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April 23, 2008 

Taliban kill 13 in series of Afghan attacks
KABUL (Reuters) - Taliban insurgents killed 13 people, including 10 police, in a series of attacks across the country on Wednesday, officials said.

Afghanistan launches hunt for body of president killed 30 years ago
KABUL (AFP) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai has appointed a commission to find the bodies of ex-president Mohammad Daud Khan and his relatives killed in a 1978 military coup, the government said Wednesday.

Pakistan drafts peace deal with militants: officials
by Saad Khan
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) - Pakistan's new government has drafted a peace agreement with Taliban militants in its troubled tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, officials and a rebel spokesman said Wednesday.

Denmark evacuates embassies in Algeria, Afghanistan
Wed Apr 23, 4:48 AM ET Associated Press
COPENHAGEN, Denmark - The Danish Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that it has evacuated its staff from embassies in Algeria and Afghanistan because of threats after newspapers reprinted a cartoon depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

Berlin neglecting forces in Afghanistan
April 23, 2008 at 8:08 AM
Print story Email to a friend Font size:BERLIN, April 23 (UPI) -- An official with the German military union accused the government of neglecting troops in Afghanistan by not bolstering German peacekeeping forces.

AFGHANISTAN: Extend transitional justice scheme till 2009 - rights watchdog
23 Apr 2008 12:12:39 GMT
 KABUL, 23 April 2008 (IRIN) - Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has called on the government and the international community to extend until December 2009 the period in which human rights violations

Afghanistan: Theatre exposes rights abuse
AKI - Adnkronos International
Kabul, 23 April (AKI) - A theatre production highlighting human rights abuses spanning nearly three decades of conflict has opened in Afghanistan.

Afghan foreign minister open talks in Islamabad
Islamabad, April 23, IRNA
Afghan Foreign Minister Dr. Rangin Dadfar Spanta Wednesday opened talks with Pakistan leaders on bilateral and regional matters, focusing on security, officials said.

India drawn deeper into Afghanistan
By Sudha Ramachandran Apr 24, 2008  Asia Times Online, Hong Kong
BANGALORE - India's presence and influence in Afghanistan has come under fire again. While an Indian road construction project was attacked by suspected Taliban militants a little over a week ago, Indian television serials are being

Taliban reap a peace dividend
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Apr 24, 2008 Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau
KARACHI - As the temperature rises in the southern mountain vastness of Afghanistan and the melting snow floods the rivers, a blizzard of militancy awaits North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops. At the same time, Pakistan is firmly

Central Asia: Trans-Afghan Pipeline Discussions Open In Islamabad
By Bruce Pannier RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, Czech Republic
Officials from Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan have opened a meeting in Islamabad to discuss the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline.

India to join Turkmenistan gas pipeline project
23 Apr 2008, 1300 hrs IST,PTI Times of India
ISLAMABAD: Ministers representing four countries began talks here on Wednesday on a proposed multi-billion dollar pipeline that will transport gas from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Kandahar governor set to leave until Bernier spoke, says Afghan official
Tuesday, April 22, 2008 CBC News Canada
The controversial governor of Kandahar was on his way out until a political gaffe by Canada's foreign affairs minister hindered those plans, an Afghan politician says.

Awkward, but honest words
The Ottawa Citizen Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Canada has every right to speak out about corruption and incompetence in Afghanistan. There's a good way to do it and a bad way, though. Maxime Bernier chose the bad way.

Mystery buyer of Afghan poppy resin thrives on drug trade
Michael Evans in Northern Helmand The Times (UK) April 23, 2008
Everyone in this part of Helmand is waiting for the arrival of “The Businessman” – a mysterious individual who turns up at about this time each year to buy poppy resin from the acres of crops in the green belt along the Helmand river.

Meeting with a minaret
Dan Cruickshank relives his epic journey to a threatened wonder in Afghanistan
Wednesday April 23, 2008 The Guardian
Late last year, after a decade of failed attempts to make the journey, I drove 14 hours across Afghanistan to look upon one of the architectural wonders of the world. The road east from Herat had long given way to dumpy tracks and rocky

South Korea to Send Police to Afghanistan
By Kim Yon-se South Korea  Times Staff Reporter
South Korea, which withdrew its troops from Afghanistan late last year, is now considering dispatching dozens of policemen to the war-torn country in May.

Govt-Taliban talks on envoy's release hit snags
By Mushtaq Yusufzai The News International (Pakistan) Wednesday, April 23, 2008
PESHAWAR: Talks between the government and militants for the release of kidnapped envoy to Afghanistan Tariq Azizuddin have run into snags over some demands of the latter. Sources privy to the negotiations told The News that Jirga

Hundreds attack flour trucks over wheat cost
www.quqnoos.com Written by Taqilullah Taqi Tuesday, 22 April 2008
Police break up anti-government rioters protesting rise in flour prices
HUNDREDS of locals in Jalalabad have attacked trucks carrying flour and burned rickshaws in protest at the rapidly rising cost of flour in the country.

In Afghanistan, insurgents attacking cellphone network
Taliban fighters are blowing up telecom towers, hoping to foil NATO-led forces who from hunt them down via cellphone signals. Afghans are fuming.
World News By Laura King Los Angeles Times Staff Writer April 22, 2008
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -Afghans tend to be stoic in the face of poverty, hardship and seemingly endless warfare. But mess with their cellphones, and the response is one of undiluted outrage.

Karzai backs 'unlawful' election delay
www.quqnoos.com Written by Mostafa Mahmoud Tuesday, 22 April 2008
Government says it supports commission's decision to change election date
THE GOVERNMENT has backed the Independent Election Commission’s controversial decision to delay next year’s presidential elections.

Jalalabad road closure sparks motorist fury
www.quqnoos.com Written by Anwar Hashimi Tuesday, 22 April 2008
Drivers complain about lack of traffic police on 'second class' road
THE CLOSURE of the Mahiper Highway between Kabul and Jalalabad is causing chaos on the other road that runs between the two cities, motorists say.

Taliban kill 13 in series of Afghan attacks
KABUL (Reuters) - Taliban insurgents killed 13 people, including 10 police, in a series of attacks across the country on Wednesday, officials said.

Afghanistan has seen a rising tide of violence following the traditional winter lull. Some Western leaders have warned this year Afghanistan risks sliding back into anarchy unless more is done to coordinate military, political and development efforts.

Five police officers were killed when Taliban fighters stormed their post in the eastern province of Kunar, near the border with Pakistan, Abdul Saboor Allahyar, a senior provincial police officer said.

"After the attack, a clash erupted in which 13 Taliban were also killed," Esmatullah, a border force commander, told reporters.

Three more policemen lost their lives when a roadside bomb hit their vehicle in the northwestern province of Badghis, the provincial governor said.

In a separate incident, a suicide bomber attacked a police compound in the Girishk district of the southern province of Helmand, the district police chief said.

Police opened fire on the bomber, setting off his explosives belt as he tried to enter the compound, but two officers were killed in the blast, Girishk police chief Khan Mohammad Shuja told Reuters.

Another suicide bomber blew himself up in a bazaar close to the Pakistan border, killing three civilians and wounding at least 14 more, officials said.

