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April 13, 2008 

8 police killed in Afghan attacks
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer Sun Apr 13, 4:32 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Militants launched two attacks against Afghanistan's vulnerable police, killing eight officers, including four who were destroying a field of opium poppies, officials said Sunday.

Seven killed in Afghan violence: officials
Sun Apr 13, 5:49 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Three civilians were killed in a roadside bomb blast in Afghanistan on Sunday while four policemen died when Taliban militants ambushed their patrol in a separate attack, officials said.

French, Canadian foreign ministers in Kandahar
Sun Apr 13, 3:38 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - The foreign ministers of France and Canada on Sunday visited a NATO air base in southern Afghanistan, where both countries have troops deployed in the fight against Taliban rebels.

Kouchner says Pakistan must help Kabul end violence
April 13, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - Canadian Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier and his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner made a joint visit to the NATO air base in southern Kandahar, where both countries have troops deployed to help Kabul fight Taliban rebels.

Are Afghanistan's aid millions well spent?
By George Arney BBC World Service's Assignment, Kabul Sunday, 13 April 2008 15:37 UK
An array of foreign aid agencies are delivering assistance to the Afghan people to help them rebuild their shattered country.

Video Plucks Afghan Detainees From Isolation
New York Times, United States By CARLOTTA GALL  April 13, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan -Early this year, a 10-year-old Afghan named Esrarullah got his first chance in months to see his father, who had been held since last May at Bagram Air Base outside Kabul. It was not in person

Afghan detainees stuck in limbo
April 13, 2008 at 12:38 PM
KABUL, Afghanistan, April 13 (UPI) -- Afghan citizens returning home from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, face lengthy trials with no jury or adequate defense, critics say.

German Army Chief Wants More Troops in Afghanistan
Deutsche Welle
The German army's chief of staff wants more troops in northern Afghanistan following a string of recent attacks on German soldiers and their Afghan helpers, he said in a magazine interview published on Sunday, April 13.

Bodies of two Indians to be flown home from Afghanistan
Sun, Apr 13 06:40 PM
New Delhi, April 13 (IANS) The bodies of two Indian engineers killed in a suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan are expected to be flown in to New Delhi Monday.

Afghan authorities arrest three for involvement in Indians killings
New Kerala
Kabul, Apr 13 : Authorities in Afghanistan have arrested three people for alleged involvement in the Saturday's suicide attack in which two Border Roads Organisation (BRO) officials of India and an Afghan driver were killed.

Handshake seals Afghan partnership
Apr 13, 2008 04:30 AM The Canadian Press
KABUL–A hearty handshake sealed the deal yesterday as Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier consummated Canada's latest partnership with his French and Afghan counterparts to cap a whirlwind visit to Afghanistan's capital.

Afghan fighting poised to escalate
The arrival of a Marine unit raises hopes that NATO will finally tame the violent south. But many Taliban fighters are returning after a winter lull.
By Laura King Los Angeles Times Staff Writer April 13, 2008
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN — For weeks now, the men in black turbans have been coming. They travel in pairs or small groups, on battered motorbikes or in dusty pickups, materializing out of the desert with Kalashnikovs

200 Pakistanis in Afghan jails: official estimate
Sunday April 13, 2008 PakTribune.com, Pakistan
ISLAMABAD: There are at present 200 Pakistanis in different Afghan jails, according to official estimates. The number is feared to be much larger.

Afghanistan: Warlordism 'Is Winning' Versus Democracy
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty April 13, 2008
Ordinary Afghans are becoming increasingly concerned about their future as the power of warlords appears to be growing in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan: Over 400,000 people receive food aid amid soaring prices
KABUL, 13 April 2008 (IRIN) - To counter growing food insecurity in the country, more than 400,000 Afghans have so far been assisted through a joint UN and government "safety net" programme over the past two months, the World Food Programme (WFP) said.

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8 police killed in Afghan attacks
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer Sun Apr 13, 4:32 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Militants launched two attacks against Afghanistan's vulnerable police, killing eight officers, including four who were destroying a field of opium poppies, officials said Sunday.

Kandahar provincial police chief Sayed Agha Saqib said the militants killed four eradication police in the province's Maiwand district on Saturday. The attack is at least the third time militants have targeted such teams in the last several weeks and comes one week after fighters killed seven officers who were eradicating poppies.

Saqib has said police would increase the teams' protection. Around 100 officers on the country's poppy eradication force were killed in the line of duty over the last year, the Interior Ministry has said.

Militants or criminal gangs who attack the eradication teams are trying to protect a business that provides them with tens of millions of dollars a year. Afghanistan supplies more than 90 percent of the world's illicit opium, the main ingredient in heroin. Taliban fighters and other criminals charge taxes on farmers' harvests and for safe passage of the crop.

Farmers cultivated a record 477,000 acres of opium in 2007, a 14 percent increase over the previous year. Total production, spurred by unusually high rainfall, increased even further, by 34 percent, to 9,000 tons, the U.N. has said.

Elsewhere in the south, Taliban fighters attacked a police checkpoint in the Gereshk district of Helmand province overnight, said district police chief Khair Uddin Shuja.

Police dispatched backup to the checkpoint, but Taliban militants ambushed one of the police trucks, killing four officers and wounding seven, he said.

Militants killed more than 900 police officers last year. Police are inviting targets because they have less training and weaponry and work in smaller teams than Afghan or NATO soldiers.

Last year was the most violent in Afghanistan since the 2001 ouster of the Taliban. More than 8,000 people, mostly militants, died in insurgency related violence, according to the U.N.
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Seven killed in Afghan violence: officials
Sun Apr 13, 5:49 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Three civilians were killed in a roadside bomb blast in Afghanistan on Sunday while four policemen died when Taliban militants ambushed their patrol in a separate attack, officials said.

