Kidnapped Italian soldiers freed in Afghanistan
By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL (Reuters) - Two Italian soldiers kidnapped in Afghanistan were freed on Monday during a raid by NATO-led troops, Italian officials said.
The soldiers were wounded during the raid to free them in southwestern Farah province and were taken to hospital, the defense ministry in Rome said.
One of them was in serious condition with gunshot wounds to the head and chest, Italian media reported.
Both men went missing two days ago in neighboring Herat province.
Sergio De Gregorio, chairman of the defense committee in Italy's Senate, said at least seven of the suspected kidnappers were killed in the raid. NATO in Kabul said all the kidnappers were killed.
An Italian diplomat in Kabul said it was not clear who the abductors were. The police chief for Farah province, Abdul Rahman Sarjang, said he suspected the kidnappers were members of a criminal gang.
Taliban insurgents, who have been behind a series of abductions of Afghans and foreigners in recent months, had said they had not kidnapped the Italians, but the militants are on the run and do not have regular contacts with their comrades.
A NATO spokesman in Kabul, Major Charles Anthony, said the alliance had evidence showing the kidnappers were Taliban.
Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said the rescue operation served as a warning.
The operation represented "a bad defeat for the kidnappers and also a warning for the future. We never had a moment of uncertainty."
Asked if the kidnappings would lead Italy to take troops out of Afghanistan, he said:
"This certainly isn't the moment to change policy. This episode doesn't change the role and the sense of the international mission in which Italy has an important role."
Italy has 2,200 troops in Afghanistan. More than 600 are in western Afghanistan running the regional NATO-led command.
NATO CONVOY ATTACKED
Herat, bordering Iran, is one of the most peaceful provinces in Afghanistan, but in Farah to the south there has been a steady rise in Taliban activity in recent months.
Spain said two NATO soldiers were killed on Monday after a blast hit their vehicle in Farah.
Defense Minister Jose Antonio Alonso said another six personnel were injured -- three badly. Their Afghan interpreter was also killed. One of the dead was a Spaniard, the other was from Ecuador.
Violence has escalated to its worst level in the past 19 months in Afghanistan, the bloodiest period since Taliban's overthrow from power in 2001.
On Sunday, Taliban fighters ambushed a convoy carrying guards of a private U.S. security firm in Farah, the interior ministry said.
Three guards and 21 Taliban were killed in a clash that followed the ambush while 20 guards were missing, the ministry said on Monday.
A provincial official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that 13 guards had died in the attack.
In another ambush, unknown armed men in the relatively secure northeast killed seven policemen and three civil servants on Sunday, police there said.
(Additional reporting by newsrooms in ROME and MADRID and Reuters stringers in Afghanistan)
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Chechens toughest foes Canadians confront in Afghanistan
Matthew Fisher, CanWest News Service Monday, September 24, 2007
The toughest fighters confronting Canada's Van Doos in Afghanistan are not Afghans but guerrillas from the volatile Russian republic of Chechnya.
That is the conclusion of a veteran Canadian infantryman who spends most of his time forward deployed in the Panjwei/Zahri districts establishing relationships with tribal elders and making security assessments.
"The Chechens are hard core. They are the best we face," said the soldier, a Montrealer who works in a secretive cell devoted to what the Canadian battle group calls Information Operations and what other armies sometimes call Information Warfare.
"There are also lots of fighters coming out of the Pakistani schools. The best training camps are all across the border. Other Islamic forces have been pouring in here. They are helping Afghans with IED's (improvised explosive devices), small unit tactics, any form of violence you can think of.
"We're dealing with all kinds of insurgents. With Chechens, Egyptians, Saudis, Pakistanis, guys from the Yemen. It isn't one group more than the next." Asked whether he had personally encountered foreigners on the battlefield, the sergeant, a veteran of six previous Canadian overseas missions who was only allowed to give his name as Pete, replied with a grin and classic military jargon: "I have not inter-acted verbally with them."
The trend towards more foreign fighters here was confirmed by Brig.- Gen. Marquis Hainse, Canada's top ranking soldier in Afghanistan and deputy commander for NATO in what in its main combat theatre, Sector South.
"We see an increase in foreign fighters," the general, who has been based in Kandahar since May, said, although he cautioned that there were not huge numbers of them.
"This may be because less people from Afghanistan are joining the fight. They are not getting the numbers they need here. They are not regenerating forces. What is their pool? It is not extremists but people who feel they don't have a choice. And that pool is reducing."
In separate interviews, the general and the Information Operations sergeant both also noted what they regard as growing resistance on the part of Afghans to hosting foreign fighters.