The bomber blew himself up after being identified and chased by Afghan security forces in the southern town of Spin Boldak in Kandahar province, Afghan and foreign military officials said.

A caller identifying himself as a Taliban member contacted Reuters reporters to claim responsibility for the attacks.

Ousted from power in 2001, the al Qaeda-backed Taliban have vowed to launch a wave of suicide bombs across Afghanistan this year to overthrow the pro-Western Afghan government and drive out foreign troops.

Nearly 12,000 people, including more than 330 foreign troops, have been killed since 2006, the bloodiest period since 2001.

The increase in violence comes despite the presence of some 55,000 foreign troops under the command of NATO and the U.S. military and more than 100,000 Afghan security forces.

U.S.-led troops and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban government in 2001 after it refused to surrender al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, the architect of the September 11 attacks on America.

(Writing by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by Alex Richardson)
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Afghanistan launches hunt for body of president killed 30 years ago
KABUL (AFP) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai has appointed a commission to find the bodies of ex-president Mohammad Daud Khan and his relatives killed in a 1978 military coup, the government said Wednesday.

Khan, Afghanistan's respected first president, was shot dead in the presidential palace in a communist, Soviet-backed coup on 27-28 April, 1978, almost exactly 30 years ago.

Several of his relatives were killed, including at least one daughter and several women and children, although the number is not clear. Their remains have never been recovered.

The commission appointed to find them is headed by national intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh and includes representatives of the interior, defence and culture ministries, a statement from Karzai's office said.

A member of Khan's family, Nadir Naeemi, is also on the team, it said.

The commission, appointed out of "respect for the national figure", was tasked with searching for the remains of the dead and drawing up a proposal for the construction of a mausoleum for them, it said.

They had a month to report to Karzai.

Khan himself came to power in a coup when he overthrew his cousin Zahir Shah -- the last king of Afghanistan.

A moderate who tried to counter the influence of Islamists, Khan abolished the monarchy and established a republic, introducing reforms and eventually favouring relations with the West over the Soviet Union.

The announcement of the presidential decree ordering the search for his remains comes just days before Afghanistan's commemorates the 1989 removal of the last Soviet-backed communist regime.
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Pakistan drafts peace deal with militants: officials
by Saad Khan
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) - Pakistan's new government has drafted a peace agreement with Taliban militants in its troubled tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, officials and a rebel spokesman said Wednesday.

The government launched talks with the Islamist rebels soon after winning elections in February, amid concerns that the military-orientated tactics of President Pervez Musharraf were spawning more violence.

The aim is to transform a month-long lull in a wave of suicide bombings into a permanent peace with the rebels, who have fought the government since Islamabad joined the US-led "war on terror" in 2001.

"Work is in progress swiftly on a new peace agreement with the Taliban Movement of Pakistan," a senior security official told AFP, adding that "indirect negotiations" through tribal elders were ongoing.

"The draft agreement contains clauses under which both sides will not take armed action against each other. Military will be withdrawn from certain areas, attacks on security forces will be stopped by militants," the official said.

The chief spokesman for the country's umbrella militant group Tehreek-e-Taliban (Taliban Movement) Pakistan, Maulvi Omar, confirmed to AFP by telephone that "our negotiations with government are going on."

"There is significant positive development, we have accepted most of each others' demands. In next few days we hope that a positive outcome is achieved," Omar said.

More than 1,000 people have been killed in suicide bombings since the start of last year, including former premier Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated at an election rally in December.

The government blamed her killing on Al-Qaeda-linked tribal warlord Baitullah Mehsud.

Dawn, a respected English-language daily, said the draft 15-point peace agreement also involves the exchange of prisoners and said it had the backing of senior political and military figures.

Authorities freed a senior pro-Taliban Pakistani militant, Sufi Mohammad, earlier this week after his banned hardline group, Tahreek Nifaz-e-Shariat Mohammadi, pledged to renounce violence.

Taliban spokesman Omar said the agreement would apply to the semi-autonomous tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and other troubled nearby regions including the former tourist area of Swat, he said.

"If our demands are accepted, then we will end our armed struggle and stop attacks against security forces, Taliban will remain peaceful," said Omar.
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Denmark evacuates embassies in Algeria, Afghanistan
Wed Apr 23, 4:48 AM ET Associated Press
COPENHAGEN, Denmark - The Danish Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that it has evacuated its staff from embassies in Algeria and Afghanistan because of threats after newspapers reprinted a cartoon depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

Embassy employees have been moved to secret locations in both countries' capitals but continue to work, Foreign Ministry spokesman Erik Laursen said.

The announcement comes after Danish intelligence officials warned of an "aggravated" terror threat against Denmark since newspapers in the country in February of a cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

The warning specifically singled out North Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The threat "is so concrete that we had to take this decision," Laursen told The Associated Press. "The decision is based on intelligence," he said, declining to elaborate.

The staff in Algiers was relocated "some days ago" and employees in Kabul were moved Wednesday, he said. Laursen stressed that the embassies have not been closed and can still be reached by telephone and e-mail.

"Right now, we are in places that we consider safe," he said.

The cartoon showing Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban. It was one of 12 Danish prophet drawings that caused riots in the Muslim world in 2006 and it was reprinted on Feb. 13.

Newspapers said they reprinted the cartoon in support of free speech after police revealed a plot to kill the creator of the caricature. Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favorable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.
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Berlin neglecting forces in Afghanistan
April 23, 2008 at 8:08 AM
Print story Email to a friend Font size:BERLIN, April 23 (UPI) -- An official with the German military union accused the government of neglecting troops in Afghanistan by not bolstering German peacekeeping forces.

Bernhard Gertz, the head of the German military union Bundeswehr, called for the deployment of at least 500 troops to add to the 3,200-member peacekeeping force in northern Afghanistan but German Defense Minister Franz Jung opposes the measure, Deutsche Welle reported Wednesday.

The mandate for German troops in Afghanistan limits the role to peacekeeping, reconstruction and training operations but Gertz said the number of troops stationed there already is not enough to get the job done.

"We're tired of always having to complain about how far away we are from fulfilling our missions and then having to read government reports about how great everything is going," he said in the Deutsche Welle article.

But Rainer Arnold with the Social Democratic bloc said there is "no chance" parliament would consider deploying additional troops before lawmakers leave for summer recess.

Gertz said German troops wouldn't deploy to southern Afghanistan where the security situation is still fragile.

"The thought that the fight against terror in southern Afghanistan can be won militarily is as realistic as trying to ride a dead horse," he said.
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AFGHANISTAN: Extend transitional justice scheme till 2009 - rights watchdog
23 Apr 2008 12:12:39 GMT
 KABUL, 23 April 2008 (IRIN) - Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has called on the government and the international community to extend until December 2009 the period in which human rights violations and war crimes committed in the 21 years prior to 2001 can be addressed.

The Peace, Reconciliation and Justice Action Plan in Afghanistan [http://www.aihrc.org.af/actionplan_af.htm] – known as the "transitional justice action plan" – was launched in December 2005 to address within three years cases of human rights violations and war crimes committed by various warring parties from the Soviet occupation of 1979 to the fall of the Taliban in late 2001.