The blast which hit the vehicle of a tribal elder in the eastern province of Khost also left four people wounded, a provincial government spokesman said.

"A roadside bomb hit the vehicle of tribal chief Haji Nazim. As a result of the blast three people including his son were killed and four others were injured," spokesman Khaiber Pashtun told AFP.

The tribal chief survived the remotely-detonated bomb, he said.

He did not say who was behind the attack but Taliban militants engaged in a bloody insurgency have been blamed for similar attacks in the past.

Separately, Taliban militants ambushed a police patrol in southern province of Helmand overnight, killing four policemen and injuring seven others, a police commander said.

The attack took place in the Gereshk district late Saturday, local police chief Khair Mohammad Shuja told AFP. Police launched a hunt and captured two wounded rebels early Sunday, he added.

"Taliban ambushed one of our patrols. In fighting that erupted after the ambush we lost four policemen," Shuja said.

A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack.

Violence from the Taliban-led insurgency has spiked in recent weeks, mostly in southern Afghanistan.

More than 70,000 international troops are stationed in Afghanistan to fight the insurgency and help the government expand its influence to the countryside.
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French, Canadian foreign ministers in Kandahar
Sun Apr 13, 3:38 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - The foreign ministers of France and Canada on Sunday visited a NATO air base in southern Afghanistan, where both countries have troops deployed in the fight against Taliban rebels.

Wrapping up a two-day joint visit to the war-ravaged country, France's Bernard Kouchner and Canada's Maxime Bernier travelled to Kandahar -- birthplace of the Taliban movement -- in separate planes.

The two ministers visited the French air force contingent serving with both the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and a separate US-led coalition, an AFP reporter witnessed.

Neither made any comments to reporters. The rest of their itinerary was kept secret for security purposes.

Canada has around 2,500 troops in southern Afghanistan, 82 of whom have been killed since 2002.

France earlier this month pledged to nearly double the number of its forces in Afghanistan to 3,000. It currently has about 1,600 soldiers based in the Kabul region, and 160 troops at Kandahar air base.

A total of about 70,000 foreign soldiers, most of them under NATO command, are still locked down in Afghanistan battling the Taliban insurgency, launched shortly after they were ousted from power in late 2001.
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Kouchner says Pakistan must help Kabul end violence
April 13, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - Canadian Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier and his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner made a joint visit to the NATO air base in southern Kandahar, where both countries have troops deployed to help Kabul fight Taliban rebels.

Kouchner said Sunday that Taliban violence in Afghanistan could only be stopped with the aid of Pakistan, where rebels operate in lawless border areas.

"Further military means are needed in order for the process of securing Afghanistan to proceed... but there must also be a regional view, particularly with regards to neighbouring Pakistan," Kouchner told AFP.

He said he had on Saturday discussed with Afghan President Hamid Karzai efforts to step up security along the common border, which is 2,500 kilometres (1,550 miles) long, runs through difficult terrain and is difficult to patrol.

Ties between Kabul and Islamabad have been fragile, with each accusing the other of not doing enough to tackle Islamic extremists behind a wave of deadly suicide blasts and other bombings on both sides of the porous border.

"This is an Afghan-Pakistan problem, but this incredible looseness which allows all sorts of trafficking cannot be allowed to continue," Kouchner said.

"This border problem needs to be resolved, and if we can take part in that process, that would be great," he added, saying he had plans to meet with Pakistan's new leadership, without providing details.

Kouchner and Bernier had travelled to Kandahar -- birthplace of the Taliban movement -- earlier Sunday in separate planes, to wrap up their two-day joint visit to Afghanistan.

They visited the French air force contingent serving with both the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and a separate US-led coalition.

Canada has around 2,500 troops in southern Afghanistan, 82 of whom have been killed since 2002.

France earlier this month pledged to nearly double the number of its forces in Afghanistan to 3,000. It currently has about 1,600 soldiers based in the Kabul region, and 160 troops at Kandahar air base.

A total of about 70,000 foreign soldiers, most of them under NATO command, are still locked down in Afghanistan battling the Taliban insurgency, launched shortly after they were ousted from power in late 2001.
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Are Afghanistan's aid millions well spent?
By George Arney BBC World Service's Assignment, Kabul Sunday, 13 April 2008 15:37 UK
An array of foreign aid agencies are delivering assistance to the Afghan people to help them rebuild their shattered country.

But are there too many different groups all trying to do the same thing - and are the billions of dollars pouring into the country being well spent?

The sheer number of foreign aid organisations that have gone into Afghanistan since the fall of the Taleban in 2001 - military-led reconstruction teams, profit-making corporations, private contractors, UN agencies and traditional NGOs - is bewildering.

But inevitably, questions are being asked about whether the muddle and waste that arises is contributing to the declining popularity of the central government. And there is a feeling that some of the foreigners are beginning to outstay their welcome.

"People expect their government to deliver services to them," says deputy rural development minister Asif Rahimi.

"They say yes, we have been receiving aid during the war, during the Taleban, even during the Soviet invasion. Now we have an elected government in Afghanistan, we expect the ministries to come and help us.

"When they see non-governmental actors come in, they say the government is not a very good government. And with the government going to those places, it does not have support among the population.

"Especially if the non-governmental organisations leave that area they create a vacuum, which can be felt by the anti-government elements."

Compound

A typical NGO operating in Afghanistan is British charity Children In Crisis, which is working to provide education to children who would otherwise be on the streets or trying to support families.

Their local director Feizin Amlani stresses that the charity is working on "capacity building" - aiming to train local staff so that they can eventually take over the work.

