Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
September 14, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) this week sounded the alarm on Afghanistan, saying the humanitarian situation in the country continues to deteriorate and has become an “emergency.” RFE/RL correspondent Jeremy Bransten interviewed Carla Haddad, deputy spokesperson for the ICRC’s Asia and Pacific region, for her assessment.
RFE/RL: Reto Stocker, the head of the ICRC delegation in Kabul, told a news conference in Geneva on September 13 that almost half of Afghanistan is now affected by fighting involving the Taliban, government forces, and NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. What has been the impact on civilians and where is the situation most acute?
Carla Haddad: The armed conflict in Afghanistan has in fact continued to intensify throughout 2007, especially in the southern and eastern regions. It is also spreading geographically to the west and north and getting closer to Kabul. So the ICRC is concerned about the situation and especially about the humanitarian impact of the armed conflict on the Afghan people.
RFE/RL: From what you have seen, how has the spreading conflict impacted ordinary people? Are they being displaced? Are key supplies running short?
Haddad: You can see that countrywide, insecurity and instability have affected the daily lives of large segments of the Afghan population. Men, children, women are more and more likely to be either killed, wounded, displaced, or have their dwellings and livelihoods affected. One of the main concerns of the ICRC is also access to the people who are most affected. The security situation makes it very difficult for humanitarian workers to reach remote areas and rural areas where there are needs in terms of medical care, assistance, and support. So the ICRC is concerned about not being able to reach those most affected and is trying its best to do so.
RFE/RL: Has the ICRC’s access to certain regions in Afghanistan been limited due to the conflict?
Haddad: We have to admit that there are certain areas that are off limits because of the security situation. However, we should mention the fact that our privileged partner in Afghanistan is the Afghan Red Crescent Society. And the volunteers of the Afghan Red Crescent, who are present throughout the country, do work in certain areas where we do not have access. So we support the Afghan Red Crescent, in terms of not only financial support, but also in helping them address medical needs in very remote areas, through first aid programs, in order to alleviate the pain and suffering of the people there.
RFE/RL: Would you say that progress on social issues in Afghanistan has been impaired or even reversed lately because of the fighting?
Haddad: We are not facing a development phase in Afghanistan. We are somehow back to an emergency phase, where the most primary and basic needs have to be addressed.
RFE/RL: In launching your appeal, what exactly are you seeking from the international community? Do you need more funds?
Haddad: Afghanistan is one of the less-funded humanitarian operations, compared to other [countries]. So it is important that the international community address this issue, in the sense that we are still in an emergency phase in Afghanistan. And more funding is needed to address basic humanitarian needs, especially in the most conflict-affected areas in the south and the western north, where the conflict is spreading.
RFE/RL: How helpful has the Afghan government been to the ICRC? How far does the central government’s control extend into the countryside?
Haddad: The ICRC is in contact with all parties to the conflict. It nurtures these contacts and discussions. The ICRC cannot work without having security guarantees from all parties to the conflict.
RFE/RL: Does that mean you have been successful in getting security guarantees from the Taliban?
Haddad: If you look at the latest situation, where the ICRC was involved in facilitating discussions between the Korean delegation and the armed opposition regarding the hostage crisis, whereby 21 hostages were held hostage, we can say that these contacts allowed the ICRC to play its neutral, intermediary role. So the ICRC is trying and striving to be in contact with all parties concerned, as it is mandated to do so according to the Geneva Conventions in order to be able to intervene on a humanitarian basis. This is an example where the ICRC was in contact with all those concerned and managed to actually facilitate discussions that led to the release of the Koreans.
However, I have to say we did not participate in the negotiations. We just played a key role in allowing this to happen by providing a neutral venue for the discussions to take place. So this is a concrete example of where the ICRC can intervene as a neutral, independent, intermediary humanitarian organization.
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Troops kill six Taliban linked to alleged SKorean abductor
Fri Sep 14, 10:47 AM ET
GHAZNI, Afghanistan (AFP) - Afghan and US-led troops on Friday raided the hideout of a Taliban commander linked to the July abduction of 23 South Koreans, killing six militants, police said.
Taliban commander Abdullah Jan however escaped the raid in the southern province of Ghazni, provincial police chief Alishah Ahmadzai told AFP.
The US-led coalition confirmed there had been an operation in the province but said only that "several suspected militants" had been killed and one arrested.
"Abdullah Jan fled the raid but six of his associates were killed and an unknown number were detained by the coalition forces," Ahmadzai told AFP.
The bodies of three of the dead were left at the site, he said.
The coalition said one person was detained in the operation in the Qarabagh district, the area where the South Korean aid workers were abducted on July 19.
Two of the hostages were shot dead when the government refused to bend to a Taliban demand to release some of their jailed prisoners. The surviving 21 Koreans were freed last month after the Taliban struck a deal with Seoul.
"Afghan and coalition forces were led by credible intelligence to Qarabagh district where they suspected Taliban-affiliated militants were hiding," a coalition statement said.
Earlier this month, Afghan and coalition troops killed another of the commanders said by officials to be linked to the kidnapping.
Ahmadzai said separately that Taliban militants had killed a man in Qarabagh district after accusing him of spying for the Americans.
The coalition also announced that several more suspected rebels were killed Friday in the southern province of Helmand, a flashpoint for an insurgency launched by the Taliban movement after it was driven from government in 2001.
Two others were detained in the operation that targeted compounds in the Garmser district believed to be the home of a "weapons facilitator," a separate statement said.
And in another incident linked to the insurgency, a roadside bomb struck a police vehicle in the southeastern province of Khost of Friday, either killing or wounding all five policemen inside, a provincial police chief said.
General Mohammad Ayob could not say how many were dead and how many were hurt. Taliban militants claimed responsibility for the attack and said they killed eight police in the blast.
The Taliban were removed from government by a US-led coalition in an invasion launched weeks after the 9/11 attacks, which were blamed on Al-Qaeda militants with training grounds in Afghanistan.
The hardliners' insurgency has grown steadily, with around 5,000 people already killed this year, most of them rebels, according to an AFP count based on reports.
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Ten Taliban killed in Afghan firefights: U.S. military
Fri Sep 14, 7:22 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan and U.S.-led coalition troops killed 10 Islamist Taliban guerrillas in firefights in the south on Friday, the U.S. military said, while two policemen died in a roadside bomb blast in the east.
Five Taliban fighters were killed in a raid on a suspected insurgent compound in the province of Helmand, and five more in a raid on a guerrilla hideout in the province of Ghazni.
"They were killed in firefights," a U.S. military spokesman said.
In the Helmand raid, troops also recovered caches of opium and weapons including rocket-propelled grenades.
There was no independent confirmation of who was shot, and the resurgent Islamist Taliban, who are resorting increasingly to suicide bombings against Afghan and Western troops, were not immediately available for comment.
The two national policemen were killed when a remote-controlled roadside bomb was detonated in the eastern city of Khost, a provincial official said. Three policemen were wounded.
The violence came after the U.S. military said coalition airstrikes killed more than 45 Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, the U.S. military said.
The U.S.-led military says coalition forces have killed hundreds of Taliban militants in a series of confrontations in recent weeks. The Taliban have admitted some losses, but say Afghan and foreign troops vastly exaggerate enemy death tolls.
More than 7,000 people have been killed during the past 19 months in Afghanistan, the bloodiest period since the militants' 2001 ouster.
(With reporting by Hamid Shalizi in KABUL)
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Taliban commander says reports of death premature
By Saeed Ali Achakzai Fri Sep 14, 10:15 AM ET
SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Taliban commander Mullah Brother told Reuters on Friday he was "alive and well," more than two weeks after the Afghan government announced he had been killed.
Brother served as a top military commander for the Taliban government until it was driven from power in 2001, and is a member of the movement's leadership council led by fugitive leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar.
The Afghan Defence Ministry said late last month Brother was killed in ground fighting in Helmand during a U.S.-led raid, launched after Taliban insurgents ambushed an Afghan army convoy between Sangin and Sarwan districts.
But, Brother said the report was part of America's disinformation campaign.
"I am alive and well and the Afghan government had issued a false news about my death," he said, speaking by satellite phone to a reporter familiar with his voice.
The rebel commander warned of a new offensive, involving suicide attacks, roadside bombs and guerrilla raids during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began on Friday.
"All preparation has been completed for carrying out new attacks across Afghanistan and a new operation named "Nusrat" (Help) will be launched in the holy month," he said, speaking from an undisclosed location.
More than 7,000 people have been killed during the past 19 months in Afghanistan, the bloodiest period of the six-year Taliban insurgency.
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NATO lacks troops to guarantee Afghan peace: report
By Mark John Friday, September 14, 2007
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The NATO force in Afghanistan does not have enough troops or equipment to secure advances made against Taliban insurgents and to guarantee a successful end to its mission, a lawmakers' report concluded on Friday.
