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April 16, 2008 

Afghan opposition says it's been talking to Taliban
By JASON STRAZIUSO Associated Press Wed Apr 16, 6:12 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - An opposition group says its leaders, including a former president, have been meeting with the Taliban and other anti-government groups in hopes of negotiating an end to rising violence in Afghanistan.

Two NATO soldiers killed in Afghanistan
April 16, 2008
KABUL (AFP) - Two NATO-led soldiers were killed and two others were wounded in an explosion in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, the alliance force said.

New special envoy to Afghanistan says international support growing
Canwest News Service Wednesday, April 16, 2008
PARIS - Kai Eide, the international community's second choice to co-ordinate the flagging global effort to rebuild Afghanistan, said Wednesday he is getting the support he needs inside and outside the country to fulfil his mandate as the United Nations' new special envoy.

U.S. official: reports on ISAF support to Taliban groundless
KABUL, April 15 (Xinhua) -- The Untied States Assistant Secretary of State Richard A Boucher has termed the reported support of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to Taliban militants as groundless and rejected it, a local newspaper reported Tuesday.

US invaded Afghanistan, Iraq under pretext of Sept 11 terror
Holy Qom, April 16, IRNA
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad here on Wednesday said the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq under the pretext of September 11 terror attack.

Ahmadinejad casts doubt on 'suspect' Sept 11
TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday reaffirmed his doubts about the accepted version of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, describing the strikes as a "suspect event".

Condemned Afghan Journalist Wins Right to Appeal Death Sentence
By Jeremy Gerard
April 16 (Bloomberg) -- A young Afghan journalist, sentenced to death in January for spreading feminist criticism of Islam, has been granted an appeal, according to one of the international organizations monitoring his case.

Assailants throw grenades at home of female Afghan journalist, no one hurt
The Associated Press - Wednesday, April 16, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan: Assailants hurled grenades at the home of a female radio reporter whose station was critical of the government, officials said Wednesday. No one was hurt.

Outspoken general bows out with no regrets
Happy with Canada's progress in Afghanistan, Rick Hillier will be remembered for pushing the boundaries, transforming the Forces
STEVEN CHASE - From Wednesday's Globe and Mail April 16, 2008
OTTAWA — General Rick Hillier, Canada's charismatic and outspoken top military commander, announced he's stepping down after more than three years on the job, saying he'd stayed longer than planned to ensure the future of the military mission in Afghanistan was resolved.

Ahadi: Afghanistan’s Economic Fortunes
Interviewee: Anwar-ul-Haq Ahadi, Minster of Finance, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
Interviewer: Greg Bruno, Staff Writer Council on Foreign Relations / April 15, 2008
Afghanistan remains a country at war facing huge economic development challenges. But Finance Minister Anwar-ul-Haq Ahadi, in Washington for the spring IMF/World Bank meetings, says in the event of improved security and reforms

Nato making mistake in Afghanistan, warns Turkish minister
Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom By Damien McElroy Foreign Affairs Correspondent  16/04/2008
Nato is courting disaster in Afghanistan by relying too much on force to defeat the Taliban, Turkey's foreign minister said yesterday.

After Decades, Pakistan Forces Afghans to Leave
Camp in Northwest Was Home to Tens of Thousands of Refugees
Washington Post - World By Candace Rondeaux Washington Post Foreign Service Wednesday, April 16, 2008
JALOZAI, Pakistan-About the only thing Aziz ur-Rehman remembers about his life in Afghanistan is his month-long walk through the mountains to Pakistan after the 1979 Soviet invasion.

Afghan militants seem to be embracing new strategy to undermine election
Minneapolis Star Tribune, Minnesota - World
By JONATHAN S. LANDAY McClatchy News Service  April 15, 2008
WASHINGTON -While Americans' attention remains focused on Iraq, violence is escalating in Afghanistan. And there are indications that Taliban and Al-Qaida militants there have adopted a new strategy of avoiding U.S. and NATO

The Taliban blowback
The US enlisted the help of the mujahideen to fight the Soviet army in 1980s Afghanistan. But Pakistan, too, began fostering Islamist extremism. Now, Declan Walsh reports, it is suffering the violent consequences
The Guardian Declan Walsh Wednesday April 16 2008
Two recent films feature Pakistan's lawless North-West Frontier province. The first is Charlie Wilson's War, a glossy Hollywood tale about how a cocaine-sniffing, skirt-chasing congressman helped goad the CIA into a massive covert war against Soviet-occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Child brides 'sold' in Afghanistan
Tuesday, 15 April 2008 BBC News
In northern Afghanistan it appears some parents are being driven by poverty and hunger to marry off their daughters at an early age. Jenny Cuffe investigates for Radio 4's Seven Days.

MOI promises to step up Kabul security
Written by www.quqnoos.com Tuesday, 15 April 2008
Ministry wants to limit power of private security companies in capital
THE MINISTRY of Defence has said that it is tightening security in Kabul this year.

Penalty for crossing an Al Qaeda boss? A nasty memo
Recently declassified documents reveal a little-known side of the network: an internal culture that has been surprisingly bureaucratic and persistently fractious.
By Sebastian Rotella Los Angeles Times Staff Writer April 15, 2008
LONDON -- Mohammed Atef was furious.
The Al Qaeda leader had learned that a subordinate had broken the rules repeatedly. So he did his duty as the feared military chief of a global terror network: He fired off a nasty memo.

Britain caught out in Afghan ploy
Asia Times Online, Hong Kong By Sharif Ghalib  Apr 16, 2008
TORONTO -President Hamid Karzai has blamed what he called an "extremely ethnic" report in the London Times for his decision to turn down the appointment of Lord Paddy Ashdown as the United Nations super envoy for Afghanistan.

MPs accuse Karzai of fuelling Hazara-Kuchi clash
Written by www.quqnoos.com - Monday, 14 April 2008
Karzai accused of playing political games ahead of next year's elections
MEMBERS of Parliament have accused President Karzai of deliberately stoking the flames that surround the growing dispute between Hazaras and Kuchis, which human rights workers fear could break out into ethnic violence.

Public support grows for Afghanistan war
By The Copenhagen Post - Published 15.04.08
A new Rambøll survey indicates that nearly half of Danes support the country's participation in the current Afghanistan military operation.

Panel to continue probe despite Ottawa
'... what the commission is doing is clearly outside of its jurisdiction,' Prime Minister says
STEVEN CHASE AND JOE FRIESEN - From Tuesday's Globe and Mail April 15, 2008
OTTAWA, WINNIPEG — The independent Military Police Complaints Commission has vowed to keep investigating whether Canada turned prisoners over to Afghan security forces knowing they would be tortured, despite the fact the Harper

50 years for killing Afghan immigrant
San Francisco Chronicle, USA Henry K. Lee Tuesday, April 15, 2008
A parolee was sentenced Monday to 50 years to life in prison for shooting and killing a woman on a Fremont street as, hand in hand, she walked her young daughter to school.

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Afghan opposition says it's been talking to Taliban
By JASON STRAZIUSO Associated Press Wed Apr 16, 6:12 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - An opposition group says its leaders, including a former president, have been meeting with the Taliban and other anti-government groups in hopes of negotiating an end to rising violence in Afghanistan.

The contacts have taken place between leaders of the opposition National Front and "high level" militant leaders during the last few months, party spokesman Sayyid Agha Hussain Fazel Sancharaki said in an interview Sunday.

He said among those at the meetings were former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, now a member of parliament, and Mohammad Qasim Fahim, who is President Hamid Karzai's security adviser and a powerful northern strongman.

Rabbani said Afghanistan's six-year war must be solved through talks, echoing a view held by many in the country.

"There's no doubt that some inside the Taliban are not willing to negotiate, but there are some Taliban who are interested in solving problems through talks," Rabbani, Afghanistan's president from 1992-96, told The Associated Press in an interview.

"We in the National Front and I myself believe the solution for the political process in Afghanistan will happen through negotiations," he said.

Support for talks to end the increasingly bloody Afghan conflict have gained steam over the last year. President Hamid Karzai said for the first time in April 2007 that he had met with Taliban militants in attempts to negotiate peace.

Rabbani said opposition leaders will soon discuss and possibly select a formal negotiating team and that Taliban fighters, in their talks with Karzai, have also proposed sending a formal team for talks with the government.

The behind-the-scenes maneuverings come just as the United States is pouring more troops into the country. Some 32,000 U.S. forces are in Afghanistan, the most since the 2001 invasion to oust the Taliban for hosting al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Two NATO soldiers died and two others were wounded Wednesday in an explosion in southern Afghanistan, the military alliance said, while a clash in the same region left five Taliban militants and a policeman dead.

It did not disclose the nationalities of the casualties or the exact location of the blast. The wounded were evacuated to a military base for treatment, NATO said in a statement.

In Zabul province, militants ambushed a police convoy, killing an officer, said Gen. Abdul Raziq Khan, a provincial police official. In ensuing firefight, five militants were also killed, Raziq said. Authorities recovered their bodies alongside their weapons.

Separately, militants abducted and beheaded two Afghan men working at a U.S. military base in the eastern Kunar province, provincial police Chief Abdul Jalal Jalal said.

The two men were abducted Monday after they left the base in Korangal Valley, the scene of fierce clashes between U.S. troops and insurgents in the past few years. Their bodies were discovered Tuesday, Jalal said.

Militants regularly target people working for U.S. and other foreign forces.

Despite the violence and heightened military posture, U.S. ambassador William Wood has said the U.S. supports talks with militants who will lay down arms and recognize the Afghan constitution. The U.S. does not support talks with al-Qaida fighters.

Across the border in Pakistan, where militant violence has spiked over the last year, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani late last month offered talks to militants ready to renounce violence there.

Negotiations will ultimately be the only way to end the Afghan conflict, said Wadir Safi, a professor of public and international law at Kabul University.

"Negotiations," he said. "Find the address of all of the Taliban, find out what they want. They will have their own suggestions, and if it's not anti-civilization, you can come to terms with them instead of spending money on military budgets."

Karzai, in a news conference this month, said the National Front efforts are good for the country. He said many rebels are Afghans who need to be brought back into society. For months, Karzai has trumpeted reconciliation, even offering to meet with Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

But the National Front says Karzai has not followed up his words with action. He needs to put a formal negotiations process in place involving all parties, Rabbani said.

