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April 15, 2008 

Afghanistan: Supreme Court issues 100 death sentences
Kabul, 15 April (AKI) - The Supreme Court of Afghanistan has in the past few weeks confirmed 100 death sentences issued by provincial courts.

Bush, UN chief discuss Afghanistan, Kosovo
WASHINGTON, April 15 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President George W. Bush called UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday and the two leaders discussed Afghanistan, Kosovo, Zimbabwe and Darfur, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

Attacks on NGOs rise sharply in 2008 - report
KABUL, 15 April 2008 (IRIN) - Attacks on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and aid workers by anti-government forces, chiefly Taliban insurgents, have risen sharply in the first quarter of 2008, according to a report by the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO).

Hundreds of Afghan refugees stranded on way home
Tue Apr 15, 8:17 AM ET
GENEVA (Reuters) - Hundreds of Afghans seeking to return home from northwest Pakistan have been stranded because a tribal clash has closed down a road leading to Afghanistan, the United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday.

SCO may join NATO in Afghanistan; Musharraf
Associated Press Of Pakistan, 04/14/2008
BEIJING - President Pervez Musharraf said on Monday the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation may join hands with the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, provided it does not lead to a conflict between those trying to bring peace and stability

Afghan ire forces Bernier to backtrack on call to sack governor
(CP) OTTAWA — Maxime Bernier was forced to briskly retract his call for the removal of Kandahar's governor after the Afghan government pointedly asked Ottawa for "clarification" of the foreign affairs minister's remarks, The Canadian Press learned Monday.

Ottawa stirs Afghan furor
Foreign affairs minister first suggests Kandahar governor must go, then backtracks in a hurry
April 15, 2008 - MITCH POTTER IN LONDON BRUCE CAMPION-SMITH, IN OTTAWA
Fresh political tremors are rattling Afghanistan's volatile Kandahar province in the wake of a Canadian government bid to put a new Afghan face on the struggle against the Taliban.
In an unprecedented warning

Joint strategy needed to implement new NATO plan: Jalali
Pajhwok News Agency, 04/14/2008
NEW YORK - Welcoming a new vision document of NATO, former Afghan interior minister Ali Ahmed Jalali has said that the alliance needs a unified leadership and a comprehensive strategic approach to make it a success.

Afghan defiance over Indian soaps
Tuesday, 15 April 2008 BBC News
Several television stations in Afghanistan have ignored a government ban on the broadcasting of Indian soap operas.

No food price relief seen for poor Afghans
By Jonathon Burch
KABUL, April 14 (Reuters) - Impoverished Afghans struggling with rising wheat prices are not expected to get any relief soon with no sign prices are going to come down, a United Nations official said on Monday.

Time for some positive talk about Afghanistan mission
Ottawa failing to communicate successes, Matthew Fisher, National Post, Monday, April 14, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -Why won't the Harper government tell Canadians about the many successes and occasional failures of our men and women in Afghanistan?

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Afghanistan: Supreme Court issues 100 death sentences
Kabul, 15 April (AKI) - The Supreme Court of Afghanistan has in the past few weeks confirmed 100 death sentences issued by provincial courts.

"These people, who have been accused of crimes such as murder and rape have been sentenced in the first petition and the second appeal and the punishment has also been confirmed by the Supreme Court," Abdel Rashid Rashed, a member of the Supreme Court told reporters.

Capital punishment has to be approved by the president before the sentence can be carried out in Afghanistan.

In the past 12 months, 15 death sentences have been carried out in Afghanistan.

"The court proceedings are carried out behind closed doors, without the presence of defence attorneys, and often without the presentation of any proof on the part of the public prosecutor," said Wadir Safi, a jurist and law professor at the University of Kabul.

"In essence, we can say that justice in our country does not work and the accused do not enjoy any form of guarantee."