"Most Afghans dislike the Taliban, so imagine what they think of foreign fighters?" the sergeant said. "For the foreigners, unlike the Afghans, the war is not about nationalism. The foreigners have a ideology and that ideology is Islamic fundamentalism. They try to use that to control the Afghans.
"The Taliban is trying to recruit here, but what they get mostly is cannon fodder. They are not that well-trained."
What was always of primary interest to the Canadians was what Afghans wanted who lived in areas where fighting was worst.
"The answer is always the same. Security. That is always the main issue," the sergeant said. "Kandahar and Helmand have always been the worst for fighting. The Soviets had their biggest problems here. This is a place where they has been war for 30 years."
Several Pakistani websites keep a close eye on everything the Canadians are doing in Afghanistan, almost instantly posting stories about their operations after they appear in Canada. These sites also delight in highlighting political differences in Canada. However, the conclusion here is that little of this information has created problems for the troops.
"My assessment is that they (the enemy) do not have that degree of sophistication," said Brig.-Gen. Jim Ferron, the Canadian who is NATO's top intelligence officer in Afghanistan. "The leadership outside has access to such information, but I don't believe that they use that to deliberately co-ordinate plans to target Canada. Generally, their interest is to target NATO collectively."
That is also the assessment of the sergeant responsible for befriending tribal elders in the hot conflict zone to the west of Kandahar City.
"Some of the insurgents are adept at high tech means, and they do use this at a higher level, which is ironic as this was strictly banned during the time of the Taliban," Sgt. Pete said.
"But we are not affected by this at the tactical level. The insurgents communicate information through violence. This gets them some cooperation because for Afghans it becomes an issue of survival. The enemy get water, food and shelter through intimidation."
The Canadian approach is rather different.
"We try to create a relationship so we can see how we can help them solve their problems," Pete said. "We never lie. We always try to treat them the same. We never give them anything of monetary value. We speak directly to them and try not to get in the way of their culture or their religion."
Although the province of Kandahar, which they are responsible for, is huge, the Canadians have returned again and again to the same few villages and towns in Panjwai/Zahri.
"The concept of holding ground or facing an enemy that you can see is not here. This is a counter-insurgency," said General Hainse, the Canadian at Sector South headquarters. "This is about the getting the consensus of the indigenous people."
Sgt. Pete's approach was to "walk a lot. Our rotation is very pro-active. Anything we achieve is through having a presence. The only way to make progress is to keep boots on the ground."
Asked how progress could be measured in a war without fronts and where the enemy melted into the regular population in a second, he replied: "Success is sometimes geography-based. Sometimes it is result-based or clan-based. It is based on information we receive although we certainly do not believe everything we are told.
"What we get at first is a guarded response. We do not encounter open hostility except, of course, when we are getting shot at."
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Two Spanish soldiers killed in Afghanistan: defence ministry
Mon Sep 24, 6:15 AM ET
MADRID (AFP) - Two Spanish soldiers were killed and another two soldiers were badly injured in Afghanistan on Monday when their military convoy was hit by an explosion, a Spanish defence ministry spokesman said.
An Iranian interpreter working with the Spanish troops may have also been killed as a result of the blast, the defence ministry added in a statement.
"There was an explosion when the convoy or armored vehicles passed. We can't say what kind of explosion," the spokesman told AFP, adding it occurred near Shewan in the western province of Farah.
Farah has experienced a steady rise recently in Taliban activity. In May a Spanish military commander in Afghanistan said reinforcements were needed in the west of the country to help quell growing unrest there.
Spain has some 700 troops in western Afghanistan who are taking part in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Earlier on Monday NATO forces freed two kidnapped Italian soldiers in a military operation in western Afghanistan, where Spanish troops are also based, which left both men wounded.
Defence Minister Jose Antonio Alonso is scheduled to give a news conference on the incident at 12:30 pm (1030 GMT).
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U.S. security firm ambushed in Afghanistan, 3 dead
Mon Sep 24, 4:06 AM ET
HERAT, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Three Afghan guards of a U.S. private security firm were killed in an ambush by Taliban insurgents in western Afghanistan and 10 had gone missing, officials said on Monday.
The attack on the convoy in Farah province on Sunday night was followed by a clash between the militants and the guards, officials said.
"The Taliban attacked the convoy, killed three guards of the company and ten of them have gone missing," Farah's police chief Abdul Rahman Sarjang told reporters.
A provincial official, speaking on condition of anonymity, however told Reuters that 13 guards had died in the attack.
Police chief Sarjang said 21 Taliban fighters were killed in the clash. The Taliban could not be immediately reached for comment. They have in the past rejected their losses reported by Afghan and foreign troops as propaganda.
