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April 26, 2008 

Afghan President Says Fight Should Be Taken to Pakistan
By VOA News 26 April 2008
Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, is urging U.S. forces to stop arresting suspected Taliban members and sympathizers in his country, saying that approach discourages militants from laying down their arms.

Karzai criticizes U.S. conduct of Afghan war
April 26, 2008
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai criticized the U.S. and British conduct of the war in Afghanistan, telling The New York Times in an interview published on Saturday his government must be accorded the lead in policy decisions.

If France leaves Afghanistan, Pakistan will fall: Sarkozy
[ANI]  - Paris, Apr 26 : French President Nicolas Sarkozy claimed in a TV show that if France abandons Afghanistan, Pakistan will fall like a house of cards.

Taliban ease mobile phone threat for Afghan summer
By Jonathon Burch April 26, 2008
KABUL (Reuters) - As the days lengthen towards summer in Afghanistan, so will the time locals can use their mobile phones without fear of Taliban retribution.

Taliban bitten by a snake in the grass
By Syed Saleem Shahzadn Asia Times Online / April 26, 2008
KARACHI - The Taliban and their al-Qaeda associates, in what they considered a master stroke, this year started to target the Western alliance's supply lines that run through Pakistan into Afghanistan.

German apology for Afghan spying
Saturday, 26 April 2008 BBC News
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has apologised to his Afghan counterpart for actions by Germany's foreign intelligence service, the BND.

Police say bomb kills 2 officers in central Afghanistan
Associated Press Sat Apr 26, 2:42 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - A police official says a roadside bomb destroyed a police vehicle, killing at least two officers in central Afghanistan.

Poor diet undermines health of northern Afghans
By Tan Ee Lyn Sat Apr 26, 9:50 AM ET
ESHKASHEM, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Lunch at Gada Mohammad's single-room mud-brick house in Afghanistan's far north is the same as most other meals: dry bread washed down with tea.

Over half the population at risk of malaria - Health Ministry
KABUL, 25 April 2008 (IRIN) - Over half of Afghanistan's estimated 26.6 million population – and especially pregnant women and children - are vulnerable to malaria, according to Afghanistan's Ministry of Public Health (MoPH).

Kabul business choked by fear and corruption
von Jon Boone (Kabul) Financial Times Deutschland (Germany) April 25, 2008
Kidnappings, killings and organised crime together with huge power and infrastructure problems are hampering Afghanistan's attempts to improve its economy. With Business leaders accusing the Afghan government of incompetence

Former Afghan minister opposes ‘Talibanisation’
Hindustan Times / April 25, 2008
Former Afghanistan foreign minister Dr Abdullah Abdullah has decried any move by the government to legislate a law to ban men’s jeans, long hair, makeup, and couples talking in public.

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Afghan President Says Fight Should Be Taken to Pakistan
By VOA News 26 April 2008
Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, is urging U.S. forces to stop arresting suspected Taliban members and sympathizers in his country, saying that approach discourages militants from laying down their arms.

Mr. Karzai made the comment in an interview published Saturday by The New York Times. He said the real terrorist threat lies in Taliban and al-Qaida hideouts in Pakistan.

Mr. Karzai said the current policy of arresting Taliban militants in Afghanistan has just driven them across the border where they regroup and take up their weapons again.

President Karzai also said he supports the new Pakistani government's plan to negotiate for peace with Taliban and al-Qaida militants - a marked change in policy from the previous administration headed by President Pervez Musharraf. Mr. Karzai said relations between his government and that of Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani have started off on a very good note.

Mr. Karzai faces a re-election campaign next year. His government has been criticized for not doing enough to eliminate corruption and bring under control the warlords who control much of the country.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.
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Karzai criticizes U.S. conduct of Afghan war
April 26, 2008
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai criticized the U.S. and British conduct of the war in Afghanistan, telling The New York Times in an interview published on Saturday his government must be accorded the lead in policy decisions.

