Tue Oct 23, 2:08 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - A nomad child in a tent was killed in a battle between US-led troops and rebels in Afghanistan Tuesday while the NATO-led force looked into claims it had killed a dozen civilians in an air raid.
A soldier with NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and an Afghan interpreter were meanwhile killed in separate incidents linked to efforts to defeat extremist insurgents, notably from the hardline Taliban.
The child was found dead after coalition soldiers opened fire at the nomad tent when they came under attack from a gunman inside, the US-led coalition said in a statement.
"After searching the tent where the militant fired at coalition forces, the body of a deceased child and four wounded children were discovered," spokesman Major Chris Belcher said in the statement.
The soldiers had been searching the camp in the southern province of Zabul on "credible intelligence" that men there had ties with militant forces.
The wounded children were taken for medical treatment, the force said.
Five militants were killed and three men were detained after the operation in Jaldak, about 400 kilometres (250 miles) from Kabul, it said.
ISAF said separately it was looking into claims that 13 civilians were killed in a bombing raid on Monday 50 kilometres west of Kabul, although it had no reports of such casualties.
The Afghan defence ministry said "12 enemies of the people were killed" in the strike near Jalrez town in Wardak province.
The head of the Wardak provincial council, Haji Janan, said 13 villagers were killed, including 11 from one family.
ISAF had people in the area talking to villagers "to make sure there were no civilian casualties," spokesman Major Charles Anthony said.
The air raid was called in against "more than 50 anti-government militants actively preparing an ambush," an ISAF statement said. The bombs killed "numerous enemy personnel," it said.
ISAF and the US-led coalition have been accused of killing hundreds of civilians in their pursuit of rebels including the Taliban whose regime was ousted from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.
Insurgents have killed hundreds more in suicide attacks that are aimed at security forces but end up killing more civilians.
In another incident linked to daily battles between extremists and Afghan troops backed by foreign soldiers, an Afghan interpreter was killed after a bomb hit a coalition convoy in volatile Ghazni province south of Kabul.
A second bomb struck soldiers who came to secure the scene of the first attack and some soldiers were slightly wounded, the coalition's Master Sergeant Chris Fletcher told AFP.
The 37-nation ISAF said meanwhile that one of its soldiers was killed and two wounded in rugged northeastern Afghanistan during an operation to "disrupt extremist activities."
It did not release the nationalities of the soldiers, leaving this up to their home nations. Around 185 international soldiers have lost their lives in Afghanistan this year, most of them in hostile action.
A coalition soldier was meanwhile killed in a vehicle accident near the Kandahar Airfield base in southern Afghanistan, the coalition said.
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Afghan Official Loses Job For Inviting Israeli Diplomat To Party
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
KABUL, October 23, 2007 -- The Afghan government has sacked an official from its embassy in Germany for inviting an Israeli diplomat to an event.
Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry said the invitation was "a technical mistake" made by a political employee. It said the unnamed official had sent the invitation card to the Israeli Embassy in Berlin by "mistake" on the occasion of Afghanistan's Independence Day in August, and that the Afghan ambassador was not aware of the invitation. Afghanistan, like most Muslim-majority countries, does not recognize the Jewish state.
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US pushes for Afghan reinforcements as support wanes
by Lorne Cook October 23, 2007
BRUSSELS (AFP) - The United States will press its European allies Wednesday to provide more troops and equipment to combat the insurgency in Afghanistan, as mounting casualties undermine support for NATO's mission.
At closed door talks in the Netherlands, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates will buttonhole his European counterparts for reinforcements, as the US military is increasingly stretched by fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"The desire for a ministers-only session is so that they can be candid with each other about what's missing and who needs to step up," a senior US official said, ahead of two days of informal talks in the coastal town of Noordwijk.
Thirty-seven nations are contributing around 40,000 troops to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, which is battling to extend the rule of the weak central government across the country.
ISAF commanders have requested more combat troops, helicopters and aircraft, as well as trainers to help bring fledgling Afghan soldiers up to a standard where they can provide security on their own.
But countries doing the lion's share of the fighting -- the US, Britain and Canada -- feel let down that their allied partners are still unwilling to deploy troops to the volatile south and east of Afghanistan.
"We expect NATO allies and EU partners to meet their responsibility in sharing the risks and costs of collective action," British Defence Secretary Des Browne told parliament last week.
