May 8, 2007 Asia SourceDr Abdullah Abdullah was appointed foreign minister of Afghanistan following the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, a position he retained til March 2006. He spoke to Nermeen Shaikh in Almaty, Kazakhstan, at the Eurasian Media Forum, about what the greatest failures of the war on terrorism have been, what the prospects for Afghanistan are now, and the role of Pakistan in contributing to the deteriorating security situation in the region. In particular, Dr Abdullah alleges that the government of Pakistan has consistently drawn a distinction between Al Qaeda militants - whom the Pakistani authorities have handed over to the US - and Taliban leaders, whom Pakistan continues to protect.
Dr Abdullah, thank you very much for your time. Could you briefly characterize what you think the status of the war on terrorism in Afghanistan is today?
Today it is of course not as challenging as it used to be a few years ago. But still we are faced with this problem as the top priority, as the top challenge in the country. And in various areas of Afghanistan, the Taliban are in control of some districts. Not only that, but they are threatening the rest of the areas in those districts.
The Taliban still receive support outside Afghanistan and their leaders continue to enjoy support outside the country. Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, nobody knows where they are but it is believed or perceived to be outside Afghanistan. So after a situation where the Taliban had lost all their bases inside the country, we see an escalation in the situation within Afghanistan. Though, in strategic terms, they have not gained the support of the people. But they have managed to create a state of fear and constant threat in some parts of the country that they are active in. So it is a big cause of concern for the people of Afghanistan.
You say the Taliban still receives support from outside. Where do you think they receive support from?
Their leaders-almost all of them-are based in Pakistan. And they get recruits there. There are some camps there. This has been the case for quite some time now.
And you believe that Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar are also in Pakistan?
[laughs] That's what we think.
Why do you think the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated to such a point that the Taliban has regained control in some areas?
There are domestic factors-which I will get to-but there is a regional factor as well. As far as the regional factor is concerned, the fact that Taliban leaders as well as their commanders receive support from outside the country has been a very critical point. There are recruiting bases outside Afghanistan as well. All this has been dismissed from time to time -- but then, admitted from time to time. So we know what is going on. This has been the most critical issue with respect to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.
Within Afghanistan I think there are some factors: weak government institutions in the regions where the Taliban are operating, the absence of reconstruction programs, employment, job opportunities and all that, or very little in those areas in any case. The issue of narcotics is another problem. Sometimes, of course, collateral damage is to blame, because of the bombardment and operations of the coalition forces, and when innocent people are arrested - those who have nothing to do with the Taliban. These are the domestic factors. In addition, of course, there is the problem in some cases of lack of coordination between the international forces and the government, both at the local and central levels.
You don't mention, though, what many commentators have pointed out - namely, that when the United States began this war in October of 2001 they neither committed enough troops, nor did they stay focused long enough, because less than two years later they had invaded another country. Do you think that if their focus had been exclusively on Afghanistan things might have turned out differently?
Of course that was a distraction, what happened in Iraq and the shift of focus which happened as a result of that. The center of the global effort against terrorism used to be Afghanistan. So the main focus should have stayed in Afghanistan; that would have made a big difference, I have no doubt in my mind. But at the same time, all these factors which I counted should have been addressed throughout.
And what happened at the beginning? The Taliban lost control of Afghanistan so quickly. That was because of their lack of popularity. At the beginning there were a few hundred or a few dozen American Special Forces when the Taliban were kicked out of the country. Then they went to Pakistan and they found sanctuary there-the Taliban and Al Qaeda. It took them time to establish themselves back there and that coincided with political developments within Pakistan where the MMA [the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal] was in an alliance with the establishment in Pakistan. So they helped their friends back home. So that was also a factor in this.
Another major factor was that Afghanistan was considered a post-conflict country, whereas in fact it was an in-conflict country, and still is today. This in itself was also not helpful.
But in your view the most important thing that was overlooked right from the beginning was the complicity of Pakistan in the maintenance and, one could even say, the resurrection of the Taliban from the outset.
Yes, yes, yes. That is true. Right from the beginning, while Pakistan was helping the coalition forces and the Americans to track and find Al Qaeda, or the Arab and foreign Al Qaeda, when it came to Taliban, they used to make a very clear distinction. We were trying to convince them then that these are of the same brand, and had it not been for the Taliban in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda wouldn't have been able to establish itself there. But they always would present the "internal demographic" argument. Afghanistan is a country of diverse ethnic groups including Pashtun (the largest), Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek and Turkmen. The Taliban has a political and ideological opposition to the idea of democracy and a moderate Islamic identity for Afghanistan. They are opposed to the political process as well as to engagement with the international community. Thousands of people from other areas of the world consider themselves as Taliban and are working with them. The problem is that Pakistan equates the Taliban opposition with the Pashtuns' opposition to the government which is not the case. The Taliban want the establishment of an Islamic Emirate where Taliban from all around the world could take part, and would extend far beyond Afghanistan boundaries. This is not what Pashtuns in Afghanistan would like to see. Yes, the Taliban are dissatisfied. Pashtuns are dissatisfied, which was not the case. When Pashtuns were given the chance, they voted for President Karzai. President Karzai was Pashtun. No question about that.
At the same time Pakistan has been making a distinction between the Afghan Taliban movement and their Al Qaeda collaborators; when it came to the foreign friends of the Taliban, including Arabs, Pakistan has made some arrests but no arrest has been made of any senior Taliban leaders. In addition, the state of Pakistan continued to deny the presence of terrorist camps for quite some time. In 2003, for example, I mentioned in one of my interviews in the United States that there were terrorist camps within Pakistan and it was flatly denied
By the Pakistanis or the Americans?
By the Pakistanis. I received a good share of bombardment from all sides. You know how the Pakistani establishment acts in these sorts of situations when it decides to! I took it. But I believe that I was stating the truth. Later on, at the beginning of 2004, Pakistani officials themselves stated that they had started military operations against those camps. So, yes, this is one example of the kind of misinformation and denial that I have been talking about.
But all this time Musharraf was also one of the key allies of the US in the war on terrorism. So do you think that the US was also in denial about Pakistan's complicity or that they were simply unaware?
I don't know the exact situation. First of all, President Musharraf has been misinformed about the situation in Afghanistan. Pakistan has never given up on the idea that the Taliban are a useful asset. There is also a perception that the United Front (referred to as the Northern Alliance) has anti-Pakistan sentiments.
When it comes to the Americans, Pakistan has been assisting in the bigger picture by handing over people like Khalid Sheikh, etc., and this has been considered a very important kind of cooperation. Then, for instance, the whereabouts of Mullah Obaidullah [the former defense minister of the Taliban] seems less important. Since the Pakistani authorities did well on that score, their relative inaction against the Taliban was ignored. Also I think that Pakistan's arguments against the prominent role of the former United Front in the Afghan government received some sympathy in the US.
Do you think that Pakistan's role has changed at all since 2001? Over the course of the last, well, almost six years now, has the government of Pakistan, to the extent that it is a unitary government, played a more or less continuous role, that is, pursued a systematic policy with respect to Afghanistan?