The findings of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, which draws legislators from 42 countries, echoes recent complaints by NATO commanders that troop shortages are hampering operations and come as some allies face domestic pressure to pull troops out.
"The NATO mission still suffers from a lack of personnel and assets," the assembly's Defence and Security Committee concluded after a six-day tour of allied operations last week which included talks with local and national Afghan officials.
"Fundamentally, the delegation came away with a sense that current efforts are making significant incremental progress, but not at a rate that will ensure without doubt an acceptable end state to our mission there," it concluded.
The report did not recommend how many reinforcements were needed on top of the 50,000 troops currently under NATO and U.S. command. The most pressing needs included more helicopters, intelligence and reconnaissance assets and trainers to build up the Afghan security forces, it said.
NATO commanders say they have had success in wresting towns from the Taliban and handing them back to government control, only to watch them be re-taken by insurgents because of the weakness of local Afghan army or police forces.
NATO wants to accelerate efforts to train up the Afghan army but is facing resistance from many allies who refuse to send either troops or trainers into the southern heartlands of the Taliban where most fighting takes place.
"Consolidation means being able to ensure that the insurgents do not return," NATO Parliamentary Assembly Secretary-General Simon Lunn told Reuters.
"'More' in this case would imply more boots on the ground, more trainers and more enablers," he said, using the military term for helicopters and other vital operational equipment.
Top soldiers including U.S. General Dan McNeill, commander of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, and General Ray Henault, the Canadian who heads up NATO's Military Committee in Brussels, have in recent days complained of troop shortfalls.
But they have stopped short of making specific calls for more troops at a time when key allies such as Canada and the Netherlands -- both in the south -- face tough decisions about extending their missions in the face of domestic opposition.
The NATO Parliamentary Assembly draws its members from the 26 NATO allies and 16 other countries. Its aims range from making the alliance more accountable to fostering dialogue on security issues.
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Poland plans to extend troops' presence Afghanistan
Thu Sep 13, 4:46 PM ET
WARSAW (AFP) - Polish Defence Minister Aleksander Szczyglo said Thursday he had asked for government approval to keep 1,200 Polish soldiers in Afghanistan deployed there into 2008.
The PAP news agency said he made the announcement during a visit to Kabul.
The Polish force in Afghanistan operates under NATO's 36,000-strong International Security Assistance Force and handle security in the southeast Ghazni and Patika provinces.
Their elite units are also stationed in Kandahar in the south of the country.
According to a June poll, 78 percent of Poles disapprove of Poland's continued military role in ISAF, while 17 percent are against and five percent had no opinion.
A 28-year-old lieutenant killed by a greande blast in August became the first Polish casualty in Afghanistan.
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Iran's envoy to Paris elaborates on status on Afghanistan at EP
Paris, Sept 14, IRNA
Iran's Ambassador to France elaborated at European Parliament on Iran's status regarding Afghanistan Thursday, answering EP members' questions on the matter.
Ahani who had attended the EP on an invitation extended to him by Afghan-EU Friendship Group, said that cooperation aimed at restoration of security in that country in one of the diplomatic priorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The Iranian Ambassador to Paris addressing the Strasbourg based EP members in France, said, "We would spend our entire efforts on that respect, since naturally restoration of security in Afghanistan plays a big role in accelerating the Afghan refugees' repatriation to their motherland form Iran."
Emphasizing the need to boost the international efforts aimed at reconstruction of Afghanistan, Ahani also referred to the moves made in that respect in that country during the course of the past few years.
He said, "The Islamic Republic of Iran has allocated over 450 million US dollars of credits to this issue, while playing a very positive role in implementation of infrastructure projects in various parts of Afghanistan."
Ahani referred to a recent state visit by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Afghanistan and the signing of some important documents during that visit, adding, "Iran, with its rich financial and expert manpower resources, is ready for comprehensive cooperation with Afghanistan."
Iran's Ambassador to France also referred to the great problem of narcotic drugs trafficking from Afghanistan, that has been several folded ever since the US led occupation of that country, arguing, "Iran has been engaged in an all out anti narcotic drugs trafficking campaign during the course of the past decades, dedicating the dear lives of over 3,000 police and disciplinary forces to the cause." Ahani added, "Yet, due to the rapidly growing volume of narcotic drugs trafficking from Afghanistan in recent year, fighting against the deadly phenomenon calls for serious will of the international community and mobilization of lots more of anti narcotic drug officers."
Pointing out that the main destination of the narcotic drugs smuggled from Afghanistan is Europe, Ahani criticized the weak and insufficient cooperation and contributions of the European countries in that respect, emphasizing the need for EU's playing of a more significant role in the matter.
Elaborating on philanthropic approach of the Islamic Republic of Iran in acceptance of over three million Afghan refugees and the problems and difficulties with which our country has been entangled for decades in that respect, he said, "The 9th Government is determined to automatize the affairs of the remaining Afghan refugees in Iran, in accordance with country's immigration laws."
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Reaching His Prime Time in Afghanistan
Murdoch-Like Magnate Builds Media Empire
By Frank Ahrens Washington Post Friday, September 14, 2007; D01
The head of a burgeoning Afghan media empire looked down at his new BlackBerry, vibrating against a table in Washington earlier this week. "Afghan civilians injured in Gereshk suicide bombing," read the e-mail headline.
Another day, another suicide bombing in another town. Another too-typical news event for Saad Mohseni's stations to broadcast across a country where prime-time programming is scheduled to fit the nighttime hours when electrical generators are switched on.
Mohseni, director of the Moby Media Group, was in Washington for meetings at the State Department and with U.S. media and business counterparts. His five-year-old company -- which got start-up help from the U.S. Agency for International Development -- owns two of the most-watched television networks in Afghanistan, an FM radio station, a video production house, an ad agency, a music label and a small magazine.
In addition to his nightly news program and a "Good Morning Afghanistan"-style talk show, Mohseni's Tolo TV network runs popular Indian soap operas, has a singing-contest show a la "American Idol," an amateur stand-up comedy show where comics get laughs in Persian Dari, a satire program that shows lawmakers in embarrassing situations and will, this fall, begin showing dubbed episodes of the Fox thriller "24."
In some ways, Mohseni, 41, is the Rupert Murdoch of Afghanistan.
Not only is he an entrepreneurial media lord with Australian roots who buys his soap operas from Murdoch's Indian Star TV network, his programming has been criticized as sensational, lowbrow and corruptive to the culture -- much as Fox's "The Simpsons" was panned when it hit the U.S. airwaves. And, like many of Murdoch's programs, Mohseni's are wildly popular. Both points of view came through in interviews on the streets of Kabul this week.
"Tolo TV is one of my favorite TV networks," said Wahidullah, 37, a former teacher. "I like most of its programs, especially the evening news and 'Dahlez Ha' " -- a current affairs program -- "which has already disclosed many secret things." On the other hand, Amanullah, 43, a car salesman, said: "Tolo TV . . . encourages people to immodesty and is really in contradiction to Afghan culture. My children are not allowed to watch it. If I had the ability to stop it, I would have stopped it very early."
Traversing Afghanistan's culture -- in places deeply conservative but youthful and surprisingly wired, wracked by a history of occupation, civil war and religious oppression -- can be as rocky as navigating the country's renowned moonscape terrain.
"We are mindful of the mullahs and clerics," Mohseni said during his Washington visit. He said that his network is the only one that the Taliban talks to, because it is seen as unbiased, yet it also broadcasts Afghanistan's most popular -- and Western-style -- entertainment programs. Tolo even had a dustup with the Afghan attorney general this year that resulted in some staff members being arrested and briefly detained.
"You can kick-start social change with TV," Mohseni said.
Women and men work alongside each other at Tolo (translated as "sunrise" or "dawn"), something that was forbidden under Taliban rule. Though some female contestants on Tolo's "Idol" show cover their heads, Mohseni said it is because they are following custom, rather than harshly enforced religious law.
"The thirst for freedom in Afghanistan that existed in Afghanistan prior to the fall of the Taliban is most evident in the explosion of media these last six years," Said T. Jawad, the Afghan ambassador to the United States, wrote in an e-mail this week. "More than 17 TV stations, 50 radio stations and 300 publications are contributing to a vibrant discussion of politics, culture, entertainment and religion, as well as women's and civil rights."
It's a high-stakes, high-risk market, but lately, Mohseni has been wrestling with a more prosaic problem: How do you schedule your prime-time programming around Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that began yesterday and requires the faithful to fast until sundown each day?
"You wouldn't want to get between an Afghan and the dinner table after fasting," Mohseni joked. Consequently, to hold on to viewership, he is moving back his nightly news broadcast several minutes past sundown during Ramadan.