These charges have been rejected by Rashed, who said that "all death sentences have been issued on the basis of Islamic law and confirmed by all three petitions provided for under current legislation."
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Bush, UN chief discuss Afghanistan, Kosovo
WASHINGTON, April 15 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President George W. Bush called UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday and the two leaders discussed Afghanistan, Kosovo, Zimbabwe and Darfur, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

Perino, however, gave no details about what the two leaders discussed.

Bush hosted the UN chief in the White House in February and the two leaders have enjoyed a warm relationship.

Ban visited the White House in 2006 for the first time after he was elected UN's secretary-general.
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Attacks on NGOs rise sharply in 2008 - report
KABUL, 15 April 2008 (IRIN) - Attacks on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and aid workers by anti-government forces, chiefly Taliban insurgents, have risen sharply in the first quarter of 2008, according to a report by the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO).

"NGO security incidents attributed to armed opposition groups have doubled from eight in the first quarter of 2007 to 16 in the same period this year," said Nic Lee, the ANSO director in Kabul.

Sixteen of the 29 direct attacks on NGOs across the country, from January to the end of March 2008, were initiated and/or executed by Taliban insurgents and other rebel fighters, the report said. The remaining 13 were attributed to criminals who attack NGOs mostly for financial gain.

Nine NGO workers lost their lives and nine others were wounded in seven separate armed attacks by anti-government elements, ANSO said.

Furthermore, in seven armed incidents 12 people were kidnapped, leading to two additional fatalities, including a female US citizen who worked for the Asian Rural Life Development Foundation in Kandahar Province.

"Our data demonstrates a serious escalation in fatalities with nearly as many killed in the first three months of 2008 as were killed in all of 2007," Lee told IRIN, adding that cases of abductions had also seen a marked increase.

"Difficult year" ahead?

Conflict-related violence, which was once restricted to the restive southern parts of Afghanistan, is now spreading to other parts of the country. As a result, civilians and humanitarian workers have been extensively affected, aid agencies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross warned.

Meanwhile, criminal groups have increasingly opted to work on behalf of the armed opposition, and have deliberately disregarded NGOs' impartiality.

These worsening security trends are unlikely to change and aid agencies should anticipate a "difficult year" and more violence in the coming months, the ANSO said.

According to Lee, respect for humanitarian impartiality has increasingly been "eroded" among opposition forces, and NGOs have been brought into the "gravity of conflict".

"Anywhere else in the world NGOs would, should and do operate on both sides of a conflict. Only here, for one reason or another, that sense of independence has become a lot more politicised and subject to agendas which really [they] should not be subject to, and it has become very difficult for NGOs to implement and enforce their neutrality," he said.

To cope with the increasing security threats, many international organisations have "quietly" evacuated their international staff members from the restive province of Kandahar over the past few months, ANSO found. Others have "changed their profile" by stepping up recruitment of local people and minimising office visibility.

Rising number of civilian deaths

"The total civilian deaths recorded in the first quarter of this year is 463 compared to 264 in 2007, indicating a dire worsening of the situation for the average Afghan civilian," ANSO said.

However, the number of civilian casualties resulting from aerial strikes and ground military operations conducted by international military forces in the first three months of 2008 had declined by about 20 percent compared with 2007.
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Hundreds of Afghan refugees stranded on way home
Tue Apr 15, 8:17 AM ET
GENEVA (Reuters) - Hundreds of Afghans seeking to return home from northwest Pakistan have been stranded because a tribal clash has closed down a road leading to Afghanistan, the United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday.

Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said repatriations along the Peshawar-Torkham highway have been halted and would resume when the road reopens.

More than 360 Afghan families who were cleared for repatriation from Peshawar have been unable to leave due to the roadblock, he said. The UNHCR has given food, plastic sheets and blankets to the most needy families, he told a news briefing.

Redmond said the highway closure raised the need for more time for the 70,000 Afghans living in the Jalozai refugee camp to repatriate or to go to another refugee facility in Pakistan.

The deadline for the closure of the Jalozai camp was meant to be Tuesday (today), and more than 3,000 Afghans have repatriated from Jalozai in recent weeks. It is among camps being closed as part of a "consolidation process" by Pakistani authorities who have raised security concerns, he said.