"CIC prides itself on being an expert in training and building capacity, with the future being them able to run their own projects," she says.

But it is clear that in other areas, there are few signs of handing over.

Much of the capacity-building is being done in government ministries by highly-paid foreign consultants, some earning as much as $500,000 each year.

In one ministry, four different teams of consultants from four different countries were found unbeknownst to each other - all working on the same project.

And these foreign consultants do not get much chance to mix with ordinary Afghans outside the workplace.

Because of security concerns, they are almost totally cut off from the realities of everyday life in Afghanistan.

"The US embassy staff are in complete lockdown - they cannot go anywhere at all," says Feizin Amlani.

"Lockdown means you stay in your compound... NGOs are not as restricted, but we can't walk anywhere. Everything is in the vehicle."

Anger

In a typical Afghan tea house are two young Kabulis: Rush, 22, a guard and interpreter; and Mahdi, a former driver for an NGO who has now joined the Afghan army. Both are very critical of the foreign presence in the city.

"I'm angry - the foreigners came here to help the poor people of Afghanistan, but unfortunately they are spending money in restaurants on alcohol, on fuel for sightseeing vehicles," says Rush.

"They are spending all their money on themselves."

And Mahdi adds that he feels "very sad" on seeing foreigners "driving in their big cars and living in their big mansions."

"That money could help the economies of the poor Afghan families," he adds.

"All my friends and all Afghans think like this - the foreigners here are acting like movie stars. They drive big cars, use big guns.

"At night they are getting Chinese and Russian girls for playing. They have no sense of where they are and what they are doing."

According to Matt Waldman, who is Oxfam's policy adviser, the anger felt by some Afghans about the amount of money spent on what looks to them like foreigners' luxurious lifestyles is compounded by the inefficient way that much of the aid is delivered.

"We have seen a lot of aid has been wasted," he said.

"Many of the big donors give a substantial portion of their aid to contractors - and as in Iraq, we see that many of those contractors have very big profit margins, often over 20% - sometimes as high as 50%.

"In one particular project, there may be as many as five contractors."

'Badly skewed'

Mr Waldman says he knows of Afghan contractors making profits that high, but adds that international contractors would not reveal their figures.

This is one of the flaws in the international aid system. Over the past 20 years, US aid has been effectively privatised - and US contractors are under no obligation to reveal how much profit they make.


However, Bill Wood, at the US Embassy in Kabul - known to some NGOs as "Fortress America" - vigorously defends the US aid efforts.

"We are spending our money to employ experts who are experts, to do a difficult and complicated job," he says.

"To the degree that we can spend the money inside of Afghanistan to employ Afghans, we do that."

But Oxfam has warned of a humanitarian disaster unless there is a change in direction of aid effort, and Matt Waldman says that there is a desperate need in particular for more rural aid.

If this is not forthcoming, he believes stability will remain elusive - critically undermining the work in the country since 2001.

"I have no doubt that there is a significant link between poverty and insecurity," he says.

"I think we have to consider the lives of ordinary Afghans who are living in extremely difficult circumstances. In that case, people will be forced to desperate measures, and that may include fighting for militants or growing poppy [for heroin]."
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Video Plucks Afghan Detainees From Isolation
New York Times, United States By CARLOTTA GALL  April 13, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan -Early this year, a 10-year-old Afghan named Esrarullah got his first chance in months to see his father, who had been held since last May at Bagram Air Base outside Kabul. It was not in person, but in a video conference call, and the boy was so overcome, he clutched the phone to his ear and stared mutely at the screen.

Afghan families like his are traveling from distant provinces and turning up by the hundreds for a similar chance to get a glimpse of loved ones who have been held at the American base for months, sometimes years, without charges or legal redress.

It is a measure of their desperation for any word on the fate of their husbands, fathers and brothers that so many families have come so quickly.

In the three months since the program began, about 500 calls have been made. On a recent morning a dozen families gathered to wait their turn before the video screens provided by the American military and set up in three small booths at the Kabul offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The program, the first of its kind, amounts to a compromise of sorts between the United States military and the Red Cross, which has long pressed the Americans to allow the detainees visitors, without success.

“We have always been pushing for family visits,” said Graziella Leite Piccolo, the spokeswoman for the Red Cross in Kabul. “This is the first step, but it is not the same as person-to-person contact, and we are pushing to allow face-to-face visits.”

For the families, the calls are something, but a small consolation. They are churning up a maelstrom of emotions for the detainees and their families, who swing from relief and joy to pain and frustration, even despair at what many of them see as the hopelessness of their situation.

The detention center at Bagram Air Base, just an hour’s drive north of Kabul, has been a black hole for detainees and their families since it opened in early 2002. The detainees — 600 to 650 people are being held there — have no access to lawyers, nor any judicial process. They receive no parcels.

The United States military will not release any information about them, but, according to their families, some have been held at Bagram for as long as three years.

The Red Cross visits the detainees, under its mandate to assess conditions at prisons in Afghanistan, though it will not comment publicly on what it finds. It also provides a letter service for detainees and families, which is often the only way that families learn relatives are being held at Bagram at all.

“We don’t know who to complain to,” said Gul Shah Khan, whose son, Ahmad Murid, 24, has been held for two and a half years without trial or any investigation. “There is no place to appeal to and say what is true and what is false.”

In that atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, the video calls have become a lifeline so popular that families are returning a second time, with wives and babies and sick mothers, for a 20-minute call.
“We realized he is alive and he is in Bagram,” Rahimullah, Esrarullah’s uncle, said of the boy’s father, Hafizullah, who was detained eight months ago after he was stopped at a checkpoint near his home. His relatives said people in power in the province from a rival faction were behind his detention.

“When he sent us a letter, we knew, but now we are 100 percent sure.”