"I told Karzai that when a person starts something he should complete it. On the issue of the negotiations it is not right to take one step forward and then one step back," he said. "This work should be continued in a very organized way."

Rabbani and Sancharaki declined to say who the National Front has met with. Sancharaki said their militant interlocutors were "important people."

The Taliban, through spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, denied there had been any contact. "If they are claiming they have contact with somebody, we don't know who," he said.

Thousands of former members of the hard-line Taliban regime, including a sprinkling of former senior commanders and officials, have made peace with the government through its national reconciliation commission.

But Safi, the university professor, said that because the National Front does not represent the government, its negotiations are "nonsense."

He said the group, whose leaders fought each other and then the Taliban in Afghanistan's devastating civil wars during the 1990s, only wants to advance its own power.

"They want the Taliban side to be on their side," Safi said. "It's an unholy alliance ... and the Taliban want to use Rabbani and Fahim against Karzai."

___

Associated Press writers Fisnik Abrashi and Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.
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Two NATO soldiers killed in Afghanistan
April 16, 2008
KABUL (AFP) - Two NATO-led soldiers were killed and two others were wounded in an explosion in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, the alliance force said.

The latest casualties come three days after two British soldiers serving with NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) died in an explosion in the southern province of Kandahar.

"Two ISAF soldiers were killed and two were wounded during an explosion in southern Afghanistan early this morning," the alliance force said in a statement. It gave no further details.

ISAF did not reveal the names or nationalities of the victims, leaving that task to their homes countries, nor did it explain the exact location of the incident.

A total of 42 foreign soldiers have been killed so far this year in Afghanistan. Last year, 220 international soldiers helping Kabul tackle a Taliban-led insurgency lost their lives.

It was not immediately clear who might have been behind the explosion but similar acts have in the past been blamed on the Taliban militants.

More than 70 people including two dozen police and as many civilians have died in violence in the past three weeks.

The Taliban, who were in power between 1996 to 2001, are trying to topple the US-backed government of President Hamid Karzai and oust tens of thousands of foreign soldiers based here to fight them back.

As part of their campaign the Islamic rebels have frequently used roadside and suicide bombings against the heavily-armed NATO-led soldiers.
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New special envoy to Afghanistan says international support growing
Canwest News Service Wednesday, April 16, 2008
PARIS - Kai Eide, the international community's second choice to co-ordinate the flagging global effort to rebuild Afghanistan, said Wednesday he is getting the support he needs inside and outside the country to fulfil his mandate as the United Nations' new special envoy.

The soft-spoken Norwegian diplomat, chosen in March when former British politician Lord Paddy Ashdown's candidacy was withdrawn, said western allies are proving to him they're sincere in wanting more top-down control.

"I sense today much more of a readiness from those who say, 'let's co-ordinate' to also be co-ordinated," he told reporters after a meeting in Brussels with national representatives of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, including Robert McRae, Canada's representative to the alliance.

Eide, appointed to deal with concerns about scatter-gun development projects and the failings of a Afghan government apparatus plagued by corruption, was careful to stress that the government in Kabul can't be seen to be taking orders from above.

"This is Afghanistan, it's their country," Eide, 58, told reporters.

"It's their plans and their priorities that have to be at the basis for everything we do."

Eide's diplomatic style couldn't be more different from Ashdown, whose candidacy for the "super-envoy" role was shot down by President Hamid Karzai.

Britain's former Liberal Democrat party leader was tapped for the job because of his high-profile role as the west's former high representative to Bosnia, but Karzai is thought to have viewed him as too strong a personality and a threat to his authority.

Eide didn't come across as a threatening force to anyone during his appearance in Brussels on Wednesday, speaking so quietly that one journalist had to adjust the audio on his headset each time Eide and NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Sheffer took turns speaking.

But an analyst familiar with the styles of both Eide and Ashdown said western allies have the right man in a sensitive post.

"I cheered to myself when I had heard he was appointed Afghan envoy, because he's probably the single most likely person to make a success of it," said Constanze Stelzenmuller, the Berlin office director for the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Eide has experience in senior diplomatic roles in hotspots like Kosovo and has a "subtle mind" that works well with tribal warlords, said Stelzenmuller, a former journalist who has worked in Afghanistan and the Balkans.

"He is exceptionally good in dealing in a deceptively low-key way with people from a background of roiling, convoluted tribal politics, and making them listen to him."

Ashdown, despite his lofty praise in the media, had a reputation in the Balkans of being "authoritarian" and not particularly effective, she said. "I would warn anyone against underestimating the effectiveness of Kai Eide."
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U.S. official: reports on ISAF support to Taliban groundless
KABUL, April 15 (Xinhua) -- The Untied States Assistant Secretary of State Richard A Boucher has termed the reported support of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to Taliban militants as groundless and rejected it, a local newspaper reported Tuesday.
   
"There is no logic that we or any other NATO member help Taliban. Taliban kill us, they kill you Afghans, they kill Pakistani and Europeans," daily Outlook quoted Boucher as saying.
   
Reports emanating from Afghan circles said last week that ISAF troops drooped arms and munitions to Taliban insurgents in Arghandab of southern Kandahar province.
   
A parliamentarian, Zalmai Mujadadi, told reporters early in the weekend that the international troops intentionally provided the arms and munitions to militants. However, NATO's spokesman Carlos Branco said on weekend that it was a mistake and the case is under investigation.
   
Afghanistan intelligence chief Amrullah Salih also rejected the report, adding unintentionally a small of food stuff and munitions was dropped to the area and went to Taliban hand.
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US invaded Afghanistan, Iraq under pretext of Sept 11 terror
Holy Qom, April 16, IRNA
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad here on Wednesday said the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq under the pretext of September 11 terror attack.

Addressing a large group of local residents of this central city, he said over one million people have so far been killed in the occupied Iraq and tens of thousands of civilians have been massacred in Afghanistan after US forces invaded the two countries.

Over one billion people throughout the globe are living in complete poverty, he said adding that more than 100 million people were killed in the course of conflicts raged by the arrogant power in the 20th century.

President Ahmadinejad said that the global arrogance and its hegemonic objectives are the root cause of all human calamities.

He further underscored the need for administration of justice throughout the globe.

Ahmadinejad, heading a delegation, arrived in the holy city of Qom this morning.

During his two-day stay in the province, the chief executive is scheduled to meet provincial war veterans and martyrs families and attend sessions of various working groups.

He would also inaugurate several development projects in different parts of the province.
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Ahmadinejad casts doubt on 'suspect' Sept 11
TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday reaffirmed his doubts about the accepted version of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, describing the strikes as a "suspect event".

"Four or five years ago a suspect event took place in New York," Ahmadinejad said in a speech to a public rally in the holy city of Qom broadcast live on state television.

"A building collapsed and they said that 3,000 people had been killed, whose names were never published."

"Under this pretext they (the United States) attacked Afghanistan and Iraq and since then a million people have been killed," he said.

This was the third time in just over a week that Ahmadinejad has publicly raised doubts about the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington carried out by Al-Qaeda militants which killed nearly 3,000 people.

He first raised the theme at a ceremony on April 8, Iran's national day marking its controversial nuclear programme, which the West fears could be used to make nuclear weapons.

A day later, he his doubts at an address at the shrine of the eighth imam of Shiite Islam, Reza, in the northeastern city of Mashhad, one of Iran's most sacred sites.

The speech in Qom, which was the first time he had described the September 11 attacks as "suspect," took place at the shrine of Massoumeh, the sister of Imam Reza.

Ahmadinejad did not say who he believed was behind the September 11 attacks. On April 8, he questioned how the two planes piloted by Al-Qaeda militants could have evaded surveillance to crash into the World Trade Centre.

At the time, the government of Iran's then reformist president Mohammad Khatami condemned the attacks.

However, hardline newspapers have occasionally described the attacks as a conspiracy that was devised by the White House to justify its eventual attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ahmadinejad also reaffirmed Wednesday his determination to change the international order.

"We have two missions," Ahmadinejad proclaimed. "To construct Iran and change the global situation. It is impossible to reach the summits of progress without changing the corrupt and unjust order of the world."

The controversial president has previously provoked outrage by describing the Holocaust as a myth and raising doubts over the scale of the mass slaughter of Jews in World War II.

He has also unleashed international outrage by calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map" and then repeatedly predicting that the Jewish state is doomed to destruction.

In an echo of Ahmadinejad's comments, a top Iranian army commander warned on Tuesday that Iran would "eliminate Israel from the global arena" if it were attacked by the Jewish state.

Iran and the United States have had no diplomatic relations since the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran in the wake of the 1979 Islamic revolution and remain at loggerheads over the Islamic republic's nuclear programme.

Tehran insists that its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful and aimed solely at generating energy for a growing population whose supply of fossil fuels will eventually run out.
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Condemned Afghan Journalist Wins Right to Appeal Death Sentence
By Jeremy Gerard
April 16 (Bloomberg) -- A young Afghan journalist, sentenced to death in January for spreading feminist criticism of Islam, has been granted an appeal, according to one of the international organizations monitoring his case.

The writer, Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, 23, was transferred on March 28 from prison in the remote province of Balkh, in northern Afghanistan, to the capital, Kabul, according to Jean MacKenzie, program director in Afghanistan for the Institute for War & Peace Reporting. The London-based Institute is an international advocate for press freedom.

The move, Mackenzie said in a telephone interview, was accompanied by promises from officials in the government of President Hamid Karzai that Kambakhsh would be freed.

MacKenzie credited international protests in the wake of the death sentence as a key factor in getting Kambakhsh out of the control of regional religious and secular authorities. She also said that within Afghanistan, protests in several cities organized by the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), a banned group, had made local citizens aware of the case.

``There is a belief that the charges were trumped up as a political move,'' MacKenzie said. She added that Kambakhsh and his brother, also a journalist, had been outspoken about the rise of warlords in the north and the breakdown of centralized government authority. The transfer to Kabul effectively removed Kambakhsh from local jurisdiction.

Release Planned

``Privately, sources in the government have assured the family that Parwez will be released, but the family are not yet certain of that,'' MacKenzie said.

Kambakhsh, a journalism student at Balkh University and correspondent for Jahan-e-Naw (The New World), a local daily newspaper in the Balkh city of Mazar-i-Sharif, was arrested Oct. 27, 2007. The National Directorate of Security charged him with downloading and distributing anti-Islamic propaganda, according to the Institute and reports from other organizations reporting on the case.