In a country as war-torn and sparsely modernized as Afghanistan, it is impossible to know exactly how many people watch television. Mohseni said his research shows that almost everyone can see it who wants to, but not necessarily at home. TV watching is more of a community experience, he said, with groups gathering in public spaces. Tolo can now be seen in 15 Afghan cities.
Like many expatriate Afghans with a plan, Mohseni came to Kabul after the U.S.-led invasion loosened the Taliban's turn-back-the-clock grip on Afghanistan's business, technological and cultural life.
Mohseni is the son of an Afghan diplomat who was stationed in Tokyo when the Russians invaded his country in 1979. His father resigned his post, moved his family to Melbourne, Australia, (coincidentally, Murdoch's hometown) and settled down.
Mohseni dropped out of college and sped to the business world, becoming first an investment banker in Australia. When that proved too tame, he moved to Uzbekistan in the mid-'90s, as that country was flexing its capitalistic muscles after decades of Soviet control, and became a commodities trader.
After a few years in Central Asia, and a cultural reconnection with other expat Afghans there, Mohseni headed back to Australia looking for opportunity. It came in the wake of the U.S. military response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks . With no media background, Mohseni was not specifically looking to start a media business when he hit the ground in Kabul, but that's where he found the market gap.
By March 2003, Mohseni and his two brothers had launched Afghanistan's first privately run radio station, Arman FM, with their own money and a $228,000 grant from USAID. When Mohseni started Tolo in 2004, USAID kicked in another $2.1 million. The Mohseni brothers say they have so far invested more than $6 million of their own money.
The Afghan media market is rapidly growing and increasingly competitive, with plenty of start-ups like Mohseni's seeking the country's undertapped media consumers.
Aside from a lack of disposable income, Afghanistan has a demo Western advertisers would kill for. Sixty percent of the nation's 32 million residents are less than 20 years old. Illiteracy is widespread, so video and music have little competition from print for consumers' entertainment time and money. And there are more than 3 million cellphone customers in the country; users can vote for their favorite Afghan idol by text message and send video of themselves performing.
"Talk about market opportunities -- he's got the first TV and radio stations in a country where they had banned TV and radio," said Tom Freston, the former Viacom chief executive who has befriended Mohseni and introduced him to Western media moguls, including Murdoch.
Before he helped invent MTV in the early 1980s, Freston ran clothing businesses in Afghanistan and India and lived in the countries. When Mohseni's girlfriend (now his wife) wanted to open a clothing business in Afghanistan after the Taliban left, she tracked Freston down -- and also introduced him to her boyfriend.
Tolo TV "reminds me of MTV in the early days," said Freston, who has not invested in Mohseni's company. "Everyone there is under 25 years old, there's a lot of energy. The people who work for Saad are really motivated and emblematic of what a new Afghanistan could be. It's probably one of the only success stories since the fall of the Taliban."
Special correspondent Qudratullah Haidarzai in Kabul and staff researcher Richard Drezen contributed to this article.
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Afghanistan: U.S. Worried Iran Sending Chinese Weapons To Taliban
By Ron Synovitz
September 14, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte says Washington has complained to Beijing about Chinese weapons shipments to Iran that appear to be turning up in the hands of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.
Negroponte confirmed the U.S. concerns over China's weapons deals with Tehran after a 10-ton weapons cache was discovered in the western Afghan province of Herat.
The cache found in Ghurian district, near the border with Iran, included artillery shells, land mines, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers with Chinese, Russian, and Persian markings on them.
Britain's Foreign Office has also confirmed that it has complained to Beijing about Chinese-made HN-5 antiaircraft missiles confiscated from Taliban fighters who were captured or killed by British Royal Marines in Helmand Province. Beijing has said that it would investigate allegations that the weapons were forwarded to the Taliban through Iran.
When asked in Kabul on September 11 about the Taliban's use of sophisticated new Chinese weapons, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte also suggested that Iran has been a transit point for Chinese arms deliveries to the Taliban.
"A subject that I have discussed with the Chinese in the past is the fact of their weapons sales to the country of Iran and our concern," Negroponte said. "We have tried to discourage the Chinese from signing any new weapons contracts with Iran. We are concerned by reports -- which we consider to be reliable -- of explosively formed projectiles and other kinds of military equipment coming from Iran across the border and coming into the hands of the Taliban."
"I have no doubt that Iran has been involved in channeling money and arms to various elements in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, for the last few years... There are Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns who are being funded by Iran." -- Pakistani journalist Ahmed RashidIn June, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Washington had no evidence proving a direct role by the Iranian government in smuggling weapons to the Taliban. But Gates said Washington suspects Tehran is involved.
"I haven't seen any intelligence specifically to this effect, but I would say, given the quantities we are seeing, it is difficult to believe that it is associated with smuggling or the drug business or that it is taking place without the knowledge of the Iranian government," Gates said.
Not Without Tehran's Knowledge?
Alex Vatanka is the Washington-based Iran analyst for Jane's Information Group, which publishes "Jane's Defence Weekly" and other journals about the weapons industry and global security issues. Vatanka says it will remain unclear whether the Ghurian weapons cache is linked to the Taliban until Afghan or U.S. authorities announce details of their joint investigation.
But the presence of Chinese weapons so close to the Iranian border is the strongest evidence to date suggesting Tehran has had at least an indirect role in arms shipments to Afghanistan, Vatanka said. "Whether the government or somebody in Iran could be buying arms from China and, without Tehran's knowledge, ship it over to Afghanistan -- on that volume of weapons -- I find that extremely unlikely," he said. "I can only see that happening if somebody pretty senior and in an influential political position in Iran decided to facilitate that without letting everybody in the system know about it. But they still had to be involved somewhere in the state machinery. We're not talking about rogue elements [in Iran]. Baluchi drug traffickers can't pull that kind of thing off."
Many analysts have noted that Shi'ite Iran and the Sunni Taliban had been firm enemies since 1998, when the Taliban regime controlled most of Afghanistan and executed nine Iranian diplomats in Mazar-e Sharif.
But Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, an expert on Islamic militancy in the region and author of the book "Taliban," told RFE/RL that times appear to have changed. Now, with U.S. forces deployed some 60 kilometers from the Iranian border at Shindad Airfield in Herat Province, Rashid says Tehran and the Taliban have a common enemy.
"I have no doubt that Iran has been involved in channeling money and arms to various elements in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, for the last few years. They have long-running relations with many of the commanders and small-time warlords in western Afghanistan," Rashid said. He continued: "I think Iran is playing all sides in the Afghan conflict. And there are Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns who are being funded by Iran who are active in western Afghanistan. If the Iranians are convinced that the Americans are undermining them through western Afghanistan, then it is very likely that these agents of theirs have been activated."
Still, Vatanka says it would be "almost irrational behavior" for Tehran to supply the Taliban with weapons. He says such a move would almost certainly lead to a negative domestic political backlash for Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's government.
For that reason, Vatanka says he is eagerly awaiting the assessment of Afghan and U.S. investigators about whether the arms in the Ghurian cache were stashed away by the Taliban or by one of several rival militia factions in Herat Province.
"The question is, what would get even a faction within Iran to make that type of a decision? Maybe you have excellent business ties between the Iranians and the Afghans on the other side -- not necesarily the central government in Kabul -- but local leaders in Herat who turn around saying, 'You Iranians are building roads and infrastructure here. You are setting up shops and factories. But for us to be able to guarantee that we can protect your business interests, we'll need to receive some arms.' That's an argument that one could put out: that the Iranians are essentially supplying not the Taliban, but Afghan partners to secure Iranian businesses and interests in western Afghanistan," Vatanka said.
To date, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to publicly support allegations of a direct link between Tehran and weapons shipments to the Taliban.
"We don't have any such evidence so far of the involvement of the Iranian government in supplying the Taliban. We have a very good relationship with the Iranian government. Iran and Afghanistan have never been as friendly as they are today," Karzai said.
Vatanka says that as long as Karzai maintains that position, skeptics around the world will dismiss suggestions from Washington that Tehran is supplying Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.
"From a U.S. point of view, if the insurgency in Afghanistan is essentially escalating based on Iranian assistance, then what Washington really needs to do is to provide far more evidence that points to that -- and get Mr. Hamid Karzai in Kabul and the regional governments in Afghanistan to back the U.S. up when it makes these claims against Iran," Vatanka said.
After the U.S. military failed to find the weapons of mass destruction allegedly being stockpiled in Iraq, Vatanka said, "the skeptics out there are saying 'These [new allegations] are being made up by the U.S. to justify another war with Iran' -- which might not actually be the case. Iran might be involved. But because of the lack of evidence, the Iranians are saying, 'Who else is backing up the U.S. allegations?'"