"UNHCR acknowledges that Jalozai must be closed as previously agreed and that its residents must cooperate by leaving on time. Nonetheless, we hope the Pakistani government can give them a little more time in view of the current impasse on the Peshawar-Torkham road," Redmond said.

"We have also urged the authorities to be more proactive on relocating Afghans who cannot return to Afghanistan," he said.

More than 5 million Afghans have gone home from Pakistan and Iran since the overthrow of the ruling Taliban in 2001, but 2 million registered Afghan refugees remain in Pakistan and 1 million live in Iran, according to the UNHCR.

Insecurity on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border have fanned concerns about rapid or large-scale repatriations. Last year Pakistan, Afghanistan and the UNHCR signed an agreement to ensure any returns were voluntary and gradual, with the utmost concern for the refugees' safety.

"UNHCR will continue to work with the authorities to ensure that Jalozai's closure takes place in a peaceful and orderly way, and that the safety and dignity of its Afghan residents are respected," Redmond said.

Afghan refugee returns from southwestern Pakistan are unaffected and are continuing, he said.

(Reporting by Laura MacInnis; Editing by Stephen Weeks)
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SCO may join NATO in Afghanistan; Musharraf
Associated Press Of Pakistan, 04/14/2008
BEIJING - President Pervez Musharraf said on Monday the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation may join hands with the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, provided it does not lead to a conflict between those trying to bring peace and stability to the country. President Musharraf, who is on a six-day visit to China was responding to questions by students at the prestigious Tsinghua University. He said resolution of the Afghan dispute was vital not only for China and Pakistan, but also for the world at large.

“We have taken upon ourselves to bring stability and to ensure integrity and sovereignty of Afghanistan.” President Musharraf said.

The President who unveiled a plaque to open the Pakistan-China Cultural and Communication Centre at the university addressed the students on “Pakistan-China partnership for peace, harmony and development.”

He said the NATO was already doing its job in Afghanistan, “and if the SCO joins hands and do something [to end the internecine warfare], than it is very good.” However, “if anything leads to conflict between those who want to resolve the crisis in Afghanistan, I would not be for it” he said.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is an intergovernmental security organization founded in 2001, to deal with the security-related concerns of Central Asian nations that feel threatened by terrorism, separatism and extremism.

President Musharraf said the crisis in Afghanistan needs to be addressed through a multi-track approach of military, political and socio-economic aspect. He said he strongly believed that a military solution only created an environment, while the ultimate resolution lay in political handling.

The President said joint efforts for leading to a socio-economic change was vital to bring stability to Afghanistan. He said after the 9 / 11 the Taliban and the al-Qaeda elements entered Pakistan’s settled areas and its mountains causing suffering to Pakistanis who had to confront terrorist and suicide attacks.

“The resolution of the Afghan dispute will not come about if everyone was to leave again,” Musharraf warned.

He said Pakistan and China have extensive collaboration in all areas, including extremism and terrorism and stressed the need for carrying out greater intelligence cooperation to successfully meet the threat. He said Pakistan was pursuing a multi-directional approach to address the issues of poverty, illiteracy, economic disparity and justice to eradicate the sense of alienation.

President Pervez Musharraf said the Pakistan-China ties were time-tested and all-weather and added “Pakistan’s friendship with China is the bedrock of Pakistan’s foreign policy and will remain so.”

He said despite differences in political system and cultures, the two countries enjoyed a comprehensive strategy for peace and development. The President said several major dangers confronted peace and development in the region.

These, he said were the unresolved political disputes that led to extremism and terrorism, inter-faith and cultural prejudices such as the issue of blasphemous cartoons and films and finally the economic inequalities between and within the countries.

He said there was a need for resolving all political disputes with justice and pointed out the lingering dispute of Palestine. “There is a need for having new actors and adopting new approaches to resolve the issue,” Musharraf said.