"The contribution of some European nations is quite disappointing," he said.
In a sign of growing US exasperation, Gates has even let speculation mount that Washington might withdraw its 1,800 troops from Kosovo, in Europe's backyard, to plug holes in Afghanistan.
"If it's difficult for some Europeans to give generously in Afghanistan, after we get through this interim period (of Kosovo status talks), maybe there's a division of labour solution here," noted the senior US official.
Yet the importance of NATO's mission in Afghanistan -- its biggest and most ambitious operation ever -- cannot be overstated.
The strife-torn country's mountainous border area with Pakistan has proved a training ground for extremists -- including Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network -- and a platform for launching attacks around the world.
And under pressure from drug lords, not to mention Taliban rebels desperate for money to buy weapons, Afghan farmers are producing around 90 percent of the opium that reaches Europe's streets in the form of heroin.
But four years into NATO's mission -- the alliance took over ISAF in 2003 -- mounting troop and civilian casualties, the latter often caused by air strikes used when soldiers have been lacking, are turning public opinion.
A survey in Canada in August showed that solid majorities of people in Britain, France, Germany and Italy thought the ISAF-mission was a failure, while almost one in two Canadians agreed.
A poll in Germany, which has lost more than 20 troops since 2002, found that almost two out of every three people want the government to withdraw its 3,000 troops, even though they are deployed in relatively stable areas.
The Netherlands, which one official said is "punching above its weight class", is expected to renew in coming weeks the mandate of some 1,500 Dutch troops deployed in the southern province of Oruzgan.
Surveys suggest the majority of Dutch people are against an extension.
In a briefing paper this month, security experts at the Chatham House think-tank in London underlined that the reticence of some allies to put troops at risk have made the chances of success in Afghanistan unpredictable.
"The willingness to share risks has become a key issue. Not all NATO member states are prepared to send their forces into combat. This puts the fundamental principle of alliance solidarity on the line," they said.
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NATO force looks into claims of Afghan civilian casualties
Tue Oct 23, 7:50 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - The NATO-led force in Afghanistan said Tuesday it was looking into claims that civilians were among the dead after a bombardment that the defence ministry said killed 12 "enemies".
But the International Security Assistance Force had received no reports from its own sources of any civilian casualties after the bombing raid on Monday 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of Kabul, an ISAF spokesman said.
The Afghan defence ministry said in a statement that "12 enemies of the people were killed" in the strike near Jalrez town in Wardak province.
The statement made no mention of civilian casualties but an Afghan military commander from the province, Zalmai Khan, said separately that only three civilians were injured. "We are not aware of any civilians killed," he said.
However the head of the Wardak provincial council, Haji Janan, said 13 villagers were killed, including 11 from the same family.
"There is an emergency meeting at the provincial headquarters and we may send a delegation down to the area for an assessment," he told AFP.
ISAF had people in the area talking to villagers "to make sure there were no civilian casualties," spokesman Major Charles Anthony said.
"As of this moment we don't have reports of civilian casualties," he said.
The bombing raid was called in against a large group of "anti-government militants who we were able to spot setting an ambush," he said.
An ISAF patrol was ambushed in the same area on October 15 and 12 soldiers were wounded. An airstrike called in afterwards killed five Taliban, Afghan officials said.
Some said three civilians were also killed but this was rejected by ISAF.
The lines in the battle between security forces and insurgents in Afghanistan are often blurred with fighters living and operating among villagers.
ISAF and the other international force here, the US-led coalition, have been accused of killing hundreds of civilians in their pursuit of rebels including the Taliban whose regime was ousted from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.
The extremist insurgents have killed hundreds more in suicide attacks that are aimed at security forces but end up killing more civilians.
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Afghan Security Concerns Rise With Strife, Poll Finds
By KIRK SEMPLE The New York Times October 23, 2007
KABUL, Afghanistan, Oct. 22 — In a 12-month period during which the Taliban insurgency spread in Afghanistan and violence rose in the country’s major cities, Afghans grew increasingly concerned about security and more people came to regard it as the most serious issue facing the nation, according to the results of a poll set for release on Tuesday.
About a third of the poll’s respondents said security issues, including terrorism and violence, were the single biggest problem in Afghanistan, a significant increase from a similar poll last year, in which only 22 percent gave top priority to security concerns.
