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April 2, 2008 

Afghan leader blames media for Ashdown veto over UN job
BUCHAREST (AFP) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai Wednesday said a London media report had forced him to block the appointment of Britain's Lord Ashdown as United Nations envoy to his country.

Ashdown warning over Afghanistan
Wednesday, 2 April 2008 09:10 UK BBC News
The Nato-led alliance is "getting pretty close" to losing control of Afghanistan, Lord Ashdown, the former UN envoy to Bosnia has warned.

Bush urges allies to send more troops to Afghanistan
Wed Apr 2, 3:44 AM ET
BUCHAREST (AFP) - US President George W. Bush on Wednesday called on NATO allies to send more troops to Afghanistan and make the mission there a top priority.

Bush presses NATO on Ukraine, Georgia, Afghanistan
By Mark John and Paul Taylor
BUCHAREST (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush set the stage for a clash at his final NATO summit on Wednesday by pressing reluctant west European allies to set former Soviet republics Georgia and Ukraine on a path to membership.

Canada 'optimistic' of extra NATO troops for south Afghanistan
BUCHAREST (AFP) - Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed optimism Wednesday that NATO allies would come up with reinforcements to bolster Canadian troops fighting the Taliban in south Afghanistan.

Afghan women protest anti-Islam film
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - About 70 Afghan women burned the Dutch and Danish flags during a demonstration Wednesday in the capital against an anti-Islam film and the reprinting of a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.

Afghan Taliban say attack Dutch over anti-Islam film
Tue Apr 1, 6:25 PM ET
LONDON (Reuters) - The Taliban has said two attacks on Dutch forces in Afghanistan were in retaliation for an anti-Islamic film by a Dutch politician, the SITE Intelligence Group said on Tuesday.

PM: Afghan politics will be 'messy' but 'vibrant'
Wed. Apr. 2 2008 9:26 AM ET CTV.ca News Staff
Although it won't formally be kicked off until late Wednesday, top level negotiations at the NATO summit in Romania have already begun.

Afghan conflict will not end soon: European think-tank
New Kerala - Apr 01 10:27 PM
Brussels, April 2 : Continuing insurgency and the Afghan government's weakness make Western and European defeat in Afghanistan a realistic prospect, warns a report published by a London-based think-tank.

Australian PM Calls For Proper Burden-sharing In Afghanistan
BRUSSELS (AFP)--Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Wednesday his country's commitment of 1,000 troops to Afghanistan was sufficient and called for "proper burden-sharing" from all other states involved.

Afghanistan economy grew nearly 14 percent in 2007, new report says
The Associated Press April 2, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan: Afghanistan's legal economy grew nearly 14 percent in fiscal year 2007, but the surge was hampered by corruption, insecurity and the lack of electricity, a new report said Wednesday.

Afghan gov't to encourage private sector to explore oilfields
www.chinaview.cn  2008-04-02 21:31:38
KABUL, April 2 (Xinhua) -- The Afghan government is mulling to put on bid three more essential natural mines and give them to private sector for exploration, a local newspaper reported Wednesday.

Tories appear set to lose vote on lowering flag for Afghan deaths - and ignore it
The Canadian Press, OTTAWA
OTTAWA — The House of Commons appears set to adopt a motion calling for the flag to be lowered on the Peace Tower whenever a Canadian soldier is killed in Afghanistan.

We must de-muddle our Afghan mission
JEFFREY SIMPSON From Wednesday's Globe and Mail April 2, 2008 at 3:41 AM EDT
The House of Commons resolution that Prime Minister Stephen Harper carries with him into the NATO meeting in Bucharest today is a predictable muddle for a muddled situation in Afghanistan.

Afghan donkey named Hughes eases burden for Canadian soldiers
By James Mccarten, The Canadian Press
KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - His official job description is to help carry equipment and supplies for Canadian engineers when they head out on their marathon treks across the treacherous Afghan countryside.

Pakistan rejects Afghan claim on nuclear waste
New Kerala
Islamabad, April 2 : Pakistan Wednesday termed as baseless a statement by an Afghan cabinet minister that Pakistan had dumped nuclear waste in southern Afghanistan during Taliban period.

Russia's problems nudge Afghanistan off the map
Putin's grievances in Eastern Europe and Balkans will make it hard for Harper to get world leaders' attention at NATO summit
DOUG SAUNDERS From Wednesday's Globe and Mail April 2, 2008 at 3:36 AM EDT
BRUSSELS — While Prime Minister Stephen Harper will enter the Bucharest NATO summit today with hat in hand, seeking 1,000 troops needed to prevent Canada from withdrawing from Afghanistan, he may be surprised to discover

Rights groups to appeal Afghan detainees ruling
Federal Court's decision not to halt transfer of captives into local custody 'failed to acknowledge the Charter,' Amnesty declares
PAUL KORING The Globe and Mail (Canada) April 2, 2008
Taliban fighters taken prisoner by Canadian troops in Afghanistan may be denied rights they would have if captured by British or U.S. forces, rights groups said yesterday as they announced an appeal of a Federal Court decision.

Afghan failure to meet IMF target casts doubt on debt relief: a report
Associated Press of Pakistan
LONDON, April 2 (APP)- The influential British daily ‘Financial Times’ has reported that International aid and debt relief for Afghanistan has been thrown into doubt by the country’s failure to honour an agreement with the International

A look inside Al Qaeda
The militant is known as Abu Ubaida al Masri, and charting his path reveals his vulnerabilities and those of the terrorist group.
Los Angeles Times, CA By Sebastian Rotella Los Angeles Times Staff Writer April 2, 2008
COPENHAGEN -If Al Qaeda strikes the West in the coming months, it's likely the mastermind will be a stocky Egyptian explosives expert with two missing fingers.

Afghan challenges know no border, Pashtun elder tells senators
Matthew Fisher ,  Canwest News Service Tuesday, April 01, 2008
A FORWARD OPERATING BASE IN PANJWAII, Afghanistan - Haji Agha Lalai held members of the Senate's national security and defence committee spellbound Tuesday with a vivid briefing about the challenges faced by those like him

America is making a difference in eastern Afghanistan
SETH JONES Special to Globe and Mail Update April 1, 2008 at 8:21 PM EDT
BAGRAM, AFGHANISTAN — The United States has turned a corner in Afghanistan, as I witnessed after returning from my fourth trip in the past year. It has made some progress against the Taliban and other insurgent groups in eastern

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Afghan leader blames media for Ashdown veto over UN job
BUCHAREST (AFP) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai Wednesday said a London media report had forced him to block the appointment of Britain's Lord Ashdown as United Nations envoy to his country.

Speaking on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Bucharest, Karzai said the surprise veto on Ashdown, a former High Representative to Bosnia, was done "with a very heavy heart" but blamed the Times newspaper for his decision.

Ashdown, also a former leader of Britain's Liberal Democrat party, was widely expected to take up the UN role in January, but was blocked by Karzai at the last minute.

"I did not 'veto' the appointment of Ashdown. Unfortunately stories appeared in the press, in the London Times, in extremely 'ethnic' terms," Karzai said when quizzed about the decision at a fringe event.

Without elucidating, the Afghan president added: "It was not true."

"It was something I did not want to do. He's a good man (and) it's something I had to do without my liking," Karzai continued.

Ashdown withdrew his name from going forward for the UN appointment in January, despite US, UN, British and other backing.

"It is clear to me that, in Afghanistan at least, the support necessary to do the job effectively does not exist," he said in a statement.

At the time it was speculated that after originally agreeing the role, Ashdown's energetic and aggressive performance as EU representative in Bosnia forced Kabul to reconsider.

The Times wrote at the time that there were Afghan worries that Ashdown would carry "echoes of a British colonial-style governor" and it wrote after the job was refused that some Afghan warlords feared he would put them on trial for war crimes.

There was widespread speculation that Ashdown had requested a wide-ranging mandate coordinating between the NATO forces, relief groups and the government in Kabul which would have threatened Karzai's authority as president.

"I like him very much, he's a very sound man," Karzai told an audience of foreign policy experts, in response to a question from Bernard Jenkin, a British Conservative parliamentarian.

In March the Norweigan diplomat Kai Eide was appointed to the role rejected by Ashdown.
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Ashdown warning over Afghanistan
Wednesday, 2 April 2008 09:10 UK BBC News
The Nato-led alliance is "getting pretty close" to losing control of Afghanistan, Lord Ashdown, the former UN envoy to Bosnia has warned.