Violence has escalated in the past 19 months in Afghanistan, the bloodiest period since U.S.-led troops overthrew Taliban's government in 2001.
And on Sunday, unknown armed men fired at a car carrying police and government officials in the northeastern province of Badakhshan, a provincial police official said on Monday.
Seven police men and five other, including three civil employees, were killed in the attack which he said could have been the work of a criminal group.
But a Taliban spokesman said members of the group was behind the attack in the province which has been relatively secure compared to southern and eastern areas where the militants are mostly active.
Also on Sunday, one NATO soldier was killed by small arms fire in eastern Afghanistan, the alliance said in a statement.
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Karzai: Government Working To Bring Taliban Into Mainstream
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
September 24, 2007 -- Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai says his government is working to bring Taliban supporters into Afghanistan's political mainstream.
Karzai, speaking after a special meeting on Afghanistan at United Nations headquarters in New York, said the goal is to contact Taliban who are not part of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network.
"We are working hard on that, we are trying very hard to bring them (EDS: Taliban supporters) back to the fold, to make them return and participate in the building of the country. It's extremely important that this process will go on. Afghanistan is extremely grateful to the international community for the assistance it has provided."
A statement issued at the end of the meeting backed efforts to bring peace to the Afghan region, address the terrorist threat, and to fight the growing narcotics trade that finances terrorist acts.
The 24 meeting participants included the United States, Iran, and Pakistan, and various development agencies.
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UN Presses Afghanistan To Strengthen Regional Ties
By Nikola Krastev Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Afghan President Hamid Karzai co-chaired a high-level meeting on September 23 of key states whose support is needed to help bring peace and stability to Afghanistan. The 24 participants included the United States, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan. The meeting focused on how to promote security, good governance, the rule of law, human rights and economic and social development in Afghanistan, as well as how to fight international terrorism.
UNITED NATIONS, September 24, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- UN Secretary-General Ban described the meeting as "constructive" and "useful" to reporters after the talks concluded.
"While we agreed that the challenges are enormous and difficult," Ban said, "we also hope that the Afghanistan government under the leadership of President Karzai will continue to focus their efforts in good governance, eradicating corruption, eradicating the opium cultivation and drug trafficking, and promoting more education and sanitation and health facilities."
Ban and Karzai issued a joint communique reaffirming the commitment of the international community in supporting the Afghan government in terms of economic and social cooperation.
A major aim of this meeting was to strengthen ties with Afghanistan's neighbors, notably Pakistan and Iran, and to engage them in regional cooperation and gain their continuing support for the peace-building process in the country.
More Efforts At National Reconciliation
"While we help the Afghan government in their own efforts," Ban said, "the regional cooperation in the area of economy and security should also be strengthened, and there should be more efforts by President Karzai and Afghan leaders in promoting inclusive political dialogue for national reconciliation. All these efforts should be accompanied by international cooperation."
Karzai reaffirmed the support expressed by the UN secretary-general and expressed the Afghan people's gratitude for the material assistance that the international community is providing. In response to a question about his government's initiatives in integrating the Taliban into the reconciliation process, he said Kabul is welcoming any Taliban who are not part of Al-Qaeda or other terrorist networks.
"We are working hard on that," Karzai said. "We are trying very hard to bring them back into the fold, to make them return and participate in the making of the country. It's extremely important. This process will go on. Afghanistan, sir, is extremely grateful to the international community for the assistance that it has provided."
Pakistan's Efforts 'Promising'
Responding to a question about Pakistan's cooperation against terrorist elements infiltrating Afghanistan, Karzai described Islamabad's activities in that regard as "promising" and said it is easy to distinguish between good and bad deeds.
"Pakistan's contribution is very, very important," Karzai said. "We are working on it. The peace jirga was an important step in this direction. There is a subcommittee formed of the peace jirga between the two countries -- 25 from each side -- that will meet in a few days' time. That will then determine the course that we take towards better cooperation between the two countries in an effective fight against extremism and terrorism."
Besides the UN Security Council's five permanent member -- Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States -- the high- level meeting was also attended by Canada, Germany, India, Iran, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Spain, and Turkey.
Also present were the Asian Development Bank, the European Union, the European Commission, NATO, and the World Bank.
Participants reviewed progress toward implementing the Afghanistan Compact, a five-year development blueprint launched in January 2006 by Kabul and some 70 foreign partners.
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Russia concerned by destabilization in Afghanistan - ministry
NEW YORK, September 24 (RIA Novosti) - Russia is worried by the "degradation" of the military-political situation in Afghanistan amid an ongoing rise in extremism and drug production, a senior Foreign Ministry official said Monday.
