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April 29, 2008 

Afghan intel: President was warned of assassination plot
By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - President Hamid Karzai was warned of a weekend assassination plot against him, Afghanistan's intelligence chief said Tuesday, while admitting that failings by the security services allowed militants to launch the attack.

MPs bay for blood after deadly parade attack
www.quqnoos.com Written by Mukhtar Soar Monday, 28 April 2008
Politicians call for ministers to resign before launch of investigation
MEMBERS of Parliament called today for the resignation of the minister of foreign affairs, the minister of defence and the head of national security following yesterday’s bloody attack on the president at a military parade.

Suicide bomb on poppy team kills 18 Afghans
By Jon Hemming
KABUL (Reuters) - Taliban militants killed 18 Afghans, including seven civilians, and wounded 31 more in a suicide bomb attack on an drug eradication team in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, the Interior Ministry said.

US Marines, British forces in major new Afghan operation
Tue Apr 29, 4:38 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - US Marines pushed into a stronghold of extremist Taliban resistance in southernmost Afghanistan Tuesday in their first major operation since deploying to Afghanistan last month.

U.N.'s Envoy To Afghanistan Sees Threats To Progress
By Karen DeYoung Washington Post Staff Writer Tuesday, April 29, 2008; A14
A fragmented international effort and weak government in Kabul have combined to endanger everything that has been accomplished in Afghanistan since the ouster of the Taliban nearly seven years ago, the new U.N. envoy to Afghanistan said yesterday.

AFGHANISTAN: Food insecurity prompts hundreds to leave their homes
29 Apr 2008 11:10:26 GMT
 KABUL, 29 April 2008 (IRIN) - Hundreds of people have abandoned their homes and moved to urban areas in different parts of Afghanistan, and some have reportedly migrated to neighbouring Pakistan, due to worsening food insecurity

Making Their Own Mistakes
New York Times, United States April 28, 2008
When Pervez Musharraf was running Pakistan he repeatedly cut deals with tribal leaders intended to calm the country’s lawless regions. The results were always disastrous. The Taliban and Al Qaeda used the time to regroup and launch attacks

Blair Witch goes to Afghanistan in "Objective"
By Frank Scheck Tue Apr 29, 3:24 AM ET
NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Of course "The Objective" is infused with a "Blair Witch Project"-style sensibility: Its director/co-writer Daniel Myrick is one of the filmmakers responsible for that landmark indie smash.

Turkmen president lands in Kabul for energy talks
Written by www.quqnoos.com Monday, 28 April 2008
Power at centre of talks with karzai, officials say
TURKMENISTAN’S president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, has arrived in Kabul for talks with his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai.

Afghanistan's insurgency spreading north
Militant attacks are increasing outside the Taliban's southern stronghold, such as Sunday's on President Hamid Karzai.
By Anand Gopal | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor from the April 29, 2008 edition
Kabul, Afghanistan - The attempted assassination of President Hamid Karzai Sunday came as the latest sign of a trend worrying Western officials: that the insurgency is spreading from the Taliban stronghold of the south to the central and northern regions of the country.

A pro-Taliban threat
Washington Times - Opinion/Editorial By Malou Innocent April 29, 2008
Pro-Taliban militants are currently in talks with one of Pakistan's provincial governments to enforce Shariah, or Islamic law. Though the deal is meant to stop the spreading Islamist insurgency on Pakistan's western border with Afghanistan,

An irony lost on the Taliban
Badly planned, chaotic and lacking in popular support: everyone except the Taliban can see the tragedy of Afghanistan's suicide bombers
Guardian Unlimited, UK April 29, 2008
In the summer of 2007, a stranger appeared in the city of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. He flagged down a taxi and asked to be driven around the town. The taxi passed public squares, mosques and bazaars. All the time

'I was hooked on the story in Afghanistan
'He quit his job to continue covering the Afghanistan conflict, got shot during an ambush but went back again six months later. Photojournalist John D McHugh explains why he has returned once more
John D McHugh guardian.co.uk, Monday April 28 2008 Article history
I am back in Afghanistan for the fifth time in two years. I have a lot in common with the British, Canadian and American soldiers deployed in the country. Like many of them, I have been here before and I have been under fire.

Afghan Leader Criticizes U.S. on Conduct of War
By CARLOTTA GALL April 26, 2008 The New York Times
KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai strongly criticized the British and American conduct of the war here on Friday, insisting in an interview that his government be given the lead in policy decisions.

To Sideline Taliban, Afghan Agency Extends Government’s Reach
By CARLOTTA GALL April 24, 2008 The New York Times
MAIDAN WARDAK, Afghanistan — When Taliban showed up last year in this province just south of Kabul, the capital, and started kidnapping aid workers, it caused real alarm. The main highway from the Taliban strongholds in

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Afghan intel: President was warned of assassination plot
By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - President Hamid Karzai was warned of a weekend assassination plot against him, Afghanistan's intelligence chief said Tuesday, while admitting that failings by the security services allowed militants to launch the attack.

Meanwhile, a suicide attack killed 16 people, including 12 police, in an eastern province, a NATO spokesman said. Forty-one people were wounded.

Amrullah Saleh told Parliament the plot to kill Karzai was hatched last month and the gunmen had rented the hotel room they opened fire from 45 days before the attack.

Karzai and other dignitaries escaped unharmed from Sunday's assault during a ceremony in Kabul marking Afghanistan's victory over the Soviet occupation of the country in the 1980s. Three other people, including a lawmaker, died.

Three of the attackers were also killed in a gunbattle with security forces after the assault, Karzai's government said, but the Taliban said three other insurgents got away.

"We had technical information ... that this work would happen," Saleh told a National Assembly session broadcast live on national television. "We passed this information to the national security (adviser) and to the president of Afghanistan."

Despite stringent measures by security services to protect the event, "the result is that we failed," Saleh said.

He refused to give further details about the plot during an open session.

An Afghan intelligence official has said about 100 people were rounded up for questioning after the attack. Some of those questioned have since been freed, officials say. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

"Tragically, the attackers succeeded in getting close enough to fire some shots," said a statement issued by William Wood, the U.S. ambassador.

It took authorities two minutes to defeat the attack, Wood said.

Saleh, Defense Minister Abdur Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister Zarar Ahmad Moqbel were summoned to explain to lawmakers what happened Sunday.

All three lost no-confidence votes against them by lawmakers on Tuesday, but not by a high enough margin to press for their ouster.

Daud Sultanzoy, a lawmaker, demanded all three security officials resign — although there was no immediate sign that would happen.

Before the vote, Saleh said the three attackers had been locked inside a three-story guest house for 36 hours before they tried to kill Karzai.

All three assailants died inside the hotel room — one from a gunshot wound and two others possibly killing themselves, Saleh said.

Several members of police, the intelligence service and members of the president's security detail were being questioned for negligence, while a police officer has been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the attack, Saleh said.

The attack in the Afghan capital underscored the fragile grip of Karzai's government in the face of Taliban insurgents.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday said the attack showed Karzai's administration is under a strong threat.