He said China, the European Union non-Arab Muslim world and Pakistan need to play their role in this regard.

President Musharraf said there was a need for creating a harmonious and peaceful Asia and a joint action plan to achieve this objective. He said peace and harmony were important for upholding the principles of the UN Charter and called for making it more potent.

He said that the UN must not incrase the number of permanent seats because this would be tantamount to increasing the powers and privileges of a few. On the contrary, he said there was a need for raising the number of non-permanent members in the world body.

President Musharraf said Pakistan and China together can play an important role in eradicating illiteracy, poverty and unemployment by enhancing trade and strengthening the entire region.

The President said he had urged the Tsinghua university administration to join the conglomerate that was to open a university in Islamabad and hoped the integration between the two countries will bring prosperity to their people.

He said the two countries were cooperating tremendously with each other in development of socio-economic sector. The President congratulated the Chinese government on its spectacular success and achievements that reflects the hard work of its people and vision of its leadership.

He said China had transformed in the past 30 years from an agri-based economy into knowledge based engineering and technology centre, fully prepared to meet the challenges for the future.

He said Pakistan and China can together make tremendous progress and raise the level of their trade to dollar 15 billion. “Never in the history of humanity a society has transformed itself so much in so little time,” the President said.
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Afghan ire forces Bernier to backtrack on call to sack governor
(CP) OTTAWA — Maxime Bernier was forced to briskly retract his call for the removal of Kandahar's governor after the Afghan government pointedly asked Ottawa for "clarification" of the foreign affairs minister's remarks, The Canadian Press learned Monday.

Bernier, who is Canada's top diplomat, ended his visit to the war-torn country by publicly suggesting that Afghan President Hamid Karzai replace Asadullah Khalid.

Even though the governor has fought off accusations of being linked to the rampant corruption that plagues the impoverished region, Bernier's public political advice to a democratically elected sovereign ally was seen as an embarrassing gaffe.

The foreign affairs minister hurriedly issued a statement from his returning aircraft that was seen as an attempt to quell suggestions he was meddling in Afghan affairs.

Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada, Omar Samad, said the minister's explanation has been accepted.

"Any doubt that was created by what was quoted has been clarified (and) if there's any misunderstandings, they have been cleared up," Samad told The Canadian Press.

He said the "special nature" of Canada's relationship with his country and the fact that 83 Canadians have died in the fight against the Taliban have tempered any potential sense of insult.

But Samad was quick to add a caution. "There are of course bounds and boundaries that need to be respected by all sides," he said.

"I don't think interference in our sovereign matters is what the intention of any of our friends is because they know very well Afghans are sensitive to that."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper rejected opposition calls for Bernier's resignation and expressed regret that the comments Khalid were made in public rather than private. But he pointedly stood by the substance of the criticism.

"We have talked to the government of Afghanistan from time to time about performance of that government about some of our concerns and we'll continue to express those concerns privately," he said in Winnipeg.

Liberal Leader Stephane Dion said Bernier should never have been given such a critical portfolio. Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe, who has often ridiculed Bernier across the floor of the Commons, chimed in, saying "this isn't any old mistake."

New Democrat MP Paul Dewar said Bernier has undermined Karzai's credibility while simultaneously setting back efforts to address concerns about Khalid.

If Karzai had been planning to replace the controversial governor, he won't be able to do it now, Dewar said. "We've put Karzai in this trap where he's not wanting to be seen as a puppet by his own population.

"Instead of assuring people in Afghanistan that we have a clear idea what we're doing, he'll have to spend time now making up for this intervention."

Khalid is rapidly becoming a lightning rod for Kandahar residents and Canadian authorities, who initially praised his gung-ho attitude in dealing with Taliban militants.

He has been implicated in the ongoing prisoner abuse scandal - a charge he vehemently denied.

The relationship with Canadian civilian authorities has been strained since Khalid denied he had been upbraided by Defence Minister Peter MacKay over the handling of Taliban prisoners.