"We are especially concerned by that fact that militants with parallel power structures control entire areas," Deputy Foreign Vladimir Yakovenko told a high level meeting on Afghanistan at the UN headquarters.
The meeting was attended by foreign policy chiefs from the United States and the EU, as well as representatives of the OSCE, NATO and the Arab League.
The Russian diplomat said the main source of financial support for extremism is the illegal drug business, which has demonstrated "explosive growth." The drug trade also affects Russia, as drug traffickers use it as a transit country.
He welcomed U.S. efforts to fight illicit drug operations in Afghanistan, in particular by helping those provinces that have cracked down on drug production.
Around 97% of the world's heroin comes from Afghanistan, and production has increased 20-fold since the Taliban was toppled by allied forces in December 2001.
Yakovenko said that a recent debt relief agreement with Afghanistan is Russia's contribution to the country's economic stabilization, adding that Moscow will also restore a hydroelectric power plant and modernize the Salang tunnel that links northern and southern Afghanistan.
In August, Russia wrote off around 90% of Afghanistan's Soviet-era debt, a sum totaling $11.1 billion, with the remainder to be repaid over 23 years.
The Afghan debt, which was largely accrued from the delivery of Soviet weaponry, will be paid off under the July 2006 agreements reached through the 19-nation Paris Club of creditors, of which Russia is a member.
More than two decades of conflict and political instability have left Afghanistan one of the poorest nations in the world.
In February, Russia and Afghanistan reached an agreement granting favorable terms to Russian firms seeking contracts to rebuild Afghanistan's rundown infrastructure, as well as for work in other commercial areas. In 2006, Russian-Afghan trade turnover was approximately $90 billion.
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Iran again under scrutiny after new Afghan weapons find
by Beatrice Khadige Mon Sep 24, 2:55 AM ET
HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP) - For the second time this month, Iran has come under scrutiny after Afghan security forces recovered a shipment of weapons destined for Taliban insurgents that came from across the border.
The latest discovery occurred on Saturday when Afghan authorities said they found about 40 Iranian- and Chinese-made mines and rocket-propelled-grenades in a vehicle abandoned by Taliban rebels in Herat province near the border.
Some of the rockets shown to reporters carried Iran's coat of arms.
Two weeks earlier, NATO soldiers deployed in Afghanistan seized in Farah province, also on the border, a significant convoy of explosives that came from the Islamic republic and also was apparently destined for the hardliners.
"We do not have problems with Turkmenistan -- all the trouble comes through Iran," the deputy chief of border police for western Afghanistan, Samowal Hamidullah, told AFP in the western city of Herat.
"There are many illegal crossings between the two sides," said Hamidullah, who monitors about 20 border posts between Afghanistan and the two countries.
US officials allege that Tehran is supporting the Taliban in their bloody rebellion against the US-backed government of President Hamid Karzai and the 50,000 foreign soldiers backing him, most of whom are American.
Iran denies the charge and many Afghan officials also say there is no proof Tehran is directly involved, with Washington irked by Karzai's insistence that Iran is a good neighbour.
The 928-kilometre (575-mile) border between Iran and Afghanistan is porous and difficult to patrol. It is relatively easy for traffickers moving through the semi-desert of plains and hills to avoid detection.
All kinds of items smuggled over the border have been seized, including arms and drugs -- especially opium, which is being produced at record levels in Afghanistan.
Afghan intelligence services say the weekend's haul of arms is definitely from Iran, but they don't know "if it is Tehran which helps," Hamidullah said.
When asked who might have despatched the convoy found in early September, the top commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force, US General Dan McNeill, remained cautious.
"The geographic origin of that convoy was clearly Iran but take note that I did not say it's the Iranian government," he told AFP in a recent interview.
Najeeb Ur Rahman Manalai from the Centre for Conflict Studies and Peace in Kabul agreed.
"There is no clear proof that the Iranian government is behind these arms discoveries," he said. "They could even come from anti-Iranian insurgent groups in Iran."
The governor of Herat province, Hossein Anvari, also said he doubted direct Iranian involvement.
"We do not have any proof that weapons come from the government of Iran into Afghanistan," he told AFP.
This is the position of Karzai, who wants to keep good relations with Iran while ties with his other neighbour, Pakistan, are already strained.
Under the 1996-2001 Taliban regime, toppled in an invasion led by the United States, Shiite Iran supported the Northern Alliance as it opposed the Sunni Wahhabist Taliban.
But US officials say Tehran has changed this stance because it wants to destabilise Afghanistan to get at Kabul's principal ally, the United States, perhaps as a response to repeated US threats about its nuclear programme.