The British Broadcasting Corp. reported that the material in question concerned the role of women in Islamic society. A report from PEN, the international organization of writers and editors, reported that the material ``allegedly said the Prophet Mohammed ignored women's rights.''

``He was also reportedly accused of possessing allegedly anti-Islamic books and starting un-Islamic debates in his classes.''

Denied Charges

Kambakhsh has vehemently denied downloading or distributing the material. A local trial was held on Jan. 22.

``It was about 4 p.m. when guards brought me into a room where there were three judges and an attorney sitting behind their desks,'' Kambakhsh reported to the institute at the time. ``There was no one else. The death sentence had already been written. I wanted to say something, but they would not let me speak.

``They too said nothing,'' Kambakhsh continued. ``They just handed me a piece of paper on which it was written that I had been sentenced to death. Then armed guards came and took me out of the room and brought me back to the prison.''

News of the ``trial'' and death sentence sparked protests from human rights and journalists' organizations, including International PEN, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Committee and Reporters Without Borders.

On Jan. 31 Kabul demonstrators, organized by RAWA, marched in support of Kambakhsh, shouting ``Long live democracy!'' and demanding his release, ending up in front of the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan.

``This case is not an anomaly,'' MacKenzie said. ``It is symptomatic of what is happening in Afghanistan, the weakening of power at the center and the rise of local powerbrokers.

``It's entirely possible that if things continue this way,'' she continued, ``Afghan society will not look that different from the way it was under the Taliban.''
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Assailants throw grenades at home of female Afghan journalist, no one hurt
The Associated Press - Wednesday, April 16, 2008 
KABUL, Afghanistan: Assailants hurled grenades at the home of a female radio reporter whose station was critical of the government, officials said Wednesday. No one was hurt.

Khadija Ahadi, the 30-year-old director of Faryat radio station in the western city of Herat, was targeted on April 6 and again on Sunday, said Rahimullah Samandar, head of the Afghan Independent Journalists Association.

He said no one was wounded in the attacks, which caused damage to her house.

"I have received threats on my mobile for two months, warning me not to work in this radio. I did not take these threats seriously," Ahadi said.

A stun grenade was hurled at her house on April 6, causing no damage. On Sunday, attackers lobbed a grenade at her house, smashing the windows. Ahadi, her husband and three children have fled to Kabul.
"Our radio focuses on politics, criticizes the government, and most of our programming is live," she said. The station employs 15 people, including five women.

Rauf Ahmadi, a spokesman for the regional police in the west, confirmed the attacks, but said it was because of "private hostility." He did not elaborate.

The Afghan media have flourished since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, but journalists often face threats for airing critical stories, playing music or employing women.

Last year gunmen assassinated Zakia Zaki, the female owner of a radio station. She had apparently criticized local warlords who warned her to change her station's programming.

Shaima Rezayee, a popular host for an MTV-style music show, was shot dead in 2005 after clerics criticized her show as "anti-Islamic."
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Outspoken general bows out with no regrets
Happy with Canada's progress in Afghanistan, Rick Hillier will be remembered for pushing the boundaries, transforming the Forces
STEVEN CHASE - From Wednesday's Globe and Mail April 16, 2008
OTTAWA — General Rick Hillier, Canada's charismatic and outspoken top military commander, announced he's stepping down after more than three years on the job, saying he'd stayed longer than planned to ensure the future of the military mission in Afghanistan was resolved.

He said he is happy with Canada's progress in Afghanistan since 2002, but acknowledged he's not satisfied. More than 6,500 Afghans were killed last year - making it by far the most violent since 2001 in the growing Taliban insurgency.

"Obviously you would always want more [success] in the south," Gen. Hillier said, referring to the conflict-ridden province of Kandahar where Canadian Forces operate. "But I am also a realist and understand it's very tough to make progress."

He said one good thing about the stiff battle in the south against the Taliban is that it has focused the conflict there and allowed the rest of the country to develop relatively free of strife.
 
Appointed in 2005 by former prime minister Paul Martin, Gen. Hillier quickly became the most high-profile Canadian military leader in more than a quarter century - sometimes to the dismay of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government, which didn't always appreciate his blunt assessments of defence policy.

After a meeting with Mr. Harper yesterday where he tendered his resignation, Gen. Hillier rejected the suggestion he'd been pushed, and sources said he'd been offered a two-year extension if he wanted it.
Gen. Hillier told reporters he'd previously talked with Mr. Harper about continuing to serve, but he felt now was a logical time to quit unless he wanted to stay on a lot longer.

"It was clear in that conversation that it wouldn't be an extension of six or 12 months ... the next [phase] was two to three years long and I am just not ready to commit to two to three more years," he said.
Gen. Hillier, who'd previously been ordered by the Harper government to tone down his interventions on defence policy, and once clashed with former defence minister Gordon O'Connor, sought yesterday to play down these conflicts.

"Disagreements are a part of our life," he said. He said he expects to stay on until July, by which time a successor will be chosen. Gen. Hillier, 52, flatly rejected suggestions he might enter politics and said he'll likely look for "private sector" work.

The Newfoundland-born soldier was the communicator-in-chief behind a transformation of the Forces from a Cold War relic into a modern military capable of sending expeditions overseas to fight small wars.
He was also the chief architect of Canada's war in Afghanistan and successfully urged MPs earlier this year to extend the mission to 2011.

Gen. Hillier used the Afghan mission as a springboard to upgrade the Forces' equipment, from aircraft to vehicles, which had suffered from decades of budget cuts. It was a resupply that both the Liberal government and later the Harper administration supported.

Equally important, he helped rebuild public support for the military - tainted and tattered after the 1993 Somalia affair - using his public-relations skills to build a bond with Canadians that had eroded long ago.
"It's a long time before we will see the likes of this guy again," said Alex Morrison, president of the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies.

"He had the ability to capture the attention, the imagination and admiration of the average citizen. The Canadian Armed Forces are today held in the highest general esteem of any time I can recall - and I'm old enough to remember back to the Korean War."

Critics say the silver-tongued general may have overstepped his bounds by intervening in public debates on military policy and lobbying Parliament to extend the Afghan mission.

"One of the legacies that Hillier will leave behind is a blurring of lines between the role of the military in carrying out public policy and the role in actually shaping public policy," said Rideau Institute president Steven Staples, whose group has criticized the mission.

At his news conference, Gen. Hillier made no apologies for his blunt style. "Sometimes I think you need a little clarity as to what you're talking about."

The Tories thanked Gen. Hillier for his "outstanding service." Defence Minister Peter MacKay called him a "very hands-on" chief, saying his leadership style and knowledge of all three branches of the Forces are important criteria for choosing his successor.
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Ahadi: Afghanistan’s Economic Fortunes
Interviewee: Anwar-ul-Haq Ahadi, Minster of Finance, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
Interviewer: Greg Bruno, Staff Writer Council on Foreign Relations / April 15, 2008
Afghanistan remains a country at war facing huge economic development challenges. But Finance Minister Anwar-ul-Haq Ahadi, in Washington for the spring IMF/World Bank meetings, says in the event of improved security and reforms in foreign aid, the country has prospects for steady long-term gains. He points to the natural resources sector as a prime revenue source, citing China’s investment in copper mines as a recent example. Yet he says that crucial foreign assistance programs are poorly managed and need greater Afghan oversight. The country’s nascent tax system also is strained, and it will be a number of years “before we can really depend on our own resources to finance the developmental projects.” He also cites resistance to transitioning from an opium-based economy, especially in the south, where Taliban support for poppy cultivation is strong.

NATO states recently met to discuss increasing troop commitments in the south and east, underscoring the continuing violence there. Afghanistan remains poor, but given the current security challenges how can Afghanistan turn the corner economically?

Ahadi: We have to fight on two fronts. I think the minimum level of security is sort of like a precondition for development. We hope that with the help of international forces and, over time, the Afghan national forces, that we will be able to provide the minimum level of security that is a precondition for development. But we cannot postpone the construction and development until the fighting is completely over. So we have to deal with this simultaneously. Of course, until we establish the minimum level of security, the emphasis is going to be greater on security.

What are your expectations for growth in Afghan’s economy in coming months and years?

Ahadi: Last [fiscal] year that we just finished our fiscal year growth rate was 13.5 percent and we were very pleased with that. In Afghanistan, the growth rate for the past few years has been very much dependent on the weather. When we have an adequate amount of rainfall and snowfall, then the agricultural sector does well, and consequently, we have high growth rate. This year, the snowfall was pretty good but the rainfall has not been that great and we hope that we don’t suffer from drought. If we suffer from drought, then obviously the growth rate will be lower.

On the agricultural front, there is a drive from the international community to help Afghanistan move from poppy cultivation and heroin production to other forms of agriculture. Talk about the challenges of moving farmers away from cultivating poppies.

Ahadi: It’s not just international pressure. We in Afghanistan also realize that narcotics are not good for the health of the country and we would like to gradually end our reliance on that share of economy. What should we do to help the farmers to move away from that? We have a number of public works kinds of projects, public goods-type of projects. [There is a] program for building rural access roads so that the districts would be connected to the provincial centers and therefore they could easily bring their products to the market. There is an alternative livelihood program that encourages farmers in various provinces to cultivate an alternative product. I think the long-run success of our alternative livelihood programs would very much determine how [successful] the reduction in the cultivation of poppies is going to be.

For this year, our target is to reduce the amount of land [under poppy cultivation] by almost 25 percent. I think we have been doing well in preventing the cultivation of poppies. I think within a month or two we would know exactly how many hectares of land were prevented from being cultivated. Our objective was 50,000, which is 25 percent of the total [hectares] that were under cultivation last year.

Would forced eradication play into that reduction?

Ahadi: Yes, forced eradication is part of that. We did not want the chemicals to be used, so mechanical means will be used for the purpose of eradication, and that campaign has been going on for the past two months in Helmand, in Kandahar, in Nangarhar, and I think also Badakhshan. These are the major areas where poppy cultivation takes place.

Have you seen or do you expect the Taliban to try and convince farmers not to participate in eradication?

Ahadi: I think so. I think they have already done that or somebody has done that. But you know that’s a government policy. It’s the illegal activity and I think the government is going to insist on this. So regardless of what the Taliban do, I think that we’ll go ahead with that.

International donors have showered tens of billions of dollars on Afghanistan since 2002. Yet in the past you have criticized the control Afghans have over the way that money is spent. What types of foreign assistance programs you think are helpful and which types of programs clearly don’t work?