Khalid, who is appointed and serves at the pleasure of the president, is in charge of all provincial jails, where human rights groups claim torture has taken place.

Many of the corruption allegations against him relate to the U.S.-backed poppy eradication campaign. Farmers whose fields have been targeted often say friends of the governor are left alone - claims that have not been proven.

Khalid has also been a thorn in the side of NATO commanders, repeatedly criticizing air strikes that have led to civilian casualties. He angered Canadian commanders after saying a suicide attack in the border town of Spin Boldak could have been prevented had Canadian troops stayed within their compound while Afghan forces searched for the bomber.

Stephen Saideman, a McGill University expert in international studies, said the refocusing of Canada's mission towards development is contributing the growing rift with the governor.

"It's pretty clear his interest and attention is on the security side of things, said Saideman, who toured Kabul and Kandahar in December. "Broadcasting that Canada is trying to get this guy replaced is absolutely the wrong thing to do."
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Ottawa stirs Afghan furor 
Foreign affairs minister first suggests Kandahar governor must go, then backtracks in a hurry
April 15, 2008 - MITCH POTTER IN LONDON BRUCE CAMPION-SMITH, IN OTTAWA
Fresh political tremors are rattling Afghanistan's volatile Kandahar province in the wake of a Canadian government bid to put a new Afghan face on the struggle against the Taliban.
In an unprecedented warning yesterday, Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier signalled – and later recanted – Ottawa's view that Kandahar Governor Asadullah Khalid may have to go over perceptions of political corruption.

According to an Afghan government source in Kandahar, the impact of Bernier's public comments unleashed a political shock wave that will be difficult to roll back.

Bernier, on the final day of a tour of Canada's embattled patch in southern Afghanistan, initially told reporters the status of the controversial governor was in doubt as Ottawa redoubles its efforts to persuade Afghan President Hamid Karzai to crack down on corruption.

"There's the question to maybe have a new governor," Bernier said when asked what Karzai could do about perceptions of corrupt rule in the province where Canadian forces are based.

"I think (Karzai) can work with us to be sure the (new) governor will be more powerful ... (and) will do what he has to do to help us."

Bernier's office later added clarification, insisting Ottawa respects Afghan sovereignty and is "not calling for any changes to the Afghan government."

Bernier is believed to have spoken candidly with Karzai on the subject of replacing Khalid during a weekend meeting in Kabul. According to one Afghan government source, Karzai pleaded with the Canadian foreign minister for "some weeks" to explore his options on appointing a new governor to the volatile province.

"By speaking publicly on this sensitive issue, the Canadian minister has put Karzai in a difficult position," a highly placed Afghan source in Kandahar said last night.

"If he stays with this governor, Karzai will look like he is ignoring the Canadians. But if he makes a change, it will be obvious to Afghans where the real power lies. It will make Karzai look like Canada's puppet."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper scrambled to Bernier's defence even as he expressed regret that his government's private concerns about Khalid had been so openly aired.

"Minister Bernier very quickly corrected a misimpression that I think had been left from some earlier comments," Harper said.

"Obviously we have talked to the government of Afghanistan from time to time about performance of that government, and some of our concerns, and we'll continue to express some of those concerns privately," he told reporters during a visit to Winnipeg.

Asked point blank whether Bernier should be dumped, Harper said, "he's clarified his comments, the answer is no."

But Bernier's public clarification appears to have come only after Afghan diplomats privately demanded their own explanation from the Conservative government for the comments.
Omar Samad, Afghanistan's ambassador in Ottawa, pointedly noted that despite his country's "special relationship" with Canada, there are "bounds."

"We need to be mindful of that," Samad said.

But he drove home the point that whatever complaints Ottawa has about Khalid, Afghanistan will make its own decisions about who serves as governor.

"What is important is that the Canadian government through Mr. Bernier made it clear as to their views about the Afghan government, that this is a sovereign government," Samad said in an interview on CBC's Politics show.

"Appointments are made by the Afghan government ... that is not going to change. The president is going to decide who is going to be governor of which province or who is going to be minister or even ambassadors."