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Iran protests to production of narcotics in Afghanistan
United Nations, New York, Sept 24, IRNA
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki protested on Sunday to Afghanistan for its failure to fight illegal drugs production saying authorities in charge of the country's drug campaign should be accountable for their wrong policies.
Mottaki made the remarks in a high level meeting on Afghanistan which was attended by UN chief, Ban ki-moon, and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.
"The issue of illegal drugs is one of the major challenges for Afghanistan," said the Iranian minister who arrived in New York on Saturday to attend the UN General Assembly set for Tuesday.
"The problem of illegal drugs has marred the process of development in Afghanistan and put in danger security both in that country and in the region," Mottaki said.
He added that Iran strongly believes that those who are responsible for Afghanistan's drugs campaign should be accountable for their wrong policies.
Appreciating UN efforts to settle political situation in Afghanistan, the Iranian minister called for further support and cooperation of the international body in Afghanistan's reconstruction on behalf of the international community.
He said the existing insecurity in that country, lack of proper infrastructure and the problem of illegal drugs have disturbed progress in the process of Afghanistan's reconstruction
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On the "Dubai Cares" Initiative of His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai
September 23, 2007 Press Release
Abu Dhabi – The Government and the People of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan strongly commend the "Dubai Cares" initiative of H.H. Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai.
On Wednesday, September 19, 2007, H.H. Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum once again made history with the declaration of the “Dubai Cares” initiative. His Highness took this very noble decision during the blessed month of Ramadan, and will certainly encourage others to participate in this humanitarian effort.
Not only will the initiative help promote education in poor countries of the world, it will also contribute greatly towards the UN's Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education for all children by 2015.
Afghanistan, following three decades of conflict has made significant strides in the education sector. Over six million children are enrolled in schools. Despite many achievements in the education field, there are significant numbers of children, who are being deprived of primary education. The “Dubai Cares” initiative can unquestionably, make difference in the lives of thousands of such children.
We welcome the dignified initiative by H.H. Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, and would like to invite the Afghan business community, based in the UAE, to contribute toward this noble cause.
The children of Adam are limbs of each other,
Having been created of one essence.
When the calamity of time afflicts one limb,
The other limbs cannot remain at rest.
If thou hast no sympathy for the troubles of others,
Thou art unworthy to be called by the name of a man.
(poem by the 13th century sufi poet Saadi that adorns the United Nations building in New York)
The Embassy of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
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Afghan army may fill key security role by 2009-NATO
24 Sep 2007 14:10:37 GMT
BRUSSELS, Sept 24 (Reuters) - Afghan forces may be able to take over some large-scale regional security operations from NATO but not before 2009 or 2010, a senior NATO commander said on Monday.
Brigadier-General Vincent Lafontaine, operations commander of the 40,000-strong NATO force in Afghanistan, said the process of trying to put the Afghan army at the head of some missions had already started and the aim was to step this up next spring.
"It's the beginning and we will have to improve," the French general told a news conference in Brussels by video-link.
Asked when the Afghan National Army (ANA) might be able to take over a regional security role from some of NATO's provincial reconstruction teams, he replied:
"It could not be possible on a large scale before 2009-2010."
Western forces have been in Afghanistan since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. cities by al Qaeda, whose chief Osama bin Laden was sheltered by the Taliban regime.
The country has seen a steady escalation of violence in the last two years, the worst since the Taliban's 2001 overthrow. Lafontaine said NATO did not have the resources in Afghanistan to control such a large country quickly, so its strategy relied on improving the capabilities of the army and police.
"IT WILL TAKE MORE TIME"
"Because we are under-resourced, it will take more time than we had initially hoped," he said.
The general said the Afghan army should reach 70,000 men by 2009 but a lot of work was still needed to create an efficient police force.
Lafontaine said the NATO force still needed additional transport and medical evacuation helicopters.
Holding ground secured by NATO troops required better Afghan army capabilities, while this in turn required more embedded NATO teams to help with training and the conduct of operations, he said.
Lafontaine said NATO had been successful in the past year in restricting large-scale insurgent activity and in limiting the Taliban to harassing operations, such as suicide and roadside bombings and kidnappings.
But he stressed NATO's overall aim was not military victory, but to help create conditions for a political solution.
A military operation in the southern province of Helmand to disrupt insurgent activity and clear the way to deploy Afghan troops there was drawing to a close, he said, adding:
"Currently the results seem good."
Some 2,500 troops launched the operation on Wednesday. Most are British, but the force also includes Afghan, Czech, Estonian and U.S. contingents.
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'Cut the rape scene' demands family of Afghan boy actor in 'Kite Runner' movie
Afghans 'won't understand it's not real', family says, fearing violence
Daily Mail - Sep 24 3:47 AM
A 12-year-old Afghan boy starring in the upcoming film "The Kite Runner" fears he and his family could be ostracized or even attacked because of a rape scene that he says he reluctantly acted in - a sequence the family wants cut.
Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada plays the role of young Hassan, who is raped by a bully in a pivotal part of the bestselling novel, on which the movie is based. His family says the scene will offend Afghans.
"In Afghanistan, rape is not acceptable at all. This is against Afghan dignity. This is against Afghan culture," the boy's father, Ahmad Jaan Mahmidzada, said.
"When we argued, they said, 'We will cut this part of the film. We will take it out of the script. This part will not be in the film.'"
The film's producers, Bennett Walsh and Rebecca Yeldham, said they were surprised by the father's comments "about not being comfortable with the difficult scene" and that they "have the utmost concern for the welfare" of the boys who were in the film.
"When we visited with all the actors and their families in Kabul earlier this year, the families addressed their concerns directly with us and said they were fine with the content of the scene, as long as we portrayed it in a sensitive manner," Walsh and Yeldham told the AP via e-mail.
"We made this a priority and followed their specific instructions."
"The Kite Runner," based on the 2003 bestselling novel by Afghan-American writer Khaled Hosseini, tells the story of two boys and how their relationship is transformed by the act of violence. The story's main character, Amir, witnesses the rape of friend Hassan but does nothing to stop it.
The movie version is scheduled for U.S. release in late November. Hosseini's second bestselling novel, "A Thousand Splendid Suns," came out earlier this year.
Mahmidzada worries the story will stir ethnic tensions because it plays on stereotypes of Afghan ethnic groups, pitting a Pashtun bully against a lower-class Hazara boy.
Pashtuns, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group, and the Hazara minorities were among several ethnic-based factions that fought bitterly during the country's post-Soviet era civil war. Thousands of Hazaras were slain as the predominantly Pashtun Taliban seized power in the mid-1990s.
Ethnic violence has generally subsided since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, but Afghans fear any trigger that could revive tensions. Many Afghans were angered by the 2006 Indian film "Kabul Express," which portrays Hazara militants as brutal and thuggish.
"There are ethnic problems in Afghanistan - between Hazara, Pashtun, Tajik and other ethnic groups," Mahmidzada said. "We don't want any problem between any ethnic group in Afghanistan. We want unity among all ethnic groups in Afghanistan."
Ahmad Khan was paid £5,000 to portray Hassan - a hefty sum in Afghanistan, where teachers earn only about £35 per month.
But the boy with the endearing, crooked smile said he would never have taken the role had he known Hassan is raped. The family found out about the scene only days before it was shot.
"They didn't give me the script. They didn't give me the story of 'The Kite Runner.' If I knew about the story, I wouldn't have participated as an actor in this film," he said.
The father and son, backed by other Afghans on the set's location in China, argued with the filmmakers, and the boy refused to act out the scene.
Mahmidzada said the director told him: "The film will be a mess without this part."
"But I told him, 'I'm not thinking about your film. I'm thinking about myself.' We are Afghan, and this is not acceptable to us at all," he said.
They are also concerned that Afghans will harass Ahmad Khan if they find out his character is raped.
"The people of Afghanistan do not understand that it's only acting or playing a role in a film. They think it has actually happened," Mahmidzada said. When the filmmakers wanted his son to take off his trousers for the shooting, Mahmidzada refused to let him do it.
Ahmad Khan worried that his schoolmates will make fun of him.
"It's not one or two people that I have to explain to," he said. "It's all of Afghanistan. How do I make them understand?"
If the film is screened in Afghanistan, Ahmad Khan said his family will lose its dignity. "We won't be able to walk in our neighborhood or in Afghanistan at all," the boy said.
Manizha Naderi, an Afghan-American working in Kabul, said that if the film gets a lot of publicity, the family has reason for concern.
"If people don't see it, then nobody knows, but if people see it, then ... they'll blame the family and say, 'You're giving Afghans a bad name,"' Naderi said.
Mahmidzada said the company has promised to take care of his family if anything happens to them as a result of the film.
"I'm afraid for the security of my son, and for the security of my family," he said. "I'm not only concerned about threats from my neighbors or relatives. I'm concerned about threats from all Afghan people."
Although he did not particularly like playing the rape scene, Ahmad Khan enjoyed the shoot and wants to act more.
His suggestion to the film company? "They should take us out of Afghanistan."
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Canada may be drawn into drug-eradication in Afghanistan
Steven Edwards CanWest News Service Monday, September 24, 2007
Canada and other countries agreed Sunday to back stepped-up operations to counter drugs production in Afghanistan - a move that some say will lead to Canadian troops being drawn into controversial drug-eradication and interdiction activities.
