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April 1 , 2008 

Afghan Corruption a Growing Concern
Monday, Mar. 31, 2008 By ARYN BAKER Time Magazine
Afghanistan will top the agenda when NATO member nations gather this week in Bucharest to discuss the state of the alliance. General Dan McNeil, commander of the alliance's 43,250 troops in Afghanistan, has lobbied for reinforcements to help battle

France eyes bigger Afghan deployment
By JAMEY KEATEN, Associated Press Writer Tue Apr 1, 10:12 AM ET
PARIS - France may contribute "several hundred" more troops to reinforce the fight against the Taliban and their al-Qaida allies in Afghanistan, the prime minister told parliament Tuesday.

NATO Afghan force to get only some extra troops: U.S.
By Andrew Gray Tue Apr 1, 10:04 AM ET
COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - NATO leaders are likely to commit more troops this week to help fight Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan but the force will still fall short of what commanders want, the U.S. defense secretary said on Tuesday.

Gates hopeful for some Afghan reinforcements
by Jim Mannion Tue Apr 1, 10:01 AM ET
COPENHAGEN (AFP) - US Defense Secretary Robert Gates Tuesday said he was "reasonably optimistic" NATO would send reinforcements to southern Afghanistan but they would not be "anywhere near" the commander's requirements.

NATO chief hopes for strong ties with new Pakistan govt
Tue Apr 1, 1:50 AM ET
BRUSSELS (AFP) - NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer congratulated Pakistan's new prime minister after the government there was sworn in Monday and said he hoped to deepen cooperation on Afghanistan.

Taliban commander nabbed in Afghanistan
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer Tue Apr 1, 4:00 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Police arrested a senior Taliban commander who has escaped twice from prisons in Afghanistan, nabbing him during a clash in the country's south that left three insurgents dead, an official said Tuesday.

2 police killed in Afghan suicide attack
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer Tue Apr 1, 10:17 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A suicide bomber hit a police compound in southwestern Afghanistan on Tuesday, killing two officers and wounding five others, an official said.

'Pak dumped N-waste in Afghanistan'
Press TV (Iran) / April 1, 2008
Afghan officials say they have evidence indicating that Pakistan dumped its nuclear waste in Afghanistan during the rule of the Taliban.

Tell Canadians more about mission in Afghanistan, Kenny urges Ottawa
By James Mccarten, The Canadian Press
KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - The federal Conservative government and Prime Minister Stephen Harper need to better define Canada's goals and objectives in Afghanistan and spell them out clearly to Canadians

Working to rid Afghanistan of land mines a 'kind of jihad'
OLIVER MOORE April 1, 2008 Globe and Mail, Canada
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- Noor Ahmad has one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. For 18 years, he's prodded the earth centimetre by centimetre to rid his country of land mines, a scourge that has become more numerous

Eight Dutch soldiers wounded by roadside bombs in Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn  2008-03-31 22:45:56
BRUSSELS, March 31 (Xinhua) -- Eight Dutch soldiers have been wounded by roadside bombs in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan in the past week, Dutch paper Trouw reported Monday.

The Taliban will talk, but no 'sugar-coating'
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online
KARACHI - While responding positively to the Pakistani government's offer of peace talks, the Pakistani Taliban have demanded the release of several key personalities in return for the Taliban freeing about 250 security personnel they are holding.

Pakistan in tug of war over terror
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / April 1, 2008
KARACHI - United States efforts have helped Pakistan come up with a basic formula for co-existence between the presidency, Parliament and the armed forces, but the million-dollar question is how and when the Pakistani establishment

Pakistan rethinks US policy on militants
By Barbara Plett BBC News, Islamabad Tuesday, 1 April 2008
There is a buzz of excitement in the wood-panelled assembly hall of Pakistan's parliament.

ISAF rejects reported killing of 3 civilians in S Afghanistan
KABUL, April 1 (Xinhua) -- NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) on Tuesday rejected the reported killing of three civilians in Panjwai district of Afghanistan's southern Kandahar province, saying the casualties were militants.

Bin Laden at 1986 arms deal, book says
WASHINGTON, April 1 (UPI) -- Osama bin Laden and his half-brother went to London in 1986 to discuss buying several surface-to-air missiles for the mujahedin in Afghanistan, a book says.

Remembering the Soviet 'Vietnam'
Al Jazeera / March 31, 2008
The Soviet Union's decade-long war in Afghanistan in the 1980s is a conflict many in the former countries of the USSR would rather forget. As part of the special Veterans series, Al Jazeera visited the Russian cities of Moscow and Yekaterinburg

Afghan Corruption a Growing Concern
Monday, Mar. 31, 2008 By ARYN BAKER Time Magazine
Afghanistan will top the agenda when NATO member nations gather this week in Bucharest to discuss the state of the alliance. General Dan McNeil, commander of the alliance's 43,250 troops in Afghanistan, has lobbied for reinforcements to help battle the rising insurgency in the country's south. But commanders on the ground would also like a little more help from the Afghans on whose behalf they're fighting. "Frankly, defeating the Taliban is the least of our worries," says one. "They are not going to beat us. It's not them that are crippling the economy. What is killing this country is corruption and drugs. That is not for NATO to deal with; that is for the Afghan government to deal with." Military measures are temporary, at best: If Afghans don't trust their government, NATO's best efforts will ultimately be futile.

Transparency International ranked Afghanistan 172nd out of the 179 countries surveyed last year on its corruption-perceptions Index. Hardly surprising, then, that despite thousands more troops on the ground and billions of dollars in aid, the Taliban insurgency has only grown stronger. Ordinary Afghan people are fed up with a government that has squandered their faith and hope by pillaging whatever small treasures remain after 27 years at war. Yet they also resent the international forces that put that government in power but look away when it doesn't fulfill its duties. And the distance between the people and the government in Afghanistan is ever widening, creating fertile ground for the insurgency to take root even amongst those who welcomed the new government when it first came to power.

"Corruption is the tree. Terrorism, destabilization, smuggling and poppy are its branches," says parliamentarian Hossein Balkhi. "If you cut down corruption, the rest will die."

Every Afghan has a story about corruption. The electronics store owner in my old neighborhood in the capital, Kabul, hasn't had electricity for the past year, because he refuses to pay the $400 bribe required to secure a connection to the electrical grid. The scarcity of so many basic necessities allows petty corruption to flourish in many corners of the world without necessarily feeding an insurgency. But Afghanistan's corruption is intimately linked to a culture of violence. The driver of an Afghan friend was picked up one day by the police, beaten, stripped naked and left outside in the snow for several nights until his employer paid a bribe of $3,000 to release him. The principled stance would have been to complain, but to whom? And for how many days? And what if it only made things worse? "We could have complained afterwards," says the employer. "But then we could have been charged ourselves for bribery." The electronics shop owner, Adel Shah, 22, puts it succinctly: "Even robbery victims won't go to the courts because you have to pay a bribe. You would have to quit your job in order to complain to the police, because it takes so much time."