In Ottawa, Bernier's comments – and the department's subsequent effort at damage control – had opposition MPs saying it was time for the foreign affairs minister to be dumped from the high-profile post.
"I think so but he should not have been appointed at the very beginning. He had no experience," Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion told reporters. "The Prime Minister made a poor choice.

"Maybe the Prime Minister though, if I may say something for him, maybe he has not a lot of choices in his caucus and it's why he chose Mr. Bernier," Dion said.

Bernier's comments came as a surprise to senior Western political sources in Kabul, where concern over local governance in Kandahar is just one in a litany of similar worries about corruption throughout Afghanistan.

"In terms of corruption, there are differing views about the governor of Kandahar, just as there are differing views of many other governors, ministers and senior Afghan officials," a senior Western diplomat in Kabul told the Star.

"Khalid is not unusual, in that respect. But what is clear is that Kandahar is of particular importance to Canada. And someone appears to have convinced Bernier that this particular governor has crossed some red lines."

In the past year alone, the diplomat said, Western officials have encouraged the Karzai government to replace more than 10 governors and "for the most part we traded up. So it is possible. But not easy.
"But we do try to embrace the principle" of having a successor lined up before initiating such a change in a country where local politics is paramount, the diplomat said.

"Otherwise, be careful what you wish for. "You might just get it."

Khalid, 38, was in Kabul yesterday where he declined repeated requests for comment. An aide to the Kandahar governor said he would not be available to discuss the matter.

It was unclear where the points of rupture lie in the Canadian-Afghan relationship in Kandahar. Khalid was last year accused of engaging in torture of detainees, allegations he has consistently denied.

Khalid, an ethnic Pashtun from Ghazni province, also has acquired a reputation for sometimes behaving with aloof indifference to the parade of dignitaries that frequent the Governor's Palace in downtown Kandahar – an attitude some close observers suggest may have extended also to visiting Canadian officials.

Another possibility is that the efforts displayed during Khalid's three years in power simply do not match up with the accelerated pace of development that Ottawa hopes to bring to Kandahar over the course of the next two years – before Canada's mandate in the province expires in 2011.
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Joint strategy needed to implement new NATO plan: Jalali
Pajhwok News Agency, 04/14/2008
NEW YORK - Welcoming a new vision document of NATO, former Afghan interior minister Ali Ahmed Jalali has said that the alliance needs a unified leadership and a comprehensive strategic approach to make it a success.

The real change can come only when NATO implements its new vision through a unified leadership, a comprehensive strategic approach and provision of needed resources and means, Jalali told Pajhwok Afghan News in an exclusive interview.

Building indigenous security and governance capacity in Afghanistan is the key to success, he observed and added that stability in Afghanistan could not be achieved without the emergence of a capable government enjoying the trust of the people and respect of regional actors.

Commenting on a recent NATO summit in Bucharest, Jalali viewed renewed commitment from member countries as a strong reaction to growing violence in Afghanistan that could lead to instability and chaos with serious destabilising consequences for the region and beyond.

Afghanistan, he continued, was faced with a revitalised Taliban-led insurgency, a record rise in drug production, a deterioration of the rule of law and a weakening grip of the Karzai-led government beyond major cities.

It was notable that international involvement in Afghanistan had been marked by reaction to emerging challenges in the absence of a well-coordinated and comprehensive long-term strategy, the ex-minister remarked.

The Bucharest Summit, according to him, has set out a clear vision guided by four principles - shared long-term commitment, support for Afghan leadership and responsibility, a comprehensive approach by the international community, bringing together civilian and military efforts and increased cooperation and engagement with Afghanistans neighbours, especially Pakistan.

However, Jalali explained past experience indicated that adopting joint plans and strategies was the easy part but putting implementing mechanisms in place, unifying efforts and coordinating actions of all stakeholders at tactical, operational and strategic level was a difficult job.

