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April 24, 2008 

Pakistan, Afghanistan agree to a 'new beginning' in relations
Thu Apr 24, ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed to a "new beginning" to bilateral relations based on complete mutual trust and understanding, an joint statement said.

PM allows Afghanistan to import wheat from India through Pakistan
By Muhammad Bilal, Daily Times (Pakistan) April 24, 2008
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani has allowed Afghanistan to import wheat from India over and through Pakistan, Food and Agriculture Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said on Wednesday.

TAPI gas pipeline project to begin in 2010
ISLAMABAD, April 24 (Xinhua) -- Oil ministers from Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (TAPI) signed a draft framework on Thursday, agreeing to start construction work of the TAPI gas pipeline project in 2010.

Report: Afghan troops kill 16 insurgents
KABUL, Afghanistan, April 23 (UPI) -- Troops in Afghanistan reportedly killed 16 suspected Taliban militants in the past two days in the southern and eastern parts of the country.

Pakistan protests to NATO, Afghan forces over soldier death
April 24, 2008 - ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Pakistan's foreign ministry said Thursday it had lodged a strong protest with NATO and Afghan forces after a chaotic border battle spilled into Pakistani territory, leaving a soldier dead.

Top Pakistan militant calls truce
Thursday, 24 April 2008 BBC News
A top Taleban commander in Pakistan has ordered his followers to stop all attacks in the country. Baitullah Mehsud is the man the Pakistani authorities say ordered the killing of Benazir Bhutto.

U.S. concerned over Pakistani peace talks with Taliban militants in volatile Waziristan
SAEED SHAH - From Thursday's Globe and Mail April 24, 2008
ISLAMABAD — The new Pakistani government is negotiating a peace deal with militants in the Taliban-controlled Waziristan region in a move that has raised serious concerns in Washington and could affect the war in Afghanistan.

Pakistan: Peace Deal Between Islamabad, Pro-Taliban Militants Rankles U.S.
By Ron Synovitz, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty April 24, 2008
Pakistan's new government is close to signing a peace accord with pro-Taliban militants as part of a softer counterterrorism policy from Islamabad that deemphasizes military strikes and calls for U.S. forces to show more restraint in the area.

Afghan violence could worsen in 2008 -U.S. general
By Jonathon Burch - KABUL, April 24 (Reuters) - Afghanistan could see higher levels of violence this year with many Taliban attacks in the east of the country originating from across the border in Pakistan, a top U.S. military commander said on Thursday.

US Considering Changes to Afghanistan Coalition Command Structure
VOA - Voice of America, By Al Pessin  Pentagon 23 April 2008
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says Pentagon officials are discussing possible changes to the NATO and coalition command structure in Afghanistan. But he says the United States is not ready to make a formal proposal to its allies.

Soap ban has fans in a lather
Hugely popular Indian TV serials not in keeping with `Afghan religion and culture,' minister rules - April 24, 2008, ABDUL WAHEED CARLOTTA GALL, NY TIMES
KABUL–After four years of watching television programs test the boundaries of decorum and build devoted audiences in the process, conservatives are striking back.

Taliban militants deny kidnapping two foreigners
Thu Apr 24, KABUL (AFP) - Afghanistan's insurgent Taliban movement said Wednesday it was not responsible for the kidnapping two days ago of an Indian and Nepalese national, as police continued to search for the men.

Afghanistan: All children must have access to education, says UN envoy
AKI - Adnkronos International - New York, 24 April (AKI) - The United Nations' envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide has reaffirmed the commitment of the world body to helping ensure that every child in the fledgling democracy is able to receive an education.

Forces paid for friendly-fire deaths, files show
Afghan families got up to $9,000 each for losing a family member – but without any admission of liability from Canada - OMAR EL AKKAD - From Thursday's Globe and Mail April 23, 2008
OTTAWA — On a single day in the summer of 2006, the Canadian Forces were involved in at least half a dozen instances of "friendly fire" that left two Afghans dead and four injured. The Forces ended up paying about $35,000

Be honest: We're at war in Afghanistan, panel told
STEVEN CHASE - From Thursday's Globe and Mail April 24, 2008
OTTAWA — The Canadian government should be more frank about its military engagement in Afghanistan and call it a "war" instead of describing it in innocuous terms such as restoring "security" or offering "humanitarian assistance,"

Afghan police officers graduate from training school near Kandahar
The Canadian Press / April 24, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — It's graduation day in Afghanistan for hundreds of newly retrained members of the country's national police force. They're known as the Afghan Uniformed Police - officers with eight weeks of intensive training at the hands of U.S. mentors.

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Pakistan, Afghanistan agree to a 'new beginning' in relations
Thu Apr 24, ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed to a "new beginning" to bilateral relations based on complete mutual trust and understanding, an joint statement said.

The announcement came as Afghan foreign minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta concluded his two-day visit to Pakistan on Wednesday, his first since Pakistan elected a new government.

Spanta held talks with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi and met President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.