The peer, who was blocked from being UN envoy to Afghanistan by President Hamid Karzai, says it will take more than extra troops to quell the fighting.

He spoke as Gordon Brown flies to Romania for Nato's biggest summit.

"I'm not saying for a moment that we have lost... I'm saying that we're getting pretty close to it," he said.

During the Bucharest summit, Mr Brown and US President George Bush are set to call for more of the 26 Nato members to send combat troops and provide additional support in the battle against the Taleban.

International strategy needed

Lord Ashdown, who stepped down as Lib Dem leader in 1999, said alongside more troops, Afghanistan needs a stable government.

"While more troops are definitely necessary, they are not sufficient," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"What we really need here, alongside more troops and more people prepared to carry the burden, is a clear international strategy which is unified and which has a political aim.

"You can defeat the enemy militarily on the battlefield, but what you have to do is win the political battle.

"And if you don't do the second of those, there's not much point doing the first."

Lord Ashdown said he did not believe it was possible to defeat the Taleban "unless you can also create a stable government in Kabul and an effective state in Afghanistan".

"And we are a long way from achieving that," he said.

Main aims
"If we don't create the government, the Taleban simply come back ... you have to do both of them together."

He added: "I'm not saying for a moment that we have lost in Afghanistan, I am, however, saying that we are getting pretty close to it and unless we begin to turn this thing round with a political strategy that can be supported by the military action, more troops that we are calling for in Bucharest may help in the short term, but won't help us in the long."

Lord Ashdown said he had listed three aims for the job of UN special envoy to Afghanistan, before Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide was selected to carry it out.

These included establishing security for the nation, not just militarily, but on the home front, with a secure water supply and secure government on the ground.

He also believed it was necessary to establish the rule of law and increase the capacity to govern Afghanistan by building governmental institutions.

He said if these three aims were adopted, the soldiers in Afghanistan "become part of the plan" rather than having the problem dumped on them with all the sacrifices and risks that entails.
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Bush urges allies to send more troops to Afghanistan
Wed Apr 2, 3:44 AM ET
BUCHAREST (AFP) - US President George W. Bush on Wednesday called on NATO allies to send more troops to Afghanistan and make the mission there a top priority.

"Our alliance must maintain its resolve and finish the fight," said Bush in Bucharest in a speech ahead of the start of his his last NATO summit as US president. "We ask other NATO nations to step forward with additional forces."

"The terrorist threat is real, and defeating the enemy is the top priority," he added, as NATO leaders prepared to debate ways to enhance the transatlantic mission's deployment in Afghanistan.

The United States and NATO allies with troops confronting the Taliban in the south of Afghanistan are pressing other nations for bigger contributions to the 43,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

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

The seven-year conflict in Afghanistan -- a lair for Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network -- has risen to the top of the agenda at the NATO summit that begins later Wednesday and runs through Friday in the Romanian capital.

Bush, eager to leave a positive foreign policy legacy as he prepares to exit the White House, said NATO was no longer a "static alliance" designed to fight a tank war with the Soviet Union in Europe.

Rather, it has evolved into an "expeditionary alliance" that needed 21st century capabilities to deal with a new set of security challenges.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has promised more French troops for Afghanistan, but his prime minister Francois Fillon said Tuesday that details of the mission had not yet been decided.

"The numbers could be in the order of several hundred extra soldiers," Fillon said Tuesday, adding that France would only send the extra troops if NATO accepted certain conditions imposed by Paris.

These included a commitment by NATO to "maintain its efforts in the long-term," "a shared political strategy," and "increased training" of Afghan troops.
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Bush presses NATO on Ukraine, Georgia, Afghanistan
By Mark John and Paul Taylor
BUCHAREST (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush set the stage for a clash at his final NATO summit on Wednesday by pressing reluctant west European allies to set former Soviet republics Georgia and Ukraine on a path to membership.

He also urged other allies to follow the example of France, Poland and host nation Romania in providing extra troops for NATO's battle against Islamist insurgents in Afghanistan.

"We expect our NATO allies to shoulder the burden necessary to succeed," Bush said after talks with Romanian President Traian Basescu before leaders of the 26-nation defense alliance were to open a three-day summit.

He said the West should reward democratic revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia by giving both countries the prospect of joining NATO, although Russia has opposed this.

"My country's position is clear -- NATO should welcome Georgia and Ukraine into the Membership Action Plan," he said, referring to a program which is a gateway to membership.

France and Germany, backed by several smaller countries, have said Ukraine and Georgia do not meet NATO's criteria and the decision would be an unnecessary provocation to Moscow just before President-elect Dmitry Medvedev takes office.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel reaffirmed on arriving in Bucharest that both countries should have a long-term prospect of NATO membership, "but there is one difference with the United States: we believe the time for MAP is not ripe."

At stake is whether NATO pushes its European borders right up to the frontiers of Russia, with the exception of Belarus, or leaves a strategic buffer zone as the Kremlin wishes.

VAGUE
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer left the scope, timing and nature of planned expansion vague in a speech to youth leaders from alliance countries.

"I expect the summit will open NATO's doors to several new members from southeast Europe," he said, adding the alliance would also strengthen ties with other states in the Balkans and the Euro-Atlantic area, including Ukraine and Georgia.

Bush sought to soothe Russian anger over what Moscow sees as NATO's attempt to encroach on its sphere of influence, saying the Cold War was over and Russia was not the West's enemy.

Looking ahead to a weekend summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Bush said there could be an unprecedented level of strategic cooperation on missile defense and arms control.

To a journalist who said that farewell meeting was headed for a "diplomatic train wreck," the president said: "You call it a diplomatic train wreck ... and I call it an opportunity." The White House later said Bush would also meet Medvedev in Sochi.

Amid blanket security that shut down much of central Bucharest, police broke into a factory in Bucharest that has been rented by a group of anti-NATO protesters and took away 46 suspected activists for identity checks.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown pleaded on arrival for fairer "burden sharing" among allies in Afghanistan, where British troops have suffered heavy casualties in fighting the Taliban in the south. Many European allies have restricted their troops to quieter areas in the north and west.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose soldiers have also had heavy losses in the southeast, said he was "very confident" NATO would receive sufficient pledges of extra forces for him to withdraw a threat to pull Canadian forces out.

"LIMIT OF THE MANAGEABLE"
NATO summits are usually carefully choreographed to showcase pre-cooked agreements but the main enlargement decisions this time are to be agreed at an opening dinner, when Bush meets the French, German and other leaders.

Since decisions require unanimity, Washington will probably have to settle for a pledge of closer cooperation with Ukraine and Georgia and a commitment to review the issue at next year's 60th anniversary summit.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was quoted by a German newspaper as saying NATO should not strain ties with Moscow beyond "the limit of the manageable."

A senior German diplomat, Wolfgang Ischinger, also rejected accusations by Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili that Berlin's attitude was tantamount to appeasement of the Kremlin.

Another uncertain decision facing the leaders was over Macedonia's candidacy for NATO membership. Greece has threatened to veto Skopje's entry over an unresolved dispute about the former Yugoslav republic's name.

Bush made clear Washington wanted Macedonia, along with Croatia and Albania, to be invited to join this week. But Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyanni said in Athens there was no time for a last-minute compromise. "We have said that no solution means no invitation," she told reporters.

Merkel sounded gloomy on Macedonia's hopes, saying: "It's going to be very difficult. We'll do everything up to the last minute to overcome this dispute."

Diplomats said if Athens did not yield, leaders might try to issue a conditional invitation to Skopje, to be ratified once the name dispute was settled.

(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, Matt Spetalnick, Justyna Pawlak, David Brunnstrom and Randall Palmer in Bucharest and Francois Murphy in Paris; Editing by Timothy Heritage)
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Canada 'optimistic' of extra NATO troops for south Afghanistan
BUCHAREST (AFP) - Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed optimism Wednesday that NATO allies would come up with reinforcements to bolster Canadian troops fighting the Taliban in south Afghanistan.

"I am not worried. I am very optimistic that we'll achieve our objectives," he said at a conference in Bucharest, ahead of a summit of NATO leaders, where in-fighting over Afghanistan deployments will figure on the agenda.

Canada has been lobbying European allies to send at least 1,000 troops, drones and helicopters to help fight insurgents in volatile Kandahar province as a condition for extending its deployment to 2011.