Afghanistan has "determined enemies who will do anything to disrupt the democratic progress that the Afghan people have made," Rice said.

Sunday's lapse brought questions about the readiness of Karzai's government to follow up on its demand for Afghan police and the army to take greater control of security. U.S. and NATO-led troops provide security in much of the country now.

But the White House said it was unfair to criticize Afghan security forces because insurgents had been able to stage an attack.

"When it comes to dealing with terrorists like the Taliban or al-Qaida, they just have to have even ... a little bit of an impact for everyone to say that they had a big victory," White House press secretary Dana Perino said.

The attack was sure to bring a sense of unease in Kabul, which has been spared the worst of the violence as fighting escalated between the Taliban and international troops.

A suicide attack in the volatile eastern part of the country killed 15 people and wounded 25, a NATO spokesman said.

Maj. Martin O'Donnell said there were NATO troops in the area of the attack in Khogyani district of Nangahar province but there were no alliance casualties.

He said the militants opened up with small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades before a suicide bomber blew himself up among a crowd that was taking cover.

"If the goal was ISAF they failed," O'Donnell said of Tuesday's violence. He speaks for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. "But if the goal was to injure and kill Afghans they succeeded."

Alliance medics were treating the wounded, he said.

Abdul Mohammed, chief of police criminal investigations in Nangahar, said the bomb went off in front of the office of the district chief who was among those hurt.

He said the attack left 12 dead and 38 wounded. It was not immediately possible to reconcile the differing casualty tolls.

Militants launched more than 140 suicide attacks last year, spearheading their violent campaign against the elected government of Karzai and Western forces that support it.

Violence has intensified since the Islamist militia's ouster from power in a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, killing a record 8,000 people last year, according to the U.N. More than 1,000 people, mostly militants, have died in insurgency-related violence so far this year, according to an Associated Press tally of figures from Afghan and Western officials.

In the past two days, Afghan and foreign troops have killed at least 23 insurgents and wounded 20 others in ground battles and airstrikes in the south and east of Afghanistan, officials said.
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MPs bay for blood after deadly parade attack
www.quqnoos.com Written by Mukhtar Soar Monday, 28 April 2008
Politicians call for ministers to resign before launch of investigation
MEMBERS of Parliament called today for the resignation of the minister of foreign affairs, the minister of defence and the head of national security following yesterday’s bloody attack on the president at a military parade.

MPs said the government’s failure to stop yesterday’s attack, which left three dead and 11 wounded, was “shameful”.

Tomorrow’s session in Parliament, during which many MPs are expected to officially demand the resignation of Foreign Minister Rangin Spanta, Defence Minister Rahim Wardak and NDS head Amrullah Saleh, will be broadcast live to the nation on local television.

The MP for Ghazni, Daud Sultanzoi, said: “The head of the armed forces of Afghanistan escaped the parade on such an historical day. Afghanistan needs a brave and determined leader in these times.”

Others said that the attack, which killed one MP, a council leader and an Afghan soldier, was disgraceful and should never have happened if proper procedures had been put in place. It is still unclear who launched the attack: both the Taliban and Hezb-e-Islami have claimed responsibility.

MPs say that people in Afghanistan and throughout the world saw first-hand the weakness of the government and security officials to maintain security in Kabul.

Our correspondent, who was at the parade ground when the gunmen opened fire at 9.45am, said he saw Afghan soldiers fleeing as gun shots cracked overhead and mortar rounds landed in the arena.

The soldiers, dressed in their parade uniforms, were carrying guns that were not loaded.

People in the capital have expressed concern about their own security and said members of the government should resign.

Ahmad Jawad, a Kabuli, said: “When the president is not safe, after one month of security preparations, how can the ordinary people be safe?”

Meanwhile the ministry of defence said it had arrested a number of people for yesterday’s attack and that an investigation was still on-going.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the attack was carried out by six Taliban members using RPG rockets and light weapons to teach the government a “lesson”.

Mujahid added that three of these attackers have safely returned to their bases, and the other three were killed by police.

The defence minister’s spokesman, General Zahir Azimi, said the attack was carried out from an old building on the city’s Maiwand Road.

Some Kabul residents said the attack occurred from the third floor of a building located near the parade ground.
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Suicide bomb on poppy team kills 18 Afghans
By Jon Hemming
KABUL (Reuters) - Taliban militants killed 18 Afghans, including seven civilians, and wounded 31 more in a suicide bomb attack on an drug eradication team in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, the Interior Ministry said.

The Taliban have vowed to step up suicide attacks this year, to undermine the faith of Afghans in the ability of their government to provide security and to sap support in the West for the continued presence of international troops in the country.

The bomber targeted an opium poppy eradication team led by the district chief, tribal elders and police officers as they left the local government headquarters in Khogiani, a town south of the city of Jalalabad, close to the Pakistan border.

Gunmen opened fire with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades following the suicide attack, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.

"This event proves that ... cultivation and production of narcotics in Afghanistan is inseparably related to terrorist forces," the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Afghanistan last year produced 93 percent of the world's opium which is processed to make heroin and exported to the West.

Illegal drugs may be worth more than $3 billion a year to the Afghan economy, and United Nations drug experts say the Taliban impose a 10 percent tax on poppy farmers who produce opium and also on the drug traffickers to finance their insurgency.

Drug production is highest in the areas of Afghanistan where the Taliban are strongest, but the Afghan government has made progress in eliminating poppy crops in some areas, such as around Jalalabad, where it has tightened its grip on security.

The Taliban launched more than 140 suicide attacks across the country targeting foreign and Afghan government forces last year, but most of the victims -- around 200 -- were civilians.

The conflict has steadily picked up in the south and east in recent weeks as Spring arrives and mountain snows melt.

U.S. MARINES ATTACK

A U.S. general warned last week there could be higher levels of violence in Afghanistan this year, with many attacks in the east originating across the border in lawless tribal areas of Pakistan where Afghan officials say militants enjoy a safe haven.

The latest blast in the east came as U.S. Marines began moving in to capture a town from Taliban militants in the south, their first large operation in Afghanistan since arriving to reinforce NATO troops last month.

The United States, frustrated by the failure of some European NATO allies to come up with troops to help out in fighting in southern Afghanistan, sent 3,200 Marines to bolster British, Canadian and Dutch forces engaged in daily battles there.

The U.S. Marines' drive into the town of Garmsir in Helmand, the world' biggest opium producing region and a hotbed of insurgent activity, is the first significant fruit of that move.

The Marines were largely uncontested as they began the operation by securing routes into the town, said U.S. Marines spokeswoman Captain Kelly Frushour.

"Late this morning and into the afternoon we've encountered some light resistance in the form of small arms fire and rocket propelled grenades from buildings along the routes that we're securing, but nothing huge or organized," she said.

The town of Garmsir in the south of Helmand has been the scene of frequent raids by Afghan, British and U.S. troops, but has hitherto eluded capture.