"Both sides reaffirmed their resolve towards intensifying cooperation and coordination between the two nations in the fight against international terrorism and narcotics," said the statement issued after the visit.

It said "in order to achieve further success in this area, emphasis was put upon strengthening the established mechanisms between the two countries."

Ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan have been beset with a history of mistrust over their efforts to combat Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants under the aegis of the US-led "war on terror".

"The two foreign ministers expressed their satisfaction with the results of the last round of joint peace jirga (assembly) held in Kabul in August, and decided that the process should be given fresh momentum," the statement added.

Qureshi told his Afghan counterpart that "Pakistan would be soon nominating its members for a smaller Peace Jirga (Jirga-gai)", which will hold its first meeting in Islamabad.

The two sides also discussed ways to further accelerate development in the region and in Afghanistan.

"Both ministers agreed on the importance of convening the third regional economic cooperation conference on Afghanistan (RECCA) in Islamabad," the statement added.
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PM allows Afghanistan to import wheat from India through Pakistan
By Muhammad Bilal, Daily Times (Pakistan) April 24, 2008
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani has allowed Afghanistan to import wheat from India over and through Pakistan, Food and Agriculture Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said on Wednesday.

He told the National Assembly that the prime minister had permitted the imports after Kabul requested permission from Islamabad in this regard. Nisar said the government had decided to establish a strict monitoring system to monitor the smuggling of wheat into Afghanistan. He said Pakistan was ready to meet Afghanistan’s wheat demand but Kabul had to stop wheat smuggling.

He said an inter-provincial meeting scheduled for Thursday (today) would discuss the issue of smuggling of wheat to Afghanistan and chalk out a strategy to stop it.

Nisar said that Pakistan had been self-sufficient regarding wheat production in 2000 but subsequently had to import wheat because of low production, adding that efforts were underway to increase the production of wheat in order to re-achieve self-sufficiency.
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TAPI gas pipeline project to begin in 2010
ISLAMABAD, April 24 (Xinhua) -- Oil ministers from Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (TAPI) signed a draft framework on Thursday, agreeing to start construction work of the TAPI gas pipeline project in 2010.

The project cost has risen to 7.6 billion U.S. dollars from originally estimated 3.3 billion dollars in 2004, the official Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) said.

After two-day talks in the Pakistan's capital, the ministers from the four nations told a joint press conference that the construction work on the delayed TAPI pipeline project will be inaugurated in 2010.

The talks on Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan gas pipeline project have been underway since 2002. In 2006 India was invited as an observer to the project, funded by the Asian Development Bank.
This is the first time that India is participating in talks on the pipeline as a full-fledged member.

The price increase was due to sharp increase in price of steel, increase in construction cost and increase in the cost of compressor stations, said Khwaja Asif, Pakistani Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources.

Despite the significant increase in project cost estimates, the project is still considered as economically and financially viable, the APP quoted Asif as saying.

The 7.6-billion-U.S. dollar pipeline project starts from Turkmenistan's Dauletabad field through Herat and Kandahar in Afghanistan to Multan in Pakistan, and finally extends up to Pakistan-India border.

Indian Petroleum Minister Murli Deora, whose visit marks the first formal contact between India and Pakistan since the new Pakistani coalition government took office last month, will also hold talks with Pakistan on the 7-billion U.S. dollar Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) project on Friday.

The IPI talks will be the first time between the two sides since last June. New Delhi has not been attending talks on the IPI project since mid-2007 over the differences on the transit fee and transportation tariff to be charged by Pakistan for Iranian gas sent to India.

Analysts say Deora's talks with his Pakistani counterpart Khwaja Asif will be aimed at narrowing down these differences.
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Report: Afghan troops kill 16 insurgents
KABUL, Afghanistan, April 23 (UPI) -- Troops in Afghanistan reportedly killed 16 suspected Taliban militants in the past two days in the southern and eastern parts of the country.

In the first fighting in the Arghistan and Marof districts of southern Kandahar province early Tuesday, the troops killed nine insurgents, Abdul Razaq, commander of the provincial border police, was quoted as telling Xinhua news agency.

The other encounter occurred Monday in Zarmat district of eastern Paktia province, in which seven insurgents were killed, Mastak Khan Zazi, a spokesman for the Afghanistan National Army, told Xinhua.

The report said there was no immediate comment from Taliban insurgents.

More than 400 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Taliban-related violence and conflicts so far this year in Afghanistan, the report said.
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Pakistan protests to NATO, Afghan forces over soldier death
April 24, 2008 - ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Pakistan's foreign ministry said Thursday it had lodged a strong protest with NATO and Afghan forces after a chaotic border battle spilled into Pakistani territory, leaving a soldier dead.

The incident happened when NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Afghan troops clashed with Taliban militants on the porous frontier between the two countries on Wednesday.

Afghan and ISAF troops then pounded the Pakistani side with shells and also made an incursion into the Bajaur tribal region, during which one soldier was killed and another injured, the ministry said.

"We have lodged a strong protest with the Afghan and ISAF side and told them in clear terms that such incidents must not be repeated," foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq told reporters at a weekly briefing.