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Conditions rougher at some UK bases than in Afghanistan, say MPs
· 'Disgraceful' standards found at army barracks
· Forces minister accepts problem areas need work
Richard Norton-Taylor Friday September 14, 2007 The Guardian
The state of some UK barracks means that British troops endure worse living conditions at home than on operations in Afghanistan, according to a report today by MPs. The Commons defence committee says repairs take too long, standards of service are "unacceptably poor", and the situation is exacerbated by "an alarming lack of recognition at senior levels that these problems are more than minor difficulties". Unless significant improvements are made soon, service men and women will be forced to live in sub-standard accommodation "for many years to come", the cross-party committee says.
Its report, published a day after the British Legion launched an unprecedented campaign highlighting what it calls the poor treatment of armed forces personnel, will make further uncomfortable reading for the Ministry of Defence.
Accommodation for two regiments now in Afghanistan - the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters, based at Hounslow, west London, and the Royal Anglian Regiment, based at Pirbright in Surrey - is described as "disgraceful".
The MPs say that at Hounslow they found "barrack blocks with overflowing drains and repairs which had been left unattended", with non-commissioned officers sleeping "eight to a room, with minimal privacy and negligible storage". They add: "We were told that soldiers from [the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment] on deployment in Afghanistan had more comfortable accommodation than their comrades left behind in Pirbright [barracks in Surrey]."
Soldiers told the MPs that poor accommodation was having a "serious effect on morale and retention, especially among NCOs". They welcomed steps being taken to modernise single living accommodation and improve married quarters. The report adds: "However...some accommodation remains appalling. This is unacceptable."
James Arbuthnot, the committee chairman, welcomed more resources being devoted to the MoD estate. However, he added: "Service personnel and their families should not have to put up with run-down buildings...especially at a time when we are asking the armed forces to put their lives on the line in Iraq and Afghanistan. They deserve to be decently housed at home." Liam Fox, the shadow defence secretary, said: "It's a national scandal. The government has thrown public money around, spending over £2.3bn on MoD consultants, but hasn't been able to provide decent accommodation for those who are asked to defend this country."
Bob Ainsworth, the armed forces minister, said last night: "This is an issue we take very seriously and I recognise that good quality housing is a fundamental part of the welfare package we give to our armed forces personnel and their families. However, I acknowledge that there are problem areas of the estate which require significant work."
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'Kite Runner' author visits Afghanistan
Associated Press Fri Sep 14, 5:18 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - The author of two best-selling novels set in Afghanistan said the country is moving in the right direction but that the international community must remain committed to rebuilding the war-torn nation.
Khaled Hosseini, author of "The Kite Runner" and current New York Times No. 1 "A Thousand Splendid Suns" wrapped up a 10-day tour of northern Afghanistan on Thursday as a goodwill envoy for UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency.
The Afghan-born author said in a U.N. statement distributed Thursday that the country is at a "crossroads" and that there are signs of disillusionment inside Afghanistan and the international community.
"A long-term engagement is absolutely critical if the country is to continue moving in the right direction," said Hosseini, a naturalized U.S. citizen. "Afghanistan needs time, patience and relentless effort."
During his tour, Hosseini visited UNHCR projects in the north but couldn't visit the south because of ongoing violence fueled by a resurgent Taliban militia.
The visit was his first to the country since finding fame with his 2005 hit "The Kite Runner," which tells the story of two boys who grow up together in the Afghan capital of Kabul.
Hosseini left Afghanistan as a boy in 1976 and now lives in California.
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Abandon 'Muscular diplomacy" to counter terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan: UK envoy
By ANI Friday September 14, 01:33 PM
London, Sept.14 (ANI): Britain's senior most ambassador has called on the West to abandon a "muscular" form of diplomacy in dealing with terrorism threats in and from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Making an impassioned plea for a "new diplomacy," Britain's Ambassador to the United States, Sir David Manning, said the muscular approach is no longer sufficient.
Sir David Manning, formerly Tony Blair's right-hand man on foreign policy, was quoted by The Times as saying: "It's not enough just to go on about terrorism and the Middle East peace process . . . we need to find new ways of bridging and reaching out."
Highlighting the role of madrassas, often seen as incubators for Islamic extremism, Ambassador Manning called for the creation of a world education fund to stop children falling prey to extremist ideologies.
"When I see how much money we're spending on other things, it does seem to me to be a very poor investment on our part," the envoy said, adding "How many schools could you get for an aircraft carrier?"
Sir David, who leaves his post as British Ambassador to the United States next month, has rarely spoken out publicly in such forceful fashion during an illustrious 35-year diplomatic career.
Indeed, as Tony Blair's chief foreign and security policy adviser in 2001-03 and thereafter as Ambassador to Washington, he has been at the heart of decisions to invade Afghanistan and Iraq.
In an interview with The Times he emphasised that existing foreign policy priorities remain "terribly important", but added: "We have to move beyond that. I suppose at the end of my time I'm allowed to think outside the box."
Sir David, 57, does not know what he will do when he quits the Foreign Office next month and denied that his idea for a world education fund is a pitch for a new job.
He believes strong transatlantic co-operation is still required to counter global terrorism.
Commenting on Washington's reaction to Britain's decision to withdraw troops from Basra, Ambassador Manning said it could not be called a sudden or a secret decision.
While acknowledging that he was a bit sceptical about the pace of reconciliation," he admitted that there were optical problems when there is a surge going on of American forces and Brits apparently withdrawing some of their forces in the south.
On the differences arising between U.S. President George Bush and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, he said: "You have to allow people to settle down."
David Manning has spent 35 years working for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, starting his career after graduating from Oxford in 1972
Before being Ambassador to Washington, he was Britain's envoy to Israel and the NATO. From 2001 to 2003 he was Tony Blair's foreign policy adviser. (ANI)
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Germany resists pressure on Afghanistan
Deutsche Welle - Sep 14 2:55 AM
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier says the German government has no plans to change its Afghan peacekeeping mandate, which confines its soldiers to Afghanistan's relatively stable north. Steinmeier’s comments followed a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in Berlin. The United States and some other NATO members have been urging Germany to deploy its soldiers to Afghanistan's south to join the US-led fight against resurgent Taliban militants. Scheffer denied that NATO was putting any pressure on Germany to send troops to southern hotspots but he acknowledged that NATO commanders would prefer not to have limitations on German troop deployments.
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Canadians in Afghanistan expect more Taliban attacks during Ramadan
Matthew Fisher, CanWest News Service Thursday, September 13, 2007
KANDAHAR — Canadian troops are bracing for a potential surge in violence during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began with the appearance of a new crescent moon on Wednesday night.
As part of the preparations for this period, every Canadian soldier has been given a briefing to sensitize them on the significance of Ramadan to Muslims. They have also been ordered to carry with them a laminated pocket card with eight points about how they should behave during the fasting days and celebratory nights of the lunar month when the Qur’an was first revealed to the prophet Muhammad.
Soldiers have also been warned to be more vigilant during Ramadan because those who are fasting and not drinking any liquids during daylight, as demanded by the Qur’an of pious Muslims, “may be more irritable,” said Lt. Derrick Farnham, of the Montreal’s Black Watch Regiment.
“I can tell you we are preparing for an increase in activity,” he said, adding that the threat may be higher because the Taliban could use Ramadan to provoke more of their fighters and sympathizers “to die as suicide bombers.”
The Taliban, like all pious Muslims, observe Ramadan and many will fast during this period. Even so, holy warriors may be given special dispensation by religious authorities to avoid fasting in order to stay strong.
The “Ramadan 2007 dos and don’ts” cards handed out to troops note: “When at all possible never eat, drink or chew gum,” when with Afghans during daylight hours. As Farnham explained, it would be unwise “to torment them with food.” Children should also not be given candy during the Ramadan fast, the cards urge.
During this "especially sensitive" period, soldiers were also advised they should not "take as a sign of negative attitude" the fact that Afghans may be reluctant to converse with them or participate in events. Meetings should also be "avoided" after 3 p.m., as Muslims will by then be making preparations to break the fast at dusk.
No explanation was offered as to why Canadian troops were being given Ramadan cards this year and had not received similar instructions during Ramadan in 2006 — a period marked by an increase in Taliban attacks.
While soldiers should be more attentive than usual to the possibility of threats during Ramadan, “our job is to be prepared for anything” and to “react to any situation,” said Capt. Philippe Zongia Mgali, of Long Point, Que.
“We are attentive because it (Ramadan) only happens once a year and because it is happening when we are here.”
The Canadian battle group, which is drawn largely from the Quebec-based Royal 22nd Regiment, also known as the Van_Doo, and the Afghan National Police took part in a rare firefight with the Taliban on Wednesday on a disputed road to the west of Kandahar. The 10-minute engagement began when Taliban forces tried to ambush the Canadians and their Afghan allies after police found a deadly improvised explosive device (IED) buried under the road that the Afghan and Canadian convoy was about to travel.