Of the 3,200 U.S. Marines sent to Afghanistan, some 800 are involved in training Afghan security forces, seen by the Afghan government and the international community as the long-term key to bringing peace to Afghanistan.

The remaining 2,400 Marines are a highly mobile force that ISAF can rapidly deploy wherever they are needed.

Currently, "a large percentage of them are forward deployed into Helmand," Frushour said.

(Additional reporting by Jonathon Burch; Editing by John Chalmers)
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US Marines, British forces in major new Afghan operation
Tue Apr 29, 4:38 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - US Marines pushed into a stronghold of extremist Taliban resistance in southernmost Afghanistan Tuesday in their first major operation since deploying to Afghanistan last month.

The Marines, supported by British soldiers based in the southern province of Helmand, launched the operation Monday to "enhance security" in the district of Garmser, NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.

Garmser in southern Helmand is an area of difficult desert terrain that extends down to the Pakistan border across which Taliban reinforcements and weapons are said to arrive to enter a growing insurgency.

Soldiers with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based in the neighbouring province of Kandahar, were airlifted into forward bases in the area last week or moved in on convoys, ISAF said.

From there they launched the operation named Azada Wosa, which means Be Free in the Pashtu language of southern and eastern Afghanistan.

Military officials could not say how many soldiers were involved for security reasons.

"Our entire unit is involved in this operation although only a percentage of us are physically in the district," said Captain Kelly Frushour, spokeswoman for the 2,300-strong Marine Expeditionary Unit.

"Garmser district has seen little ISAF presence in the recent past. The Marines are there to secure the district centre in order to allow for the extension of governance," she told AFP.

The abandoned town of Garmser, once a thriving market town about 200 kilometres (120 miles) from the Pakistan border, is only partially in government control.

It has a small British base where Prince Harry was stationed for some of his 10-week tour that ended March when it was exposed in the media.

British troops stationed across Helmand helped the Marines move through the province and into place, a British military spokesman told AFP.

The area of the operation is a known to have strong Taliban influence, Lieutenant Colonel Robin Matthews added.

ISAF commanders were using the Marines as a "strategic tool," he said. "Clearly they want to have an effect on the area south of Garmser."

The Marines started deploying in March to help ISAF forces after a difficult year in 2007, the deadliest in an insurgency launched after the Taliban were able to regroup following their ouster from government in late 2001.

This year is expected to be just as tough and ISAF has been amassing extra troops and equipment for the battle.

The unrest routinely steps up over spring: the last week has seen several incidents across the country.

A Taliban suicide attack in a small town in eastern Afghanistan Tuesday killed 15 Afghans and wounded 25, ISAF said.

On Sunday the insurgents staged one of their most audacious attacks yet, opening fire on a stage where some of the country's most senior figures -- including President Hamid Karzai and several ambassadors -- gathered for a military parade.

Three Afghans, one of them a parliamentarian, were killed and three of the attackers were gunned down.

Most of the fighting in the insurgency is however in southern Afghanistan.

Military officials say Helmand is a nest of hardcore Taliban fighters supported by international Islamic "jihadists" and the centre of Afghanistan's booming opium and heroin trade.
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U.N.'s Envoy To Afghanistan Sees Threats To Progress
By Karen DeYoung Washington Post Staff Writer Tuesday, April 29, 2008; A14
A fragmented international effort and weak government in Kabul have combined to endanger everything that has been accomplished in Afghanistan since the ouster of the Taliban nearly seven years ago, the new U.N. envoy to Afghanistan said yesterday.

Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide said he sees "some hopeful signs" after his first visit to Afghanistan and talks with European and U.S. leaders. But he said the overall effort remains "under-resourced" and uncoordinated.

"I think there is a growing recognition that it is urgent," Eide said. "We all see that if we don't bring a basis of good government and rule of law" to Afghanistan, progress on the military and development front will be unsustainable, he said.

The post Eide took over last month had been vacant since the end of last year. Afghan President Hamid Karzai rejected Paddy Ashdown -- the British politician initially selected for the job of coordinating among international military and civilian activities and the Afghan government -- on the grounds that he would exercise too much influence over Kabul's decision-making.

In an interview, and in a speech here yesterday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Eide emphasized the need to let Afghans make their own decisions.

"I profoundly believe that it is their country and they know it better than we ever will," he said.

While there has been progress in health and education services, he said, police training, government capacity-building and agriculture still need more resources.

Efforts by individual donors duplicate each other or overlap, and too many aid projects are tied to purchases and decision-making in the West.

U.S. and NATO forces have scored tactical victories against a resurgent Taliban but have failed to prevent the Pakistan-based extremists from expanding their hold over rural areas.

Opium poppy cultivation, which finances both the Taliban and corrupt Afghan officials, has increased in some areas as violence and drought have diminished food supplies.

Security in many areas remains problematic, even without major combat; Karzai himself narrowly escaped a Taliban attack in Kabul on Sunday that killed three people.

The Bush administration has made little headway in persuading NATO governments to increase the number of combat troops they contribute to the international force in Afghanistan.

Eide, while agreeing that security must be improved, said he also expects donor governments to expand and make better use of economic and development assistance, and better coordinate their efforts in line with an Afghan development plan that is to be presented at an international conference in Paris in June.

Despite its long skepticism of U.N. involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush administration has become eager in recent years to increase the international profile in both countries.

Eide's Washington visit has been given high priority, including a daytime meeting and dinner with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday and a White House visit with President Bush today.

"It is a tough job," Rice said of Eide's mission. "We understand that."
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AFGHANISTAN: Food insecurity prompts hundreds to leave their homes
29 Apr 2008 11:10:26 GMT
 KABUL, 29 April 2008 (IRIN) - Hundreds of people have abandoned their homes and moved to urban areas in different parts of Afghanistan, and some have reportedly migrated to neighbouring Pakistan, due to worsening food insecurity, largely resulting from soaring food prices and low cereal supplies, provincial officials said.

At least 1,000 food-insecure people have left their homes in several parts of the northeastern province of Badakhshan over the past month, Nasir Hemat, the provincial head of the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS), told IRIN.

"People have moved to other provinces and some have gone to neighbouring countries," said Hemat, adding that in various parts of the province some people were eating grass due to lack of food.

Hundreds of locals have also been displaced in Alburz and other districts in the northern province of Balkh, local Kabul-based media said, quoting several residents and one provincial official.

Food-insecurity-related displacements have also been reported in southern Kandahar, Zabul and Helmand provinces where a "spreading armed conflict" [http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=77668] has affected civilians and has impeded humanitarian and development access.

"We have received unverified reports that people have been displaced due to food-insecurity in Arghistan and Marof districts of Kandahar, and also in different parts of Helmand and Zabul provinces, and that some families have migrated to Quetta [in Pakistan]," Najibullah Barith, president of the ARCS in Kandahar Province, told IRIN from Kandahar.

Vulnerable

Prices of food - critically wheat flour - have increased by over 100 percent in Afghanistan over the past year, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock.

While millions of vulnerable Afghans have already been exposed to "high risk" food-insecurity [http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=76400], there are mounting concerns that price hikes could be compounded by drought and low cereal production in 2008. All this will adversely affect vulnerable communities.