France is expected to pledge several hundred troops to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and an alliance spokesman said other nations were likely to do so at the summit, which runs until Friday.

"We'll see what the French decide, they made no commitment to us or to NATO," Harper said, adding that: "Anything France does, it is a victory, a step forward."

ISAF comprises some 47,000 troops from 40 nations, according to new official figures, and is trying to spread the rule of Afghanistan's weak central government and foster reconstruction.

But Canadian, British and US troops have suffered significant casualties in the south, and fighting is likely to grow more intense as the weather warms, allowing insurgents to cross the mountainous border with Pakistan more easily.

Canada's parliament voted earlier this month to extend its military mission in volatile southern Afghanistan to 2011, but only if its allies send reinforcements.

Otherwise Canada would exit at the end of its current mandate next February.
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Afghan women protest anti-Islam film
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - About 70 Afghan women burned the Dutch and Danish flags during a demonstration Wednesday in the capital against an anti-Islam film and the reprinting of a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.

The women chanted slogans against the two countries during the protest outside the Ministry of Information and Culture in Kabul. Most wore the all-covering blue burqa.

The women called on Danish and Dutch troops to leave Afghanistan and urged the Afghan government to shut down their embassies and cut diplomatic relations with the two countries.

The protesters were angered by the release last week of a 15-minute film by a Dutch lawmaker, Geert Wilders, and the recent reprinting in Denmark of a cartoon showing the Prophet Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban.

The film "Fitna" — Arabic for ordeal — portrays Islam as targeting Western democracy with violence and has prompted denunciations in Muslim capitals and street protests in the Islamic world.

The film urges Muslims "to tear out the hateful verses from the Quran," the Islamic holy book.

Meanwhile, the Dutch Defense Ministry said there was no indication that a roadside bomb that wounded three Dutch soldiers in Afghanistan on Sunday was planted in retaliation for Wilders' movie.

The attack, which cost one soldier both legs, was "unfortunately not unusual" in nature, ministry spokesman Detlev Simons said.

The Site Intelligence Group said a statement posted on Web sites used by militants claimed the attack was in retribution for Wilders' film.
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Afghan Taliban say attack Dutch over anti-Islam film
Tue Apr 1, 6:25 PM ET
LONDON (Reuters) - The Taliban has said two attacks on Dutch forces in Afghanistan were in retaliation for an anti-Islamic film by a Dutch politician, the SITE Intelligence Group said on Tuesday.

In a communique posted on Web sites used by militants dated April 1, the Taliban said its Shura Council Leadership announced reprisal operations against Dutch forces because "one of the members of the Dutch parliament produced a film that hurts Islam, and he published it with bad intentions."

Dutch MP Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-immigration Freedom Party, launched the anti-Koran film "Fitna" -- an Arabic term that can mean "strife" -- last Thursday on the Internet.

The film urges Muslims to tear out "hate-filled" verses from the Koran, and starts and ends with a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad with a bomb under his turban, accompanied by the sound of ticking.

It was condemned by Muslim nations as a provocation, while Dutch Muslim leaders urged restraint. The Dutch government has said the film in no way reflects its own views.

Before its launch NATO expressed concern it could worsen security for foreign forces in Afghanistan, including 1,650 Dutch troops.

The Taliban statement referred to two revenge attacks on Sunday which it said killed a large number of "occupier soldiers."

The Dutch Defence Ministry said in a Web statement dated April 1 that five Dutch soldiers from NATO-led forces were wounded in two separate incidents on Sunday.

One soldier lost both his legs in the explosion and his condition was critical but stable, the ministry said.

The Dutch ministry said no Dutch soldiers have died in attacks in the past week.

(Reporting by Gilbert Krieger in Amsterdam, writing by Mary Gabriel; editing by Myra MacDonald)
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PM: Afghan politics will be 'messy' but 'vibrant'
Wed. Apr. 2 2008 9:26 AM ET CTV.ca News Staff
Although it won't formally be kicked off until late Wednesday, top level negotiations at the NATO summit in Romania have already begun.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper met today with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. With Karzai sitting on stage with him, Harper told reporters NATO's relations with Afghanistan will become increasingly complex.

"Afghanistan is going to have its politics just like the rest of us have," he said.

"We're going to have to get used to the fact, particularly if we're going to have a democratic system there, it's going to be messy, it's going to be vibrant, and it's going to produce decisions from time to time that we don't agree with or are not comfortable with. We're nevertheless going to have to work with the government of Afghanistan and manage those situations going forward."

The talks between the leaders come amidst a CTV report that the U.S. has made a commitment to provide 1,000 more troops to the southern region of the country.

Harper has said in the past the additional NATO troops and more equipment are mandatory if Canada is to remain in Afghanistan. But Harper did not confirm or deny the report of the U.S. offer. He told reporters that it will be up to the U.S. leader to comment.

"The 1,000-troop commitment was a personal commitment made by President George W. Bush to Prime Minister Stephen Harper," CTV Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife said Tuesday night.

"U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made similar pledges to their Canadian counterparts."

Harper said Wednesday he is confident NATO partners will come up with more help for Canada.

The addition of U.S. or European troops into southern Afghanistan will not occur immediately, even if a formal announcement of such commitments occurs at the summit.

"In the normal course of things, it would take at least six months for a military force to be prepared to come into the area," said former Liberal deputy leader John Manley, who led a blue-ribbon panel on Canada's role in Afghanistan that called for additional NATO troops.

"It's less time than if we were to be replaced ... so sending us a partner is going to be a lot easier for NATO to do than to replace us," he told Canada AM Wednesday.

CTV reported Tuesday night that Canada will also lease aerial drones from the U.S. at a cost of $165 million, and procure between four to six Chinook helicopters and an unspecified number of light-armoured vehicles from the U.S. army.

During his meeting with Harper on Wednesday Karzai thanked Canada for its support in his war-torn country.

"It means a lot to us; more than you can imagine," he said.

Meanwhile, Bush urged NATO leaders to step up efforts in Afghanistan and highlighted recent threats against Western countries by Osama bin Laden.

"We need to take the words of the enemy seriously,'' Bush said.

"The terrorist threat is real, it is deadly, and defeating this enemy must be the top priority of the NATO alliance," he said.

Bush also linked the war in Iraq with Afghanistan - a move that doesn't help the popularity of the Afghanistan efforts among European nations, CTV's Graham Richardson told Canada AM on Wednesday from Romania.

"Because of that link Afghanistan is exceedingly unpopular with the (European) population," he said.

"At the same time as leaders are calling for more troops, they know at home in many situations it's very hard to sell that to the public."

NATO spokesperson James Appathurai told Canada AM that Canada's NATO allies understand that Ottawa is serious about getting more help in the southern Afghanistan. He said he is optimistic that Canada's demands will be met.

"I do expect some countries will step up and announce that they intend to provide further forces for the (Afghanistan) operation," Appathurai said.

"I don't think anybody doubts Canada's intentions here. I don't think anybody is unaware of the internal Canadian political discussion and what Canada needs to be able to extend (its mission)."
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Afghan conflict will not end soon: European think-tank
New Kerala - Apr 01 10:27 PM
Brussels, April 2 : Continuing insurgency and the Afghan government's weakness make Western and European defeat in Afghanistan a realistic prospect, warns a report published by a London-based think-tank.

The report by the European Council on Foreign Relations, presented in Brussels Tuesday by its author, Daniel Korski, at an event organised by the Brussels-based think-tank European Policy Centre, says that six years of war and the biggest military operation in the history of NATO have failed to subdue the Afghan insurgency.

"A swift and successful end to the conflict is out of reach: even optimistic scenarios foresee an international presence in Afghanistan for years to come," according to the 35-page document quoted by EuAsiaNews.

The Taliban insurgency would continue to grow stronger as winter ends, it said.

Korski, a former advisor to the Afghan minister for counter-narcotics, called on the international community to encourage President Hamid Karzai to engage "moderate" insurgents by offering financial and other incentives to support the government.

He stressed that regional cooperation is vital for stability in Afghanistan.

"Any stability achieved in Afghanistan will remain unacceptably fragile as long as neighbours such as Pakistan, India, Russia and Iran treat the country as a pawn in their own regional power play."