“He said, ‘Hello Dad,’ and then he could not talk,” he said of Esrarullah after the call on the big black box with a small television screen and a clumsy old-fashioned receiver, which is operated on a secure video and telephone line from Bagram.

When the boy could not speak, Rahimullah, 42, who like many Afghans uses only one name, took the phone from him and rattled off a series of jokes about the long beard his brother-in-law had grown in prison. “I did not want them to be sad,” he said.

Sidiqque Ahmad, 21, emerged crying after talking to his younger brother, Jawed, a journalist from the southern city of Kandahar who was arrested by American forces on Oct. 26.

“The Americans were very bad people,” he said through tears. “They beat my brother, they broke his teeth. He is innocent, he is a journalist and he is like a child. If he has done anything wrong, we don’t know what it is.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York, has taken up the case of Jawed Ahmad, who was working for the Canadian television network CTV at the time.

A spokesman at the Pentagon said that Mr. Ahmad was being held as an “unlawful enemy combatant,” the organization said in a news release.

The organization, which works for press freedom around the world, has protested Mr. Ahmad’s detention for four months without charges and has called on the United States military to disclose the evidence and charges against him or release him.

Some things were left unsaid. Two families said they had not told the detainees about relatives who had died, to spare them the pain. Three families, including Esrarullah’s, blamed personal enemies for spreading false information about the detainees that lead to their arrest.

Mr. Khan, a nurse who works in a rural health clinic, said his son and nephew had been wounded in a grenade attack near their village by local people who had feuded with the family.

They were badly injured, and the family took them first to the provincial hospital in the eastern province of Khost, then to Pakistan, where the hospitals are better. But near the border they were arrested by the Afghan police and handed over to the American military.

They were accused of involvement in an attack on the same day in another district, he said. Mr. Khan blamed a man from his village, who he said works in the intelligence service, for making the accusations.
“He was a student, not Al Qaeda,” Mr. Khan said of his son. “Our enemy pressed the hospital to say he was Al Qaeda.”

He said he was relieved to see that his son had recovered from his injuries and had gained weight in prison. Other detainees who had been released had assured him there was no torture in the prison, he said. Two people died while in detention in 2002, after suffering repeated blows from American soldiers and being chained for hours in a standing position.

He was more worried about his nephew, who was transferred nine months ago to the Afghan-run prison at Pul-i-Charkhi, where he said Afghan officials were demanding large bribes to secure an acquittal.
“I am not worried about my son who is in with the Americans because they do not want money,” he said.  
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Afghan detainees stuck in limbo
April 13, 2008 at 12:38 PM
KABUL, Afghanistan, April 13 (UPI) -- Afghan citizens returning home from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, face lengthy trials with no jury or adequate defense, critics say.

The United States in 2006 began transferring detainees to the custody of the Afghan government in an attempt to reduce the population and ultimately close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

Several detainees are held in the high-security wing of Afghanistan's Pul-i-Charki prison and sit for months without charge, The Washington Post reported Sunday.

Twenty detainees in early 2008 sewed their mouths shut with wire and staged a hunger strike to protest their lack of judicial review.

Zalmay Rasul, an Afghan official charged with detainee affairs, told the Post the legal system in Afghanistan is "not perfect" but noted the issue is, in part, due to the lack of a judicial infrastructure following decades of conflict.

U.S. and Afghan legal experts say the legal process for detainees in Afghanistan follows the process for detainees at Guantanamo Bay, which many critics says violates international law.

"The Afghans are essentially rubber-stamping what the occupiers of their country are suggesting," said one opponent.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai in February appointed seven Afghan officials to expedite the legal procedures for the detainees transferred from Guantanamo Bay.
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German Army Chief Wants More Troops in Afghanistan
Deutsche Welle
The German army's chief of staff wants more troops in northern Afghanistan following a string of recent attacks on German soldiers and their Afghan helpers, he said in a magazine interview published on Sunday, April 13.

Wolfgang Schneiderhan told the weekly magazine Focus that the 3,500-strong mission in northern Afghanistan was stretched to the limit. He also said he expects more attacks on his troops by insurgents, although the north is widely seen as more peaceful than the restive southern part of the country.

The number of troops "takes away flexibility for me to react quickly to any worsening in the situation. I will argue this when the extension of the mandate comes up for discussion in the autumn," Schneiderhan said.

According to the online edition of Der Spiegel magazine, Schneiderhan went further in a recent meeting with a parliamentary defense committee, telling ministers that recent attacks were evidence of an "alarming development."

Schneiderhan told the committee in a meeting behind closed doors that the situation in the north was "not quiet and not stable" and that German troops were being faced with "new challenges" as a result of an increase in violence, Spiegel reported.

Attacks on the increase German troops have been attacked three times in recent weeks. No German soldiers were killed but other attacks have killed seven Afghans working as helpers for reconstruction teams, Spiegel said in an article published on Sunday.

Since 2002, 26 German troops have been killed in Afghanistan. The soldiers, whose number hovers in reality around the 3,200 mark due to troop fluctuations, is part of NATO's 47,000-strong International Security and Assistance Force.

Berlin has resisted pressure from NATO allies to deploy its forces in the south of the country where US, British and Canadian soldiers are bearing the brunt of a tenacious Taliban insurgency.

In late February rockets were fired at German forces' barracks in Kunduz, and last Wednesday there was a suicide attack on a German patrol. A bomb attack on a German armored vehicle in late March injured three German troops.

"Our soldiers are not cowards. They went straight back out on patrol," Scheinderhan told the parliamentary committee, rejecting suggestions that Germany has chosen a less dangerous option by limiting its mission mainly in the north.
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Bodies of two Indians to be flown home from Afghanistan
Sun, Apr 13 06:40 PM
New Delhi, April 13 (IANS) The bodies of two Indian engineers killed in a suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan are expected to be flown in to New Delhi Monday.