"Below-average levels of rain and snow during the 2007-08 wet season, high food prices, and low regional cereal supplies are likely to lead to increased levels of food insecurity for small-scale farmers, rain-fed agriculturalists, pastoralists and poor households in urban areas," said a report by Famine Early Warning Systems (FEWS) [http://www.fews.net/docs/Publications/Afghanistan_alert_2008_04_24_final.pdf] of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) released on 24 April.

Aid agencies have warned that vulnerable Afghan households may not be able to cope with worsening food-insecurity, and "additional shocks" will probably lead to mass displacement and starvation.

Immediate remedies

In an effort to control soaring food prices and mitigate their impact on destitute Afghans the government has earmarked US$50 million to buy and import food items from regional markets, a spokesman for President Hamid Karzai said in Kabul on 22 April.

Afghan food markets are affected by a strict ban imposed by the Pakistani government on wheat flour exports. Pakistani officials say their country is also affected by increasing global food prices.

Given Afghanistan's weak coping and response capacity, millions of its food-insecure and highly vulnerable citizens are increasingly becoming a heavy burden for the UN World Food Programme (WFP), which already feeds over five million Afghans.

To alleviate the food-insecurity crisis aid agencies and the Afghan government should work on "well-targeted food assistance", improve peoples' purchasing power, exempt commercial food imports from tax, boost regional cooperation to mitigate the impact of high food prices, and tackle widespread food-insecurity, the authors of the FEWS report recommended.
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Making Their Own Mistakes
New York Times, United States April 28, 2008
When Pervez Musharraf was running Pakistan he repeatedly cut deals with tribal leaders intended to calm the country’s lawless regions. The results were always disastrous. The Taliban and Al Qaeda used the time to regroup and launch attacks both inside Pakistan and against Afghanistan.

Now Pakistan’s newly elected civilian government is trying again. We doubt it will have any more luck. The new leaders will need to do a better job than Mr. Musharraf monitoring developments along the border. And they need to develop a military fallback plan for when this deal falls apart.

It is not surprising that the new government is trying to set its own course. When then-General Musharraf and the United States did battle the extremists, both showed a lack of concern for civilian casualties. Mr. Musharraf never tried to explain why it was in Pakistan’s interest to fight at all. It was always Washington’s war.

The latest agreement, as reported by The Times, would require the tribes to expel foreign militants, cease their own attacks and kidnappings, and allow freedom of movement to the Frontier Corps, the local security force. The deal also calls for an exchange of prisoners in return for the gradual withdrawal of the Pakistani military from part of the tribal region of South Waziristan.

The top militant leader accused of masterminding former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s assassination has ordered his fighters to halt activities in the regions.

The Bush administration doesn’t like the deal, but its own policy failure is undeniable. The C.I.A. calls the lawless border “a clear and present danger” to Afghanistan, Pakistan and the West. A recent Congressional investigation says the administration never developed a comprehensive plan — one integrating diplomacy, intelligence, law enforcement and economic aid — to address that clear and present danger.

Since 9/11, the United State has poured $10 billion into Pakistan — mostly for ex-General Musharraf’s army. But it has not crushed Al Qaeda or managed to shut down militant safe havens. American intelligence officials say Al Qaeda is gaining strength in its Pakistani refuge.

The new democratic government so far has exceeded expectations: rival politicians are cooperating and they have promised to lift media restrictions and make other needed reforms. It deserves Washington’s support and some time to find its way.

American officials need to work quietly with the new government to lay the ground for a new military strategy, should the peace agreement unravel. And it needs to do a lot more to help strengthen Pakistan’s democracy and improve the lives of ordinary Pakistanis.

The Bush administration may — finally — throw its weight behind Senator Joseph Biden’s call for a $2.5 billion package of additional nonmilitary aid. The administration and Congress should approve that aid immediately. That will give the new government more political room to go after the militants if yet another peace deal falls apart. And it is the only hope of persuading Pakistanis that this is more than just Washington’s fight.
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Blair Witch goes to Afghanistan in "Objective"
By Frank Scheck Tue Apr 29, 3:24 AM ET
NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Of course "The Objective" is infused with a "Blair Witch Project"-style sensibility: Its director/co-writer Daniel Myrick is one of the filmmakers responsible for that landmark indie smash. Thus, this war-horror movie basically plays like a "Blair Witch" in the wilds of Afghanistan.

Although the director here eschews the mock home-video style employed in his debut film, the basic setup is strikingly similar. Except instead of a group of campers terrorized by a mysterious force, it is an American Special Forces team.

The story, set a couple of months after September 11, revolves around a secret mission led by a close-lipped CIA agent (Jonas Ball, recently seen as Mark David Chapman in "The Killing of John Lennon"), who neglects to tell the soldiers accompanying him about the exact nature of their mission. They think that they are going after the terrorists; instead, they have been sent to discover the cause of a mysterious energy source. Eventually, the team, along with a local Afghan (Zindune Chems Eddine) recruited as a guide, find themselves being picked off one by one by incinerating beams of light emanating from the sky.

While the film has an undeniably strong suspenseful tone -- not to mention symbolic resonance -- it doesn't rise above its overly familiar setup. The screenplay, featuring much portentous voice-over narration by its lead character, is filled with stock characters and cliched dialogue. ("We all have our orders, chief," the CIA man says to a rebellious team member. "Maybe you haven't heard, dead men don't follow orders" is the reply.)

The film, which numbers Wesley Clark Jr. (son of the general) among its screenwriters, boasts a sense of authenticity thanks to atmospheric Morocco locations and the fact that many cast members have actual military experience. But its overall impact is seriously undercut by its low-budget special effects, with the soldiers being decimated by what look like malevolent fireflies.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter
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Turkmen president lands in Kabul for energy talks
Written by www.quqnoos.com Monday, 28 April 2008
Power at centre of talks with karzai, officials say
TURKMENISTAN’S president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, has arrived in Kabul for talks with his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai.

The two presidents are expected to talk about energy saving projects in Afghanistan, officials said.

Berdymukhamedov and Karzai are expected to sign four contracts, which involve Turkmen exploration of Afghanistan's oil and gas reserves, transport, electricity and agriculture, a spokesman for the Afghan president said.
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Afghanistan's insurgency spreading north
Militant attacks are increasing outside the Taliban's southern stronghold, such as Sunday's on President Hamid Karzai.
By Anand Gopal | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor from the April 29, 2008 edition
Kabul, Afghanistan - The attempted assassination of President Hamid Karzai Sunday came as the latest sign of a trend worrying Western officials: that the insurgency is spreading from the Taliban stronghold of the south to the central and northern regions of the country.

The militant attack, the biggest in Kabul since mid-March, came during a public ceremony. Despite a massive security presence, militants managed to fire bullets and rockets at the president, killing two nearby lawmakers and a boy.

The insurgency in Afghanistan has not been "contained," Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell testified before a Senate subcommittee in February. "It's been sustained in the south, it's grown a bit in the east, and what we've seen are elements of it spread to the west and the north."