Karzai told the newspaper he wanted U.S. forces to stop arresting suspected Taliban members and their sympathizers, saying that fear of arrest along with past mistreatment were discouraging them from coming forward and laying down their arms.

"It has to happen," he said of the end to such arrests. Karzai also said in the interview conducted on Friday that he did not have specific details about alleged mistreatment of people in custody.

Ousted from power in 2001 by U.S.-led and Afghan forces, the al Qaeda-backed Taliban has vowed to topple the Afghan government and drive out the foreign troops who back it. Nearly 12,000 people, including more than 330 foreign troops, have been killed in violence in the past two years.

Karzai, who faces re-election next year, criticized the U.S.-led coalition for what he characterized as carrying out the war on terrorism in Afghanistan's villages, and said the real threat was centered in Taliban and al Qaeda sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan. "The sanctuaries must go, period," the Times quoted him as saying.

He also said that civilian casualties needed to stop, despite their numbers dropping significantly in the last year. "I am not happy with civilian casualties coming down; I want an end to civilian casualties," he said. "As much as one may argue it's difficult, I don't accept that argument."

Karzai added, "I must also be fair to say that our partners in America have recognized my concerns and have acted on them in good faith."

In calling for greater Afghan autonomy, Karzai said, "For the success of the world in Afghanistan, it would be better to recognize this inherent character in Afghanistan and work with it and support it."

"Eventually, if the world is to succeed in Afghanistan, it will be by building the Afghan state, not by keeping it weak," he told the Times at his presidential office.

Karzai said relations with Pakistan's new government began on a good note. "I am fairly confident of their good intentions," he said. "If the current government has the full backing of the military and intelligence circles in Pakistan and with the good intentions that they have, things will improve."

(Writing by Chris Michaud; Editing by Peter Cooney)
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If France leaves Afghanistan, Pakistan will fall: Sarkozy
[ANI]  - Paris, Apr 26 : French President Nicolas Sarkozy claimed in a TV show that if France abandons Afghanistan, Pakistan will fall like a house of cards.

"Next to Afghanistan there is Pakistan, there is an atomic bomb. If we let Afghanistan fall, Pakistan will fall like a house of cards," The Daily Times quoted him, as saying.

Sarkozy has announced that France would send another 700 troops to Afghanistan, saying NATO operations are still required in that country.

Sarkozy has said that he would not hold talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan, Hamas in the Palestinian territories and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

At least 1,800 French troops make France the second largest partner of the United States in Afghanistan after Germany.
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Taliban ease mobile phone threat for Afghan summer
By Jonathon Burch April 26, 2008
KABUL (Reuters) - As the days lengthen towards summer in Afghanistan, so will the time locals can use their mobile phones without fear of Taliban retribution.

The Taliban told Afghan mobile phone operators in February to shut down networks from 5 p.m. until 7 a.m. or face attack.

Foreign troops in Afghanistan use mobile phones to track insurgent fighters, they said, and to drive home the threat the Taliban have destroyed several phone towers in the south.

Some operators have cut night-time signals in some areas, causing resentment among residents for whom mobile phones are a vital means of communication.

Faced with an "unruly and irrational enemy ... the Islamic Emirate from time to time is bound by the circumstances and with great difficulty is obliged to take certain actions," the Taliban said in a statement on their website on Saturday.

"As the nights are now shorter and the days longer, the Islamic Emirate ... permits the (telephone) companies to operate from 6:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. in the cities and surrounding areas."

The Taliban largely rely on mobile and satellite phones for communication in their campaign to oust the pro-Western Afghan government and drive out foreign troops.

TRACKING FIGHTERS

They accuse international and Afghan forces of using the networks to track their fighters. Western and Afghan government officials say the Taliban move at night and want to stop villagers informing security forces of their whereabouts.

Four mobile phone operators, three of them foreign firms, with an estimated investment of several hundred million dollars have set up in Afghanistan since U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban following the September 11, 2001, attacks.