At a high-level meeting on the country, Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier put Canada's name to a communique that expresses "great concern" at the expansion of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan.
The production of heroin-producing opiates reached a "frighteningly new level" last year, according to a recent UN survey, and Canada is among countries that say profits of the illicit drugs trade are funding the Taliban and other insurgent groups.
But drug eradication is controversial because poor farmers also cultivate poppies, saying it's the only way they can make a living.
"Breaking this linkage (between drugs production and insurgent financing) is vital to creating a stable, prosperous and democratic, Afghanistan..." says the communique, released after the closed-door gathering.
While Canada's 2,500 troops in Afghanistan are currently not involved in drug eradication, the communique adds the "participants agreed to collectively support increased Afghan government efforts to fight the menace of poppy cultivation."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai praised Canada after emerging from the meeting, attended also by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and numerous other ministers and top officials from countries and organizations involved in Afghanistan.
"It has given a lot. It has given the lives of its sons and daughters," Karzai said.
Much of the rest of the communique reflects talk on reconstruction that people at the meeting say took place. But they add that inside, Bernier also highlighted actions Canada believes are necessary for speeding up development.
A central one was for the UN to send more staff to the country to better co-ordinate global aid efforts, according to one diplomat.
The initiative on civil aid builds on calls by Defence Minister Peter MacKay for countries to help spread the military burden by contributing troops.
But Canadian policy in Afghanistan will also be challenged today as two respected think tanks issue in-depth reports.
Dutch-based Transnational Institute, which brings together activist-scholars, will say the UN and Western countries are "over-reacting" to the jump in drugs production in Afghanistan. It warns violence could increase as a result of dramatically increasing counter-narcotics operations.
"The increased production is set to fall anyway because it represented an over-supply that world demand (for drugs) does not justify," said Martin Jelsma, head of TNI Drugs and Democracy Program. "But stepping up eradication could further deteriorate the already highly delicate security situation."
An increase in Afghan anti-narcotics operations could require at least logistical support from international forces, Jelsma said. He added a crackdown would, at the very least, increase the level of corruption in the country as tribal leaders with contacts in the Afghan government offer bribes to be spared.
"International troops are bound to get mixed up in all those power plays, and they would be seen as less neutral," he said. "They could be seen as defending the corrupt schemes of the government."
The Canadian and European-based think tank Senlis Council, in its report, will effectively say the government should go back to the drawing board.
The group, which has monitoring staff in the country, argues Canada needs to become much more robust in leading Afghan reconstruction efforts. It should also stop being what the council calls the U.S. "junior" partner.
The council also calls for the international troop presence to increase so that there can be less reliance on aerial bombings, which have led to numerous civilian deaths.
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Environment trumps health care, Afghanistan as key issue: poll
Monday, September 24, 2007 CBC News (Canada)
The environment tops a list of the most important issues facing Canadians, surpassing health care, the economy and the war in Afghanistan, a new poll suggested Monday.
Conducted by Harris/Decima from Aug. 15 to 21, the poll surveyed 1,000 Canadians across the country.
Thirty per cent of those surveyed said the environment is the most important issue currently facing Canadians. Other key issues were health care, the economy, foreign affairs, crime and justice, poverty, government, taxes and national unity.
When it comes to determining which issues will affect how people will vote, the environment was almost twice as important as the war in Afghanistan.
Across the country, the environment was of most concern in Quebec, with 46 per cent of respondents choosing that issue. That was followed by Atlantic Canada (30 per cent), Ontario (28 per cent), B.C. (23 per cent) and the Prairies (19 per cent).
Canadians appear to feel strongly about the environment, with 61 per cent saying they are "very concerned" about the issue.
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Why we're in Afghanistan
Maxime Bernier National Post Monday, September 24, 2007
A Canadian member of the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team conducts mine awareness and safety training with children.
A debate is under way about the nature of Canada's mission in Afghanistan's Kandahar province after its mandate expires in 2009. Today, we are hearing mostly criticism from the opposition parties in Ottawa, which is normal.
This criticism will perhaps have caused many people to forget that it was the previous Liberal government that launched this mission, and that the Liberals support Canada's commitment to continue its military efforts within the International Security Assistance Force until 2009.
Canada currently has troops in Afghanistan under a UN mandate. We are there at the invitation of a democratically elected Afghan government, with 36 other countries, including France, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Sweden.
Moreover, more than 60 countries and international organizations are taking part in the Afghanistan Compact, which sets out a number of clear objectives for rebuilding the country up to 2011.
Why are we in Afghanistan? First, to stabilize the Afghan nation, ravaged by decades of war and tyranny. We are working to strengthen the democratic regime and ensure that the country does not fall back into the hands of terrorists.