And also money. According to Afghans, judges routinely accept bribes for favorable verdicts. Mohammad Mumtaz, an Afghan businessman visiting from the U.S., tells the story of a cousin's property dispute gone bad. His opponent paid a higher bribe to the court, and his cousin landed in jail for trying to get a squatter off his land. But it turned out OK, says Mumtaz. The cousin went through a broker who was a friend of the judge, paid $6500, and was released a month early. Such stories take on a more somber note when criminals and alleged members of the Taliban are involved — such as Timur Shah, sentenced to death for kidnap, rape and murder, who "escaped" on the eve of his execution last October, while the other 16 men on death row met their intended fate.

"What do you expect," asks Izzatullah Wasifi, Director of the General Independent Administration of Anti- Corruption and Bribery, "when we pay a [policeman] $60 a month, give him a gun, and tell him to stand up against terrorists and narcotics smugglers, when everyone around him is corrupt? We pay him nothing and expect him to act like an angel and go home and feed his family what — dust, rocks?" The solution, he says, is better training and higher salaries, both of which are forthcoming under a new U.S.-led national police-training program. But as long as higher government officials act with impunity, corruption will not be seen as a crime. "You have to start from the top," says Wasifi. "If I don't take it, then my department won't take it. If I take it, how can I expect people below me not to?"

Last fall, President Hamid Karzai admitted that several senior officials were involved in corruption. Though he didn't reveal any names, he swore to take action. Five months later, not a single official has been successfully prosecuted. Meanwhile, politicians and ministers build mansions and collect armored SUVs worth far more than their yearly salaries. "If we can't punish them, how do we tell a small government official who makes $40 a month not to take bribes?" asks Wasifi.

Wasifi understands the value of punishment. Twenty years ago he served time in an American jail for dealing drugs. "I paid for it. I learned. This is why I believe in good law. It works."

The Taliban, for all its draconian practices and human rights abuses, is also remembered for bringing order following the excesses of rival commanders in the country's civil war. Crime was punished — brutally and in excess, yes, but visibly and uniformly. If the Taliban and the insurgents can convincingly offer civilians a return to law and order, they will gain support. The Afghan government may realize that it's better to take a page from their book — tempered with human rights and due process — than to be defeated by an inability to crush corruption.
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France eyes bigger Afghan deployment
By JAMEY KEATEN, Associated Press Writer Tue Apr 1, 10:12 AM ET
PARIS - France may contribute "several hundred" more troops to reinforce the fight against the Taliban and their al-Qaida allies in Afghanistan, the prime minister told parliament Tuesday.

Francois Fillon, speaking at the National Assembly amid domestic opposition to a bigger French deployment, said NATO and its allies must stop Afghanistan from again becoming a hub of international terrorism.

It was the first time a senior French official publicly gave a figure for France's plans to boost its forces in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan plays a large part "in our security, and thus our freedom," Fillon said. "The deployment could be of the order of several hundred extra soldiers."

Fillon did not say what the new forces would be. But he said that French forces in Afghanistan could be called upon to get more involved in command operations, training the Afghan army, and security and reconstruction efforts in the provinces. He did not specify where.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has said France would increase its participation beyond its 2,200 troops in the region, without specifying how many or where they would be deployed.

News reports in France and Britain, where Sarkozy went for a state visit last week, have said his plan would add some 1,000 reinforcements for NATO in Afghanistan.

The opposition Socialist Party opposes the reinforced deployment, with some lawmakers warning that France risks being ensnared in a "new Vietnam."

Jean-Marc Ayrault, the party's leader in the assembly, said the plan to boost troop levels has "little to do with Afghanistan" and more with Sarkozy's "Atlantic obsession" — closer ties with the United States.
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NATO Afghan force to get only some extra troops: U.S.
By Andrew Gray Tue Apr 1, 10:04 AM ET
COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - NATO leaders are likely to commit more troops this week to help fight Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan but the force will still fall short of what commanders want, the U.S. defense secretary said on Tuesday.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Paris might agree to send "a few hundred" more troops to bolster the 47,000-strong NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Leaders of the 26-member alliance meet in the Romanian capital Bucharest this week with the mission high on their agenda amid concern about rising violence, particularly in southern Afghanistan.

Robert Gates said the force's commander wanted an extra three brigades for the mission, but acknowledged that it would take longer to send extra troops.

The size of a brigade varies depending on its function and nationality but a U.S. combat brigade has between 3,000 and 5,000 soldiers.

"I think that we will see some additional commitments in Bucharest," Gates said at a joint news conference with his Danish counterpart Soren Gade.

"I don't think they'll be anywhere near that number. This is a challenge we'll have to keep working at."

NATO officials say the force is roughly between 1,500 and 3,000 troops short of the requirements laid out in an alliance document setting out the units needed for its mission.

Gates on Monday described even that document, the Combined Joint Statement of Requirements, as "pretty ambitious."

In describing a larger shortfall, Gates was referring to the number of troops the force's top commander, U.S. Army Gen. Dan McNeill, would like to carry out his mission, a senior U.S. defense official said.

Gates noted the United States was deploying some 3,500 Marines to Afghanistan to fill some gaps among training and combat forces but those troops would leave in November.

"Now the challenge is what comes behind those Marines," he said.

He did not say which nations he expected to pledge more troops in Bucharest.

In Paris, Fallon told a parliamentary debate on Tuesday that France, which has 1,500 troops in Afghanistan, might send "a few hundred extra soldiers" to reinforce the command structures in Kabul and to train Afghan troops elsewhere in the country.

On Monday, NATO aspirant Georgia offered several hundred troops.

Gates praised Denmark, which has some 550 combat troops in southern Afghanistan, as one of Washington's closest allies.

Fourteen Danish soldiers have died in Afghanistan since 2002, giving the nation of some five million people one of the NATO mission's highest per capita troop casualty rates.

But Gade said Denmark remained committed to Afghanistan.

"We will keep doing the job in the south," he said.

(Editing by Sami Aboudi)
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Gates hopeful for some Afghan reinforcements
by Jim Mannion Tue Apr 1, 10:01 AM ET
COPENHAGEN (AFP) - US Defense Secretary Robert Gates Tuesday said he was "reasonably optimistic" NATO would send reinforcements to southern Afghanistan but they would not be "anywhere near" the commander's requirements.