It is hard because it is extremely difficult to bring operational coordination to the efforts of so many actors with uneven capacities and political concerns in responding to emerging challenges in a highly-volatile and dynamic environment, he said.

Jalali said the substantial transformation of NATO has created significant capacities and new challenges. The emergence of a new NATO capable to deal with challenges beyond the European theatre is an evolving process, he said.

Afghanistan is microcosm of emerging global threats and challenges that NATO is willing and expected to faces in the post-Cold War period, Jalali said.

Observing that NATO's engagement in Afghanistan is not only a test of the alliances political will and military capabilities but it can also serve as an engine of its transformation, Jalali said: The outcome of the Afghan mission will determine the future of the alliance.
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Afghan defiance over Indian soaps
Tuesday, 15 April 2008 BBC News
Several television stations in Afghanistan have ignored a government ban on the broadcasting of Indian soap operas.

The authorities have said the broadcasts are in conflict with the country's Islamic values.

The ban came into force on Monday night, but some private television stations have continued to show the popular programmes.

The government says that infringements of the ban will result in punishment.

Conservative Muslim clerics in the country argue that the serials, which show dramatic and passionate love stories featuring the elite of Bombay, are immoral.

They often show men and women together, and what some consider to be "immodestly" dressed women.

Principles of Islam

President Hamid Karzai said: "These television programmes, which contradict the daily life of Afghans and which our people do not accept, must be stopped."

Afghan law forbids publishing material "contrary to the principles of Islam", and clerics argue that the soap operas fall into that category.

But the most watched station in Afghanistan, Tolo TV, said the ban was illegal.

"It is an unlawful declaration, we broadcast our programmes based on media law, and we will never stop the airing of these Indian serials," said presenter Masood Qiam.

Tolo TV first showed the soap operas in 2005, and continues to broadcast two of the five programmes mentioned in the parliamentary declaration, which is supported by the Ministry of Information and Culture.
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No food price relief seen for poor Afghans
By Jonathon Burch
KABUL, April 14 (Reuters) - Impoverished Afghans struggling with rising wheat prices are not expected to get any relief soon with no sign prices are going to come down, a United Nations official said on Monday.

Top finance and development officials from around the world called in Washington on Sunday for urgent action to stem rising food prices, warning that social unrest will spread unless the cost of basic staples is contained.

Afghanistan is one of the world's poorest countries with half its 25 million people living below the poverty line.

Wheat prices in Afghanistan have risen by an average of 60 percent over the last year with certain areas seeing a rise of up to 80 percent, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said.

"Very few people, I think, would believe that the factors ... that pushed the price of wheat up to record highs in the early part of this year are going to disappear," Rick Corsino, director for the WFP in Afghanistan, told a news conference.

"No one believes, for example, that we're going to go back to price levels that we saw 12 months or 18 months ago," he said.

"What this means, of course, is that those people that are most affected by the higher prices are unlikely to get too much relief."

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said early this year wheat imports had become too expensive for Afghanistan after grain prices rallied on international markets last year.

The FAO estimated Afghanistan's total wheat import needs in 2007/08 at 550,000 tonnes, including 100,000 tonnes of food aid.

The FAO said it has tentatively estimated Afghanistan's total output of cereals in 2007 at more than 4.6 million tonnes -- above average and well above the relatively poor harvest of 2006 when it came in at 3.9 million tonnes.

But Corsino said there was concern this year's wheat harvest might not be as good as last year's after low snowfall and light rain early in the year.

At Sunday's meeting in Washington, World Bank President Robert Zoellick said the world was facing a stark reality.

"We have to put our money where our mouth is now, so that we can put food into hungry mouths. It is as stark as that," Zoellick said at the end of a meeting of the IMF and World Bank's Development Committee.

Zoellick and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have said the issue of skyrocketing food prices needs to be front and centre at the highest political levels.

Anger over high food prices has led to rioting in Haiti. There have also been protests in Cameroon, Niger and Burkina Faso in Africa, and in Indonesia and the Philippines.