"The action plan has not been implemented effectively and according to its own goals; therefore we want it to be extended at least until December 2009," Farid Hamidi, a commissioner in the AIHRC, told IRIN in Kabul.

Some international human rights organisations, such as Human Rights Watch [http://hrw.org/english/docs/2006/12/11/afghan14826.htm], have also criticised President Karzai and his international supporters for doing little to bring war criminals to justice and instead following a policy of "reliance" on powerful warlords allegedly involved in past crimes.

Survey

About 75 percent of the 6,000 Afghans interviewed by the AIHRC on how to deal with past crimes said war criminals must be brought to justice, and over 60 percent of them rejected an amnesty for criminals.

Sixty-nine percent said they and/or immediate family members were direct victims of human rights violations in the past two decades, according to A Call for Justice report [http://www.aihrc.org.af/Rep_29_Eng/rep29_1_05call4justice.pdf], released in 2005.

However, since 2001 alleged war criminals have remained immune from any legal and judicial scrutiny, the AIHRC said.

"The voices of the Afghan people have not been heard as was made evident in A Call for Justice," said Norah Niland, head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) human rights unit.

According to Niland, the Peace, Reconciliation and Justice Action Plan is a comprehensive strategy covering a full range of processes and mechanisms associated with Afghanistan's attempts to address past abuses, ensure accountability, serve justice and achieve reconciliation – and should not be limited to criminal procedures and trials.

"It is also about acknowledgement, documentation, reconciliation and forgiveness," Niland added.

She said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour demanded in November 2007 that the Afghan government and the international community "recommit to and revitalise" [http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?ReportID=75425] the "transitional justice action plan".

No peace without justice

The Peace, Reconciliation and Justice Action Plan was designed to heal the wounds of past crimes, hold criminals accountable and encourage nationwide reconciliation so that viable peace and stability could be cemented in Afghanistan, Shukria Barakzai, a member of parliament, told IRIN.

However, the action plan lacked political commitment and its targets have largely been unmet, and Afghanistan has thus remained trapped in a cycle of conflict-related violence and widespread insecurity, the AIHRC said.

"Afghanistan does not have a way to achieve peace other than through an effective implementation of this action plan," the AIHRC's Hamidi said.

Hamidi's assertion was echoed by Norah Niland of UNAMA: "Justice is intrinsic to a durable peace."
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Afghanistan: Theatre exposes rights abuse
AKI - Adnkronos International
Kabul, 23 April (AKI) - A theatre production highlighting human rights abuses spanning nearly three decades of conflict has opened in Afghanistan.

The production, named after an anonymous Afghan prisoner known as AH-5787 is designed to provides an opportunity for victims to have their voices heard.

The show, sponsored by the United Nations, illustrates how many Afghans continue to carry the pain of the country’s strife-filled past and how victims struggle to find a way to deal with incidents of violence.

“The people of Afghanistan are crying out for justice,” said Norah Niland, head of the human rights unit at the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

“Justice deals not only with prosecutions, but also with the need for a deep understanding of what happened in the past.”

In a monologue with the audience, the main character, Sardar, explores many of the questions that victims have to face, including those related to justice, revenge and peace.

“There is a great history of story-telling and oral history in Afghanistan and through this play we hope to tap into that tradition,” said Niland.

Thousands of Afghan men, women and children were subjected to human rights abuses over several decades, including the right to life and safety, freedom of movement, and access to education and health.

Many of those responsible for these crimes have yet to be brought to justice, Niland said.

In 2005, the Afghan government adopted an action plan to try to address the abuses of the past, achieve peace with justice and promote national reconciliation, but it has suffered from a lack of implementation.

The show, performed in Dari and Pashto, is produced with support from the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and the German Development Service.

It will begin touring Afghan provinces soon.
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Afghan foreign minister open talks in Islamabad
Islamabad, April 23, IRNA
Afghan Foreign Minister Dr. Rangin Dadfar Spanta Wednesday opened talks with Pakistan leaders on bilateral and regional matters, focusing on security, officials said.

It is the first visit to Pakistan by the Afghan foreign minister since the formation of the new government last month.

The Afghan foreign minister is scheduled to meet President Pervez Musharraf, Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani and speaker of National Assembly Dr Fahmida Mirza, a spokesman for the Afghan embassy Nematullah Mujaddadi told IRNA.

Dr Spanta will also hold bilateral talks with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on wide-ranging issues, focusing on cooperation to fight militants, official sources said.

Spanta will discuss 'issues relating to the upcoming Paris conference, regional cooperation conference in Islamabad,
counter-narcotics and holding of the Joint Peace Jirga'.

"In addition, the minister of foreign affairs of Afghanistan is going to express his firm support for the new government of Pakistan in their efforts for establishing stability in Pakistan," an Afghan Foreign Ministry statement has said.

The Afghan embassy spokesman said that the foreign minister met the Awami National Party (ANP) chief Asfandyar Wali Khan last night and discussed policy of dialogue with militants in the northwest.

The ANP, ruling the North West Frontier province, has started dialogue with militants and has freed a radical leader Sufi Muhammad after 7 years in detention.

The Afghan embassy sources said that Dr Spanta will deliver messages of support from Afghan President Hamid Karzai to the new Pakistani leadership.
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India drawn deeper into Afghanistan
By Sudha Ramachandran Apr 24, 2008  Asia Times Online, Hong Kong
BANGALORE - India's presence and influence in Afghanistan has come under fire again. While an Indian road construction project was attacked by suspected Taliban militants a little over a week ago, Indian television serials are being taken off the air in Afghanistan under pressure from religious conservatives.

In the years since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, India's presence in Afghanistan has grown dramatically. India does not have a military presence in Afghanistan, but it does play a significant role in the country's reconstruction and has won support across Afghanistan's ethnic groups.

India's proximity to the Hamid Karzai government and growing India-Afghanistan cooperation has raised hackles among the Taliban and in Pakistan.

On Monday, an Indian working for a Dubai-based firm was kidnapped in Herat province, while on April 12 a convoy of India's Border Roads Organization (BRO), which is engaged in a road construction project, was attacked by the Taliban. The suicide attack left two BRO personnel dead and seven others, including two Afghans employed on the project, injured.

BRO is building a 218-kilometer road linking Delaram to Zaranj, which lies on Afghanistan's border with Iran.

The attack on the BRO came close on the heels of Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak's week-long visit to India, during which he requested the Indian government to provide Afghan soldiers with counter-insurgency training. He also asked India for support in maintaining Afghanistan's Soviet-era helicopter gunships. Wardak visited the Indian Air Force's training command at Bangalore and the army's 15 Corps headquarters in Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir, which would have undoubtedly ruffled feathers in Islamabad, where the Pakistan government disputes India's rights to that territory.

Even if the attack on the BRO convoy in Afghanistan's Nimroz province was not an angry reaction from the Taliban to Wardak's visit to India, it was at the least a reaction to India's growing influence in Afghanistan.

The Zaranj-Delaram road project has been in their cross-hairs for a while. The project has come under attack at least a dozen times and the recent one is the third in which Indian personnel on the project have been killed.