Danish Defence Minister Soeren Gade, meanwhile, said Danish forces would stay in southern Afghanistan despite rising casualties.

The killing of a Danish soldier in Afghan fighting Monday raised the Danish combat death toll to 14, most of them in the past year amid a resurgence of Taliban fighting.

"Every one of these casualties is a tragedy but it is for a greater cause -- security in Europe, security in America as well as helping the Afghan people to develop their country," Gates told journalists in Denmark.

"There are a handful of us that are carrying the burden. Denmark is clearly one of the most significant ones, along with Canada, Australia, the British and ourselves."

The Danish daily Politiken published photographs of the dead, underscoring the rising cost of the Afghan conflict to Denmark, which officials said has the highest per capita death toll of any of the allies.

The Danish defence minister said his country's troops had faced tough fighting and acknowledged that the losses had been painful.

But he said, "We have no plans whatsoever to withdraw or something like that."

The United States and allies with troops in the south have been pressing for other countries to contribute more forces and equipment to fill a shortfall experienced by the 43,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

Canada, which also has suffered rising casualties, has made its continuing presence in southern Afghanistan conditional on other countries providing at least 1,000 troops as reinforcements along with helicopters and unmanned aircraft.

The issue has risen to the top of the agenda of a NATO summit April 2-4 in Bucharest.

"I am reasonably optimistic that there will be more soldiers available for RC-South," Gates said, using the military's designation for the southern Afghan sector.

NATO's minimum requirement is for two maneuver battalions and a border security battalion for ISAF, but the commander of the force, General Dan McNeil, has requested two combat brigades and a brigade of trainers -- a much larger force of about 10,000 troops.

"I don't think we'll be anywhere near that number," Gates said.

The United States is sending 3,500 marines, including 2,500 combat troops and 1,000 trainers, for a seven month tour to meet part of the requirement.

A senior US defence official on Monday told reporters traveling with Gates that he was confident that allies will provide the 1,000-strong battle group sought by Canada.

Georgia, which hopes to be considered for NATO membership, announced Tuesday it was prepared to send 500 hundred soldiers to Afghanistan.

In a much criticised move, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced last week that France would increase the size of its 1,600-member military force in Afghanistan.

He provided no numbers but sources in Paris said it would be more than 1,000 troops.
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NATO chief hopes for strong ties with new Pakistan govt
Tue Apr 1, 1:50 AM ET
BRUSSELS (AFP) - NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer congratulated Pakistan's new prime minister after the government there was sworn in Monday and said he hoped to deepen cooperation on Afghanistan.

"NATO and Pakistan share a mutual commitment to preserving stability in the region, including in Afghanistan, and to the fight against terrorism," Scheffer said in a statement, congratulating new Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

"Pakistan, Afghanistan and NATO have established strong ties of practical cooperation in recent years; these ties can and should deepen, as the political dialogue between NATO and Pakistan also matures," he said.

NATO-led troops are struggling to combat a Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan, which is being controlled in part from across the mountainous southern and eastern border in Pakistani towns like Quetta and Peshawar.

"I am very much in favour of establishing a good political dialogue with the Pakistani government as soon as it has settled down," Scheffer told AFP.

"Pakistan is certainly part of the solution" in Afghanistan, he said.

Afghanistan is the main topic on the agenda of a summit of NATO leaders in Romania starting Wednesday.
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Taliban commander nabbed in Afghanistan
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer Tue Apr 1, 4:00 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Police arrested a senior Taliban commander who has escaped twice from prisons in Afghanistan, nabbing him during a clash in the country's south that left three insurgents dead, an official said Tuesday.

The militants, led by Taliban commander Mullah Naqibullah and dressed in police uniforms, ambushed a police convoy Monday north of the Helmand province capital of Lashkar Gah, provincial police chief Mohammad Hussein Andiwal said.

The ensuing gunbattle left three militants dead, and wounded two policemen and Naqibullah, who was taken into custody, Andiwal said.

It was the third time that authorities have arrested Naqibullah. Two months ago, Naqibullah managed to escape from a prison run by the Afghan intelligence service in Lashkar Gah, Andiwal said. Previously he had escaped from a prison in the capital, Kabul.

Helmand is the world's largest opium-producing province and the scene of fierce clashes between militants and Afghan and foreign troops.

In a separate incident, a mine struck a civilian vehicle Tuesday in southwestern Nimroz province, killing the driver and wounding two civilians, said provincial police chief Mohammad Ayub Badakhshi.

Badakhshi blamed the militants for planting the mine on the road frequently used by foreign and Afghan troops.
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2 police killed in Afghan suicide attack
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer Tue Apr 1, 10:17 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A suicide bomber hit a police compound in southwestern Afghanistan on Tuesday, killing two officers and wounding five others, an official said.

The bomber tried to ram a vehicle packed with explosives inside police chief's compound in the town of Zaranj of Nimroz province, said provincial deputy police chief Asadullah Sherzad.

The vehicle exploded at the compound walls, killing two policemen and wounding five others, Sherzad said.

In neighboring Helmand province, meanwhile, police arrested a senior Taliban commander who has escaped twice from prisons in Afghanistan.

The officers nabbed Mullah Naqibullah during a clash that left three insurgents dead on Monday, said provincial police chief Mohammad Hussein Andiwal.

Naqibullah was with a group of militants dressed in police uniforms who ambushed a police convoy north of the province's capital of Lashkar Gah, Andiwal said.

The ensuing gunbattle left three militants dead, and wounded two policemen and Naqibullah, who was taken into custody, Andiwal said.

In neighboring Kandahar province, the chief of the Panjwayi district Shah Baran claimed that an airstrike Monday killed three men irrigating land close to a road. He said he believed the men may have been mistaken for militants planting roadside bombs.

NATO's International Security Assistance Force said their troops targeted four insurgents who were planting roadside bombs near a NATO base, killing three and wounding the fourth.

An ISAF spokesman, Squadron Leader Iain Bright, said there were no reports of civilians casualties in the strike.

The differing accounts could not be independently verified due to the remoteness of the area.

In a separate incident, a mine struck a civilian vehicle Tuesday in southwestern Nimroz province, killing the driver and wounding two civilians, said provincial police chief Mohammad Ayub Badakhshi.

Badakhshi blamed the militants for planting the mine on the road frequently used by foreign and Afghan troops.
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Associated Press writers Fisnik Abrashi and Amir Shah in Kabul contributed to this report.
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'Pak dumped N-waste in Afghanistan'
Press TV (Iran) / April 1, 2008
Afghan officials say they have evidence indicating that Pakistan dumped its nuclear waste in Afghanistan during the rule of the Taliban.