"We also protested the death of one of our security personnel as a result of firing from the other side."

Sadiq said it was explained by the other side that Afghan and ISAF troops were operating against the Taliban who were active in the area and attacked on an Afghan post.

"We emphasised that military action on Pakistan side is the exclusive responsibility of Pakistani forces." Sadiq said the protest was lodged today at a "higher level." Up to 10 militants were reported killed in the gunfight, the Pakistani military said.

Pakistan is highly sensitive about alleged intrusions by foreign forces on its territory and said earlier this year that unauthorised military action on Pakistani soil would be treated as an invasion.

The New York Times reported last week that US commanders in Afghanistan have sought permission to attack Pakistani militants in the tribal areas, but so far have been denied it because of diplomatic considerations.

The United States has also launched several missile strikes targeting Islamic militants this year. In January, an air strike attributed to the United States killed senior Al-Qaeda commander Abu Laith al-Libi.
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Top Pakistan militant calls truce
Thursday, 24 April 2008 BBC News
A top Taleban commander in Pakistan has ordered his followers to stop all attacks in the country. Baitullah Mehsud is the man the Pakistani authorities say ordered the killing of Benazir Bhutto.

Pamphlets containing his order appeared in tribal areas along the Afghan border. Mehsud said anyone found violating the order would be punished. Pakistan's new government has said it will deal with Islamic militancy through dialogue and development.

On Monday night the authorities set free Maulana Sufi Mohammad, the founder of an outlawed Islamist group that has fought in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

He was released under an agreement to renounce violence and help restore peace in the north-west valley of Swat. The release has been welcomed by Pakistani Taleban.

Baitullah Mehsud's stronghold is in South Waziristan, an area that has seen many of the heaviest clashes between militants and the security forces in recent years.

"All members of Tehrik-e-Taleban (Movement of Taleban) are ordered by Baitullah Mehsud that a ban is imposed on provocative activities for the sake of peace," according to a leaflet distributed in the South Waziristan region.

Anyone who defied the order would be punished publicly, the leaflet read. "No arguments will be accepted. It's a firm order," it said.

A spokesman for Baitullah Mehsud, Maulvi Omar, told Pakistan's Dawn News channel that the Taleban had lately been in touch with the new government in connection with a possible new peace deal.

He said Maulana Sufi Mohammad's release was part of that deal. The BBC's Barbara Plett in Islamabad says reports now suggest that the authorities are close to a deal with Baitullah Mehsud's tribe.

The reports say the deal calls for an end to militancy, an exchange of prisoners, and an army withdrawal from the area. It also requires the Mehsud tribes to expel foreign fighters from their territory.

American officials cautiously support the new government's efforts to reach peace through talks. But they admit they are concerned and say there is a problem enforcing such agreements.

Our correspondent says that previous such deals have turned the tribal areas into a sanctuary for Taleban and al-Qaeda linked militants from where they have launched attacks on Nato troops in Afghanistan. They also began hitting Pakistani targets when the army tried to stop them.

Taleban spokesman Maulvi Omar said Pakistani troops stationed in some areas of South Waziristan on Afghan border had already started withdrawing to pave the way for the peace deal.

Pakistan army spokesman, Maj-Gen Athar Abbas, however said "so far we have not received any orders from the government (to pull out the troops)".

Baitullah Mehsud is said to command about 20,000 pro-Taleban militants and a majority of them belong to the Mehsud tribe.

The previous government, that supported President Musharraf, said it had evidence from phone intercepts that Mehsud had organised the killing of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi in December. He denies the charge.
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U.S. concerned over Pakistani peace talks with Taliban militants in volatile Waziristan
SAEED SHAH - From Thursday's Globe and Mail April 24, 2008
ISLAMABAD — The new Pakistani government is negotiating a peace deal with militants in the Taliban-controlled Waziristan region in a move that has raised serious concerns in Washington and could affect the war in Afghanistan.

It emerged on Tuesday that talks are under way with leaders of the dominant Mehsud tribe in restive South Waziristan over an agreement that would pull the Pakistani army out of the area and free some fighters currently in custody.

The White House immediately showed alarm, though the State Department later put out a softer line.

"We are concerned about it, and what we encourage them to do is to continue to fight against the terrorists and to not disrupt any security or military operations that are ongoing in order to help prevent a safe haven for terrorists there [in South Waziristan]," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

"We have been concerned about these types of approaches because we don't think that they work," she said.

South Waziristan is the most volatile part of Pakistani's autonomous tribal belt, known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, which runs along the country's border with Afghanistan. Washington believes that the FATA, and South Waziristan in particular, are a base for Taliban and al-Qaeda.

The U.S. administration was highly critical of a previous peace accord forged in South Waziristan three years ago, seeing it as giving an opportunity for the militants to regroup. That accord, and a similar one in North Waziristan in 2006, were followed by an increase in attacks against NATO forces in Afghanistan.