Ahadi: Well, let me talk in general terms. Pledges that have been made for reconstruction of Afghanistan total about $39 billion dollars. Of that amount $25 billion has been committed. Of the $25 billion in the past six years, only $16 billion has been actually spent. This is the payment that has been done. And of that, slightly over $5 billion has been spent by the national government. So one third of the resources has been spent in Afghanistan has been spent through the national government. We believe that the effectiveness of aid is much larger when the money is spent by the national government. There’s much more rationalization to the allocation of the resources when it’s done through a budget than if it [is] done ad-hoc.

A larger proportion of resources should be channeled through the national budget. This is the agreement we had with donors in the London conference more than two years ago. And we would like that to become a reality. It has not become a reality yet. We would also, to the extent that they spend their money directly, at least that they should take into considerations of our preferences—which area the government would like to spend money. Then each ministry can give specific projects to donors who are not willing to give their resources to the national government. And then they can implement those projects.

One of the concerns of the international community is capacity. Donors want evidence Afghanistan is moving away from a reliance on foreign assistance toward self-sufficiency. And one of the concerns international donors have is Afghanistan’s struggling tax collection system. What’s going on?

Ahadi: In terms of increasing domestic revenues, we’ve been very successful. The first year of the Karzai administration we had only $118 million as the revenue of the entire government. Now this past year we had $685 million, and this current year, we are expecting $887 million. So this is more than 500 percent increase in revenues compared to the first year. And every year we’re increasing our revenues by 25, 30 percent. But even though we have been quite successful in raising revenues, expenditures in Afghanistan, especially development expenditures, cannot be financed from the domestic revenues. We’re totally dependent on foreign assistance as far as the development budget is concerned. So in the near future, in the next five to six years, I don’t think it will be realistic to think that we can really finance developmental expenditure from our domestic revenues. Even if we were to double it, triple it, quadruple it, it still will not be enough.

Our aim is the next four or five years that we generate enough domestic revenues to pay for our recurrent expenses, but not so much for the developmental assistance. Because the developmental needs of the country are so huge and the reconstruction needs are so huge I think that will take awhile before we can really depend on our own resources to finance the developmental projects.

But specifically on tax collection, what are the problems with that system?

Ahadi: The tax collection system was completely broken. We’re now reintroducing taxes. There was tax law but there was no enforcement. Now we are enforcing it and as I said that’s one area that we have made a lot of progress. And we will continue to make the progress to modernize Afghanistan’s tax system, and to raise the level of the share of our domestic government revenues of the total GDP. The first year of President Karzai’s administration, the government revenues constituted about 3.2 percent of the total GDP. Now we are almost at the 8 percent. We expect that next two years to push that to 10 percent. Once we reach 10 percent, beyond that it’s a sort of like a level of revenues that a normal poor country or underdeveloped country would have. And of course then we’ll be hoping to increase beyond that too.

Some economists have called the 7 to 8 percent target of GDP “un-ambitious.” Do you think that’s unfair?

Ahadi: It’s un-ambitious if you look at it in isolation from where it started. But I would like to see which countries have really moved from 3.2 percent to 8 percent in five years time. So I think one has to look at the context, not just the level. I know it’s one of the lowest levels in the world. But a few years ago, too, it was one of the lowest levels, but it was 3.2 percent and now it is at 8 percent. And if we keep the present pace of increase in revenues, in another ten years time we might be pretty much [among] the average of the less developed countries’ rate of domestic revenues. [The average revenue-to-GDP ratio (PDF) for the least developed countries is about 20 percent, according to the World Bank].

There is a growing level of excitement among investors eyeing Afghanistan’s minerals and natural resources. What’s the status of resource development?

Well, we just had concluded contracts with Chinese for extractions of and processing the copper mines that we have. They’re going to invest about $2.8 billion and we are expecting to get about three to four hundred million dollars per year from royalties and taxes. But it will have other positive impacts on the rest of the economy. We’re beginning to prepare tender for the exploitation of iron ore, which is one of the richest and the largest [reserves] in the world. And we expect to have a significant amount of revenues to be generated from this. Same goes for coal and there are so many. Afghanistan is quite rich in minerals and we will be developing all these minerals through the private sector hopefully, international investment, and we’ll be developing them, and we think that we will be generating a significant amount of revenues from extracting mines.

How about petroleum?

Ahadi:Well, Afghanistan does have some petroleum resources. We’re beginning to prepare tender for that as well. In the [19]60s and 70s and early 80s we were exporting a large amount of natural gas to the former Soviet Union and there is a still significant amount of natural gas. But it’s not one of those oil-rich, natural gas-rich countries like Iran and the Persian Gulf countries or Algeria, which has a lot of natural gas. But I think it has substantial amount which is really going to help us with our economic development.
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Nato making mistake in Afghanistan, warns Turkish minister
Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom By Damien McElroy Foreign Affairs Correspondent  16/04/2008
Nato is courting disaster in Afghanistan by relying too much on force to defeat the Taliban, Turkey's foreign minister said yesterday.

Ali Babacan rejected the criticisms from British and US officials that have been directed recently at Turkey and other Nato members for refusing to deploy their troops to the country's troubled south and east regions.

Mr Babacan, who met Gordon Brown during a visit to London yesterday, raised his concerns that the shift to a more militaristic approach would backfire and ultimately undermine the Afghan government.

"If the people of that country start to perceive the security forces as occupiers, it's going to be a very complicated situation," he told The Daily Telegraph. "What is important is winning their hearts and minds."

Turkey, which believes it is uniquely positioned to act as a diplomatic intermediary between Muslim countries and the West, has provided millions in funding for schools and clinics in Afghanistan.
However, it has not been slow to use its military might in cross-border raids into Iraq to crush Kurdish nationalists.

Mr Babacan criticised the autonomous Kurdish government in northern Iraq as a "huge problem" and predicted that the raids would continue.

Mr Babacan also complained of the continued resistance of President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany towards letting Turkey join the EU.

He said that this, combined with the lack of a final peace deal in Cyprus, had changed attitudes within his homeland.

"This is number one news in Turkey," he said. "The feeling of not being wanted just goes deeper and deeper."
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After Decades, Pakistan Forces Afghans to Leave
Camp in Northwest Was Home to Tens of Thousands of Refugees
Washington Post - World By Candace Rondeaux Washington Post Foreign Service Wednesday, April 16, 2008
JALOZAI, Pakistan-About the only thing Aziz ur-Rehman remembers about his life in Afghanistan is his month-long walk through the mountains to Pakistan after the 1979 Soviet invasion.

He was 5 years old then -- too young to remember much about the events that drove his family out of Afghanistan. Most of his memories were born here among the sprawling mass of mud-brick homes, tin-roofed shops and rutted dirt roads that make up the oldest Afghan refugee settlement in Pakistan. And when the Pakistani government closes the camp this week, most of his memories will be buried here.
Three decades after thousands of Afghan refugees fled to this U.N.-backed settlement in northwestern Pakistan, the Pakistani government has begun to demolish homes and other buildings here. Citing concerns about extremist influences in Jalozai and the economic burden of hosting 80,000 refugees, officials set a Tuesday deadline for closing the camp, located about 20 miles southwest of the city of Peshawar.

Pakistan had pressed for an earlier closure but was persuaded to wait until after the winter by U.N. officials, the Afghan government and tribal elders.

Still, years after fleeing Afghanistan, many refugees like ur-Rehman are far from eager to return to a war-torn country they have never really known. "Life is better here in Pakistan. There is peace here, and I have my own life," ur-Rehman said.

Jalozai is one of more than 80 refugee encampments remaining in the country that are slated to close by the end of next year. So far, about 3,800 residents have left Jalozai for Afghanistan, according to U.N. officials.

More than 2 million registered Afghan refugees are settled in camps that stretch across parts of Pakistan's northwestern frontier and tribal areas. Although an estimated 3 million Afghans have returned home since 2002, the continued presence of millions of others in places such as Jalozai has become a thorny issue for Pakistan since the start of U.S.-led counterterrorism operations in the region.

A major U.S. ally, Pakistan has struggled for years to quell the rising influence of Taliban fighters inside Afghan refugee settlements.

A Western diplomat in Pakistan familiar with the camps said that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former U.S. ally with ties to the Taliban, has long held sway over extremists in the camp at Jalozai and in Shamshatoo, another Afghan settlement near Peshawar, making the camps a refuge for Taliban fighters. "They provide the perfect location for disappearing and recruiting, which is why we have been pushing for closure of these camps. You don't want to create a humanitarian crisis, but the security there is an issue," the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

More village than camp, Jalozai has a thriving economy built primarily on the transportation of goods and services across the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan. Homes are modest but have provided shelter for at least two generations of largely ethnic Pashtuns with Afghan roots. With fighting still underway in Afghanistan, many in the camp are fearful of what they will find on the other side of the border.

"I don't want to go back. In Afghanistan, the situation is clear," ur-Rehman said. "Every day there are bombings there, or suicide attacks. You never know where the attack is coming from."

Many Jalozai refugees have roots in the eastern provinces of Afghanistan, where the fighting has been especially heavy in recent years. More than half, however, were born in Pakistan. Three-quarters of the camp population is younger than 28, according to Pakistan's commission on Afghan refugees. Few have firsthand knowledge of life in Afghanistan.

Zalmay Rasul, Afghanistan's national security adviser, said in an interview in Kabul last week that the government there is working to ensure a smooth return of Afghan refugees. Repatriation efforts have been complicated, however, because many Afghans are returning to conflict areas. "The return of refugees has already happened, and we are ready to accept those refugees who are coming," Rasul said. "We need to have at least a humanitarian infrastructure in place, however, to receive them."

According to U.N. and Pakistani government officials, the number of Afghan refugees who have returned to their country since the start of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan in late 2001 has slowed, while international aid for refugees has dropped precipitously in the wake of the fighting. About 1.6 million refugees left the camps for Afghanistan in 2002 compared with 133,000 in 2006, according to U.N. data.
Meanwhile, aid donated by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has decreased from $28.9 million in 2001 to $9.3 million in 2007, a drop of 68 percent, a Pakistani government official said. "This is a very troubling aspect for us -- that the world and the donors are losing interest in the refugee problem. There is donor fatigue in the international community, yet they are asking us to do more and more," said Abdul Rauf Khan, the outgoing chief commissioner for Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

As Pakistan rushes to close the settlements, refugees are left with scant economic resources, according to Vivian Tan, a spokeswoman for the U.N. commissioner's office in Pakistan. "This is a forgotten humanitarian crisis, yet the refugees are a major player in stabilizing the region," Tan said. "If you push them out in one go, then you destabilize the region. If you get them to go gradually, then there can be peace and stability."