"The waste was buried in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand," Parliamentary affairs Minster Faruq Wardag was quoted as saying by the BBC.

The minister said he did not know how much waste was dumped in Afghanistan or for how long the practice had continued.

Wardag added he did not know the exact nature of the evidence.

A Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman said he could not comment until the Afghan government made an official statement about the allegations.

The circumstances of the Taliban's emergence remained a mystery. Despite repeated denials, Pakistan, a US ally, has been considered as one of the mentors of the group.

The Taliban were in power in Afghanistan from 1996 until they were overthrown in 2001.
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Tell Canadians more about mission in Afghanistan, Kenny urges Ottawa
By James Mccarten, The Canadian Press
KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - The federal Conservative government and Prime Minister Stephen Harper need to better define Canada's goals and objectives in Afghanistan and spell them out clearly to Canadians, an outspoken Liberal senator said Tuesday.

Colin Kenny was one of six senators from the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence who travelled to Kandahar province for an up-close, in-person look at Canada's specific reconstruction efforts in a war-beaten, poverty-racked region long acknowledged as the cradle of the Taliban.

They visited Canada's Provincial Reconstruction Team, greeted and chatted with soldiers and police who are actively training their Afghan counterparts, and toured a road reconstruction project that employs 450 local labourers - many of whom work despite Taliban threats and intimidation.

Kenny said he noticed a lot of change for the better in the year since he was last in country, and described a "synergy" between the mission's various prongs - the military, police, corrections officials and agencies like the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, or DFAIT, and the Canadian International Development Agency, CIDA.

The difficulty, he said, is that many of Canada's ultimate objectives in Afghanistan remain amorphous and ill-defined, making it hard to measure what sort of progress is being made.

"We have been pushing (the federal government) hard for metrics, but in a few cases there has been trouble measuring anything because we don't know what the objectives are," Kenny said.

"A really important message for the government is that they have to outline the objectives here."

Canadians who aren't seeing Afghanistan with their own eyes can't grasp the level of poverty there, or what the daily struggle is like for local villagers who are just trying to survive, he added.

"The military has got it. DFAIT and CIDA have got it. But Ottawa is not telling Canadians enough about Afghanistan," Kenny said.

"The free advice of Colin Kenny is that the prime minister should go on television and talk to Canadians about the situation here."

It was the committee's fourth visit to Afghanistan, but only the first time they were able to see anything beyond the relative comfort and security of the main base at Kandahar Airfield.

The visit came as Harper touched down in Bucharest for a summit with leaders from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, where Canada is hoping for more clarity on whether NATO will provide up to 1,000 more troops to assist with security in Afghanistan's volatile south.

It was also the committee's first visit since the formal establishment of 2011 as the new pullout date for Canadian forces - a deadline the committee opposed, said Conservative Senator Michael Meighan.

"It is better to talk of objectives rather than about when the mission should end," said Meighan, who agreed Canada is indeed pushing forward in Afghanistan.

"Everybody gilds the lily a bit, but we are absolutely making progress," he said. "So many Canadians and Afghans speak of progress, you can't help but believe that we are on the right track."

During a stop at a Canadian forward operating base, the senators also met with Haji Agha Lalai, a member of the Kandahar provincial council who represents the infamous Panjwaii district, a hotbed of insurgent activity steeped in Canadian triumph and grief.

Where there was but a butcher shop last year, many other stores have opened up, and some 3,000 families have moved into the area in the last 12 months, Lalai said.

The insurgency, he said, is being fuelled by "neighbours" from outside Afghanistan's porous borders - Pakistan primarily, but also Iran, he said - "who infiltrate and facilitate the enemy."

He acknowledged the Panjwaii's storied and bloody history - as a centre for al-Qaida, a home to one of Osama bin Laden's religious schools and as the birthplace of the Taliban and its one-eyed leader, Mullah Omar.

But he said none of that should prevent the fertile district from becoming the region it once was - a safe and secure place for families, farming, commerce and trade.

"The most influential Taliban are all from here, (but) despite the big players being from this area, we can do our work," Lalai said.

"The problem we have is with security. With security we can get a lot done."

The other vital objective is to establish a national, democratically elected government that is trusted by the nation, said Liberal Senator Rod Zimmer.

"They need democracy. People are willing," said Zimmer, citing the example of the hundreds of locals who brave chilling "night letters" - threatening notes found nailed to their doors in the morning - to participate in projects like road paving.

Lalai noted one case of a man who was shot in the leg by the Taliban for participating in the project, and yet he continues to work.

"Look, they are willing to risk their lives to work," he said.

"Canada is very involved. They are appreciated and respected. The reaction is very positive from the Afghans."
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Working to rid Afghanistan of land mines a 'kind of jihad'
OLIVER MOORE April 1, 2008 Globe and Mail, Canada
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- Noor Ahmad has one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. For 18 years, he's prodded the earth centimetre by centimetre to rid his country of land mines, a scourge that has become more numerous in the time he's been working. He's seen an anti-personnel mine blow up in front of him and still bears the scars where his body wasn't shielded by protective gear.

He presses on in spite of the dangers, working in the hot sun on the weekend to help clear the perimeter of a bombed-out weapons factory east of Kandahar, because he considers it "a kind of jihad."

"If you protect the life of one person, then you will be rewarded as if you have protected all the world," Mr. Ahmed said, citing a verse from the Koran.

But that dedication hasn't been enough to protect de-miners from attacks. Teams have been targeted in several parts of the country and at least 10 people have been killed since August.

As the world prepares to mark International Mine Action Day this Friday, Afghanistan continues to struggle as one of the most heavily mined countries on Earth. It is impossible to know the number of mines and pieces of unexploded ordnance that litter the ground, but the best estimate is that about 750,000 square kilometres of land remain too dangerous to use.

Because of the targeted attacks, the United Nations in Kandahar province is not escalating operations but instead has reduced its number of teams and now limits its work to areas near the city.

Sayed Ahmad (no relation to the veteran de-miner), the regional officer in charge of the UN Mine Action Center for Afghanistan, said the agency would like to strike a deal with the insurgents for safe passage but are afraid of incurring the wrath of the government in Kabul. "If we have contact, the government will take negative action because they will say we are joined with the Taliban," he said at his office in Kandahar. "And if we work too closely with the government, the Taliban will get negative. So we are stuck in the middle."

That impasse has forced the UN to radically curtail its de-mining work in the province. Last summer, agency personnel had been working as far afield as Panjwai, a volatile district where the Taliban is strong, but they changed tactics after three support staff were kidnapped.