The report sees it necessary to address the causes of Pakistan's quest for "strategic depth" - the fears of encirclement by India. India's support to Afghanistan is seen in Islamabad as part of a deliberate strategy to encircle Pakistan.

It suggests that the appointment of senior Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide as UN envoy for Afghanistan and the NATO summit in Bucharest this week provides a unique opportunity to craft a new international strategy for the country, led by political rather than military goals and driven by a regional and comprehensive approach.

Leaders of the 26-member alliance are expected to hold an in-depth discussion on Afghanistan during their three-day meeting in the Romanian capital.

Jamie Shea, director of policy planning in NATO, told the large gathering of diplomats, EU officials, experts and journalists that "we have to do better in the next five years than what we have done in the last five years".

Shea claimed that most of Afghanistan is relatively "calm, stable and secure."

Helen Campbell, head of unit for ties with Afghanistan and Pakistan in the European Commission, said only a long-term commitment and a comprehensive approach would lead to success in Afghanistan.

The EU's executive body remains one of the top donors in Afghanistan and one of the very few giving a multi-year commitment.
--- IANS
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Australian PM Calls For Proper Burden-sharing In Afghanistan
BRUSSELS (AFP)--Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Wednesday his country's commitment of 1,000 troops to Afghanistan was sufficient and called for "proper burden-sharing" from all other states involved.

Rudd, who held talks in Brussels with European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso, said he had no intention of pulling troops out of Afghanistan, declaring Australia is committed "for the long haul."

The Australian leader, who was to travel on to a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Bucharest which began Wednesday, also said he would like to see Afghanistan's massive opium production eliminated and replaced by viable alternatives which would not fund terrorist groups.

"Our commitment in terms of the 1,000 troops is rock solid, as I have said to President Bush in Washington it's for the long haul," Rudd told reporters at a joint press conference with Barroso.

Saying the Australian troop numbers were sufficient, he added: "We believe that what is appropriate for the future is an effective military and civil strategy for all those participating and proper burden-sharing across all participating states."

Rudd didn't name any nations he thought might not be taking up their share of the burden, but stressed his commitment to speak for Australian troops during the Bucharest talks.

"We have Australian troops on the ground in Afghanistan. We have troops who are in harm's way and we owe them everything in our upcoming meetings in Bucharest," he told reporters.

In Bucharest Wednesday Bush warned "innocent civilians will pay the price" if NATO fails to send more troops to Afghanistan to snuff out "terrorists" still lurking there.

The U.S. and NATO allies with troops confronting the Taliban in the south of Afghanistan are pressing other nations for bigger contributions to the 43,000- strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

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

Australia has been contributing to the international efforts in Afghanistan despite not belonging to NATO. Its troops in Afghanistan are mostly assisting a Dutch-led reconstruction operation in the southern province of Uruzgan, a former Taliban stronghold. Three have been killed in action.

In Washington Friday Rudd expressed optimism over the NATO talks on troop contributions to Afghanistan.
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Afghanistan economy grew nearly 14 percent in 2007, new report says
The Associated Press April 2, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan: Afghanistan's legal economy grew nearly 14 percent in fiscal year 2007, but the surge was hampered by corruption, insecurity and the lack of electricity, a new report said Wednesday.

The country's economic growth is expected to drop to 9 percent annually in 2008 and 2009, so long as foreign donor support continues and there is not another drought, according to the report by Asian Development Bank.

The government's ability to run the country effectively is seriously affected by pervasive corruption at all levels of administration, as well as by challenges posed by Taliban and other insurgents, especially in the country's south.

The government must combat corruption, overcome infrastructure bottlenecks and implement structural reforms in order to stimulate the private sector, it said.

"Private sector growth is needed for any economic resurgence, yet this is hampered by intermittent power supplies, poor land titling, corruption, insecurity and limited access to finance," the report said.

More than two-thirds of foreign assistance to Afghanistan is not channeled through the government, "which is a serious fiscal policy constraint, hampering expenditure prioritization, government development management and overall aid effectiveness," it said.

Another report released last week found that too much aid money meant for Afghanistan is wasted, with a vast amount being spent on the high salaries, security and living arrangements of foreign workers.

The Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief, an alliance of 94 international aid agencies, said that since 2001, the international community has pledged US$25 billion in help but has delivered only US$15 billion.

Of that US$15 billion, some 40 percent of it — or US$6 billion — goes back to donor countries in corporate profits and consultant salaries, the ACBAR report said.
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Afghan gov't to encourage private sector to explore oilfields
www.chinaview.cn  2008-04-02 21:31:38
KABUL, April 2 (Xinhua) -- The Afghan government is mulling to put on bid three more essential natural mines and give them to private sector for exploration, a local newspaper reported Wednesday.

"The Ministry for Mines is going to hand over some oil and gas fields of northern Jauzjan and Sar-e-Pul provinces and Iron mine of Hajjigak in central Bamyan province to private sector in the current year," daily Rah-e-Nejat quoted Ibrahim Adil, the minister for Mines as saying.

Nearly 100,000 Afghans, he added would find job if the project is implemented, the minister emphasized.

As part of economic policy, the Afghan government has decided to encourage private sector and support it to play effective role in the rebuilding process of the war-battered nation.    
Editor: Lin Li 
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Tories appear set to lose vote on lowering flag for Afghan deaths - and ignore it
The Canadian Press, OTTAWA
OTTAWA — The House of Commons appears set to adopt a motion calling for the flag to be lowered on the Peace Tower whenever a Canadian soldier is killed in Afghanistan.

And the Conservative government appears set to ignore the vote result. The Commons votes Wednesday on a Liberal motion that would require a moment of silence and a lowering of the flag for one day following the death of a Canadian soldier.

Both other opposition parties told The Canadian Press they will support the Liberal motion, easily guaranteeing it will have enough votes to be adopted in the minority Parliament.

But the motion is non-binding - and the government has other ideas about how to honour soldiers.

The Tories said they will refer a report by an expert panel to the Commons heritage committee, and ask members to hold hearings and come up with a wide-ranging policy on when the flag should be lowered.

"Canada should have a consistent policy on half-masting the Canadian flag," said Alykhan Velshi, a spokesman for multiculturalism and Canadian identity minister Jason Kenney.

"Our government is committed to bringing clarity and consistency to Canada's half-masting policy."

A panel led by Canada's former chief herald Robert Watt recommends against lowering the Peace Tower flag whenever a soldier dies.

The Tories commissioned the report following an uproar in 2006 when they first announced they would not lower the flag to half-mast.

Watt's report also suggests scaling down other occasions in which the flag is placed at half-mast - including Dec. 6, the national day of remembrance and action on violence against women.

It also recommends against the continued lowering of the flag once every September to honour fallen police officers.

According to the panel, such events water down the significance of Remembrance Day on Nov. 11.

The flag-lowering motion was tabled by Liberal MP Andrew Telegdi, and will be voted on late Wednesday afternoon.

The NDP says it will support the motion, adding that while the government might legally ignore the will of the House of Commons it would not be politically wise.
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We must de-muddle our Afghan mission
JEFFREY SIMPSON From Wednesday's Globe and Mail April 2, 2008 at 3:41 AM EDT
The House of Commons resolution that Prime Minister Stephen Harper carries with him into the NATO meeting in Bucharest today is a predictable muddle for a muddled situation in Afghanistan.

The resolution was a compromise between Conservatives and Liberals and, as such, lacks clarity and cohesion. But give the Prime Minister credit: In a minority Parliament, he got what he sought -- an extension of the Canadian mission. That the resolution reads as if assembled by a committee is what anyone would expect in a minority Parliament.

The resolution talks about retraining the Afghan army and "providing security for reconstruction and development efforts." It does not talk about fighting, taking military action or engaging what General Rick Hillier, head of the Canadian Forces, once called "scum" -- that is, the Taliban and others who rather systematically try to kill Canadians, even though they couldn't point to the country on a map.

The notion that Canada will not fight but just provide "security" is a parliamentary euphemism, given the nature of the conflict in Kandahar. Other NATO countries in much safer parts of Afghanistan can provide "security" -- that is, do next to nothing. That option is not available in Kandahar, whatever the resolution says or wishes.

All of this "retraining" and "providing security" depends on Canada's finding another 1,000 or so troops to help in Kandahar. They will be found and welcomed at this NATO summit. They will help, marginally, although it should be noted that Canada itself was unwilling or unable or both to add any troops, having identified the urgent need for more.