A recent study by Sami Kovanen, an analyst with the security firm Vigilant Strategic Services of Afghanistan, echoed this assessment. He reported 465 insurgent attacks in areas outside the restive southern regions during the first three months of 2008, a 35 percent increase compared with the same period last year. In the central region around Kabul there have been 80 insurgent attacks from January through March of this year, a 70 percent jump compared to the first three months of last year.

The numbers are part of a nationwide trend of rising violence. In the southern and southeastern provinces, including the insurgent hotbeds of Kandahar and Helmand, guerrilla attacks spiked by 40 percent, according to Mr. Kovanen's research.

Kabul itself has been largely free from the violence, but as Sunday's attack shows, there are signs that the Taliban's presence is growing here, too. On the sprawling, serene campus of Kabul University, where the nation sends many of its best and brightest, the Taliban has reached an unprecedented level of influence, students say.

Young men gather in campus dorm rooms and watch slickly produced DVDs of the latest insurgent attacks. One video shows Taliban fighters firing rocket launchers and shrieking, "God is the greatest!" as orange fireballs reach their targets, presumably Coalition forces, in the distance. The attacks are set to religious music, backed by a staccato drumbeat meant to impassion and inspire viewers.

"Many of us have contact with Taliban leadership," says one student and Taliban member, who asked to be called Naqibullah. "I talk to commanders based in the south maybe once a week on the phone." Naqibullah and others like him disseminate Taliban propaganda throughout the university, hoping especially to reach students from various parts of the country.

Naqibullah suggests that places like Kabul University might be a fertile recruiting ground for operations in the capital and in northern areas of the country. "There are many students waiting to launch suicide attacks," he says. "One student launched a suicide attack in Bagram," an American base north of the capital.

"I, too, would like to become a suicide bomber," Naqibullah continues. "But educated Taliban like me are needed to teach the uneducated ones." Instead, the young man is training to become a doctor so he can eventually treat the war wounds of Taliban fighters.

Insurgents' influence is spreading to the northern and western regions of the country as well, analysts say. In the northern province of Baghlan, insurgent group Hizb-i-Islami is growing in presence, says Antonio Giustozzi, a researcher at the London School of Economics and an expert on the Afghan insurgency. Hizb-i-Islami, once the country's leading mujahideen party, was a US and Pakistani ally when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Today it is considered one of the most effective insurgent groups in the north and east, and it is aligned with the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The group has received a surge of funding in the last year, says Mr. Giustozzi, allowing it to spread from its eastern stronghold near the Pakistani border – where it has launched many attacks against Coalition forces – into northern areas. "They are regrouping and reactivating old networks that existed during the Russian war and the '90s," he says.

Taliban insurgents are making headway in some districts in the far western province of Badghis, according to Satar Barez, deputy governor of the neighboring Faryab Province. "There are now frequent bombings and kidnappings in Badghis," Mr. Barez says. In the first quarter of 2007 there was just one insurgent attack in Badghis, but the guerrillas have already launched 17 in the first three months of this year.

While violence in the north has not reached the levels seen in the restive south, Giustozzi says that in many areas insurgents are in the initial stages of infiltration and propaganda, just as they were in the south after the 2001 invasion.

"We have openly engaged the government and foreign forces in the south, but in the north we are quietly expanding our area," a Taliban commander told reporters past year.

In some northern provinces, the Taliban issue "night letters," documents posted to villagers' doors at night threatening them if they spport the government or Coalition forces, locals report. The tactic has been highly successful in intimidating residents in the south and quelling support for the international presence.

But analysts say the insurgency is spread not by fear alone: A weak central government and the country's declining socioeconomic situation also bolster militants' efforts. "The population of Afghanistan is becoming disillusioned with the government," Halim Kousary, an analyst with Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies, a Kabul-based think tank. "People in the north believe there hasn't been enough reconstruction."

Analysts suggest that the north is taking on increased importance to the Taliban because of the major drug smuggling routes that cut through it.
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A pro-Taliban threat
Washington Times - Opinion/Editorial By Malou Innocent April 29, 2008
Pro-Taliban militants are currently in talks with one of Pakistan's provincial governments to enforce Shariah, or Islamic law. Though the deal is meant to stop the spreading Islamist insurgency on Pakistan's western border with Afghanistan, if passed, the deal will only embolden radicals and undermine U.S. interests in Afghanistan.

The militant group Tehreek Nifaz-e-Shariat Mohammadi is currently in talks with the North-West Frontier Province, one of Pakistan's westernmost provinces, to have Shariah formally imposed in the province's Malakand district. Both sides are hammering out details on the release of Sufi Muhammad, one of TNSM's founders who was arrested by Pakistani authorities. The provincial government is also close to clinching a deal with Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the tribal-based Islamic movement Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, which operates as Pakistan's version of the Taliban. Mehsud has been accused of playing a central role in a wave of deadly suicide attacks that engulfed Pakistan from November 2007 through January 2008, and was named by CIA Director Michael Hayden as the prime suspect behind the December assassination of Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto. One senior government official engaged in the talks says, "It's now a matter of days before we have an agreement. The talks are in a very advanced stage."

But any deal with pro-Taliban groups is untenable, and recent events show why. Over the past year, Pakistan has been cutting ceasefire deals with various militant leaders. In August and September 2007, in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the government decided to broker peace deals with native tribes after a series of Taliban ambushes at border checkpoints. Under the deal, the tribes agreed not to shelter foreign militants and Islamabad agreed not to arrest militants without consulting tribal elders. Similar arrangements were made in North Waziristan in September 2006, and the Bajaur Agency in March 2007, both administrative units along the Afghan border. But since initiated, all of the deals have failed, precipitating a resurgence of Taliban hostilities.

The deals were initially pursued because the Pakistani army and Frontier Corps experienced disastrous losses in confrontations with insurgents. In August, 250 Pakistani troops were captured by Tehrik-e-Taliban. In December, militants blew up a checkpoint in North-West Frontier Province and kidnapped 10 policemen. And as of January there have been 36 suicide bombings directed against the army headquarters in Rawalpindi, the air force headquarters in Sargodha, and the naval war college in Lahore.

The region's extremism is now harming U.S. interests. Just last month, dozens of oil tankers headed for NATO operations in Afghanistan were attacked in the tribal town of Landi Kotal. Last June, several trucks headed for Afghanistan were gutted by insurgents in a grenade attack. It was the third incident in a month. In addition, Director of National Intelligence J. Michael McConnell told the Senate Armed Services Committee last month that the Taliban has regrouped, gained strength, and now attacks NATO forces in Afghanistan by using Pakistan's tribal areas as a base of operations.

But it's clear that peace deals have not strengthened Pakistan's security. The glaring weakness was that they left the Taliban firmly in place because they functioned more as appeasement, rather than a concerted effort to contain radicalism. Until these deals are stopped, militants will continue to come down out of the mountains and spread into Pakistan's major towns and cities. In some areas, relentless Taliban incursions have already led to the complete collapse of civilian and tribal administration.