In November 2005, Ramankutty Maniyappan, a 36-year old driver working with the BRO, was taken hostage then beheaded. In January this year, a suicide attack on a BRO convoy resulted in the death of two personnel of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, which are providing security to BRO personnel in Afghanistan. About 56 Afghan security personnel are said to have lost their lives guarding Indian engineers and crew on this road project.

There have been Indian casualties in other projects in Afghanistan. In 2003, an Indian engineer working for an Afghan telecom company was shot dead. The same year, two Indians employed by an Indian company and contracted by an American firm on a highway construction project were abducted and subsequently released. In 2006, an Indian national working for a Bahraini company was abducted and then beheaded.

Of all India's projects in Afghanistan, the Zaranj-Delaram road triggers the most unease in Pakistan. This is because the route will reduce Afghanistan's dependence on Pakistan and increase India's land access to Afghanistan.

Goods to landlocked Afghanistan, including supplies for North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces and international non-governmental organizations stationed there, currently come through Pakistani ports and then wind their way overland through the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan.

The Zaranj-Delaram road will link Afghanistan's Garland Highway to the Iran border through the Milak Bridge and onwards by rail and road to Iran's Chahbahar port, giving Afghanistan a shorter option to that than through Pakistan to the sea.

For India, the Zaranj-Delaram road will provide it overland access though Iran not just to Afghanistan but across Afghanistan.

It is this expanding Indian access that the Taliban and its Pakistani backers are seeking to end with their intimidation and violence.

What adds to the annoyance of the Taliban and Pakistan is that India's involvement in Afghanistan - unlike that of other countries there - is winning it support among people.

India is Afghanistan's fifth-largest bilateral donor and is involved in an array of projects in the country. It is constructing roads and setting up power transmission lines, sinking tube wells and building schools, hospitals and public toilets. It is constructing the Afghan parliament building and is engaged in repair and construction of the Salma dam project in Herat province. It has gifted Afghanistan with buses and is providing food assistance. It has trained civil servants and police and is extending scholarships to Afghan students to study in India.

Like other donors, India has fallen short on handing out funds it pledged, disbursing only a third of the US$750 million pledged for the 2002-09 period.

However, its involvement in Afghanistan's reconstruction has been quite different from that of other countries, providing the kind of help Afghans want and not merely extending assistance it thinks Afghanistan needs or foisting on the country projects New Delhi thinks are good for Afghanistan.

While India's role in Afghanistan's reconstruction has won it appreciation among the locals, religious conservatives do not seem to be impressed with its impact. They have called for a ban on Indian television soaps, which are hugely popular among Afghans. Six Indian serials are currently being televised, but the Afghan government - under pressure from hardline clerics - has ordered television stations to take them off air on the grounds that they are "un-Islamic".

Neither the general deterioration in the security situation in Afghanistan nor specific attacks on Indian project personnel there is likely to persuade India to reduce its presence or to dilute its commitment to projects. On the contrary, it could result in India stepping up its role in Afghanistan beyond the current reconstruction and development work.

Following his meeting with Wardak, India's Defense Minister A K Antony ruled out military involvement in Afghanistan. But India can be expected to take up the counter-insurgency training of Afghan soldiers. This will bring it another step closer to military engagement of the Taliban.

Thanks to Pakistan's objections to an Indian military role in Afghanistan, India was forced to stay out of the Afghan military quagmire. But that could change.

There are sections in India that are keen to sends troops to Afghanistan to take on the Taliban, this at a time when even the erstwhile Northern Alliance is reaching out to the Taliban.

A bigger military role will only put India in a tighter embrace with the failed US-led military misadventure in Afghanistan. It will make Indian personnel in Afghanistan more vulnerable to violence. And more importantly, it would erode the many gains made over the past few years with regard to earning public goodwill there.

Sudha Ramachandran is an independent journalist/researcher based in Bangalore.

(Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)
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Taliban reap a peace dividend
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Apr 24, 2008 Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau
KARACHI - As the temperature rises in the southern mountain vastness of Afghanistan and the melting snow floods the rivers, a blizzard of militancy awaits North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops. At the same time, Pakistan is firmly in the spotlight as Western dignitaries flood to the country to back the new government's resolve for peace talks with local militants to lay down their arms to pave the way for the isolation of al-Qaeda.

Most recently, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana were in Pakistan to support the government's initiative. Senior government and military officials from the United States are expected soon.

In what has been hailed as a significant move, the sub-nationalist Pashtun Awami National Party government of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) released controversial senior pro-Taliban mullah Sufi Muhammad, after he agreed not to engage in violence. This followed a visit to NWFP by Miliband, during which he met top leaders.

The governments in Islamabad and Britain have greeted the deal with Sufi as a "landmark success", but the military distanced itself from the move, concerned it has more to do with political gamesmanship than realities on the ground, in which uncompromising new players have taken over from people such as Sufi, a moderate by comparison.

And in one way the government's peace program plays right into the hands of the Taliban: the more the security forces halt their operations in the tribal areas, the better the Taliban can launch their spring offensive in Afghanistan, which is only weeks away.

Already, the Taliban have had one of their most "peaceful" runups to a spring offensive since being ousted in 2001, given Pakistan's political turmoil following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto last December and elections in February, and various ceasefires in the tribal areas with the Pakistan military.

Contacts in the tribal areas tell Asia Times Online that by early May the Taliban will have sent all their thousands of men, arms and supplies into Afghanistan. The mood, according to the contacts, is upbeat, and commanders expect May and June to be especially "hot" for foreign troops.

The Taliban also made it clear on Monday that they will keep the noose tight on NATO's supply lines through Pakistan to Afghanistan. They seized two workers of the World Food Organization in Khyber Agency. The workers were rescued by Pakistani security forces after an exchange of fire - and this on the same day that Sufi Muhammad was released.

Overtaken by time
Sufi Muhammad is a founder of the Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Muhammadi (TNSM), a movement started for the enforcement of Islamic law in the Swat Valley and Malakand regions in NWFP.

On his release after six years in jail on Monday, he was taken to the chief minister's residence to sign a peace deal with the government. He was quoted as saying that he condemned violence and believed in peaceful co-existence.

Sufi rose to prominence in the mid-1990s during Benazir Bhutto's second administration (1993-1996), when his armed followers blocked key roads to back their demands for the implementation of Islamic law in their area. Bhutto subsequently repeatedly claimed that the armed rebellion was set up by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to destabilize her government. In the late 1990s, Nawaz Sharif's government granted Sufi's demand and framed Islamic laws for the Swat Valley.

After September 11, 2001, Sufi gathered approximately 10,000 untrained armed men to fight against the US invasion of Afghanistan, despite Taliban leader Mullah Omar's opposition. Most of them were either killed or arrested by the Americans or kidnapped by local warlords for ransom. Sufi managed to escape unhurt from Afghanistan, only to be arrested at the border and jailed in Pakistan.

In his absence, the TNSM regrouped under Maulana Muhammad Alam and was allowed to operate with the tacit consent of the ISI. But Sufi's son-in-law Mullah Fazlullah, who had become radicalized after meeting al-Qaeda deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, wanted to take the group in a different direction.

He established his own radio station to deliver firebrand anti-establishment speeches, and his popularity sky-rocketed in the Swat Valley. He brushed off warnings from Sufi and the ISI to cool down and listen to the dictates of the local authorities.