Corsino, asked if higher wheat prices would provide an incentive for farmers to switch from growing opium to wheat, said the profit from opium was still much higher than that from wheat.

"The problem as I see it, is that the incentive for those engaged in poppy have been so much higher than those engaged in wheat that there would have to be quite a long way to go to bridge that gap," he said.

Afghanistan is the world's biggest producer of opium, the raw material for heroin. (Editing by Robert Birsel and Alex Richardson)
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Time for some positive talk about Afghanistan mission
Ottawa failing to communicate successes, Matthew Fisher, National Post, Monday, April 14, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -Why won't the Harper government tell Canadians about the many successes and occasional failures of our men and women in Afghanistan?

This question is especially pertinent today because the Harper government's new point man on Afghanistan, Trade Minister David Emerson, who is virtually unknown to troops of all ranks, is seeking to create even greater political oversight of what has become such a micro-managed mission that several senior public affairs officers have quit in disgust or are about to.

The leaders of the militar y's communications strategy are livid because their jobs have narrowed to the point where their chief role is to seek the Prime Minister's Office's permission to release any scrap of information -- and the answer is usually no.

On top of this, several senior officers serving in Afghanistan have complained bitterly in private about being muzzled by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

It has been reported Emerson may use quarterly reports to Parliament to seek to lower expectations for what Canada hopes to achieve in South Asia during the next three years. At the same time he will try to switch the media focus away from casualties to what have been vaguely described as other benchmarks.

As the Manley report on the Afghan mission noted several months ago, the government has done an abysmal job of communicating what has been going on in Afghanistan and why Canada has decided to expend so much treasure and blood there.

The planned new openness will rub awkwardly against ever more draconian, often absurd Op-Sec (operational security) rules imposed on the military and the media whose true purpose has often had far more to do with limiting potential political damage to the government than with protecting troops.

For example, if it was not for Op-Sec, Canadians might know that joint Canadian/ Afghan operations involving soldiers and police have scored some big successes in recent weeks. So have Canadian snipers. And a tank crew was able to eliminate several insurgents moments after they opened fire on a Canadian base.

The least heralded troops of all have been the commandos of Joint Task Force II. Canadians have never been told anything these phantoms do, even years after the fact. Ironically, the only acknowledgement of their successes in Afghanistan has come from General Dan Mc-Neill.

The gruff American four star, who is NATO's top commander in Afghanistan, revealed in an interview in Kabul last month that Canada's special forces had done "some mighty fine work against insurgent bombers last year."

Obviously unaware of the total news blackout of their operations, McNeill wondered why the JTF had not received media attention in Canada. One can only guess at the reasons that Canadians have not been told that their soldiers have the insurgents on the run in Kandahar.

Ottawa may feel so hamstrung by the false notion that Canada is a nation of peacekeepers that it does not want the public to know that their soldiers, like their fathers and grandfathers before them in Korea and Europe, can, when required, be very adept killers.

By refusing to tell Canadians anything about these operations, or others that have raised grave questions about the wisdom of using a certain type of armoured vehicle (to say more would be to violate Op-Sec), the government has only itself to blame for allowing the political debate at home to become dominated by the death toll (which, incidentally, is much, much lower than the unannounced death toll of the enemy).

This absence of plain talk about Afghanistan has also allowed some media to create a sense of constantly impending doom by relying on unchallenged boasts from dodgy, purported members of the Taliban or on reports issued by the UN or international think-tanks that have been larded with ominous statistics about a surge in Taliban suicide bombings and of explosions caused by homemade bombs.

It is puzzling that the government is so paranoid about the Afghan operation that it feels it necessary to maintain a stranglehold on the flow of information from there. Between 85% and 90% of Canadians support the military. Slightly more than half of the population supports the Afghan mission despite the losses.

Faced with what these numbers represent politically, the Liberals voted to extend the mission to 2011 without putting up much of a fuss. The Harper government does not need to tell Parliament the truth about Afghanistan every three months. It needs to tell Canadians the truth every day.
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