Instead of toothless peace deals, a better strategy would be to isolate and contain the militancy through "clear and hold" operations. Since America has a vested interest in a secure Pakistan, and the capabilities of Pakistan's Army must be improved substantially, Washington can assist Islamabad by raising the professionalism of Pakistan's army by increasing the number of joint military-to-military training operations, and enhancing human-intelligence sharing in the tribal areas. Though it will be difficult for Pakistan's Army to overcome the demoralizing defeats it's been experiencing at the hands of insurgents, opening avenues for capturing militants is a better alternative than withdrawing the writ of the Pakistani state.

If these latest deals go through, as many South Asia analysts hope it won't, pro-Taliban militants will embed themselves deeper into Pakistan's social and political fabric, and further destabilize U.S.-led NATO efforts in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the longer U.S. policy-makers overlook this region, the more the Pakistani government's feckless strategy will destabilize the real central front in the war on terror.
Malou Innocent is a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute.
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An irony lost on the Taliban
Badly planned, chaotic and lacking in popular support: everyone except the Taliban can see the tragedy of Afghanistan's suicide bombers
Guardian Unlimited, UK April 29, 2008
In the summer of 2007, a stranger appeared in the city of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. He flagged down a taxi and asked to be driven around the town. The taxi passed public squares, mosques and bazaars. All the time, the passenger sat silently in the backseat of the car, watching city scenes unfold in front of him. After an hour, the driver was asked to stop the car. But before getting out, the passenger had this message for the driver: "You are an unlucky man. Today you missed the chance of becoming a martyr." That was when the driver realised that he had been giving a lift to a suicide bomber looking for potential targets. He decided to quit working as a taxi driver and find a less risky occupation.

The story first appeared in Afghanistan in 2007 and soon reached England via the internet. It is quite likely a fabrication, simply because the story is too good to be true. The suicide bomber in the story is efficient, the innocent driver has a lucky escape and there is no bloodshed. This is the opposite of the reality of suicide bombing in Afghanistan - a reality of confused teenage bombers, poorly planned missions, premature detonations and heavy civilian losses.

Like everything else in contemporary Afghanistan, suicide bombings have tragi-comic elements. To illustrate, here is a true story. The protagonist is a wannabe suicide bomber. He fills his car with explosives and sets off towards his target. Halfway through the journey, it suddenly dawns on him: Petrol! He is running out of fuel. A change of plan, then. He drives to a petrol station, the backseat of the car piled with explosives. The station attendant notices and becomes suspicious. He calls the police and the driver is arrested. If Hollywood made a film based on the story, they'd call it Dude, Where's my Petrol?

Now picture the failed wannabe bomber lying on a shrink's couch, undergoing therapy. What would the doctor say to him? Most probably this: deep inside, you wanted to be caught. That's why you forgot to fill up the tank. Interviews conducted with arrested wannabe bombers support this view. They show that far from acting out of personal political conviction, Afghan bombers are often either brainwashed, coaxed into action by the offer of money or simply forced to carry out suicide missions. They usually die faceless and nameless and the government denies them their Afghan identity. A regular comment that is made after a suicide mission is carried out is this: the bomber's body has been left behind at the scene of the attack. In plain English: nobody is claiming the body because the bomber is a stranger. In the absence of proper forensic tests, assumptions are regularly made about the bombers' identity. In the early days, comments like this were common: judging by the bomber's complexion and the shape of his nose, he is clearly an Arab. A Yemeni, probably. Information collected from arrested bombers helps explain why the body is often not claimed and the identity not established. The bomber's family simply doesn't know. Sometimes they only find out when the Taliban visit the family to hand over post-suicide compensation. According to a UN survey in 2007 only 11% of the population backs suicide bombing. That's probably why the family is left in ignorance. They would interfere otherwise and stop the mission.

The evident lack of political conviction among bombers and of popular support for such missions does not mean that they have stopped or that there are fewer of them. Two suicide attacks have been reported as I write this article, one in Kandahar and one in Helmand. Two alleged wannabe bombers have also been arrested in Kabul but, not surprisingly, the police say they are foreigners.

Chaotic, violent, and lacking in conviction and popular support, Afghan suicide bombing mirrors the current military occupation of the country. It is not surprising, then, that the Taliban call suicide missions "equalisers". Sadly the irony of this label is lost on them.
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'I was hooked on the story in Afghanistan
'He quit his job to continue covering the Afghanistan conflict, got shot during an ambush but went back again six months later. Photojournalist John D McHugh explains why he has returned once more
John D McHugh guardian.co.uk, Monday April 28 2008 Article history
I am back in Afghanistan for the fifth time in two years. I have a lot in common with the British, Canadian and American soldiers deployed in the country. Like many of them, I have been here before and I have been under fire. And, dubious though the honour is, I am a member of an even more exclusive club: I have been shot during a gunfight.

There are differences between us, too. I am a photojournalist, not a soldier. I carry cameras and a notebook, not a gun. In the heat of battle, I am trying to stay alive, not trying to kill. The biggest difference - the one that surprises all the soldiers I meet - is that more than volunteering to be here, I overcome many obstacles to be an observer in this war zone.

I have worked extensively in Afghanistan since 2006, spending a total of six months here. I was one of the first journalists to spend time with British soldiers from 16 Air Assault when they deployed to Helmand. This was in April 2006, when much of the British public still accepted the government's line that the mission was about reconstruction. The defence secretary had said he hoped "the mission could be completed without firing a shot", which seemed unlikely at best, and disingenuous at worst.

The Canadian deployment in Kandahar started in the spring of 2006 and I spent almost a month with a reconnaissance unit from the 1st Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. I travelled all over the province with these guys, and while they got into gunfights, raided compounds and captured Taliban fighters, they explained that back home the public were being told their mission was about "peacekeeping".

When I photographed a raid in which Taliban fighters were captured, it made front pages across Canada and sent shockwaves through the country. I was denounced as a liar and accused of misrepresenting the events. I gave several television interviews countering claims by some members of the Canadian media that the prisoners had been mistreated.

Despite the fact the Canadian military initially tried to prevent me from releasing the photographs, citing the Geneva conventions, I did release them into the public domain. The images are now used by the Canadian army for training purposes.

In the autumn of 2006, I returned to Afghanistan and spent more time with the Canadian soldiers in Kandahar. I was stunned by the changes in their attitudes. Whereas the soldiers I had met earlier in the year were fresh-faced and inexperienced, these guys were blooded and talked like old hands.

As a journalist I ask a lot of questions, but the one I have always felt inappropriate is the one that so many combat veterans tell me they are asked all the time: "Have you killed anyone?" I didn't ask these Canadians, but they constantly brought it up. When they weren't telling me, they were talking to each other, going over and over the fights they had been in, the actions they had taken and the people they had killed. It was like witnessing battlefield group therapy.