France, the United States, Poland (a little) and a couple of small NATO countries have responded with more military help. The other countries have done nothing, or very little, which is to say much less than the NATO mission needs to succeed.

The military situation, what with the arrival of these new U.S. and French troops, is likely to improve. Indeed, the irony for Canadians who like to be so morally superior toward our southern neighbour is that, although additional French forces will help, the Americans are the ones responding most forcefully to Canada's call for help.

But the fundamental challenges of the Afghan mission remain muddled, unless this NATO summit provides new resources and cohesion that the mission has thus far lacked. An extra 1,000 troops in Kandahar province represent only a small part of what it will take to turn the NATO mission around.

Cohesion would come, in part, from identifying the mission's objective(s). To sell the mission back home, various NATO governments have had to speak about educating girls, bringing democracy, uplifting the economy, training the Afghan army and police; but the core of the mission has been, and remains, keeping the Taliban and their erstwhile allies in al-Qaeda from taking over again in Kabul.

Attaining this objective needs a strong military presence, more capably displayed than by bombing villages or Taliban redoubts, killing civilians and turning the population against the foreigners, namely NATO forces. It also needs much more and better co-ordinated development assistance, instead of the disparate efforts of individual NATO countries.

The challenge is monumental, since Afghanistan is a post-medieval society with a weak-to-non-existent modern infrastructure, few trained officials, low levels of modern education, and endemic corruption.

Lacking options, rural Afghans grow poppies because poppies provide far more income than wheat, sorghum or any other crop. The opium crop commands a prince's ransom, generating small profits for growers and even larger ones for traffickers. Some of the money fuels the insurgency - and NATO has no answer for this financing.

The parliamentary resolution, like the Manley report that contributed to the parliamentary compromise, danced around the opium issue, which means more of the same. Which means, in turn, more failure to stem the flow of money to the insurgency from a country whose dependency on the drug trade for income accurately defines it as the world's leading narco-state.

The resolution also urged much more open communication about what is going on in Afghanistan: fewer photo ops of the Stanley Cup, more detailed reporting to Parliament. This would require a radical reversal from the way the Harper government treats all information. It's hard to imagine such a change.
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Afghan donkey named Hughes eases burden for Canadian soldiers
By James Mccarten, The Canadian Press
KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - His official job description is to help carry equipment and supplies for Canadian engineers when they head out on their marathon treks across the treacherous Afghan countryside.

But Hughes, the pint-sized Afghan donkey, clearly eases more than just the physical burden of being a Canadian soldier in Afghanistan.

The engineers, from 1 Combat Engineer Regiment, based in Edmonton, bought the donkey for $200 from a group of Afghan National Army soldiers who share their patrol base west of Kandahar city, said Sapper Derek McCann, 22, of Vancouver.

"We were looking for something, because as engineers, we carry a lot of weight, (with) usually just two guys per patrol, and it's heavy," McCann said.

"We got the donkey, so he can carry some of the stuff we need him to carry."

McCann and fellow sapper Edward Monk, from St. Albert, Alta., were among those who christened the donkey Hughes - after a fellow soldier back home.

Hughes isn't very big - he's only about thigh-high on most of the troops who gather to see him every time he emerges from the engineers' compound - but he's a big help on patrols, said McCann.

He also doesn't seem to mind providing joyrides to soldiers around the base.

But it's clear from the attention he gets from his Canadian keepers that Hughes is more of a pet than a workhorse.

He helps the engineers unwind after long days spent searching nearby roads for improvised explosive devices, which is a major part of their work, said Cpl. Scott King of Lamaline, N.L.

"He's just something for us to look after and take care of and have a little bit of fun with and kinda forget about our jobs sometimes," King said, Hughes in tow, as the pair returned from a patch of pasture near the entrance to the base.

"It's a lot of fun, actually. We all take turns looking after it, and feeding it, taking it down in the pasture, going for a ride - it's fun."

The donkey eats kitchen scraps, apples and weeds that sprout out of the heavy gravel that's spread around the base in an effort to keep the dust down.

And he's far better off inside the Canadian compound than he ever was toiling for his former Afghan masters, said Monk.

"They don't have the same respect for animals that we do."
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Pakistan rejects Afghan claim on nuclear waste
New Kerala
Islamabad, April 2 : Pakistan Wednesday termed as baseless a statement by an Afghan cabinet minister that Pakistan had dumped nuclear waste in southern Afghanistan during Taliban period.

Afghanistan Parliamentary Affairs Minister Farooq Wardag was quoted as saying that Pakistan had buried nuclear waste in Kandahar and Helmand areas during the Taliban ruling.

"The Afghan minister's statement regarding dumping of nuclear waste by Pakistan in Afghanistan was baseless," Pakistan's foreign ministry spokesman Muhammad Sadiq said at the weekly news briefing here.

He said disposal of nuclear waste was strictly regulated in accordance with the international standards.

"Our nuclear power stations are under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards which not only keeps an oversight on their operations but also on storage of nuclear waste which has to be fully accounted for," Sadiq said.
--- IANS
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Russia's problems nudge Afghanistan off the map
Putin's grievances in Eastern Europe and Balkans will make it hard for Harper to get world leaders' attention at NATO summit
DOUG SAUNDERS From Wednesday's Globe and Mail April 2, 2008 at 3:36 AM EDT
BRUSSELS — While Prime Minister Stephen Harper will enter the Bucharest NATO summit today with hat in hand, seeking 1,000 troops needed to prevent Canada from withdrawing from Afghanistan, he may be surprised to discover that the other 25 member nations are instead focused on another visitor with very different deals in mind.

The imposing figure of Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, has overshadowed most other matters in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's crucial gathering. As the 59-year-old alliance prepares to expand onto Russia's doorstep with a proposal to put Ukraine and Georgia on the path to membership, and disputes with Russia dominate Europe's military agenda, the enormous problems of Afghanistan are slipping into the shadows.

"Ottawa is very, very focused on Afghanistan, to the exclusion of everything else, but seen from here, this is a very different summit," a top NATO official said at the organization's sprawling Brussels headquarters yesterday as he prepared to head to Bucharest. "Here, enlargement, the western Balkans and relations with Russia are the significant issues that are taking up all of our time. Most of the Afghan questions have been settled."

For Europeans, who dominate NATO's membership, the looming issues all involve Russia. In interviews with several foreign NATO delegations yesterday, it was clear that their attention is largely focused on matters far to the west of Afghanistan: on Kosovo, where thousands more troops may be needed soon; on Sudan, where the European Union is expanding its peacekeeping force, in what many consider the beginning of a new alliance to compete with NATO; and on Russia's border, where NATO's expansion is an enormously divisive issue.

While U.S. President George W. Bush visited Ukraine yesterday to drum up support for the country's pro-Western government joining NATO, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French Prime Minister François Fillon have said that they are opposed to Russia's neighbours joining because it would inflame Moscow at a sensitive moment.

The Russian President, who is customarily invited as a guest, is likely to set the agenda from the outset, and his presence will not be merely symbolic: This is an opportunity for the world's powers, and especially the United States, to make deals with him, and he has arrived with bargaining chips. NATO officials said they are prepared to take up Mr. Putin's offer to grant military access to Afghanistan's northern borders through Russia, which would be an important tactical development.

In exchange for this, he will likely ask for concessions on one of the several grievances that will almost certainly dominate his speech on Friday and his news conferences throughout the week. They include anger over NATO's invitation of Russian neighbours Ukraine and Georgia to begin the process of joining the alliance; fury over the February declaration of independence by Kosovo, which has been occupied by NATO troops since 1999; and an angry standoff over a U.S. anti-missile base in the Czech Republic and Poland, which led Russia to withdraw from weapons treaties.

To make matters even more sensitive, a group of five high-level generals from the largest NATO nations, including the United States, France and Britain, are using the summit to promote a position paper calling for NATO to develop first-strike nuclear capability. While a senior NATO figure said that the idea has "no traction whatsoever," the discussion of such a blatantly Cold War-style concept among prominent generals is unlikely to please the Russians.

While the Afghanistan war, which involves 47,000 troops from 40 countries, remains by far the largest issue within NATO, there is a sense among many member nations that there is little left to discuss. On the other hand, no major countries are considering withdrawal from Afghanistan at the moment (Canada's threat to withdraw in 2009 if 1,000 troops aren't delivered is not considered likely by anyone within NATO).