Canadian soldiers, diplomats and humanitarian workers are in Afghanistan to defend the universal values of respect for basic human rights, as enunciated by the Afghans themselves in their constitution.
We are there to fight poverty, injustice and corruption-- fertile ground for terrorism. We are accomplishing this goal in a variety of ways.
First, by helping to train over 30,000 Afghan National Army soldiers. Security in that country will not be truly consolidated in the medium term until Afghans themselves can provide it. And that is what we are helping them do.
Canada has also helped train dozens of judges and lawyers so that a credible and effective judicial system can be put in place. Without such a system, justice and basic human rights will continue to be ignored in Afghanistan.
The other major purpose of the Canadian mission is a humanitarian one. Today, more than 80% of Afghan citizens have access to health care, up from only 9% five years ago. This is progress by any measure. In Kandahar province alone, 350,000 children have been vaccinated against polio.
Canada has helped set up 4,000 schools and train 9,000 teachers. This will benefit 120,000 children, more than 85% of them girls. In Kandahar itself, several thousand adults have learned to read and write because of Canadian aid.
Canada is the main donor country behind funding for a micro-credit program, which has given 360,000 Afghans in 23 provinces access to loans to set up small businesses.
Canada has also contributed to hundreds of community development and infrastructure projects in Kandahar province, such as the construction of wells, roads and bridges.
Between 2001 and 2011, we will have allocated more than one billion dollars to development assistance and reconstruction in Afghanistan. That makes Canada one of the top five donor countries.
Our mission in Afghanistan is about helping people rebuild their lives after years of oppression. It is about ensuring they have the resources to realize their aspirations.
It is a stabilization mission. A development mission. A mission that promotes freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. For that to be accomplished, though, there must be security in Afghanistan. That security is still threatened by the Taliban, who want to bring back their totalitarian regime.
This is why our soldiers are playing such a vital role. True, their mission is risky. They are all aware of that, but have nonetheless chosen to serve. The men and women in uniform are ready to risk their lives to serve their country and help others.
They have been specifically trained to carry out this task. And all of them are proud to serve Canada and help the Afghan people, despite these risks.
Members of Quebec's Royal 22nd Regiment -- the famed Van Doos -- are now serving in Afghanistan. To those Quebecers who want an immediate end to this mission, I would say this: I know that you are proud and responsible people, people of your word. Quebecers finish the job they have started when they have made a commitment to do so.
Canada cannot, without losing all credibility in the international arena, simply go back on its word and abandon such a crucial mission.
We also cannot simply abandon the Afghan people to their fate, without jeopardizing all the development work and security building that has been done on the ground.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said it several times in recent weeks: Any extension of our military mission past February, 2009, must be approved by Parliament. We must pursue this debate as realistic and responsible adults who are aware of our obligations to our allies and to the Afghan people. - Maxime Bernier is Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. This article was adapted from a speech delivered on September 19 at a Montreal colloquium on Canada's mission in Afghanistan.
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Chinese envoy calls for continued int'l aid to Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn 2007-09-24 06:44:06
UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 23 (Xinhua) -- China's UN Ambassador Wang Guangya called on the international community Sunday to continue its all-dimensional assistance to Afghanistan while respecting the will of the Afghan government and its people.
Speaking at the UN high-level meeting on Afghanistan at the UN Headquarters in New York, Wang said the meeting demonstrates the resolve of the international community in continuing its support for the government and people of Afghanistan.
"It is our firm belief that Afghanistan may forge ahead in pain, but never in loneliness," he stressed.
Thanks to the help of the United Nations and the international community, Afghanistan is moving forward in national reconstruction and development. But on the other hand, Afghanistan is still faced with many austere challenges, he said.
The international community should continue to provide assistance to Afghanistan in the fields of security, economic development and social reconstruction and counter-narcotics, Wang said.
"The international community should honor its commitments and continue to support the Afghan government and people," he said.
China supports the United Nations and the UNAMA, or the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, "in playing a core leadership role in the peaceful reconstruction of Afghanistan, and calls on the international community to continue its all-dimensional assistance to Afghanistan while respecting the will of the Afghan government and people," he said.
As a friendly neighbor, China feels deeply the sufferings of Afghanistan and sincerely hopes that the country will achieve national prosperity and social harmony and deliver happy life to its people at an early date, he said.
"To this end, China has played an active part in Afghanistan's post-war reconstruction," Wang said, adding that Chinese President Hu Jintao recently announced that the Chinese government would provide an additional grant of 80 million RMB yuan (about 10.6 million U.S. dollars) to Afghanistan this year.
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