"It is the government who have carried out the negotiations with the tribals," Pakistani Major-General Athar Abbas said. "The terms are completely up to the tribal elders and the government."
Pakistan's army has up to 30,000 troops in South Waziristan. Major hostilities broke out in late January between the army and militants there, but an uneasy unofficial ceasefire has been observed since February.

The Pakistani government has made no announcement about the peace deal. But according to Pakistani officials - who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject - the agreement this time will be with tribal leaders and not the militants, as it was in 2005.

Baitullah Mehsud, the Islamist warlord based in South Waziristan who leads Pakistan's version of the Taliban and is believed to be close to al-Qaeda, indicated that his Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan movement was included. He had signed the 2005 agreement, known as the Sararogha accord, but then almost immediately broke its terms.

"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," said Maulvi Omar, the spokesman of Tehreek-i-Taliban.

Mr. Mehsud's men were distributing leaflets to followers that ordered a halt to attacks on security forces and government installations, Pakistani media reported. Ominously for the Canadians and other troops fighting in Afghanistan, Maulvi Omar said they could not guarantee an end to cross-border infiltration until all foreign troops pulled out.

Mehmood Shah, formerly the top bureaucrat administering FATA, said the new peace deal was flawed as it appeared to be with the leaders of the Mehsud tribe, who were scared of Mr. Mehsud and could not enforce its terms, he said.

"The tribes themselves are not in any position themselves to take action against Baitullah Mehsud or groups," Mr. Shah said. "It is meaningless. The tribespeople have to be enabled first so they can control these groups."

Mr. Mehsud can call upon thousands of heavily armed followers. His movement has deliberately targeted traditional elders, with many murdered and others have fled, leaving second- or third-ranking leaders in South Waziristan who do not command as much authority.

According to a report in Dawn, a Pakistani newspaper, a 15-point draft agreement has been reached with Mehsud elders. Under the terms, the tribe would have to ensure that Pakistani security forces are not attacked in South Waziristan, no terrorist activity takes place and all foreign combatants are expelled from the territory.

Afrasiab Khattak, a politician with the ruling coalition who was involved in forging the deal, said that tribal pressure would pull people into the peace process.

"The militants who refuse [will] distance themselves from the tribe," Mr. Khattak said. "Their traditions are mainly peaceful."
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Pakistan: Peace Deal Between Islamabad, Pro-Taliban Militants Rankles U.S.
By Ron Synovitz, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty April 24, 2008
Pakistan's new government is close to signing a peace accord with pro-Taliban militants as part of a softer counterterrorism policy from Islamabad that deemphasizes military strikes and calls for U.S. forces to show more restraint in the area.

Britain has expressed reservations about the strategy, and Washington has said it wants Pakistani forces to continue fighting insurgents in the tribal regions near the border with Afghanistan.

Reports from Pakistan said a top leader of pro-Taliban militants has directed his fighters to "immediately cease their activities" in connection with the deal.

The reports come as the new Pakistani government of Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani moves toward signing the peace accord, with militants in the volatile tribal regions near the Afghan border where some believe that Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is hiding.

Under the proposed deal, pro-Taliban militants would order their fighters to stop using violence and stop sheltering or giving support to foreign Al-Qaeda fighters. In return, Pakistani government troops would be gradually withdrawn from the region.

The orders to the militants were reportedly issued in pamphlets on April 23 by Baitullah Mehsud, the head of the country's umbrella militant group Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The pamphlets say militants who violate Mehsud's directives "will be publicly punished."

"If [Mehsud] has said it, we welcome it," Rehman Malik, a senior Pakistani Interior Ministry official, said of Mehsud's reported call for a cease-fire. "We should welcome any good step."

The new government in Islamabad, which came to power as a result of elections in February, has drafted a six-point peace plan that is expected to be signed soon with the pro-Taliban militants in the restive tribal region of South Waziristan.

Mehsud -- who has been linked to Al-Qaeda and is accused of organizing the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December -- is entrenched in South Waziristan near the border with Afghanistan along with thousands of his loyal fighters.

Malik said the peace deal would not bring an end to an investigation into allegations that Mehsud was involved in Bhutto's assassination.

"According to the newspaper reports I have seen, [Mehsud] has categorically denied it. But an investigation will take its own course," Malik said. "I assure the nation that whoever has [killed Bhutto] is not going to escape the clutches of the law."

In what was seen by security analysts as a good-faith gesture by the government, authorities in the Northwest Frontier Province on April 21 released a high-ranking pro-Taliban mullah, Sufi Mohammad.
A draft of the six-point peace agreement makes no mention of cross-border attacks into Afghanistan by militants.

But Latiff Afridi, an influential Pashtun political leader in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that he is confident the militants would also stop incursions into Afghanistan under the accord.

"The group of Sufi Mohammad has gone through different experiences in recent years," Afridi said. "This group sent thousands of fighters into Afghanistan in 2002, but these circumstances have now changed fully. [Sufi Mohammad's people] have assured that those who choose ways other than peaceful ones for their movement -- those who commit violence -- will be violating Shari'a law. And this is wrong."

On a trip to Pakistan this week to meet the new government, British Foreign Secretary David Milliband gave Islamabad's new policy a cautious welcome.