During this time, there have been a lot of events which we have seen, like the attempts against the lives of President Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. The operations which Pakistan has started in those areas, the losses which they suffered - all this happened as well. They also made various treaties and so on and so forth, although there was no clause on stopping the cross-border operations. As a whole the policy has been the same but the tactics and PR have changed from time to time.
But I think that there is a situation today that is a big challenge for Pakistan as well. I'm not saying that dealing with it is a piece of cake. That's not the case. But my point is that there has to be a sort of black and white, straightforward decision on this, and based on that, there should be cooperation with the coalition, and cooperation with Afghanistan. We must forget about the illusion of "good Taliban" and "bad Taliban" - a group which might serve anybody's interest in Pakistan. Prior to September 11th, Pakistan's official policy was to support the Taliban. President Musharraf, for example, said in July 2001 that supporting the Taliban is in Pakistan's national security interest. When dramatic pressure built up on Pakistan to give up that policy after September 11th, Pakistan's position shifted to the idea of bringing so-called "moderate" Taliban into the government. When President Musharraf was in a joint press conference with President Bush in Washington, he mentioned that the entry of the Northern Alliance into Kabul would lead to a bloodbath in Afghanistan. In fact, the people of Afghanistan welcomed the liberation of Kabul from the Taliban and helped expel the Taliban in a matter of weeks. One can read his intention very clearly. This idea has to be forgotten.
Afghanistan is prepared to go, has been prepared to go, any inch. Of course we do not want to compromise our integrity and sovereignty. That's not a question. But beyond that, Afghanistan has been ready to go to any inch in our friendship with Pakistan in order to overcome this common challenge. It is a question of approach. If the ideas are ideas of control over events, this simply cannot happen in Afghanistan. If the idea is friendship and common interest, of course, it is possible. Which other country has more in common with us in terms of long-term interest than Pakistan?
Now people are talking about Afghanistan's location, which will be like a crossroad between Central Asia and South Asia, absolutely essential to energy transport and all that. We understand that. I don't think that the establishment or a group of people in the establishment are pursuing any other interest but the interest of Afghanistan. But all the time we hear that voice of suspicion from Pakistan - Northern Alliance, panjsheris, and the Indian issues within Afghanistan and so on and so forth. Now I think both countries should move to different levels of interaction, increase people to people dialogues, have more cultural exchanges. All diplomatic efforts should also be pursued of course. For quite some time I didn't see any diplomatic effort taking place between both countries. That should not be allowed. Our friends should also work with both countries. There are some mechanisms like trilateral, tripartite meetings - the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan are meeting on a monthly basis, for example. But more than that, on some practical issues, both countries should move forward.
But as we were discussing earlier today, you know now what the perception is in Pakistan: Vice-President Dick Cheney was there recently and gave a warning about "not doing enough" in Afghanistan, and so on. There seems to be a general feeling that Pakistan has done all that it can and indeed more than it can-it has lost a great many military lives in this conflict. So the perception in some quarters is that the situation in Afghanistan is falling out of everybody's control. In a sense, it could almost be compared to the war in Iraq at the moment, which is to say that no amount of military reinforcements by any side, by any party involved, is likely to bring the situation under control.
On that, my opinion will be slightly different. I would say that still there are good opportunities for Afghanistan and Pakistan. I have no doubt in my mind. Now, things could be done within Afghanistan. All our efforts focus on Afghanistan. Of course, more focus would have helped. But without something parallel back there at the bases where these people are coming from it wouldn't have resulted in what we all would have expected. I know what a big challenge this is, but I also know that a half-hearted attitude will not work. We are caught in a bind. Whenever we say that they are not doing enough, that is, I think, adding a certain fire to it.
Even in using our words we have to be careful. But at the same time when the destiny of all of us is at stake, what choices do we have? The good intentions of Afghanistan in establishing friendly relations with Pakistan was not understood there, and the idea of the Taliban as Pakistan's only friends persisted. If there was opposition to what Pakistan was doing before September 11th it was against the policy of supporting the Taliban, not against Pakistan as a country or against its people who have helped us during the jihad [against the Soviet Union].
When President Musharraf announced in 2001, in July, that supporting the Taliban is in the national security interest of Pakistan and a top priority, why would people within Afghanistan accept that? Of course such a policy would be challenged and would be opposed. This is what happened at that time. But later on, when Pakistan announced that now they are not supporting the Taliban anymore and they are part of the coalition, everybody welcomed that. So there isn't a lobby as a whole of any kind in Afghanistan which would oppose Pakistan under any conditions. But Pakistan's policy in supporting, in thinking that one way or another a group like the Taliban or a group like Hekmetyar should be in charge-that thinking will bring negative results and has brought negative results for Pakistan as well as for Afghanistan. And I have been unfortunate enough for so many years to work on this and to talk about it without succeeding. Of course in some areas we have made progress - trade, commerce and of opening people to people relations. I have been there also when other problems occurred. What else could we have talked about? Yes, there was the Taliban, there was support for the Taliban and there was the situation in Afghanistan.
Between 1997 and 2001 I led the Afghan delegation every year to the UN General Assembly and attacked Pakistan's policy of supporting the Taliban which, as we now know in retrospect, led to the establishment and strengthening of Al Qaeda within Afghanistan, and the expansion of its global network. I spoke about all this at the UN. For us it was the survival of our country and our nation that was at stake.
Similarly today I think what is at stake is the survival of both nations. It's nothing less than that. So given this, nobody should hesitate from making efforts. But when will we start with a new beginning on this? I don't know. How it will develop, how it will affect us, I don't know.
Let's assume a situation - that there isn't September 11th 2001, and what happened. There is the 9th of September, the night when Commander Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of the resistance, was assassinated. There is this one event, and not the event of September 11th. And there isn't the intervention by the international community. What would have happened? What would have been the result? Afghanistan would have been lost to Taliban and Al Qaeda - all Central Asia and probably as far as Kazakhstan here would have been destabilized as a result of what was happening and as a result of that old policy. So in a sense we all suffered a lot and continue to suffer. But we are also fortunate to have this window of opportunity. It's for us to seize it or not.
I think the Taliban would have become the first threat against the statehood of Pakistan had they succeeded fully in Afghanistan. They would have been out of control, absolutely out of control and Pakistan wouldn't have been able to stop them. I would repeat the same thing we talked about this morning: an Islamic revolution in Afghanistan would be followed by an Islamic revolution in Pakistan, the disintegration of India, and the Islamization of the Central Asian republics which was the idea held by the army establishment in Pakistan in the late 1980s (though they believed that they could live with a stabilized India). It would have happened perhaps not in the same order, but this would have been the destiny of that part of the world. So now that is behind us. But what we are looking towards is still bleak because we are not on the same note on this. We believe that a stable and democratic Afghanistan, a democratic and stable subcontinent, a stable Central Asia is in the best interest of all parties concerned. Hopefully we will get there.