Two Indian engineers were killed and five others injured when two suicide bombers attacked their convoy in Nimroz province of southwestern Afghanistan Saturday morning. According to media reports, a Taliban spokesperson claimed responsibility for the attack.

The suicide bombers jumped in front of the convoy carrying the Indians, who are engaged in building a road in the area. A third accomplice, injured in the incident, was arrested by Afghan security personnel.

The bodies of the two engineers, M.P. Singh and C. Govindaswamy, were airlifted to Zaranj and then taken to Kabul. Officials in the ministry of external affairs (MEA) in New Delhi said the bodies of the two engineers would be brought to Delhi once the formalities are completed.

The injured, who were also brought to Kabul, could also be flown home for better medical treatment, the officials said.

The Indian workers targeted Saturday were working on a strategic road linking Afghanistan's garland highway to the Iranian border and then onto Iranian seaports.

The MEA strongly condemned the suicide bomb attack 'aimed against India's aid and humanitarian programme in Afghanistan' but reiterated New Delhi's 'determination to continue to work with the Afghan people and government for the rehabilitation and reconstruction' of the war ravaged country.

Nearly 4,000 Indians are engaged in the construction of various infrastructure projects in Afghanistan. India has pledged $850 million for the reconstruction of the country, making New Delhi the fifth largest donor there
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Afghan authorities arrest three for involvement in Indians killings
New Kerala
Kabul, Apr 13 : Authorities in Afghanistan have arrested three people for alleged involvement in the Saturday's suicide attack in which two Border Roads Organisation (BRO) officials of India and an Afghan driver were killed.

The authorities said that two of those arrested were local shopkeepers, while the third belonged to Kandahar.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister A.K Antony had a discussion with his Afghan counter part Abdul Rahim Wardak on the escalating terror attacks.

Antony had strongly condemned the attack and asserted that India would "not succumb to pressures" from the Taliban in its endeavor to work for reconstruction of Afghanistan.

"The Center is keenly watching the development. Recently there have been several incidents and this is continuation of that. We did not expect this. The roadwork is almost complete," Antony had said.

A Taliban spokesman called up news agencies in Afghanistan and said that the militia first detonated two mines and then a suicide bomber blew him up.

Nearly 400 BRO personnel are engaged in construction of a crucial 218-km highway between Zaranj and Delaram in Afghanistan as part of India's assistance programme for reconstruction of the war-torn country.
--- ANI
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Handshake seals Afghan partnership
Apr 13, 2008 04:30 AM The Canadian Press
KABUL–A hearty handshake sealed the deal yesterday as Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier consummated Canada's latest partnership with his French and Afghan counterparts to cap a whirlwind visit to Afghanistan's capital.

After a day of fleeting photo-ops – Afghan President Hamid Karzai, rival Yunus Qanooni, artisans at a cultural centre – Bernier met with France's gregarious Bernard Kouchner and Afghan foreign minister Rangin Dadar Spanta.

Bernier thanked France for announcing last week that it's sending 700 more troops to bolster its 1,430 troops serving as part of the 47,000-strong NATO force in Afghanistan.

He said he also urged Karzai to get an "efficient government" running in Kandahar province, where Canadian soldiers regularly come under deadly attack.
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Afghan fighting poised to escalate
The arrival of a Marine unit raises hopes that NATO will finally tame the violent south. But many Taliban fighters are returning after a winter lull.
By Laura King Los Angeles Times Staff Writer April 13, 2008
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN — For weeks now, the men in black turbans have been coming. They travel in pairs or small groups, on battered motorbikes or in dusty pickups, materializing out of the desert with Kalashnikovs and rocket launchers slung from their shoulders.

With the advent of warmer weather, villagers say, Taliban fighters are filtering back from their winter shelters in Pakistan, ensconcing themselves across Afghanistan's wind-swept south.

"Every day we see more and more of them," said Abdul Karim, a farmer who had sent his family away for safety.

The insurgents aren't the only ones girding for battle.

At the country's main NATO base outside Kandahar, nearly 2,300 U.S. Marines have arrived in the last two months, their presence heralded by the nonstop thunder of transport aircraft and the sprawling tent city springing up on a newly cleared minefield.

The Marine force's final elements arrived days ago and last week began deploying, aiming to bolster British, Canadian and Dutch troops who have been bearing the brunt of fighting in the country's south, considered the conflict's strategic center of gravity.

The conflict in Afghanistan recently has loomed increasingly large in policy debate.

It dominated discussions at a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit last month, where President Bush pledged to send more troops and pointedly urged allies to do likewise. Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates heard urgent appeals for reinforcements from U.S. commanders in Afghanistan, who forecast a substantial upsurge in fighting.

In Afghanistan, where presidential elections are due next year, opinion surveys consistently suggest that a solid majority of the population supports the presence of foreign forces. But people don't want them to stay on indefinitely, and an inconclusive spring "fighting season" could try public patience.

The first-time arrival in the south of a large force of Marines, the 24th Expeditionary Unit based in Camp Lejeune, N.C., has provided what commanders say is a much-needed infusion of firepower. The Marines have doubled the coalition's air capacity; Harrier jump jets, lumbering cargo planes and combat helicopters line the freshly laid tarmac.

Just as crucially, commanders say, Marines' deployment may at last give NATO-led troops the muscle and reach to choke off the flow of Taliban fighters and weaponry into neighboring Helmand province, consistently the most violence-racked in Afghanistan. It is the country's epicenter of opium production and narco-trafficking, whose enormous profits help fuel the insurgency.