Rocket-propelled grenades were fired by the Taliban during the battle. The Canadians responded with the powerful cannons that are mounted on their light armoured vehicles. No casualties were suffered by the Canadians, the Afghan police, or the few American troops who were there with them. The Taliban were believed to have suffered several casualties, but this was impossible to confirm.
The firefight was unusual in that, since being routed by Canadian troops during an offensive last fall, the Taliban have largely avoided such confrontations. Most recent Canadian casualties have come from IEDs.
The incident on Wednesday occurred near where the Van Doos were re-establishing two checkpoints that had been taken over by the Taliban after another Canadian battle group abandoned them earlier this year.
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Northern Afghanistan: The enemy within
For residents of the northern province of Takhar, there are worse things than the Taleban
By Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi in Takhar (ARR No. 265, 13-Sep-07)
While attention focuses on fighting in southern Afghanistan, there are parts of the north where the law is made not by Kabul, but by militia commanders who use violence and intimidation to maintain their hold over the civilian population.
An IWPR investigation in the northern province in Takhar has revealed a succession of stories of abduction and brutal assault. A militia commander denied any involvement, while officials said merely that people should use legal channels to pursue their complaints – no easy route when local institutions tend to favour the strong over the weak.
At a national level, the Afghan government appears unwilling or unable to curb the "warlords" – and some argue that it ignores the problem at its peril, as these strongmen not only rule the roost on the ground but have been allowed to permeate and influence the institutions of state.
Habib Rassoul, a resident of Takhar, cannot talk about his wife without tears of grief and rage. For the past three months, he has had no word of her.
"Commander Piram Qul kidnapped my wife while I was away in Kabul helping my sick brother," he said. "I have no idea what has happened to her. I went to every office, complained to every official, but no one will help me. They are all afraid of Piram Qul."
According to Habib, the kidnapping was intended to punish him for attending a demonstration in April against the dominance of local militia commanders in the province.
"The government is lying when it says it's in control of the country," he said bitterly. "There is no government here, just local commanders who control our destinies. NATO and ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] are busy in the south, and they have left us in the clutches of local commanders who are more dangerous than the Taleban."
Takhar, in the far north of Afghanistan on the border with Tajikistan, receives little attention from the Kabul government or the foreign military forces in comparison with the violent and volatile southern provinces. While ISAF and the Afghan National Army fight pitched battles against the resurgent Taleban in Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan and other southern provinces, Takhar like other northern areas has remained relatively quiet, and has consequently been left to its own devices.
During the early Nineties when the mujaheddin who had fought the Soviets were in control, Takhar held by Jamiat-e-Islami, one of the most powerful factions in the Northern Alliance. While Jamiat has made the transition from armed grouping to legitimate political organisation, Takhar residents complain that many of the strongmen on the ground have not ceded control and are still using their influence and their guns to rule the province.
"I have been threatened with death six times by these local commanders," said Habib. "You can go to every office, from the lowliest civil servant right up to the governor, but they cannot act against the commanders because they are scared of them. We don't know where to turn."
Habib is one of hundreds of people who claim to have been victimised by "warlords" in Takhar. Most of the people interviewed for this report would not give their names and appeared to be in fear of their lives.
One man, 31 years old, held pictures of his two sons, aged eight and six. He wept as he told his story.
"Commander Piram Qul took my two sons from my home last year. He killed them, put their bodies in a sack and dumped them in the river," he said , tears pouring down his cheeks.
He claimed that the murders were retribution for his own continuing protests against local warlords.
"Piram Qul told me when he took my sons, 'This is your punishment for your propaganda against the commanders," he said.
"I went everywhere. I wanted justice. I wanted to avenge the murder. But everyone told me just to forget it. No one listened to me."
Mullah Piram Qul was a powerful Jamiat-e-Islami commander in Takhar before the beginning of the nationwide disarmament programmes that followed the ousting of the Taleban regime in late 2001. According to Piram Qul himself, he had 5,000 men under arms at the time.
Now he is a member of Afghanistan's parliament, one of nine representatives from Takhar who sit in the legislature in Kabul and help shape the country's future.
Piram Qul rejected all allegations that he is implicated in abductions and killings.
"That is a complete lie," he told IWPR. "These accusations are false. The people who are accusing me are either Taleban or have connections to the Taleban. They are just trying to cause a rift between the central government and the former commanders. They are trying to provoke the mujaheddin to act against the government, and to weaken the regime."
Piram Qul insisted that he had no gunmen under his control, and that he had handed all his weapons over during the DDR (Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration) and DIAG (Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups) programmes.
DDR and DIAG, part of the generously-funded Afghan New Beginnings Programme backed by the United Nations, sought to reduce the number of men with guns and break up the paramilitary groups they belonged to. But even the proponents of these programmes admit that the lofty goals that were set initially have not been achieved.
Piram Qul was adamant, however, that he had made the transition from militia commander to parliamentarian.
"I am a representative of the people," he said. "I am with the government, and I work within the framework of the law."
Anyone with a case against him was welcome to seek legal redress, he added.
"Let them prove their charges," he said. "Nowadays we have laws, police, attorneys and courts. Accusations made outside these institutions are merely an attempt to heap blame on someone."
Takhar's provincial governor Latif Ibrahimi agreed.
"If someone makes an accusation, the government has clear procedures for doing something about it," he told IWPR. "When a crime is committed, there is the district governor, there is the chief of police, and there are courts. People should go through these channels, and the government will act in accordance with the law."
The governor denied that his administration was in any way intimidated by the commanders.
"We implement the law equally for everyone," he said. "We are not under the influence of the commanders. But we cannot punish people on the basis of accusations. The accuser has to prove his charge."
Victims say that the government is unwilling or unable to help them.
Daulat Bibi, 40, told IWPR that she was raped by 13 men working for a local commander.
"I was hospitalised for one and a half months," she said. "I went to the district governor's office, but no one listened to me. Those who raped me walk free, and the government did not even bother to arrest them. I went everywhere, but people told me, 'There is no law that can do anything against these commanders. Just forget it.'"
Human rights organisations confirm that the government does not seem capable of resisting the power of the commanders, and that people with grievances often have little recourse.
"These people are really unfortunate," said Mohammad Zahir Zafari, head of the northeastern division of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. "In the past these commanders destroyed their houses. But now the commanders get appointed as district governors, police chiefs and so on. Where are people supposed to go to defend their rights?"
Zafari's organisation receives an average of four complaints a week against commanders, he said. But in most of the cases where formal charges are brought, the courts decide in favour of the commanders.
"Five months ago, one of the minor commanders raped a 10-year-old boy in Bangee district," he said. "The child was injured, with a perforated bowel. But when the child's father tried to sue the commander, he had no success. The commander used his money and influence, and the whole matter was decided in his favour."
There were hundreds of such cases, he added, concluding, "It is a disaster here."
A member of parliament who did not want to be named said that the commanders were a law unto themselves.
"Every single former commander has created his own local government in the districts," said the parliamentarian. "They do whatever they please, with no regard for the law. No one, including the institutions of central government, can do anything without the permission of these local commanders.
He cited an example from Takhar's Chah Ab district, where the appointment of a mayor was opposed by a local commander.
"The mayor was run out of his office immediately after he got in," he said . "The commander told him, 'I have been governing here for years, and I have the power. Anyone who wants to be appointed needs to get my permission first. Not like you.'"
There were many similar cases, added the parliamentarian. "That's just a snapshot of the whole problem," he said. "There is a government within the government here."
Abdurrahman, a shopkeeper in Rustaq district, showed his scarred stomach as he told his tale of violence and intimidation.
"There's a former Jamiat commander who owes me 12,000 he said," he said. "He used to shop in my store. But every time I tried to bring it up with him, he threatened to kill me. I was beaten with a gun just for asking for my rights.
When I saw that no one was paying any attention to me, I just said to hell with it. I don't know who to complain to. Wherever I turn, I still see that the only law comes from the barrel of a gun."
Nor is the problem confined to the outlying districts. Mohammad Ehsan, 25, is a resident of Takhar's capital city, Taloqan.
"I was engaged to Najiba, who was 20 years old," he said. "Two months after we got engaged, a commander took my fiancée by force. Now she is his wife. I have been threatened and told not to pursue my case. Neither the government nor the girl's family will listen to me, because they are all afraid of the commander."
Political analyst Qayum Babak, the editor of Jahan-e-Nau newspaper, blames the president for allowing the militia leaders to survive and prosper.
"Everyone knows that the government of [President Hamed] Karzai has been very soft on the local commanders over the past six years, and this has encouraged them to try to regain their lost power," he said. "These commanders have taken advantage of Karzai's leniency, and have grown like a cancer. They will choke the life out of the Karzai government."