What do you think of the constitution of the present Afghan government? Can you rate the performance of the Karzai government since it came to power and also comment briefly on why it is that you are no longer in the cabinet?
[laughs] The second one is easier to answer. But the first one, since I was in the government whatever I say about the performance I consider myself a part of it. Now, I think the government is losing touch with the people gradually, with the people of Afghanistan, which is the main source of strength, with the realities of the country.
Why did that happen?
A lot of factors, including-
Green zone syndrome, like Baghdad?
[laughs] The people who used to come to see us in the cities, in Kabul - a city - they used to be more or less the same people all the time. And when we used to travel to the provinces that demanded strict security teams that wouldn't have allowed any interactions with the people. That is one. Secondly, team work. Leadership, which leads a team, which agrees on a vision for the country and works coherently with one another to take it forward -- there also we had a lot of shortcomings. Then between the international community in Afghanistan, apart from the technical sort of coordination, in its essence, there was little coordination. All these things have affected the views of the people. Apart from that, there might have been very high expectations on the part of the people- sometimes unrealistic. But I don't think that we have been able to deliver even on the realistic, objective expectations of the people.
When we talk about unrest it is in some limited parts of the country. Despite the fact that I mentioned that there is escalation, still this is only in four districts which are under Taliban control out of two hundred and who knows how many districts in the country as a whole. In the areas which are not under Taliban control, the people are not engaged in all the developments - economic, political, having to do with governance and so on and so forth. So I would say that our government today is not popular. I would say that. It will be judged, of course, in different ways. But my perception is that it's not - from what I hear, from people talking on radios and TV, and from contacts which I have with the people.
Other problems include sometimes lack of consistency in the program, sometimes lack of transparency. For example, there is a process of reconciliation. But the people don't know how it works. Yes, Professor Mojadidi is in charge of that group. Yes, of course, the people in broad terms have accepted reconciliation because at the end of it people should live together. But then how does it happen? Sometimes this process, from what I hear, contributes to the security problems. For example, without checking or verification, people are giving away cards which make them immune from being arrested by the police. So then they sometimes carry those cards and they carry out their programs. So lack of transparency, as well as incompetence in the process of reconciliation, has created a lot of doubts among the people. There is also corruption. These are things that affect the views of the people.
Are you very pessimistic now about Afghanistan's prospects? What do you think could improve the situation now?
I have a lot of concerns today that were not there five years ago. But still I think we have good opportunities when it comes to fighting terrorism: sincere and serious cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan is the key answer. About the situation as a whole it will be wise to have a review and draw lessons for the future.
Interview conducted by Nermeen Shaikh
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21 civilians killed in Afghan airstrike
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Airstrikes called in by U.S. Special Forces soldiers fighting with insurgents in southern Afghanistan killed at least 21 civilians, officials said Wednesday. One coalition soldier was also killed.
Helmand provincial Gov. Assadullah Wafa said Taliban fighters sought shelter in villagers' homes during the fighting in the Sangin district Tuesday evening, and that subsequent airstrikes killed 21 civilians, including several women and children.
The U.S.-led coalition said militants fired guns, rocket propelled grenades and mortars at U.S. Special Forces and Afghan soldiers on patrol 15 miles north of Sangin.
Maj. William Mitchell, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, said troops killed a "significant" number of militants.
"We don't have any report of civilian casualties. There are enemy casualties — I think the number is significant," Mitchell said without releasing an exact figure.
A resident of the area, Mohammad Asif, said five homes in the village of Soro were bombed during the battle, killing 38 people and wounding more than 20. He said Western troops and Afghan forces had blocked people from entering the area.
Death tolls in remote battle sites in Afghanistan are impossible to verify. Taliban fighters often seek shelter in Afghan homes, leading to civilian casualties, and it is often difficult to determine if people killed in such airstrikes were militants or civilians.
The battle left one coalition soldier dead, the U.S. military said. The military did not release the soldier's nationality, but it was likely an American Special Forces soldier.
Sangin, a militant hotbed in the heart of Afghanistan's biggest opium poppy region, has been the site of heavy fighting in recent weeks.
The soldier's death brings to 48 the number of NATO or coalition soldiers who have died in Afghanistan this year.
The report of civilian casualties comes less than a week after Afghan officials said that 51 civilians were killed in the western province of Herat.
It also comes one day after the U.S. military apologized and paid compensation to the families of 19 people killed and 50 wounded by U.S. Marines Special Forces who fired indiscriminately on civilians after being hit by a suicide attack in eastern Afghanistan in March.
Afghanistan's upper house of parliament on Tuesday passed a bill calling for a halt to all international military operations unless coordinated with the Afghan government, action seen as a rebuke of the international mission here.
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64 insurgents killed in Helmand this month: Afghan defense ministry
Afghan troops backed by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have killed 64 insurgents in Helmand province this month, said a press release of the Afghan Defense Ministry Wednesday.
In a clean up operation launched by Afghan and NATO forces in Gereshk district and surrounding areas in Helmand province on May 1, 64 rebels including several Taliban commanders have been killed so far, the press release said.
According to the statement, the rebel commanders who lost their lives in the battle include Mullah Yunas, Mullah Abdul Hadi, Mullah Janan, Mullah Abdul Aziz Akhund and Qari Azatullah.
Afghan troops also seized 33 pieces of assault rifles from the rebels, the press release added.
More than 1,200 people, mostly militants, have been killed in Afghanistan so far this year.
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Iran 'seeking conflict by proxy in Afghanistan': Britain
LONDON (AFP) - British Defence Secretary Des Browne said there were signs that Iran was helping the Taliban fight coalition forces in Afghanistan.
Indications were that it was seeking to attack international troops "by proxy," he told the defence committee of parliament's lower House of Commons, which scrutinises Ministry of Defence administration and policy.
"Demonstrably they have sought confrontation by proxy with us and the United States and other NATO members elsewhere in the region and there is some indication that they are doing the same in Afghanistan," he said on Tuesday.
Last month British Prime Minister Tony Blair accused elements in Tehran of "backing, financing, arming, supporting terrorism in Iraq."
Browne said that Iran was otherwise playing a positive role in Afghanistan, sealing its border and cutting off the flow of illegal drugs and providing investment.
He said that as with other regional powers, such as India and Pakistan, it was in Iran's interest to see a strong, stable Afghanistan.
"This is a complex environment," Browne said.
"Regionally, an Afghanistan which is not a failed state and has a reduced drugs economy is in the strategic interest of all these countries.
"Iran do make a very positive contribution on the border in relation to drugs. They make significant investment inside Afghanistan as well."
Browne praised Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf for his efforts in tackling support for Taliban insurgents emanating from his country.
"I believe that President Musharraf is committed to taking on this problem and in recent months they have stepped up their action against the Taliban to a level that we haven't previously seen," he said.
He warned, however, that there "is no doubt that historically there were relations between elements of the Pakistan government structure and the Taliban, and it is highly improbable that those have gone away."