Refugees who agree to return to Afghanistan receive about $100 each from the U.N. refugee agency to aid in the journey home. But with food, energy and lodging prices on the rise on both sides of the border, the money barely pays for transportation, several refugees at the camp said.

Abdullah, a bookseller at Jalozai, was an infant when his family moved to the settlement in the late 1980s. "Our whole extended family has been living here, and this camp is now like our ancestral village. We have seen the ups and downs of life here, with marriages and deaths in the family," said Abdullah, who like many ethnic Pashtuns uses only one name.

His family has been looking for a new home in Peshawar or its suburbs but has not found anything affordable. Government workers have already bulldozed the bookstore that he, his wife and four children relied on for income.

"My shop is demolished, but my home is still there," Abdullah said. "I will be the last person to leave this place."

Special correspondent Imtiaz Ali in Peshawar contributed to this report.
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Afghan militants seem to be embracing new strategy to undermine election
Minneapolis Star Tribune, Minnesota - World
By JONATHAN S. LANDAY McClatchy News Service  April 15, 2008
WASHINGTON -While Americans' attention remains focused on Iraq, violence is escalating in Afghanistan. And there are indications that Taliban and Al-Qaida militants there have adopted a new strategy of avoiding U.S. and NATO forces by staging attacks in provinces that haven't seen major unrest and by choosing easy targets such as aid groups and poorly trained Afghan police.

With Afghanistan due to hold a presidential election next year, pressure is growing on the United States and NATO to contain the insurgency so the government of Prime Minister Hamid Karzai and the United Nations can proceed with the complex balloting preparations.

Several new reports have found that insurgent violence has risen sharply in the first months of this year.

A study by the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, a group funded by the European Commission, found that there were 704 insurgent attacks from January through March this year, compared with 424 during the first three months of 2007. The civilian death toll was 463 for the period, compared with 264 in the first quarter of last year.

There also were 16 attacks on aid organizations in the first quarter, double the number for 2007.

Along with attacks on aid groups, Afghan police increasingly have been targeted. In the latest attacks, a roadside bomb reportedly killed two policemen and injured three Tuesday, a day after insurgents killed 11 other police officers.

The NGO Safety Office report agrees with several other new studies that have found insurgent attacks rising outside southern and eastern Afghanistan, where most of the 47,000 U.S. and NATO-led troops are deployed.

"Operationally, the Taliban appear to be putting more resources into attacking in provinces where allied forces are weaker and which are less accustomed to clashes," says an April 6 analysis written by John McCreary, a former senior intelligence analyst for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for dNovus RDI, a Texas-based contracting firm.

"They are starting to show the manifestations of a strategy" of keeping under-strength U.S. and NATO forces tied down in the south and east while stoking instability elsewhere, McCreary said in an interview.
David Lamm, a retired U.S. Army colonel who served in Afghanistan, said the Taliban wants to prevent next year's election by hitting enough "soft targets" in enough places that the "U.N. security folks say they are not sure they can run the elections."
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The Taliban blowback
The US enlisted the help of the mujahideen to fight the Soviet army in 1980s Afghanistan. But Pakistan, too, began fostering Islamist extremism. Now, Declan Walsh reports, it is suffering the violent consequences
The Guardian Declan Walsh Wednesday April 16 2008
Two recent films feature Pakistan's lawless North-West Frontier province. The first is Charlie Wilson's War, a glossy Hollywood tale about how a cocaine-sniffing, skirt-chasing congressman helped goad the CIA into a massive covert war against Soviet-occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s.

In one scene Tom Hanks, who plays Wilson, and Julia Roberts, his flinty southern belle, bring a powerful Washington politician named Doc Long to a squalid refugee camp near Peshawar in neighbouring Pakistan. Moved by the plight of the Afghan refugees, Long promises he will send weapons to fight the infidel communists.

"This is good against evil. And I want you to know that America is always going to be on the side of the good," the pudgy white man declares to the turbaned crowd of Afghan exiles. "Allahu Akbar!" they yell. Long punches the air in return. "Allahu Akbar!" he shouts.

The second film is far from glossy; in fact it is a non-fiction production. Shot in Mohmand, a tribal area in Pakistan's borderlands near the Afghan refugee camps created by that conflict in the 80s, Revenge is a straight-to-DVD job. It sells for the equivalent of 40p in the bazaars of Peshawar and its budget is evident in the wobbly camerawork and harsh lighting. But the action is all too real.

In the climactic scene, a Taliban gang parades six men, accused of theft and betrayal, before a crowd of perhaps 5,000 tribesmen. The prisoners are badly beaten, naked to the waist and smeared with their own blood. They are shoved before the central figure - a man in traditional shalwar kameez and basketball boots, brandishing a knife as long as his forearm. Amid much ballyhooing, he beheads the prisoners, one by one.

The camera spares no detail. The head-chopping Talib clamps his hand over his victims' mouths as he hacks at their necks; fellow fighters clamour to take photos with their mobile phones; blood squirts on to the soil. But only one sound is audible. "Allahu Akbar!" the crowd cries. "Allahu Akbar!"

The film exemplifies the fundamentalist fury sweeping Pakistan's frontier region, a fury that has swelled to alarming proportions. Across the North-West Frontier province that abuts Afghanistan, self-proclaimed Taliban forces - a hotchpotch of religious diehards, foreign fugitives, angry tribals and village thugs - are imposing their influence at gunpoint. Girls' schools have closed, movie and music stores have been torched and barbers who dare to shave beards have shuttered their pokey little stalls. Perceived enemies are kidnapped or, in some cases, beheaded.

Even more worrying, the violence is spilling into other parts of Pakistan. A cascade of suicide attacks and bombs have rocked the main cities. Recent victims have included a three-star general stalled in traffic, FBI agents at a pizza joint and the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, killed as she left an election rally in Rawalpindi.

In one of the largest attacks, a massive car bomb gutted a seven-storey police headquarters in Lahore. For days afterwards terrified city residents streamed past to gawp at the awesome destruction. "It looks like we've been attacked by an enemy country," said Muhammad Umar, a municipal clerk, staring at the sagging mess.

The bloodshed has stalled in recent weeks as a new, civilian-led government takes control. But few expect the calm to last. Many Pakistanis blame America. Since 2001 the Pentagon has given the Pakistani army more than £5bn to fight militants in the tribal badlands. But for many Pakistanis this is "America's war" - a fight inadvertently started by Charlie Wilson.

Throughout the 80s the US used Islam as a weapon against the Soviet occupiers of Afghanistan, funnelling billions of dollars in weapons to the mujahideen fighters. The struggle became a cause celebre across the Muslim world, sucking in disaffected young men like Osama Bin Laden.

After the Soviet forces crawled home in 1989, Wilson and the CIA largely forgot about their jihadi creation until the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York in September 2001, when the realisation came painfully late.

Pakistanis make this argument forcefully and frequently (though usually omitting to mention that their more respected ally, Saudi Arabia, paid for half of the anti-Soviet jihadi budget). But the 80s jihad also spawned a home-grown malignancy - one that now poses a powerful threat.

Recognising the jihadis' skill with a Kalashnikov and dedication to God, Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) gave them a fresh assignment in the 1990s: Kashmir. Led by Afghan veterans, fighters were secretly trained, armed and funded by the ISI to fight Indian soldiers in Kashmir. The best were later sent to help the Taliban in Afghanistan, then also sponsored by elements within Pakistani intelligence.

But when Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, backed the United States after 2001, the footsoldiers felt betrayed. First they tried to kill Musharraf in 2003; in the past nine months they have launched a blistering offensive against the security forces. A senior Pakistani police official told the Guardian that he believes these elements - loosely termed the "Punjabi Taliban" - have played a central role in the recent violence. Frankenstein's monster has turned on its master.

"The intelligence agencies were so short-sighted not to see the blowback," says another figure with front-line experience, Hassan Abbas. He was a sub-divisional police chief in North-West Frontier province in the late 90s, and is now a research fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "You can switch these guys on," he says. "But it's 100% more difficult to switch them off."

Yet for all that, Pakistan is strangely reluctant to crack down on certain Islamists. While there are those who have been captured or killed, others are allowed to roam free. Some shadowy figures seem almost untouchable: men such as Qari Saifullah Akhtar.

Akhtar, a jihad veteran of three decades' experience, has seen it all. He has been portrayed as hero and villain, godfather and coupster, idol and assassin. He has skirted American bombs, fought dirty wars and become pals with the Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar. Today his past seems to have caught up with him. He languishes in a Karachi jail, accused of orchestrating an attempt on Benazir Bhutto's life last October. But if history is a guide, he is unlikely to see a trial. He may be quietly released or, who knows, mysteriously slip from custody. People like him, it seems, simply know too much.

Akhtar wasn't always seen as the bad guy. Back in 1980, just months after the Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan, he became a pioneer of the modern Pakistani jihad. He left his home in the city of Chishtian in Pakistani Punjab, and headed north to Peshawar in North-West Frontier province. Teaming up with other religiously minded men, he signed up for the fight. News of the glorious exploits of his group, Harkat-ul-Jihad-i-Islami (HUJI), inspired others to follow.

"He was my first amir [commander]," said Maulana Tahir Ashrafi, 35, a baby-faced cleric who heads the Pakistani Ulema (scholars) Council and is a former religious adviser to the government of Punjab. "The Russians were demolishing an Islamic country and it was our duty to defend it. At that time we were the Americans' sugar babies. They thought we were doing their job. We thought we were doing it for God."
Men like Akhtar were friends of America, allying themselves to Afghan commanders and, in the bubbling cauldron of jihad, befriending wealthy Arab fighters, such as Osama bin Laden, according to a former Pakistani intelligence officer, Khalid Khawaja. He said he met Akhtar in a training camp in 1987. "He was one of the first Pakistanis to go for jihad," he said.