Former commanders now have positions of influence within the government, which they can use to their advantage, he said.
"They have used their positions to make laws that prevent anyone from putting them on trial," said Babak. If we look at the situation realistically, these commanders make the law, they are in the executive, and they control the provinces. So where are the poor people to turn?"
While the attention of the president and the foreign forces is directed towards the south, the commanders are extending their reach in the north, he said.
"Both the government and NATO think that the real danger is the Taleban, and that these commanders are not a threat," he said.
"But I want to tell them that these commanders will paralyse the central government. They are more dangerous than the Taleban."
Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi is an IWPR staff reporter based in Mazar-e-Sharif.
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Afghanistan Girls' Education Initiative gets a boost
Source: United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
KABUL, 13 September 2007 - A three-year plan to promote girls’ education was developed in Kabul this week during a workshop organized by the Ministry of Education and UNICEF, in collaboration with Afghanistan’s Girls’ Education Initiative working group. Over 50 representatives from ministries, United Nations agencies and non-governmental and research organizations working in the area of girls’ education participated in the workshop.
“To improve the situation of girls’ education in Afghanistan, it is imperative that the country develops focused interventions and addresses the barriers that prevent girls from attending schools”, says Catherine Mbengue, UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan.
The new plan seeks to accelerate girls’ enrolment by promoting girl-friendly schools, providing nutrition services in schools, training female teachers and reaching out to girls who are out of school.
Afghanistan is recovering from three decades of conflict and the challenges facing its education system are dire. During the time of the Taliban, girls were not officially allowed to attend schools. Government statistics indicate that there were no girls enrolled in schools in 2001.
However, girls’ enrolment at the primary level has increased dramatically in the past five years. According to the Ministry of Education, almost 4.9 million children were enrolled in school in 2005, an increase of nearly four million children since the fall of the Taliban.
Today, primary level enrolment of boys is nearly twice that of girls. At the lower secondary level, boys’ enrolment is three times higher and at the higher secondary level boys are almost four times more likely than girls to be enrolled. The ratio becomes even more dramatic in rural areas.
The Ministry of Education developed the country’s first National Education Strategic Plan for Afghanistan in December 2006. It is a guiding framework for educational activities throughout the country over the next five years. The plan represents the ambitions and aspirations of the government and people of Afghanistan for improved access and quality of education.
Girls’ education has received special attention in the strategic plan and has also been integrated in all priority programmes to increase the net enrolment rate for girls and boys in primary grades to at least 60 per cent and 75 per cent, respectively, by 2010.
To support the ministry’s objectives for girls’ education, Afghanistan Girls’ Education Initiative (AGEI) was launched in March 2007. It offers a forum for extensive information sharing, networking and funding for improved coordination and collaboration on girls’ education. The forum links local and national initiatives and draws necessary expertise from within the country and from regional and global networks.
UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.
For more information, please contact:
Roshan Khadivi, UNICEF Afghanistan, 93- 798-50-7110, firstname.lastname@example.org
Patrick McCormick, UNICEF New York, 1-212-326-7426, email@example.com
Veronique Taveau, UNICEF Geneva, +41 79 216 9401, firstname.lastname@example.org
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Supporting the stabilisation of Afghanistan
Source: Government of Finland 14 Sep 2007
On Friday, 14 September, the President of the Republic and the Cabinet Committee on Foreign and Security Policy discussed Finland's contribution to the stabilisation process of Afghanistan, lead nation responsibilities in relation to the crisis management operation in Kosovo and preparations for a possible EU operation in Chad and the Central African Republic.
The meeting discussed Finland's future participation in crisis management in Afghanistan, development cooperation, humanitarian aid and other forms of assistance. Finland is committed to long-term support for Afghanistan. The intention is to deepen both military and civil sector cooperation with Sweden and Norway in Northern Afghanistan. Finland will continue its participation in the Nato-led ISAF operation and investigate possibilities to alternate with Sweden in a Provincial Reconstruction Team. Finland's purpose is to participate in ISAF's Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams (OMLT) which occupy a prominent role in the training of Afghanistan's army and police force.
Increases in material aid will be considered as part of training support for the Afghan army. Finland will investigate possibilities of increasing its participation in the EU's police and rule-of-law mission. It will also explore ways of developing civil crisis management training to support the Afghan authorities. The focus will on the level and targeting of development aid and humanitarian support on the basis of a comprehensive evaluation and needs mapping of development cooperation between Finland and Afghanistan. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs will increase humanitarian aid to Afghanistan already this year.
The President of the Republic and the Cabinet Committee on Foreign and Security Policy decided to launch preparations and provisions for a possible EU operation in Chad and the Central African Republic. The preparatory measures include the possible deployment of three staff officers, currently at standby, to the operation headquarters. The EU operation for the protection of the refugee camps brought about by the Darfur crisis contributes to the UN's broad-based international presence in the area.
It was also decided that Finland will announce its readiness to take over as Lead Nation in the Multinational Task Force Centre of the Nato-led KFOR operation in Kosovo. Previously, Finland held the lead nation status in 2004-2005. Later this year, as the negotiation process on Kosovo's status proceeds, a committee will be set up to provide a comprehensive overview of the situation in Kosovo.
Further information: Pertti Torstila, State Secretary, tel. +358 9 160 5011 and Anu Laamanen, Deputy Director General, tel. +358 9 1605 5519, Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Mari Eteläpää, Head of Unit, Ministry of Defence, tel. +358 9 1608 8135 and Antti Pelttari, Director General, Ministry of the Interior, tel. +358 9 1604 2290.
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Taliban talk offer bodes well
By Haroun Mir – Asia Times
KABUL - The positive reply by Taliban spokesman Qari Yusouf Ahmadi to the Kabul government's appeal for dialogue gives peace talks in Afghanistan a new momentum.
The government of President Hamid Karzai welcomed the Taliban's statement, and immediately the United Nations special representative in Afghanistan, Tom Koenings, offered the UN's endorsement for the negotiation process.
Karzai appears sincere about bringing the Taliban's moderateleaders into the political process, which would help the government regain control over some of the Pashtun-dominated provinces in southern Afghanistan.
The idea of negotiating with insurgent groups such as the Taliban and the Hezb-i-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has been an important government policy. A number of prominent Hezb-i-Islami members gained senior government positions after rejecting Hekmatyar's rhetoric against the government and the presence of coalition forces in the country.
In addition, coalition forces in Afghanistan have tried on their own to reach out to the insurgent groups. For instance, the British military in Afghanistan has been directly involved in talks with the Taliban and reached a secret truce with them in Musa Qala district of Helmand last October.
The making and unraveling of alliances in Afghan politics is a common practice. Yesterday's enemies could become today's allies, and vice-versa. The political faultlines among major political groups in Afghanistan are not over ideology anymore. The majority of them favor an Islamic state, and the secular political groups are still too insignificant to oppose them. The absence of national political parties and political ideologies forces the majority of Afghans to regroup along ethnic affinities.
The bonds between President Karzai and his former allies is over. First Vice President Hamad Zia Massoud and Karzai's former defense minister Marshal Mohammad Qassim Fahim are publicly criticizing him. Massoud is also the leader of the United Front (an alliance of former Northern Alliance and a few former communist leaders), which is the main opposition group.
For the time being, there are two legitimate major political entities in the country: the United Front and Karzai's supporters. The third significant political group is the Taliban, which remain unlawful because of their militarily opposition to the government and the presence of coalition forces in Afghanistan. If they decide to engage peacefully in the political process, they will change this political balance.
The next Afghan presidential election will take place in 2009. The United Front is struggling to choose a candidate, but its members will ultimately overcome their differences. Karzai, without admitting it, will undoubtedly run again. He knows that the United Front in the northern provinces will seriously challenge his leadership, and he has no choice but to concentrate all of his efforts in the Pashtun-dominated southern provinces.
He will be the right candidate for the majority of Pashtuns if he remains unchallenged by other strong contenders. There are serious rumors about potential candidacies of the former ministers of finance and interior affairs, Ashraf Ghani and Ali Ahmad Jalili, respectively, but since they reside outside the country, they are of lesser threat for Karzai.
In fact, Afghanistan in 2009 might face two plausible scenarios. Either the moderate Taliban leaders join the political process and become a natural ally for Karzai or the security situation will worsen and elections will not be able to take place, at least in the south, which would make elections elsewhere in the country illegitimate.
Perhaps the Taliban and their foreign backers understand how fragile the current political situation is. They know this is the best time to enter the political process, extract maximum incentives from coalition countries in Afghanistan, and become a major power broker before and after the 2009 elections.
Afghanistan can ill-afford political infighting at a time when the country needs leaders capable of building consensus and compromise. But consensus and compromise are not familiar notions for Afghan politicians, most of whom are unwilling to leave their rigid spheres of self-interest.