The success of the mobile phone industry has been one of the few bright spots in a country that has attracted little foreign investment and has received less per capita aid than other countries emerging from conflict like Bosnia or East Timor.

The new military commander for international forces in eastern Afghanistan said this week he expected the Taliban to increase attacks on what he called softer civilian targets, including mobile phone companies, because they were severely mauled when they took on foreign or Afghan forces directly.

Afghan, NATO and U.S.-led troops have targeted Taliban commanders over the last year. Afghan police killed Mullah Ghazi Jan, a known leader of a group of insurgents in the province of Paktia, the Interior Ministry said on Saturday.

Three policemen were also killed and five wounded when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb in the central province of Ghazni on Saturday, officials and witnesses told Reuters.

(Editing by Robert Woodward)
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Taliban bitten by a snake in the grass
By Syed Saleem Shahzadn Asia Times Online / April 26, 2008
KARACHI - The Taliban and their al-Qaeda associates, in what they considered a master stroke, this year started to target the Western alliance's supply lines that run through Pakistan into Afghanistan.

Their focal point was Khyber Agency, in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, a key transit point for as much as 70% of the alliance's supplies needed to maintain its battle against the Afghan insurgency.

The spectacular blowing up on March 20 of 40 gas tankers at Torkham - the border crossing in Khyber Agency into Afghanistan's Nangarhar province - sent shock waves through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led (NATO) coalition. So much so that it made a deal for some supplies to transit through Russia, a much more arduous route.

The Torkham success was followed by a number of smaller attacks, and the Taliban's plan appeared to be going better than they could have expected.

Then came this week's incident in which the Taliban seized two members of the World Food Program (WFP) in Khyber Agency, and it became obvious the Taliban had been betrayed, and all for the princely sum of about US$150,000.

Their Khyber dreams are now in tatters.

With friends like this ...

When the Taliban's new tactic emerged, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) - which Pakistan's intelligence community says maintains its biggest South Asian presence in Pakistan - sprung into action and staged a coup of its own.

But that's getting ahead of the story.

After coming under intense pressure in its traditional strongholds in the North and South Waziristan tribal areas, al-Qaeda and the Taliban staged a joint shura (council). This meeting concluded that they had to be especially careful of local political parties and tribals who were all too ready to sell themselves in the US's quest to find Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri. The council pointed to the example of Iraq, where the US's policy of courting Sunni tribes to turn against al-Qaeda has had marked success.

At this point, the council hit on the idea of taking the initiative and turning Taliban and al-Qaeda attention on Khyber Agency with the aim of bleeding the Western coalition without having to launch major battles.

This was fine in theory, but there were practical difficulties: the agency is the most unlikely place for "Talibanization". The majority of the population is Brelvi-Sufi Muslim, traditionally opposed to the Taliban's Deobandi and al-Qaeda's Salafi ideology. Being an historic route for armies and traders, the population is politically liberal and pragmatist, not easily swayed by idealist and Utopian ideology such as the Taliban's and al-Qaeda's.

So the Taliban sent in its own fighting corps gathered from other tribal areas, and drafted in Ustad Yasir, a heavyweight Afghan commander, from Afghanistan. These predominantly Pashtun fighters consider the Afridi and Shinwari tribes, the natives of Khyber Agency, as materialist and non-ideological, but all the same a local host was essential for their operation.

The Taliban hit on one of the few Salafis in the area, Haji Namdar, as their point man. Namdar is not a traditional tribal, he's a trader who has worked in Saudi Arabia. His Salafi ideology and the fact that he is a practicing Muslim lent him credibility - and trustworthiness - in the eyes of the Taliban.

Namdar came on board, offering to provide the Taliban with sanctuary for their men, arms and supplies along the main road leading to the border area. He gave these assurances to Taliban leaders in his own home.