In this unforgiving environment, British troops, considered to be among the alliance's most effective fighters, have been forced to confine their efforts largely to the province's northern tier, making the south of Helmand, with its plethora of infiltration routes from Pakistan, a likely zone of deployment for the Marines.

Although allied commanders express satisfaction with the battlefield edge the Marines will bring, the Taliban professes unconcern.

"We have heard all about these Americans, and we are waiting -- let them come," said a Taliban field commander, reached by phone in the Panjwai district outside Kandahar. "They will learn what others before them have learned."

The insurgents boast that they will blend tried-and-true methods with deadly refinements. Beaten badly in previous large-scale frontal assaults on NATO-led troops, Taliban fighters vow to harry them with more powerful and sophisticated roadside bombs, unrelenting suicide attacks and methodical targeting of Afghans who are helping the coalition forces.

Coalition commanders are well aware that the Taliban will try to steer the conflict toward small-scale hit-and-run strikes, but say it is they, not the insurgents, who will seize the initiative.

"They definitely don't want to go toe-to-toe with us," said Col. Peter Petronzio, commander of the Marine expeditionary force now operating out of the Kandahar base.

NATO officials like to point out that even during a period of resurgence over the last two years, Taliban fighters have failed to seize substantial population centers or hold large swaths of territory for long.

But it's not clear whether the insurgents want to do so; instead, they rely on the classic guerrilla tactic of scattering when confronted, then reappearing when it suits them.

Many Taliban fighters are essentially part-timers; villagers say the ranks of locally recruited insurgents will swell in coming weeks after the opium poppy crop has been planted.

With fighting seemingly poised to escalate, one major worry for the coalition is civilian casualties, which spiked during combat last spring. At that time, human rights groups charged that Western troops sometimes too readily called in airstrikes when under attack, obliterating village compounds that might not have contained only insurgents, if any.

Coalition commanders, in turn, have expressed continued frustration with what they describe as insurgents' willful endangering of civilians by launching attacks from within their midst, combined with what they say is the common practice of reporting their own battle dead as civilians.

During the winter months, with harsh weather bringing a relative lull in fighting, the coalition has made a concerted effort to hunt down Taliban field commanders, either capturing them or killing them in pinpoint airstrikes. They describe the mid-level to upper leadership ranks as having been decimated by this campaign.

But senior Western military officials acknowledge that many of these leaders have been swiftly replaced, in some cases by younger and even more ruthless commanders.

"It's a new generation we are seeing, capable of the worst kind of atrocities," said Brig. Gen. Carlos Branco, spokesman of the NATO-led force.

Last week, insurgents slaughtered 17 Afghan road workers in neighboring Zabol province. In response, Afghan and coalition forces hunted down and killed two dozen Taliban blamed for the attack, military officials said Saturday.

Part of the Western alliance's overall strategy is to turn more of the fighting and policing over to the long-troubled Afghan security forces.

American trainers believe they are turning a corner. Recruitment, pay and morale are all up, they say. But although Afghan security forces have played a more prominent role in policing and battlefield engagements over the last year, serious problems remain.

For example, Afghan forces are assigned whenever possible for house searches, an intimate and culturally charged encounter that has inflamed resentment when carried out by foreign troops. However, commanders acknowledge that without careful monitoring, looting sometimes occurs during such Afghan-conducted searches.

Moreover, the Taliban find Afghan police a "softer" target than coalition troops and have killed scores in suicide strikes. Senior police officials matter-of-factly say they believe the insurgents have marked them for death.

"The Taliban have warned me so many times to leave this job," said Haji Saifullah, the district police commissioner in Maywand, a district of Kandahar province that borders Helmand and has become an insurgent stronghold. "They want to plant a roadside bomb, or send a suicide bomber, or shoot me," he said. "So far they haven't succeeded."

Longtime observers of the conflict say that even if the insurgents' strength is flagging, a protracted battle probably lies ahead.

"I think the Taliban are not as strong as in the past," said Haji Dad Mohammad, a Kandahar-based former militia leader who sometimes serves as an intermediary between the government and insurgents. "But still, the fighting will go ahead."

laura.king@latimes.com
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200 Pakistanis in Afghan jails: official estimate
Sunday April 13, 2008 PakTribune.com, Pakistan
ISLAMABAD: There are at present 200 Pakistanis in different Afghan jails, according to official estimates. The number is feared to be much larger.

There appear to be no women among these prisoners who have been identified by the Pakistani mission in Kabul as being Pakistani nationals.

"There is no central authority inside Afghanistan that we can deal with for all the Pakistanis who have been detained. There may be some Pakistanis kept in areas of which we have no knowledge, but the Pakistani mission and the Afghan Foreign Office are in constant touch over the release of the known imprisoned Pakistanis," the spokesman at the Foreign Office told media.

Unlike other countries where there is some semblance of a government in charge of the whole country, the hopeless situation across the border has seen many families of imprisoned Pakistanis in the hands of warlords or other Afghans dealing with them directly, bypassing Islamabad. Many times Nato troops have been involved in detaining Pakistanis.

One such case is that of the missing Pukhtun poet, Sajid Afghan, who is still in custody inside Afghanistan. His brother Tahir Ali working with a TV station said his brother was travelling on valid documents and he had been cleared of all charges.

"My brother Sajid Afghan visited eastern Afghan province of Kunar last year where he was arrested by the Afghan police. He is currently detained in Kabul`s Pul-i-Charkhi prison. He was arrested but during investigation nothing was proven against him, even he is cleared of all charges by the Americans," Tahir told media.

"No request has come to the government from his family, as far as Sajid Afghan is concerned, though we have read reports about his disappearance and imprisonment in Pul-i-Charkhi jail. Between 2002 and 2007, we have seen the release of 527 Pakistanis through our embassy and different sources," said the spokesman.