But Milliband suggested deals that create safe havens for terrorists -- like a failed accord made last year in Waziristan by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf -- will not work. Milliband said reconciliation deals require a "far greater degree" of precision and detail.

"We should negotiate with those who are willing to negotiate, and we should reconcile with those who are willing to reconcile," Milliband said. "Even in the Irish situation, large numbers of people did reconcile. But some refused to reconcile. And we did not negotiate with those who refused to reconcile. Those who are willing to renounce violence, I think it's important to reconcile with them."

Meanwhile, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has suggested that Islamabad is leaving the option open for military force if militants fail to comply with their obligations under the proposed deal. "The government would want to give dialogue and reconciliation its utmost full chance," Qureshi said. "But, on the other hand, if we feel that the spirit behind this initiative is not being met, well, other options are there."

In Washington, there were concerns that an accord between Islamabad and pro-Taliban or Al-Qaeda linked militants would merely allow terrorists to regroup and bolster their strength.
Officials at the Pentagon said there is a growing threat of attacks against the United States and Western Europe from Al-Qaeda militants who are thought to be sheltering in Pakistan's tribal regions -- a threat so serious that it requires the use of military force.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Washington was encouraging Pakistani government forces "to continue to fight against the terrorists and to not disrupt any security or military operations" aimed at denying militants a safe haven in the tribal regions.

But Rahul Bedi, a New Delhi-based correspondent for "Jane's Defence Weekly," tells RFE/RL that U.S. military activity in the tribal regions has become more politically complicated in recent months because Washington's key ally in Pakistan -- President Musharraf -- has been politically sidelined.

Bedi said continued military operations in the tribal regions that "divide Pakistan and Afghanistan" -- especially those involving support from U.S. forces -- could undermine the new government in Islamabad.
"The writ of the Pakistan government doesn't run there. And a lot of the militants have bases in these tribal areas -- particularly in places like South Waziristan and North Waziristan. That is what is causing the problems for the NATO forces as well as the American forces in Afghanistan, because the militants retreat to these bases in this no-man's land, regroup, and rearm themselves, and come in [to Afghanistan again]," Bedi says.

"This technically is Pakistani territory; with the American forces reportedly planning cross-border attacks with unmanned [aircraft] or artillery or even special forces, infringements into this area are going to cause a lot of problems -- not only for the Pakistani government but also for the tribals," he adds. "The tribals are very opposed to the Americans and any form of incursion is going to be met with a lot of resistance."
RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this report
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Afghan violence could worsen in 2008 -U.S. general
By Jonathon Burch - KABUL, April 24 (Reuters) - Afghanistan could see higher levels of violence this year with many Taliban attacks in the east of the country originating from across the border in Pakistan, a top U.S. military commander said on Thursday.

Afghanistan saw the worst bloodshed last year since U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in 2001, with around 6,000 people killed, about a third of them civilians, and some 140 Taliban suicide bombs across the country.

"This year won't be different," said Major General Jeffrey Schloesser, the new commander of international forces in eastern Afghanistan.

"I would predict that we will see some level of increasing incidences of violence just as there has been every year and they may well reach a higher level than they did in 2007," he told a news conference in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

Most of the international troops in eastern Afghanistan are American and U.S. military commanders say they have brought down the level of Taliban violence in the rugged mountainous region that borders Pakistan.

Analysts say that if Taliban attacks have gone down in eastern Afghanistan in recent months it may be due to the Pakistani army's increased activity in fighting the Islamist militants who are active on both sides of the porous border.

But the new Pakistani government is now seeking peace agreements with militant groups on its side of the border and that may free up Taliban fighters to cross into Afghanistan and intensify their fight to topple the pro-Western Afghan government and eject foreign troops.

"When I look at the map ... my area of interest, the area that I'm concerned about is on the other side of the border as well as on the Regional Command East," Schloesser said. "A large number of the enemy cross that border to attack the Afghan people."

Asked if most attacks in eastern Afghanistan originated in Pakistan, Schloesser said: "Potentially, yeah. I think, yes. There is a good amount of enemy that come across the border."

The Taliban would likely increase attacks on softer civilian targets, he said. "I think that this is an enemy tactic that we're going to see more of. I think that they are afraid to attack ... coalition forces and so they are going for what is an easier target."

Taliban suicide attacks killed at least 200 civilians last year, undermining public faith in the ability of the government and international troops to bring security to a country that has seen more or less continual civil war for the last 30 years.

"It's clearly they are trying to stop, curtail and destroy an improving Afghan quality of life," Schloesser said. "I'm outraged about it and I think the international community ought to be outraged about it."
The deployment of 700 French troops to eastern Afghanistan would help to stabilise the situation there, he said.