“Insecurity is the main reason for the people to believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction,” the authors of the poll wrote. “In the eyes of men and women of Afghanistan, the security situation in the country has deteriorated.”
But the survey, financed by the United States, found that, over all, Afghans have about the same view of their country’s path as they did last year.
Forty-two percent of respondents said the country was moving in the right direction, compared with 44 percent last year, according to the Asia Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, which conducted both surveys. With a margin of sampling error of plus or minus two percentage points, the change is not considered significant.
Twenty-four percent said the country was headed in the wrong direction this year, compared with 21 percent in 2006.
The poll was financed by the United States Agency for International Development and conducted by a team of Afghans, who interviewed more than 6,200 people in June in rural and urban areas in all of Afghanistan’s provinces. The main goal was to gauge public sentiments on social and political issues, “in a country that is undergoing rapid changes,” the authors said.
In addition to security issues, respondents listed unemployment, the poor economy and corruption as major concerns.
A majority of those interviewed — 57 percent — said national corruption had worsened in the past year, but fewer than half said it had worsened at the provincial and local levels. Nevertheless, 60 percent said corruption remained a major problem at the provincial level.
The poll said development-related issues remained the biggest local problems, with respondents citing, in order of importance, electricity, unemployment, water, education and roads.
The only exception to those priorities was in the southwestern provinces, where the Taliban insurgency has been most active and security was regarded as the biggest local problem.
Of those who said Afghanistan was headed in the right direction, 39 percent said reconstruction was the biggest factor and 34 percent cited good security.
About 25 percent of those surveyed said the government was doing a “very good” job and 55 percent said it was doing a “somewhat good” job.
The survey also found evidence to suggest that the ideas of political tolerance and freedom of expression were not yet firmly rooted in Afghan society. A large proportion of respondents said Afghans did not feel free to express their political opinions in the area where they live, and 69 percent agreed it was not acceptable to speak critically about the government in public.
The survey showed confidence in some national institutions, including the security forces, the news media, tribal and provincial councils, aid groups and some government entities. But fewer than half of the respondents expressed confidence in the government’s justice system, political parties and local militias.
The poll showed mixed feelings about the empowerment of women. About 53 percent of the respondents said they “strongly agreed” that women should have equal rights, while 32 percent “somewhat agreed.”
A majority of men and women agreed that women should be allowed to work outside the home, but a majority of men and women also agreed that women should wear a burqa in public.
Respondents expressed respect for religion. About 66 percent said they believed democracy could be Islamic, while 29 percent said democracy challenged Islamic values.
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AFGHANISTAN: One month to avert mass displacement in Ghor
KABUL, 23 October 2007 (IRIN) - The government of Afghanistan, the UN and humanitarian agencies are expected to assist tens of thousands of food-insecure people in several districts of Ghor province in central-west Afghanistan before the first snowfalls in late November, which usually block the roads, aid workers told IRIN on 22 October.
“People from Taiwara, Pasawand, Shahrak and several other districts [of Ghor] have warned that food aid should reach them by the end of Qaws [late November] or they will [have to] abandon their houses and will migrate to Herat and Kandahar provinces,” said Ghulam Yahya Rasoli, head of the provincial department of the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS).
Up to 45 percent of Ghor’s 635,302 residents are considered to be in acute need of food assistance, a multi-agency Rapid Food Needs Assessment (RFNA) found in October.
Owing to unfavourable weather conditions in the past 10 months, crop production has dropped by up to 70 percent in Ghor province, where agriculture is the principal source of income, the RFNA report stated.
“Following heavy snowfall in the 2006/2007 winter in Ghor province … seasonal wheat planting in early 2007 was delayed and a lack of sufficient rainfall following the planting caused the main harvest in August and September to fail,” the RFNA team reported.
According to the RFNA, conducted by several local government entities, UN agencies and US Agency for International Development (USAID), up to 40 percent of farmers in Ghor are unable to purchase their food requirements and need food assistance.
At the same time, food prices have gone up considerably. The price of wheat flour has risen 115 percent, rice 127 percent and cooking oil 157 percent on 2006, according to statistics used by the RFNA.
To respond to the current level of food insecurity in Ghor, more than 14,000 MT of mixed food aid are needed for the most vulnerable families, aid agencies said.