Some politicians who claim to follow the goals of the late Ahmad Shah Masoud, leader of the Northern Alliance, have already started to criticize the idea of negotiations with the Taliban.
Yet Masoud never closed the door to negotiations with his enemies. During the Taliban rule in the late 1990s, he met with Taliban representative in their stronghold in the town of Maidanshar west of Kabul, spoke twice by satellite phone with Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and invited him to accept the will of the people through a democratic process.
Negotiating with the Taliban should not be considered an act of weakness, but rather as giving strength to the Afghan government. If Karzai concentrates his efforts on bringing moderate Taliban leaders to the negotiation table, this will become his legacy as the first elected president of Afghanistan.
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Secret U.S.-Taliban discussions seem to be afoot
Toronto Star, 09/13/2007 Thomas Walkom
To the Canadian government, negotiations with the Taliban are anathema. "We do not negotiate with terrorists," Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier pronounced after successful talks between the Taliban and South Korea over the fate of 19 captured Christian aid workers.
Polls show that Ottawa's no-talks position is at odds with more than 60 per cent of Canadians. Recent events suggest it may also be out of sync with events on the ground.
Much of what is going on involves the usual diplomatic dance: Afghan President Hamid Karzai says he is willing to talk; the Taliban reply that they are too, but only after foreign troops leave Afghanistan. And there matters appear to stall.
But behind the dance are indications that something is beginning to happen. The Nation, one of Pakistan's major English-language newspapers, reports that since late August secret talks have been underway in that country between U.S. officials and the Taliban.
According to these unconfirmed reports, the talks – timed in part to coincide with the visit to Pakistan of U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte – are aimed initially at resuscitating local truces in Afghanistan's hotly-contested southern provinces.
If The Nation is even remotely correct, these developments mark a sea change in America's us-versus-them approach. Since he invaded Afghanistan to depose the Islamists, President George W. Bush has steadfastly refused to talk to them. In late 2001, when Karzai okayed a negotiated deal with Taliban leader Mullah Omar, he was overruled by then U.S. defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
But with Rumsfeld gone and Bush going, things are changing in Washington. As The Associated Press reported recently, experienced conservative career diplomats are replacing exuberant neo-conservative hawks on key foreign policy files such as Afghanistan.
Certainly, those interested in a more hard-nosed, less ideological approach to Afghanistan have openings. As in Iraq, the Afghan insurgents are not a unified group. The Taliban, who are essentially deeply conservative Pashtun irredentists, do not share the global aims of their Al Qaeda allies. Nor is there love lost between the Taliban and fellow rebels belonging to Hizb-i-Islami of former Afghan prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar; during the civil war of `90s, the two groups were bitter foes.
As well, the Taliban themselves are split among factions. In Iraq, America's only success has come in Anbar province where it has been able to make common cause with the Baathists of Saddam Hussein – the very people Bush deposed – against Al Qaeda. To practitioners of the black arts of realpolitik, the same opportunities are available in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Karzai is increasingly desperate. It is clear that NATO countries like France are unwilling to bear more of the fighting load. It is also clear that those doing the fighting, like Canada, are growing weary.
A political settlement with the Taliban now offers Karzai more leeway than it would after NATO's inevitable disengagement. Afghan leaders who wait too long to deal often end up with their heads chopped off.
The only question now is whether the Taliban would agree to anything other than outright victory. If they follow past Afghan practice, they will.
For Canada, these developments are crucial. The debate here is whether we should keep fighting the Taliban. But events are passing us by. By the time we decide, we
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Karzai inaugurates new hospital in Kabul
KABUL, Sept 13 (Pajhwok Afghan News): President Hamid Karzai inaugurated the newly-constructed hospital of the national intelligence department here on Thursday.
Addressing the opening ceremony of the hospital, Karzai said: "I'm very much happy that we are achieving our ambitions slowly and gradually."
A lot of work had been done in reconstruction of the country over the previous six years, said the president.
Addressing the ceremony, director general of the hospital Dr. Qasim Iqbal said the two-storey building had been completed in 13 months at the cost of nine million US dollars.
He said the hospital had surgery, orthopedic, skin and other internal diseases, children, women and ENT (ear, nose & throat) departments. It had also a well-equipped laboratory as well as ultra-sound and other modern facilities.
The emergency ward of the hospital contains 20 beds while it has 62 beds for general patients. There was also a helipad in the hospital, said the doctor.
Head of the intelligence department Amrullah Saleh said construction of the hospital would stop officials of the department from foreign visits for treatment.
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Robbers' gang busted in Logar
PUL-I-ALAM, Sept 13 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Officials in the central Logar province Thursday claimed they had arrested a gang of robbers involved in recent cases of theft, robberies and kidnapping of government officials in the province.
Abdullah Wardak, Governor of the province, told Pajhwok Afghan News the 10-member gang was arrested during recent raids by police on their dens.
He said members of the gang were arrested with the cooperation of locals and several small and heavy weapons had also been recovered from them.
The gang was active in the province over the previous one year under the leadership of Khan Wazir. The governor said police were in search of the criminals over the previous one month.
Besides their involvement in looting and robberies, the gang members were also wanted to police in bomb blasts, kidnapping of government officials and attacks on security posts, said the governor.
He said the detainees had told names and addresses of their other accomplices during investigations. They would soon be apprehended, hoped the governor.
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Chickens distributed among 600 widows in Ghazni
GHAZNI CITY, Sept 13 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The US-led provincial reconstruction team (PRT) Thursday distributed 9,000 chickens among widows and poor women to enable them to earn livelihood for their families.
Around six hundred widows and poor women will benefit from the six-month project which will be completed at the cost of 109,000 US dollars.
Brekhna Yaftali, head of the Marwa Cultural Organisation, which is responsible for the project, told Pajhwok Afghan News each widow was provided with 15 chickens to run a home-made poultry farm.
He said the 600 women were trained for three months on how to look after the chickens and use them as a source of income. During the remaining three months, the women would keep the chickens in their homes and sell the eggs in the market.
Habiba, one of the widows who were given 15 chickens, told Pajhwok that they were given three-month training. She said they had obtained valuable information during their training period on keeping of chickens.
However, another woman named Mah Gul alleged only those were given chickens who had links with the NGO officials.
Meanwhile, the PRT had launched work on construction of four modern toilets in Ghazni City, capital of the province, on Thursday. The project would be completed at the cost of 100,000 US dollars.
Sher Ahmad Haidar
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Taliban claim killing 10 policemen in Nangarhar
JALALABAD, Sept 13 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Taliban have claimed killing 10 policemen in an attack in the eastern Nangarhar province, but police officials termed the claim as baseless.
Shahabuddin Atal, calling himself spokesman for the militants, told Pajhwok Afghan News 10 cops were killed as their pick-up truck was blown up with a remote-controlled bomb in Batikot district of the province.
He said the attack was carried out in Tauskhel village around 11am this morning.
Police spokesman in Nangarhar Col. Abdul confirmed the blast but denied the killing of policemen. He said only four cops were injured.
He said the mine exploded at the police party which was on way to attend funeral procession of a policeman who was kidnapped three days back. Body of the cop was found on Wednesday.
The purported spokesman also claimed their men had burnt a truck supplying logistics to the American troops in the central province of Kapisa.
He said the vehicle was set on fire in Jalokhel area of Tagab district last evening. However, chief of Tagab district Mullah Masood said the truck was carrying foodstuff for local retailers and not the American troops.
Mueed Hashmi/Habib Rahman Ibrahimi
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Four women killed over enmity in Faryab
MAIMANA, Sept 13 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Four women were killed and two men wounded over personal enmity in the northern Faryab province Wednesday night, police said.
Spokesman for the provincial police headquarters Azeem Hakimi told Pajhwok Afghan News the casualties emerged as a man attacked two houses last night.
The unidentified armed man lobbed a hand-grenade into a house and opened fire with Kalashnikov on another house. As a result, four women were killed and two men injured.
He said the incident happened in Qorchi village of Bal Charagh district. The attacker later shot himself dead in a remote area, said the police spokesman who believed personal enmity was involved in the killing.
Police chief Brig. Gen. Khaleelullah Ziayee said a police party had been sent into the district to investigate the incident. This is the third such incident in Faryab during the current year.
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Bush administration asked to focus on Afghanistan
NEW YORK, Sept 12 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi has said focus should be given on Afghanistan as the real war on terror is in that country and not in Iraq.
Talking to media after meeting the US President, George W. Bush, at the White House, Pelosi said the Democrats were focusing on the real war on terror, which is in Afghanistan.
Insisting on withdrawal of troops from Iraq, she said: "We have said the troops can stay, a small number could stay, whatever number necessary to fight al-Qaeda. But we must get our combat troops out of that civil war in Iraq."