It is here that Mr. Harper will confront a third deal maker seeking to capture NATO's attention. At a dinner tonight, French President Nicolas Sarkozy will promise to expand France's force of 2,500 troops and put them in a more active combat role - exactly how many or where is still not clear - but for most figures in NATO, this "Canadian solution" will be far less interesting than Mr. Sarkozy's other proposals.

In exchange for the troops, Mr. Sarkozy will demand that the approach to the Afghanistan war change to one based on more nation-building and economy-boosting practices, and less heavy combat. "We are going to call for a less feudal, a less medieval approach to the war, where you currently have military forces creating walled-off areas where agriculture only takes place under the occupier's guard," one French official said. "We want to put the economy first."

Mr. Sarkozy is offering to have France rejoin the NATO command structure, from which France withdrew in 1966 in a dispute over U.S. dominance of the alliance. In exchange for taking on this responsibility, France is demanding a greater European role, and thus a reduced U.S. position, in NATO's decision making. France's larger goal, to be put into play when it takes over the rotating presidency of the European Union this summer, will be what is known as the European Security and Defence Policy, a separate EU military force that could become a competitor to NATO.

For years, the United States strongly opposed a separate European defence force, and was able to use its allies within Europe to block it. But after Mr. Sarkozy, a conservative and admirer of the United States, made a peacemaking visit to Washington earlier this year, the United States agreed to drop its opposition to the European defence plan.

But neither Mr. Putin's nor Mr. Sarkozy's promises are likely to produce decisive results in Bucharest this week, and they are likely to create enough noise to make Mr. Harper's urgent request for troops seem secondary.

*****

An expanding alliance

What began as an alliance of countries with strategic interests in the North Atlantic has grown to become an international body spanning three continents and absorbing many of its former enemies.

1949

The 12 founding members, all allies after the Second World War, created the alliance as a bulwark against

the Soviet Union.

1952

The alliance spreads into the Middle East with the acceptance of Turkey, which bridges the divide with Europe and joins at the same time as Greece.

1955

Germany's* entrance into the alliance prompts the Soviet Union to gather eight east European nations into the Warsaw Pact coalition.

1982

Spain's acceptance into the alliance was only possible after it embraced democracy following the death of dictator Francisco Franco.

1999

For the first time, the alliance welcomes former Warsaw pact countries Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, beginning the shift of allegiances from East to West.

2004

Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia join in the biggest expansion, which for the first time welcomes former Soviet republics.

2008

The three Balkan states of Albania, Croatia, Macedonia hope to be invited to join this week. All three already have small contingents of troops serving in NATO-led missions.

NEXT

Despite objections from Russia, the United States is determined to bring former Soviet states Georgia and Ukraine into the fold. Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina are also up for acceptance.

*****

NATO MEMBER

CANADA: 1949

U.S.: 1949

BRITAIN: 1949

NETHERLANDS: 1949

BELGIUM: 1949

LUXEMBOURG: 1949

FRANCE: 1949

SPAIN: 1982

PORTUGAL: 1949

POLAND: 1999

CZECH REP: 1999

ITALY: 1949

TURKEY: 1952

GREECE: 1952

ESTONIA: 2004

LATVIA: 2004

LITHUANIA: 2004

HUNGARY: 1999

ICELAND: 1949

GERMANY*: 1955

DENMARK: 1949

NORWAY: 1949

SLOVAKIA: 2004

ROMANIA: 2004

BULGARIA: 2004

SLOVENIA: 2004

*****

SEEKING TO JOIN

Croatia

Bosnia-Herzegovina

Montenegro

Albania

Macedonia

*East Germany was not part of the alliance until German reunification in 1993
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Rights groups to appeal Afghan detainees ruling
Federal Court's decision not to halt transfer of captives into local custody 'failed to acknowledge the Charter,' Amnesty declares
PAUL KORING The Globe and Mail (Canada) April 2, 2008
Taliban fighters taken prisoner by Canadian troops in Afghanistan may be denied rights they would have if captured by British or U.S. forces, rights groups said yesterday as they announced an appeal of a Federal Court decision.

The case, which seems likely to end up in the Supreme Court of Canada, may determine whether the Constitution marches alongside Canadian troops waging war overseas.

Amnesty International and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association say that a ruling last month by Madam Justice Anne Mactavish "failed to acknowledge the Charter and international law obligations to prevent torture or ill treatment of prisoners" even after they are turned over to Afghan authorities.

Canadian handovers of detainees were stopped in November when compelling evidence of torture was found on a visit by Canadian diplomats to an Afghan prison. Prisoner transfers resumed three months later after yet another increase in monitoring arrangements and further promises from Kabul that abuse would stop and allegations of torture would be thoroughly investigated.

In the meantime, Judge Mactavish had refused to order a halt to transfers and ruled against the rights groups.

"British and American courts have ruled that some human rights protocols apply to detainees" captured by their armed forces in war zones, said Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada. "Canada should be at the top of the heap in respect for human rights, not somewhere else," he added.

The British and U.S. rulings haven't been tested with respect to detainees captured and transferred in Afghanistan. The British case involved prisoners in Iraq. U.S. cases include some captured in Afghanistan and currently held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"This case is less about given rights to foreign detainees and more about preventing agents of our government from being ensnared in atrocities such as torture and genocide," said Jason Gratl, president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

The government has argued that international law coupled with deals with the Afghan government provide all the protection needed to ensure detainees are not abused or tortured.

Canadian law already applies to Canadian soldiers deployed abroad. For instance, a criminal investigation into allegations that Afghan detainees were beaten by Canadian soldiers has been under way for more than a year, but there has been no decision on whether to lay charges.

The appeal announced yesterday is expected to be heard some time this fall.

Among the 11 grounds cited for the appeal, the right groups says the judge "erred in law by finding that the Charter does not apply to the detention of individuals by the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan despite the fact the Canadian Forces have 'complete control' over these detainees and cannot be compelled to turn them over to the custody of any other country, including Afghanistan."
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Afghan failure to meet IMF target casts doubt on debt relief: a report
Associated Press of Pakistan
LONDON, April 2 (APP)- The influential British daily ‘Financial Times’ has reported that International aid and debt relief for Afghanistan has been thrown into doubt by the country’s failure to honour an agreement with the International Monetary Fund and warnings that its three-year development master plan could be rejected.

According to the paper, Afghan Finance Minister Anwar-ul-Haq Ahady last week admitted to donors that the government had failed to meet a target agreed with the IMF to raise $715m in taxes. At just 8.2 per cent of gross domestic product, the goal had been described by economists as “unambitious”.

At the same time, the paper said ,the World Bank and other donors have told the government that the latest drafts of the Afghan National Development Strategy, a document to which future funding and debt relief is pegged, is of such poor quality that it will be rejected if submitted in its current form.

Kabul’s failure to meet the tax revenue target and the risk that it will fail to produce an adequate development strategy have serious ramifications for both future international funding and the $10.6bn of debt relief it currently enjoys through the IMF-backed Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative.

The government has had almost three years to produce the development plan and received at least $15m from donors to support its drafting. Western observers in Kabul have caustically referred to it as the “world’s most expensive poverty reduction strategy”.

The document has been criticised for being unwieldy, lacking specifics and featuring free-market economic principles sitting uneasily with more statistic objectives.

The World Bank said the plan had not yet been rejected and that they looked forward to receiving the complete document - but time was running out.

A Ministry of Finance team has taken over the project in an attempt to get a workable document together before a donors’ conference in Paris in June, when the international community is expected to make future development pledges.

The hope had been that they would be able to use the existing strategy document as a basis for making future donations.

Under the terms of its agreement with the IMF, Afghanistan must produce a poverty reduction strategy which it has wrapped into its National Development Strategy - acceptable to the fund.

At the same time, Afghanistan must meet other obligations, including gradually raising its tax take, to make it less dependent on aid.

Ahady told donors in Kabul last week that the government fell short of the $715m target by about $50m because political turmoil in neighbouring Pakistan reduced customs revenues on imports into Afghanistan.

But members of the international community have questioned the explanation. An IMF team due to visit this month is to decide whether Kabul was at fault and could recommend that Afghanistan be stripped of its debt relief facility.
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A look inside Al Qaeda
The militant is known as Abu Ubaida al Masri, and charting his path reveals his vulnerabilities and those of the terrorist group.
Los Angeles Times, CA By Sebastian Rotella Los Angeles Times Staff Writer April 2, 2008
COPENHAGEN -If Al Qaeda strikes the West in the coming months, it's likely the mastermind will be a stocky Egyptian explosives expert with two missing fingers.