Wheat flour, cooking oil, pulses and iodised salt are among the most urgent requirements, which should be distributed from December 2007 to April 2008.
Ghor is 2,500m above sea level and heavy snowfalls often block many of its rugged passes from November to April.
To respond to Afghanistan’s nationwide food requirements during the winter season, the National Emergency Response Commission on 8 October announced that more than 20,000 MT of food aid would be pre-positioned in 18 provinces.
Some aid workers, however, say that if the required 14,000 MT of food aid is allocated to Ghor, the remaining planned 6,000 MT would not meet widespread needs across the country.
About 10,000 MT of food aid - part of the overall winter drive - has been delivered and stocked in a number of identified provinces.
“More food aid will be delivered, particularly to Ghor province, in the near future,” said Aleem Siddique, a UN spokesman in Kabul.
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Bush asks for $46 billion more for wars
By DEB RIECHMANN Associated Press / October 23, 2007
WASHINGTON - President Bush asked Congress for $46 billion more to bankroll wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and said he wants the money approved by Christmas. The fighting in Iraq, in its fifth year, already has cost more than $455 billion.
Democrats who gained control of Congress with an antiwar message said Bush should not expect lawmakers to rubber-stamp the request.
"The colossal cost of this war grows every day — in lives lost, dollars spent, and to our reputation around the world," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. "The American people long ago rejected the president's planned 10-year occupation of Iraq and want the administration to provide a concrete plan to bring our troops home.
"The choice is between a Democratic plan for responsible redeployment of our troops and the president's plan to spend another trillion dollars for a 10-year war in Iraq. We must end this war."
Announcing his latest request, Bush alluded to the nation's disenchantment with the war, which has claimed the lives of more than 3,830 members of the U.S. military and more than 73,000 Iraqi civilians.
"Our men and women on the front lines should not be caught in the middle of partisan disagreements in Washington," the president said.
Monday's proposal brings to $196.4 billion the total requested for operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere for the budget year that started Oct. 1. It includes $189.3 billion for the Defense Department, $6.9 billion for the State Department and $200 million for other agencies.
With stepped-up military operations, the war is costing about $10 billion a month.
The White House originally sought $141.7 billion for the Pentagon to prosecute the Iraq and Afghanistan missions, then asked for $5.3 billion more in July. Bush's latest request includes another $42.3 billion for the Pentagon.
For the State Department, Bush more than doubled his initial $3.3 billion request, adding $3.6 billion for a total of $6.9 billion. The updated request includes money for peacekeeping efforts in Darfur, battling drug trafficking in Latin America, fighting famine in Africa, assisting Iraqi refugees, and the Palestinians.
Top House lawmakers have said they do not plan to act on Bush's request until next year, but they anticipate providing interim funds when completing a separate defense funding bill this fall. Bush said failing to approve the money would directly affect the effectiveness of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"I know some in Congress are against the war and are seeking ways to demonstrate that opposition," Bush said. "I recognize their position and they should make their views heard. But they ought to make sure our troops have what it takes to succeed."
"Congress should not go home for the holidays while our troops are still waiting for the funds they need," he said.
Bush said most of the funding request, crafted in consultation with Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is for day-to-day military operations. Congress already approved more than $5 billion for new vehicles whose V-shaped undercarriages provide much better protection against mines and roadside bombs. It's likely that Congress will quickly grant $11 billion more to deliver more than 7,200 of the vehicles.
The delays in submitting the remaining war funding request were in part due to unease among congressional Republicans about receiving it during the veto override battle involving a popular bill reauthorizing the State Children's Health Insurance Program.
"President Bush wants us to rubber-stamp another $200 billion in war funds — all borrowed money, none of it paid for — for next year alone," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.
"But when we sent a bipartisan CHIP bill to his desk to provide health insurance for the children of working families, the president called it too expensive. Let's remember, every dime of the money for CHIP was paid for."
White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto said the president did not think it was too costly, but that he wanted to restore the program to its original intent. Over the years, several states have gotten permission from the federal government to expand the program to adults and children from middle-income families. "He didn't say that it's too expensive — although it is too expensive to spend money on the wrong policy," Fratto said.