"They are going to allow us to do some things in some areas where we have not had as high a concentration of coalition forces," Schloesser said. (Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Alex Richardson)
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US Considering Changes to Afghanistan Coalition Command Structure
VOA - Voice of America, By Al Pessin  Pentagon 23 April 2008
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says Pentagon officials are discussing possible changes to the NATO and coalition command structure in Afghanistan. But he says the United States is not ready to make a formal proposal to its allies. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

When Secretary Gates announced Wednesday that the current U.S. and coalition commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, is being nominated as the new head of U.S. Central Command, the secretary said he recommended the move because Petraeus is the U.S. military's top expert on "asymmetric warfare."

That term refers to the type of conflict common to Iraq and Afghanistan, where conventional armies are fighting insurgents. Petraeus is widely credited with making enormous strides against insurgents in Iraq during the year he has led coalition forces there.

Central Command normally supervises U.S. military involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan. But a year and a half ago most of the international forces in Afghanistan, including most of the U.S. troops, were put under NATO control, leaving the Central Command chief outside their chain of command. That is something Secretary Gates says U.S. officials might want to change.

"There's been a lot of discussion in this building about whether we have the best possible command arrangements in Afghanistan," said Secretary Gates. "I've made no decisions. I've made no recommendations to the president. We're still discussing it."

Afghanistan currently has a dual command structure, with some of the 35,000 U.S. troops, and some forces from other nations, still under the original U.S.-led coalition that invaded Afghanistan in 2001.

Some officers complain that the dual command is not as effective or coordinated as it should be. But Secretary Gates says it may be difficult to change.

"The command structure, I think, is a sensitive matter in terms of the eyes of our allies," he said. "And so if there were to be any discussion of changes in the command structure, it would require some pretty intensive consultations with our allies and discussion about what makes sense going forward."

Secretary Gates says there have been no such consultations so far. But unless the structure is changed, General Petraeus' ability to impact the military effort in Afghanistan will likely be limited, as was the ability of his predecessor Admiral William Fallon. Still, Secretary Gates says he expects General Petraeus to have some focus on Afghanistan.

"Afghanistan was high on Admiral Fallon's list," added Robert Gates. "It's an important theater of action right now. And I assume it'll be very high on General Petraeus' list as well."

The questions about the Afghanistan command structure persist in spite of the fact that both the top NATO commander in the country and his superior at NATO military headquarters near Brussels are Americans. But those officers are limited by NATO policy decisions, made by consensus, and by restrictions most member states put on the use of their forces.
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Soap ban has fans in a lather 
Hugely popular Indian TV serials not in keeping with `Afghan religion and culture,' minister rules - April 24, 2008, ABDUL WAHEED CARLOTTA GALL, NY TIMES
KABUL–After four years of watching television programs test the boundaries of decorum and build devoted audiences in the process, conservatives are striking back.

In the latest battle of the long-simmering war between cultural conservatives and liberals, the minister for information and culture ordered television networks to stop broadcasting five soap operas on Tuesday, saying they were not in keeping with "Afghan religion and culture."

The minister, Abdul Karim Khurram, said last week he made the decision in consultation with the Council of Clerics, made up of the country's most influential religious leaders.

The private television companies initially refused to obey the order and said they would plead their case to Afghanistan's president. The shows, all soap operas produced in India, continued to be broadcast every evening and have much of the urban population hooked.

As the deadline approached, however, one network, Ariana TV, buckled and pulled the soap opera Kumkum on Sunday. The network was immediately deluged with calls from viewers, said Abdul Qadir Mirzal, Ariana's chief news editor.

Control of television and its content has been a hotly debated issue here for decades. The strictly conservative Taliban government banned it outright, and the government before that, run by mujahideen leaders, banned female singers and presenters.

But under President Hamid Karzai, who is backed by the West, television has flourished, with 17 private television companies starting in the past six years, 11 of them based in the capital Kabul. Numerous cable TV companies also provide a wide selection of foreign films and other shows.

The Afghan networks present a mix of news, popular-music programs and imported serials and soap operas, and are hugely popular, drawing crowds in tea houses and ice cream parlours. Call-in shows, including an Afghan version of American Idol, also have large followings, as do news programs.

Many viewers are so absorbed by the soap operas that they rush home in the evening to find out what happens next. Will Prina on Life's Test convince her husband she is not having an affair with the tycoon Mr. Bajaj?

Can Tulsi, heroine of Because the Mother-in-Law Was Once the Daughter-in-Law, ward off the schemes of her husband's ex-mistress? Both shows are among the five banned by the culture minister.
The TV companies have also made themselves felt on the political front, not only by broadcasting probing news reports but also by taking sides in ethnic and language debates, which reflect political divisions in Afghanistan.

As Afghanistan prepares for a presidential election next year, some station owners and journalists contend the ban on TV programs is part of a political tussle for control of the airwaves. Party leaders have opened their own TV stations, which are already challenging the Karzai government.

Karzai has signalled that he sides with the conservatives in the controversy over the serials. Although he said that he would ensure the freedom of the media while he was in power, he has said several times that programs that go against Afghan culture should not be allowed.

Despite his liberal leanings, Karzai has been swayed before by conservatives on cultural issues. After complaints in parliament two years ago, Karzai appointed the more conservative Khurram as minister of culture, replacing Sayed Makhdoom Raheen, who oversaw the expansion of free media after the fall of the Taliban.