According to one report, Pakistanis, who visit dangerous areas in Afghanistan such as the provinces of Helmand, Kunar, Khost and Kandahar, also face the same fate. They are often arrested by Afghan authorities or Nato forces, operating in Afghanistan.

"Pakistan has contacted Afghanistan and has swapped prisoners who were cleared from the process of scrutiny," Ansar Burney had commented in the report.

Earlier, hundreds of Pakistani Taliban supporters were captured in Afghanistan in late 2001, following the US-led military attack on the country and the collapse of the Islamic fundamentalist regime.

As many as 64 of these prisoners were transferred to the Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds of Pakistanis, who have disappeared inside Afghanistan, continue to rot inside prisons where at times the families do not have ready cash to "buy" back their loved ones. It is about time the new government in Pakistan focused on Pakistani prisoners not only in Afghanistan but the world over in foreign jails.
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Afghanistan: Warlordism 'Is Winning' Versus Democracy
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty April 13, 2008
Ordinary Afghans are becoming increasingly concerned about their future as the power of warlords appears to be growing in Afghanistan.

RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan broadcaster Jan Alekozai spent the past month in Kabul and eastern Afghanistan, where he was often approached by students, local officials, and Afghan tribesmen who expressed their concerns about corruption, security, and distrust in the government. He spoke to RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz about those concerns.

RFE/RL: During the past month when you were in Afghanistan, outside of your own efforts to speak with people from different segments of Afghan society, how were ordinary Afghans able to approach you and what were some of their concerns?

Jan Alekozai: I participated, for example, in a meeting [in Jalalabad]. It was the celebration of orange blossoms -- a huge traditional gathering with 10,000 to 12,000 people. Someone announced my name -- Jan Alekozai from Radio Free Afghanistan. When the meeting was over, hundreds of people approached me -- students from high schools and from universities. They were asking, "Do the Westerners and the Americans know our problems -- that aid money is coming from the Westerners but it goes into the pockets of [corrupt] people in the government offices."

That was their concern when they talked to me because they know I am running a call-in program on the airwaves of Radio Free Afghanistan. There were lots of concerns. They were desperately approaching me and asking those things -- if we could bring their concerns to government officials. And they were expressing their concerns about their future and their lives, security, and education.

RFE/RL: What did Afghans tell you bothered them most about the security situation in Afghanistan?

Alekozai: People think now that [troops from] 37 countries or more are there in Afghanistan the security should be much, much better. They should terminate the warlordism and the private militias. [Instead], those people have connections with the governmental officials and they still have protection from the government. And that brings insecurity. In Kabul, especially, but also elsewhere in other parts of the country.

People want the international community to stop the private militias -- the groups that are so powerful. That's the main concern of the people, for security. And also, they should promote democracy. Real democracy. And work for that.

People are scared. They cannot say anything because of [the warlords]. We are an international radio [station]. We do something. But our correspondents, even, cannot say something against those warlords because they are very powerful. They could be killed easily or harmed easily. That's the situation. Everybody is asking why the international community doesn't hear.

Warlord Parliament

RFE/RL: Who do Afghans think is responsible for the strengthening of warlords in Afghanistan today?

Alekozai: No. 1, the international community -- or especially the Americans. They say: "Why have the Americans brought those people into power -- the warlords? They knew they were warlords." And [Afghans] can name them for you -- from the vice president to the deputy ministers and ministers. Quite a few were brought from outside.

In parliament, well-known warlords are there. In that situation, how do you expect [the] implementation of democracy and the rule of law -- unless those people are removed from their positions and weakened, at least, and educated people are given a chance -- [those] who think positively about the betterment of their country. Not for themselves. Those [warlords] are collecting money and putting the money in their pockets. They do little or nothing for the society and for the people.

RFE/RL: How do Afghans think the warlords have been able to consolidate this power?

Alekozai: In parliament, 65 percent [of the lawmakers] are warlords. There is no question. A few of them are ordinary Afghans or politicians. But most of them are warlords. They are much stronger than they were six years ago or five years ago, because now they get more money, more security from the international community, more bodyguards. They get stronger and stronger.

RFE/RL: Are there any specific examples of complaints from people about the increased power of warlords?

Alekozai: If you started from parliament or from the high governmental officials, you can see that warlordism is stronger than in years past. Television and other media cannot operate independently, if they do something and the next day they are in trouble in the parliament or with the high governmental officials.

Foreigners Must Deal With Warlords

RFE/RL: So if there is a conflict in Afghanistan now between warlordism versus democracy, which is winning?

Alekozai: At present, the warlordism is winning. If the international community does not pay attention -- strongly -- not by words. By action. They should eliminate the warlords. [The international community] thinks some of them are very strong. But they don't have public support.

I'm stressing this point. They are not that strong. They don't have public support because always they were thinking about themselves, their own pockets. They invest money outside of the country. People say that the Westerners, or in some ways they say the Americans, support these warlords. Otherwise they are nothing. They [say the warlords] were not powerful but [the Americans] made them powerful. And that was a main concern [of the Afghans].

 It's very easy to remove them and bring in some people who have no connection with the warlords. And that would be real democracy that the people would enjoy.

RFE/RL: Does this disdain for warlords contribute to feelings of anti-Americanism or to negative views about the international community?

Alekozai: I never heard people saying that they don't want Americans or international forces in their land. That was interesting for me. Even mullahs -- the clerics I talked with and tribesmen. There were just a few who -- like Taliban or pro-Taliban people -- who said, "Oh, they are infidels."