Bush made his war-spending request in the Roosevelt Room after meeting in the Oval Office with leaders of veterans service organizations, a fallen Marine's family and military personnel who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On Tuesday, Bush is delivering a speech on missile defense and other components of his defense strategy. His remarks at the National Defense University in Washington are to cover the wars, the Patriot Act, terrorist surveillance and nuclear proliferation.
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'Pak is the most dangerous place in the world'
via The Times of India 23 Oct 2007, 0647 hrs IST, PTI
NEW YORK: Pakistan, which recently witnessed a series of suicide attacks by pro-Taliban and al-Qaida militants, is the most dangerous country in the world, and has become a safe haven for terrorists, a media report says.
"Unlike countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq, Pakistan has everything al- Qaida chief Osama bin Laden could ask for: political instability, a trusted network of radical Islamists , an abundance of angry anti-Western recruits, secluded training areas and security services that don’t always do what they’re supposed to do," says ‘Newsweek’ in an investigative report being published in its upcoming issue.
Then there’s the country’s large and growing nuclear programme, the report adds ominously. The conventional story about Pakistan, it says, has been that it is an unstable nuclear power, with distant tribal areas in terrorist hands.
"What is new, and more frightening, is the extent to which Taliban and al- Qaida elements have now turned much of the country, including some cities, into a base that gives militants more room to manoeuvre, both in Pakistan and beyond," it adds.
Taliban militants, the magazine reports, now "pretty much come and go’ ’ as they please inside Pakistan. Their sick and injured get patched up in private hospitals there.
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AFGHANISTAN: Unveiling Women's Rights
By Fawzia Sheikh*
KANDAHAR, Oct 23 (IPS) - A giggly, sweet demeanour masks Shaqofa's toughness.
Her dark hair swept up in a traditional headscarf secured under a standard police cap, Shaqofa offers a stark contrast to the many Afghan women who don the restrictive, full-length burqa, a symbol of Taliban rule in the 1990s still observed six years after the regime's fall.
The 18-year-old former shooting instructor, now a police sergeant enrolled in computer classes at the Afghan regional police training centre in the southern province of Kandahar, uses a pseudonym out of fear of Taliban retaliation but still shows up for class every day.
Kandahar is a Taliban hotbed that has borne much of the violence in the war between insurgents and coalition forces.
Neither a Taliban note threatening Shaqofa's death tacked to her family's door, nor the murder two months ago of a training centre instructor, have spurred her to hang up her uniform. But the incidents prompted other staff to quit and illuminated the perils of being a cop in Afghanistan, where insurgents routinely target government workers.
Shaqofa joined the police two years ago out of a desire to investigate crimes committed by the Taliban who "kill the people for no reason," she told IPS.
Under the Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan administered by the United Nations Development Programme, more women are being recruited as police officers, gender units are being established within police headquarters and law-enforcement officers are being sensitised toward issues like domestic violence.
Afghan women first put on police uniforms in the 1960s in a more liberal era.
A sense of pre-Taliban normalcy is returning not only to the law-enforcement arena but also is seeping into other aspects of life -- girls wearing school uniforms are a common sight in the streets and women are again taking jobs as teachers, for example.
Yet Afghan society remains highly influenced by bad memories of a regime that essentially erased women from existence. Under the Taliban's overzealous rule, women were forced to cover their faces, outlawed from working, speaking loudly, appearing on television or at public gatherings and even forbidden from wearing nail polish or shoes that made clicking sounds against the pavement -- lest these activities should entice men.
Human-rights activists argue today that even some well-educated Afghan men are staunch advocates of the burqa, a sign that changing the mindset of this ultra-conservative culture remains a daunting challenge.
Women like Shaqofa, listed by the interior ministry as one of 150 female police officers in the country, have their work cut out for them but seem primed for the task.
Although her family opposes her profession, arguing that she can earn a higher salary as an international organisation employee, a nurse or a teacher, the young police officer said she has signed a three-year contract and will be jailed if she quits.
Her performance, meanwhile, has drawn plenty of attention.
Described by the United States troops working with her as someone who does not take any attitude from her male classmates, Shaqofa seems unfazed about working in a patriarchal institution.
"She's one of the best shots in Afghanistan," declared one U.S. army officer.
Shaqofa is not alone in her efforts, though.
Her colleague Roya, also using a pseudonym, travels to work every day incognito, wearing traditional clothes that she discards for her uniform once she enters the training center. She simply tells inquisitive Afghans she works for an international company.