The agency contacted the Taliban to plead for the men's lives, but Sayed Ahmad said they were told that the situation had already been referred "to the court." The men were later found dead, still wearing uniforms with the badge of DAFA, the de-mining agency for Afghanistan.

A man who regularly speaks on behalf of the Taliban said that his group is being unfairly blamed for the kidnapping and killing. "The Taliban was not involved in this case," Qari Yousuf Ahmadi said through a translator. "We don't want to kill the people who collect mines; this is good action."

But the damage has been done. It was a month after that incident before UN teams began working again. And they now consider enormous parts of the province off limits.

A map showing the initial goals of Operation Hamkari (which means co-operation), a project funded by the Canadian International Development Agency, showed the area west and south of Kandahar city divided into sectors. No substantial area was then considered safe enough to ignore. De-mining teams have since narrowed their scope and now stay within a five-kilometre radius of Kandahar city.

In the more remote areas, the UN has set up community-based "mine-risk education teams" and is compiling maps of reported dangers, but they can't go to help the people directly.

"In the areas which we are not able to send our teams, we are getting the reports every month of some victims injured and killed," Sayed Ahmad said.

Each month, mines and unexploded ordnance kill or injure an average of 62 Afghans. About half of the victims are children. The overwhelming scale of the problem means that, for now, there is enough work close to Kandahar city to keep de-miners busy.

Backhoes break up the rocky soil, in the process detonating some ordnance, but most of the work is done with hand tools and metal detectors.The threat of grievous danger is never far away. As well as donning heavy vests and helmets, visitors are required to sign in and provide their blood type.

"It's my career," Noor Ahmad said with a shrug when asked whether he would prefer an office job. A father of five, he makes about $250 a month.

"We are obliged to work and support the family. Besides, we want to support the nation."
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Eight Dutch soldiers wounded by roadside bombs in Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn  2008-03-31 22:45:56
BRUSSELS, March 31 (Xinhua) -- Eight Dutch soldiers have been wounded by roadside bombs in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan in the past week, Dutch paper Trouw reported Monday.

Five Dutch soldiers were wounded, one seriously, in two roadside bomb attacks in Uruzgan Sunday. In the first attack, three people were wounded when their vehicle drove over a roadside bomb while patrolling near the city of Tarin Kowt.

A soldier lost both legs and was reported to be in a critical condition. Two other soldiers in the vehicle were slightly injured.

In the second incident seven hours later, two more Dutch soldiers were slightly injured when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb while patrolling near Tarin Kowt.

Last Thursday, three Dutch soldiers were slightly wounded when their vehicle drove over a roadside bomb near Chora in Uruzgan.

Roadside bombs, or improvised explosive devices, pose a serious threat to NATO troops in Afghanistan. Since the Dutch troops' deployment in Uruzgan in August 2006, three Dutch soldiers have been killed by roadside bombs.
Editor: Mu Xuequan 
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Should flag be lowered every time?
Proposal would limit war dead honour
Apr 01, 2008 04:30 AM The Canadian Press
OTTAWA–An expert panel has advised cabinet to oppose a move to lower the Canadian flag on the Peace Tower whenever a soldier dies in Afghanistan, saying it would debase the honour.

In a report to Secretary of State Jason Kenney, former chief herald Robert Watt urged the government to keep Remembrance Day as the lone anniversary to mark Canadian war dead by lowering the tower flag to half-mast.

The Commons is to vote tomorrow on a flag-lowering motion proposed by a Liberal MP.

Watt, with support from four other experts, recommended a new protocol that would limit half-masting the Peace Tower flag to mourning the deaths of current and former representatives of the Crown, the prime minister and the chief justice of the Supreme Court.

Under the recommendations, the flag would no longer be lowered on the deaths of senators and MPs, or former senators and MPs.

"In addition, we also strongly believe that there is only one commemorative day each year where the National Flag needs to be half-masted," Watt wrote to Kenney. "That is Remembrance Day. Our rationale in this case is that coinage of half-masting has been debased."

Debate has simmered over Liberal MP Andrew Telegdi's motion calling on the Commons to declare that the Peace Tower flag should be lowered to honour "Canadian Forces and other Canadian government personnel ... killed while serving in overseas peacekeeping, peacemaking or humanitarian missions."

The motion threatens to rekindle a furor that raged in May 2006.
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The Taliban will talk, but no 'sugar-coating'
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online
KARACHI - While responding positively to the Pakistani government's offer of peace talks, the Pakistani Taliban have demanded the release of several key personalities in return for the Taliban freeing about 250 security personnel they are holding.

The Pakistani Taliban's list includes Maulana Abdul Aziz, a prayer leader of the radical Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad, Mullah Obaidullah, a former minister of defense under Taliban rule in Afghanistan and Muslim Dost, a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner now in Inter-Services Intelligence detention.

In return, the Pakistani Taliban have offered the safe return of 250 security personnel from their custody.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani said the newly elected government would seek peace with the Taliban and offered to hold talks with militants who laid down their weapons.

The Taliban's demand is the first challenge to the new cabinet to make an urgent choice between internal peace on the one side and resentment from Islamabad's "war on terror" allies on the other.

"This demand was given from Baitullah Mehsud's camp as soon as Islamabad proposed dialogue," a source affiliated with the Shura of Mujahideen in the North Waziristan tribal area told Asia Times Online. Mehsud is a leading Pakistani Taliban figure.

Gillani has vowed to eradicate militancy from the country through dialogue. He has also taken the bold step of moving to abolish discriminatory British colonial tribal laws. The Pashtun sub-nationalist Awami National Party, which forms part of a coalition government in North-West Frontier Province, has confirmed it has already started negotiations with the Taliban for peace in the tribal areas. The Taliban have welcomed the change of government in Pakistan.

And the Taliban have a potent bargaining chip in the form of their 250 captives, who include members of the Khasadar tribal force, the Frontier Corps and the Pakistani army seized during clashes between the Taliban and the Pakistani security forces over the past months.

All of the captives are in the custody of Mehsud's men. The hardline al-Qaeda-linked Mehsud, who is wanted in connection with the assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto and other suicide attacks in Pakistan, is believed to no longer be in the tribal areas; his only possible hideout could be in Afghanistan, from where he is thought to be sending messages through his local contacts and tribal intermediaries.

A no-win situation?
The government in Islamabad is now in the unenviable position of having to decide between giving in to the Pakistani Taliban's demands and releasing some of its most-wanted detainees, or submitting to inevitable war. Neither option is appealing.

The second-most important ally in the ruling coalition, the Pakistan Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif, fared well in February's parliamentary elections by opposing the policies of President Pervez Musharraf during his years as a military ruler.

