Afghan become a detainee?
Critics say latest comments from DND expose conundrum in new policy on those arrested by Canadians
ALEX DOBROTA Globe and Mail, Canada
OTTAWA -- The Defence Department's latest statement about an Afghan man whose mistreatment by local police caused an uproar in Parliament last week has done little to clarify the incident, according to critics of Canadian detainee policies - and may also expose gaps in the newest agreement on the treatment of prisoners in Afghanistan.
The detainee who was beaten while in Afghan National Police custody in 2006 and rescued by Canadian troops was never captured by Canadian Forces in the first place, the Department of National Defence claimed.
The soldiers were only questioning the civilian before he was arrested by the Afghan police, Lieutenant General Walter Natynczyk said in a statement.
For the Conservative government, the claim will likely serve to ward off some of the heat it has been taking over the past two weeks on its detainee policy.
But for critics, this new version of events raises the question of when an Afghan individual officially becomes a Canadian prisoner. And the answer is absent from the new agreement on detainees brokered by the Tories, critics have said.
"It just seems that it's getting more and more confusing as to when the detainee transfer agreement applies and when it doesn't," said Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada.
"It just puts some more confusion," echoed Denis Coderre, Liberal defence critic. "The more you dig the more you find."
Colonel Steven Noonan, a former task-force commander in Afghanistan, disclosed the incident of the beaten man in a Federal Court affidavit that forms part of the government's response to a legal challenge by Amnesty International Canada and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association to stop all further detainee transfers.
Col. Noonan's sworn evidence was cited by the Opposition in Friday's Question Period to challenge Tory claims that government officials had no knowledge of cases where detainees handed over to Afghan authorities were beaten or tortured.
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Artillery arrives for Canadians in Afghanistan
Mon. May. 7 2007 7:41 AM ET Canadian Press
SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan -- Some heavy artillery has arrived in this southern border town to lend support to Canadian soldiers on patrol.
Two Canadian M777 Howitzer cannons made a dramatic arrival by helicopter at the forward operating base just six kilometres from the Pakistan border.
A pair of Chinook helicopters thundered into view over the horizon, the guns dangling below, before dropping their cargo off in the desert.
Soldiers from the 2nd Royal Canadian Horse Artillery were on hand to secure the cannons and tow them into the base.
Over the past three days, the base at Spin Boldak -- all but abandoned when Canadians began arriving on Saturday -- has turned into a hive of activity.
Master Warrant Officer Bill Richards of the Royal Canadian Dragoons says it's nice to have more boots on the ground as the Canadians prepare for their patrols in the area.
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Afghan parliament approves reconciliation bill
www.chinaview.cn 2007-05-07 17:21:42
KABUL, May 7 (Xinhua) -- The upper house of Afghan Parliament has approved a bill for national reconciliation, a local newspaper reported Monday.
"Mushrano Jirga, or the upper house of parliament, approved the reconciliation and amnesty bill on Sunday," Outlook said.
Wolesi Jirga or the lower house of Afghan parliament has already ratified the bill.
The bill, if signed by President Hamid Karzai, will grant amnesty to all those involved in the past decades of war and conflicts in this country.
During their speeches on Sunday, some senators stressed the need of negotiations with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former premier and now chief of the anti-government Hezb-i-Islami, Outlook said.
Those advocating talks with dissidents argued negotiations were the only viable option to restore peace and bring stability to Afghanistan.
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Afghan insurgency here for long time, says rebel leader
KABUL 07-May-07 The Brunei Times, Brunei Darussalam
AFGHANISTAN'S insurgency is cheap to fund and the fighters behind it are committed, so it could continue "for a long time" without foreign support, said fugitive rebel leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
Roadside bombs, which Taliban and other insurgents use regularly to deadly effect, cost US$100 a time, the former prime minister said in a recorded DVD response to questions that were delivered this week.
This is much less expensive than the billions of dollars spent by international troops conducting counter-insurgency operations.
"The Americans know that a roadside bomb against one of their convoys would cost only US$100," said Hekmatyar, who carries a multi-million-dollar US bounty on his head.
"We need neither foreign support for materials and equipment or for expenses," he said in the video.
"If we are able to carry out at least 1,000 such attacks a year, it would cost us only US$100,000. Insyallah (with God's blessings), we can carry on this war for a long time."
Hekmatyar, aged around 60, was the main recipient of US aid given to factions that resisted the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
He was briefly prime minister in the chaos of the civil war that followed the 1992 defeat of the Soviet regime.
He is believed to be hiding out in eastern Afghanistan or Pakistan while leading his Hizb-i-Islami (Islamic Party) faction in attacks against foreign and government targets, conducted separately to those of the Taliban.
In the DVD, Hekmatyar flatly rejected oft-repeated allegations by President Hamid Karzai and some US officials that the uprising is dependent on support from circles in neighbouring Pakistan, including its intelligence service.
"Those who have military experience and know the details of the current resistance understand that we don't need support from anyone, or any foreign country _ neither Pakistan nor Iran," he said.
"Some people suggest that Pakistan supports us. I tell you, Pakistan was the one who helped the Americans to take Afghanistan," he said, referring to the 2001 US-led invasion that ended Taliban rule.
Hekmatyar repeated claims that his men had helped al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and his lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri, escape US Special Forces, who cornered them in the Tora Bora mountains of eastern Afghanistan in early 2002.
"When the American attacks began on Tora Bora ... several thousands of faithful mujahedin took Osama bin Laden and some of his comrades, including Zawhiri, to a safe place," he said.
Bin Laden, the world's most wanted man, and other al-Qaeda leaders sheltered by the 1996-2001 Taliban government remain at large more than five years after thousands of US forces invaded to hunt him down.
"I met him (bin Laden) around that time," Hekmatyar said. AFP
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International Midwives' Day marked in Kabul
KABUL, May 5 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The International Midwives' Day was observed in Kabul on Saturday, with calls for the health professionals to reach out to all women. The day is regularly being marked on May 5 every year since 1992.
Addressing a ceremony marking the day, Dr. Syed Muhammad Amin Fatemi, public health minister, promised midwives would be trained at home and abroad to enhance their capacity.
A hundred midwives would be sent to Turkey for training and capacity-building, the minister said, vowing they would also be dispatched to the US, Britain, Pakistan and Kenya to hone their professional skills.
Dr. Abdullah Fahim, spokesman for the ministry, said at the moment 3,000 midwives were working in the post-conflict country, which needed to have another 8,000 to meet the growing needs of the Afghan women.
The shortage would be overcome in the near future, the spokesman assured, hoping the health professionals' capacity would be built so as to prepare them to better discharge their responsibilities. Currently, 500 midwives are undergoing training.
Hailing the role that midwives were playing in providing maternity care, speakers underlined their educational, training and credentialing standards.
Although Afghanistan's maternal and child mortality rate is among the highest in the world, efforts are steadily underway to train more and more midwives to deliver reliable maternity services.
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