The Taliban have not caught on to the fact she works as a police officer but would kill her if they discovered her deception, said Roya, dyed reddish-blonde hair sprouting from under her white headscarf. The job helps the 27-year-old widow to support her three children.
Despite working in a traditionally male bastion, Roya told IPS she stands "shoulder to shoulder with our brothers" and has not experienced any harassment on the job.
Brig. Gen. Nasrullah Zarife, an Afghan officer whose task is to build and train the national police, spoke proudly of the two women from his office at the training center.
"They're scared of nothing," he said.
Miles from their precarious existence in the troubled south, Roya and Shaqofa's predecessor, Gen. Aziza Nazari, 53, embodies the possibilities open to the two young officers -- provided their fellow Afghan security forces can defeat the insurgency in Kandahar and neighbouring provinces.
A 34-year veteran of the police force, Nazari now acts as Afghanistan's passport department chief and is one of the most senior female officers in the country. In an interview in Kabul, she said she has introduced reforms to streamline the passport process and eliminate corruption.
But her success followed years of Taliban repression. Under full burqa cover, Nazari and her female colleagues were tapped by the Taliban to conduct searches of women in the airport for two years but later were confined to their homes along with millions of other women. The general, once whipped by a Taliban member for lifting her mesh-like veil due to illness, always feared the regime would lash out at her children out of anger over her former job as a police officer.
Without a salary and divorced from her husband, she said she was forced to offload her belongings, hawking her uniform for ten dollars and selling a washing-machine that offered a few months of income to support her children.
Nazari put on her uniform again in 2001. Today she freely wears earrings and black patent-leather heels that click -- accessories which would have earned her a flogging during the Taliban's heyday.
She is hopeful of the future because under Islam women can stand alongside men, meaning they can join the police and take on other professions, she said.
But Afghan society still faces a long road ahead, according to some international observers.
Norine MacDonald, president and lead field researcher of the international non-government organisation, the Senlis Council, told IPS that the government of Hamid Karzai is struggling to satisfy the expectations of the international community on the status and freedom of women.
Because the southern insurgency has consumed most Western attention and resources, "there hasn't been the impact on the day-to-day lives of the average Afghan woman that everyone had hoped for," explained MacDonald, who spends most of her time in the Kandahar city area.
While it is true some girls can attend school and women can work in certain parts of Afghanistan, life in less-enlightened areas denies women the luxury of such "free choices," she continued. She said she faces a tough job convincing families that permitting their daughters to work at the Senlis Council in research, policy and administrative capacities is honourable.
The ubiquitous blue burqa is also a sign of Afghan society's reluctance to soften views. "I've talked to a lot of women about why that's the case and it is partly because they don't feel secure yet in the post-Taliban regime," she said.
"You know, the Taliban were so cruel and their psychological terror went so deep in the population. You can't just throw that off overnight and say, 'Ok, we're never going to face that again. There will never be any reprisals for me not wearing a burqa in my city or town.'"
Men, moreover, also play a pivotal role in this debate, MacDonald argued.
Many discussions with "Afghan men who are very open and internationally minded" have revealed to her a mindset adamantly opposed to the "Western position that it should be the women's choice," she explained.
"It's not a conversation they're used to having and it hasn't been pursued with sufficient vigour."
(*Fawzia Sheikh was recently embedded with U.S. troops in Afghanistan)
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Policy on cross-border pipelines on the cards
Hindustan Times / October 23, 2007
The government has begun efforts to put in place the broad contours of its strategy on cross-border gas pipelines to ensure the country's energy security.
Even as India takes stock of various options on contentious issues in Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline, it is all set to join the US-backed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline project next month to import natural gas from the Central Asian nation.
India is expected to take a major stride on the issue by signing “Project Heads of Agreement” and a “Gas Pipeline Framework Agreement” at the Steering Committee meeting in Islamabad called by project sponsor Asian Development Board on November 28-29, sources said.
Turkmenistan would make a presentation on the potential of its gas reserves and volumes available for export to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The buyers are expected to make projections about their demand scenario and the quantum they would seek to meet through the multi-nation project.
As per the “Heads of Agreement” pact, the four nations would undertake project feasibility studies and device financial structure.