Specifically, the party promised the nation it would stop highly contentious military operations in the tribal areas and launch an investigation into the Lal Masjid operation in which the mosque was stormed last year to clear it of radicals. The party also said it would reconstruct the Jamia Hafsa, a women's seminary adjacent to Lal Masjid which was demolished during the operation, and have all prisoners taken during the incident released.

"Yes, we are fully committed to abide by our promises. We will get the investigations into the Lal Masjid operation done, get their prisoners released and reconstruct the women's seminary," said the newly elected member of the National Assembly (and now the minister for youth affairs) Khawaja Saad Rafiq in a television talk show last week.

The problem is, this stance is at odds with that of the leading coalition partner, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP). Although the PPP desperately wants peace in the country, it will not be at the expense of the "war on terror".

On Monday, the government announced the appointment of Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, retired Major General Mahmood Ali Durrani, as national security advisor to the prime minister. This indicates the PPP does not have any intention of pulling back from its "war on terror" commitments or from Washington's agenda in the region.

Durrani took immediate retirement after the death in a plane crash in 1988 of military dictator General Zia ul-Haq and went to the United States, where he worked for various policy think-tanks. He is considered to be very close to Washington's decision-making community. Due to this rapport, he was appointed envoy to Washington in June 2006 by the Musharraf government. The family of Zia has accused Durrani as being a conspirator in the mysterious plane crash in which Zia died.

One of the most compelling reasons for the PPP not to comply with the demands of the militants - even at the cost of a war with them - is financial. Special secretary at the Ministry of Finance Ashfaq Hassan Khan recently revealed that the US did not release the promised funds for Pakistan's expenditures in the "war on terror" last year and as a result Pakistan was forced to take loans from local banks worth US$5.6 billion.

Should Pakistan now bow to the militants' demands it will surely be seen in Washington as reneging on its "war on terror" commitments, which could mean further money being withheld - as much as $1.25 billion a quarter.

"The age of sugar-coated dialogue is over. If the government means business, it has to make a bargain, otherwise, to us, nothing is changed," a contact belonging to the Pakistani Taliban camp in the tribal areas told Asia Times Online.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com
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Pakistan in tug of war over terror
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / April 1, 2008
KARACHI - United States efforts have helped Pakistan come up with a basic formula for co-existence between the presidency, Parliament and the armed forces, but the million-dollar question is how and when the Pakistani establishment will assert itself against hostile politicians and their allies in civil society.

Backroom efforts by US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte since Pakistan's parliamentary elections on February 18 have already set aside the strong demands for the impeachment of President Pervez Musharraf for alleged unconstitutional actions taken during the "war on terror" over the past five years of his military rule.

Former premier Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML), which is a key part of the new ruling coalition and a main rival of Musharraf, has agreed to remain quite on the issue of impeachment.

However, during a meeting with Negroponte and US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher in Pakistan last week, Sharif did not agree on the question of presidential powers to appoint armed services chiefs and the president's constitutional power to intervene in Parliament's assemblies.

Following the meetings, Sharif said he had pointed out to the US officials that one-man decisions in the "war on terror" were a mistake and Parliament should decide on such matters.

Sharif is not entirely correct, though. Pakistan's participation in the battle against terror after September 11, 2001, was an institutional decision by the Pakistan military, and this decision remains, as does its support for Musharraf, even though he has shed his uniform. With this support, and that of the US, Musharraf is seen as a "trouble shooter" should the situation demand. There is no question of him being replaced in this role by a regular politician.

Through his personal relationships, Musharraf obviously has an intimate knowledge of - and power over - the armed forces and he can effectively keep a check with any moves that would be tantamount to a betrayal of the cause of the "war on terror". At the same time, his constitutional powers enable him to counter any moves by law makers in this regard.

It is in this context that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani's remarks in Parliament on Saturday have to be taken. He said that "all important policy matters and decisions on important national issues will be taken through the Parliament".

Many Pakistani intellectuals and others regularly demand a US policy of non-intervention in Pakistan's affairs, but none of them raises the point of the US's extensive economic and military aid to Pakistan, which is conditional on Islamabad's support in the "war on terror".

Negroponte and Boucher have been assigned to review Pakistan's performance in this theater on a quarterly basis and report back to Washington on whether or not aid should be released. In this situation, Pakistan has little option but to follow US demands. The alternative is to take the radical decision to part ways from the "war on terror" and face all sorts of economic sanctions, although at least them the country's sovereignty would not be compromised.

Litmus test for the establishment

Pakistan's legal fraternity is still celebrating the release last week of dozens of judges who had been detained on Musharraf's orders last year. The ruling coalition has since signed a declaration for their restoration.

The majority party in the coalition, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), did not agree on that declaration, but Sharif's PML prevailed so that the new administration could face the masses. However, the restoration of the judiciary carries with it the danger of a clash with the establishment - not just with Musharraf. The reason is, the sacking of the judges was an institutional one, not just Musharraf's.

A central issue in the judicial row last year was "missing people". These were the hundreds of people picked up by the security agencies for alleged involvement with the Taliban or al-Qaeda. They were detained without trail or formal registration of a police case against them.

The Inter-Service Intelligence released several people under court pressure, but this pressure eventually came to a dead end. This was not because the security agencies necessarily wanted to defy the courts. The problem was that not all of the detainees were in the custody of the Pakistani security agencies. Dozens of them were handed over to the Americans, ending up in Bagram air base in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay in Cuba or other US facilities.

Deposed chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhary was so concerned that he summoned all of the chiefs of the intelligence agencies to his chambers to brief him on the missing people. Visiting the chief justice was not a problem, but the intelligence bosses simply did not know the exact locations of the people in US custody.

At this point, the security agencies and the armed forces thought Chaudhary might turn the issue of missing people into a huge scandal. Therefore, on March 9 last year they recommended action him and he was subsequently suspended on charges of abuse of his position.

He was then restored on July 20 and immediately chose a collision course with the establishment on several issues, including the National Reconciliation Ordinance which dropped the corruption cases pending against slain former premier Bhutto Bhutto and her husband Asif Zardari.

So the restoration of the judiciary remains one of the the biggest challenges not only for Musharraf but also for the Pakistani establishment, which in all likelihood will once again be faced with the issue of missing people.

The establishment is also upset by the recent appointment of former boss of the Pakistani Federal Investigation Agency and leading member of the PPP, Rahman Malik, as an advisor (minister status) in the Ministry of Interior empowering him to run the "war on terror" theater on the Pakistani side.