In was clear Fazlullah was taking instructions from al-Qaeda, and Sufi and Alam distanced themselves from him before expelling him from the TNSM.

Fazlullah now runs his own "TNSM", overwhelmingly comprising youth from the Swat Valley, Dir and Malakand. He also has close ties with Pakistani Taliban hardliner Baitullah Mehsud in the South Waziristan tribal area.

When the Pakistani military mounted an operation in the Swat Valley last year against Fazlullah, the locals surrendered at the first push and Fazlullah was forced to retreat. But he was then joined by Uzbek fighters and a guerrilla war continues. The deep radical influence of al-Qaeda's ideology has changed the dynamics of the insurgency in the region.

The upshot of this is that making deals with Sufi is of little significance - Fazlullah was quick to announce to the media that he had nothing to do with the peace agreement. That is, the insurgency in the Swat Valley will continue, and in the bigger picture, the Taliban will prime their guns without hindrance.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

(Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing .)
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Central Asia: Trans-Afghan Pipeline Discussions Open In Islamabad
By Bruce Pannier RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, Czech Republic
Officials from Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan have opened a meeting in Islamabad to discuss the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline.

First proposed some 15 years ago, the project has never been carried out, whether due to instability in Afghanistan or strained ties between Pakistan and India. But the parties involved feel that now may be the time to finally carry out the project, which would benefit all four countries.

TAPI certainly would help the consumer countries, Pakistan and India, while Turkmenistan could make billions of dollars in gas exports. But arguably it would benefit Afghanistan most by providing steady transit fees to fill depleted state coffers in Kabul.

However, the security situation in Afghanistan, long a major obstacle to TAPI, remains as much a problem today as it’s ever been.

"If we consider the present security situation of Afghanistan, I think it is too much to consider that this project can be done," Afghan analyst Waliullah Rahmani told RFE/RL's Turkmen Service. "It will cross from Kandahar and Herat. The southern cities and provinces of Afghanistan are completely unstable."

Nonetheless, oil ministers, officials, and experts from the four countries have begun to discuss a range of issues regarding the proposed project during two days of talks in Islamabad.

Cost Estimates Vary

According to plans, the 1,680-kilometer TAPI pipeline would start in the Turkmen city of Dauletabad, pass through the Afghan cities of Herat and Kandahar, before entering Pakistan at Quetta and proceeding to the Indian border town of Fazilka. Six compressor stations are to be built along the route. Plans for the pipeline call for it to export some 33 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas from the field annually.

Estimates of the cost for building the TAPI pipeline are some $6 billion. Some estimates of construction time have the pipeline completed no earlier than 2018. The Asian Development Bank is backing the project.

Rahmani noted that foreign forces operating in southern Afghanistan are still engaged in heavy fighting and predicted that if work started, the pipeline itself, as well as workers, would be certain targets for militants. But Rahmani said TAPI is certainly in the interests of the Afghan government and people, and he urged President Hamid Karzai to make stability in the regions along the proposed route a priority.

"This project is a big achievement for the economy of Afghanistan," Rahmani says. "President Karzai's administration should consider this project to be a big achievement and should work to stabilize the southern region of Afghanistan."

Turkmenistan has been pushing the project for years and even met with Taliban officials in the late 1990s to try to secure guarantees for the pipeline, which at that time did not foresee Indian participation. Turkmenistan's southern Dauletabad field is one of the few Turkmen fields that has been thoroughly checked -- by the U.S. company Unocal in 1997. The U.S. company estimated the field has 708 bcm of natural gas reserves.

Turkmenistan not only stands to gain financially but could also secure its place as the natural gas hub of Eurasia if it can fulfill all the commitments it already has to Russia, the European Union, China, and Iran.

Pakistan As Possible Hub

For Pakistan, TAPI could provide both an energy resource and revenue in the form of transit fees to India. Pakistani officials, including President Pervez Musharraf, have been promoting their country as a possible hub for gas and oil from southwest Asia and the Arabian Sea to China if road, rail links, and pipelines were built.

India's inclusion in the project makes it more viable. The New Delhi-based Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) reported on April 14 that India "currently meets only 55 to 60 percent of its demand for natural gas." India had been an "observer" in previous talks about the pipeline project, but when Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari visited Turkmenistan at the start of April for talks on the project, he declared that India had full member status.
 
Supporters of TAPI in Islamabad will be looking over their shoulders at other talks in the Pakistani capital this week. Indian Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Murli Deora is leading India's delegation not only in the TAPI talks but also in meetings with Pakistani officials on the IPI -- or Iran-Pakistan-India -- pipeline.

The IPI pipeline would be some 2,600 kilometers, with an estimated cost of $7 billion. Iran estimates it can complete its section of the pipeline to the Pakistani border by 2013, though other estimates say Pakistan could start receiving gas from the IPI pipeline as soon as 2011. But potential investors may be frightened away from the IPI because of U.S. sanctions against doing business with Iran. The Asian Development has yet to publicly support the project, either.

Guvanch Geraev of RFE/RL's Turkmen Service contributed to this report
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India to join Turkmenistan gas pipeline project
23 Apr 2008, 1300 hrs IST,PTI Times of India
ISLAMABAD: Ministers representing four countries began talks here on Wednesday on a proposed multi-billion dollar pipeline that will transport gas from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Petroleum Minister Murli Deora is representing India at the meeting, which marks the first formal contact between India and Pakistan since a new coalition government assumed office in Islamabad last month.

India will formally join the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) project during the two-day meeting of its steering committee. It was previously associated with the project as an observer.

Official sources said Turkmenistan was pushing other countries to decide soon on the pipeline, as any delay would only lead to an escalation in the cost of the project. The current estimated cost of the project is USD 5.5 billion.

According to preliminary discussions, Turkmenistan will supply five million cubic metres of gas a day to Afghanistan and 30 million cubic metres a day to India and Pakistan, the sources said.

The Asian Development Bank is providing technical and financial support to the TAPI project. During the ongoing talks, the four countries are expected to sign a "gas pipeline framework agreement".

Deora will also participate in talks on the multi- billion India-Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline project on Friday.

The US, which is opposed to the IPI pipeline, has been encouraging India and Pakistan to import gas from Turkmenistan's Daulatabad gas field.

The proposed TAPI pipeline will run from the Daulatabad to Afghanistan. It will then run alongside the highway from Herat to Kandahar and proceed to Quetta and Multan in Pakistan. The pipeline will terminate in the Indian town of Fazilka.
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Kandahar governor set to leave until Bernier spoke, says Afghan official
Tuesday, April 22, 2008 CBC News Canada
The controversial governor of Kandahar was on his way out until a political gaffe by Canada's foreign affairs minister hindered those plans, an Afghan politician says.

Afghan parliamentarian Khalid Pashtun said Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier's comments left the Afghan president with no choice but to leave Gov. Asadullah Khalid in his post.

Last week Bernier publicly said Afghan President Hamid Karzai should remove Khalid from office based on allegations of corruption. Khalid was among Afghan officials alleged to have participated in torture of detainees. Khalid has denied the reports.