In another development, Pakistan has invited India next month for discussions to resolve the transit fee issue. India refused participation in an official level talks on the gas pipeline in Tehran last month, saying it wanted transit fee issue with Pakistan to be resolved first before it could attend a trilateral meeting.
Pakistan's Petroleum Secretary Farrakh Qayyum had last week written to his Indian counterpart M.S. Srinivasan inviting him for bilateral parleys either between November 1 and 3 or between November 12-14, sources said. New Delhi has not yet conveyed its acceptance of Pakistan's invitation.
According to the draft Heads of Agreement, Turkmenistan has projected gas reserves of 159 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) in its Dauletabad fields, of which 34.26 Tcf would be dedicated to the project.
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Afghanistan's exports up by 13pc in 2nd quarter
KABUL, Oct 21 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Afghanistan's exports had registered 13 percent increase during the second quarter of the current Afghan year as compared to the same period during last year, officials said on Sunday.
Rohullah Ahmadzai, director public relations with the export promotion department, told Pajhwok the country's exports had reached $112 million during the second quarter of the current Afghan year.
Last year, the figure was 101 million US dollar, registering a 13 percent increase, said the official. One of the reasons behind the boost, he said, was removal of irritants pertaining to taxes and customs duties.
Following a gradual process, all kinds of duties and taxes on the country's exports would be withdrawn, said the official, who added that the step was being taken under a decree of President Hamid Karzai.
According to Ahmadzai, the country's exports were about $107 million during the first quarter of the current Afghan year. The exports had increased by 12 percent as compared to the first quarter of the last year.
He said the country's exports included handcrafts, fresh and dry fruit, minerals, leather products, cotton and precious stones.
Ahmadzai said most of those products were being exported to India, China, Pakistan, Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, Europe and the United States. He hoped the exports would further increase in the years ahead.
Official figures show a big gap between exports and imports of the country. According to officials, the country's exports are $500 million a year while goods worth five billion US dollars are being imported each year.
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Pakistan: The Forgotten Conflict in Balochistan
Source: Crisis Group
Islamabad/Brussels, 22 October 2007: The insurgency in Balochistan province will only subside when free, fair and transparent elections establish a legitimate government to replace Pakistan’s current military dictatorship.
Pakistan: The Forgotten Conflict in Balochistan,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the tensions across the strategically important and resource-rich province, where violence continues unabated between the military government and militants demanding political and economic autonomy. It urges the federal government to return power to democratic institutions in order to stem growing Baloch alienation and regional instability.
“The military relies on repression, killings, imprisonment, disappearances and torture to bend the Baloch to its will”, says Robert Templer, Director of the Asia Program. “That only feeds the insurgency”.
Relying on divide-and-rule policies, the military supports Pashtun Islamist parties like the JUI-F, a key patron of the Afghan Taliban, in a bid to counter secular Baloch and moderate Pashtun forces. Using Balochistan as a base of operation and sanctuary and recruiting from JUI’s extensive madrasa network, the Taliban and its Pakistani allies are undermining the state-building effort in Afghanistan. At the same time, U.S. and other Western support for Musharraf is alienating the Baloch, who otherwise could be natural partners in countering extremism in Pakistan.
The federal government needs to restore a democratic election process for national and provincial governments and allow representative and participatory institutions. It should cease all military operations, release all political prisoners, including those in the unlawful custody of intelligence agencies, and accept the Supreme Court’s directive to end the disappearances of political opponents. It should immediately produce those charged with criminal offences before competent civilian courts, which should be responsible for any trials, and drop terrorism charges against Balochistan National Party leader Akthar Mengal, transfer his kidnapping trial to a sessions court and release him on bail.
The government should also ensure freedom of speech, movement, association and assembly and remove all restrictions on Baloch nationalist parties.
“The staunchly anti-Taliban and secular Baloch believe the international community has yet to understand the threat the military’s Islamist allies pose, domestically and externally”, says Samina Ahmed, South Asia Project Director. “The restoration of participatory democratic institutions willing to accommodate the legitimate political demands of the Baloch would assuage dissent and restore trust in constitutionalism and rule of law”.
Contacts: Andrew Stroehlein
(Brussels) +32 (0) 2 541 1635
(Washington) +1 202 785 1601
Read the full Crisis Group briefing on this website: http://www.crisisgroup.org
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