The Americans were fully aware of the Taliban's designs on Khyber Agency and invested a lot in the tribes to protect the route. In response, the Taliban threatened tribal chieftains, and launched a suicide attack on a jirga (meeting) convened to discuss eradicating the Taliban from the area. Over 40 tribals were killed.

US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte also visited Khyber Agency to meet with chiefs, but out of fear for the Taliban only six tribal elders showed up. It appeared the Americans had been outwitted, but their game was not over.

Anyway, with the Taliban's arrangement with Namdar, the stage was set and they steadily stepped up their attacks on convoys heading for Afghanistan, leading to the capture of the two WFP members and their vehicle on Monday.

Things start to go wrong

Unlike in previous Taliban attacks in the area, local paramilitary forces chased the Taliban after this incident. The Taliban retaliated and five soldiers were killed, but then their ammunition ran out and they surrendered the two workers and tried to flee, but they were blocked.

The Taliban called in reinforcements, but so did the paramilitary troops, and a stalemate was reached. Eventually, the Taliban managed to capture a local political agent (representing the central government) and they used him as a hostage to allow their escape.

They retreated to their various safe houses, but to their horror, paramilitary troops were waiting for them and scores were arrested, and their arms caches seized. A number of Taliban did, however, manage to escape once word got out of what was happening.

The only person aware of the safe houses was Namdar, their supposed protector: they had been sold out.

Their worst suspicions were confirmed when Namdar broke his cover and announced on a local radio station that Taliban commanders, including Ustad Yasir, should surrender or face a "massacre", as happened when local tribes turned against Uzbek fighters in South Waziristan in January 2007.

Namdar said that he had the full weight of the security forces behind him, and he did not fear any suicide attack.

Al-Qaeda and the Taliban immediately called an emergency shura in North Waziristan to review the situation. Al-Qaeda's investigations revealed that the CIA and Pakistani intelligence had got to Namdar and paid him $150,000 in local currency.

The immediate result is that Taliban operations in Khyber Agency have been cut off. This in itself is a major setback, as the attacks on supply lines had hit a raw NATO nerve.

In the broader context, Namdar's betrayal vividly illustrates the dangers of traitors within the ranks of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The fear is that the various peace deals being signed now between the Islamabad government and selected tribal leaders could lead to a whole new batch of betrayals.

The conclusion, therefore, is to go all-out to stop the government's dialogue process with militants and tribals.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
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German apology for Afghan spying
Saturday, 26 April 2008 BBC News
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has apologised to his Afghan counterpart for actions by Germany's foreign intelligence service, the BND.

German media reported last week that the BND had spied on the Afghan trade minister and a German journalist.

An Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman said the apology had been accepted.

The BND could face legal action over claims it spied on Suzanne Koelbl, a reporter for Der Spiegel, and Afghan trade minister Amin Farhang in 2006.

Der Spiegel said the head of the BND, Ernst Uhrlau, had apologised to Ms Koelbl for monitoring e-mails to Mr Farhang.

But the magazine said that it was still considering legal action against the agency.

Mr Farhang says the BND has endangered his life.

The agency has not commented publicly on the case.

It is alleged to have installed Trojan spyware on Mr Farhang's computer hard disk in 2006.

A German parliamentary committee investigating the affair condemned the fact that Mr Uhrlau had not informed the government or the committee about the case. But it stopped short of calling for his resignation.
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Police say bomb kills 2 officers in central Afghanistan
Associated Press Sat Apr 26, 2:42 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - A police official says a roadside bomb destroyed a police vehicle, killing at least two officers in central Afghanistan.

Deputy provincial police chief Mohammed Zaman says the remote-controlled bomb went off in Waghaz district of Ghazni province early Saturday.

He says two police died and three were wounded.

But an Associated Press Television News cameraman saw three saw three burned, mutilated bodies at the scene and four wounded people at a hospital. All appeared to be police.