Malik owns and operates Shaffaf Limited, a security and detective agency which has coordinated Military Intelligence operations in Pakistan against al-Qaeda. Handing over the Ministry of Interior to Malik means direct access to Military Intelligence matters, and Malik also has a past seriously tainted with corruption charges.

The Pakistani establishment is certain to put its foot down over these pressing issues related to the "war on terror" and the judiciary. It is just a question of when.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
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Pakistan rethinks US policy on militants
By Barbara Plett BBC News, Islamabad Tuesday, 1 April 2008
There is a buzz of excitement in the wood-panelled assembly hall of Pakistan's parliament.

After eight years of military rule, the new legislators feel empowered by an enormous popular mandate.

And they are ready to tackle unpopular policies, especially Pakistan's participation in what is called the War on Terror.

"We've gone through enough problems because of following different agendas of different countries - we need to follow our own agenda," said one parliamentarian from the governing coalition, speaking to a crush of reporters outside.

"Pakistan must get out of America's fatal embrace," said another.

Out of the loop

Comments like these alarm the Americans, because Pakistan is crucial to their Afghan policy.

Since 9/11 they have relied on President Pervez Musharraf and the army for cooperation against al-Qaeda and the Taleban, in exchange for billions of dollars.

Until now parliament was out of the loop.

"No one in this country knows what General Musharraf has agreed with the Americans or anyone else!" says Ahsan Iqbal, a minister in the new cabinet.

The president apparently agreed to an increase in US air strikes in the Taleban strongholds near the Afghan border.

These have killed around 50 people this year, including militants.

Like everyone else, Mr Iqbal read about the tacit understanding in the newspaper.

Such heavy handed tactics "give a cause for these militants to fight for", he says, "so therefore I think whatever strategy we work out, the sovereignty of Pakistan must be respected and we should not give more fuel to these militants".

Security

Pakistanis believe a deadly bombing campaign in the country is the price they are paying for missile strikes and large scale army operations against the militants.

Nearly a thousand people were killed in suicide attacks last year.

And massive injections of American aid have made little difference to their security.

"The general perception in Pakistan is that the deal over the War on Terror was favourable only to one party and unfavourable to Pakistan," says Aseff Ahmad Ali, a member of the governing Pakistan Peoples' Party and a former foreign minister.

"The Americans give us a billion dollars a year for the War on Terror. But where has the money gone? We don't know, maybe to the army.

"But we do know there's been no trickle-down effect - there is neither internal (security) nor food security nor development.

"To the common man the US-Pakistan deal looks absolutely awful. It has to be renegotiated."

Negotiation

In a speech outlining the government's policies, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani emphasized social and political reforms to address the causes of militancy.

He also said the government would negotiate with those who laid down their arms.

Some of his coalition partners go further, like the Pashtun Awami National Party (ANP), which has gained power in the North West Frontier Province near the Afghan border.

"This problem is not going to be solved by my going to talk to the tribal elders only," the provincial chief minister, Amir Haider Khan Hoti, told the Dawn newspaper.

"Unless we somehow approach the one who has taken up arms, or is involved in suicide bombing or has gone to the other extreme, and reach an understanding with him, the problem would not be solved."

'Clear and present danger'

This is a long term solution, but does America have the patience to wait? The head of its Central Intelligence Agency is sounding very impatient.

"The situation on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border presents a clear and present danger to... the West in general and the United States in particular," Michael Hayden said during a recent interview on NBC television.

"It's very clear to us that al-Qaeda has been able for the past 18 months or so to establish a safe haven along the border area that they have not enjoyed before.

"Operationally, we are turning every effort to capture or kill that leadership from the top to the bottom."

Tanvir Ahmed Khan, a former Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan argues that "the Americans have leverage (in Pakistan), but not the same degree as before".

"There would be a restive parliament. There is no strong opinion in parliament for reversing the policy, but there is a strong opinion for moderating it, for a better mix between military and diplomatic measures."

Military wary

But will Pakistan's powerful army agree?

President Musharraf's attempts at peace deals only strengthened the militants and put the military on the back-foot, says retired General Shujaat Ali Khan. The military would be wary of going down the same path again.

"There may be an (initial) agreement on the part of the militants, to sort of pull back their punches", he says, "but during this two or three month period there is a danger that they may regroup.

"And if the armed force is withdrawn, there may be a resurgence, and they'll strike again."

Many here also believe that peace inside Pakistan will be difficult, as long as American and Nato troops remain in Afghanistan.

On Sunday the Pakistan Taleban Movement (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) responded to the government's overtures.

It said it was ready to end attacks inside Pakistan if the authorities showed flexibility, but the 'jihad' against America would continue in Afghanistan.

"Our war is with America", local Taleban leader Maulvi Faqir Muhammed told a rally. "Whenever Pakistan will work for American interests as its ally, we will oppose it."
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ISAF rejects reported killing of 3 civilians in S Afghanistan
KABUL, April 1 (Xinhua) -- NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) on Tuesday rejected the reported killing of three civilians in Panjwai district of Afghanistan's southern Kandahar province, saying the casualties were militants.

"An ISAF patrol spotted insurgents placing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on a road close to an ISAF base in central Panjwayilast night, calling in air support killing three and wounding one," a statement of the alliance released here Tuesday said.

Earlier, Hajji Shah Baran, the governor of Panjwai district, told Xinhua that all the three victims were innocent civilian farmers irrigating their lands when they faced fatal air attack. Baran also called on NATO to initiate a probe into the incident.

"However, the individuals targeted were clearly identified by ISAF as insurgents placing explosives along the road," ISAF statement said.

In order to avoid harming non-combatants, Afghan President Hamid Karzai several times called on international troops to coordinate military operations with local authorities.
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Bin Laden at 1986 arms deal, book says
WASHINGTON, April 1 (UPI) -- Osama bin Laden and his half-brother went to London in 1986 to discuss buying several surface-to-air missiles for the mujahedin in Afghanistan, a book says.

"The Bin Ladens," a newly released book by former Washington Post correspondent and noted bin Laden expert, Steve Coll, says bin Laden and his half brother, Salem, met with "contacts" at the Dorchester hotel in London to negotiate the sale of Russian SA-7 missiles from German arms manufacturer Heckler & Koch.

The book alleges the government of Saudi Arabia paid for the weapons and set up the actual sale in South America, The Washington Post said Tuesday.

The U.S. and Saudi governments in 1986 supported the mujahedin in their resistance to the occupation of the Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. Though the United States arranged to supply the mujahedin with Stinger missiles to shoot down Russian aircraft, Coll says in the book the Afghans were wary of having too strong a link with the Americans.