Pelosi was accompanied by the Senate Majority leader Henry Reid in her meeting with Bush.
Similar views were expressed by another Democrat Senator Evan Bayh. He said the central front of the war against terror was Afghanistan and not Iraq.
"The central front, in fact, as our intelligence agencies indicate, is not Iraq. It is Afghanistan and the tribal areas in Pakistan where al-Qaeda is reconstituting itself and in all likelihood, Osama bin Ladin is hiding today," Bayh said in an interview.
Lalit K. Jha
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Rumi without borders: Celebration of our common bond in spirit, reason and love
In the sight of Love, fear is not as great as a
single hair. In the law of Love,
Everything is offered as a sacrifice.
Rumi "Mathnawi" [V, 2184]
By Shakila Khalje September 11, 2007 Washington, D.C.
Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi was born on September 30, 1207 in Balkh, a city in the present northeastern region of Afghanistan.
Rumi and his family moved from Balkh and traveled to Baghdad, Mecca and Damascus, and eventually settled in Konya, present day western Turkey. Konya was known as Rum, a name derived from the Byzantine Roman Empire, thus, Jalaludin's name became famous as Rumi in religion and literature.
Rumi is considered a Persian mystic and poet and is closely identified with Sufism and Sufi mysticism. Sufis and mystics are Muslim devotees who seek a mystical union with God. His works speak of the common origin of human beings made up of spirit, reason and love. He died in 1273 in Konya.
The collection of Rumi's poems called Mathnawi-e-Ma'navi (Spiritual Couplets), had a great influence on Islamic literature and thought. His mausoleum, the Green Dome in Konya, is today a place of pilgrimage for many thousands of people from all creeds. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has declared 2007 the 800th anniversary of the mystic poet's birth, as the International year of Rumi.
Three years ago, Professor Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak founded the Center for Persian Studies at the University of Maryland, with the notion that "Persian does not mean Iranian or it does not mean Afghan or Tajik" he said. Hakkak's goal is to help people know more about Persian language and the literature expressed in it which is wonderful and obtains universal massages. He is the main organizer of the upcoming International Rumi Conference and he gracefully acknowledges that his idea became a reality as a result of hard work and the collective endeavor of many other individuals as well as organizations.
In an interview Professor Hakkak spoke about few other important reasons for spending countless hours to make this conference possible. His father's love for Rumi's poetry is one reason which takes him back to his early childhood. When he was thirteen or so, his father would trick him into reading Mathnawi because he claimed his eye sight was weak and he could not read. "It initiated this whole journey of understanding Rumi." he said.
Rumi's 800th birth anniversary this year, presented yet another wonderful opportunity for Professor Hakkak to create a platform for over twenty Rumi scholars and artists. They will gather and share their knowledge and understanding of the greatest mystic Sufi of all times in a thematic manner for three days, September 28-30, 2007.
This event will be held on the campus of the University of Maryland College Park, Maryland.
Below Hakkak also reveals more of his ideas about Rumi's universal language.
Q: What else does this conference pay tribute to?
A: The world needs Rumi's message so desperately now. So, more than any calendar based consideration it was this which made it relevant. It really pays tribute to the man's vision.
Q: Can you talk about the so called "Americanization of Rumi"?
A: Americanization? Sure! It is like the "Persianization" of Shakespeare. There is not such a thing as an intact message transmitted over time. We always transform as we translate, and as such, in this case we are lucky to have scholarly as well as popular translations such as Dr. Coleman Barks who helps de-anchor Rumi's poetry, that means there is not much need of Rumi's cultural surroundings. His message is ultimately universal that it speaks to us so eloquently.
Any time we translate [Rumi's work and poetry] we transform. There is no such thing as the Rumi of the thirteenth century, both are gone but of course every text including Rumi's poetry has two forces in it: Actual, instantaneous, contemporary immediate forces and the potential for the future. It is this potential that is meeting Rumi's ideas; the need to cling to something that transcends our sectarian notions and the questions of boundaries. We need that message. Rumi was the originator of that message, although he too, must have obtained it from somewhere else, nobody works in a vacuum. Of course, our world needs these ideas.
Q: Even some Persian speaking audiences find some aspects of Rumi's highly mystical poetry hard to understand. Has Rumi's message been truly conveyed to non-Persian speakers without it being lost in translation? If so, is that an issue with Rumi scholars?
A: Rumi speaks to yourself and me as Persian speakers one way, and he speaks through Coleman Barks [Poet/translator of Rumi's poetry] to American audiences in quite another way. There is no problem there. The problem starts with our little minds when we try to divide the "cake" that is Rumi and say that the greatest portion is ours, so that would be our [Persian speakers] problem. Translation is transformative by nature and as such, there are different layers of understanding. Obviously, Jane Doe in Wichita, Kansas understands Rumi one way, and you and I understand him another way, however, there is no privilege in that. There is no way to say which understanding is more authentic. The most authentic understanding is gone, dead with him [Rumi] but the message survives in every text or portion of it.
Q: How can we practice Rumi's message of peace and unity in our personal and political lives?
A: It all begins with the desire to transcend and to accept others in spite of their differences. This tendency exists today in our environment, it existed in Rumi's time, it existed in the time of prophet Mohammed, Jesus and Moses. So, what we take from Rumi we apply to our own sectarian divisions. You call yourself an Afghan, I call myself an Iranian, someone else calls himself a Turk and we start fighting over who Rumi belongs to, which is a futile thing to do because he himself said: "his homeland is not this or that country, it is a nameless place" where we create for ourselves. That message is universal and eternal, and as such, we try to slice him [Rumi] up in proportion to our understanding where he speaks to the whole of humanity.
Today we may slice our "cake" differently along racial, ethnic, religious, and political boundaries. Rumi invites us to think of others as if they were ourselves which they are. He invites us to transcend, so the message of peace begins with transcendence, it also begins with empathy; when I try to train myself to imagine what is happening in Rawanda today, or in Darfur, that is where my humanity begins. It does not begin when I say, this is what I think, caught in my little own compartment. It [message of peace] begins only with imaginative and sincere efforts, for example to say: Bin Laden is my enemy, but let me understand, what kind of world is he really carrying in his own head? Let me understand that. That is the beginning of our humanity.
Q: Is it realistically achievable to practice the message of humanity beyond racial, ethnic, religious and political boundaries in volatile regions of the globe without negative reaction due to the Islamic interpretation of Rumi's message of spirit, reason and love?
A: Whether it is achievable or not, it is important to set out on the path of doing so. I think your question is very important. The problem with many of our conceptions are that we think there ought to be a destination to reach somewhere. Humanity came a long way since the time of Rumi. We are better than average human beings of his time. We discovered so much in science, we look so much to the future. There were so many atrocities that people committed then that we do not commit now. We have our own share of atrocities and such, but the world is going forward.
We should give up this notion of reaching the point of arrival, that [notion] is the beginning of the defeatist vision that some people believe we have to convert people to Islam, or Christianity or this or that creed. But if we say let us take the next step [even if] we do not know what lies ahead, but it is important to tread on the path, that's what is important. Whether we survive that path or not, that is immaterial and we know no individual human being who is alive today will survive and be alive in another hundred or two hundred years. If we aim in incremental ways of transcending ourselves, of understanding one another, of working out our differences and appreciating our similarities.
Q: What is your message to some people who cannot imagine to set out on such path you spoke about. They think it is too simplistic, idealistic, and naive of an approach to practice Rumi's philosophy in tackling the current political conflicts in the world?
A: A lot of people do not do it, of course, we are not talking about a common thirteenth century human being. A common thirteenth century human being would be a soldier in the army of *Changiz Khan. We are not talking about the mass of humanity. Some people cannot imagine, so be it. They live their lives indistinguishable from the animals--and so many people do live like that. We are only talking about the select few who can imagine and see beyond, and may carry a message inside which they may attribute to God, but ultimately is geared at the betterment of human beings. A lot of them do not succeed and some may succeed and the path can begin that way. Let us steer away from the notion of making an attempt only if we can be assured of the results.
Q: Do you agree that it is challenging even for the few select to keep on the path?
A: Of course it is. The other alternative is to give up. So many people have given up and so many people will. However, we can do it simply by being kind to our intimate circles of family and friends. Can we be a little bit more kinder, or is it more important to be right? A lot of us have to tackle that question; the choices we make begin to map out the way we can tread and move along that path. We do not have to have the weight of humanity on our shoulders in one sense, in another, we do, but it begins with our immediate environment.
Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak is currently a Professor and Founding Director of the Center for Persian Studies in the School of languages, Literature and Cultures at the University of Maryland.
Shakila Khalje is an Afghan-American freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C.
*Changis Khan was the Ruler of the Mongol empire. He united the Central Asian tribes and founded the Mongol Empire (1206–1368)
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