Bernier later clarified his comments, saying Canada isn't calling for any changes to the Afghan government. The Liberals have called for Bernier's dismissal, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he has no plans to remove his minister.

Pashtun says Bernier's call left Karzai with no choice but to leave Khalid in the posting or appear as if he's following Canada's bidding.

Bernier made the comments during a visit to Kandahar, where Canada has roughly 2,500 soldiers serving as part of the NATO-led mission.

Comments a 'misunderstanding'
Khalid, who toured a Canadian-funded facility in Kandahar City Tuesday with International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda, called Bernier's comments a misunderstanding.

"This issue is solved already … it was a misunderstanding," said Khalid. "For me, the relations between the Afghans and Canadians [are] more important than small issues."

Oda said Bernier's comments had no negative impact on her meetings with Afghan officials.

"Not at all, and again, it was a matter of them continually saying how much they appreciate Canada's work here and how they want to increase the partnership," said Oda.

"They are delighted with the way Canada works with the government and we've had very good discussions."

Literacy centre trains thousands
Oda said she has "absolutely no concerns" about corruption in Afghanistan.

"Canada can account for the money that it is using for development here in Afghanistan," she said.

She said it's crucial to establish benchmarks for development efforts in Afghanistan.

"I think we owe it to Canadians, the Afghan people, Kandaharis to say what we are going to do, want to accomplish and the time frames so they can see what they are going to get from Canada's work here," she said.

Oda was in Kandahar to open a new literacy centre aimed at reducing the province's high adult illiteracy rate. Ottawa pledged $1.4 million to the program last February.

She spent Sunday and Monday in Kabul meeting with aid agencies and government officials, including the Afghan minister of finance.

The literacy program funding, given to UNICEF through CIDA, will train close to 200 teachers, and provide dozens of literacy classes, along with textbooks, stationery and food aid for students and teachers.

The literacy rate in Kandahar province is 16 per cent, with lower rates in rural areas of the province. About 26 per cent of males can read, compared to five per cent of females.

So far, the program has given literacy training to 4,770 females and 450 males.
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Awkward, but honest words
The Ottawa Citizen Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Canada has every right to speak out about corruption and incompetence in Afghanistan. There's a good way to do it and a bad way, though. Maxime Bernier chose the bad way.

During a trip to Afghanistan, Canada's foreign affairs minister suggested, to reporters, that Asadullah Khalid was not the best person to be governor of Kandahar.

Almost as soon as Mr. Bernier had spoken, the Canadian government began a furious effort to retract his comments and placate Mr. Khalid.

There have been rumblings about the governor of Kandahar for some time. In 2006, the Senlis Council put it this way: "Locals believe governor Khalid prioritizes the U.S. and U.K.-led counter-narcotics efforts over local farmers' desperate economic situation. These eradication policies rapidly reduce the support for Khalid, the central government and the foreign military presence in Kandahar." He has also been accused of personal involvement in the torture of detainees. Mr. Khalid has denied the accusations against him.

Mr. Bernier's gaffe was an understandable one. In principle, he was doing many things right: He was being open with reporters, and frank and specific about the challenges in Afghanistan. He was also showing his respect for Afghanistan by treating it as a country that can rid itself of bad politicians. Too many westerners speak of corruption and mismanagement in developing countries as though these were elemental forces. They're not; they're the bad choices of individuals. Just as Canadian politicians should be held to account when they go wrong, so should Afghan politicians.

As Mr. Bernier and others in the government have been at pains to point out, Afghanistan is a sovereign country. That doesn't mean Canada should abstain from trying to influence its direction. Our soldiers are dying there; our soldiers are killing there. The time for non-interference passed long ago. The sooner Afghanistan develops its own democratic institutions and culture, the sooner it will be free from foreign interference. It is in both countries' interest to make sure that every governor is a good one.

But in diplomacy, the ends count far more than the means. As justified as Mr. Bernier's comments might have been, they had a number of undesirable effects.

Assume, for the sake of argument, that Mr. Khalid really is a bad influence in Kandahar. Because of Mr. Bernier's precipitous and offhand remark, Canadian bureaucrats and ministers are now having to indulge him. Bev Oda, the development minister, was pointedly nice to him on her recent trip.

There's even a chance that Mr. Bernier's remark could lengthen Mr. Khalid's time in office. There are reports that Mr. Khalid was on his way out anyway - but now, the government of Afghanistan can't get rid of him because that would give the impression that Afghanistan does Canada's bidding.

If it's true that Mr. Khalid was about to leave his job, it seems Mr. Bernier was out of the information loop. Communication between governments is important precisely to avoid this kind of diplomatic misstep.

It is never easy to be firm and honest without being rude. Mr. Bernier should continue to speak plainly - but he should first make sure the time and place are appropriate.
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Mystery buyer of Afghan poppy resin thrives on drug trade
Michael Evans in Northern Helmand The Times (UK) April 23, 2008
Everyone in this part of Helmand is waiting for the arrival of “The Businessman” – a mysterious individual who turns up at about this time each year to buy poppy resin from the acres of crops in the green belt along the Helmand river.

No one knows what nationality he is – Afghan, Pakistani or Iranian – but during the winter he turns up with cash to pay the farmers to keep them in food and supplies, on the understanding that he gets the lion’s share of the poppy resin the following April or May. Even the locals refer to him as The Businessman, never putting a name to the one who guarantees them an income, although the farmers receive a meagre wage for a product that generates millions of dollars further up the drugs chain as heroin in the rest of the world.

The Taleban demand one kilo of the poppy resin for every ten produced, telling the farmers it is a tax that they have to pay. But The Businessman scoops up the rest, and neither the farmers nor the Taleban interfere. As one British Army officer said: “This is real Mafia territory; it’s like The Sopranos but without the humour.” For the British troops at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Inkerman, a Rorke’s Drift of a place between Sangin to the south and Kajaki to the north, there is nothing they can do to stop the trade. That is the job of the Afghan police’s counter-narcotics teams. But in this swelteringly hot, dusty location – desert on one side, poppy-growing fields on the other – there is no sign of anyone trying to prevent the poppy harvest, let alone seeking to uncover the identity of the man who stands to profit the most.

From the ramparts of FOB Inkerman, crafted by Royal Engineers out of a deserted compound, the soldiers of B Company 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment keep a wary eye on all the activity. Among the farmers and their families scraping off the resin as it oozes from slits made with razor blades in the poppy heads, there are probably lower-tier Taleban helping out, ensuring they get their money’s worth when the harvesting finishes in less than three weeks. They spend the cash on more arms and ammunition to fight the British.

It already looks like a bumper harvest. Wherever you look in Helmand, where the bulk of Afghanistan’s poppies are grown, there are fields and fields of poppies. Last year, as part of the Government’s eradication programme, about 3,000 acres (1,215 hectares) of poppy crops in Helmand were destroyed – out of nearly 100,000 acres in the province.

British officials acknowledge that it will take at least 20 years to rid Afghanistan of its opium economy. In the meantime, with the Government and international community pecking around the edges of the poppy business, the farmers carry on with their normal lives, catering for their families but also for the Taleban, the drug barons and their intermediaries.