Browne said Britain was encouraging Pakistan to clamp down on the madrassas -- Islamic religious schools blamed for radicalising youths.
"It is a strategic issue for us because it is a strategic issue in relation to the security of the streets of this city (London), never mind Afghanistan," he said.
Britain has pledged an extra 1,400 troops for Afghanistan, who are due to arrive within weeks, taking the country's contingent in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to 7,700.
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Thousands of Afghans forced home from Iran
By Rodney Joyce Tue May 8, 8:56 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Iran has forced 44,000 Afghans home to their war-torn homeland in recent weeks, splitting families in some cases, the United Nations and the Afghan government said on Tuesday, raising fears of a humanitarian crisis.
"There are reports of forced repatriation and there are reports of miserable situations about the families that have been repatriated," chief government spokesman Karim Rahimi said.
"Some family members have been forced to leave, or repatriated, and some are left. This is really a situation that we are concerned about," he said, adding talks were underway with the United Nations and Iran to bring order to the repatriation.
Large numbers of Afghan refugees have been a headache for neighboring countries for decades.
Almost a million Afghans are registered refugees in Iran.
Pakistan says it has up to 3 million and wants them to go home, saying refugee camps are fertile recruiting grounds for Afghan Taliban insurgents.
The forced repatriation of people classed by Iran as illegal immigrants rather than refugees, is another challenge for Afghanistan.
The country is already struggling with rising violence, rampant corruption and growing disillusionment with the lack of reconstruction after decades of war.
Aid agencies say while some of those being sent home from Iran have been from border areas, and have found their way home, the large numbers returning mean Afghanistan is unable to care for them.
"If they continue to push large numbers of people across the border, the capacity of the government and its partners to deal with it is going to be strained," U.N. spokesman Adrian Edwards said.
"It appears that some people have been separated from members of their families. There are cases where people may not have sufficient water or transportation to get home."
About 100,000 to 200,000 people a year are deported from Iran to Afghanistan as illegal workers, mostly migrant workers, Edwards said, but now family members were being deported too.
A spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, said as many as half a million Afghans overstayed work visas in Iran last year.
Iran and Pakistan have been saddled with millions of refugees since the 1980s, when Afghans fled the fighting with Soviet troops in their homeland.
More than 20 years later, some refugee families are into their second generation born outside their home country.
Pakistan plans to close four camps this year that hold hundreds of thousands of refugees. It had planned to close the camps last year but did not do so, partly due to reluctance to use force.
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Iranian Intellectuals, Activists Call Afghan Expulsions Inhumane
May 9, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- More than 200 Iranian intellectuals and political activists have issed a statement criticizing the recent expulsion of Afghan refugees from Iran.
Signatories also call on the government in Tehran to stop the move and lift social restrictions against Afghans living in Iran.
The statement describes the forced repatriation of Afghans to a country that is still suffering from more than two decades of conflict as an "inhumane and unacceptable" policy.
Afghan authorities recently urged Iran to stop the repatriation of Afghan refugees, saying that they cannot afford to resettle them.
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Afghanistan: Effort To Change Media Law Puts Journalists On Guard
By Farangis Najibullah
May 9, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Some Afghan journalists have expressed fears that media are facing new restrictions and increased government control. The Afghan parliament is currently debating an amended media law that critics warn could signal authorities' desire to tighten their grip on news outlets.
Backers of the draft changes dismiss the criticism, arguing that limits are in place to prevent official encroachments on an independent press.
Afghanistan's media law, which was decreed by President Hamid Karzai before the country's first directly elected legislature came into existence, is widely regarded as one of the most tolerant in the region.
Many local journalists and press unions have expressed concern as lawmakers attempt to refashion it.
Hampering Journalists' Work?
Said Agha Fazil Sanjaraki, the head of Afghanistan's National Journalists Union, is among those campaigning against the media amendments. He tells RFE/RL that his group is lobbying against several specific changes to the law, which -- in his view -- would hamstring journalists.
"The media commission, which monitors complaints, has been a great support for journalists in the past," Sanjaraki says. "Unfortunately, the new law abolishes this commission. Also, the Afghan Radio and Television [broadcaster] was a public service company. Now, National Radio and Television will work under the auspices of the Ministry of Information of Culture."
Sanjaraki says the draft changes include numerous clauses on Islamic principles that are "vague and need to be clarified."
Fahim Dashti, who is editor in chief of the "Kabul" weekly, tells RFE/RL that as an independent journalist, he would be directly affected by the changes.
"The new law will provide conditions for the authorities to control the media," Dashti says. "Also, it could create ways to pressure the media and media workers. It also opens the way to possible misinterpretation of what is published in the media."
'Even If There Were...'
Government sources have dismissed journalists' deepest concerns.
The current law came into effect in 2004, when the Afghan government updated media legislation that had initially been approved in 1960s. Since Afghanistan had no parliament at the time, Hamid Karzai issued the media law in the form of a decree.
Najib Manalai is a media adviser to the Information and Culture Ministry. He tells RFE/RL that the Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of the parliament, has merely been discussing insignificant changes to the existing legislation. He also notes that Karzai's media decree was never debated or approved by the parliament.
Manalai rejects accusations that the government is trying to control the media.
"What the Afghan government wants or doesn't want is one thing, and what the Afghan government can or cannot do is another," Manalai says. "According to our media law, the government has no such right [to control the media]. So, even if there were someone in the Afghan government who wanted to take control of the media, they would not legally be able to do so."
Both supporters and opponents of the draft amendments agree on one point -- that the Afghan media is young and inexperienced, and thus vulnerable to errors and inaccuracy.
Shukriya Barekzai, a member of the Afghan parliament and a former journalist, tells RFE/RL Afghan journalists have a long way to go to fulfill their duties in a professional and objective manner.
"The Afghan media are not yet competent nor proficient," Barekzai says. "They are facing a lack of strategy and a lack of qualified people. Unfortunately, the media are involved in internal fighting among various political groups. Perhaps [the media] have taken that route involuntarily."
Barekzai and other critics of these draft amendments argue that any changes should create an environment to protect the journalists, not restrict them.
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Afghan deployment 'beyond 2009'
Tuesday, 8 May 2007, 16:03 GMT 17:03 UK BBC News
UK forces will remain in Afghanistan beyond 2009, Defence Secretary Des Browne has told a committee of MPs.
He said February's announcement of a troops boost, with forces committed to 2009, was "for planning purposes only".
"My own view is that we will have to...stay with the Afghans for beyond 2009 but exactly how long and in what way it is too early to tell," he said.
Mr Browne told the defence committee it could "take decades" for Afghanistan "to stand on their own two feet".
British troop numbers are due to increase by 1,400 to 7,700, with most of the new contingent being deployed this summer to the volatile province of Helmand, where UK forces have been fighting the Taleban.
'Decades' of support
Mr Browne said the timeframe for British troop involvement was uncertain, but reminded the committee that in 2006 the international community had agreed with the Afghan government to a further five years of support.