His alias is Abu Ubaida al Masri. Hardly anyone has heard of him outside a select circle of anti-terrorism officials and Islamic militants. But as chief of external operations for Al Qaeda, investigators say, he has one of the most dangerous -- and endangered -- jobs in international terrorism.

He has overseen the major plots that the network needs to stay viable, investigators say: the London transportation bombings in 2005, a foiled transatlantic "spectacular" aimed at U.S.-bound planes in 2006, and an aborted plot in this serene Scandinavian capital last fall.

But pursuers have captured or killed his predecessors and have been gunning for him. He prowls Pakistani badlands one step ahead of satellites and security forces.

Although periodic reports of his death have proved false, rumors resurfaced after recent American airstrikes. Asked whether Masri is alive, a Western anti-terrorism official said, "It's a question mark."

Masri himself can be described that way. Authorities know only bits and pieces of his biography. They know his face, having identified an unreleased photo, but not his real name.

"He is considered capable and dangerous," said a British official, who like others in this report declined to be identified. "He is not at the very top of Al Qaeda, but has been part of the core circle for a long time. He is someone who has emerged and grabbed our attention as others were caught or eliminated in the last couple of years. Perhaps he rose faster than he would have otherwise."

The Times has charted Masri's rise in interviews with anti-terrorism officials and experts from Europe, the United States and the Middle East, and a review of case files and academic and intelligence reports. The stories of man and network intertwine, revealing the dangers and vulnerabilities of both.

Masri's emergence reflects Al Qaeda's resilient, hydra-like structure. As leaders fall, mid-level chiefs step up, shifting tactics and targets with determination and innovation.

But Al Qaeda seems diminished despite insistent propaganda and an onslaught of violence in Iraq, South Asia and North Africa. The network has not pulled off an attack in the West since 2005.

"We have to be careful not to fall prey to our fears," said a senior British anti-terrorism official. "The language of 2001, 2002, gave an inflated view of Al Qaeda's size and structure. It's not the Red Army, it's not even the Irish Republican Army. . . . There have been advances by AQ at the ideological level, it has spawned franchises, but don't lose sight of the operational setbacks that AQ has suffered."

The plots attributed to Masri were ambitious, but authorities infiltrated two cells long before they could strike. Some trainees seemed more fierce than talented. And the number of seasoned field commanders dwindles, former CIA officer Marc Sageman said in an interview.

"Al Qaeda's bench is shrinking," Sageman writes in his latest book, "Leaderless Jihad." "Yes, there are trained and still quite competent terrorist trainers around, and they are more visible in Waziristan [in Pakistan], but the long-term prospect of Al Qaeda central in the Afghan-Pakistani theater is diminishing."

But other experts see signs of resurgence. Last year, U.S. spy agencies warned that Al Qaeda had "protected or regenerated" its leadership and ability to attack the United States by carving out a haven in Pakistani tribal areas.

Masri is in his mid-40s, according to an Italian translation of a German investigative file. His nom de guerre means "The Egyptian Father of Ubaida." Little is known about his youth. He belongs to a generation of Egyptians who have dominated Al Qaeda since they fought the Soviets in Afghanistan, officials say.

Masri followed the classic itinerary after Afghanistan, officials say. He fought in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the early 1990s, went on to Chechnya and was wounded, according to the Italian file. He lost two fingers -- a common disfigurement suffered by Al Qaeda veterans from combat or explosives. Masri also spent time in Britain, according to the file. In 1995, he surfaced in Munich, Germany, under an alias and requested asylum. His associates there included a Moroccan computer science student who married the daughter of Ayman Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's deputy, and Jordanian operatives who led a 2002 plot for shooting attacks on Jews.

In 1999, authorities rejected Masri's asylum claim and jailed him pending deportation. But he was released instead for reasons that are unclear.

Tanned and muscular
By 2000 he was back in Afghanistan serving as an instructor at a training camp near Kabul, where he taught about explosives, artillery and topography, according to the file. Shadi Abdalla, a former Bin Laden bodyguard, described him in later testimony as 5 foot 7, muscular and tanned, with graying black hair and a graying beard.

During the U.S.-led military operation in Afghanistan in late 2001, Masri fought in the 055 Brigade, a paramilitary unit that took heavy casualties covering Bin Laden's escape into Pakistan, according to Rohan Gunaratna, author of "Inside Al Qaeda." Holed up in the border region, the survivors split into two wings, he said. Internal operations ran combat in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where Masri helped the Taliban regroup. External operations oversaw attacks elsewhere.

After the capture in 2003 of the manically prolific Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind, Masri's duties shifted. He joined a group of chiefs who tried to keep targeting the West, mainly Britain.

They succeeded on July 7, 2005, killing 52 people in synchronized public transportation bombings in London. The lead bombers were groomed in Pakistan by Abdul Hadi, a former Iraqi military officer, according to officials and court testimony. Masri's name emerged as a planner working with him.

"He's considered a player," a U.S. anti-terrorism official said. "He comes up on the radar screen a few months after July 2005."

In January 2006, an airstrike killed 18 people in the Bajaur region of Pakistan. The press reported, inaccurately, that Masri and three other leaders died in the rubble.

The plane plan
Masri had embarked on his biggest task yet: a mega-project intended to match the carnage of the Sept. 11 attacks by blowing up airplanes en route from Britain to the United States. Half a dozen British militants traveled to Pakistan for training.

"He was involved in recruiting, overseeing the lesson plan, so to speak," the U.S. anti-terrorism official said.

The innovative techniques required special instruction. Masri envisioned his operatives injecting the liquid explosives, a highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide mix, with a syringe into the false bottoms of innocuous containers such as sports drinks, sneaking the components aboard and assembling bombs after takeoff.

"The airline plot is his thing," a Western intelligence official said. "And it is a major plot."

Investigators think only one or two trainees had contact with Masri. Trainees had autonomy to instruct and supervise a dozen fellow militants back in Britain, officials say. In turn, investigators believe Masri got direction from his bosses, who often communicate with the command structure through messengers.

"We have patchy intelligence on the relationship and structure between external operations figures and Zawahiri and Bin Laden," the senior British official said. "In the really big plots, we think they played a role."

Investigators monitored the plotters for months, managing to film inside their London safe house. In August 2006, police rounded them up. The attack was weeks away and would have targeted five planes, the U.S. anti-terrorism official said.

Three months later, Pakistani helicopter gunships blew up a remote madrasa, killing about 80 people but missing Masri, officials say. In late 2006, however, Israeli, Turkish and U.S. spies teamed up to capture Hadi, the former Iraqi military officer, in Turkey as he was en route to Iraq to improve relations with the Al Qaeda offshoot there, officials say.

Masri assumed more control. He allegedly turned his aim to another part of Europe he knows. Last spring, he taught bomb-making in compounds in North Waziristan to aspiring suicide attackers, including a 21-year-old Pakistani living in Denmark and a 45-year-old Pakistani-German, according to U.S. and European officials.

A U.S. anti-terrorism source sees Masri's role as a symptom of decline. "The fact he trained them himself shows you some of the limitations of the network," the source said.

In any case, Masri's pupils apparently displayed more fervor than stealth. Aided by U.S. intercepts of communications to Pakistan, Danish police put the 21-year-old under surveillance along with his associates, one of whom had been in Pakistan at the same time. As in London, police got deep inside the alleged cell, U.S. and European officials say.

Police installed clandestine cameras and microphones in the 21-year-old's apartment in a scruffy area that mixes immigrant families and young Danes. In early September, the cameras filmed the 21-year-old and an Afghan suspect as they sang militant songs and mixed TATP, the explosive used in the London attacks. The two even conducted tests of detonators in a vestibule, officials say.

Two days later, police jailed them. Last week, prosecutors filed formal charges against three suspects. Seven others remain under investigation. The alleged target has not been disclosed. Al Qaeda has threatened Denmark because of the publication here of cartoons seen as insulting to the prophet Muhammad.

In the cross hairs
Masri's ongoing contact with foreign operatives put him in the cross hairs. U.S. forces have unleashed a flurry of airstrikes in Waziristan this year, killing a top Libyan chief, Abu Laith al Libi, and other Arab militants in late January.