After the Russians fled in 1989, a generation of jihadi fighters found themselves fired up with nowhere to go. Pakistan's ISI spy agency gave them a destination. Within a few years, Pakistani guerrilla groups were infiltrating Indian-controlled Kashmir, all under the control of the ISI. Battle-hardened warriors such as Akhtar led the fight. Saudi-funded madrassas provided a steady flow of recruits.

"It was an arrangement that suited the ISI very much," said Muhammad Amir Rana, author of The A to Z of Jehadi Organisations in Pakistan.

But Akhtar soon made it clear that his first allegiance was to Allah, not Pakistan. In 1995 he was part of a fanciful plot by a fundamentalist army general, Zaheerul Islam Abbasi, to overthrow Benazir Bhutto's second government, oust the army and turn Pakistan into an Islamic caliphate. Akhtar's job was to provide the muscle. Once the generals had been arrested or killed, he would lead up to 300 jihadis into action, said Rana.

The plot failed miserably and Akhtar was jailed. But in a pattern that was to recur, he was quietly released months later. Soon after, he slipped back to his stomping ground in Afghanistan, where the Taliban were sweeping to power.

At a time when the ISI was openly supporting the Taliban, Abbasi became a close adviser to Mullah Omar. "He was a sort of consultant," said Rana. And that allegiance made him a new enemy after 9/11: America.

In October 2001, on the first night of the US-led offensive aimed at crushing the Taliban and extremist training grounds in Afghanistan, the US air force blitzed a HUJI training camp in Rishikor, south of Kabul. It was later identified as a graduate school for jihadis. Students from Arab countries, Pakistan and Uzbekistan learned how to kidnap, bomb and shoot.

By the time the bombs landed Akhtar had already fled. But he was less lucky a month later. A spokesman for HUJI reported that US bombs had killed 85 Pakistani fighters in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Akhtar, it was said, had gone to Kabul to make preparations for the bodies to be repatriated.

Weeks later, he disappeared. One swashbuckling fable has Akhtar fleeing through the deserts of southern Afghanistan on his motorcycle with Mullah Omar riding pillion as American bombs destroyed the Taliban headquarters in Kandahar. Either way, Akhtar surfaced again three years later, several thousand miles away, in Dubai.

In a highly publicised coup for America and Pakistan, he was seized at Dubai airport and flown to Islamabad. The White House and Musharraf claimed to have nabbed a key al-Qaida player. "Very important," declared President Bush's terrorism adviser, Frances Townsend. The Pakistanis accused Akhtar of involvement in two attempts on Musharraf's life nine months earlier.

Akhtar was kept in custody for almost three years. No court case was lodged, no charges were brought and he disappeared from view. Then last May, amid much public anger about Pakistan's many "disappeared", he was dumped on a busy road south of Islamabad. He went home.

Akhtar might have hoped for the quiet life. His lawyer and family say that he had retired from jihad and started building a khanqah, or religious retreat, on the Grand Trunk Road outside Lahore. In December he spent the holy month of Ramadan deep in meditation at the Syed Ahmed Shah khanqah, a collection of neat, low buildings amid maize fields and lychee orchards to the west of the city.

On a recent Friday morning, a group of young men with frizzy beards welcomed me in a small room off the polished courtyard. They offered sweet tea and biscuits but their faces were sour. "You foreigners call us terrorists because of our beards," snapped one, a clerk from the city's high court, in Urdu.

But after a few sips of tea the harshness melted. Of course they remembered Akhtar, they said. He stayed in a simple upstairs room, fasting through the day and praying deep into the night, said Rehan Ishfaq. "You could tell he was a commander," he said. "But he was treated no differently to anyone else."

To prove the point he named other respected guests who had been treated as equals - Maulana Masood Azhar, leader of the extremist Jaish-e-Muhammad, another Kashmir militant group; and Azam Tariq, a sectarian leader gunned down in 2003.

The men were upset that Akhtar was now in jail. It was all Benazir Bhutto's fault, they said. A few weeks earlier Bhutto's family had posthumously published Reconciliation, the book she was finishing at the time of her death on December 27. In it, she names Akhtar as the puppet-master for a huge suicide bombing that killed 150 people during her homecoming parade in Karachi last October.

"A bomb maker was needed for the bombs. Enter Qari Saifullah Akhtar, a wanted terrorist who had tried to overthrow my second government," she wrote.

Akhtar's lawyer Hashmat Habib says there is no evidence to link his client to the plot. "Qari sahib [sir] is a pious and religious person, yes. But fighting for freedom is no crime," he said. And he has launched an ambitious libel case against the book's New York publishers for $200m in damages - the alleged value of Bhutto's own insurance policy. "A mujahid's [religious fighter's] life is worth more than that of a political leader," he says.

As before, Akhtar is surrounded by more questions than answers. He has not been charged. When the first detention order expired, police flew him to Karachi. When that detention order expired late last month, they renewed his detention for another 30 days. Experts are sceptical he will ever see a trial. A man such as him could shed much light on the intelligence services' past - and possibly present - links with the murky Islamist underworld.

Suspicions linger that the intelligence agencies have not entirely closed the chapter on jihad - possibly in case its practitioners are needed in any future war with India. "Some people seem to be still in the 'good books'. The police are afraid to touch them," said Abbas of Harvard. Several western diplomats echoed this view.

Meanwhile the bombs and the blowback continue. Nobody is safe, not even the family of the man who started it all through his policy of "Islamisation" in contemporary Pakistan - the dictator General Zia-ul-Haq, who ruled Pakistan through the 80s and was a key ally of Charlie Wilson. In the movie, the congressman apologises for requesting a scotch on the rocks in the alcohol-free presidency. "I'll bet that visitors often make that mistake," he quips. "No they don't," says Zia.

A few weeks ago I went to see Ijaz-ul-Haq, Zia's softly spoken son. Until last year, he served as minister for religious affairs under Musharraf. Sitting under a tobacco-coloured portrait of his father, he looked a little dejected. Now the Islamists were out to get him too, he said.

In late December a bomb prematurely exploded 300 yards from his house in southern Punjab. The police linked the putative killer to the Red Mosque, the radical Islamabad mosque where over 100 people died in a confrontation with the army last summer. Haq had led unsuccessful attempts to find a peaceful solution.

There were other ominous echoes. The killer belonged to a militant group that had fought in Kashmir. He had also been to Afghanistan. And he came from a village close to the home of Qari Saifullah Akhtar.
"This is a whole new phenomenon," said Haq. "Even during Afghanistan and Kashmir, we never saw suicide attacks like this." He had raised the walls around his house and erected concrete barricades. Security men roamed the garden. But still he was worried.

"Time is on their side," he said. "They go slowly. It's very scary."

A bearded man wearing a tracksuit, who looked like an ex-soldier, came into the room. A gun appeared to bulge from one pocket. It was time for his employer's evening jog.

The American who funded jihad is also quietly contrite. After September 2001, Charlie Wilson told biographer George Crile that the 1980s fight was a "glorious" time. But the endgame, he admitted, had gone disastrously wrong.
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Child brides 'sold' in Afghanistan
Tuesday, 15 April 2008 BBC News
In northern Afghanistan it appears some parents are being driven by poverty and hunger to marry off their daughters at an early age. Jenny Cuffe investigates for Radio 4's Seven Days.

Farida (not her real name) was paid 40,000 Afghani (£400) last summer for marrying her 13-year-old daughter to her father's 20-year-old cousin.

The child, her freckled face half hidden behind a blue veil, says she does not like her husband, and begins to cry.

"I didn't want to marry, it was my parents' decision," she said. "I dreamed I would be able to finish my education. I had no choice."

Asked why she is making her daughter unhappy, Farida replies simply: "It is her life, it is her fate."

Badakhshan's independent MP Fauzia Kofi says she has seen an increasing number of such child brides in the last two years.

"I don't call it marriage, I call it selling children," she says.

"A nine or 10-year-old - you give her away for wheat and two cows."

High prices

The cause of the trend, according to Fauzia Kofi, is poverty.

Farida and her daughter live in the village of Wandian, high in the mountains of Badakhshan and a fortnight's journey by donkey from the nearest big town, Faizabad.

Badakhshan deputy governor Dr Mohammed Zarif reports 60 deaths from cold and hunger and the loss of 7,000 livestock over the five months that the district has been cut off from the rest of the world by snow.

Meanwhile, some food in the local market has doubled in price in the last year - a result both of Badakhshan's inaccessibility, and of global food shortages.

The British aid agency, Oxfam, has brought them vegetable seeds and fertiliser, but villagers in Wandian say their oxen have died and they need a plough.

Fauzia Kofi believes child marriages will only end if Badakhshan gets investment to reduce poverty, and more help to improve the food supply.

A midwife in the village of Khordakhan, Hanufa Mah, agrees that alleviating poverty is key.

She says she tries to teach parents not to marry their girls too young but some feel they have no choice.

One girl she helped through labour was only 10 years old.

"The girl was so small. I held her in my lap until the child was born," she says.

UN figures show that more women die in childbirth in Badakhshan than anywhere else in the world, and mothers under the age of 15 are most at risk.

No quick fix

Afghanistan's finance minister Anwar al-haq Ahadi does not, however, expect regions such as Badakhshan to be lifted out of poverty quickly.

"I'm afraid it's going to take quite a while... what we're trying to do now is just the very basics.

"Right now we are the fourth or fifth poorest country in the world.

"We hope we will move in ranking by another two or three steps, but still, Afghanistan in five years from now will be a very poor country."

The outlook for girls in Afghanistan's remote villages appears bleak then, especially if global food shortages continue.

Their hopes of education are likely to be frustrated, and they will continue to face the hazards of early pregnancy.
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MOI promises to step up Kabul security
Written by www.quqnoos.com Tuesday, 15 April 2008
Ministry wants to limit power of private security companies in capital

THE MINISTRY of Defence has said that it is tightening security in Kabul this year.

Security officials say that they have created more police checkpoints in Kabul and that the ministry is starting to clamp down on private security companies operating in the capital.

The spokesman for the Ministry of Defence, Zmari Bashari, said: “We have more a higher concentration of checkpoints, police patrols and searches in the city.

“Besides these actions, we are trying our best to limit the illegal activities of private security companies and we will continue our struggle.”