Taliban militants increasingly attack Afghan police, who are less trained and worse equipped than the national army.
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Poor diet undermines health of northern Afghans
By Tan Ee Lyn Sat Apr 26, 9:50 AM ET
ESHKASHEM, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Lunch at Gada Mohammad's single-room mud-brick house in Afghanistan's far north is the same as most other meals: dry bread washed down with tea.

"We make our living collecting and selling this herb," said Mohammad, a 45-year-old father of four, pointing to a pile of roots on the floor of his smoke-blackened room.

Badakhshan, bordering Tajikistan to the north, is far from the fighting with Taliban insurgents in the south, but is still one of Afghanistan's poorest provinces. Those that fare worst live in the mountains where they are snowed in for up to six months of the year.

In outlying districts such as Raghistan, Kohistan and Darwaz, there is little cultivable land and people survive on mulberries and other types of wild food, aid workers say.

They keep a few sheep, goats and cows for food and dairy products, but winter is espacially punishing.

"Malnutrition is very serious, they don't eat fruit, or vegetables. It's very difficult even for them to eat normal food like bread," said Rona Azamyan, coordinator of the Midwifery Education Program in Faizabad, the main town in Badakhshan.

Because of malnutrition, many women die during childbirth and many children do not survive beyond the age of five.

In Afghanistan, 1,600 women die of complications out of every 100,000 live births, one of the worst rates in the world. Of every 1,000 newborn babies, 128 will not live beyond a year.

Malnutrition causes anemia and generally poor health, making people vulnerable to infections and illnesses such as tuberculosis. Malnourished children are likely to be stunted.

In Afghanistan, women tend to be the most malnourished in the family because of poverty and a lack of knowledge.

"In our culture, women tend to give good food like meat, eggs, cheese and other milk products first to the husbands, then sons, then daughters, before they eat," said Karima Mayar, team leader of the family planning unit at the Ministry of Public Health.

BABIES MALNOURISHED

"So the mothers tend to be very anemic and they give birth to anemic, low birth-weight, malnourished babies. Babies tend to develop spina bifida," Mayar said, referring a condition in which the spinal cord is incompletely formed causing paralysis if untreated.

Folic acid, found in dried beans, leafy vegetables and fruit, may help in preventing it.

"For this reason, we try to educate the men too. We tell them that their wives must take enough food, like vegetables, egg, yoghurt, beans, meat and iodine," Mayar said, adding that iodine deficiency is serious in the northern provinces, leading to goiter, bad eyesight and skin problems.

Aid groups are distributing essential foodstuffs to the poorest places in Badakhshan, while government health workers are trying to educate people in nutrition.

"Here, we cannot find any vegetables and fruit, and people lack all sorts of vitamins," said Abdi Mohammad, head of a government clinic in Eshkashem, in the north of Badakhshan.

"We want to start teaching people about nutrition."

Badakhshan is helped by many aid organizations but long-term development strategies and permanent solutions are needed to help change the way people live and earn their livelihood.

"Yes, we save lives, we stop them from dying, but how long can we do it?" said one aid expert, who declined to be identified.

"It's deep-rooted, chronic food insecurity that has nothing to do with short-term disasters. The solution is to bring in development, long-term sustainable projects, improve irrigation, livestock, introduce high-yield crops."

(Editing by Andrew Dobbie)
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Over half the population at risk of malaria - Health Ministry
KABUL, 25 April 2008 (IRIN) - Over half of Afghanistan's estimated 26.6 million population – and especially pregnant women and children - are vulnerable to malaria, according to Afghanistan's Ministry of Public Health (MoPH).

MoPH says that 14 of the country's 34 provinces are identified as "high risk" areas where, plasmodium vivax, a malaria parasite, is prevalent.

"About 14 million people across the country are at risk of malaria," Najibullah Safi, programme manager for National Malaria and Leishmaniasis Control (NMLC) at MoPH, said in Kabul.