The British government also made a bilateral agreement with Afghanistan for 10 years of support.
"I realise that that doesn't mean that we...committed to a military presence for either of those two periods," Mr Browne said on Tuesday.
"I believe that this country (Afghanistan), having been 30 years in conflict or more, will take decades to get to the stage where they will be able to stand on their own two feet and that the international community will have to support them for a considerable period of time."
He said UK troops had been in Helmand for only one year and were still learning about the challenges there.
The emphasis for UK troops in Helmand is counter-narcotics, as the province is the largest single source of opium in Afghanistan.
Future support would depend on building up the Afghan national army and its police force, Mr Browne added.
But he said that military and financial support from the international community would be key.
British troops operate under the Nato-led Isaf force, a United Nations-mandated organisation covering about 31,000 troops.
They are backed by about 30,000 Afghan troops and a similar number of Afghan policemen.
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Force 'cannot solve Afghanistan'
Tuesday, 8 May 2007, 17:19 GMT 18:19 UK BBC News
Nato head Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has said he believes there is no military solution to the Afghan situation.
Mr Scheffer was speaking during talks in Pakistan on ways of containing the Taleban insurgency on the Pakistan-Afghan border.
Violence in Afghanistan has returned to levels not seen since the Taleban were ousted in 2001.
More than 4,000 people were killed last year in fighting between militants and international-led forces.
"It is my strong opinion that the final answer in Afghanistan will not be a military one and cannot be a military one," the Nato secretary general told a joint news conference after talks with President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad.
"The final answer in Afghanistan is called reconstruction, development and nation-building."
Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Khurshid Kasuri, said his country had deployed more troops and suffered more casualties than international forces in its attempts to secure the border.
"The onus for border control cannot be placed on Pakistan alone," he told the news conference.
"We expect a matching response from Afghanistan as each side must play its due role to combat the menace of terrorism."
Pakistan has suggested fencing and mining parts of the border to stop militants crossing.
However, the Afghan government opposes this on the grounds that it will divide families within the Pashtun tribal belt.
It and Western military commanders have accused Pakistan of allowing pro-Taleban militants to operate in its border tribal regions.
Mr Scheffer's visit is seen as part of a wider effort to ensure Pakistan's support in the conflict in Afghanistan against the Taleban and the wider "war on terror".
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U.S. coalition soldier killed in Afghanistan
09 May 2007 06:30:11 GMT
KABUL, May 9 (Reuters) - A soldier serving with U.S.-led coalition troops in Afghanistan has been killed in fighting in the south of the country, the coalition forces said on Wednesday.
The soldier was on a combat patrol involving both coalition troops and the Afghan army when they made contact with enemy fighters in Helmand province on Tuesday night, the coalition forces said in a statement.
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Canadian soldiers guard Afghan-Pakistani border as two governments meet
SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan (CP) - Canadian soldiers stood guard at the Pakistan border Wednesday as Afghan government and security officials met to discuss border issues with their Pakistani neighbours.
The two sides get together every few months to discuss security and other issues that come up along their shared boundary.
Soldiers closed the border for nearly two hours as they waited for the delegation to arrive.
It includes Brig.-Gen. Tim Grant, the commander of Canadian forces in Afghanistan, who is representing coalition forces at the meeting.
Canada has established a significant military presence in this district of southern Kandahar province in an effort to stem the flow of Taliban insurgents across the border.
An estimated 12,000 people cross the border every day at Spin Boldak, about 70 kilometres southeast of Kandahar city.
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Peace in Afghanistan responsibility of all stakeholders: Musharraf
No time frame can be given to pull out from Afghanistan: NATO secretary general
Wednesday May 09, 2007 (0753 PST) PakTribune.com, Pakistan
ISLAMABAD: Establishment of peace in Afghanistan is not the sole responsibility of Pakistan but all stakeholders including NATO are equally responsible to maintain tranquility in the war-ravaged country, said President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
The President said that Pakistan wanted peaceful and stable Afghanistan, as it was not only in the interest of Pakistan but the entire region as well.
President Musharraf said this in a meeting with the NATO secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer who called on him at the Presidential camp office Rawalpindi on Tuesday. Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri was also present on the occasion.
Sources said the two leaders discussed Afghanistan situation, peace and security, reconstruction, economic development and bilateral relations.
The President said that Pakistan keeping in view the ground realities had taken some landmark decisions that helped control terrorism and extremism. We are fencing Afghan border at specific points to check the movement of terrorists," the president.
The President apprised the NATO secretary general of the positive outcome of the North Waziristan peace agreement saying the local tribesmen had killed several foreign terrorists.
The President said that terrorism could not be wiped out only by force. "Other options be used to tackle terrorism," he added.
President Musharraf underlined the need for swift reconstruction and economic development of Afghanistan, which he said could help reduce terrorism.
The President said that Pakistan was cooperating with NATO and other allied forces for establishment of peace in Afghanistan. The cooperation, he said, would continue in future as well.
President Musharraf underscored for initiating dialogue between Pakistan and NATO for promotion of relations in political and other sectors. The NATO secretary general agreed to President Musharraf and hailed Pakistan efforts against terrorism.
The NATO secretary general advocated that all stakeholders would have to jointly struggle for maintaining peace in Afghanistan. He supported President Musharraf`s policy on Afghanistan. Hoop de Scheffer said Pakistan was an important non-NATO ally. "We will enhance contacts with Pakistan and also military relations," he added.
Meanwhile, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has said they can not give time frame for their pull out from Afghanistan as they are there under UN mandate.
This was said by NATO general secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer while addressing a joint press conference with foreign minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri here Tuesday in foreign office.
He held NATO was working to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a failed state. All have to work jointly in this connection. If Afghanistan again becomes a failed state, it will leave negative impact on the world as well as region, he cautioned.
He observed Pakistan was working for peace and stability in Afghanistan. NATO commanders neither talk against Pakistan nor does he allow them to do so.
He went on to say the scourge of terrorism couldn’t be curbed without the role of Pakistan and Afghanistan. However Afghan government should carry out reconstruction of state organizations. NATO is playing pivotal role in the reconstruction process of Afghanistan.
Replying to a question he said government from both sides of the border will have to take steps to secure Pak-Afghan border. Reconstruction is an uphill task. Despite this fact we are meeting this challenge.
Afghanistan needs stability for long time, he said adding NATO therefore can give no time frame to leave Afghanistan. We are enjoying UN mandate.
Responding to a question he said NATO is political and military alliance. “ We will expand our cooperation and relations with Pakistan. We will not be part of political process in Afghanistan as it is not our mandate. We want a better and peaceful Afghanistan, he added.
Foreign minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri said Pakistan and NATO have common objectives for promotion of regional and global peace. “ We both are stakeholders in war against terrorism and for peace and stability in Afghanistan. NATO helped us enormously for reconstruction of quake-affected areas.
Pakistan supports the efforts of ISAF for peace and reconstruction of Afghanistan, he remarked. “ We want peaceful and stable Afghanistan. NATO can benefit from the role and expertise of Pakistan in war against terrorism.
Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri told talks with NATO secretary general have remained very successful. “We have agreed to initiate political dialogue. Exchange of delegation has also taken place between both sides during the last few months. “ We welcome offer from NATO to impart training to Pakistan armed forces in NATO school and defence college. The ongoing cooperation between defence ministry and NATO is satisfactory. It will be moved forward.
He underlined Pakistan has done more than others for peace in Afghanistan. Our troops and other forces are deployed on Afghan borders. But it is not only responsibility of Pakistan to safeguard the borders, Afghanistan should also play its role to stamp out terrorism. There should be exchange of information between NATO and Pakistan in war against terrorism.
He held tripartite commission is very vital forum for cooperation in security. “ We have also agreed that only military option is not enough for abiding peace in Afghanistan. Reconstruction and development process will have to be geared up.
To a question he said political talks with NATO are essential for military cooperation.
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Musharraf says reconstruction key to durable peace in Afghanistan
People's Daily Online
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said on Tuesday reconstruction and development is the key to a durable peace in Afghanistan.
Musharraf made the remarks while meeting with Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who is on his first ever visit to Pakistan, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The President said that Pakistan and NATO were partners in supporting peace and stability in Afghanistan and in the fight against terrorism.
Musharraf also briefed the NATO chief of the efforts to counter extremism and the comprehensive strategy that Pakistan has adopted for tribal areas.
He conveyed Pakistan's deep appreciation for NATO's strong support to Pakistan in the wake of the tragic earthquake in October 2005 when a larger number of NATO personnel contributed to relief efforts in the affected areas.
Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer appreciated Pakistan's support to promoting peace and stability in the region and Pakistan's efforts and cooperation in counter-terrorism, the statement said.
Scheffer, who arrived here on Monday, also met Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri.
The NATO chief's visit comes after last month's meeting between President Musharraf and his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai in Ankara, Turkey, aimed at cooling tensions between the two countries.
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Taliban accuse telecom company of conspiring with US, Afghan authorities
The Associated Press Tuesday, May 8, 2007
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan: The Taliban is threatening to destroy telecom towers belonging to an Afghan mobile phone company, accusing it of colluding with U.S. and Afghan authorities to help track down its fighters.
Shuhab Athul, a purported spokesman for Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah, said Roshan telecommunications company provides militants' phone numbers to the U.S. and Afghan governments.
The numbers are being blocked or used to locate Taliban fighters, Athul told The Associated Press by satellite phone on Monday from an undisclosed location.
"Americans use that information to bomb those areas and the mujahedeen who are fighting a jihad against Americans and other occupiers," Athul said.
Roshan and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul declined to comment on the allegations.
The U.S.-led coalition said there was no validity to the Taliban claim.
"We do not have a special relationship with Roshan or any other phone company. We're simply commercial users like everybody else," said Maj. Chris Belcher, a coalition spokesman.
The Taliban said they would give Roshan 20 days to change its policies.
"If they continue to block the numbers of the Taliban and provide their locations to the U.S. and Afghan governments, we will target Roshan towers all over Afghanistan," Athul said.
Giles Ebbutt, an expert on communications and intelligence gathering, said the U.S. military has the ability, using satellites and other means, to pick up cell phone signals without the phone company's help. He said the military can also intercept satellite phone calls.
Ebbutt said the Taliban would only hurt themselves by taking out phone towers.
"If they do that, they're shooting themselves in the foot because they lose their own communications capabilities without really affecting the military's communication abilities. So they're slightly over a barrel on that point," said Ebbutt, an editor for Jane's C4I Systems, a reference book on communications, intelligence and military command and control.
Roshan is one of three companies providing mobile phone services in Afghanistan, along with Afghan Wireless Communications Company and Areeba.
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UAE telecom giant to launch Afghan operations by July
People's Daily Online
Etisalat, the telecom giant of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), will launch operations in Afghanistan by the end of June, local newspaper Gulf News reported on Wednesday.
Etisalat's operations in the war-ravaged Afghanistan will focus on low-tech voice and text services, the company's CEO Mohammad Al Qamzi was quoted as saying.
"Etisalat Afghanistan offers mobile services with 2G and plans to introduce its services in the first half of this year," he added.
The announcement came just a week after the launch of Etisalat Misr, its subsidiary in Egypt, which became Egypt's third mobile operator.
Etisalat Misr launched Egypt's first 3.5G network and also brought mobile television, high-speed internet access and video calling to the Egyptian market for the first time.
Being the second-largest Arab telecom company by market value, Etisalat manages 14 service providers in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
The company currently has access to a potential market of over 400 million subscribers and its services reach over 32 million subscribers.
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Afghan, Pak. peace assembly meet in August
KABUL, May 9 (Xinhua): Afghanistan and Pakistan will hold a peace Jirga, or a peace assembly in August here, Afghan Presidential spokesman, Mohammad Karim Rahimi, said Tuesday.
The joint peace Jirga is scheduled to be held in the first week of August, Rahimi told a press conference.
He made this remarks just days after the visit of a Pakistani delegation, headed by Pakistani Interior Minister, Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, to Kabul.
The aim of the Jirga is to end the accusation between Kabul and Islamabad over cross border movement of militants and ensure stability along the common border between the two neighboring states.
Both sides, Rahimi added, would have a 350-member delegation from across the countries at the proposed assembly being held early August.
An Afghan delegation would soon tour Pakistan to further exchange views on the modalities of holding the Peace Jirga or assembly meeting, he added.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Pakistani counterpart Pervez Musharraf agreed in the presence of President Bush at White House last year to help end militants cross border movement which has undermined the U.S.-led war on terror in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan has accused Pakistan of backing Taliban and al-Qaida fighters, while Islamabad terms it merely an allegation.
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Living with an eerie silence
At a base near Kandahar City, does the quiet mean the Taliban are gone? Or lying in wait?
GRAEME SMITH From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
May 8, 2007 at 2:19 AM EDT Sperwan, Afghanistan — Last year, the biggest secret in Canada's artillery regiments was their shortage of ammunition. The heavy guns west of Kandahar city pounded Taliban bunkers with so many shells that their supply lines couldn't keep up with the demand, and soldiers asked reporters not to reveal how dangerously low they were running.
But this year, things are very different. Posing beside their silent hulking gun, the troops ask a photographer to overlook the fact that the weapon hasn't fired at enemies since they arrived at this hilltop a few months ago.
“Don't tell them we aren't doing any shooting,” a soldier said. “It's just embarrassing.”
The artillery isn't the only thing that's quiet here at Sperwan Ghar, a forward base in the heart of Panjwai District, southwest of Kandahar city. Some of the infantry platoons that patrol the fields and villages around this base haven't fired a single shot. Even the dog seems tired, lolling in the shade beside a neatly constructed dog house.