I wasn't able to reach British troops this time, so I travelled east to embed with US forces. This was the first time I had spent any time with American soldiers, and to my discredit I approached them with some trepidation. The trigger-happy cowboy stereotype had coloured my expectations, and it was much to my relief that I found the US soldiers to be just as regular and decent as I hope I am myself. I was struck by their sheer determination and professionalism.

I will admit I was hooked on the story in Afghanistan. Not the danger or adrenaline, as many suppose, but the story itself. I could see that the reality on the ground was very different to the story being told back in the west. My photographs weren't getting published much, and the agency I worked for was not interested in sending me back there, but I had no stomach now for day-to-day press work in London. I wanted to be back in Afghanistan, reporting what I believed - and still believe - to be a hugely important story.

I resigned from my safe and secure employment as a staff photographer and returned to the world of freelancing. The Americans had already agreed to allow me to embed as a freelancer, which is quite unusual. More importantly, they had agreed to my request for a "fighting season" embed. In Afghanistan, due to the mountainous terrain and harsh climate, fighting traditionally starts with the melting of the snow and the opening of the mountain passes in April. It continues until the snow returns somewhere between early November and mid-December.

Five weeks after I started the embed, the unit I was with was caught in an ambush. Eighteen Afghan soldiers were killed, four more were wounded, and seven US soldiers were hurt. In the closing stages of the firefight, I was shot.

I have written before about the events of that day, May 14 2007. The months that followed were filled with fear, pain and sometimes anger. Because of my injuries, I had a colostomy, and I underwent further surgery to reverse that. I was treated by US military doctors in Afghanistan and then in Germany, and when I returned to London I was treated in an NHS hospital by a British army doctor who had himself served in Afghanistan in 2006.

I struggled to regain weight and my strength. In September, I discarded my walking stick and soon started an intensive exercise regime. My goal was to get back to Afghanistan as soon as possible. In November, I returned.

Going back there was tough - much tougher than before. I had said from the moment I woke up in intensive care in Afghanistan that I would return. Raised in a farming community in Ireland, I was taught that if you're thrown off a horse then you get straight back on. I wanted to get back into the fight, to see if I could still do it. What I didn't understand initially was that the tough part was going to be dealing with the guilt.

Previously, when my girlfriend, family, or friends voiced their concerns about my safety, I would throw out a reassuring and often flippant comment. "Don't worry, I'm a coward. When the bullets start flying I will be hiding behind the biggest rock I can find," or something like that. That facade was gone. I had always known the risks, but now everyone else did too. I had to accept that my choices were affecting my loved ones. But I still chose to go back, which is where the guilt comes from.

During my last trip, I filmed a lot. This was something I had been trying to teach myself over the previous couple of years. To help my family and friends understand what I was experiencing, and to avoid telling the same stories repeatedly at home, I had started writing a blog during a previous trip. The blog took on a life of its own and I enjoyed putting into words events that couldn't be captured in photographs. Video gave me another tool to tell the story, and audio slideshows allowed me to meld photographs and audio.

The one thing I wasn't doing was getting the story, in whatever form, out to a mass audience. There were a few thousand people following my blog and asking to see the photos. Now I have been commissioned by the Guardian to travel back to Afghanistan for another fighting season to make films, photograph, write – and report the story.
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Afghan Leader Criticizes U.S. on Conduct of War
By CARLOTTA GALL April 26, 2008 The New York Times
KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai strongly criticized the British and American conduct of the war here on Friday, insisting in an interview that his government be given the lead in policy decisions.

Mr. Karzai said that he wanted American forces to stop arresting suspected Taliban and their sympathizers, and that the continued threat of arrest and past mistreatment were discouraging Taliban from coming forward to lay down their arms.

He criticized the American-led coalition as prosecuting the war on terrorism in Afghan villages, saying the real terrorist threat lay in sanctuaries of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

The president said that civilian casualties, which have dropped substantially since last year, needed to cease completely. For nearly two years the American-led coalition has refused to recognize the need to create a trained police force, he said, leading to a critical lack of law and order.

The comments came as Mr. Karzai is starting to point toward re-election next year, after six years in office, and may be part of a political calculus to appear more assertive in his dealings with foreign powers as opponents line up to challenge him.

But they also follow a serious dip in his relations with some of the countries contributing to the NATO-led security force and the reconstruction of Afghanistan, and indicate that as the insurgency has escalated, so, too, has the chafing among allies.

Complaints have been rising for months among diplomats and visiting foreign officials about what is seen as Mr. Karzai’s weak leadership, in particular his inability to curb narcotics trafficking and to remove ineffective or corrupt officials. Some diplomats have even expressed dismay that, for lack of an alternative, the country and its donors may face another five years of poor management by Mr. Karzai.

He was quick to reject such criticism, pointing out the “immense difficulties” that he and his government faced — “What is it we have not gone through?” — while trying to rebuild a state that was utterly destroyed.

He called instead for greater respect of Afghanistan’s fierce independence, and for more attention to be paid to building up the country, than doing things for it.

“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,” he said, speaking at his presidential office. “Eventually, if the world is to succeed in Afghanistan, it will be by building the Afghan state, not by keeping it weak.”

Mr. Karzai said he was fighting corruption, a problem that is among the chief complaints heard frequently by diplomats and Afghans alike. Mr. Karzai said he had just fired an official the previous day and would be firing more soon.

Yet the president explained that Afghanistan had never had so much money and resources pouring in, or seen such disparities in salaries, and was simply not capable yet of preventing the corruption.

He admitted that “lots of things” in the last six years could have been handled better and singled out policies led by the United States, namely tackling terrorism and handling the Taliban, both as prisoners and on the battlefield.

On terrorism, he repeated a call he has made for several years, that sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan be closed off.

“There is no way but to close the sanctuaries,” he said. “Pakistan will have no peace, Pakistan’s progress will suffer, so will Afghanistan’s peace and progress, so will the world’s. If you want to live, and live in peace, and work for prosperity, that has to happen. The sanctuaries must go, period.”

The deaths of civilians in the fighting have also been a big problem, he said. “It seriously undermines our efforts to have an effective campaign against terrorism,” he said. While NATO says civilian casualties have declined in the last six months, Mr. Karzai said that was not good enough.

“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.”

He added, “Because the war against terrorism is not in Afghan villages, the war against terrorism is elsewhere, and that’s where the war should go,” referring to the Taliban and Qaeda sanctuaries in Pakistan.

He said the issue had caused tension between him and American officials. “While those moments were very, very difficult, I must also be fair to say that our partners in America have recognized my concerns and have acted on them in good faith.”

One of the biggest mistakes of the last six years has been the handling of the Taliban, he said, and the failure of his government to guarantee former members the amnesty that Mr. Karzai promised when the movement was toppled in December 2001.

He blamed mistreatment by some warlords and American forces for driving the Taliban out of the country, to Pakistan, where they regrouped and took up weapons again.

“Some of the warlords, and the coalition forces at times, in certain areas of the country, behaved in a manner that frightened the Taliban to move away from Afghanistan,” he said. “That should not have happened.”

The weakness of his own government meant that he learned only much later of some of the things that were occurring, he said.