Landlocked Afghanistan has the second highest number of malaria cases in the Eastern Mediterranean region [http://wwwlive.who.ch/about/regions/emro/en/index.html], according to the UN World Health Organization (WHO).

The MoPH and WHO estimate that every year up to 1.5 million cases of malaria occur throughout the country, but most go undiagnosed.

Figures verified by the Health Ministry indicated that only 433,412 malaria patients received treatment from March 2006 to March 2007.

"Up to 98 percent of malaria cases were plasmodium vivax – a less life-threatening form of the disease - and only two percent were falciform, the most life threatening form of the disease," Safi said.

While malaria kills over one million people in Africa and Asia, according to WHO [http://www.who.int/malaria/faq.html], just 25 malaria-related fatalities were confirmed in Afghanistan in 2007[http://www.rollbackmalaria.org/worldmalariaday/index.html].

Weak diagnosing capacity

Only about 20 percent of the total 443,412 patients who received malaria treatment last year were clinically diagnosed malaria-positive, NMLC reported.

"About 80 percent of all malaria patients who were treated last year [over 350,000 patients] were suspected cases and were not confirmed through laboratorial tests," the manager of NMLC said.

While malaria treatment is included in MoPH's basic health services package, which reaches up to 85 percent of the population through 1,429 health facilities nationwide, there are not enough facilities to diagnose the disease.

"We do not have laboratories in all our health facilities in the country and therefore cannot do proper laboratory tests to confirm every suspected malaria case," Safi said. "It's a huge problem," he added.

Health specialists warn that any use of anti-malarial drugs such as chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine can badly affect the health of a person not suffering from malaria.

"If you give anti-malarial drugs to a pregnant woman or a child it can seriously put their health at risk," warned Abdul Karim Norzai, a paediatrician in Kabul.

Eradication impossible?

Ranked the fifth least developed country in the world, Afghanistan does not have adequate resources, or the technical capacity to wipe out the parasite in the foreseeable future, health officials say.

The country is trying to control malaria within five years (2007-2012) with a US$28.3 million fund from the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

To control the parasite the MoPH plans to distribute 1.2 million insecticide-treated bed nets to vulnerable communities, particularly in high-risk provinces, in 2008.

Immunised children and pregnant women will receive bed nets for free, while others will have to pay a subsidised price, MoPH said.

Malaria is a major public health problem in Afghanistan, which not only threatens the health of millions of people but also affects human productivity and development, and traps vulnerable communities in continuing poverty, experts say.

Afghanistan is acutely prone to malaria due to its tropical climate, paddy fields, poor waste management and other environmental factors, MoPH said in a statement.
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Kabul business choked by fear and corruption
von Jon Boone (Kabul) Financial Times Deutschland (Germany) April 25, 2008
Kidnappings, killings and organised crime together with huge power and infrastructure problems are hampering Afghanistan's attempts to improve its economy. With Business leaders accusing the Afghan government of incompetence, investors are looking to neighbouring countries.

Mohammad Mirza Kundazi, a goods importer with a sideline in money changing, haggled his own ransom down to $100,000 from $2m seven days after being bundled into a car outside his house last month but his kidnapping, and others like it, are costing his country much more.

On his release from the toilet in which he was chained throughout the ordeal, Mr Kundazi joined a growing band of Afghan entrepreneurs who are moving their businesses to Dubai or at the least scrapping investment projects.

Cases such as his are, the Afghan business community says, damaging the country's efforts to build its economy, so Afghanistan can pay its own way when the foreign cash that pays for almost everything the government does dries up.

But the private sector is so limited - and so reliant on money spent by international consultants, diplomats and aid workers - that a French restaurant in Kabul catering to the culinary needs of the city's expats is one of the country's 100 biggest taxpayers.

Fear of violence

Law enforcement officials claim that fear of violence is overblown. Ali Shah Paktiawal, head of criminal investigations in Kabul, says there have been "no more than three" kidnappings in the last year and the Dubai-bound business leaders are just in search of "luxury".