The relative calm in this part of Panjwai gives soldiers reason for hope. The last rotation of troops fought ugly battles for this hill; during their first day on the job in August, their predecessors killed as many as 72 insurgents in the fields east of this position, lobbing precision-guided shells from their M777 artillery. The grape fields were littered with chunks of human flesh.
Now the soldiers can watch villagers ambling through the same fields with herds of goats, or collecting the last of this season's poppy crop.
This weekend marked the halfway point in the six-month tour for many of these soldiers, and the lack of violence so far leaves them hopeful that their presence has finally pacified this volatile swath of farmland.
Still, they wonder. When the poppy harvest finishes in the next week or so hundreds of young men in this district will find themselves unemployed and vulnerable to recruitment by the insurgents. Signs of trouble are already emerging: Last week, a local policeman was discovered hanging from a tree in a village southwest of here, apparently killed by the Taliban.
“Is it quiet for a reason? Are we really being successful? You don't know that,” said Warrant Officer Andy Skinner, who serves with C Troop, a gun battery that has spent most of its days here. “You don't know, if they [Taliban] are sitting in the weeds here waiting for us to spread out too far and then come back in, or influence in different ways you don't know. And that's why it's bothersome that it's so quiet, because I'm sure they're still out there, it's just where? And what are they doing? And what's their next step?”
Waiting to find the answers to those questions requires strong nerves. “It's exhausting,” said Warrant Officer Marco Favasoli, 43, second-in-command for an Edmonton-based platoon that patrols Sperwan.
“We were pretty much thinking we'd find ourselves at war, but it hasn't happened yet.” The veteran soldier reads newspapers regularly, and the news wasn't good as he prepared for deployment. He invested heavily in life insurance before leaving for Afghanistan.
“At this time last year, it seemed somebody was getting killed every other day,” he said.
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Militants ban music in latest push to Talibanize Pakistani frontier
The Associated Press Tuesday, May 8, 2007
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: Islamic militants are confiscating music cassettes from public buses and ordering shops to only sell CDs promoting jihad in the latest push to Talibanize a lawless Pakistani frontier region, residents said Tuesday.
The campaign was launched on Sunday in North Waziristan, a tribal region where the government reached a peace deal with pro-Taliban militants last fall, an intelligence official confirmed on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of his job.
Bands of armed militants have visited shops selling music cassettes and CDs in the main town of Miran Shah, warning owners to only sell "jihadi" cassettes — featuring sermons by clerics or songs without musical accompaniment that praise holy war and those who fight it.
"They came to us and said 'do not sell music and song cassettes and CDs,'" shop owner Omar Jan said. "They warned us to close our shops or they would punish us."
A 30-year-old vendor in Razmak Ada bazaar, who requested anonymity because he feared retaliation from militants, said he would abide by the warning and only sell jihadi material.
"There is fear among the people," he said.
On Monday, about 30 armed militants stopped public transport vehicles at a traffic intersection in Miran Shah, confiscating music tapes from drivers, residents said.
The actions underlined how militants have expanded their influence since the September peace deal in North Waziristan, which ended months of bloody fighting between pro-Taliban tribesmen and Pakistani security forces, although not cross-border attacks by militants targeting U.S. and NATO forces in neighboring Afghanistan.
The campaign against music is reminiscent of the hard-line rule of the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan that banned music, movies, TV and nearly all other forms of entertainment as part of their strict interpretation of Islamic laws or Shariah.
Despite the government's promotion of moderate Islam, there has been a growing "Talibanization" of Pakistan itself, particularly in the conservative northwest where hard-line views garner most support among the region's ethnic Pashtun majority.
Last week, two bombs in a market in the Charsadda district destroyed several music shops — the latest in a series of such attacks in the frontier region. In the nearby Bajur tribal region, barbers have been warned not to shave beards.
In an editorial Tuesday, The News daily called on the government to take action against "fanatics" trying to force a "flawed and pernicious interpretation of religion on everybody else."
"Or else we should not complain as the nation continues to slide into the Dark Ages," it said.
An Interior Ministry official in Islamabad said it was up to authorities in North West Frontier Province, where pro-Taliban parties hold sway, to respond.
"We hope and expect that the NWFP government will take measures and steps to curb this menace," Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema said.
Associated Press writers Sadaqat Jan and Munir Ahmad contributed to this report.
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Afghan Speaker Says Mujahedin Targeted For Assassination
[ 7 May 2007 ] Radio Free Afghanistan, Afghanistan
Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, the speaker of the Afghan National Assembly's Wolesi Jirga (People's Council), has charged that in the past five years, public figures belonging to mujahedin parties have been targeted for assassination, Kabul-based Ariana TV reported on May 5. Pointing to the recent murder of Hajji Abdul Sabur Farid, a member of the upper house of the National Assembly and a former prime minister during mujahedin rule, Qanuni said that a "specific political program to murder jihadi figures in Afghanistan is being implemented" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4, 2007). Qanuni also claimed that 31 jihadists have been killed in Herat Province in western Afghanistan in the last month alone. Officials in Herat, however, rejected Qanuni's claim, Herat-based Radio Sahar reported on May 6. Herat police chief Sayyed Shafiq Fazli denied Qanuni's statements, asserting that any such claim should be based on evidence. Fazli said that 15 murders have occurred in Herat in the last six months, of which six were "jihadi commanders and former jihadi fighters," but he said that the motives behind those murders were personal. AT
Afghan National Assembly Condemns Civilian Casualties
In a general meeting on May 5 in Kabul, the Wolesi Jirga condemned recent civilian deaths in operations carried out by U.S.-led coalition forces, state-run National Afghanistan Television reported. Wolesi Jirga speaker Qanuni condemned the bombardments and shootings by U.S. troops in eastern and western Afghanistan, saying the strikes led to the "martyrdom and injury of defenseless people." Qanuni prayed for the departed and asked their relatives for patience (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 30, May 2 and 3, 2007). AT
Thirteen Afghan Police Killed In Ambush And Suicide Bombing
Eight police officers were killed in a gun battle with suspected Taliban fighters in Bakwa district of the western Farah Province on May 5, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Farah police chief Sayyed Agha Saqeb told the news agency that the fighting broke out when around 100 Taliban fighters attacked the police officers. A purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Yusof Ahmadi, told Pazhwak that 15 police officers and three Taliban fighters were killed in the battle. Meanwhile, a website purporting to represent the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan -- the name of the country under the Taliban -- reported on May 6 that in a "sacrifice" operation, a "mujahedin" of the Islamic Emirate killed five police officers in Farah Province. According to the website, the attacker, a Farah resident named Sa'id Ahmad, rammed his bomb-laden vehicle into a police car on the road between the Farahrod district and the provincial capital. AT
Rogue Afghan Soldier Kills two U.S. Servicemen
A man wearing an Afghan National Army (ANA) uniform killed two U.S. servicemen and wounded two others on the outskirts of Kabul on May 6, AP reported. U.S. Major Sheldon Smith said all "indications are that the shooter was an ANA soldier." The incident occurred outside the top-security Pol-e Charkhi prison, which is being refurbished to house Afghans currently held at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The U.S. service personnel were working as mentors to ANA forces who provide security to the prison. Other ANA troops killed the attacker. AT
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Ministries at odds over construction of monuments
KABUL, May 7 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The Ministry of Information and Culture is at odds with the Defence Ministry over the construction of monuments to those unknown martyrs massacred during the communist revolution of 1978 and buried in mass graves.