Kabul's security situation has improved during the first part of this year compared with the same period last year, with the number of suicide bombings and kidnappings on the decline.
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Penalty for crossing an Al Qaeda boss? A nasty memo
Recently declassified documents reveal a little-known side of the network: an internal culture that has been surprisingly bureaucratic and persistently fractious.
By Sebastian Rotella Los Angeles Times Staff Writer April 15, 2008
LONDON -- Mohammed Atef was furious.
The Al Qaeda leader had learned that a subordinate had broken the rules repeatedly. So he did his duty as the feared military chief of a global terror network: He fired off a nasty memo.

In two pages mixing flowery religious terms with itemized complaints, the Egyptian boss accused the militant of misappropriating cash, a car, sick leave, research papers and an air conditioner during "an austerity situation" for the network. He demanded a detailed letter of explanation.

"I was very upset by what you did," Atef wrote. "I obtained 75,000 rupees for you and your family's trip to Egypt. I learned that you did not submit the voucher to the accountant, and that you made reservations for 40,000 rupees and kept the remainder claiming you have a right to do so. Also with respect to the air-conditioning unit, furniture used by brothers in Al Qaeda is not considered private property. I would like to remind you and myself of the punishment for any violation."

The memo by Atef, who later died in the U.S.-led assault on Osama bin Laden's Afghan refuge in 2001, is among recently declassified documents that reveal a little-known side of the network. Although Al Qaeda has endured thanks to a loose and flexible structure, its internal culture has nonetheless been surprisingly bureaucratic and persistently fractious, investigators and experts say.

The documents were captured in Afghanistan and Iraq and date from the early 1990s to the present. They depict an organization obsessed with paperwork and penny-pinching and afflicted with a damaging propensity for feuds.

"The picture of internal strife that emerges from the documents highlights not only Al Qaeda's past failures but also -- and more importantly -- it offers insight into its present weaknesses," concludes a study of the documents issued in September by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. "Al Qaeda today is beset by challenges that surfaced in leadership disputes at the beginning of the organization's history."
In the years after 2001, anti-terrorism officials worked to understand a foe that defied a Western mind-set. In contrast to state-sponsored extremist groups, Al Qaeda was a decentralized alliance of networks. Recruits in Afghanistan had access to Bin Laden and other bosses. Operatives were often given great autonomy.

But the egalitarian veneer coexisted with the bureaucratic mentality of the chiefs, mostly Egyptians with experience in the military and highly structured extremist groups.

"They may have imposed the blindingly obdurate nature of Egyptian bureaucracy," said a senior British anti-terrorism official who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons. "You see that in the retirement packages they offered, the lists of members in Iraq, the insecure attitude about their membership, the rifts among leaders and factions."

Like newly arrived fighters in Iraq today, recruits in the 1990s filled out applications that were kept in meticulous rosters. The shaggy, battle-scarred holy warriors of Afghanistan were micromanagers. They scrupulously documented logistical details -- one memo accounts for a mislaid Kalashnikov rifle and 125 rounds of ammunition. They groused and nagged about money.

In a brief letter from the late 1990s, a militant wished Atef "Peace and God's mercy and blessings" and "praise to the Lord and salvation to his prophet." Then he got down to business: "I have not received my salary in three months and I am six months behind in paying my rent. You also told me to remind you, and this is a reminder."

A stern Egyptian bean-counter set the austere policies. Mustafa Ahmed Al Yahzid, a 52-year-old trained as an accountant, ran the network's finance committee between 1995 and 2007, said Rohan Gunaratna, author of "Inside Al Qaeda."

"He is known as being a very stringent administrator, who keeps tight control of Al Qaeda's finances," Gunaratna said.

Committees and titles proliferated. And for years, schisms pitted Bin Laden's inner circle against factions who saw him as a chaotic commander prone to military miscalculation. They also faulted him and his deputies for disdain toward non-Arabs, a persistent point of conflict, according to the West Point study.

Dissent was loud. Two influential Syrians scolded Bin Laden "like a disobedient child" in an e-mail in 1999, the study says. They urged him to end tensions with Mullah Omar, the Taliban chief.

"I think our brother [Bin Laden] has caught the disease of screens, flashes, fans and applause," the Syrians wrote. "You should apologize for any inconvenience or pressure you have caused."

The documents also suggest a vexing struggle to retain operational control in recent years.

Iraq is the best example. The rise of Al Qaeda in Iraq under Abu Musab Zarqawi attracted new fighters and funds. But the fiery Jordanian had kept his distance even when he ran his own Afghan training camp. As he gained the spotlight in Iraq, he feuded with the core leadership in Pakistan, who worried that his onslaught of bombings and beheadings would backfire.

Their efforts to rein in Zarqawi are documented by a letter from a Libyan chief known only as Atiyah. U.S. troops found the 13-page letter in the safe house where an airstrike killed Zarqawi in 2006. Atiyah sounds like a sage veteran alternately chiding and praising a rookie hothead as he urges Zarqawi to mend fences with Bin Laden and refrain from indiscriminate violence.

"My dear brother, today you are a man of the public," Atiyah wrote from Pakistan on July 9, 2005. "Your actions, decisions and behavior result in gains and losses that are not yours alone, but rather they are for Islam."

As predicted, Zarqawi's rampage had weakened Al Qaeda in Iraq by the time he died. In the aftermath, the leadership in Pakistan lost a chief who was captured en route to Iraq on a mission to take charge there.

Atiyah's advice describing the fall of Algerian Islamic movements a decade ago remains relevant, experts said.

"They destroyed themselves with their own hands," Atiyah wrote to Zarqawi. "Their enemy did not defeat them, but rather they defeated themselves."
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Britain caught out in Afghan ploy
Asia Times Online, Hong Kong By Sharif Ghalib  Apr 16, 2008
TORONTO -President Hamid Karzai has blamed what he called an "extremely ethnic" report in the London Times for his decision to turn down the appointment of Lord Paddy Ashdown as the United Nations super envoy for Afghanistan.

As history recounts, Afghanistan and Great Britain have been in three major conflicts, known as the Anglo-Afghan wars. Occurring within the span of 70 years, the wars represented the geopolitical situation of the 19th century, giving rise to the Great Game, the competition for territory and influence between the colonial British and the Russian czar empires.

However, centuries later, on the heels of September 11, 2001, history appeared to be repeating itself as the British returned to Afghanistan, this time not as occupiers but as a major ally contributing to the international efforts for the implementation of a United Nations mandate to establish peace, and "to help Afghanistan build a more stable and secure future".

By the same token, the United Kingdom came forward as a key donor nation, pledging substantial development and reconstruction funds to help Afghanistan recover from the scourge of war and mayhem. In early 2006, Britain hosted a historic UN-sponsored international conference on Afghanistan in London, which specified benchmarks for a strengthened partnership between Afghanistan and the international community, set out in the conference's final document known as The Afghanistan Compact.

In 2006, pursuant to an expansion of peacekeeping operations by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a contingent of British troops took over security tasks in the Taliban-dominated southern province of Helmand, superseding US forces.

Deployed as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force to provide a secure environment for the rebuilding efforts in the region, the British troops had high hopes of pacifying Helmand without "firing a shot", in the words of then British defense minister John Reid. But with the violence steadily building through the unchallenged cross-border replenishment of the Taliban's manpower and a thriving drug trade, the British forces soon realized they were confronted with a formidable foe.

A year into the fighting and trying to cope with the mounting fatalities among their soldiers, some British commanders called for "playing the British not American card" in Helmand, heralding a shift of policy that eventually led to a change in their rules of engagement with the enemy.

The overhauled modus operandi proved to be none other than the one based on a resuscitated 19th-century colonial school. As a result, the district of Musa Qala, north of Helmand province, was captured by the Taliban. They scored their gain with the support of the local government, intriguingly without a shot being fired. The British had already withdrawn to leave control with the council of elders. The Taliban then brokered an agreement with the local tribal elders to keep the peace; a peculiar exercise that outraged the government of Karzai.

In the meantime, to complement validation of the handling of Musa Qala, British media insensitively resorted to lashing out at Karzai and glorifying ethnic and demographic tendencies while referring to the overall situation. The trend grew to the point that even the ethnic configuration of the Karzai government came under scrutiny, raising alarm across the political spectrum in Kabul and beyond.

Hence, Musa Qala, destined to fall back into the hands of government forces the next year, turned out to become the first known recourse by the British in a series of ensuing attempts, all in tune to the 19th century-era Great Game mantra of ethnic wrangling, dealmaking and disbursement of cash to tribal chiefs in return for short-lived loyalties.

Subsequently, in December 2007, a British and an Irish diplomat were expelled by the Afghan government, accused of holding secret talks with the Taliban in Helmand province. Details of the accusations released by the Afghan government shockingly even spoke of plans by the British to set up a military training camp in southern Afghanistan aimed at providing training for as many as 2,000 Taliban fighters.

The allegations caused an uproar in the Kabul government, whereupon it was reflected in a parliamentary report in which some government officials rather cynically expressed doubt if the British really wanted to bring security to Helmand.

The report in effect put in perspective the furiousness and awe on the part of both the government and the average citizens across the country alike with regard to the new British strategy seeking to extend an olive branch to the enemy and preaching for reaching out to the Taliban.

Although, in principle, consistent with Kabul government's official line of dialogue with the Taliban, those willing to respond without preconditions, the conduct aroused added commotion over the unilateral, secretive and tribe-centric nature of it, which had practically sidestepped the elected government of Afghanistan.

The bizarre revelation, over time, set the more rhythmic tone for Britain's advocacy of conciliation, which culminated in proclamations by British government ranking officials that the Taliban should be brought into the political arena in Kabul.

Months later, as the residual perceived obsolete doctrine of the British of striking deals with chieftains and fiefdoms continued to haunt Afghans, the unforeseeably contentious anecdote of Lord Ashdown's nomination as the succeeding UN envoy in Afghanistan sprung up, which was blocked and, much to surprise of a great many, turned down by Karzai.

In point of fact, it is vitally important that Karzai has finally spoken his mind and spelled out the rationale behind his stance on Ashdown's appointment. His asserted attitude over the issue, by and large, echoes the greater national sentiment across Afghanistan.

Let's remember that, having been through decades of turmoil and upheaval, successive overt and creeping invasions, proxy wars and a historic indigenous resistance against extremism and terrorism with colossal sacrifices, the people of Afghanistan have come a long way.

Seven years ago, the nation enthusiastically embraced the world's collective efforts for bringing democracy to the country. With generous solidarity from the international community, among others Britain, the country has been able to triumphantly follow through an ambitious peace accord signed among the concerned ethno-political forces in Bonn, Germany.