But the majority of people, they never talked about that issue -- why [foreign troops] are here. [Ordinary Afghans] think there is some propaganda from other neighboring countries saying, "They are occupying your country." But to be honest, I haven't heard that from [ordinary Afghans]. They say, "Those people are here to help us." The only problem is that they don't trust the [Afghan] government. They also think that money is coming [to Afghanistan] from the international community and from the Americans. But it goes into the wrong hands and into the wrong pockets.

New Schools, Old Thinking

RFE/RL: What about the reconstruction work being done by international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) or by foreign troops on the provincial reconstruction teams, the so-called PRTs?

Alekozai: People say their general feeling is that they think the PRTs are doing well. They trust them because they say they are foreigners and they are not corrupt -- so far. But they don't like NGOs and there is no question that they don't trust the Afghan government at all. Still, people hope the PRTs will be doing well and probably will do something about road construction, about schools and other things. People count on PRTs.

RFE/RL: U.S. officials often talk about the schools that have been built by PRTs as a positive step in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Is this enough?

Alekozai: I've seen many schools that have been built and that are being built right now in different parts of eastern Afghanistan. There's no doubt about it. Nice schools. But there is no teacher. No chairs -- students are sitting on the floor. No electricity. No running water. No books. No [teaching materials]. No lab. What will be the quality of education in that situation?

RFE/RL: International media also report about greater rights and freedom for Afghan women since the collapse of the Taliban regime. How did that situation appear to you in the provincial regions as opposed to Kabul?

Alekozai: About the civil society or civic society, the participation of women is zero in the provinces. Girls are going to school. There is no doubt about it. But they cannot walk, for example, in a park -- or even with their families.

Still the work is not done for the promotion of democracy and freedom. I think the culture is the same, with little changes in the mentality of the society. It is very bad. And it will continue like that now six years after the Taliban. The mentality is still very strong. The Talibanization or fundamentalist ideas are still very, very strong.

Presidential Challenger

RFE/RL: All of these insights from ordinary Afghans suggests that Afghan President Hamid Karzai's popularity has declined dramatically since he was elected in 2004. Does Karzai have a chance to win reelection in the ballot that is scheduled for 2009?

Alekozai: As a journalist, one should talk with various people or people [with different political perspectives.] I learned [from doing this that something like] 25 percent or 20 percent will vote for Karzai. And I have doubts about [whether Karzai will even win that much of the vote.] It will be very difficult for him to get 20 percent. They need an alternative or another government.

RFE/RL: Are ordinary Afghans talking about any potential candidate who they think would help reign in the power of warlords?

Alekozai: In the eastern part of Afghanistan -- even in Kabul -- people were talking [about this] when I was sitting with them. They said [former Interior Minister] Ali Ahmad Jalali. His name was being mentioned by people now. [They were saying] he is coming and he is a stronger man and he can do something. He can eliminate warlordism. They were talking about him, saying that if he is [a candidate] that people will vote for him and he will be the winner. That was the expectation of some when I talked to them.
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Afghanistan: Over 400,000 people receive food aid amid soaring prices
KABUL, 13 April 2008 (IRIN) - To counter growing food insecurity in the country, more than 400,000 Afghans have so far been assisted through a joint UN and government "safety net" programme over the past two months, the World Food Programme (WFP) said.

Skyrocketing food prices, particularly for wheat flour, and a shortfall in domestic agricultural production have pushed millions of vulnerable Afghans into the "high risk" category of food insecurity, UN and Afghan officials say.

Average wheat prices in Afghanistan have increased by 67 percent over the past 12 months and Afghans who are not involved in agriculture now spend on average 75 percent of their income on food, WFP reported on 11 April.

To meet the growing needs of some 2.5 million vulnerable Afghans affected by soaring food prices, on 24 January the Afghan government and WFP appealed for US$77 million to deliver 88,000 metric tonnes (mt) of food aid.

"More than one third of the planned food aid has already arrived in the country," Rick Corsino, WFP's representative in Afghanistan, told IRIN, adding that relief food had already been distributed in Kabul, Jalalabad and Kandahar, with other urban areas to follow soon.

"In Afghanistan food insecurity is a result of problems associated with both food accessibility and availability," he said.

In addition to providing a "temporary safety net" for 2.5 million food-insecure people, WFP is assisting about five million less vulnerable Afghans through its "routine" programme in 2008, Corsino said.

WFP's beneficiaries include about two million students who receive fortified biscuits, wheat and cooking oil.

Averted crisis?

With rising prices of staples such as wheat and rice having caused food riots in a number of countries around the world, the government and aid agencies in Afghanistan are keen to prevent any escalation of social unrest in the war-ravaged country.

"Hungry people are often pushed to do things to improve their situation. the government and the UN are aware of the potential for growing dissatisfaction when people cannot afford food, therefore we are sharpening our targeting and trying to make sure that we address this as quickly as possible," WFP's Corsino said.

But higher food prices are also affecting WFP's own purchasing power and in turn its ability to feed the 73 million people in 78 countries who benefit from its food assistance. According to Corsino, WFP paid $230 per tonne of wheat in 2007; now it pays $360 - a 57 percent increase.

For 2008, the food agency says it needs at least $500 million more than the $2.9 billion already budgeted.

Harvest relief?

WFP's temporary safety net for 2.5 million Afghans will end in mid 2008, at which point the UN and the Afghan government will assess the need for aid programmes beyond that.

Aid agencies say a good harvest in neighbouring Pakistan - which is a major exporter of food to Afghanistan - may contribute to a decline in food prices.

A good domestic harvest and increase in cereal production, chiefly wheat, will also mitigate the impacts of food prices for many ordinary Afghans, experts say.

However, the continuation of the Pakistani government's strict ban on exports of food stuffs to Afghanistan would contribute to continued food price inflation.
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