But Azarakhsh Hafizi, chairman of the Afghanistan International Chamber of Commerce, has a list of almost 30 recent cases of attacks on businessmen or their families. According to his list, ransom payments are as high as $3m, and several children have been killed.

One Afghan entrepreneur is scared enough that members of his extended family believe he is a hotel employee, rather than the wealthy owner of a chain of hotels. He says he has scrapped two multi-million dollar hotel projects in the beauty spots of Bamiyan and Istalif because of security concerns.

The chief executive of Afghanistan's investment agency, Omar Zakhilwal, says a crime wave is just one problem choking off investments. Another big problem, he says, is the intermittent electricity supply.

Four hours of city power every two or three days

Sarah Chayes, a former journalist turned soap manufacturer in the southern city of Kandahar, says that with just four hours of city power every two or three days her staff sleep with the electric lights switched on. When the bulbs light up they leap out of bed and start running the soap press for as long as possible. She says that although she is "swimming in demand" she is unable to increase production.

Saad Mohseni, chief executive of Moby Media, which runs television and radio stations, says another vexing problem is taxes. He recently had videotapes of imported Indian television programmes impounded at Kabul airport because a government agency believed they should be paying on the content. "The government says it is dealing with these so-called nuisance taxes, but it's ridiculous that after seven years we are still facing these problems. Why can't the whole lot just be declared null and void?" He says his frustration with Afghan government "incompetence" is so great that the company has set up a business division in Dubai.

One leading international logistics company came close to pulling out of Afghanistan last year after it discovered it had been paying taxes to the Ministry of Communications - technically illegal because only the Ministry of Finance is allowed to raise revenue.

Some efforts to improve the tax system have made the situation worse. Draft laws prepared in English by foreign consultants have been mistranslated into Dari - the official language of government. The garbled version is then treated as the law.

A western official, who declined to be named but has worked closely on tax reform issues, said the "cheques had been made out to the ministry of post, which doesn't exist, so God knows who actually got the money". He estimates the cost of business is at least twice the official amount after bribes, corruption and taxes of questionable legality are included.

"There is an internationally imposed taxation system, which is sensible," he says. "But then there is a parallel Afghan system which requires the permanent employment of full-time staff to pay bribes. Big international companies just can't pay these bribes."
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Former Afghan minister opposes ‘Talibanisation’
Hindustan Times / April 25, 2008
Former Afghanistan foreign minister Dr Abdullah Abdullah has decried any move by the government to legislate a law to ban men’s jeans, long hair, makeup, and couples talking in public.

“Such a law will not be in the interest of the Afghan people, who have now started breathing afresh after years of Taliban tyranny,” Abdullah told HT in an interview on the sidelines of the Seventh Eurasian Media Forum being held in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

“Any such move is actually aimed at not protecting the Afghan society from so called obscenity but to avoid the local people’s attention from relevant issues like spiralling food prices,” Abdullah said.

“Food prices have shot up by 40 per cent in the last one month. Is this a more important issue or is it more important to ban the telecast of Indian soaps on Afghanistan’s TV channels,” he asked.

“Someone in the government is catering to the Islamic clergy in the country and with the 2009 elections in mind. The government does not want people to raise relevant issues affecting their day to day lives.” He said Afghanistan society would not allow the Taliban era to return under the garb of laws that curb its citizens’ personal freedom.

The government’s reported move comes after Kabul’s recent attempts to ban popular Indian soap, and a recent high court decision to confirm the death sentences of 100 people.

The proposed legislation is being viewed as a part of a large push for Islamic values by the country’s ruling religious elite. Earlier, speaking at the meet, Abdullah said the Afghan government was asserting pressure on private television channels to suit its interests.

Abdullah, 47, a Tajik-Pashtun physician, was foreign minister in the short-lived government headed by the Northern Alliance and was “foreign minister in exile” throughout the years of Taliban rule.
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