According to Haleem Tanvir, head of the media centre at the Ministry of Information and Culture, the ministry had decided to offer tributes to the unknown martyrs by constructing monuments at the sites of mass graves in Kabul and other provinces.
He said the ministry had discussed the proposal with the United Nations and the latter had shown willingness in provision of all possible support.
However, he complained, the Ministry of Defence was creating hurdles in construction of the memorials. He said the ministry was not granting land for the purpose.
Contacted for comments, Defence Ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimi said the ministry would not allow any construction in sensitive areas like the military centres.
He was of the view that sites selected for the monuments were located in areas housing military training centres.
The monument sites would be used as public places because it would be visited by people from all over the country. How entry of general public could be allowed in sensitive areas like the artillery training centre, Azimi questioned.
He suggested the proposed towers should be erected in areas such as the Pul-i-Charkhi prison and Tapa-i-Nadar Khan. However, Tanveer believed it was useless to erect the monuments in places other than the exact sites of the mass graves.
Several communist-era mass graves have been found in different parts of the country over the previous few years. One such grave, containing over 400 human skeletons, was recently unearthed in the northern province of Badakhshan. Earlier, a similar grave was found in Pul-i-Charkhi area, located east of the city.
Habib Rahman Ibrahimi
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Call for Taliban participation in Rome conference
KABUL, May 7 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A recently launched multiparty political alliance Monday called for Talibans representation at an international conference on the rule of law in Afghanistan to be held in Rome in July.
Ahmad Zia Rafaat, head of the 57-party alliance called Afghanistans National Council (ANC), acknowledged at a news conference here the moot would be an important event that must be attended by Taliban representatives in the larger interest of the country.
Scheduled for July 3-4 in Rome, the conference is aimed at ensuring greater international commitment to rebuilding Afghanistans institutions as a counterpoint to NATO's military mission. Italy believes, in addition to military action, efforts at all levels are needed to foster the unsteady democracy in the Central Asian country.
Rafaat argued Taliban were an armed group opposed to the government and their absence would undermine the impact of the moot, which UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and delegates from other nations and organisations are expected to attend.
Asked about the chances of the insurgents attending the conference, he replied: We cant give a judgement on how likely they are to take part but do hope for national and international initiatives on the political level to convince Taliban into sitting across the negotiating table with the rulers.
Countries supportive of Afghanistan and those having links to the fighters could persuade Taliban to enter negotiations with the government, he opined. But the militants have repeatedly ruled out the option of talks as long as foreign troops are stationed in Afghanistan.
Wahid Muzhda, senior political analyst, believed that Taliban were unlikely to show up at such a conference in the obtaining political conditions. Mr. Rafaat may think that Pakistan can prevail over Taliban on the issue of peace parleys. But how can the neighbouring country, which itself is struggling to contain their growing influence, win over Taliban?
In response to a query, the ANC leader accused the government of failing not only on the political front but also in measuring up to the challenge of battling terrorism. With this in mind, he argued, any international conference on exploring ways of peace and stability in Afghanistan would be well in order.
Reported by Zubair Babakarkhel
Translated & edited by S. Mudassir Ali Shah
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A dozen bridges, neonatal centre inaugurated
KUNDUZ CITY/KABUL/TALOQAN, May 6 (Pajhwok Afghan News): A dozen bridges, facilitating the transportation of goods to Dasht-i-Archi district of the Kunduz province, were inaugurated on Sunday.
Ajmal Paiman, spokesman for the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitations and Development (MRRD), told Pajhwok Afghan News the bridges linked a number of small villages with the district headquarters.
He revealed the project - costing around 14 million afghanis provided from the MRRD budget - was implemented under the National Solidarity Programme (NSP). At least 10 per cent of the cost was met by residents.
Also on Sunday, work began on a health centre being constructed over one acre of land in the same town. With 10 per cent of the input coming from the local community, the spokesman explained, the health facility was being executed under the NSP.
Engineer Ahmad Niaro, director of the Rural Rehabilitation and Development Department in the northern province, recalled 220 bridges were built and 300 wells dug up last year in Dasht-i-Archi at the cost of more than 55 million afghanis.
According to MRRD officials, over 19,900 uplift projects have been completed in 17,200 villages across the country at the cost of $244 million since 2003. More than 14 million people are beneficiaries of the development schemes.
In the capital Kabul, a neonatal centre as well as a female waiting hall were inaugurated at Istiqlal Hospital. Premature and low-weight neonates with respiratory complications would be treated at the centre, doctors said.
Muhammad Ali Ishan, administrative head of the hospital, told an inaugural ceremony the centre was set up with financial assistance of $20,000 from Italy. He estimated most of the 10 per cent babies born prematurely in Kabul died for lack of facilities.
Ishan added a waiting hall had also been established for females at the hospital, which previously did not have a proper place for visitors and attendants.
At least 12 supportive walls would be constructed over the next eight months along Kukcha River in the northern Takhar province. The spurs measuring seven kilometres will protect approximately 3,500 acres of farmland and 200 dwellings from seasonal flooding.
GTZ has provided seven million afghanis for the protective wall project, a longstanding demand of the locals. Daniel Pea Son, GTZ head for Kunduz, said his agency would implement several other uplift plans in the province during the current year.
Suleman Hashimi, Rohullah Arman, Zarghona Salehi, Abdul Matin Sarfraz
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Weapons being smuggled from north to south: Official
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, May 6 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The war-era weapons were being smuggled from northern parts to the restive southern zone, said an official of the Disarmament of Irresponsible Armed Groups (DIAG) programme in Balkh on Sunday.
Ustad Basir Arifi, secretary of DIAG programme in the province, said this while addressing a ceremony during which a former jihadi commander voluntarily surrendered his arms.
Without elaborating, Arifi said the USSR-made weapons, left from the jihad era, had recently been smuggled to the southern region.
He said they had collected over 1,790 pieces of light and heavy weapons from former commanders in the province so far.
Meanwhile, police said they had seized opium and arms following a clash with smugglers on Rustaq - Taluqan road on Sunday.
Colonel Sayed Habib Sayedkheli, in charge of the eighth police brigade in Takhar, told journalists the smugglers wanted to transfer the opium from Rustaq district to Kunduz City.
He said police seized 11 kilograms of opium, five hand-grenades and one Kalashnikov after exchange of fire with the smugglers for about 30 minutes.
In the eastern province of Nuristan, security officials had seized heavy and light arms during a raid on suspected place.
Defence Ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimi said the ammunition dump was unearthed in Bargmatal district of the province. The cache included artillery shells, RPG - 7 launchers, anti-aircraft guns and other light and heavy arms.
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