Poppy farmers here say that it takes 20 days to harvest the crop and they are already three days into the time-table. The resin is put into saddlebags and containers, and when the scraping is completed the first of the “jingly trucks” will arrive to pick up the opium and take it on to Garmab, up the road north towards Kajaki.

Once the poppy harvest is over, the troops at FOB Inkerman are sure that the Taleban will go back to attacking them from across the fields, hiding in the deep irrigation ditches and wheat crops that grow to chin height. The Taleban are concentrated here mainly in an area known as Jusaly, consisting of about 15 villages to the west of FOB Inkerman. The soldiers can see Jusaly from the ramparts.

No one is expecting any full-scale assaults – the base is too well defended, as the Taleban know. But they have a range of weapons that pose a threat through indirect fire, including the RPG7 rocket-propelled grenade, a recoiless rifle called SPG9, 107mm Chinese rockets and the fearsome Russian DshK, a 12.7mm antiaircraft gun.
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Meeting with a minaret
Dan Cruickshank relives his epic journey to a threatened wonder in Afghanistan
Wednesday April 23, 2008 The Guardian
Late last year, after a decade of failed attempts to make the journey, I drove 14 hours across Afghanistan to look upon one of the architectural wonders of the world. The road east from Herat had long given way to dumpy tracks and rocky riverbeds when suddenly - through a cleft in the looming cliffs - I caught my first glimpse of the minaret of Jam, a fragile sliver of tapering, man-made beauty dating from the 12th century and set among momentous mountains.

Rising 65 metres, the minaret is far from inconspicuous, yet such is its remoteness that rumours of its existence only reached the west in 1944. The tallest complete and authentic ancient minaret in the world, it is believed to have been built by the once great Ghorid empire, who in the late 12th century ruled over what are now Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, as far south as Delhi. Before a French archaeologist finally located it in 1957, the minaret had endured more than 700 years of obscurity and neglect after the Ghorids were defeated by Genghis Khan.
Now this moving, beautiful building is once again under threat. In 2002, Unesco declared Jam a World Heritage site, the first in Afghanistan, but soon after also listed it as a site in danger. Rich in archaeological remains, the spot has been ruthlessly looted for the past 20 years, while the minaret itself is slowly crumbling and tilting, its foundations undermined by the waters of a nearby river. Repairs started in the 1970s, but were effectively halted by the conflict that subsequently engulfed the country. It was only in 2001 that work to stabilise the minaret and shore up its foundations finally resumed.

But these repairs have now halted again, and visits from the outside world have all but stopped. The journey to Jam is deemed too dangerous for most, with threats ranging from local banditry to abduction or execution by insurgents who range through Ghor province, in which the minaret stands, on their way south to do battle with the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Helmand.

Yet, with caution and careful preparation, a trip to Jam is possible. My own journey was with a team from the BBC; we hoped to be the first crew ever to make a TV programme about the minaret, and in so doing remind the world of its wonder and vulnerability. Our journey was complex, arduous and at times baffling. When we finally arrived in Herat from Kabul, we had to gain permission to travel from various Afghan authorities, as well as clear our plans with the Isaf.

Meetings with the deputy governor of Herat and his chief of police went well, but we then needed permission from the chief of police for the western provinces. This was crucial. After questioning, this powerful policeman decided we were a good thing, and took us under his personal patronage, giving us an escort of 60 police for part of the journey. Flattering, perhaps, but our convoy was clearly going to be more high-profile than we had wanted - and in Afghanistan, the police are targets for insurgents.

Then we met the Italian army, the Isaf body responsible for security in Herat and Ghor. They were impressed by our plan and, perhaps, our audacity - they had never sent a patrol to Jam. In fact, none of the Afghans we met in Herat had made the journey, either.

But we managed it - and it was worth every difficulty. The minaret is made of hard yellow brick. As I stood before it, I saw that it is in this material that the building's most striking message is written. Its shaft is a dazzling display of virtuoso brickwork, with geometric forms incorporating Islamic eight-pointed stars and Kufic lettering. There is a panel bearing the date of construction: 1193/4. But, more importantly, the lower portion bears the entire 19th sura of the Koran. This chapter, called Maryam, tells of the Virgin Mary and Jesus, both venerated in Islam, and of prophets such as Abraham and Isaac. It's a text that emphasises what Judaism, Christianity and Islam have in common, rather than their differences. It seems the Ghorids placed the text here to appeal for harmony and tolerance in the land, a message that is more relevant now than ever.

Inside, I found a stupendous, engineered construction, with two spiral staircases winding around each other to form a double helix. This strong construction, combined with the fine brickwork, has preserved the structure from earthquakes and neglect. But for how long? As we filmed, the police became increasingly unsettled, fearing "enemies" might be gathering against us. So, sooner than I would have wished, we left the minaret, solitary and exposed in its remote valley. For more than 800 years it has survived against the odds - but all who care about it must now tremble for its future.

· The minaret of Jam features on Dan Cruickshank's Adventures in Architecture, tonight on BBC2.
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South Korea to Send Police to Afghanistan
By Kim Yon-se South Korea  Times Staff Reporter
South Korea, which withdrew its troops from Afghanistan late last year, is now considering dispatching dozens of policemen to the war-torn country in May.

Presidential spokesman Lee Dong-kwan confirmed Wednesday that at least 10 policemen will be dispatched to the central Asian country, where Allied Forces are waging war with the Taliban.

The spokesman denied allegations of a troop dispatch to the country, saying ``No Korean soldier will follow the policemen.''

Cheong Wa Dae officials said the policy came after Rep. Chung Mong-joon ? as a special envoy to the U.S. of President Lee ? was requested by U.S. officials to send Korean policemen.

``If the mission is realized, the Korean delegates to Afghanistan are supposed to train Afghan policemen,'' a presidential aide said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates reportedly asked Rep. Chung for the Korean government to re-deploy troops to Afghanistan to train police and military personnel when he visited the United States in February.

This followed earlier reports that Kathleen Stephens, the U.S. ambassador-designate to Seoul, said she hopes to discuss Korea's redeployment of troops to the country.

Korea pulled out its engineering and medical units last December, five years after they were first deployed. The withdrawal was in accord with a promise made upon the release of South Korean volunteer workers who had been held hostage by Taliban insurgents.

Critics allege the scheduled policemen dispatch was Lee's other ``gift'' to U.S. President George W. Bush, in addition to his alleged concessions in a beef imports deal.

``The anxiety about the safety of Korean residents in Afghanistan could grow again if the dispatch is pushed,'' a civic group official said.
kys@koreatimes.co.kr
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Govt-Taliban talks on envoy's release hit snags
By Mushtaq Yusufzai The News International (Pakistan) Wednesday, April 23, 2008 
PESHAWAR: Talks between the government and militants for the release of kidnapped envoy to Afghanistan Tariq Azizuddin have run into snags over some demands of the latter. Sources privy to the negotiations told The News that Jirga members had been trying their level best to convince the kidnappers of the envoy to take back some demands.

They said the government was almost ready to accept most of the militants' demands, but it was difficult for it to accept some of them such as the release of Afghan Taliban being held in Pakistan and those allegedly involved in the assassination of PPP Chairperson Benazir Bhutto. Sources said both sides were quite close to accepting each other's demands but a deadlock developed when the militants refused to withdraw two important demands, including the release of some Afghan Taliban and those held in connection with Benazir's murder.