Khurram ordered the ban of the five shows after strong protests in parliament over a recent televised awards ceremony on a private station, Tolo TV, that showed Afghan men and women dancing together, which is virtually taboo here.

Khurram has defended his action, saying he did less than the Council of Clerics, or Ulema, had asked.

"The Ulema wanted to ban all TV serials," Khurram said. "But I tried hard to ban only those serials that caused the most upset."

Describing one of the soap operas broadcast by Tolo TV, he said: "There are scenes that are difficult for an Afghan family to watch, such as that of a woman with more than one husband."

Ehsanullah Arianzai, director of Ariana TV, the network that acceded to the order to drop Kumkum, said some politicians calling for the ban were motivated less by beliefs than by business concerns. He said they had started rival stations and were having difficulty competing with the established ones.

The TV companies defend the shows largely on the basis of their popularity. They said they had already edited out culturally offensive scenes, like those in which actors exposed too much flesh.
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Taliban militants deny kidnapping two foreigners
Thu Apr 24, KABUL (AFP) - Afghanistan's insurgent Taliban movement said Wednesday it was not responsible for the kidnapping two days ago of an Indian and Nepalese national, as police continued to search for the men.

Police had suggested Tuesday that the militant group may have been involved in the abduction of the two men in the western province of Herat late Monday.

But Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi said his organisation was not involved.

"We cannot take responsibility for the kidnapping of the two foreigners," he told AFP. "We have asked all our allies but they reject this."

Taliban insurgents have been blamed for scores of such abductions over the past years, but criminal gangs also snatch people to extort ransoms.

Security officials said the Afghan driver of the two men had said they were abducted by armed militants while travelling to the remote Adraskan district, which borders Iran.

The driver, who is being questioned, said he had been freed but the other men were taken off, the officials said.

Police had gone to the district to search for the missing men, said the police spokesman for western Afghanistan, Abdul Rauf Ahmadi.

The Indian man, said to be providing logistics for Afghan security forces, had worked in Afghanistan for five years, an Afghan government official said.
 
Two Indian engineers were killed in the southwestern province of Nimroz on April 12 in a double suicide attack claimed by the Taliban.
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Afghanistan: All children must have access to education, says UN envoy
AKI - Adnkronos International - New York, 24 April (AKI) - The United Nations' envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide has reaffirmed the commitment of the world body to helping ensure that every child in the fledgling democracy is able to receive an education.

“Education is a fundamental right for every human being. It fosters dignity, freedom and is vital if we are to enable Afghanistan to mobilise all the resources of its people,” said Eide, the UN secretary-general’s special representative and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

During a visit to Amani High School in the Afghan capital, Kabul, Eide said that Afghanistan can be proud of the tremendous progress that its schools have made under the leadership of the ministry of education.

“Before 2001 there were fewer than a million children in school and girls were all but excluded from mainstream education,” he noted.

“Today over six million children attend schools and over 330,000 girls started school for the first time this year, unprecedented in Afghanistan’s history.”

The special representative’s visit comes during Global Action Week for Education, during which countries all over the world reaffirm their commitment to achieving the “Education for All” goals set by over 160 countries at the 2000 World Education Conference in Dakar, Senegal.

The international campaign, supported by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), is focusing this year on “quality education to end exclusion.”

Worldwide some 72 million children are excluded from schooling, owing to reasons such as disability, gender, conflict and poverty. In addition, over 700 million adults around the globe remain illiterate.

Earlier this week UNESCO reported that, despite progress in school enrolment in Afghanistan, half of the country’s school-age children are not in school, among them nomadic children, children with disabilities and street children.

However, the majority of those who are not receiving an education are girls – an estimated 1.2 million of them.

“We want to see inclusive education for all of Afghanistan’s children. They are the future of this country,” Eide stated.

UN agencies have been working with the ministry of education to address some of the challenges to education in the country.

Some 3,000 community-based schools were built last year by the ministry, with the support of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), for over 140,000 children living in remote areas who have limited access to formal schools.
 
Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) has been encouraging poor families to send their children to school through its food-for-school programme which benefited over 2.5 million children last year.
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Forces paid for friendly-fire deaths, files show
Afghan families got up to $9,000 each for losing a family member – but without any admission of liability from Canada - OMAR EL AKKAD - From Thursday's Globe and Mail April 23, 2008
OTTAWA — On a single day in the summer of 2006, the Canadian Forces were involved in at least half a dozen instances of "friendly fire" that left two Afghans dead and four injured. The Forces ended up paying about $35,000 in compensation, even though it admitted no liability for the deaths.

Documents obtained by The Globe and Mail through access-to-information legislation show more than 30 instances since January of 2006 where the Canadian Forces compensated Afghan citizens for everything from lost cellphones to the accidental killing of relatives by Canadian soldiers. The military labelled the vast majority of the payments "ex gratia," meaning they were made voluntarily and with no admission of liability.