Today, a new constitution, the most enlightened of its kind that Afghans can call to mind, and recognizing inter alia the multiethnic and heterogeneous demographic character of the country, continues to guide the nation through its social and political life with equal citizens of a modern indivisible pluralistic unitary state.

Accordingly, to guard against these hard-won historic achievements, and in the interest of durable peace and of long-term stability, allied governments need to ensure promotion of genuine national unity among all Afghans. They further need to ensure an inclusive approach toward all Afghans and to engage all moderate peaceful ethno-political forces who are part of the government and committed to the success of the peace process.

Moreover, considering the socio-political realities of today's Afghanistan bound to becoming a modern and democratic state, and in line with the new geostrategic imperatives of the region, the world community must avoid creating ethnic divisions and/or tilt among Afghans.

As for the Taliban, allied nations may need to support the government of Afghanistan in its bid - already approved by the nation's parliament - for engaging all those rank and file combatants who choose to break with their past and come into the government fold, in good faith and without any preconditions, pledging allegiance to Afghanistan's constitution in its entirety, and with the sole aspiration to re-integrate into society and pursue a peaceful life.

Without a doubt, the people of Afghanistan highly appreciate the magnanimous contributions made by the United Kingdom to the efforts of the international community to establish peace and stability and to ensure reconstruction in their country. Likewise, they greatly admire the invaluable sacrifices of British soldiers in Afghanistan.

Indispensably, however, London needs to apply more pragmatism to its strategic approach toward modern Afghanistan, as today both nations remain an equal time away from the 19th-century geopolitical ambience.

Sharif Ghalib served at the United Nations for 10 years, and was the first Afghan diplomat to negotiate the establishment of full bilateral diplomatic and consular relations between Afghanistan and Canada at resident-embassy level. He opened the Embassy of Afghanistan in Ottawa in late 2002 and served as the country's charge d'affaires and minister counselor until 2005.
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MPs accuse Karzai of fuelling Hazara-Kuchi clash
Written by www.quqnoos.com - Monday, 14 April 2008
Karzai accused of playing political games ahead of next year's elections
MEMBERS of Parliament have accused President Karzai of deliberately stoking the flames that surround the growing dispute between Hazaras and Kuchis, which human rights workers fear could break out into ethnic violence.

A handful of MPs blamed Karzai yesterday (Monday) for the current tension between the two groups, which was triggered last month when ethnic Hazaras accused Kuchis of taking their land by force.

MPs say Karzai is fuelling the land dispute by supporting the Pashtun-dominated Kuchis in an attempt to gain popularity among Pashtuns before the 2009 presidential elections.

Farah province’s MP, Naim Farahi, said today in Parliament: “It’s some kind of campaign by President Hamid Karzi to show Pashtun people ‘I’m with you’, to win their support. It’s part of his campaign for the next election.”

More than 50 MPs refuse to show up to sessions in the Lower House until the dispute between the Shia Hazaras and the nomadic Kuchis is resolved.

Last week, Kuchi MP Alam Gul Kuchi infuriated the country's main ethnicities by calling them immigrants and by claiming that Kuchis alone were the true owners Afghanistan's land.

Today, Gul Kuchi told the Lower House: “I’m saying Afghanistan belongs to the Kuchis and if you don’t believe me, then you should go and check your history books: you will find out.”

At the end of last month, thousands of Hazaras demonstrated in Kabul, accusing Kuchis

Hazaras protest in Kabul at Kuchi 'land-grabs' of using armed-force to grab territory in the Hazara heartland of Hazarajat. The demonstrators demanded the government and international community protect their land and their lives from the Kuchi’s “armed invasion”.

Human rights workers are worried the land dispute in central Afghanistan could break out in ethnic violence.

Last year, Hazaras claimed that thousands of armed Kuchi descended on the Beshud district of Wardak, killed 11 people and burned down villagers’ homes, forcing thousands to flee the area. The claims were never substantiated.

The Kuchi say they are legally allowed to settle anywhere in Afghanistan because King Nader Khan issued a royal decree that allows them to use any land which they see as fit for pasture.
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Public support grows for Afghanistan war
By The Copenhagen Post - Published 15.04.08 
A new Rambøll survey indicates that nearly half of Danes support the country's participation in the current Afghanistan military operation.

Despite 10 soldiers having been killed in the past seven months during the campaign, public support has grown from 43 percent in January to 48 percent today. The poll also found a corresponding 5 percent fall in those wishing a total withdrawal of troops from the Asian country.

Søren Gade, the defence minister, was pleased by the figures and said it meant a lot to the soldiers in Afghanistan. 'I think the increased support may have to do with the prominence of the debate in connection with the upcoming Nato summit,' said Gade.

Afghanistan expert Peter Dahl Thulesen of the Defence Academy said he believes the boost in support for the campaign is directly linked to Danes' security concerns at home.

'And politicians have become better at explaining why we're over there. It's also important that there is a broad political backing to the effort,' said Thulesen.

The Socialist People's Party (SF) and the Red-Green Alliance were the only two parties in parliament against the original decision to send troops to Afghanistan.

SF's defence spokesperson Holger Nielsen said the poll results showed that people 'still believe we should be in Afghanistan despite the death toll', but added there was a time limit before they would begin to question whether the campaign was worth the effort.
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Panel to continue probe despite Ottawa
'... what the commission is doing is clearly outside of its jurisdiction,' Prime Minister says
STEVEN CHASE AND JOE FRIESEN - From Tuesday's Globe and Mail April 15, 2008
OTTAWA, WINNIPEG — The independent Military Police Complaints Commission has vowed to keep investigating whether Canada turned prisoners over to Afghan security forces knowing they would be tortured, despite the fact the Harper government has begun legal action to end the probe.

"We're surprised and disappointed by the government's decision to seek a court order to block the investigation and to prevent a public-interest hearing into this important case," chairman Peter Tinsley said. "It's especially surprising given the fact that the government did not challenge our jurisdiction a year ago when we first launched our investigation."

The Conservative government's attempt to shut down the probe, filed last Friday, came just weeks before the commission was to begin public hearings into whether the military knew detainees transferred to Afghan custody were likely to be tortured.

The hearings have the potential to cause grief for the government as it tries to shore up public support for the Canadian military mission in Afghanistan.

Yesterday, Tory ministers fended off accusations they were undermining an arms-length watchdog and defended their legal action as merely a bid to ensure the commission is operating within the law. But they failed to explain clearly why they did not act earlier.

"The advice I've received from officials is that what the commission is doing is clearly outside of its jurisdiction, and so we are going to court on that jurisdictional question," Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters in Winnipeg.

The complaints commission set the stage for a confrontation with the government in March, when it announced plans to hold public-interest hearings after growing frustrated with Ottawa's refusal to release uncensored versions of hundreds of pages of documents.

Ordering the hearings gives the commission the authority to issue subpoenas for witnesses and documents.

The government's run-in with the commission is just the latest in a string of conflicts it has had with arms-length watchdogs in Ottawa, opposition MPs noted, from former Canadian nuclear safety commission chairwoman Linda Keen to former environment commissioner Johanne Gelinas.

"The more they try to hide, cover up, slam the door, the more demanding people will be for the accountability and openness Stephen Harper promised," said New Democratic Party defence critic Dawn Black.
Liberal defence critic Bryon Wilfert said the government's move breaches the March parliamentary motion extending the Afghan mission until 2011. The motion called for "franker and more frequent reporting on events in Afghanistan."

The next point of conflict between Ottawa and the commission could be the complaints watchdog's planned May 1 public hearings.

It could take the Federal Court of Canada until late fall to begin hearing the government's request to stop the inquiry and public hearings. A judgment likely will not be rendered until early 2009.

The commission said it is now undecided whether it will proceed with the hearings, acknowledging that Ottawa might file another legal motion asking a judge to prevent them from taking place.

The panel is investigating a complaint from Amnesty International Canada and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association that alleges Ottawa and the Canadian Forces knew, or should have known, that torture and abuse were rife in Afghan prisons and that international law bars the handing over of prisoners under such circumstances.

The military stopped transferring detainees to Afghan security forces last November after Canadian diplomats reported credible evidence of torture. Detainee transfers resumed in February.
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50 years for killing Afghan immigrant
San Francisco Chronicle, USA Henry K. Lee Tuesday, April 15, 2008
A parolee was sentenced Monday to 50 years to life in prison for shooting and killing a woman on a Fremont street as, hand in hand, she walked her young daughter to school.

Manuel Urango, 30, was convicted March 10 of killing Alia Ansari, 37, on Oct. 19, 2006. Investigators have never come up with a motive for the shooting.

Ansari, a native of Afghanistan, was walking on Glenmoor Drive with her daughter Latifa, then 3, to Glenmoor Elementary School to pick up two of her five other children. Urango got out of his car and shot Ansari once in the head before driving off.

Prosecutor Jerry Herman said in an interview Monday that it appeared that Urango was a social outcast and drug abuser who "felt life dealt him a raw deal."

Urango was "looking for somebody to kill out of cruelty and viciousness," Herman said. "No real motive other than a very unhappy and disturbed young man."

During the trial, jurors heard evidence that Urango had searched on his computer for ways to kill people.

Urango said Monday through his attorney, William Caruthers, that he was "shocked and dismayed at the verdict," according to Herman.

Ansari's widower, Ahmadullah Ansari, lives in Afghanistan and was not present in Alameda County Superior Court in Hayward when Judge Reginald Saunders sentenced Urango. But in a statement that was read into the record on his behalf, he said nothing would bring his wife back.

He said he missed her and that "more than anything, he wants to know why the defendant killed her," said Erin Osanna of the district attorney's victim-witness assistance program.

Urango, who has a long criminal record, was arrested on a parole violation within an hour of the killing because his car matched a description given by witnesses.

The case generated widespread attention because Ansari's older siblings as well as Muslim leaders said it appeared to be a hate crime. They had said the only distinguishing feature of the stay-at-home mother for a stranger was her religiously prescribed head scarf. But authorities said there was no evidence that Ansari's killing was a hate crime.

Latifa, now 5, testified against Urango at his trial while sitting on the witness stand in her father's lap. Speaking in her native Farsi, she would not say whether she believed Urango was the person who killed her mother.

Caruthers has said he intends to appeal on the grounds that Latifa had been coached on what to say by her father and that she had given conflicting statements as to whether Urango was the shooter.
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