Sources said the government declined to accept what it termed unjust demands by the militants. "Senior government functionaries believe the release of Afghan Taliban in return for the ambassador may stir trouble," said a senior militant commander, wishing not to be named as he was not authorised to talk to the media about the outcome of crucial talks for the release of Tariq Azizuddin.

He said the government declined to release some of their colleagues detained on charges of involvement in Benazir Bhutto's murder as the step could weaken its position."We spent a lot of time and resources on arresting these people and kept playing up their status. The arrest also calmed down tension provoked after Benazir Bhutto's high-profile murder," the commander quoted a government representative as telling the Jirga. He said despite efforts by the Jirga members, the militants refused to budge. "Taliban deputy leader Mullah Ubaidullah Akhund is still on top of our list of demands, followed by Maulana Abdul Aziz and those held in connection with Benazir's murder," explained the commander.
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Hundreds attack flour trucks over wheat cost
www.quqnoos.com Written by Taqilullah Taqi Tuesday, 22 April 2008
Police break up anti-government rioters protesting rise in flour prices
HUNDREDS of locals in Jalalabad have attacked trucks carrying flour and burned rickshaws in protest at the rapidly rising cost of flour in the country.

The protesters, from the Angor Bagh area of the city, chanted anti-Pakistani and anti-government slogans during today’s (Tuesday) demonstrations in anger at the recent ban on flour exports out of Pakistan.

Many accuse merchants of storing flour and selling it on at heavily inflated prices.

Riot police were sent in to break up the protest one hour after it began.

At the moment, the price of a 48kg bag of flour is Afg3500. The average salary of a government employee is Afg2500.
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In Afghanistan, insurgents attacking cellphone network
Taliban fighters are blowing up telecom towers, hoping to foil NATO-led forces who from hunt them down via cellphone signals. Afghans are fuming.
World News By Laura King Los Angeles Times Staff Writer April 22, 2008
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -Afghans tend to be stoic in the face of poverty, hardship and seemingly endless warfare. But mess with their cellphones, and the response is one of undiluted outrage.

For the last two months, Taliban fighters have been blowing up telecommunications towers, with the aim of preventing NATO-led forces from hunting them down via cellphone signals. It could hardly have been a worse public-relations move for the insurgency.

Fuming Afghans call the tactic nonsensical.

"I'm so, so furious about this," sputtered businessman Rahim Agha. "Why do they have to do this to us? Why can't they just turn off their phones?"

To Afghans, the country's rapidly expanding cellphone network is a symbol of pride and hoped-for prosperity. Cellphones are a lifeline to Afghanistan's vast rural hinterlands, an engine of commerce, and a vital link with millions of Afghan refugees around the world.

There is intense competition among the country's cellphone providers -- four private companies and a state-run one. Spurred by the scramble for revenue, they provide service in 70% of Afghanistan's territory, from trackless deserts to jagged mountains.

The customer base has essentially doubled every year for three years. About 5.4 million people, about one in six Afghans, have a cellphone, an extraordinary rate of market penetration in a country so poor.
"Just look around in any bazaar," said Amirzai Sangin, the minister of communications. "Everyone in sight has a cellphone."

That includes Taliban fighters -- and therein lies the problem.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces recently have had unusual success in tracking and targeting midlevel Taliban field commanders, killing scores of them in pinpoint airstrikes. Military officials, without giving details, say they have a variety of means of conducting such manhunts, but the fighters blame cellphone signals for giving away their location.

The reach and availability of cellphones apparently have been seductive even to some fugitive commanders, who use numbers only for a short time before discarding them.

In addition to attacking about a dozen towers, the insurgents have threatened the telecom companies, forcing them to cut off service at night in southern Afghanistan. More than a quarter of a million people have been affected by disrupted service across the south, where fighting between insurgents and coalition troops is the most intense.

A few weeks ago, insurgents killed two police officers escorting engineers who had been sent to repair a disabled tower.

Medical professionals are particularly alarmed by the curtailed service. In remote villages, when someone falls ill or a childbirth takes a perilous turn, families are unable to call for help or get advice on how to provide emergency treatment, said Merza Khan, who runs a health clinic in the southern province of Helmand.

"People are dying from the lack of communication," he said.

Because travel in the south is so dangerous, and land line phone service is rare outside cities, cellphone conversations often replace face-to-face encounters.

"I can't always travel to where my constituents are," said Anwar Khan, a member of parliament from Helmand province. "But they would use their cellphones to talk to me, to tell me what was happening. Now they can't."

The Taliban, though, may be reconsidering its highly unpopular campaign. Commanders have been quoted as saying they are aware of the angry public backlash and may allow the resumption of normal service.

Sangin, the communications minister, said he had heard reports that fighters themselves were grumbling about the restrictions, suggesting that the entire contretemps might have been caused by a lack of discipline in the militants' ranks when it comes to cellphone usage.

"This is not an attack on the coalition or the government, but on the people," Sangin said. "Cellphones are a huge part of everyday life, and no one is willing to go back in time."
laura.king@latimes.com
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Karzai backs 'unlawful' election delay
www.quqnoos.com Written by Mostafa Mahmoud Tuesday, 22 April 2008
Government says it supports commission's decision to change election date
THE GOVERNMENT has backed the Independent Election Commission’s controversial decision to delay next year’s presidential elections.

At a press conference today (Tuesday), President Karzai’s spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, said the independent commission made the decision in consultation with Karzai, the government, Jihadi leaders, the judiciary and both houses of Parliament.

Last week, some Members of Parliament accused the commission of breaking the constitution, which says that the president must leave his post on May 21 of his fifth year in office.

Khost MP Saeed Mohammad Gullab Zoi said last week: “If we change the law, we must ask a Loya Jirga first. What the commission has done is against the constitution. No one can change the constitution.”
Hamidzada said that the country’s governing bodies made the decision to move the election to next Autumn because of the “impossibility” of setting up the elections during the country’s winter months.

Presidential elections must be held within 30 to 60 days prior to the president stepping down, Article 61 of the constitution says.

Hamidzada said: “In our law it says that we should make sure as many people as possible vote at the elections so we can’t launch the election on the day it is printed in the constitution.”

Last week, the deputy head of the Independent Election Commission, Zekria Barikzi, said: “If we launched elections in the spring, it would mean that we have to make some preparations at the end of winter, which is extremely difficult in Afghanistan, and almost impossible in some parts of the country.”
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Jalalabad road closure sparks motorist fury
www.quqnoos.com Written by Anwar Hashimi Tuesday, 22 April 2008
Drivers complain about lack of traffic police on 'second class' road
THE CLOSURE of the Mahiper Highway between Kabul and Jalalabad is causing chaos on the other road that runs between the two cities, motorists say.

Those forced to take the “second class” Lata Band road say that it now takes an extra two hours to reach Sarobi and that the road lacks traffic police, allowing some mosotirsts to get away with reckless driving.

The technical deputy of the Ministry of Public Affairs, Ahmad Wali Rasooli, said that the road will be closed for a total of two and a half months so workers can build new bridges and repair the old ones.
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