The book makes several claims, including allegations the former mujahedin and current Taliban leader, Jalauddin Haqqani, got "unilateral" funding from the CIA in the late 1980s.

Coll's 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning "Ghost Wars" examines the rise of the al-Qaida network following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989.
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Remembering the Soviet 'Vietnam'
Al Jazeera / March 31, 2008
The Soviet Union's decade-long war in Afghanistan in the 1980s is a conflict many in the former countries of the USSR would rather forget. As part of the special Veterans series, Al Jazeera visited the Russian cities of Moscow and Yekaterinburg and found survivors of the war who simply cannot leave the past behind.

In the suburbs of Moscow is a small museum, known by few Russians and visited by even fewer, that is dedicated to a conflict dubbed by many the Soviet "Vietnam".

One of the few visitors is Irina Pavlovna, who has come to remember her son who died in 1982 - one of the estimated 15,000 soldiers who perished during the Soviet Union's decade-long war in Afghanistan.

The fact Irina has to visit such a small and unassuming tribute to what was the bloc's largest military operation since World War II is testament to the humiliation still felt today over a conflict many would rather forget.

But for the survivors it is impossible to forget such a devastating and futile conflict that many were ill-equipped to fight. Many former soldiers still bear physical and psychological scars.

Responding to a request from the socialist-leaning administration in Kabul at the time, Soviet tanks began rolling into Afghanistan on December 25, 1979 to assist government troops against so-called fundamentalist rebels.

But the invasion of 80,000 troops was met with angry opposition from the Soviet Union's cold war opponents, led by the United States, who poured money into arming mujahadin fighters to conduct guerrilla warfare.

Although Soviet forces controlled Kabul, the Afghan capital, they struggled to establish a foothold in the mountainous countryside and were the victims of regular attacks by mujahadin – who they referred to as "dukhi" – "ghosts".

"This was not like the second world war, where there [were] two opposing sides and our fathers protected our motherland," Sergei, one veteran of the Afghan conflict, says.

"The Afghans were peaceful and friendly to us in the daytime; but at night they turned to enemies."

Soviet collpase

The terrain and Afghanistan's Muslim population were entirely alien to many young conscripts from cities such as Moscow and St Petersburg. The loss of their innocence was swift.

"Our commanders told us to be humane, yet I remember one episode, when one of them aimed his machinegun at a camel and shot it," Ahlam, another veteran, says.

"I was horrified. 'Why did you do that?' I asked, 'Is this animal guilty of anything? Has it done anything wrong?' And he said: 'Yesterday they killed my friend.' He completely tore apart the animal because he was mad with anger."

As the Soviets became embroiled in the internal problems of Afghanistan and the casualties mounted, pressure increased in turn for a pullout. With its prestige in tatters, the USSR began negotiations for a withdrawal.

That withdrawal was completed when the last Soviet soldier left Afghanistan in 1989.

With the USSR disintegrating two years later in 1991 and Russia now newly resurgent under Vladimir Putin, many in the country today have consigned the Afghan debacle to the back of their mind.

There are no national monuments to a war regarded by many as a humiliation but individual towns have chosen to commemorate those who served and died for their country.

The imposing "Black Tulip" monument in the Western Siberian town of Yekaterinburg is named after a cargo plane that carried home some of the tens of thousands of dead bodies from Afghanistan.

But many of those who returned alive are still disappointed by the lack of support they received and the isolation they felt from society.

"There was no governmental programme to help the veterans, even the invalids," Dmitry Levin, who runs the museum dedicated to the war in Moscow, says.

"We had to survive on our own, so we started to unite. Some of us succeeded in this. Some didn't."

Lack of compensation

Ahlam, a former soldier from Yekaterinburg, says a list of substantial benefits for veterans was shown on the television at the time.

"It read that all veterans get an increase of 2,500 rubles in pensions, and more for invalids – 4,500 rubles," he says.

"But when it comes to receiving the pension, they tell me: 'You get 300 rubles. Be thankful we even give you that much!'"

As well as financial hardship, those returning to the USSR also had to adapt to the end of communism soon after and the advent of a free-market system.

"That sudden change was shocking for many," Dmitry says.

"Days before our politicians were communists and here they were throwing away their party membership cards. That made us hate them."

Despite the difficulties faced on their return, many veterans of the conflict have put their experiences behind them and adapted well to civilian life.

Valery Burkov is one. Despite losing his legs in the conflict, he is now a successful politician.

But others have deep psychological scars despite not being injured physically, and have found adapting to life after war more difficult.

Valentina Impulskaya works as a doctor in Yekaterinburg where many veterans from the region come for free, locally-funded treatment and support.

"During Soviet times, we had certainty and order. And now we have capitalism. Everyone is on his own, and in charge of himself," she says.

"And this leads to emotional stress. People who experienced stress during battles react to these changed circumstances very keenly."

Some of the problems the veterans experience are a direct result of battle injuries.

"Unfortunately many of the soldiers suffered cerebral contusion – that is brain damage or shell shock - as a result of mines exploding under their tanks or armoured personnel carriers," Semen Spector, a former director of the hospital, says.

"We have discovered that a man with contusion is physically 14 years older than his real age. Psychological instability, poor memory, social problems are all caused by this."

Drug legacy

Sergei and Ahlem are among the patients and both have suffered from alcoholism since returning while others turned to drugs for solace.

Afghanistan supplies 90 per cent of the world's opium and drug habits acquired on the battlefield have not been easy to shrug off.

Vladimir Gaiworinok first tried heroin in Afghanistan and has used it intermittently ever since. He has contracted Aids as a result of his usage.

He refuses to blame his experiences in the war for his current plight and says he learned a lot in Afghanistan but says that he thinks "it would have better for me to have been killed there… It would have been better like this."


Viktor Bashkow, the director of the hospital, says many veterans would choose to forget the conflict if they could but they cannot.

"And in fact they shouldn’t forget their past," he says.

"They must pass it on to their children – the knowledge that war is the worst thing.

"And that is why veterans are the best peacekeepers. They know the value of human life. Even though they might smoke or drink, the sense of justice in them is the strongest."

Despite fading from the consciences of many people in modern Russia some veterans are determined not to forget their fallen comrades, whether it be through the regular meetings of regional Union of Afghan veterans in Yekaterinburg or the work of Dmitry Levin at his museum in Moscow.

Today, it is not the Soviet Union that is sending its young men to war but the Russian Federation. A new section has already been added to the Black Tulip memorial in Yekaterinburg.

The Cyrillic script reads simply: "Chechnya".

Like their counterparts who fought in Afghanistan, a new generation of veterans will pay the price of a war fought for political reasons.
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