He gave an example of a former member of the Taliban who was quietly running a paint shop in Kabul and had been arrested three times by American and Afghan security services.

“We have to make sure that when a Talib comes to Afghanistan, that he is safe from arrest by the coalition,” he said. “And we don’t come to know when the coalition arrests them; it is a major problem for us, a problem that we have spoken about repeatedly without solution.”

Asked if he could stop American forces from arresting suspected Taliban or their sympathizers in Afghanistan, he said, “We are working hard on it, very hard on it.”

He added, “It has to happen.”

Mr. Karzai said he had not complained to the Americans about their treatment of people in their custody, despite long detentions, because he did not have details of specific cases.

Despite the many problems, Mr. Karzai expressed optimism over Afghanistan’s path, and said that the change of government in Pakistan could bring progress against terrorism. “We began on a very good note,” he said of relations with the new government, led by the party of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was killed in December.

“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.”

The president said he supported the Pakistani government’s efforts to make peace with Taliban there who were not a threat to the rest of the world.

“But if the deal is with those that are hard-core terrorists, Al Qaeda, and are bent upon sooner or later again causing damage to Pakistan, and to Afghanistan and to the rest of the world, then that’s wrong and we should definitely not do it.”

He said he did not know Baitullah Mehsud, the militant leader who has been accused of instigating Ms. Bhutto’s assassination, but said he would send him some advice: “All that he is doing is hurting his own people, that he shouldn’t do that.”
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To Sideline Taliban, Afghan Agency Extends Government’s Reach
By CARLOTTA GALL April 24, 2008 The New York Times
MAIDAN WARDAK, Afghanistan — When Taliban showed up last year in this province just south of Kabul, the capital, and started kidnapping aid workers, it caused real alarm. The main highway from the Taliban strongholds in the south runs through here, and Wardak Province is considered the gateway to Kabul.

A new government agency quickly conducted a survey and found broad distrust of the police chief and other local officials in the province. On closer inspection, only 400 men policed the whole province, but the government was paying for 1,100. The difference was lining the pockets of local officials.

Soon, the police chief was removed, and Afghan and NATO security forces routed some of the Taliban. Nearly six months later, distrustful villagers who once tolerated or even supported the insurgents have come forward to work with the government, officials say.

The turnabout here in Wardak remains tentative. But local governance like the effort here has become one of the most pressing issues in Afghanistan, Afghans, Western diplomats and NATO and American military officials say, and one that could determine the outcome of the still uncertain war in Afghanistan.

Local governance is the buzzword on everyone’s lips, one Afghan development official said, shorthand for extending the government’s presence in the provinces, making it perform better and provide much needed public services. The lack of it is souring Afghans and diplomats on the government of President Hamid Karzai and raising real concerns about its ability to battle the Taliban insurgents who feed on local dissatisfaction.

“We noticed a growing gap between the people and the government,” said Jelani Popal, who leads the new directorate charged with improving governance. “The Taliban filled that gap with the growing insurgency. And the government was not represented well by district governors.”

For Mr. Popal’s agency, the Independent Directorate of Local Governance, Wardak has been a pilot project. But it is just the first of 34 provinces that need to be addressed, at least half of which have security problems. The United Nations has reported that about 20 percent of districts — 78 districts of 376 in the country — remain off limits to its workers because of insecurity and the insurgency. Government officials are unable to go to 36 districts.

Mr. Popal plans to work on 11 priority provinces over the next 18 months, starting with a few critical ones ringing Kabul, where the Taliban inroads and the breakdown of government are the most threatening.
Rather than try to tackle the most unstable provinces in the south, he is looking at a number of the poorest provinces in central and northern Afghanistan, which are showing early signs of insurgency or lawlessness.

“Absolute poverty can create the situation for insurgency to take root,” he said. “We have to take care of it now.”

Prodded by the reformers in his cabinet, and some foreign officials, Mr. Karzai resurrected the agency Mr. Popal leads to oversee the appointments and performance of 34 provincial governors, city mayors and hundreds of district administrators.

Well financed by foreign donors, it has become the great hope of many in Kabul as a way to improve the government’s standing in outlying areas. One Western diplomat described it as the “single most important move” by Mr. Karzai last year.

An experienced manager of development projects, Mr. Popal founded the Afghan Development Association, one of Afghanistan’s best-run nonprofit groups, and directed it for 20 years before joining Mr. Karzai’s government as deputy finance minister.

He says that in the six years since the fall of the Taliban, the government and foreign aid programs have concentrated on reconstruction but otherwise ignored the needs of local people. “They never paid attention to relations of the people with the government,” he said.

This alienation existed all over the country, he said, but had a disastrous effect in many of the provinces in the south and east, where the Taliban were quick to fill the vacuum.

Mr. Popal’s instructions from the president were to take “all the elements of good governance” — accountability, transparency, efficient public services — to the provinces and “bring the decision-making as close as possible to the people,” he said.

With presidential elections next year, Mr. Karzai is looking ahead to his own re-election, and several officials familiar with the directorate suggested that it was part of a strategy to deliver the vote for him. Mr. Popal acknowledged that part of his job was also to ensure that the governors were loyal to the president.

Budgets, salaries, training and logistical support for the provincial governments will go through the new directorate, which reports directly to the president, Mr. Popal said.

One immediate benefit has been to streamline decision-making. For the governors and provincial officials, they now have an office dedicated to their affairs, even if it already seems overloaded. “Before, we were like the sixth finger of the Interior Ministry,” said Abdul Jabar Naeemi, governor of Wardak Province.

The turning point in Wardak came when the government began to deliver on its promises, Mr. Popal said. “The Taliban, when they say something, they do it,” he explained in an interview in February. “They threaten to kill people, and they do it. But when we say we will protect you, we often do not.”

So he made sure the government supplied equipment and cars, increased salaries and paid them on time to the police and district officials to improve security. “We put the government in a very strong position,” he said. His agency also removed several mullahs preaching antigovernment sermons, he said.

Nevertheless, the Taliban still had the edge, he said. People remained “indifferent” to the government, so to engage them, he started to form district councils with representatives from every sizable village.

In Wardak, the task was to resolve routine issues but also to work on how to keep the Taliban out. An early plan to arm the community representatives has been abandoned, Mr. Popal said.

“If the community is organized and not indifferent to the government, then they can make it very difficult for the Taliban to come,” he said.

Yet the plan has not been well received with the elders of the province, who, with Taliban all around, were reluctant to be seen to be working with the government, one provincial official said. So far only four districts have held council meetings, he said.

After nearly six months of work, Mr. Popal describes Wardak as “much, much better.” But nongovernmental organizations say they have not noticed much change, their staff members are still threatened and they are having difficulty monitoring their development projects.

But Mr. Popal maintains that, despite their advances, the Taliban are far from popular. “People don’t want the Taliban, this is fact. But the government should provide more,” he said. “The main problem is the way we are fighting the Taliban.”

He continued: “We should fight with better governance and better intelligence. We have to empower communities to better defend themselves, not with weapons but with organization.”
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