Although the forms don't say so directly, several of the friendly fire compensation claims appear to stem from an incident on Aug. 26, 2006, in a key district west of Kandahar city. On two occasions that day, Canadian soldiers opened fire on vehicles they thought belonged to the enemy, when in fact they were carrying Afghan security forces. The Canadians claimed the vehicles, travelling at high speed, were unmarked and non-uniformed Afghans responded to warning shots with gunfire of their own.

The claim registries that note how much money was handed out contain very little detail about what actually happened that day. One of the forms outlining the $8,959.99 paid for one of the friendly-fire deaths simply states: "Settlement of ex gratia claim arising from incident of friendly fire that occurred on 26 Aug. 2006 in the Zheray district where [Redacted]."

The Forces paid the same amount for each of the two Afghans who were killed. Those injured received either $1,800 or $4,500 each, but the extent of those injuries is not described.

The documents shed light on the kinds of challenges facing Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan. On more than one occasion, the military paid thousands of dollars after Afghans were injured or killed during "rules of engagement" escalation, where soldiers fired warning shots that then ricocheted and hit civilians. One such instance in February of last year left one person dead. The Forces paid $8,500 in that case, but the details of what happened are redacted.

Some of the claim forms don't specify whether Afghans were killed or injured as a result of these force escalations. The Forces often paid somewhere between $8,000 and $9,000 when deaths occurred, but it is unclear if this amount was reserved for members of Afghan security forces or simply related to how much the claimant requested. In another case, "rules of engagement" escalation left an Afghan civilian dead — the Forces paid what the claimant asked for, $2,000.

Many of the other compensation claims relate to private property damaged or destroyed by Canadians during operations. Those claims range from $33 to several thousand dollars. The Forces, it appears, also have a habit of losing cellphones they hold for safekeeping when Afghans enter Canadian compounds.

However, it is difficult to tell what all the compensation claims deal with — in some cases there is no explanation for why the money was handed over. In other cases, the explanation is completely redacted.
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Be honest: We're at war in Afghanistan, panel told
STEVEN CHASE - From Thursday's Globe and Mail April 24, 2008
OTTAWA — The Canadian government should be more frank about its military engagement in Afghanistan and call it a "war" instead of describing it in innocuous terms such as restoring "security" or offering "humanitarian assistance," a former chief of staff to two Liberal defence ministers says.

"Even today you won't see much use of the term war, insurgency or counterinsurgency on government of Canada websites. You will see more anodyne terms like security, governance and humanitarian assistance," Eugene Lang told a panel discussion on Canada's military in the 21st century yesterday in Ottawa.

"This suggests to me that we are not honest with ourselves and the Canadian public about what we are actually involved in abroad," Mr. Lang told the discussion sponsored by the Walrus Foundation, publisher of The Walrus magazine.

Mr. Lang, who served as chief of staff to former Liberal defence ministers Bill Graham and John McCallum, acknowledged the Harper government has made progress in the past 18 months in using blunter language to describe Canada's mission in Afghanistan. But he said this problem has dogged several governments.

"A clear, consistent articulation of the why and what of war, repeated again and again from our political leaders, is essential to building and maintaining the public support necessary for engaging in wars like the current one in Kandahar, and we haven't had that," said Mr. Lang, who co-authored a book on Canada's decision to deploy to Afghanistan, The Unexpected War: Canada in Kandahar.

"I think there's a general consensus now, certainly among the media and informed opinion, that there's an insurgency there and an insurgency is a form of war. And we're in the middle of it."

Canada recently extended its Afghanistan mission to 2011 from 2009 after a divisive national debate. The 2,500-soldier effort in the southern province of Kandahar, where an insurgency escalated last year, is supposed to shift to reconstruction and development from combat after February of 2009, but it's generally acknowledged the sizable combat demands that remain will frustrate this move.

NDP defence critic Dawn Black said the Harper government is still trying to "sell the war" to Canadians by "using language that doesn't address the reality of what is happening on the ground."

The public remains divided over the mission, according to opinion polls that indicate between 40 and 50 per cent of respondents oppose keeping troops in Afghanistan, where 82 Canadian soldiers have died since 2002. The Tories are trying to shift public focus away from casualties, the only broadly watched benchmark currently tracked by news media, and toward other measures. They're preparing a series of benchmarks, from education levels to development work, they will use to report progress in Afghanistan.
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Afghan police officers graduate from training school near Kandahar
The Canadian Press / April 24, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — It's graduation day in Afghanistan for hundreds of newly retrained members of the country's national police force. They're known as the Afghan Uniformed Police - officers with eight weeks of intensive training at the hands of U.S. mentors.

Like excited schoolchildren, they piled into a dimly lit auditorium to hear words of inspiration from their commanders before receiving their diplomas.

RCMP Supt. Frank Gallagher says the AUP are a vast improvement over their untrained Afghan National Police predecessors, long derided as corrupt and unprofessional.

From here, the officers will spend a year mentoring with Canadian teams in the volatile Zhari and Panjwaii districts west of Kandahar city.

Gallagher is confident they can win the hearts and minds of local Afghans and eventually regain their trust and respect.
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