Recent intelligence suggests that Masri died too, officials say. But they say they have no confirmation, no Internet eulogies of the kind that celebrated Libi.

Cultivating the art of survival through anonymity, Masri may have beaten the odds once again. Or it may be that, for strategic reasons, both sides want to keep his fate ambiguous as a successor emerges.
The external operations chief, the senior British official said, has "the job with the lowest life expectancy in international politics."

rotella@latimes.com 
Special correspondent Dirk Laabs in Hamburg, Germany, and Noha El-Hennawy of The Times' Cairo Bureau contributed to this report.
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Afghan challenges know no border, Pashtun elder tells senators
Matthew Fisher ,  Canwest News Service Tuesday, April 01, 2008
A FORWARD OPERATING BASE IN PANJWAII, Afghanistan - Haji Agha Lalai held members of the Senate's national security and defence committee spellbound Tuesday with a vivid briefing about the challenges faced by those like him who oppose the Taliban and al-Qaida.

"As you know, this is the fighting season and we are building a road" the fiercely imposing, heavily bearded Pashtun elder told his Canadian visitors. "The enemy tries to disrupt the environment. People are getting 'night letters' threatening them if they continue working with us, but we are determined to pave that road . . .

"Of course, workers on the road project are exposed to danger. One of the workers, they shot him in his leg, but he continues to work. People ignore the threats."

Construction on the eight-kilometre-long asphalt surface began two months ago in an area that was home to the Taliban's Mullah Omar and is where al-Qaida's Osama bin Laden once had a madrassa. Funded by the Canadian army and supervised by Canadian military engineers, the road venture employs 400 Afghans.

Negotiations are now taking place with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) for funds to pave another 11 kilometres of the road.

Many of Panjwaii's problems were caused by "neighbours who infiltrate and facilitate the enemy," Lalai said, singling out Iran and "especially Pakistan. They train Afghans there, but when they come back to fight one or two foreigners always come with them . . .

"The problems we have with Pakistan are not about the Durand Line (the border drawn by the British in the late 19th century). There are hidden agendas. The ISI (Pakistani military intelligence) is not capable of training and funding the enemy by themselves. Others are involved."

Lalai, who bore a deep scar on his forehead, one of three serious wounds he said that he suffered fighting the Red Army in the 1980s, hinted that other outsiders who might be meddling in Afghanistan included his old enemies, the Russians, as well some Saudis.

"There are Americans in Saudi Arabia, but nobody calls for a holy war because of this," he said, "and they haven't called for a holy war in Pakistan, which has ties to the U.S. So why, when we get help from outside, they call for a holy war here?"

Colin Kenny, the Liberal who led the Senate delegation on what was its fourth visit to the region, but only its first trip "outside the wire," said: "I think that the point to take from him (Lalai) is that to organize and co-ordinate what is going on, there is an extra push from somewhere else in this part of the world. That is an opinion that does not surprise me."

Conservative Senator Michael Meighen said that from what he had heard at the forward operating base and in Kandahar, "everybody gilds the lily a bit," but great progress was being made.

"So many Canadians and Afghans speak of progress, you can't help but believe that we are on the right track," he said.

Liberal Senator Rod Zimmer praised the Afghans' willingness to work, despite intimidation and government and said he felt that what Canada was doing was "appreciated and respected." He also praised the Canadians serving in Afghanistan.

"I had no idea what our troops go through," the Winnipegger said. "Their commitment is an inspiration. I did not believe that they were so deeply involved here and so respected."

Advances had been made since he was last in Afghanistan, said Kenny, who has been involved in security issues since before being appointed to the Senate by Pierre Trudeau 24 years ago. Canadian troops are now working closely with others from Canada, including policemen, corrections officers, diplomats and aid agency officials, Kenny said. He termed this team concept "a really smart move."

However, one of the reasons that it is still difficult to measure success is "because we don't know the objectives are," he said. "A really important message for the government is that they have to outline the objectives here . . . Canadians need to understand that A is connected to B is connected to C is connected to X, Y and Z. If one thing is not moving forward, everything can get blocked. We also have to understand that it takes time to build trust.

"The military has got it. DFAIT and CIDA have got it. But Ottawa is not telling Canadians enough about Afghanistan. The free advice of Colin Kenny to the prime minister is that he should go on television and talk to Canadians about the situation here."
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America is making a difference in eastern Afghanistan
SETH JONES Special to Globe and Mail Update April 1, 2008 at 8:21 PM EDT
BAGRAM, AFGHANISTAN — The United States has turned a corner in Afghanistan, as I witnessed after returning from my fourth trip in the past year. It has made some progress against the Taliban and other insurgent groups in eastern Afghanistan, and created a window of opportunity to spread this elsewhere.

The conventional view from Washington, supported by a slew of recent reports, is that Afghanistan has plunged into a spiral of violence. Some parts of the country have certainly experienced deteriorating security. Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently noted there was a 27-per-cent increase in violence from 2006 to 2007. Most of this was in the south, where Canadian, British and Dutch soldiers are battling the Taliban and other groups.

But in eastern Afghanistan, where the bulk of U.S. forces are deployed, violence levels declined by 40 per cent in 2007. In Khowst, which I visited last month, suicide attacks dropped from one a week in 2006 to one a month in 2007.

The most significant reason is a shift in U.S. strategy. Building on counterinsurgency lessons from the British, French and American historical experiences, the U.S. military has increasingly focused its efforts on "soft power." This has translated into a greater focus on reconstruction and development projects, and less emphasis on combat operations.

At the core of this strategy is an assumption that local Afghans are the centre of gravity. Many are frustrated by the lack of development over the past several years, and unhappy with poor governance. To deal with these concerns, America's strategy includes three components.

The first involves interacting with tribal leaders to identify local needs and grievances, and to develop projects that help address them. In Khowst, for example, Colonel Martin Schweitzer and provincial governor Arsala Jamal have teamed up to build roads, hospitals and water and electricity projects.

The second component is hiring local Afghans to perform the work. A sizable chunk of the money comes from the Commander's Emergency Response Program funds, which enable U.S. military commanders to dole out aid quickly. Other aid comes from organizations such as the U.S. Agency for International Development and the World Bank.

The third is executing the projects. In Paktia province, where I visited, U.S. forces operating under Combined Joint Task Force-82 have focused on building roads and revamping water and power infrastructure. In Kunar province, newly paved roads have sparked a boom in commerce in the Pech River Valley, and fighting there has largely stopped.

Overall, the results have been impressive, and U.S. efforts have contributed to a decline in violence in the east. But this progress could be undermined by a failure to address several looming challenges.

One is Pakistan. Every major insurgent group — such as the Taliban, Sirajuddin Haqqani's network, Hizb-i-Islami, and al-Qaeda — enjoys sanctuary in Pakistan. Some individuals within Pakistan's government, including within the Frontier Corps and Inter-Services Intelligence agency, also provide assistance to insurgent groups, especially the Taliban and Haqqani network.

America's failure to persuade Pakistan to dry up this sanctuary and end its support for militant groups will undermine security in Afghanistan and the region. Outside support from states has been lethal to counterinsurgency efforts. Since 1945, insurgencies, such as Afghanistan's, that have gained and maintained state support have won more than half the time.

Another problem is governance. Afghans have become increasingly frustrated with national and local officials who are corrupt and self-serving. This sentiment is just as palpable in rural areas as in cities. There are well-known government officials at the district, provincial and national levels involved in drug trafficking.

Many of America's efforts in the east have helped local leaders deliver the services and security. But a failure to fix corruption will undercut this progress.

A final challenge is international resources, which are still not adequate. NATO has roughly 50,000 troops in Afghanistan, along with more than 50,000 Afghan army soldiers. Based on some counterinsurgency estimates that a minimum of four troops per 1,000 inhabitants is necessary to establish security, the requirement in Afghanistan is at least 128,000 soldiers.

This leaves a gap of 28,000 soldiers, which Afghan soldiers can fill over time. In the near future, however, the U.S. military must fill this gap. This requires making difficult choices, such as redeploying some U.S. forces from Iraq to Afghanistan.

America's war on terrorism began in Afghanistan in 2001 when it overthrew the Taliban regime. It is time for the United States to finish what it started.

Seth G. Jones is a political scientist at the Rand Corp. and author of the forthcoming In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan.
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